Posts Tagged “Bicyclism!”
People who know me and know of the issues my family have been dealing with over the past few years keep telling me the same thing: all families have their problems. Weasel words. Platitudes. No one, I would contend, could possibly have connections to as psychotic a bunch of sociopaths as my wife’s abysmal family. All that is needed to expose their character is the catalyst of money. And money is something they always like to have around.
I have always reckoned that a family that can reconcile the invariably asymmetrical viewpoints on the distribution of ‘family wealth’ is one that is both rare and worthwhile. My own family is like that; we have a history of simply letting stuff disappear into the hands of the ruthless and greedy, rather than pursue our rights to the death. Not good for the bottom line but we are a long lived family with few scars. But my wife’s family is different (with the exception of my wife, who is as opposite from them as it could ever be possible to stretch genetic attachments without appearing to be adopted). Money is their religion, their reason for existence, their goal, their passion, and their misery. Measured by the cent. One cent at a time. Odious, obnoxious trolls. I am not being subtle here, am I…
I mean, how would you react to advice from the forthcoming brother-in-law just after the announcement of intended nuptials: ˆyou know you shouldn’t be marrying her for her money, don’t you! Because you won’t be getting any. Our business is none of yours’. Which is pretty hard to swallow when being part of their farming business is quite possibly the last thing I could ever possibly want. Having invested ten years into the getting of qualifications and experience towards an academic career, why would I want to take up farming instead?! But being a family farm their business would be a business from which it would be pretty hard to stay totally removed, especially when it is the location of our home and the focus of my wife’s life passion (a passion that makes mine for cycling seem like a momentary fad). Theirs is a farm that has always depended entirely on her intelligence and, frankly, brilliance as a manager of animals and on her extraordinary intuition in relation to the challenges of the rural market place. My intuitions are more academic, having been, for 26 years, a lecturer in farm business management (and later on more diverse, ecological-economic themes) at the local university, and thus shielded from the inner workings of The Family Business. I’ve been viewed as an exotic threat since the day we got married. Watched, feared, reviled. It has been fun…
All farming businesses pass on; but some pass with more grace than others. Some pass via an agreed plan. Some pass via the attrition of a war. Ours was more the latter than the former, given that the rules of engagement and most of the ensuing plan were dictated by The Eldest Brother upon the context entirely of what was best, exclusively, for him. The Eldest Brother had ruled the roost for over 30 years. He ran the books. He decided what could be spent and what could not. Which always pretty well meant that anything that was to his advantage was approved and anything else was beyond financial reach. But my wife ploughed on, doing her thing. Producing wool of world class renown. The only one of the three siblings with a genuine love for the place.
So we ended up at the intersection in the road; the old guy, the head of the clan, decided to give in and split the place across his offspring. The Eldest Brother was born for this day. Like a coil hard-sprung for years, he launched his greased plan. First up, he took away our house. Gifted to us via promise by my wife’s parents, we now were forced to buy it back. Full market price. The Eldest Brother managed to value our house at 10 times the price as that of his own. But then the real nightmare began: unravelling the family books. Kept like a sacred scripture by the Eldest Brother for years, no one had ever managed to see within and no one was ever going to short of a SAS-like covert audit.
So we paid our millions for our share and still The Brothers managed to keep a hold over us through refusing to let us buy our share of the livestock and plant. We had to lease our stock and pay above market rates by way of interest, for years to come. How would anyone run a livestock business when denied ownership of the animals involved? My first step was to enlist a legal-accounting team to find us an escape. It took two years! Mainly because the Eldest Brother refused to let even our accountant see the books to work out a payout price. But it got even worse. My wife’s father had extended an interest free loan to her by way of mitigation of damage caused by reneging on the handover of our house. For two years, we had taken him at his word. Until one day, hiding on his kitchen table, we found The Invoice. The Eldest Brother had, apparently, taken exception to this ‘interest free loan’ and had decided, without telling us, to charge us interest from day one. And, because we never knew, he’d been compounding those interest charges into the principal stacking up a healthy potential income stream. He’d written this loan contract with his wife on the day we all split the place. The solicitor involved had told us there was no problem, interest was optional. But not to the Eldest Brother to whom interest is the sacred sacrament of his perverted sense of self worth.
I unleashed my legal team. We shut the racket down. We escaped. We are now free. Funded entirely from my personal life savings. And we had two victories along the way. First, we won on the question of interest for my wife’s father’s loan. $9,000 saved. The second victory was to secure interest relief over the past 6 months of haggling over our non-access to the books. Access is a legal right, not a benefit to be bestowed. $6,000 saved. $9,000 plus $6,000 = $15,000. The exact price of my new bike. My new bike is a statement of rights restored. The only victory I have ever scored against the tyranny of my wife’s greed bloated family. My new bike is a symbol of our freedom, funded by the curtailment of The Brothers’ relentless greed. I love this bike for what it is and for how it came to be mine. What better statement could I ever have to mark the occasion of the dawn of a new life for my family and what will probably be the last great fling of my cycling career. This bike is a sweet reward. It almost doesn’t matter what it is but it is something extraordinary nonetheless. To celebrate our freedom, I devised a simple plan: I simply want the best bike money can buy. Period. No compromises. The best there is. Funded through righteous relief from the tyranny of greed. So what did I get? Stay tuned.
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Just imagine if the bicycle had been invented by a Government Committee.
The first 20 years would have been all about the specification of an agreed working brief, wherein 19 of those 20 years would have been all about coming to an agreement on the Terms of Reference for the Brief. Then there’d be the exhaustively important process of setting up a Working Party (WP) to oversee the overseeing of the process of writing up that brief from it’s earliest forays via a due participative process of exhaustive review with a view to Green Paper (GP) documentation. With the white hot excitement of Real Progress (reportable against sixteen duly agreed Progress Milestones (PM’s) (overseen and assessed via a properly constituted External Review (ER) process populated via an appropriately credentialed Expert Panel of Industry and Community Authorities (EPICA) working through an existing system of Regional Development Authorities (RDA’s) and their own (in turn) Regional Review Panels (RRP’s)) the breezy path-breaking next step would be to write up the entire show as the Official White Paper (OWP)!
