This article in today's New York Times illustrates the absurdity of copyright law as it presently exists. Essentially, by distributing music across campus by analog means (through the existing cable system) and not digital (say, the campus network), folks at MIT are sharing an enormous library of music with the entire campus. And it is all perfectly legal. Why? In the early 90's, creative industry lobbyists (i.e., the RIAA, ASCAP, BMI) feared the rise of digital format recorders (especially Minidisc players. Not so scary in retrospect, eh?) and pushed Congress to recognize a new performance right for digital recordings (that had not previously existed for analog recordings). Congress, in awe at the time of all things digital, essentially handed over the bill drafting process to the lobbyists. The lobbyists ensured that any time a digital recording was performed and available in a way that allowed manipulation by the public, a royalty was owed. Not yet having the confidence that it would later develop, the industry did not overreach and attempt to secure the same rights for analog recordings. And thus was born a great schism in copyright law that rested on nothing more than the format of the original recording. Makes sense, right? I didn't think so.
Within days of tipping over and exposing its roots to the world above ground, my neighbor's maple tree has gone leave-crumbling crispy. Something that had been huge and strong and green and alive turned into something broken and splintered and fragile and dead. Without its familiar roots burrowing into the same ground and soaking in the same water it has for the past forty years, it is nothing. It couldn't find another way to take water, or hold on until someone could right it. It simply had no mechanism for adapting to its new circumstances. It is dead. That's why I always thought those "What kind of tree would you be?" questions didn't make much sense - what kind of tree would I be? I wouldn't - I'd have been dead decades ago.
It seems to be done now - as I wrote those words, the sun came out. Perhaps My Run of Bad Luck is over. Around our neighborhood, in fact, there was mostly very good luck. Only a few big trees went down, and it looks like minimal property damage. Excellent luck at this address - at worst the electricity flickered last night, and a fair-sized limb dropped onto the back roof. Otherwise, it was just a great evening to watch the forces of nature in action. Apparently I'm an exception, though, as the rest of the metro area didn't do so well. There are millions of homes without power, and the water supply in Fairfax County (suburban Virginia) was contaminated after the treatment plants lost electricity (no back-up generators, apparently). Alexandria, as usual, is swimming in floodwater. ~ While I think that emergency planning is always a good idea, I think that OPM and WMATA overreacted a bit. The Federal government really didn't need to close for the full day yesterday, and today I drove downtown with little trouble. On the other hand, erring on the side of safety makes sense. I'm just not sure whether an error of that magnitude was justified. (Edited to say: It was. Completely. If for no other reason than you really didn't want to squeeze millions of people who had not had a shower for a day or two into office buildings the next day . . .. The streets of Arlington and downtown DC were filled with thousands of people looking for something to do last night, and there were quite a few you didn't want to get too close to. ~ I went for a walk around the neighborhood early this morning, to see what had happened. Mostly branches and limbs everywhere, but one street was blocked by a tree, and another tree will make some new homeowners quite upset. A giant maple (at least 70 foot) took out their deck and detached garage. The house was just bought a week ago. Ouch.
I rode the Custis and Washington & Old Dominion ("WOD") trails today. For the first time this year. It felt like it. Nothing felt like it did when I rode it daily. Or looked it. My pace, from the beginning, was cut by 2/3rds. I cannot attack a hill anymore. Rather, I repeat to myself the admonition I drive my new-to-cycling friends crazy with - "use your gears!" And slowly, but surely, I make my way up the hills at 5-10 mph. The uniforms at the day school have changed. The soccer fields near the Turn-Where-The-Cyclist-Sued-The-County appear to be turning into tennis courts. One of the many floods that happen regularly along the Custis finally took out some of the older trees along the stream banks. I ride so slowly I am actually passed by a runner. I think I hate him. There are now some paths around the far side of the couple of the giant light pole bases. Before, they narrowed the path against the freeway retaining wall. Now you no longer have to cringe and wish yourself skinnier when you pass oncoming trail traffic. I am not tempted to cut through the Brandymore Castle hill woods, which is riddled with single-track trail. There are no children on the soccer field in Benjamin Banneker Park. The Masonic Lodge has erected a new memorial along the trail, near the spot where I once nearly caused an awful collision through my own lack of control of my new road bike. Mile 5 brings a pain to my right knee that slows me down to little more than a walking pace. Mile 5 is usually the end of my warm up. The raspberry bushes have no raspberries. The "fitness station" equipment along the Falls Church section of the WOD has been painted blue. I have to sit for a long while at my turnaround point in West Falls Church. The Bluemont Junction Trail is finally open. And catching the light just right at the bottom of the hill so that I can use the speed to get up the other side is no longer a convenience, but a necessity. But not everything was different- Taking the lane in traffic does not bother me, though I expected it to. I can still hit 28 mph on the first hill. I still do not cringe at the site of my worst bike accident ever, where I slammed into a concrete wall at speed. Groups of retired Marines still run in packs during the day. They understand "on your left!" The air is still cooler under the bridges (and will be warmer in the winter). The firemen are still grilling outside of the fire station. I can still use clipless shoes and pedals. The water fountains are still working. Other riders on mountain bikes still nod uniformly, and those on road bikes just as predictably blow by without a sign of acknowledgment. My bell still rings loudly. The length from my entry onto Wilson Boulevard near Bluemont until I arrive home is still the perfect cooldown ride. And best of all, I still got the same feeling I've had at the end of every ride since I first tried these trails in 1997 - I feel that I am better for it. So I guess things weren't all that different. It will all come back to me soon enough. Just like riding a bike, really.
Specifically, I am afraid of moving. Of things that move. Mostly it is just things that move too quickly. Or might require that I get out of the way on short notice. I haven't always been like this. Or really ever been like this. The physical world has never scared me. As a kid, anyone could point me at a ramp and I'd run my bike off of it. I was never really very good at it, but I loved skating and poured myself into it (and there is nothing like dropping into a 10 ft. half pipe to teach you about the importance of committment . . .). In recent years I've picked up the pace of my mountain biking, become more adventurous with my skiing, and had even planned to try skydiving this year. I was not afraid. I thrilled to these things. The physical risks and pleasures. I 've slammed into concrete walls and picked myself up and finished a ride. I've gone head over heels off of a bridge and into a gulch, only to laugh about it the rest of the day. Part of the fun was the risk. The possibility that things just might go wrong. No more. I am now afraid even when I am just walking. I worry that I cannot get out of the road quick enough. I fear that I will stumble in a crowd of kids. I am convinced that I cannot make it down a stairway without holding tight to the railing. A life that had no physical fear is now full of it. This has to change. Yesterday I finally found it within myself to get back on my mountain bike. I pulled it out a week ago. Cleaned and lubed it. Pumped the tires. Adjusted just right for service as a pavement bike. Ready for me. Ready to double the 3000 miles I put on it in the past few years (but not a single mile yet this year). So I pulled it out onto the street and got on the bike. And was terrified. Just sitting there. What if I have to stop short? What if I need my right leg? What if I push it too hard? Answers to these questions could only be learned by testing them. So off I went. And for 2.29 scary miles around the neighborhood, I learned no answers to those questions. But I did learn that it is possible to go 2.29 miles on a bike. I am still afraid. Very. But maybe - just maybe - a little less so.