A few months ago, when the union responsible for Ottawa’s local bus service decided they could inflict maximal harm on the city by going on strike in the dead of winter, I turned my frustration into a vow that I would explore other green options for getting myself to work. After giving it some thought, I decided to start commuting by bicycle once the weather was nicer.

That day arrived two weeks ago. Even though it was cold and snow still covered the ground, I dragged out my bike, pumped up the tires, and set off. I figured I wouldn’t be that cold with all the heat my body would generate and that I should be at work within 30 minutes.

Wrong on both counts. It took me an hour, which included a stop because I thought my heart would give out otherwise. Distance is not the only consideration, I realized (duh), terrain and wind are important factors too. As for the cold, my core temperature was fine but my hands and fingers didn’t know that and they froze until I put on the gloves I’d brought along just in case (I’m not as dumb as I look).

More surprises: I’m in shape, but my legs were killing me by the time I got to work, and of course I had bike-butt, which is the scientific term for the soreness you feel in your gluteus maximus when you’ve spent an hour on a bike seat.

Undaunted, I biked to work again one day last week, pacing myself better this time. I was less sore when I got to work but it still took me an hour. I also noticed (more than I did the first time) that cyclists are still not very respected on the roads in this city. Cars drove past me so closely that I could’ve licked their windows if I wanted to; and more than once, a city bus driver cut right in front of me to make their next stop.

Does it get easier? How long before I start seeing improvements in the time it takes me to bike to work? How much of a difference does weather really make? What excuses do I come up with for not taking my bike to work? These and other questions will be answered in this bike log. My plan is to start slowly, commuting by bike once a week for a while, then twice a week, and building up from there. (I’m lucky in that my work building has a bike cage and shower facilities, which eliminates some concerns I might otherwise have).

Are you biking to work? Do car and bus drivers treat cyclists with more respect where you come from? Is your workplace as accommodating of cyclists as mine is?

Feel free to leave comments below to let me know about your experience, and any tips and tricks you’ve discovered.

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Hal Wallis's CasablancaFor my second recommendation, I’ve chosen to write about the classic movie Casablanca. If you’re lucky enough that you haven’t yet seen this movie, prepare yourself for a treat (and to be shocked at how many famous lines come from this movie—well, you won’t be shocked if you read my recommendation, which lists most of those famous lines. Consider yourself sufficiently spoiler-warned.).

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In my city, a mini-controversy has recently erupted over an advertisement that an atheist group would like posted in city buses. The ad reads, “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (If this campaign hasn’t come to your city yet, I’m sure it will soon.)

My initial reaction to hearing about the ad was pure confusion at the non sequitur between the two phrases. Why would you be able to enjoy your life any more because you suddenly realize there’s no God? But then it occurred to me that they don’t mean there’s no God, they mean there’s no bully who lives in the sky. It isn’t natural for me to think of God as a sky-bully; in Orthodox Christian theology, God is the One who defeats the sky-bully. In that line (“now stop worrying and enjoy your life”), though, I understood why so many atheists are so angry at the God they don’t believe in. If God is seen as the punisher who lies in wait for us to commit an act he considers a sin, so He can leap out and expend His wrathful energy, I can see how that type of figure can cramp your style and engender bitterness and hatred.

That isn’t the Christian God, though; in fact, the very opposite accusation is proper to Him, since He seems uninterested in punishing anyone to an almost shocking degree. This is Jonah’s bitter complaint; God was about to destroy Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) to cut off the evil of its people, but the Ninevites repented and God relented—and Jonah just doesn’t think that’s fair.

Again, when sin and death separated man from God, He became a man and took sin and death on Himself so He could break their power (note that any Christian theology where God punishes the most innocent human being for the sins of the world is deeply flawed—God doesn’t punish the innocent man, God is that innocent man, and the cross isn’t an act of punishment, it’s an act of self-sacrifice motivated by love). God’s interest is in reconciling people to himself, not in punishing anyone.

