true independence days

Free-Photos / Pixabay

On the day that citizens of the United States celebrate the founding of our republic, it is good to take an objective look at this institution we refer to as American democracy. The nation founded in 1776 (11.476 EE) is very different from the United States in 2018 (11.718 EE).

In 1776, the United States had a population of 2.5 million people. That’s smaller than the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago today. The population of the US in 1776 would be the equivalent of the 24th largest metropolitan area in the US today, right behind the metropolitan areas of Salt Lake City , Sacramento, Charlotte, and Pittsburgh. As a state, it would rank 36th out of 50, just ahead of New Mexico and behind Kansas. The estimated US population today is 329 million–more than 130 times larger than the republic at its founding, and the third largest nation in the world. While there is a lot of merit to the durability and relevance of the US Constitution, it is hard to imagine its framers envisioning the society in which we live today, with its size, scale, technology, and horrifying destructive power.

It could be argued that the Industrial Revolution changed the landscape by which our lives are governed. During its development, the number of people employed by others surpassed those who had been self-employed, and even to this day, only one in ten US citizens are self-employed. This means that the vast majority of people are subject not only to the laws of their government, but the dictates of their employer.

The US Constitution is the basis of the relationship between citizens and their government. The government, at different levels, may govern a few aspects of the relationship between citizens and their employers. But for the most part, the employer has all the power. As such, the employer can dictate how a person dresses in public, how they wear their hair, and how they spend their day. Free speech usually does not exist in the workplace, except in whispers at the office and rants outside the workplace. While some freedoms to organize to redress grievances may exist, the reality is that in both the government and the workplace, those in power may ignore those grievances without consequences to their power. Indeed, despite laws dictating otherwise, the government and the employers frequently punish those raising such grievances, or even contemplating doing so. And today, they have within their power an arsenal of tools for surveillance and punishment that deter all but the most courageous people wishing to improve their working and living conditions.

Furthermore, economic incentives push employers to put profits before people. The publicly-owned corporation—a misnomer given that very, very few people actually are able to exercise the privileges of such ownership—has built-in financial incentives designed to maximize profits at any cost (including costs inflicted on others and on the environment) and maximize financial return to shareholders. Those who own privately owned corporations have more freedom to maneuver; nevertheless, such freedom is only available to the owners and/or top managers themselves, who may use their power for the public good but are free not to do so.

This concentration of economic power at the top influences the social sphere at all levels. Most candidates for elected officer are dependent on their donations in order to be elected, and when elected, they will, in turn, do their donors’ bidding while part of the government. Non-profits are dependent on these donors’ largesse in order to continue to exist and thrive. As such, donors have an enormous impact on social policy which becomes more of a reflection of the donors’ biases than an actual instrument of public good. Non-profits who focus on the latter do so at the risk of being underfunded and they often have minimal impact. Even cooperatives, who theoretically operate at their members’ behest, are capable of developing classes of technocratic managers indifferent to the needs of those whom they are supposed to serve. The lust for power and status seems to be embedded in our human DNA.

This power structure that exists in what most people still call democracy, remains unaccountable to those who elect them or who buy their products. The citizens are then often confronted with faceless bureaucracies that show indifference to their needs, or law enforcement that exerts its will and even terrorizes and kills with impunity. This impersonal, impenetrable wall is then given a human face by the mass media, which cultivate public personalities that become the smiling face of this machine. This human face creates an illusion of popular control, while untold numbers of abuses that happen behind the scenes occur. Women, people of color, religious minorities and other non-conformists often bear the brunt of these abuses, and have done so since long before the founding of the republic. Outside the republic, this machine has trained killers that wreak havoc and misery on millions of people in a number of nations overseas. While there are a handful of brave, religiously-inspired people who make small differences in their resistance to this machine, religions have often twisted the teachings of their founders to suit the agenda of this machine, making Karl Marx’s remark “religion is opium” to be self-evident.

This system, however, can crash down due to a number of internal weaknesses. The chief reason is that this system has become overly dependent on increasingly scarce fossil-fuel energy to power itself. No combination of alternative energy sources exists that can even come close to the efficiencies of fossil fuels—even as those efficiencies have been rapidly decreasing. A return to more primitive technologies characteristic of the early Industrial Revolution and before is inevitable. The future is a big question mark.

