october surprise

Originally, a ‘surprise’ was an unexpected attack. It comes from the Latin sur meaning ‘over’ or ‘above’ and prendre meaning ‘to grasp or seize’. A surprise party, originally, was a stealth military detachment that ambushed the enemy.

The political phrase ‘October Surprise’ has a vaguely weird history. It grew out of the 1980 election between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger, Ronald Reagan. It appears to have been coined by William Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager (and a former OSS officer who, after Reagan was elected, became the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency). Casey was concerned that Carter was secretly arranging the release of 52 American hostages held by Iranian revolutionaries, and would announce the deal just before the November election. ‘October Surprise’ has also been used to describe an alleged secret deal between Iran and Reagan operatives to prevent the release of those hostages until after Reagan won the election and was inaugurated (and, in fact, Iran announced the release of the hostages literally minutes after Reagan’s inaugural speech).

Almost every election since 1980 has included some sort of October Surprise —  an event designed to irreparably damage one candidate’s chances and boost the other’s. Few of them work; fewer still are actual surprises. That includes yesterday’s ham-fisted absurdist political theater. We’ve all been expecting a ‘surprise’, of course. But even given Team Trump’s reputation for bungling political schemes, this ‘surprise’ was badly managed. Comically bad.

Here’s the basic accusation as reported by the New York Post. Somebody (Hunter Biden) brought three damaged laptop computers to a Delaware computer store for repair in April of 2019. The owner of the store (unidentified in the original report) claimed to have found an email on one computer’s hard drive — an email from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, thanking Hunter for the opportunity to meet Joe Biden, who was then Vice President. Scandal! Hunter Biden and his daddy are corrupt! Biden must be defeated in the coming election! Scandal!

John Paul Mac Isaac (This should not be taken as an indictment of men wearing kilts).

Right. Now let’s ask a few questions — the sort of questions a 14-year-old fan of cop shows on television would ask.

Who is this unidentified store owner?
— He turns out to be kilt-wearing Trump supporter John Paul Mac Isaac.

Who brought the three laptops to Mac Isaac’s shop?
— Uh…we don’t know. Mac Isaac says he has a ‘medical’ condition that prevented him from recognizing the person who brought in the laptops. Also, nobody signed any sort of repair authorization form or receipt for them. But the person allegedly said his name was Hunter Biden.

What evidence does he have to prove the laptops were brought in by Hunter Biden?
— At least one laptop had a ‘Beau Biden Foundation’ sticker on it, plus there was an email addressed to Hunter Biden on that laptop, plus there were sexually explicit images featuring Hunter Biden.

Did Hunter or anybody return to the shop to retrieve the laptops? Or called to inquire about them?
— Uh…no. After ninety days Mac Isaac said he made repeated attempts to contact Hunter Biden without success.

What did Mac Isaac do when he discovered the email?
— He contacted the FBI. No, wait…first he made a copy of the email (and apparently the sexual images) which he gave to Rudy Giuliani. No, wait…he gave the copy of the material to Rudy’s attorney, then he turned it over to the FBI. No, wait…the FBI got in touch with him about the material, then he gave it to them. Or maybe he gave it to the FBI, who later sought his help in accessing the material.

Is this the same Rudy Giuliani who has been working for a couple of years with known Russian intelligence operatives to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden to hurt Joe Biden’s election chances?
— Uh…yes, it is.

Why did Mac Isaac give the material to Rudy’s attorney before giving it to the FBI?
— Because he doesn’t trust the FBI. He seems to think maybe the FBI (possibly in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee) murdered Seth Rich (who worked for the DNC) because Rich knew ‘the truth’ about the DNC emails stolen by Russian intelligence operatives sources and provided to Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign. He also thought maybe the FBI might kill him too. So he made a copy of the material and gave it to Rudy’s attorney as insurance. He said he didn’t tell the FBI he’d made an ‘insurance’ copy, but that they would have assumed he would make such a copy to protect himself.

Why would Mac Isaac give the material to the FBI if he thought they might kill him if they knew he had the material?
— Uh…because of reasons?

What meta-data could we obtain from the email?
— Uh…none. The New York Post only had a pdf file of the email, not that actual email. So there’s no header information, no metadata. Just a picture of the alleged email.

