August 24, 2018 § 23 Comments
There are different levels of commitment in life, for example carbon over steel. Less important are things like marriage, and moving down the priority list, citizenship. After 30 years of marriage to a Usonian, Yasuko finally decided to apply for naturalization.
“That makes no sense,” I said. “You’re already natural.”
“But I think it’s time to become a Usonian.”
“You want to be a citizen like our President?”
“No, I’m afraid that even with my green card they will kick me out.”
She had a point.
Putting things on ICE
Last October she applied for citizenship, in July she had a citizenship interview + exam, and today she went to the LA Convention Center to take the oath. There were 3,506 folks getting sworn at by a federal judge, and about triple that number of friends and family members who had come with them to savor the greatness of Usonia and the magical moment when $150,000 in immigration attorney fees transmutate into a $2.00 naturalization certificate printed on dime store paper stock.
The judge who swore at everybody talked about how the magistrates in his department loved getting to do naturalization because it reminded them of the hope and greatness of Usonia. I suppose that was his diplomatic way of saying that being a federal judge on most other days reminds them of the hopelessness and meanness of Usonia.
In any event, the newly minted citizens, a/k/a newly voting Democrats, listened to some more propaganda and watched a video beamed in from the Trump Führerbunker, where the President pretended ever so briefly that foreigners not from Slovenia are welcome on our shores. The applause was so tepid as to make your ordinary tepid applause sound like a standing ovation.
The New Democrats then received citizenship packets, their naturalization certificate, and were hustled back outdoors into Usonia. Outside the convention center vendors were hawking hot dogs ONLY sold by what looked like immigrants. Cue irony.
We celebrated by skipping the irony and visiting Caffe Tre Venezie, an Italian coffee shop run by an immigrant who, if he is not making Torrance great again, is certainly helping make it great for the first time.
Who are these new Usonians?
The judge talked at length about how some of the petitioners had given up everything, escaped violence, war, famine and disease, and surmounted all odds to make it to this ceremony. It was inspirational as long as you didn’t ask any questions.
- What about the other millions plunged in violence and war and famine and poverty? Why weren’t they also deserving? Or is the promise of Usonia nothing more noble than dumb luck, like a winning lottery ticket?
- Where were all the Africans? Out of more than 3,500 petitioners, hardly any were black.
- Who wrote the naturalization oath, and why is it all about fighting and bearing arms and defending America? Why is there nothing about waging peace, promising to vote in every election, swearing that you will succor the poor, and giving an oath that you will never subsume civil rights and human decency to capitalistic greed? Why is there nothing in there about your commitment to carbon?
- How did they forget to mention the rule of law?
- Why hot dogs, especially in LA? Has no one at ICE ever seen a fucking taco truck?
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
As Yasuko came out of the procession and into Usonia, she had a huge smile on her face as she waved her honking certificate. I was as excited as she was, I had my video at the ready, I was on tenterhooks trying to pick her out from the crowd, but when the big moment came we wound up with one of the less impressive videos ever filmed in LA:
Having lived abroad for many years, I know that there is something different about being an alien and being a citizen. And unlike Japan and Austria, where citizenship confers rights without admission to the culture, in Usonia there is a remarkable degree of belonging once you become naturalized.
Similar to everywhere else, there is also something that comes over you when you discard your old passport and trade it in for new nationality. Perhaps that something is no more profound than a feeling like you can’t be driven away at the whim of a despot, that whatever tiny stake you’ve claimed, it is yours and at least nominally backed by rule of law.
Over the decades, the topic of citizenship often arose between us, and Yasuko always deferred to later. In a way, there’s something powerful to be said for well considered decisions not made on the spur of the moment. Trading in Japanese nationality for a Usonian one isn’t like giving up your Syrian passport.
Japan has health care, education, peace, no military worth mentioning, a robust economy, the world’s biggest uncontained nuclear disaster, and Pocky. Usonia has Pocky (imported from Japan), none of those other things, and a car “culture.”
Yet for all its faults, Usonia also has things that no other country can boast: Telo, Flog, the Donut Ride, and NPR. Some things are indeed worth the sacrifice. Welcome to Usonia, kid. We’re glad to have ya.
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August 18, 2018 § 7 Comments
Last Sunday we had the inaugural All Clubs BBQ sixth South Bay Cycling Awards at Eldorado Park in Long Beach. The two people who made this event happen, Ken Vinson and Kristie Fox, arrived before the sun rose to get things set up.