In many ways, it almost doesn’t matter when this collapse happens because the future is now. We can shape it by turning to those around us, those in our neighborhoods, towns, villages and cities, to create community self-sufficiency and resilience, and return real human faces to that which governs our daily lives. Mass communication and propaganda is inherently weaker than the relationships between family, friends and neighbors. Neighbors, friends and local businesses can cultivate a local-based economy and society with locally-based solutions to local problems. The tentacles of the machine can and do, of course, interfere with such efforts and deprive people of resources and some communities of the ability to forge an independent course. Sometimes the communities that have been the most deprived of resources are able to do the best job in reaching out to one another. Doing the best we can to help our community, and learning from our own efforts and from neighboring communities can help us resist this machine and make it increasingly irrelevant in our lives.

And when it crumbles, as it inevitably will, the infrastructure we create for ourselves will be in place to continue to sustain us, physically, emotionally and spiritually as we transition to a post-technological society. We still have a long way to go in order to become a mature human race, and the transition will give us the opportunity to rediscover our humanity, learn from our mistakes, and grow spiritually as a whole.

everything you know about politics is wrong (the view of the fistfight from 30,000 feet up version)

FireworksIn my last three posts I talked about the revelation of the existence of the mass surveillance program in which your emails, internet searches, and mobile phone data are collected, stored and subject to review by the U.S. government at any time.

One of these posts talked about potential links between this PRISM program and President Eisenhower’s warning 52 years ago about the threat that the military-industrial complex could have on rational foreign policy discourse.  Viewing that speech in its entirety served as a useful snapshot of the beginning of the 1960s and how the U.S. saw itself then as compared to now.

But I think it would be oversimplistic to blame the military-industrial complex in the U.S. Yes, I believe they have an undue influence in U.S. foreign policy. Yes, access to untold billions of private conversations has to be tempting for any entity to want to exploit. Nevertheless, I think greed and hunger for power are only part of the equation.

It could be that mass surveillance and infinite detention are part of a conspiracy to remove the foundation of democracy, of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and other rights that we’ve taken for granted.   But it could also be the desperate thrashing about of a government realizing that it is actually quite powerless in the face of some cold hard realities racing towards all of us.  Realities that, frankly, very few Americans want to accept and face.

One of my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is blogs,” The Automatic Earth, has what I believe to be the best assessment of the quantity, trajectory, velocity and texture of various large pieces of excrement headed towards the giant ceiling fan in whose breeze the world in general and Americans in particular have been basking in for two-thirds of a century.

The blog’s author, Nicole Foss, sees the first challenge being with financial meltdown that started in 2007, but whose full effects have yet to be felt. We aren’t in the panicked months of 2008 when the word “bailout” first entered the nation’s everyday vernacular, but signs of it can be seen in the financial crises in Europe, the slow economic recovery in places like the United States and Japan, and rapid rise and quick fall of artificial bubbles such as China’s construction boom.  What Foss sees is a crash that would make 2008’s crash seem like a tiny firecracker, followed by a futile “Great Collateral Grab” which will only show the degree to which assets are already over-leveraged.

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy In...

English: Ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested – USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foss projects the second wave troubles coming from tightening energy supplies.  Even if the world is able to successfully press the “reset” button on the economy and head towards a recovery, this recovery will run headlong into the reality that a 150-year old energy party that the industrial world has enjoyed is about to have the plug pulled on it. This “energy party”–that is the comfort and affluence we have enjoyed over the decades–is about to end with the end of easily accessible oil.  The crisis we are facing can be best summed up in five letters:  EROEI, or for short, “Energy Returned On Energy Invested.”  The EROEI for crude oil has been, until recently, very high but is beginning to decline rapidly.  The above graph shows the comparative EROEI for various efforts at extracting energy in the past and present.  You can see how newly developed oil has a much lower EROEI than oil twenty years ago.  Despite all the hype about “green energy,” we are not going to come anywhere close to the EROEI levels in the past, and given that the world, and Western society in particular has been dependent on such high EROEI levels, we are faced with a second crisis that we must face and then overcome. The fact that the there is a mad dash towards Canadian tar sands despite the huge expense of extracting the oil from the sand, fracking instead of the natural gas development we’ve seen until recently, and efforts by coal companies to blow up entire mountaintops shows that times are indeed getting tight.