How did the New York Post get this material?
— It was provided to the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor, Emma-Jo Morris, by Rudy’s attorney. Ms. Morris apparently became the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor yesterday, when she wrote the story. She has written three other political stories for the Post. All three were written yesterday. All three are about Hunter Biden.

What did Emma-Jo Morris do before becoming the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor yesterday?
— She booked guests for Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

Is this the ‘smoking gun’ October Surprise Republicans claim it to be?
— Nope. It’s not smoking. It’s not even a gun. It’s not a surprise. But it IS October.

This is perhaps the stupidest, worst prepared, least convincing, most desperate October Surprise ever. It’s the most embarrassingly bad disinformation op imaginable. It’s like Laurel and Hardy teamed up with the Keystone Kops to create a conspiracy theory. If the person responsible for this is in Russian intelligence, I’m going to guess he’s looking at a long drop from a high window, an acute case of cement poisoning following an incident of deceleration trauma.

very good people

Really, when you think about, who is really at fault here? I mean, back at the end of April the President of These United States suggested his followers should ‘Liberate Michigan’. It would have been unpatriotic not to take the president at his word. So a couple of weeks later, a group of ‘patriots’ arrived at the state capitol building to discuss issues involving the tyranny of mask-wearing with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other lawmakers.

Okay, so yes, they may have arrived for those friendly discussions armed with semi-auto rifles and handguns, but this is America…or used to be before Obama tried to turn the nation into a gay socialist guitar-strumming pedophile ring. Anyway, they just wanted to talk to Gov. Whitmer, that’s all. And President Trump realized that. He said:

These very good people were just angry, that’s all. They just wanted their lives back, which is understandable since Gov. Whitmer STOLE THEIR LIVES by asking them to wear masks and avoid gathering in large virus-sharing groups. Trump felt Gov. Whitmer should try to be reasonable, listen to the angry armed men threatening her and other Michigan lawmakers, give them a chance to screamsplain rationally why she was wrong.

But no, she wouldn’t do that, the bitch. Now look what she made them do.

Explaining the charges against Gov. Whitmer

Really, whose fault is it that these thirteen very good people felt forced to concoct a plan to kidnap her and put her on trial for…okay, it’s not clear exactly what she’d be put on trial for. Being a bitch, probably. Being a ball-cutting bitch by undermining their authority — undermining their very manhood — by trying to make them look like mask-wearing pussies. But the important point — the point everybody seems to be overlooking — is that they always intended to give her a trial. Did she give them a trial before ordering them to wear gay masks?

No. No, she did not.

Prosecutor’s opening statement.

They were going to give her a trial, that’s how reasonable they were. A fair trial. Okay, maybe the judge would be somebody involved in the kidnapping. And yeah, the jury pool would probably have to be drawn from folks involved in the kidnapping. But hey, still a trial, right? She’d have had a chance to defend herself and explain why she was being such a bitch, right? You’d think she’d thank them for giving her that chance, wouldn’t you.

But no. She’s showed no gratitude at all. Hell, she didn’t even thank Comrade Trump after his own personal Federal Bureau of Investigation disrupted the plot to murder kidnap … wait, was it really even a kidnapping? Was it? When you really look at it closely, wasn’t it really more like a citizen’s arrest? Followed by a fair trial. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Whitmer trial jury pool.

You invite a woman at gunpoint to accompany you of her own free will, you give her a chance to explain her ridiculous behavior, you agree not to punish her until after she’s had her say, and is she even the least bit grateful? See, that’s the problem with putting a woman in charge of anything other than the kitchen. They’re just too emotional.

And now the lives of these thirteen very good people are going to be tarnished. It’ll be hard for them to get a decent job. They may even lose their guns. Is that fair?

‘i just didn’t want to’

He has speech writers. We’ve all seen The West Wing, we know there’s a department in the White House for people who carefully craft the president’s speeches — who take the president’s thoughts and ideas, and use them as a framework for a speech. But, as in everything else, Comrade Trump thinks he knows better.

So instead of giving a speech reassuring the American public that he’s doing everything the doctors tell him in order to return to the White House, Trump presents a rambling, unfocused, semi-dishonest, off-the-cuff monologue. In it, he says”

“I had no choice, because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House. I was given that alternative. Stay in the White House, lock yourself in. Don’t ever leave…I can’t do that. I had to be out front.”