With the White Paper to hand, it would then be time to select some appropriately credentialed consultants to advise on a short list of Community Relevant Design Briefs (meeting all appropriate specifications for environmental-friendly, low carbon footprint materials and manufacture and dutiful compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines, Equal Opportunity Protocols, and Indigenous Sensitivities).
Once done, our fevered white hot innovators would field a short list of five recommendable design briefs over which we, the intended Target Audience (or Adoption Community) could indicate relevant preferences via the machinery of a cascade of State-Local instrumentality Community Consultative Committees (SLICCC) – Slick, for short, just like the process…
Onwards to the benchmark quality assured milestone-meeting Deliverables!
From the esteemed Department of Industry, Trade and Philately, we’d have a duly and exhaustively considered Benchmark Quality Assured Delivery to do us all proud. We’d have a roadside Sign depicting the ultimate prize of the Committee-Selected winning Bicycle design. A mock up illustration. Together with 4.6 million industry Best Practice full colour brochures (printed on paper with no less than 46 percent recycled consumer waste) for distribution to all interested parties. And a $6.6million advertising campaign on TV espousing the immeasurable (but OH&S measurable) benefits of using this new, wonderful machine (should it ever be built).
From the Department of Transport and Infringement Revenue Collection – Purveyors of Take-a-Ticket-and Wait-Until-You-Are-Called Traffic Collectioneering, we’d have a brand new (Best Practice) (Quality Assured) Bicycle Inspection and Registration Protocols and Administration Service (BIRPAS) (Working for the Interests of Community, Safety, and Making big piles of cash). Together with a $19 million web INTERACTIVE! (we are even on Facebook…) website for further information (toll free for your (in)convenience).
From the Department of Privatisation and Pretending We Really Do Know What Happens in the Real World, we’d have an issue of the Largest Roll Out Programme This Country Has Ever Seen: with a bicycle planned for direct delivery to each and every home (no matter where those homes are located – as long as they are not located in the country in which case you should move to the city and stop being a nuisance to Governments of all jurisdictions). All pending the appointment of a tender winning Implementation Contractor (that is, someone who can actually manufacture a bike) meeting full government specifications (notwithstanding the secret but nevertheless widely reported, if not leaked, provision for $1billion in Risk Assessed likely cost overruns).
From the Department of Roads, we’d all receive a carefully demographically tested brochure (in sixteen languages with translator services available for the illiterate and profoundly ignorant) explaining that you really do need to give way to bicycles on the left as you enter into roundabouts, or is that to bicycles already in the roundabouts, or is that to bicycles on the right that are already in a roundabout but not yet turning left. Or something. So there. Fines apply.
And then we’d be able to purchase our new bike.
And what a bike that bike would be! 65kg of first grade carbon sequestered steel (which is real) surrounded, surmounted and subsumed by 50kg of Industry Best Practice Safety Gear (for your protection). Colour choices of safety fluoro orange or yellow. Flashing yellow lights, protection bars, air bags, inertia reel retractable foot straps, and a safety hazard label panel heads-up display to display on your handlebars – designed to remind you to ride with a helmet, check your wheel nuts, check your handlebars are screwed on, check your seat bolt, check your tyres, check your brakes, avoid sitting passengers on your handlebars, else they’d cover up your hazard label warning display… Speed is limited to 28km/hour on the Standard Use Plan, extendable to 36km/hr via Special Registration Premium Plans subject to suitable special OH&S licensing, testing and payment of a usurious fee, subject to Reserve Bank indexing and current Market Conditions (assessed quarterly).
All problems, issues, complaints and solicitations for assistance will be considered via a queue based support service outsourced to Delhi. Just dial 0100 999 666 999 444 999 BIKE for help. And then enter your Tax File Number. And your Date of Birth. And your credit card number because these calls are charged; at a prevailing market rate. Of $100 per minute. Even while you are on hold. Which is all the time.
And two years on, the entire show would be sold off to the Private Sector via an appropriate Public Float. And two years after that, the Government would bail them out and take over once again. Until the next election. When everything will be reviewed and referred to a brand new Green Paper – White Paper Task Force all over again… Round and around just like our wheels.
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Some films are notable more for the premise around which they are constructed than for any degree of artistic merit or associated film making magic. Someone had a hit in this regard with the film Idiocracy. Quite possibly one of the worst films of these, or really, any other times. But the idea underpinning it was inspired!
It’s a well known empirically un-contestable fact (at least according to facts as I perceive them) that those with the least to contribute to society, always seem to contribute the only thing they have to provide; and they do so with astonishing abundance: more people just like them. Otherwise, why would there be so many cars on the roads and, relatively, so few bicycles? Idiocracy (the film) is all about five hundred years of continual dumbing down of society to the point where the generations of the future are barely sentient. So dumb, that they killed off all their crops via watering them with Brawndo (aka Gatorade). Or where the most intelligent person in that future world is the dummy who volunteered for a military hibernation experiment in this, our current era, only to wake when his deep sleep capsule descends via an avalanche of trash into the living room of a year 2500 lawyer with the mental abilities of a cactus plant.
It’s not exactly a deeply insightful movie… But the idea is a winner!
But the reality of the deep future is probably hinged on more convoluted effects than breeding alone.There are more insidious things in the modern gene pool that would flag a dismal future for the human race. I’ll give you a few hints.