There was a guy sleeping on a park bench and Ken asked him if he would help out in exchange for a meal. The man’s name was Ben Millane, and not only did he help, he took ownership of his tasks and being part of the event. He did the leaf blowing for the entire area and helped clean the venue. He was kind and talkative, and seemed as excited as anyone to be there, maybe more.
Without being asked, he stayed all the way through tear down. He talked numerous times throughout the day to all kinds of people. As the final things were loaded up, Ben thanked Ken and Kristie, said he loved the event, then asked if it was a one time only happening. Kristie said the event would definitely be back next year and that she would contact him. Ben has a FB page, and wondered where he could get one of the cycling t-shirts made by Origin. Kristie said she’d get him one.
This kind of interaction between strangers is what the day was about.
Six years is longer than you think
At the end of the South Bay Cycling Awards last year I was pretty wrung out. We had gone from humble origins at Naja’s dive bar in Redondo Beach to a huge event at Strand Brewing in Torrance, each year bigger than the last.
But after last year it felt like the event had run its course. There are only so many times you can give out twenty awards of distinction in a small community before you really are simply recycling names. Instead of an organic gathering of friends we had become a choreographed event with moving parts, all of which had to be timed and integrated.
It was a big old hassle.
As we were tussling with the idea of what to do in 2018, or whether to do anything at all, we were invited to join one of Ken Vinson’s Movement Rides. I’ve written about that experience, but it brought home the fact that if our event was going to represent the broader cycling community, it would need people from those communities who had skin in the game. Our decision to merge the two events was a quick one that left us with little time to pull it off.
“Don’t worry,” said Ken. “If give me the green light, we’ll make it happen.”
Let the people breathe
One thing I learned is that it’s hard to step aside. It’s kind of painful to see that when you’re not there, there are plenty of people who can do it better, more efficiently, and more effectively. And while it was great to see so many people come to the fore and do fantastic things, it also drove home that when an event is identified with one person it sort of sucks the oxygen out of the room for everyone else.
Apparently I was a pretty big oxygen suck, because when I turned the keys over to Ken and Kristie a whole host of new people stepped up to make the event better than it has ever been before. It’s hard to single out any one person, but some things really stood out.
One of them was Jeff Prinz of CBR, hopping around on a bandaged leg as he organized kids’ games and turned the first half of the event into a genuine icebreaker. It’s one thing to get black and white and brown people into a single venue, but a whole other thing to get them to talk. Racial barriers are real and they don’t come down easily. Although physical proximity is the key, it’s sometimes not enough.
Enter the world’s biggest game of musical chairs. Under Jeff’s direction the entire central area was converted into a game of 150-seat musical chairs, and this is where the barriers shook, crumbled, and fell. People diving for seats, laughing, bumping into each other, connecting as human beings over a simple child’s game … it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, made supreme by the fact that the child’s game was won, of course, by a child.
Let the people eat
Throughout the park, master cooks Harry McQueen, Patrick Barrett, Geoff Loui, and Jonathan Fraser cranked out the tantalizing smell of their pit creations, building to a fever pitch when the barbecue judging began at noon. Judges Sherri Foxworthy, Orlando Hutcherson, and Marvin Campbell did the hard work of eating the best barbecue imaginable, then trying to pick a winner.
And pick they did, anointing Patrick Barrett the winner’s laurels in a hard-fought contest. With heaps of non-contest meat also being grilled, people wandered through the area sampling, eating, and enjoying an amazing mix of camaraderie, community, and family. Shortly after noon Toni Smith and her Flawless Diamonds opened their food line and things got even more serious.
The first 150 people ate free; after that it cost ten bucks a plate for barbecue, cornbread, beans, and dessert. The Flawless Diamonds made sure that at this event, like every event they cater, no one goes hungry who can’t afford a meal. This too was a symbol of the day.
Let the people race
Around the corner from the stage, Zwift had set up a booth where you could strap into a spin bike and show your watts. The biggest wattage for the day, man and woman, each won a Zwift subscription along with a $1,200 indoor trainer. Competition was intense, to put it mildly. Zwift was one of many organizations who supported the event, including Race for RP, Velo Club LaGrange, and Big Orange Cycling. I’ve linked to the other sponsors in a previous post here.