This is maybe the most honest thing Trump has ever said to the American public. “I just didn’t want to. I had to be out front.” He just didn’t want to wear a mask or follow the medical protocols that could keep him and his supporters safe. He had to be out in front of an audience of admiring supporters.

That attitude not only led us to a body count of over two hundred and ten thousand American citizens, it not only led us to economic disaster, it not only led us to a housing crisis and an education system in turmoil, it also led us to the craziest goddamn moment to date in administration filled to the brim with crazy goddamn moments. I’m talking about that appalling scene at the White House when Trump returned from Walter Reed in Bethesda.

They planned this. Some deranged group of people in the White House — probably the same group that thought it would be good optics for Trump to stand in front of a church and hold up a Bible for 45 seconds — thought it would be dramatic for Trump to leave Marine One, climb the steps to the Truman Balcony, present himself to the American people, and take off his mask.

And hey, they were right. It was dramatic. It was dramatically stupid. It was dramatically offensive. It was dramatically arrogant and dramatically undermined any notion that Trump had learned a damned thing from his time at Walter Reed. Or that he’d learned a damned thing during his three and a half years as POTUS. In fact, it dramatically undermined the notion that Trump had ‘beaten’ Covid; he was clearly struggling to breathe as he stood on the balcony.

He took off his mask, people. He has Covid — an infectious disease spread primarily through airborne particles emitted through the mouth and nose — and he took off his mask to show the world…what? That he was tough? That he was courageous? That he was manly?

What Comrade Trump showed the world was that he was still the same arrogant, ignorant, feckless yobbo he’s always been. It showed the world he still doesn’t give a rat’s ass for anybody other that himself.

The butcher’s bill at this moment stands at 213,462 dead in the United States. Last night 421 Americans died from Covid. Four hundred people died from Covid last night. We’re seven months into the pandemic. It’s not going to get better until we can get people to stop spreading the virus. And that actively contagious fucker stood on the Truman Balcony and took off his mask.

thomas rymer is okay by me

It would be hard to believe if it weren’t so perfectly on-brand. We’re 212,000 corpses into the Covid pandemic, but Comrade Trump decided to throw a largely mask-free announcement party for his shiny new Supreme Court nominee — who, by the way, got the Covid over the summer, and somehow nobody thought to mention it. And hey bingo, after the party, a whole bunch of self-important Republicans started getting all Covidy.

We’re talking at least a couple of senators, a couple of reporters, a few White House staffers, and a scattering of generic Trump supporters — all testing positive for the Covid. Including Comrade Trump his ownself, and his wife.

Deliberately holding a maskless gathering during a pandemic is just flat out arrogance and negligence. But it gets worse (it always gets worse with Trump, doesn’t it). Apparently Trump got the Covid (we don’t know quite when because nobody in the Trumpverse ever seems to tell the truth), then spent a whole day wandering around maskless, pretending he didn’t have it. He exposed a LOT more of his own staff and supporters to the Covid, including an intimate roundtable of a couple dozen top GOP donors at one of his failing golf clubs.

Again, it would be hard to believe if it weren’t so perfectly on-brand for Trump. This is the guy who disbanded an operational pandemic response team, then after the Covid showed up, created a new pandemic response team, only to ignore and contradict their scientific advice for political and public relations reasons. He’s basically dismissed the team (has anybody heard from Fauci or Birx lately?). This is the guy who refused to wear a mask himself, who mocked others for wearing masks, who deliberately and knowingly invited large crowds of yelling followers to his rallies, who publicly dismissed the severity of the Covid while privately acknowledging how deadly it was. So it’s not entirely surprising that he’d meet with his supporters knowing he was almost certainly contagious.

Trump at Walter Reed, pretending to work.

Now he’s in the hospital. Flown there by helicopter. Being treated by a cadre of the best doctors. Being given a special experimental drug cocktail that isn’t available to ordinary folks. In a luxurious hospital room — unlike the crowded hallways in which many New Yorkers died during the early days of the pandemic. He’s in the hospital, pretending to work, but we don’t really know his medical status. Three and a half years of lying by Trump and his staff has taught us not to believe anything they say. He could be fine, he could be dying; as I write this, we just don’t know because nobody is talking and we couldn’t trust anybody who did talk.

A couple of days ago I said it was unseemly and callous to express happiness that Comrade Trump got the Covid. I still believe that, despite the fact that Trump his ownself has been unseemly and callous about the deaths and suffering of hundreds of thousands of American citizens. As a Buddhist, I have to believe he is deserving of compassion. But he hasn’t earned any sympathy.