Once upon a time, the equation that connected risks with rewards was impressively broad. Big risks often shocked the world into big leaping cultural and/or technology shifts of enduring, positive change. Tinkering at the margin only ever produces marginal change. Big ideas come from big risks of some kind or another. Big ideas came from folk prepared to raise their heads way, way above the mediocracy of a culturally normalised world. Big risks might put careers, personal fortunes or even lives on the line. Payoffs could be beyond one’s wildest dreams, or beneath one’s worst nightmares. Yes, there always have been attractions for not sticking you head out too far. Not too long ago, for instance, the church was rather ready to burn innovators at the stake. But all that just added to the heroism of those flights real change leaders used to take. Consider Galileo. Consider Leonardo Da Vinci, Beethoven, and Henri Desgrange (the guy who conceived of the Tour de France).
But now, the bureau-rats have caught us all under airbags of risk management sludge. We are now surrounded by managerialised nets to keep risk taking firmly under control; contained, castrated, dowsed in the paralysis of the Well-Ordered-Market-Place. We now live in the ‘Consensus State’. That’s a place where the average rules; where outliers are sidelined to loony land, locked up or at least economically marganalised. Loonies extend past the bands of acceptability in our risk-managed Politically-Corrected world of institutionally-asserted, instrumentally-managed mediocracy. The Consensus State is the place where the majority rules. And if the majority are idiots, Idiocracy is the State of play. If politics, policy or other versions of law don’t keep the risk takers at bay, corporate greed will chain saw fresh ideas down to size. These days, ideas are captured and controlled by the legal swill of patent law and the dogma of continually rising rates of shareholder return.
But there are still some sparks to light the night of the dirge of this politically corrected world with which we must now contend. There are still a few flames that prevent idiocracy from taking full hold. By definition, the light can now only come from outside that black blanket warped by politics and wefted by corporate greed. And certainly from way, way outside the turgid sludge of contemporary bureaucracy. People are still rubbing a few sticks together outside the dozy lights of Central Command. People are still doing stuff that makes no sense when judged by the metrics of Bureaucracy’s check-box, risk-managed tinsel fist. Those people are noticed ever more as they become the only light left to see.
The whole world tuned into just such a show this past weekend. 180 individuals all intent on a task that’s so totally outside the metrics of any risk assessor’s boundaries of acceptable practice. 180 individuals all doing stuff that breaks every single rule of idiocratic good sense. 180 individuals all flouting even a despot’s lip service to Occupational Health and Safety! 180 individuals striving to the limit and beyond for rewards beyond the currency of money. And the light they lit diverted the gaze of 300 million plus viewers of an otherwise same-levelled world of consensus conformity. Yes, the Cycling World Championships packed a punch to remind us all that there’s still life outside the idiocracy to which we might all have otherwise succumbed.
Not a video game. No blond bimbos selling corporate goods. No tickets to buy. No scripts set to standardised cultural memes. This was life lived briefly outside the sedation of idiocratic norms. Real, spontaneous, safety-net free exertion for rewards beyond the metric of the market place to understand.
This is socially-destabilising stuff. Unlike most eruptions of this kind, cycling has impact beyond the immediate event at hand. How many of those who watched will now be inspired to take up riding a bike? How many will be re-invigorated to sustain what must be one of the great perversities to this otherwise car strangled world of ours? Some folk just might, maybe, give a thought to looking a bit more through the cracks in their otherwise risk-normalised world. Imagine life without boundary pushing like this? Of course you could go further and take up life in a hill top monastery, or take up axe murdering. But cycling is such an accessible escape. Best of all, cycling is one firm fist in the eye of a world that would otherwise totally succumb to the idiocy of idiocracy.
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I am beginning to doubt the laws of evolution. And always those pertaining to religion. But in relation to the first, here’s why:
Now we are supposed to think that evolution favours the intelligent and the fit. Over lots and lots of time, traits that improve environmental adaptation tend to be favoured and replicated until they become the norm. That’s the way it works for trees and for ladybugs. But it doesn’t seem to work for humans. If humans are supposed to be part of nature’s rich fabric, then humanity’s evolutionary server seems to be off-line. Of course, the religious types would immediately contend that humans are above evolution as we are above nature; being selected by higher powers… But, given the choice of animal, vegetable or mineral, most folk I know are closer to animals than plants (though they do tend to enjoy emulating potatoes when they take seed on the couch…) We follow the herd just like all the other bison on the plains. How else could you explain the prevalence of football, country music and the latest Australian election results…
No, humans are animals too; squabbling, bickering territorial aggressors just like every other species I could name.
Here’s where the theory of evolution breaks down. Here’s the nail in the evolutionary coffin.
All other animals seems to possess higher levels of cautionary behaviour than people do. Not too many animals throw themselves into harm’s way. Not too many animals are persistently oblivious to threats. If they were, they’d soon become extinct and so that evolutionary sub-routine is served. But not so with people! It seems that most humans choose to thrill seek in the face of death. Or maybe it’s just because they are chewing the cud of consumerist excess to spare the space to notice all the evolutionary signals out there. Especially when it comes to all those life and death threats with which they participate as an everyday unthinking routine. Take this example. Take the drivers of SUV’s (or 4WD trucks as some would describe). There’s plenty of these where I live. As a matter of fact, that’s all that seems to be on the rural roads around here.
Here’s the game. The roads are 1.2 times as wide as the average SUV. The roads are unmarked with centre lines. Our roads have more bends than a bird harassed snake. Here’s the scene. Lady in silver Landcruiser off to town. She drives in the middle of the road. A hat wearing local bloke is coming the other way. That one’s in a 4WD ute with dogs happily face surfing the wind. Neither moves off to one side when passing. Both are doing over 100km/hr (60 miles per hour). Both fix their glassy gaze into the realms of some other place. The same place their minds are always in when they drive a car. Defying physics and, probably, the laws of chemistry as well, they both pass with only friction burns to their driver side rear view mirrors. Not a thought. No inclination to evolution’s proposed laws of evolutionary caution.