The biggest race of all, of course, was the race of the people who showed up. It’s the first time ever, as was noted by keynote speaker Nelson Vails, that such a diverse community of cyclists has shown up to support, encourage, promote, and pay homage to the diversity of cycling. Award winners in 2018 made this event the most diverse one ever, and we didn’t even need an Oscars scandal to make it happen.
How did it happen? By doing the right thing for the right reasons with the right people.
After it was all said and done, we showed that people can work together, that unity is stronger than discord, and that the things we share as human beings that bind us together are infinitely stronger than the minor differences that people use to try and drive us apart. We showed that the first step to a better a world requires us to share the same physical space, that the second step requires a little bit of fun, and that the third step requires that we break bread together. The driving force for all of this, of course, is the bicycle, and anyone who doubts that bikes can save the world wasn’t at Eldorado Park last Sunday.
From volunteer photographers like Fred King to volunteer set-up hands like Ben Millane, from organizers like Ken and Kristie to the clubs who showed up in force, From Erick and Kurt on the sound to Peta and Rudy on the sack race, all I can say is that if you liked what you saw last week, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
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August 13, 2018 Comments Off on All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards 2018
Much to write about yesterday’s unforgettable event. In the meantime, below are photos taken by Aaron Chang, of the RP Foundation, one of the event’s biggest sponsors. Enjoy!!
August 8, 2018 § 28 Comments
I just finished a book called “How Cycling Can Save the World” by Peter Walker. My friend Marv gave it to me a while back and it’s been dust collecting with all my other unread books. The title wasn’t very compelling, and I figured there wasn’t going to be anything in it I didn’t already know, and if I want to read preachy incoherent ramblings by a madman I can peruse my own blog posts.
Well, I take it all back. It is a fantastic read even though it pillories a guy I highly regard, John Forester. More about all that later, as the book can’t be done justice in a single post. Instead, I want to focus on Chapter 8, “Why Cyclists Are Hated.”
Why cyclists are hated
Walker goes into a lot of detail about the ways in which cyclists are abused, but he never really comes around to explaining why. The reason is simple. We have a superiority complex and it drives cagers crazy.
“That’s not true!” you holler. “I accept all modes of transportation! I even have a car! I’m not trying to save the world! I just want to make the Flog Ride on time!”
Unfortunately, every act of cycling is a massive middle finger to every cager you encounter, whether they like you, hate you, own a bike, ride a bike, or have never sat on a bike. The reason is simple: At the moment a bike and a car interact, the bicycle is obviously the superior mode of transportation, and no matter what anyone says, roads are all about transportation.
The cyclist you encounter is by definition superior to you in your car as a means of transport: She is healthier than you, spending less money than you, getting where she wants to go more efficiently than you, avoiding the hassles of parking, never in a traffic jam, and when she’s done she gets to have a donut.
You, on the other hand, are in a car. Sorry, in a cage. At that moment in time you are sedentary, sitting on your ever-widening ass. Your blood pressure is already elevated. You have a car payment, insurance, a mostly empty gas tank, and a postcard from Martin Chevrolet telling you it’s time to get screwed in the service department again.
You are in traffic, you have to find a parking space, then pay for it directly or indirectly, and ultimately, indignity of indignities, walk anywhere from a hundred yards to a quarter mile total distance to get to your destination. As a transportation proposition, you lose and you know it. You lose and the cyclist knows it. Ergo, smug.
Rubbing salt into the wound
These facts are outrageous to cagers, but it gets worse. When you are on a bike you can’t really see anything about the driver. But when you’re in a car you get to see the entirety of the cyclist. And you know what you see? If the person is wearing lycra, you see someone with body confidence, and you compare it to yourself.
If the person is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you see someone casual and comfortable, stretching their limbs as you are crammed inside the cockpit of your badly fitting seat. Worse if you happen to be extremely tall, extremely short, or extremely overweight … you’re in a torture chamber.
Maybe you could live with all that if it weren’t for the fact that, despite the outliers, the average person on a bicycle looks so much better than the average person sitting in traffic. Their legs are toned. Their proportions are normal. They scream “NOT LIKE YOU” as you sag deeper into your driver’s seat.
Oh, and if you’re really unlucky, they’re using lane control and are actually in front of you.
Why this matters
Of course there are advantages to driving a car, for example, you live 50 miles from work, or you don’t like to get rained and snowed on, or you are allergic to sweat, or you carry massive boxes wherever you go, or you have a phobia of being outdoors. There may be other advantages I’ve overlooked. But at the moment you see any given person on a bicycle, they are, by definition, kicking your ass in the transportation battle, and the only defense you have is physical violence.