Thomas Rymer with a wee doggie.

In 1678, Thomas Rymer published The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider’d, in which he examined the ways in which literature tried to reconcile the demands of justice with those of pity. He coined the phrase ‘poetic justice.’ That’s usually interpreted as ‘vice must be punished and virtue rewarded’. But it’s more than that. Rymer believed true poetic justice also required logic to triumph. It’s not enough to simply punish the wicked; poetic justice demands an ironic twist of fate in which a character’s own wicked behavior brings about their downfall.

That Comrade Trump is in Walter Reed being treated for the Covid is true poetic justice. He’ll probably recover from the Covid in time to lose the election. That will also be poetic justice. There’s also a decent chance the ‘law and order’ president, after he leaves office, will be charged with a variety of state and federal crimes. More poetic justice.

I won’t celebrate Trump’s illness. But I will celebrate poetic justice. Thomas Rymer is okay by me.

it is what it is

First let me say this, because this is important: expressing happiness that Comrade Trump has tested positive for Covid-19 is unseemly and callous — just as unseemly and callous as those people who expresses happiness that Justice the Notorious RBG died.

That said, I understand and can appreciate the poetic justice of it. He had access to the best medical advice in the world, he had access to the world’s most reliable information about the pandemic, he had the ability to take the world’s best precautions against the coronavirus, he had the power to significantly make the US safer against Covid-19 transmission — and he just flat out decided NOT to take advantage of any of that.

Comrade Trump is sick.

Why? Ignorant narcissism. He ignored the experts, he assumed he knew more than they did, he assumed nothing could hurt him because he was well protected, and he quietly encouraged his staff NOT to wear masks. Several White House staffers and members of the Secret Service guarding Trump have tested positive for Covid over the last couple of months, but Trump took no notice.

After Hope Hicks, with whom he’d been in close contact, tested positive, Trump still went to a fundraiser at his Bedminster Golf Club, where he didn’t wear a mask. All those people have now been exposed. Amy Coney Barrett, his SCOTUS pick, has been exposed. Kayleigh McEnany, the WH press secretary has been exposed, but she didn’t wear a mask during yesterday’s press briefing, so all those reporters have been exposed. Trump’s Chief of Staff has been exposed, as have all the people he’s been in close contact with. Hope Hicks was maskless at the presidential debate on Tuesday; the WH didn’t bother to alert the Biden campaign when she tested positive. They had to learn about it on the news.

None of this had to happen. Most of this could have been prevented IF Trump hadn’t been an ignorant narcissist. IF he’d listened to the experts. IF he’d worn a mask and encouraged — no, if he’d mandated — others to wear a mask whenever they were in groups.

But no. Comrade Trump didn’t do that. He was reckless and stupid and now he’s got the bug. I’m not happy about that. But I’m not sad about it either.

It is what it is.

shitshow

Pity the transcribers who had the Herculean task of trying to accurately record what the candidates said in last night’s…last night’s what? You can’t call it a debate. CNN’s Dana Bash probably described it best. “It was a shitshow,” she said.

Before the shitshow, representatives for both candidates agreed on a set of rules: who would speak, when they would speak, how long they would speak, how long the candidates would have to respond. Both candidates agreed to those rules. Only one attempted to follow them.

Last night Comrade Trump was his own anarchist jurisdiction. He was the ‘law and order’ president who refused to follow the ‘law’ of the debate and set fire to order. The worst thing about Trump’s behavior last night wasn’t just that he was disruptive, discourteous, and dishonest (though he was), and it wasn’t just that he seemed unwilling to follow rules he’d agreed to, it wasn’t just that he seemed to think the rules didn’t apply to him. The worst part wasn’t even Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy. Hell, the worst part wasn’t even that he refused to say he’d accept the result of the election.

The worst part of the shitshow was that Trump seemed incapable of restraining himself. The worst part was that he appeared to lack basic self control, that he was unable to hold himself in check, that he couldn’t curb his behavior. Trump literally seemed helpless against his own infantile impulses. That’s terrifying.

To his credit (or shame) Trump did what he always wants to do. He controlled the stage, he drew all the attention to himself, he sucked all the oxygen (and intelligence) out of the room, he made everybody react to him. He didn’t do that through any sort of authority or personal charisma or a command of the subject matter. He did it by being a flaming asshole.