At the same time, we must overcome a third hurdle which is the environmental fallout from this long “party.” Climate change is one big part of this but there are other factors, including depletion of valuable resources, rapid use and destruction of topsoil due to of unsustainable farming practices, the depletion and/or poisoning of precious freshwater sources, and the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the over-use of antibiotics in our medical and agricultural systems.

So, in that light, should we be surprised if our governments are beginning to behave in a more paranoid and irrational manner?  This is, of course, not to excuse their behavior. Nevertheless, in order to address actions by our government that would have seem bizarre a few generations ago, we have to understand the climate in which they are operating.  These are extreme days, on many different levels.

My point of this blog post is not to be doom and gloom. My point is that we as a human race have chosen to  learn our lessons the hard way.  I am optimistic about the long-term survival of the human race, but we’ve got some difficult times and adjustments to overcome.

The answer doesn’t start with our federal government, much less the state.  Our political system is incapable of producing knights in shining armor, which is why I never, ever have worked for a political campaign and never will.  Change has to come from deeper within–within ourselves, between ourselves and God, or however you might want to visualize it.

This doesn’t mean that we abdicate the inclusion of our voice on the important questions of the day.  Certainly, our First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments are worth fighting for.  Our environment is worth fighting for.  What it means is that we need to always be aware of the big picture and let that larger view choose for us where it’s the most important place to get involved.

what a difference a year makes–or does it?

A tale of two views of the same street–a year apart:

43 degrees North 2012-03-26

43 degrees North 2013-03-26

43 degrees North 2013-03-26

This time last year, we had May weather in March, including some 80°F days.  This year, still a lot of snow on the ground, with our most recent snowfall on Sunday.  So this means global warming’s over, right?  (Ba-bump, crash).

Yeah, easy for some people to say.  Sure, we’re having a colder than normal March after a more or less normal January and February.   Yet these wild swings in temperature are also evidence of global warming.

The rapid warming of the Arctic in winter causes the jet stream to become more wobbly and unpredictable.  Last year, the part of the Arctic jet stream at Wisconsin’s longitude was much further north–this year, it has been much further south.  So, basically, we’re talking more weird weather.  That’s why, in 2008 we ended up with over 100 inches of snow here in Madison–the previous record was 76.1 inches.  It’s one thing to break a record–it’s another to blow it to smithereens.  It’s yet another thing to see snow in Las Vegas.  And who said “don’t mess with Texas?”  On the flip side there’s the insane Moscow heat wave of 2010.

In any case, it is warming up, with temperatures reaching the 40’s (Fahrenheit) later this week.  So here’s to a hopefully normal summer this year, after a record-breaking summer last year.


Today is the tenth anniversary of the day that I first moved into a co-op house in Madison.  I’ve been living in an intentional community lifestyle ever since then.

As much as I want to celebrate ten consecutive years of community living and the fact I’ve lived in intentional communities for over one-fourth of my life, it’s not just intentional communities that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been a Bahá’í for five years, but it’s not just the Bahá’í Faith that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve been concerned for several decades about the state of our world and our continued ability to sustain life on this planet, but it’s not just the environment that I’ve wanted to write about.

I’ve struggled for months if not years to come up with a single world to really try to describe what it is that I want to write about and why. “A Hundred Hands Will Catch You,” while compelling (and based off a line in a poem I wrote over twenty years ago) still did not quite sum up what I felt this blog was about.

I found myself wanting to reach for something that links all these things.  Community, togetherness, unity, oneness, love…what?  These words seemed so abstract and overused as to become highly subjective and/or meaningless.  Reaching for them felt like reaching for handfuls of air–there was nothing original there, nothing to grab on to.

Then I came upon the word “gather.” Meaning people–gathering people.  Something felt right about this word–a little more concrete.  People coming together for a good reason.  What reason?  Many reasons: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.

One concern I’ve highlighted frequently over seven years of blogging has been the degree to which Westerners tend to live in isolation from each other compared to most of human history.  Our world of intimates has often shrunk to the size of the nuclear family–with not much outside that nucleus–and even that nucleus has been split with single mothers struggling to raise children on their own, giving away significant portions of their income to child care and at the mercy of employers that won’t let them stay home with a sick child.  Regardless of our status, we are left with little time to share with each other, so television, the Internet and video games fill the void.