This of course is why noxious cagers troll up next to you and advise you that “The car always wins, pal.”
Of course if the question is, “Which weapon is more deadly?” then the car certainly wins. That’s why you don’t really have a rejoinder to it. But on the roadway, the competition is to get to your destination efficiently, not to kill people. In fact, killing people in your car is highly inefficient. You have to stop. Talk to the police. Explain how you didn’t see the biker who swerved in front of you while you were texting. Sometimes you even have to pay a modest traffic fine. So even when cagers are killing cyclists, they’re still inefficient losers at the transportation game.
The car always loses, at least when it’s sharing the road with a bike, and when we’re talking about transportation.
This matters because once you realize that cars and bikes are in competition, and cars are always the loser, it explains the rage of so many cagers, a rage they sometimes enact by doing the roadway equivalent of beating you up, i.e., running you over. But just because you’re dead or maimed doesn’t mean that their car is any more efficient. It just means they have to take it to the carwash to sponge off the gore, which, sadly, is yet another inefficiency.
This also explains why so many drivers are impervious to rational explanations about how you’re not really taking away their roadway, their parking, blah blah blah. It’s a lie and they know it. You are not only beating them at the transportation game, but every victory you notch encourages someone else to try it, and pretty soon the ants have carried away the elephant.
Can bikes and cars coexist?
In the long term, I don’t see how. It’s a zero sum game, because the more bike infrastructure that gets planted, the more people ride and the less they want to drive, and they therefore want to provide less space for cars. With the exception of Australia, a nation with an explicit anti-cycling agenda, every country that has become bicycle friendly has had to build more and more bike infrastructure and make cars less and less welcome.
It’s a small step from bike lanes to segregated bike lanes to shutting off the town center to cars.
It’s not because bikes are anti-car, it’s because cars are horribly inefficient and costly and filthy compared to bikes, and when bikes are given even the slightest opening, to say nothing of a level playing field, they completely destroy the car culture. The converse is true, too. It’s no coincidence that Japan and China’s full-gas commitment to cars has exterminated a formerly vibrant and all-encompassing culture of bike transportation.
So the next time someone accuses you of being snobby and superior, the fairest thing you could do is admit they’re right. And keep pedaling.
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July 8, 2018 § 7 Comments
A couple of months ago we were descending Highridge to the light at Hawthorne when I noticed the road was pockmarked with gnarly cracks and chugholes. They had been there forever but I never thought much about them. You just whiz down, pay attention, and avoid them. It’s not that hard.
Unless you’re riding with someone who hasn’t been doing this since 1982, in which case you realize pretty quickly that what is simply something to notice and avoid for you can be a life altering collision trigger for someone else. My someone else got to the light and shook her head. “Those are so dangerous!” she said.
I thought about it for a second. Then I agreed. “Deadly, in fact.”
Responsive local gummint
The next day my wife went back and emailed me photos of the mined-out roadscape, and I sent them on the City of Rancho Palos Verdes’s public works department, and noted that these were exactly the kind of cracks that can kill vulnerable road users like cyclists.
Twenty-four hours later I got a very nice message from the city saying that the holes and cracks had all been filled.
And they had.
So it occurred to me that taking the time to make a pothole report every now and then was a good thing, especially since the problem actually got taken care of.
A little over a week ago we were coming home on Vista del Mar, in the City of Los Angeles, and my wife hit a gnarly crack that jerked her front wheel violently to the side. She came within millimeters of hitting the pavement and knocking me down, too. I was shaking after she cleared the obstacle.
We got home and I sent an email to the city’s pothole reporting hotline.
There are dozens of dangerous cracks, raised manhole covers, manhole covers with degraded asphalt around them, and potholes in the Number 1 lane of Vista del Mar all the way from Napoleon to Imperial. Numerous of these conditions are dangerous for bicycles and will result in a bicycle collision if the front or rear tire gets caught in the cracks.
The very next day I got this response:
Your Pothole – Small Asphalt Repair request was updated on 07/02/2018 1:19 PM.
Service Request # 1-1085237921
Location: VISTA DEL MAR AT NAPOLEON ST, 90293
Closed – See Comments
No potholes found upon inspection of S/B Vista Del Mar between Napoleon St. and Imperial Hwy.. There were no raised manhole covers either.