That isn’t to say God never punishes people, either to discipline them or to protect others from their evil. Have you ever met the child of parents who didn’t believe in any punishments whatsoever? Have you ever wanted to have a second encounter with that child?

Certainly a sky-bully is someone who enjoys dealing out punishments, and all of our evidence of God is the exact opposite—someone who would undergo the most humiliating and pain-filled death Himself to save people from their sins rather than punish people because of them. Of course the preceding assumes that sin is a bad thing—again, it isn’t natural for me to think of it otherwise. But assume that’s how we resolve the non sequitur. “There is no God; therefore, there is no sin; therefore, stop worrying about right and wrong and just enjoy your life.” That’s fine for fairyland but very impractical in the real world. I think I’d enjoy my life more rather than less if I could keep money in my pocket while still getting what I want—so should I sneak onto the bus instead of paying the fare? I think I’d enjoy my life more rather than less if I could grab the iPod from the teenager sitting next to me and throw it out the window, as punishment for listening to his music too loudly. Should I do it?  And what could produce more immediate joy in my life than calling in sick on a sunny day, or ending a friendship that has started to cost more than it provides, or taking more than my fair share when no one is looking? And who will tell me to do otherwise? If the Atheists Who Advertise told me to enjoy my life, who will tell me to restrain my joy? If I say that I only listen to them, and some sense of guilt forces them to pay for a new ad (“enjoy your life, Karl, but play fair and don’t hurt others so they can enjoy their lives too”) haven’t they just redefined sin? And, in fact, it’s a definition whose practice looks very similar to the one they felt was getting in the way of life’s enjoyment previously. (Probably this would cause a reactionary group to form and publish a new ad: “Atheists Who Advertise probably don’t have any authority, so stop worrying about what they say is right and wrong and just go out and enjoy your life”).

The problem with hedonism is that it doesn’t explain if you should maximize your immediate joy (easy enough to calculate in any given situation) or your long-term joy (much harder, and will most likely result in a set of guidelines, of dos and don’ts, or in other words, a moral code). If it’s the former, we can all see with the examples above that it will lead to a very unhappy life: how much joy is there in being kicked off the bus, or having your face punched, or being fired, or losing all your friends? But if the ultimate goal is long-term joy, even at the cost of restraining your immediate-gratification impulses—well, that’s what God wants for you too. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m here to make sure this world I’ve created and all its people are sad forevermore and that their lives are stunted and shallow”; he said, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.” There is a God. So enjoy your life abundantly.

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“Irregardless” is likely the illegitimate love-child of two legitimate words: “irrespective” and “regardless.” It’s a favorite of TV writers who want to show a character isn’t as smart as they think they are (unless I’m remembering wrong, Paulie from The Sopranos says it on more than one occasion.)

On a related but personal note, the word has special significance for me because it’s a sure-fire way to drive my brother crazy.

Unless you’re using “irregardless” in a work of fiction to reveal character, this illegitimate word is best avoided. Irregardless of how much it tortures my brother.

As a writer, I’m interested in the ways language is used (and abused), and especially with expressions that make no sense. From time to time on this blog, I’ll post my thoughts on these phrases, tagging them under “Confused Expressions.” The first has been on my mind since I’ve been feeling under the weather lately, and it’s an expression people often use when they’re sick: “I feel like hell warmed over.” Of course that makes no sense: hell is pretty warm already and a little more warmth probably wouldn’t make a difference. I believe the expression is a conflation of two others: “I feel like hell” and “I feel like death warmed over.” Of course I’m not so annoying that I’ll start deconstructing the expression if someone tells me they feel like hell warmed over; sickness is a time for giving lots of care and sympathy and little else.

I’ve introduced a new section on Ooter’s Place where I plan to post recommendations of some of my favorite works. And to inaugurate it, I’ve chosen to discuss one of my favorite novels, Manalive, from one of my favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton. I hope the description inspires you to give this little book a chance to win you over (the full text is available for free online). If you decide to check out the book (or have read it before), feel free to leave a comment below or write to me and tell me what you thought of it.

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