We’ve let ourselves become broken up as a people.  We’ve become prisoners within castle walls stacked up high with bulk purchases from Sam’s Club.  With the biggest interactions between us and the real world coming through television and the Internet, we can easily become defenseless against the whims of image makers, spin-meisters, and people all too wiling to define our reality for us.  We are, in essence…


Scatterlings. I’m reminded by the Juluka song from the early 1980s. It’s hard to find a definition of the word “scatterlings” or how it came into being–a common online definition of the word is “One who has no fixed habitation or residence; a vagabond.” Juluka’s song “Scatterlings of Africa,” according to songwriter Johnny Clegg, was about how all of us Homo Sapiens have our origin in Africa.  The lyrics of the song also speak a lot about searching for truth–the line “on the road to Phelamanga,” refers to a search for the place where the lies end and where there is nothing left but the truth.

Thus the genesis of the new title for this blog: gatherlings. Now that we have scattered ourselves in so many ways, to the extent where human beings and the resources of the earth are becoming more and more exploited, it becomes critical for us to gather together.  Why?  Once again: to get to know each other, to enjoy each others’ company, to dance together, to pray together, to create change.  To gather together is the essence of civilization.  We are still learning to become civilized.  We are still evolving as a species and as a society, and evolve we must if we are to avoid becoming extinct.

funny, i don’t remember “indian summer” being this creepy

(c) Gjs/Dreamstime.comI don’t know what it is about this fall’s “Indian Summer” but there’s something about it that seems, well…strange.

Brief spells of summer-like weather in October or even November aren’t unusual.  Perhaps it’s because this year’s Indian Summer is so cloudy as to be gloomy.  Might it be that the fall colors peaked early and that the outside temperature and the fact that I’m going out without a jacket doesn’t jibe with the mostly bare trees and the layers of leaves on the ground?  Or is it something I detected in the unusually high amounts of humidity?

The term “Indian Summer” is centuries old, and certainly precedes talk of global warming.  But perhaps with the “winter that wasn’t” at the beginning of the year, leaves appearing on the trees at the end of March, and the triple-digit Fahrenheit weather over the summer, maybe unusually warm weather just seems creepier than in previous years.

After fooling with Mother Nature for so many years–something which we’ve been repeatedly told not to do (and not just on margarine commercials) am I starting to detect fangs in Mother Nature’s beatific smile?  Am I starting to worry that the birds chirping sweetly in the neighborhood will suddenly band together and go all Alfred Hitchcock on us?

Not to mention the very term “Indian summer”–of which the Wikipedia entry gives many explanations for it origin.  The Europeans settling this continent–people I am descended from–have not treated Native Americans any better than our natural environment has been treated, and that still continues to this day.  I sometimes wonder about that haunting us.  Like I have often said, there are lessons that we Americans have to learn, and we seem to be choosing to learn them the hard way.

As I write this, rain is beginning to fall and the 70 degree weather is giving way to 40 degree weather.  In any case, no mention of “Indian summer” can be made without mentioning the awesome Beat Happening lo-fi indie rock classic from the late 80’s.  Crude on many levels yet with a lot of heart, I always enjoy listening to this song…


okay, okay, i give up! i’m getting an air conditioner!

Maybe it was stubbornness, but I don’t think it was pride.  After all,  I’d owned an air conditioner before, and it wasn’t a terrible experience.  But for nine summers I’d resisted getting an air conditioner.  Really, I just didn’t feel like spending the money, even though it wouldn’t have cost me too dearly.

It’s not like hot summers are a common occurrence here.  Seriously, Minneapolis has hotter summers than Madison.

Typically we’ll get a warm spell of about three or four days, and maybe one of those day the temperature will top 90 degrees.  On those days my housemates and I will implement the “Cave Day” strategy in which, after letting the cool night breezes waft through the house, we will close all windows and pull the shades and keep it like a cave in our house. Sometimes we’d be so effective that we’d come home at 6 pm while still very hot out, open the door to the house and actually be welcomed by a blast of cool air. (Well, okay, more like a “puff.”)

I always got the feeling, however, that this strategy wouldn’t work all that well in Death Valley.