So I went for another bike ride, and sent them this:
I am not sure where you were looking or how you conducted the inspection. Attached are photos I took yesterday showing just a few of the cracks, holes, and manhole covers into which a bike tire can easily get caught.
And I included these:
To which the fine folks in the public works department the next day said this:
Thank you for contacting the City of Los Angeles. Please provide the exact location of where these cracks are at. Are they on Vista del Mar? Between what cross streets? I will reopen another request.
Leading me to say:
These are all on Vista del Mar at various locations, beginning at the light at Napoleon and running all the way to Imperial. They are all in the No. 1 lane, southbound headed towards El Segundo.
You will have difficulty seeing them at 45 mph from behind the windshield of a truck. The most effective way to inspect would be on bicycles.
Which resulted in:
Thank you for submitting your Pothole – Small Asphalt Repair Service Request. Please note the Service Request number for future reference.
Service Request # 1-1091425871
Location: VISTA DEL MAR AT NAPOLEON ST, 90293
Ignoring vulnerable road users
In addition to the hideous condition of Vista del Mar southbound, anyone who’s ever done the NPR knows that northbound it’s a billion times worse. But the city’s public works department isn’t really interested in fixing the problem, what they’re interested in doing is creating a record that will provide them with an absolute defense the next time they get sued. You can tell that because the location they’ve identified is “Vista del Mar at Napoleon St.” when I specifically told them it was all the way from there to Imperial.
This past year the city got dinged with a $9 million judgment when a cyclist hit a pothole and suffered catastrophic injuries. When you sue the city/county/state, you have to prove that they were on notice, or should have been on notice, of the dangerous condition. In order to do that the plaintiff makes a public records request to see if anyone has complained about the pothole or other dangerous condition in the past, and if they have and the city has done nothing about it, then the city is “on notice” of the dangerous condition and can be held liable for the resulting injuries.
So the city now has a policy, apparently, of rushing out to the site, giving it a clean bill of health, and calling it good. That way they can “prove” that there was no dangerous condition as of the date of the inspection, and therefore any subsequent collision would have had to have been caused by a “new” pothole that they didn’t know about. Of course Vista del Mar in between Napoleon and Imperial is one long 2-mile dangerous condition, but only for bicycles. The non-inspection performed by the city above gives them cover for their failure to repair.
I still think it’s worthwhile to stop and photograph the cracks and potholes, and to follow up with the city. It only takes a few minutes, and in the case of some municipalities, they will actually do something about it. For the ones that don’t, like L.A., as long as you keep emailing them that it’s not fixed, they’re “on notice.”
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July 5, 2018 § 4 Comments
What did you celebrate independence from yesterday, if anything?
I asked one of my African-American friends how he spent the day.
“Working,” he said.
“Bummer,” I said.
“It’s a holiday, man.”
He shrugged. “It isn’t my Independence Day.”
Free at last?
That made a pretty good impression on me. There were a whole bunch of people who Thomas Jefferson didn’t have in mind when he said “all men are created equal,” not to mention 100% of women.
At the same time, there were a few things to celebrate yesterday, some hard won freedoms that were worth reflecting on.
- Freedom from drunkenness. A few nights ago I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party at one of my old haunts, Naja’s Place. They have about seventy beers on tap at all times, and the menu that night was lights out. Mmmmmm. Yummmmm. But I walked out of the bar having spent a nice time with friends, and reflected that it was one of the only times I’d ever walked out of there sober. Still got my demons, but that ain’t one of ’em.
- Freedom from cages. I got up early, made pancakes, then rode with my wife and Major Bob to Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica. We watched a parade, then pedaled back to Manhattan Beach, hung out with some friends on the beach, then made our way to a party. After an hour or so we rode home. I can’t imagine a day like that in L.A. if we’d had to do it in a cage. No parking anywhere, traffic everywhere. But unchained from the cage we spent several hours on our bikes, saw lots of places and more than a few friends, and still called it a day by 2:00 PM. Dollars spent on gasoline and parking: Zero. Fucks given about traffic: None. Satisfaction rating: Off the chart.
- Freedom from shitty bread. This needs a long explanation but basically once you start baking your own bread you stop eating pretty much everything that’s commercially made. Industrial bread in all its forms tastes like a mouthful of sugary dirt. And when you make bread yourself, you’re not depending on anyone to do it for you. Bread is called the staff of life for a reason, a reason that I’d never really understood before.