Biden was flummoxed, both by Trump’s antics and by Chris Wallace’s inability to hold Trump in check. Biden and Wallace were there for a debate; Trump was there to create a shitshow, to debase the process and discourage everybody from participating. Trump was there to get people to turn off their televisions and swear off politics forever. Trump was there to demoralize decent people and incite racists.

Shitshow

The winners of last night’s shitshow were Putin and the Proud Boys (yes, I know…band name or Saturday morning cartoon show). Russia has to be delighted to see how degraded US politics has become, how ineffectual our leader is, how chaotic the United States is under Trump. The Proud Boys have a new logo: Stand By. The racists were given marching orders: be prepared to take on Trump’s enemies.

There were no losers last night–only victims. The victims were decorum, civil discourse, the electoral process, the United States, democracy.

Vote. Everybody needs to vote. Don’t let anybody or anything stop you from voting.

Accompanying Music: Creedence Clearwater Revivial

Down on the corner
Out in the street
Putin and the Proud Boys are playin’
Bringing chaos and deceit.

follow the money

Never mind the US$750 Comrade Trump is said to have paid in taxes. Sure, that’s infuriating — but it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the the main story. The main story is the hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. The debt that’s coming due in the next few years. The main story is this: to whom does he owe that money? From where did the cash come, the cash that allowed Trump to buy golf courses and build more hotels and condominium towers?

We know that in the mid-1980s Russian organized crime figures (and remember, there’s little to distinguish between Russian organized crime, Russian banking systems, and Russian intelligence services) began to launder money through Trump real estate. We know that because several federal prosecutions came out of it and a number of condos in Trump Tower were seized by the government.

Trump Tower, Manhattan

We know that by the early-to-mid-1990s, the Trump Organization was deeply in debt. We know the Trump Plaza Hotel, Trump Regency Hotel, and Trump Castle Casino were all losing money. We also know the hotel and entertainment industries are attractive ways to launder money. We know that by 1995, US banks began to refuse loans to Trump because he was a bad risk. We also know that Trump turned to foreign banks and entities for help. First to Deutsche Bank and a few year later to the Bayrock Group. Deutsche Bank has a long history of working with Russian organized crime; they were caught in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme and had to pay fines of about $630 million. Bayrock was formed by a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan. Trump’s main contact in Bayrock was Felix Sater; in 1998 Sater pleaded guilty to a $40 million stock fraud scheme run by Russian organized crime.

We know that throughout the 90s and into the 2000s Russian oligarchs (again, remember, you don’t become an oligarch without being indebted to Putin) and organized crime figures working for Semion Mogilevich (the head of an international Russian organized crime cartel) continued to buy more than 65 Trump properties in New York, Florida, and Arizona. We know the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank helped Trump finance a struggling Trump-branded hotel in Toronto. We know that in 2008 Trump sold a Florida mansion to Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million, twice what Trump paid for it four years earlier. Ryboloblev has been indicted in Monaco on criminal charges of corruption, influence trafficking, and something called ”violation of secrets of a criminal investigation.” He was also implicated in the murder of a business rival, Evgeny Panteleymonov. However, the charge was eventually dismissed after a witness suddenly recanted his testimony.

Palm Beach, Florida mansion sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev

We know another associate of Semion Mogilevich, Vyacheslav Ivankov (a vory v zakone with ties to Russian intelligence services) was a frequent guest at Trump’s Taj Mahal casino. According to the FBI, Ivankov was often comped “for up to $100,000 a visit for free food, rooms, champagne, entertainment, and transportation in stretch limos and helicopters” by the casino. Casinos, of course, are attractive sites for money laundering. The Taj Mahal casino was fined for violating anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation. Ivankov had been hiding out in Trump Tower for months before being arrested by the FBI and charged with extorting $2.7 million. When arrested, he had seven different passports under different names and countries. After serving a prison sentence in the US, Ivankov returned to Russia and was eventually murdered by a rival organized crime cartel.