Now, let’s spice this scenario up a little. Add in a cyclist using the road. Of course, our sainted peddler uses vastly less space than the width of the road, but using the road is still in his or her set of rights. Just a little bit of road. Now, consider this death-defying maths. One road equal to 1.2 times the width of an average SUV (not including the snouts of overhanging dogs who, unlike their masters, do indeed pull their heads in when passing another car). Two SUV’s passing each other equals 80 per cent more than the width of the road they seek to both employ. Add in the cyclist at, say, another 20 per cent and the total demand for the road is now 100 per cent more than the road that there is. But does this stop those moto-loco’s from attempting to pass at the same time as the cyclist who is now in their way? Nope. Nada. Forget it. In a blinding feat of defeat to the laws of evolution, pass is what they do; probably without even a thought (because thinking seems to be a vestigial mental appendix on the killing fields of our local roads).
And who, might I ask, is the likely victim of this feat of perversity to the hard wired caution that’s built into every other animal’s evolutionary routine? Why, the cyclist, of course. And that’s where evolution is proved now, definitively, to be wrong. The survival of the fittest? The two couch potatoes in their mind-souping SUV’s survive. The fit cyclist is the first to go. Evolution has become a warted parody when it comes to this evolutionary freak show we call our roads.
If evolution worked, the future of the human race would be a universal peloton of fit, resilient evolutionary cycling success. Whatever mental derangement that inclines people to drive cars should, eventually, take them out of the evolutionary game. Car drivers should, by rights, eventually become extinct. With SUV drivers the first to hit the evolutionary exit lane. Where’s the evidence for this? Evidence for the contrary is all it seems we get to see, in these days of oil-fumed insanity.
But, I am not taking evolutionary time scales into proper account. Evolution takes eons of time to play. Cyclists were around long before the first automobile. Cyclists will, it is in all our interests to hope, still be there when the oil runs out. So, will cyclists ultimately prevail? We’d need to wait a millennium or two to check the cadence of humanity’s progress in this regard. But I am, when it’s all said and done, confident that if only just a few of we cyclists survive the holocaust of this, the Morlock generation of human kind, we should be there to regain the evolutionary ground when the cargo cult of this age of the car is finally relegated to the evolutionary scrapping yard.
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Do you ever stop to wonder at the astounding degree to which money and the machinery of its making, the economy, rules our lives? The economy is like electricity. Turn off the power and we stand around blinking as the world around us spins down to a stop. Turn off the economy and we become extra’s along The Road to post-holocaust oblivion. Even if you reckon you can ‘escape’ by going to live in a tree, can you really escape from the machinery of money? Are you sure??
The economy connects our dreams and desires to the dreams and desires of others. The world always seems to be shifting to a wobbly balance between those who create and those who take. Pollen makers and pollen takers. Together they sing the song of equilibrium! There’s an infrastructure to support the servicing of our birth. There’s an infrastructure to support when we go to school. There’s an infrastructure to support when we set up a business or get a job. And there’s a whole industry devoted to servicing our death. But it’s not as simple as that. We are each takers and givers at the self same time. Even if you are a bureaucrat on the public teat. Or a recluse living out your life on a self-sustaining farm. You need stuff, you give stuff. Stuff is shifted via the lubrication of money.
Sometimes this can get pretty oppressive. The economy’s also a bit like the atmosphere. Breath in, breath out. Turn off the economy and we run out of air. So, perhaps, it might be nice to head off with a backpack into the hills. But we are then just a battery off for a holiday. Eventually, we need to re-dock and recharge our way back into the Matrix of the economy. The experience lives on only as an asset of memory.
I was once an economist (fully paid up and qualified). So I am always intrigued with the cleverness with which the economy can seep into places you might have imagined as some kind of sanctuary. ‘The wilderness experience’. Big business these days. Water? You have no idea! Trees in a national park? Amenity, Option, Bequest and Market values can all be used to configure their place in the ecology of commerce. What’s the value of your life? Just ask your life insurance actuary for an estimate. What’s the value of a flower or of an hour beside the sea? No worries. There’s a Willingness to Pay measure to value their worth; the market places rations the experiences we seek to consume. The value of a view? The value of art. Easy to do, easy to tax. Fringe Benefits, Capital Gains; they will get their Take.
I must confess to being overwhelmed. Having just set up a new business, I was amazed at how quickly the economy of others started to oil slick its way into our pocket. Two days in business and the stand over men started to arrive. Solicitors and their craven kin wanting payoff for setting up our connections into the bureaucracy of Take. And then the local council caught the scent! Fees for daring to start something new. Fees for existing in their tin pot territorial turf. For what? It’s not as though they offer any known service that we could ever detect… Registration fees, name change fees, rates. Even the local power company wants a bucket of cash to simply register our name! Odious oiks on every side; flabby warty hands extending from every side. Fingers, fingers, everywhere. There’s a blood lust going on around here.
Is there any asset in which a person can invest that can be protected from the avarice of an economy on the take? Is there any asset in which we might invest that returns a dividend only in proportion to effort directly given? Is there any asset that can ever be totally ours! Tax free. Is there any asset that can not be directly converted into cash? That cannot be bought and sold? That’s safe even from the most devious of plans from that vulture-draped tree of local government? Is there any asset in which to invest that exists outside this economy?
Yes there is! There’s an asset of ultimate refuge from a world otherwise owned by greed and the culture of Take. It’s an asset accessible to just about anyone. It’s the one asset that, while operating in a state of perpetual undersupply and over demand, still remains immune to the economy! It’s the one asset just about everyone wants; but no one, even the super rich, can ever buy! Cash will not do the trick. Pretence will not do the trick. Aspirations without effort will go unmet. You can’t delegate it’s acquisition to someone else. It’s even beyond the purview of the quackery of pills! You can have it, but you can’t sell it. Even if you wanted to.
Serious cyclists know to what I refer. Serious runners, swimmers; athletes of any kind. It’s a simple thing. It’s ever so rare.