- Freedom from chain oil. Really, ditch the chain oil and wax that puppy up.
I think that’s enough to say it was a pretty independent day.
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July 3, 2018 § 20 Comments
You could see the glimmer of hope, first when Hinault said that the riders should refuse to start with Froome on the line, and then, blossoming into a rather stronger beam, when the Turdy France organizers invoked Article 28 to ban Froome from the race.
Of course the glimmer was plunged into eternal night a few hours later when the UCI, taking a nod from WADA, threw the whole thing into the dumpster. As the protesters howled, WADA shrugged and said that it wasn’t practical to design a test to catch a guy who was doping, even though he’d already been caught, and even though past salbutamol cases had been easily, handily, and quickly processed.
As usual, the dead sport of cycling turned to doper, dope peddler, fraudster, and convicted felon Floyd Landis for insight, with suspected-but-unproven doper Chris Horner chiming in. This, then, is the state of things: The only people who have anything meaningful to say are people who have left the sport in disgrace, or under a dumping tropical storm of suspicion.
Trump and Froome
Everything, of course, comes back to Trump. Not because he is a cause, but because he is a symptom of the disease, just like the horrible tandem of Froome and Brailsford. Facts, truth, rules, and the moral spirit of fairness are completely dispensed with as the juggernaut of entertainment squashes everything in its path.
Politics, with its shouting, ignorant, unread participants on all sides, and cycling, with its shouting, less ignorant but still unread participants on all sides, have been co-opted by the corporatist state whose single-minded goal is returns to the shareholders no matter the social, environmental, or human costs. It isn’t capitalism run wild, it is human greed.
How did we get here?
The baby boom
The Greatest Generation in the U.S. was followed by the baby boom, which has now been followed by the baby bust. It is easy to see the boomers as the most despicable generation in the history of the species. They have taken everything, destroyed everything, given nothing. They have presided over the death of the environment, the veritable melting of the earth itself. And what have we given in return for all that we have taken? Trump, the last lobsterman.
I say lobsterman because many years ago, when the Maine fisheries were on the brink of collapse and regulators were trying to keep it alive, a reporter asked a crusty old lobsterman why he so bitterly opposed the fishing limits even though it would mean that in the long term his occupation would survive. “I’m a lobsterman,” he said. “And if the fishery is gonna die, I’m gonna catch the last damn one.”
That is Trump, that is Frooomesford, that is every local crit that keeps raping its dwindling loyal racers for a dollar a minute, or less, to ride around in circles. “The sport may die, but I’m gonna get the last fucking entry fee from the last damned rider.”
The boomers never seriously asked why the fishery has to die, or why the sport had to collapse. Why the hell is that?
The baby bust
The developed world is staring down the maw of its own cultural and human extinction. The replacement rate for a human population is 2.1 live births per woman. The most recent data for the U.S. pegged the 2017 fertility rate at 1.75, far below what is needed to maintain growth, joining Western Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Korea, and China as nations whose populations are swirling the drain.
Some people think that’s a bad thing because without a stable base of young people, there will be no one to do the work, pay the taxes, and be generally fucked around by the old folks. Other people think that a declining population, at least in the short term, is a good thing. Automation, robot dogs, algorithms that think for you, Viagra, and not having to pay for grandbaby college tuition is pretty much nirvana, they say.
Regardless of who’s right, the baby busters have some ugly facts in their corner. The first is that even countries like Finland, where maternity is supported at all levels by the state, have been no more successful in boosting fertility rates than places like Japan, where women are actively punished for making full natural use of their vaginas. Pregnant? You’re fired.
The numbers aren’t lying, and how could they? Childbearing sucks, even when you get a check from the government, generous maternity leave, free childcare, and you have a husband who really does share the housework.
You may be able to convince a few women to have a kid, a bunch less to have two kids, but it is a dead letter trying to get women to have three. They have birth control, thank you very much, and no matter how illegal you make abortion, the might and main of women on earth have figured out how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. People point to economic factors, social factors, and factor-factors, but I point to the obvious: Pregnancy and childbirth suck.
Hope is the future, the future is hope
Every morning I listen to Falter Radio, a magnificent broadcast from Vienna that tackles all of the hard questions. Much of its analysis focuses on the upending of liberal social democracy in Europe, and tries to make sense out of why countries that have so profoundly benefited from it are now turning hard right and harvesting radical right wing racism in the process. The shuddering is at its most intense when they talk about America. If America is abandoning its democratic ideals, what hope is there for the rest of the world? China, where there’s a video surveillance camera every 200 feet, and where people are scored on a social reliability index that allows or prohibits access to things like buses and subways?