Trump Taj Mahal casino

We know the daughter of Viktor Khrapunov, the former governor of the East Kazakhstan Province, bought three Trump SoHo condos. We know Khrapunov has also been accused of a number of construction and real estate frauds, as well as money laundering. The $3.1 million purchase of the Trump condos was allegedly made with money stolen from the government of Kazakhstan. Khrapunov has financial ties with Bayrock. In 2008 Khrapunov chartered a Russian Tupolev Tu-154 and flew to Geneva, Switzerland with 18 tons of cargo, which reputedly included antiques, jewelry, works of art and other highly valuable items. Interpol has issued a red notice for the arrest of Khrapunov.

Trump International golf club in Aberdeen, Scotland

We know Eric Trump told James Dodson, a golf reporter, that the Trump Organization was able to expand their property holdings because “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” Golf courses, by the way, are also popular with money launderers. Trump own 17 golf courses, both in the US and abroad.

We know…well, you get the picture. Over the last three decades Trump has had a LOT of financial support from Russian oligarchs, Russian banks (and banks from former Soviet Republics), and Russian organized crime. And once again, it’s impossible to distinguish between Russian organized crime, Russian banking, and Russian state intelligence services.

That Trump only paid $750 in taxes for a couple of years may be an outrage, but the more serious problem is his financial debt. That amount of debt is a clear security concern. It’s impossible to get a security clearance with significant debt (which may be the reason neither Ivanka nor Jared Kushner weren’t given security clearances until Trump insisted on it). We don’t know who floated Trump the money to make the purchases of his golf courses and hotels and condos. It’s reasonable to suspect much (or most or all) of it came from sources connected with Russia.

As I’ve said here, and here, and here, and here, and probably elsewhere, I think Putin has something on Trump. I think Trump is in Putin’s pocket. I think Trump is compromised and that explains why he so often seems to be furthering Russian interests and ignoring the interests of the United States.

best purchase ever

Imagine a collection of ancient pottery shards and some twisted lumps of barbed wire jammed inside a bit of stiff, old fire hose. That’s my knees, after years of injury and abuse. They creak, they pop, they snap, they grind, they rasp. They hurt. At some point I’ll have to return them to the shelf and get some new ones.

But mostly, I’m used to them. I know how to deal with them. I can get them to do most of what I want to do. There’s only one aspect of my life that’s been buggered up by my wonky knees. Cycling. Riding a bike. I used to ride a lot; it was my favorite mode of transportation. I used my bike for fun and to run errands. But it hurt my knees. Seriously hurt them. So a couple of years ago, I put the bike away for the winter; hung it from some hooks in the garage ceiling. Never took it down.

Over the river

This summer I bought an electric bike, thinking I might be able to ride it with minimal knee pain. When I say I bought an ebike, I don’t mean I went to my local bike shop, examined a wide selection of bikes, and made an intelligent, informed purchase. I mean I bought a bike online. Which even now strikes me as a phenomenally loopy thing to do. Who buys a bike they’ve never actually seen except in a photograph? Who buys a bike you can’t test-ride, a bike that costs US$1500 (more than any two bikes I’d ever bought), a bike that has to be shipped from Seattle and would require some assembly on arrival? Who does that?

Me and, it turns out, lots of other folks. And I got to say, it’s the best purchase I ever made.

Through the woods

I bought a Rad Rover Step-thru. It’s an improbable bike. Massive. The damned thing weighs about 70 pounds. More than twice what my trusty old Trek mountain bike weighs. It’s a fat tire bike, and when they say ‘fat tire’ they’re serious. Four inches wide. It’s got disc brakes. It’s got a goddamn brake light in back. What sort of bike has a brake light? When I finished putting it together (with the overly enthusiastic help of my brother), I have to admit being a tad intimidated by the scale of the beast. It’s big.

But once I got on it and started riding, that massive beast of a bike became weirdly tame. It rides easily. It’s not what you’d call ‘nimble’ compared to my mountain bike. Because of its size, the turning radius is slightly larger than I’m used to. But it’s rock solid and steady. And surprisingly fun to ride.

They put chairs along the bike paths here.

Best of all? No knee pain. I’d been hoping for minimal knee pain–an amount of knee pain I could tolerate. The notion of pain-free cycling hadn’t even occurred to me. But I’ve had the bike for about three months and I’ve put just over 500 miles on it–and dude, no knee pain at all. That’s because of the pedal assist function. Everything I’d read about ebikes (before committing to the insane act of buying one) talked about this weird techno-magical whatsit called pedal assist. I never quite understood it what it was or how it worked; they just said it made pedaling easier. Pedal assist was the reason I gambled on the bike.

