August 3, 2018 § 10 Comments
The Turdy France came and went, and for the first time in decades I didn’t follow it, care about it, or even know who had won until a couple of days after. My sole TdF awareness was courtesy of a friend who texted to say that “Today’s stage was like when the bridesmaid coldcocks the bride, grabs the flowers and ring, smooches the groom and says ‘I do!'”
I went over to CyclingNews and saw that the bridesmaid had indeed made a run at the altar, head down and shoulders squared.
That was pretty much it until last Saturday, when I, Damir and Dutchman Georg were rolling out of Vienna, and Damir said, “The Englishman named G-something is gonna win.” It mattered not at all, at least to me. I’ve made my peace with drugged up entertainment. Some people like it and need it, and that’s okay with me.
Keep your eye on what they want you to keep it on
What’s not okay with me is the way that the TdF, pro sports, the news media, and the streets of Vienna, or any other city, keep your eyes fastened on what’s in front of you. Here you are walking down some of the most beautiful streets on earth and your eye can’t help but focus on the marquis for Rolex or the imposing sign that says Ritz-Carlton.
The Tour does the same thing, of course. It tricks you into looking at what’s in front of you on the computer or television screen, because what’s in front of you is advertising, and what’s behind advertising is the global corporate monolith. You need to look straight ahead in order to keep consuming, which is why the designs are so Facebooky appealing and the colors so innately attractive.
Tilt your neck
One of the last days in Vienna I was returning my wife’s rental bike and had to walk along a bridge over the Donau. Off to my right was an imposing skyscraper with a design that can only be described as fantastic. I snapshotted it and posted it the next day on Instagram, and a follower, an architect, immediately posted the name of the woman who had designed it.
The beauty of the building, and the speed with which the person who really knew what she was looking at identified the architect, struck me hard because Vienna is filled with amazing architecture, but the buildings are whored up with so much signage and storefront modifications that you only appreciate the dangling brand names, never the facades they hang upon.
On my last few days I walked around the city looking up, with each glance realizing how little I knew about the buildings that made up the city. They were clearly from different eras, some built after the war to fill in a gaping hole caused by aerial bombardment, others built in the 1700’s to house nobility, others built two centuries ago as tenements for those who lived outside the city’s fortifications. The more I looked, the more I pondered how ignorant I was, and the more amazed I became at having seen so little in such a long stretch of time. This is the kind of missed picture that people who don’t birdwatch never get to see when they stroll along the beach at Redondo, oblivious to the amazing variety of bird life right in front of their noses.
It’s the same oblivion that we experience when we focus our energies on the Doper of the Day rather than the extraordinary people pedaling bikes around us. After a few days of staring at buildings, my neck got really sore and I went into my favorite bookstore, Thalia, to find something that would be in front of my face but not mass media pablum designed to sell me something I don’t want, don’t need, and can’t use.
And man, did I find it.
We, the childless Froomes
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.