The folks at Falter can’t figure it out, but I can, and I have.
Our complete reversal away from fairness, law, democracy, and liberty is simply one — maybe the most important — manifestation of our collapsing birth rate. Every country in Europe that has turned hard right has a plunging fertility rate. Poland, 1.32%. Hungary, 1.44%. Austria, 1.47%. Germany, 1.50%. Italy, 1.37%.
World leaders with developed economies who are also in the throes of demographic collapse happen to correlate well with repressive, anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, corporatist states. China, 1.57%, South Korea, 1.24%, Japan, 1.45%, and Russia, 1.75%.
Why should this be, and what does it have to do with Froomesford?
Well, the simplest explanation is that developed countries with a lot of kids have historically found a lot of common ground on social, economic, and political issues because the polity understands the concept of future as something that extends beyond their own lives. When a society is awash in kids, most people take an active stake in the future for the purely selfish reason that they don’t want their children to live in misery.
Even my racist, alcoholic, mean-spirited, tax-hating Republican grandfather believed in public education and health care because he had a kid.
If you think about it, that belief in the future is a big leap. The future is an imaginary construct that never really comes, whereas the present and the past are demonstrable moments in time. When a society comes together to make policy about the future, it is making policy about an imaginary time, and how far out you imagine that point has everything to do with the policies you commit to. People talk about a divided America and about the collapse of dialogue, but that’s horseshit. My grandfather hated liberals in 1963 just as violently as the average white, 60-ish Texas voter does today. The difference is that my grandfather knew that without education and some basic access to rights, his daughter wasn’t going to have much of a life.
What’s changed isn’t the political divide, but the fact that there aren’t enough kids to force people to find common ground. If the only future timeline that matters is my own life, it makes sense to tighten things up and make sure that less wealth is distributed, less opportunities are provided to others, and that more resources and rights are devoted to fewer (and older) people. Fuck the youth, and especially the immigrant ones.
Nowhere is this forfeiture of the future more apparent than in school shootings. Here we have a wholly preventable social phenomenon that preys on children in the most violent way. But on a political level, who cares? Children are not the future, they are a vestigial reminder of our own past and a nagging critique of our impending mortality, but they are not a precious resource to be treasured, grown, loved, educated, valued. Another group of children got shot up in school? Well, I got my problems, too. And what has any kid ever done for me?
You see this phenomenon of hopelessness play out in cycling as well. Even lower than the national fertility rate, few cyclists have 1.75 children, and most have less. Every now and again some cycling nut dad will get his kid into the sport and make a big deal about how the sport is collapsing and about how we have to do more for juniors and where are all the junior races and blah blah blah, but nothing ever happens, and not only because the kid hits puberty and discovers that bike racing is not nearly as much fun as ________ (fill in the blank with pretty much anything).
The main reason that nothing ever happens is because cycling, like Trumpist America, is dominated by aging, greedy, white men who do not give two broken fucks about junior racing. What they want is a prize list, a 45-minute crit, and a safe, unchallenging race that ends in time for them to prop up and watch the Big Game. And they don’t even represent the majority: The sport as a whole doesn’t even want racing on that pitiful level, it wants no racing at all.
As a whole, cycling is comprised of old white men who don’t want to race, unless you consider the Donut Ride, Strava, grand fondues, and grumpy grinders “racing.”
Without kids in the mix, there’s no reason to care about anything. That’s why even the angriest liberals look at what’s happening today and mostly shrug. By the time the true devastation of Trumpism blossoms, we will be dead or so close to it that it will have been worth it, or so we think. This is the only thing that explains the casual acceptance of the Froomesford scandal. Let ’em cheat. They’re only cheating themselves, I can choose not to watch it, and anyway, my kid’s not trying to make it in pro cycling, so what do I care?
I hate to break the news to you. You may not care. You may think that it’s okay to whore off the future to the slothful, insatiable, rapine greed of the present. But inside, the only thing that can ever make anyone feel good about life is the conviction that there is a future, and the knowledge that you’re doing something positive for it.
Froomesford is wrong. Trump is wrong. Xi is wrong. Kurz is wrong. Orban is wrong. Abe is wrong.
The little kids in the morgue are right.
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