It works. It really does make pedaling easier. Or it can if you want it to. It turns out pedal assist is exactly what it says it is. It provides a measured boost to the energy with which you pedal, which makes pedaling more efficient and effective. You can ride this bike without any pedal assist, but it wouldn’t be easy; we’re talking about a 70+ pound bike with four inch tires, so you’d have to be desperate or masochistic to do so. At PAS 1 — the lowest level of pedal assist — it makes riding a 70 pound bike feel pretty much like riding a normal bike (except even then it’s easier on the knees). I spend most of my riding time in PAS 1 or 2. I’ve used PAS 3 for a few steep or long hills; I’ve had no reason to use PAS level 5 yet.

Shortly before the first tornado siren.

I did use PAS 4 once, but it was an emergency. I’d stopped to visit with a county worker who was doing some obscure chore in what will eventually be a new suburban neighborhood. As we were chatting, the tornado siren went off. He checked his phone and told me it looked like it wasn’t a drill. I’m fairly casual about bad weather, and since I was only 3-4 miles from home and didn’t see any of the usual signs of a tornado, I wasn’t too concerned. I headed homeward, but I didn’t rush. Until a second tornado siren went off. Two tornado sirens is serious. So I began to hurry a bit. The sky got really dark. A third tornado siren sounded. I’d never heard a third siren before. I put the bike in PAS 4 and was easily doing over 20mph through neighborhoods.

I made it home about three minutes before the storm hit. It wasn’t a tornado. It was a derecho — a fast-moving straight-line storm with hurricane-force winds. And I made it home without knee pain. Totally winded, but no knee pain. I’m a big fan of pedal assist.

In the river valley.

Something I hadn’t expected: the bike gets attention. People are curious about it. At stop lights, people will roll down their car windows and ask me questions. People on sidewalks and bike paths often shout out questions as I’m riding by them. Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with them. “How does it work? How fast will it go? Does it have a throttle? Can you ride it without pedaling? What’s the battery range? Can you get a good workout with an ebike? Isn’t it cheating if the bike does all the work?”

Here are the answers. I’ve had it up to about 25 mph on flat ground; it can go faster, but I’ve never had the need to do it. Yes, it has a throttle, which is handy at stop lights and stop signs; even with pedal assist, it can be a struggle to get a 70 pound bike in motion from a dead stop. The throttle makes it easy to get started, and that’s all I’ve ever used it for. But yes, you can ride it without pedaling, using just the throttle like a moped. The advertised battery range is 25-45 miles, but I’ve ridden 53 miles through hilly terrain on a single charge and the battery wasn’t quite dead. And finally, you sure as hell can get a good workout on an ebike. The pedal assist allows you to make riding as easy or as strenuous as you want. By the way, if you bike for exercise, folks tend to ride farther and longer on an ebike, which increases the amount of exercise you get.

Me, I don’t ride for exercise. I ride for the joy in it.

Out in the country.

The ‘cheating’ question always throws me. I’m not even sure what it means. How can you cheat at recreational cycling? It’s not like you’re competing with anybody. Using electric pedal assist isn’t really any different than using 21 mechanical gears to make pedaling easier. If riding an ebike is cheating, then so is riding a bike with multiple gears. You’re still using the energy of your body to propel the machine.

That said, I do feel a wee bit awkward about overtaking a cyclist in spandex riding up a hill on a 20 pound road bike. Awkward, but not guilty.

Every so often I’ll go on a ride that takes me by a two-story fitness center. The parking lot, even during this pandemic, is usually full of cars. I know that some of the people who drove those cars to the fitness center are inside on stationary bikes, pedaling in a frenzy. They’re undoubtedly getting a more efficient workout than I am. They’re using their time a lot more effectively than I am. But I suspect I’m happier in the saddle than they are, and having more fun.

In the fog.

I’ve nothing against exercise, but I ride just for the pleasure in it. With this bike, I get to go places. I get to see stuff and talk to strangers. I get to turn down streets and pathways with no real sense of where they’ll take me; sometimes I get to be lost and have the tiny adventure of finding my way back. I get to be harassed by Canada geese and chased by storms.

I did a 30 mile ride a couple of days ago, the last half of it into a stiff 18-23 mph headwind. When I got home, my legs were wobbly from exhaustion. But my knees? My knees were laughing their ass off. I love this bike.