We had an extraordinarily warm winter earlier this year with buds appearing on the trees six weeks early. We loved it, but two less than pleasant thoughts were always in the back our minds. The first was, “Is this global warming?”. And the second thought was “Does this mean that we will haunted by a seemingly endless string of 90 and 100 degree days this summer?”

Well, to quote the little girl in Poltergeist, “They’re here.”

While I often joke that I am part polar bear, and that my melting point is 80 degrees, my first response was to be stoic. The first night of hot weather, I ran my fans and did my best to work on a paper for school. I lasted about fifteen minutes and gave up–I simply couldn’t concentrate.

My next step was to pack my laptop in my messenger bag. I have often joked about being a “laptop nomad seeking air conditioning.”. But after several days of this, I began to feel more like a refugee than a nomad.

Meanwhile, our “cave days” continued, but with less and less success. If we were indeed living in a cave, we were sharing it with a fire-breathing dragon who was becoming increasingly assertive.

Finally, the last straw for me was in trying to sleep.  As I’ve posted in the past, I use a CPAP mask and it has been very effective for me.  But at 10:30 last night it was still 87 degrees out, and I found myself sweating so much that my CPAP mask ended up turning into a hovercraft literally within seconds–one that emitted a loud and consistent Bronx cheer.

So I called Sears this morning and let them talk me into a Kenmore 8,000 BTU unit with a thermostat, an Energy Star rating, and even a remote control,  for a little over $200.  Good enough for me.  I took the bus to East Towne Mall after work, picked up the unit, called Union Cab and their Prius was there within fifteen minutes.  (I felt better about buying the air conditioner knowing that I was taking it home in a Prius.  And if you believe that, I have some Arctic oceanfront property to sell you.)

Some assembly required, but I got it running.  Unfortunately I’m going to need to get a large 4×4 block in order get it to sit on the windowsill correctly due to the storm window frame.  For now, I have it resting on a bunch of old magazines and am using an old sock and an old pair of boxers to keep the window sealed.  But the bottom line is that I’m comfortable, and I’m looking forward to catching up on my sleep tonight…

correction: it’s NOT all fun and games before the polar ice caps melt

This picture reflects what Madison WI usually looks like during the first or second week of May. The lawns are green and ready to be mowed, and the tree buds are turning into real leaves.  But with the last two weeks of temperatures in the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s,  this is actually a picture I took TODAY, 26 March 2012.  Our latitude is 43 degrees North, in case you were wondering.

If you think this might be reason to celebrate, then I’ve got some beach-front property on the Arctic Ocean to sell you.  This article goes into detail about how the unusually warm weather can throw off our local maple syrup producers, apple orchards, and various other functions of nature and our economy that are dependent on a normal cycle of seasons.  These explanations, of course, don’t fit neatly into our dumbed-down national politics in which sentence fragments and political discourse worthy of third grade recess make or break elections.  But it’s reality, regardless of however CNN and Fox News want to spin it.

is this now silly season?

Years ago I read a short story by Robert Heinlein called “The Year of the Jackpot.”  It was written in 1952 and the story takes place in 1962.  It is about a statistician who makes notes of trends and plots them on a graph.  He has been making notes of strange things occurring and keeps news accounts of them and adds them into his charts and graphs.  According to his chart,  all of his graphs are supposed to bottom out during 1962.  The statistician encounters a young woman who inexplicably started removing all her clothes on the street.  She faints when he wraps his coat around her and when she comes to, he asks her why she was compelled to remove all her clothes and she said she had no idea what moved her to do that.  As the story moves on, they become a couple and get married, and then move to an isolated spot in the desert right at about the time everything is supposed to bottom out. I won’t spoil people with the ending.

Every now and then I run into one of those situations where I look at something somebody did or somebody said, and my first thought is, “Huh?”  As in “Am I crazy or did I actually just see what I thought I saw?”  A situation where an action by someone defies logic and reason and yet they are carrying on as if everything were normal.

Without saying where in my life I’ve seen this happen, I can say that it seems to be happening more frequently.  More frequently in my personal life and also in national and global politics.

I’m not going to vilify anyone by talking about these specific situations.  And I hate talking about politics nowadays.  Let me just say that we as a nation and we as a human have some lessons to learn.  We have a choice as to whether we want to learn these lessons the harder way or the easier way and we seem to be consistently choosing the hard way.