Fitness. Athletic prowess. Health. That’s my safehouse from the economy. Go on you odious little oiks from the mafia of local government. Go on you legal vultures; you on the take of the government teat. Just try and make me pay! Go you accountants, you who seek registrations for all the other details of my life. Just try to hitch a licence plate on this asset of mine. Shove your fringe benefit tax where it fits. Just try to tax this refuge of mine. It’s all mine! Go Mr business tycoon. Go Mr CEO man. Try to get what I have got through some kind of bypass with cash. Get out of here! It’s my safe house from the Global Economy of unhinged insatiable greed.
Cycling did it. Cycling does it well. Ride and ride some more; day in and day out. And on it comes. The more you do the better it gets. It’s a fragile thing. We have it only as long as we put the effort in. Freedom from wheezing up a hill. The forestalling of the ravages of age. Freedom from the noxious pretensions of the gym. Cycling does it, cycling is the key. I love this ticket to economic escape.
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Following my tradition of seeing the world through the spokes of my bike, I have come up with a clever plan! I have a plan that could shift our ecological-economic chains onto an easier cog. It’s a simple plan with which to start a Big Bang. Here it is: allow us all to claim cycling and everything to do with lifecycling ourselves into a more sustainable future as a tax deductible expense! Imagine what would be unleashed if only cycling were so proactively encouraged? Lower buying and running costs. Encouragement to ride; endorsed by the State. Think what that would imply. That cycling is recognised, formally, as a strategic solution to a world engorged by the Oil Spilled obesity of our contemporary culture of cars.
It’s one of those simple plans; a simple plan that leverages a single chain to a chain reaction of goodness that will propel us all to a vastly better place. A catalytic explosion of strategic brilliance. All we need is an intelligent politician to recognise the potential of such a plan. But that’s the problem. Where do you find an intelligent politician these days?
It’s a timely search considering the political games now playing for our entertainment here in the Land of Oz. Here in Oz, it’s election time! And never, ever, has the prospect for clever politics been more bleak. I can’t decide between the outrage I feel over the platitudinous inanity that our political candidates are now regurgitating over us or the outrage I feel that anyone – any person at all (even the car drivers amongst us) – could ever possibly be deranged enough to vote for any of those who now seek our support. Or for the system that props them up.
I have sheep. I have lots of sheep (about 8,000, last count). But my sheep are more intelligent than the general voting public. My sheep won’t follow each other over a cliff. They will resist. Which is more than I could say for those who would enthusiastically vote for what’s on offer here in Australia right now. But if we refused to vote, anarchy will prevail. So, should we vote for the least worst and encourage the continuation of this game? Or should we think up a better plan? Lots have tried, many have died! Perhaps it’s best to simply improve the chain of command; a well-managed chain shifts so much better than one rusted into a single gear… And better still, it only takes a few sharp teeth on the cog of command to summit the hills of these troubled times. So, maybe we should aim to upgrade the chainring of State and conquer those Cols rather than ride the broomwagon of empty political rhetoric.
But that’s just one side of my concerns. The bigger side is why we all are so taken in by this charade. How did politics ever get this bad? Who, precisely, is taken in by all that baby kissing stuff? Or by that odious shopping mall meet-and-greet? And who could possibly be taken in by the inanities of contemporary political debate? We KNOW that they lie. We KNOW that election promises are as insecure as tubulars attached without the grip of glue. The first corner they find and their willpower all comes undone… The cycle of State heads off a cliff…
Politics is all about sensing and skimming the froth of collective opinion; it’s all about capturing bubbles rather than dealing with the real deal of malingering sediment beneath. Skim the bubbles and all that sediment will ferment a new crop of gas for the next electoral round. Politics draws the gas and escapes the mud. Perhaps those vapours are an alcoholic charge to those who prefer to float rather than send down roots into the real matters at hand. Our politicians have no grip.
I posted my contention on Twitter the other day. I said I’d figured out a meme that works for me: I’ll vote for whoever allows me to claim my cycling as a tax deduction.
Think about that for a moment. What would it take for a politician to enact a change such as that? it’d take someone prepared to dig deeply into the workings of the Social Machine. It would take someone ready, willing and able to seek out some clever catalysts for change. It’d take someone with a canny intellect for strategy. Think about it. Why would a politician ever do anything to apparently favour a minority group like us? When all politicians ever do is contemplate the detritus of consensus via the artificial construct of the ‘majority view’. Why would any politician ever favour a group such as we cyclists who are so roundly marginalised by the car-driving majority? Why? Because by tickling that seemingly ‘specialised’ group, he or she would unleash a wildly chaotic catalyst for change that would sweep right through the bog of a society emasculated via its dependency on Oil. That’d be pretty clever. And clever is pretty rare! I want a politician who can dig more deeply into the system he or she seeks to govern; to find these great catalysts for change;to find the best cog and work the best chain; to unleash agents that can blast us out of those complacencies that blight contemporary society and the environment upon which our overstuffed lifestyles are inserted way too deep.
I want politicians who pay more attention to the health of society rather than to mustering it towards the electoral shearing shed. I want politicians who are genuinely clever and who are prepared to do stuff that will, at least initially, confound the cud chewing masses who drive their lives with only one finger on the wheel. I want politicians who earn respect through actions rather than words. I want politicians who dive beneath the foam of consensus. Give us leaders like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I want to be inspired! Right now, my inspiration is only to go for a really long ride on election day – way, way too far from any local polling booth.
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I can see and hear him now; even after all those years.
He was working up to his point; a verbal victory of wit. The delivery of a decisive score of intellectual perspicacity to be absorbed like water into a dehydrated sponge. His triple chins quivered in excitement. His rotund button-popping belly was thrust outwards towards us along the lines of a peacock’s tail flourish; at least to the delusions of his own mind’s self-attracted eye… His considerable bulk was, somehow, testimony to the weight of his authority.
‘No…you would never get me on one of those death traps…’ ‘Bicycles are the shortest path to suicide’.
Said and done with all the authority of one who had so very obviously never, ever, ridden a bike. Even in his porky play station stationary youth. And off he went on a rampage to recount every incident observed through his piggy windshield shielded eyes that could contribute to his cumulative log of irrefutable evidence.
‘Only yesterday I just managed to avoid hitting a cyclist. Riding along the road as though she owned it. How do those morons expect us to see them? Worse than kangaroos on the road. Just as dumb…’
Yes, cycling is deadly. We are temporary phenomena waiting in a queue headed Stage Left to an early death. Road Kill to dent the polish of car polished minds. Road kill that needs the inconvenience of Police to explain. Road kill that can put innocent car drivers in court; that can put them in jail! Nasty lycra loonies.
Yes indeed! We are hard to see. Then again, so is every thing else when so many car drivers drive with their eyes directed to anything and everything other than the road. Driving these days is such a busy chore. What with attending to the phone, dialling in the latest news, checking the GPS, checking speed to avoid a fine. All those buttons, dials, air conditioning controls – graphic equalisers, heads-up displays. Econo-meters, temperatures to check and calibrate, iPod controls, rear view cameras, radar displays. Nose hair or eyebrows to pluck in the rear view mirror. Lipstick to apply. Teeth to check. One finger on the wheel. One finger out the window to let them know your contempt; if only the control for that pesky electric window winder could be found… Burning cigarettes to find, lollies to unwrap. Rear seat conversations to conduct. Children to control. Five per cent attention on the road. Pot holes! Speed bumps. Old women wobble-driving off to bowls. Yes, it’s deadly out there… It’s amazing the road’s not painted red with cyclists’ blood.
They listen to the shock jocks jack up their contempt for the lycra loony crowd. A disease of the road! Should be banned. Make them pay to use the road. Keep them away. Psychopathically deranged. Who said they have rights?!
Ah, the challenges for moto-terranauts bravely directing 200 mechanical horses via the whims of a distracted finger; fired by chemistry and physics few if any motorists could ever comprehend. 200 mechanical horses under the control of arthritic or hormonally distracted fingers and high heeled fashion distracted feet. All kept under control via some painted lines on the road. Paint! Visual queues. Visual queues for those moments when the vision is directed at the road. Queue’s to be processed in a queue of discussion, musical entertainments, ringing phones, screaming kids, that sassy Holywood-voiced GPS… Hot babes to impress with the 200 horse power penis extension their cars are imagined to have become.
Road kill everywhere. Dead animals littering the road. Testimony to the safety of being in a car… Testimony to the stupidity of all animals that don’t get out of their way. Possums, kangaroos, cyclists. Road kill to litter their way. Death happens outside the car. Safety resides within. What happens outside is an abstraction from the reality of this modern mobile living room on wheels. Outside has become the virtual reality of a video game. Somehow, if something goes wrong, the game will reset and they can pick up a new life; take on new ammunition and an extra dose of health. Life outside has become unreal. Until they come up behind a lycra loonie meandering all over the road.
Yesssireeee. Bicycles are dangerous! Cyclists are crazy. They are not safe to be on the road. They get in the way of cars. One more distraction with which the poor driver must contend. Plucking nose hair. Avoiding cyclists. Watching that in-dash DVD. Life is such a chore… Clearly, cyclists should be pulled from the road. Licence them. Register them. Hell… just get them out of our way! Deadly Treadlies. The biggest danger on the road.
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This post is, of course, already out of date. I am watching Stage 3 of the 2010 le Tour. That’s the one with the pave. The cobblestones in the road. That’s the stage that followed on from the carnage of Stage 2; the stage of the BIG CRASH. You know, the stage that most of us are embarrassed to admit we enjoyed; being the sadists that we are…
So, we are now four stages in. That’s enough to note a few things.
I must say that Christian Prudhomme’s attempt to relieve the usually underwhelming opening week sprinters’ stages has worked! But at what cost? Certainly at the cost of a few bruises, some broken bodies and LOTS of broken bikes. From the riders’ demonstration parade at the end of Stage 2, it’s obvious that at least most of the them aren’t particularly impressed. But what was the alternative?
You see, in my view, Le Tour has outgrown itself as a rider’s race. It’s outgrown itself as an icon for the cycling community to admire. Now it’s all about the show. Now it’s all about impressing the masses who do not ride; impressing the car-driving Charlie set who drink 2363kj Green Tea Cream Venti’s at McStarbucks. It’s all about impressing those who like blood. Someone else’s blood. Not theirs…
Which, I think, is why the new self-appointed le Patron le Peloton, Fabian Cancellara, decided to make his point. The vision of that Swiss superstar herding his flock as a protest parade across the finishing line was something of a downer for all those who can’t really tell the difference between football and cycling; except one involves a ball and the other being the sport without one…Pass the MacStarbucks please…
Was that a spectacle of angst against an overly hard ride? Hardly that. No. It was a display against the gladitiatorisation of a sport that requires more brains to follow that with which the football crowd are usually equipped. I don’t think le Patron was concerned about the narrow roads, or the crashes, or even leaving poor old Andy Schleck sitting beside the road. No, I think the concern was to do with the spectacle of those events becoming the reason for the show. Is this the way Prudhomme intends to boost ratings growth? Le crash, le burn. The footballisation of le Tour. Appealing the the deadheads who love gladiator sport. Appealing to those who love to watch pain and hurting – unless, of course, that pain’s their own. Cowards of the couch. Non-cyclists to be sure. No wonder Fabian decided to react. I am on his side.
Onwards to another observation of mine. If the Belgians love cycling THAT much, I’m off to Belgium to live… What a crowd! They were Alpe d’Huez crowd crowds along the entire route. The God of God’s must surely favour Belgium with passions such as those.