Sometimes it’s not an action by a person at all–or is it?  In my last post,  I talked about how unseasonable warm it was that day–the temperature climbed to 64 degrees.  It’s not that unusual in March to have one unseasonably warm day in which the mercury climbs to near summer temperatures.


Seriously.  Today’s high was at least 80 degrees according to my phone, shattering the previous record of 70.  Yesterday–St. Patrick’s Day–also hit 80.  It’s been in the 70’s pretty much for the the entire previous week, and will be again most of this week, with things dropping into the 60’s by the following weekend.  Remember, it’s still officially WINTER in Wisconsin and the normal high temperature for March 18 here is 44 degrees.  We’ve had blizzards in April and I’ve seen snowflakes as late as May 1.  The climate change deniers seem awfully quiet right now.

A lot of people, particularly New Age types, have spoken speculatively about 2012 (oddly enough, 50 years after Heinlein’s “Jackpot”) and what will happen this year.  I’ve tried to keep my distance from the rhetoric, just as I try not to give any mental energy to Mercury Retrograde, which is we are reportedly in the midst of.

But I’ve pledged to myself to make double-sure that I let what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears be my guide, as opposed to what other people tell me.  It’s hard for me to live any other way.

it’s all fun until the polar icecaps melt

Early this morning marked Daylight Savings time.  With daylight going an hour later on our clocks, you could see more children playing outside, more people walking through the neighborhood and more bicyclists out on the street.  It was a sunny day, with the temperature reaching 64 degrees.  In the morning I walked out side with a light jacket on.  By afternoon I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt as I went for an errand.  It’s funny, some people were dressed like me, and some people had light jackets, and some people still had winter coats on.

There’s only one thing wrong with this picture.  It’s March.  In Wisconsin.

It’s funny–when I was growing up, Daylight Savings Time began in the last weekend of April.  Sometime in the 80’s,  it changed to the first weekend in April.  Now it’s the first weekend in March.

The winter that Daylight Savings Time moved to March was the winter that Madison had a record snowfall–101 inches, completely shattering the previous record of 79 inches.  It was strange being outside on that March day waiting for the bus–knowing that daylight would be an hour later, and still seeing snowdrifts three feet high.  Quite a marked contrast from childhood, where daylight savings time marked the first time we would be able to play outside after dinner.  Yes, of course, you could still do that in Wisconsin, but here, children would be playing in snow forts.

Yet today was completely different.  It felt just right for late April.

Sometimes I wonder if Daylight Savings Time was meant to follow global warming.  The recent change was partly in response to global warming, as it would enable people to cut energy consumption on lighting and perhaps heating.

The Arbor Day Foundation has changed its climate hardiness zones.  There is no longer a colder Zone 3 in Wisconsin and Zone 5 now encompasses the southern part of the state.  The USDA, which had been publishing the Hardiness Zone Maps was reluctant to acknowledge that change in 2006, but this year, the USDA has put out a new map that reflects very similar changes.

So now is time for me to get serious about bicycling.  When it gets warm out like this, the bus I take from my house to downtown gets suddenly much emptier, and it’s largely because many people opt to bike to work.  (Some might also just choose to walk downtown.)

I bought a new bike last summer because I realized that the bike I had bought a number of years before when I lived in Chicago was actually too small for me, and I bought another one at DreamBikes, an awesome non-profit in Madison that is located in a low-income neighborhood, and which helps youths in the neighborhood to them develop skills with bicycles and working at the store. The bikes are all donated and the people working there tune them up and get them in salable condition. I bought mine for $110 and I love it, though I need to adjust the handlebars.

I decided to mark the first day of Daylight Savings Time/Quasi-Spring by buying a new messenger bag.  I had one, but it was quite uncomfortable, and I wanted something bigger than what I had so that I could easily put a change of clothes in the bag, which will be critical if I want to bike the 5 miles or so to work on a regular basis.  I decided to spend a bit more money and invest in a Chrome bag which is basically bombproof and should last a long time.  If this doesn’t make me look like a hardcore Madison bicycle rider, nothing will.

(Said with tongue firmly in cheek of course.  And the lightning bolt that seems to be coming from the bag is merely the reflector straps on the bag capturing the flash from my camera.)