Which leads me to the laws of physics. Bernoulli’s theorm to be precise. That’s the one that says the pressure in a fluid decreases as its velocity increases. Velocity is high when pipes are tight and flattens out when the pipes get wide. Which must mean that pressure goes up when the pipes funnel out. Consider Figure 1. During any given time interval the same volume has to pass through the narrow section A1 of the pipe with diameter 2h1 as through the wide section A2 (V1 = V2). Therefore the velocity v1 is larger than the velocity v2, and the pressure in the narrow part is smaller than in the wider part. Now, was it just me or did someone else start thinking about Bernoulli’s theorem while watching le Peloton negotiate those incredibly narrow Belgian roads? This explains why there were so many crashes! Those Belgian pipe-like roads are pretty narrow. And the same volume of bikes has to pass the narrow bits (like A1) as has to pass through the wider roads, like at the finish line (let’s say, A2). Watching Stage 2, we sure could see the pressure at a peak when the pipe got wide! At the finish line…
And finally onto bikes.
For many years, I used le Tour as my shopping menu for new bike dreaming or purchase depending on degrees of freedom available through the constraint of familial impediment… Pinarello’s are ceasing to appeal; now that the makers of that mark seem so intent on supplying the flabby dentist set with overpriced equipage through which to satisfy a tragic predilection to conspicuous consumption… No, I am looking more subtle these days. I’m becoming impressed by the subtle, yet ruthless technological statement-making by firms like Scott and BMC. Team Columbia HTC’s Addict RC is an astounding achievement more likely to appeal to riders who could actually tell the difference through use rather than pose. Likewise, the new BMC SLR01 is a design for a purpose where the purpose is winning. And did anyone else notice the bike Contador chose to ride the pave on Stage 3? He chose Specialized’s S-Works Roubaix! The bike blokes choose when the road gets rough. The bike I choose because all our roads are rough. I am taken by the BMC. Particularly because Team BMC is using Campagnolo and not that poncy electro-nonsense from Dura Ace… And finally, is it just me or has Trek finally, at last, discovered a colour scheme for their Madone’s that could – almost – encourage attention from people with taste… Thanks to Team Radio Shack for that.
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Most of us would like to reach some sort of position in society; hopefully higher than where we might be now. President, general, corporate CEO. Or maybe just a councillor on the local school Board. Maybe it’s a position of status you’re after. Fastest, richest, loudest, best shot or most notorious; anything at all so long as you’re better than your neighbour, sibling or worst enemy. The games people play to out rival others can be the most exciting spectator sport of all!
It doesn’t matter if your game is delusory. What matters is that at least one other person shares some enthusiasm for the endeavour with which you seek to engage. Competition to be the grower of the biggest potato in the village matters if at least just one other person is also after that crown. That battle to be the best can be just as hard fought with passion as any other war.
I’m thinking back to one status war with which it was my pleasure to engage. A truly wonderful spectacle of pointless endeavour! It was to do with wicker chairs. A row of wicker chairs to be precise. You see, to sit in one of these chairs was true sign of success. They were a row of chairs circling inner sanctum space landscaped to define a devotional space of splendour through which to acknowledge (our collective antagonisms and jealousies for) the big boss man in charge. Just like a row of water fronting villas on the edge of some over developed bay, these wicker chairs fronted – and held back – echelons of lesser chairs behind. They girded his royal elevation from the swill of lesser plastic chair sitters behind. Rows and rows of envious wannabes. To sit in a wicker chair at the front, you needed to be at the front of your own career. You needed to be a professor who had published lots and lots of papers in journals that probably no one else in the world would ever – or could ever – read. The more abstract and impenetrable your arguments might be, the more chaotic and abstract your numerate/arcane dead-language purple prose, the more empathic you’re journey to a possie on one of those front row wicker chairs. You must indeed be clever and superior if no one else could understand a word! The more arcane your writings, the less the chance someone else would dare to admit they didn’t have a clue! Yes, the furies of incomprehensibility were a hard fought war of words and portulent posturing. The prize was to sit in one of those wicker chairs! And listen to endless drivel surrounding the administration of exactly nothing for a group of people blissfully anchorless to the practicalities of the rest of the world.
I never got to sit on one of those chairs. I had much more fun watching the sport from the hard plastic chairs behind. It was a sport of pontificational fury with a subtlety of innuendo and vacuous point scoring that would bore the otherwise comatose audiences of championship snooker, the zombie thrill seekers of world championship cricket – or lawn bowls enthusiasts; all words and wind, signifying ultimately, nothing at all. So I took up farming instead!
Now I’m wondering about the very concept of fame. Is life’s biggest goal really to occupy some dodgy wicker chair, or to gravitate to that corner office; of simply to be called ‘sir’? Is it ever just about the height of your pile of cash? Is it about the size of your house? Or yes, about how fast or far you can ride a bike?
It’s the rules of engagement rather than the nature of the games we play that matter most. If your game is to lead, but all you’re trying to lead is a bicycle race, then the tool of engagement is just your legs. If your game is to lead an empire, the tool is an army of guns or diplomats. If your pathway is through war, not everyone’s going to be equally impressed. Someone’s going die. Or at least loose their house. That battle for the wicker chairs was pretty tame. The fallout was just envy and spite; rather than much in the way of blood. The game to assert individual beliefs is much much worse. Mad mullahs empowered via the compulsion of bombs is a different kind of engagement to be sure. To have our view of the world be constrained via the slit-visioned veils of some one else’s prejudiced beliefs is a tough shroud to wear.
Which is why we should all sit back and reflect on the harmless glory of sports that engage only through personal fitness and the capacity to play well as a team. That’s why cyclesport is a model for the sustained future of our race. Consider the energy of a prospective corporate tyrant or of one who would become the chief faschist in charge. How much better for all if those compulsions to grind could be diverted to pedals instead!
I have a vision! Imagine a word where all wars of ego could be resolved through summiting a col rather than mountains of underlings. Where the energy of success is measured by personal power meters rather than by the energy of other people’s resources if not by their blood and misery. Board room brawls should be resolved through heading out for group ride. Military summits should be negotiated through climbing a hors cagegorie hill rather th through poker play with a stock of nukes. At least let’s restrict our quests for personal supremacy to thrones of no greater stature than a row of wicker chairs.
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Ok, try this. Take any mega star hero, your local politician, your President, Prime Minister or just your immediate Boss. Remove the support system of fame. Take away the Mercedes Benz, robes of honour or office, the Rolex watch, the paid-to-be-adoring crowd of zealous acolytes, the power suit, the penthouse suite and the truck loads of cash – and what do you see? Just see how vulnerable and unimpressive this one time hero has become. Someone pulled the plug on his aura. The magic, the noise, the glare of glory was but a lightshow connected to a powergrid of spin. The cogs spin off like a mechanical clock blasted by a gun. The hero staggers out and lands on her knees. He has to learn, once more, how to walk. She’s now just a doddering spectre of the big cog he once was*.
When you removed the tower of power, only the spark that once ignited that one time furnace of fame remains. The empowerment, the authority, the aura and the mystique is gone. What was it that once impressed us so much? Was it the man (or the woman) or just the blaze he ignited? Was it the aura or the man? Was there anything, really, ever there at all? Perhaps all the persona we saw was the suit. The suit of iron. The Iron Man suit! A man inside pumped to power via super electronics and a loud Hollywood script. Imagine an Iron Man hero pumped not by electric whizz bang, but by a kingdom of slaves, or Personal Assistants, or five hundred kids who stack his shelves. Or by 100 underlings aspiring upwards to his job. Or by the less inspired who are inspired by anything bigger or just more noticed than themselves.
How easy it is for the frailties of a single man to hide in a machine of spin like that. He hides within and blinds those who would look more closely by shining the light of his fame in their eyes. Let them watch his flashing lights. His shiny titanium shields. His gas jets for self propelled flight. He’s like the Wizard of Oz. Or like the organic blob of seething malevolence that hisses and fizzes inside a Dalek suit. An individual can ascend to a great height when elevated on the shoulders of minions paid and placed to hold him up.
When we do manage to catch a glimpse of the man inside the suit, we are almost always disappointed. He does not withstand that pared off scrutiny for long. His unsupported star soon fizzes out as we watch his failures, blemishes and a reality that increasingly resolves down to just a man in the crowd. Just another guy. Or worse.
People need, apparently, to admire their leaders. Otherwise they tend to throw them out. So leaders need to impress. Leaders can choose how to realise such an aim. Leaders can design the machine that drives their ambition forward. Leaders might build a suit of power. Leaders might dig their moats and build their personal myths. The machinery of power bloats the more the man at the core is incapable of impressing all on his own.
I am watching the pandering inanities of our political leadership. The Big Man sits on an Everest of faces arrayed like a mosaic with a million parts. Picking a face to blame is like picking a face from outer space. They all blend in and fuse to one big amorphous mass. It’s hard to point the finger of blame when everyone looks exactly the same. Unless, of course, that someone chooses to be noticed to take an occasional hit of praise; or to accept their own personal 15 minutes of fame. Meeting a leader who chooses to stand out and alone gives us a shock. Not from the electricity of his personality, but through the disorientation of seeing The Man resolved from that empire of minions that usually elevates him from view. We sense that something is wrong… Especially if our admiration was actually based on the horse of power he rode rather than on just the man himself! How impressive is that bit on the very tip of Mt Everest? Is it not made impressive by the 8,000 meter mound of ground underneath?
Bicycle Man – Bicycle Woman!
There’s two ways to impress. There’s two ways to lead: by taking the lead up that hill that leaves everyone else behind, or by fighting from the safety of being out of range (of scrutiny, or of ever actually being seen at all). Clever leaders are ever so rare. Clever leaders don’t mind being revealed through letting the folk see the power of their pedal strokes. Clever leaders are happy to reveal the machinery at their command; to let us watch how all the cogs at their command interconnect. Good leadership lets us observe the part the leader plays; it allows us to see how all the cogs connect through the chain the leader drives through the sweat of his personal effort. Clever leaders are happy to let the cameras watch their smooth cadence and prowess in the hills. Inane managers prefer to ride a black box instead. They don’t want the cameras focusing in on gears they grind, so they veil their cogs under a bureaucratic veil of management smog.
Lousy leaders need their Hors Categorie hills of underlings to take up the strain; to hide their mistakes, to cloud the roles they take. The art of their part shifts from the pedalling of cogs to the shifting of blame. They prefer to ride their minions through the cowardice of remote control. They hide inside that Iron Man suit!
If you load up a bicycle with all this junk of management fat, you won’t even get to the starting line. The frame will crack and your wheels will buckle and you’ll just sit there in the middle of the road. You can stall the race. You can stop some from getting around.
Now I know what a cynic might say. The bicycle leadership model is subject to all the vagaries we see on any Grand Tour stage … like Cadel Evans having a really bad day. But! And this is the key. If leadership works like a good cycling team (which counts Cadel out), then there are replacement leaders to take a pull at the front. There are always alternative leaders in the Peloton of good management. Leaders inspire and mentor their replacements. Leaders inspire the harmony of a team. You don’t need to multi-layer mountains of support for just the man at the top; you invest in the functioning of a team of talent that can mix and match at any particular race and fit the idiosyncrasies of any particular road. You don’t need one bloated Sherman Tank to rule the world. You don’t need to invest everything in just the one Iron Man suit. Better to invest in leadership teams where every cog and every chain is open to inspection by anyone who cares to observe. How long does it take to replace a wheel in a Grand Tour stage? How long does it take to fix the dodgy cogs of Goldman Sachs?
*my attempt to be politically corrected to the specifics of being gender non-specific has clearly failed… Or as I used to suggest to my dumbfounded students, ‘bugger the glass ceiling, just give me leaders like Jeannie Longo’. That’s Jeannie in the photo above.
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