Save the spindle - an update
Berwyn deserves better?
Judy Baar Topinka, our one-time State Treasurer, Chairwoman of the Illinois Republican Party, and failed candidate for governor must have a hell of a lot of time on her hands these days. Never one to leave well enough alone, she's added art criticism to her formidable list of talents.
In The Chicago Tribune, 3 August 2007, she launched a rather blunt and ad hominem attack on Berwyn's Spindle and it's late owner, David Bermant.
Berwyn is a west suburban treasure.
It has solid bungalows and beautiful Victorian homes. It is great for commuting because of the Metra and its location between two major expressways. It has great ethnic restaurants. And finally, it has good, community-oriented citizens.
No argument there. Its main business thoroughfare on Cermak is no more hideous than 100s of Midwestern cities "beautified" by suburban sprawl.
But what is it known for? It is the "Burrrrr-wyn" of "Svengoolie," and the site of a vertical, auto graveyard known as "Spindle."
Rick Koz, who plays Svengoolie, not only hails from Berwyn but has kept his one job longer than any eve held by Judy.
Yes, the "Spindle" did put Berwyn into the movie "Wayne's World." But no other community is bucking to be in something as spoof-oriented and goofy as that film. You don't see Hinsdale or Bolingbrook or Riverside seeking something like the "Spindle" to get notoriety. No community of standing wants to be known for having something better placed in a used-car lot.
Nor do any of them have as much public art as humble Berwyn.
Yes, tourists come with cameras and pose in front of the stack of deteriorating cars. These photos are probably sent to homes around the world. And what is the message? That Berwyn prides itself on having a pile of junk cars as its claim to fame. How disrespectful of all that is good and worthy in Berwyn to shout about.
As they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity - Judy's gubernatorial campaign is proof of that.
In my days as a reporter and as an Illinois legislator, I received numerous complaints about the "Spindle" and some of the other alleged works of art at Cermak Plaza. People recognized that the "Spindle" was just plain junk. But it was not as bad as "Big Bil-Bored." That piece of expensive garbage, facing busy Harlem Avenue, was a three-story concrete pork-chop-shaped "sculpture" with pieces of landfill trash stuck into it. What a commentary it and the "Spindle" were about Berwyn, sort of a one-two punch.
Judy definitely has a bee in her bonnet when it comes to David. He was the developer who commissioned both the Spindle and the Pork-Chop. Back in 1980, Judy took on the pork-chop in much the same way. Her op-ed piece which galvanized the opposition to David, eventually forced him to replace it with this... Tempus Fugit.
I spoke to David Bermant, the now-deceased owner of the plaza, when these "works of art" first started appearing there. I noted that there were complaints, especially that the artworks encouraged bird droppings and provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes. An elderly, rather acerbic gentleman, Bermant was not put off by the complaints or my comments. In fact, he said I was representative of the "rednecks" who inhabited the area. If anything, he was going to show us what good art was. He was going to "educate" us, if you will, to appreciate art.
It's more than odd to me that Judy chooses to attack David who was successful businessman and lifelong Republican. Although he did have the unfortunate trait of talking like an intellectual: ..."the art of our day that incorporates time, or movement, motion, change, is the most vital of all the arts being created. It is the art of our time which will endure."
There was no way to get at the junk legally since it was on private property, and I certainly did not want to limit what people could put on their lawns. And so, the "Spindle," "Big Bil-Bored" and other assorted alleged artworks plagued Cermak Plaza until they fell apart on their own or were removed when plaza ownership changed.
Ah, that damn, pesky 14th Amendment to the US Constituion: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property..."
The "Spindle" is all that is left, eight cars shish kebabed one on top of another as they rust and rot.
You go girl! What will you do when you have no more crusades?
Walgreens wants to put a drugstore on the spot, giving the cars their just reward -- a spot in the auto graveyard where they can disintegrate out of public view.
And where do you think that junk yard is?
Sure, the "Spindle" has its supporters, and they are circulating a petition to save it in some way. But to what end? The cars are old and falling apart. Where would the "Spindle" go? Remain at the plaza? Be relocated to the front yard of a school or by the south Berwyn train depot? Do we really want this thing?
The "Spindle" was a pipe dream of a gentleman who felt he could impose his taste in art on others. All he did was to trivialize a great community like Berwyn.
Is this really about the art or the man who didn't give a damn about petty politicians and bourgeois suburban tastes.
Berwyn deserves better.
It certainly, certainly does...
I am not a rebel
not that there's anything wrong with that
The Cycling Dude referred me to the following post by The Damn Cyclist. Fritz also weighed in on the post's comments section. I took a look and liked it as well. Given such a clear Biker Seal of Approval for what is a truly independent voice among us bikers, I decided to post it along with my own comments in red.
I'm not a rebel. I'm listening to talk radio yesterday and I hear something that drives me nuts every time. I'm sure you've all heard the argument - having our cars is what makes us American. It's a popular right-wing notion, so much so that even in the middle of a war who's most obvious benefit will be protecting our access to middle-eastern oil, people still say it without irony.
I think BOTH the left and right in this country miss the point of the war. We did it neither for oil nor democracy. On the one hand, a truly democratic set of elections in Iraq would elect the very enemies our administration is now fighting. On the other, the left, being none too comfortable with basic economics, ignores the fact that oil does no one any good in the ground. Eventually, the "owners" have to sell it. And in the end, you sell to the biggest customers ... US.
The Bushies invaded Iraq because they wanted to prove they (and by extension, the US) could and would do it. Just like oil in the ground, military power won't get you anywhere unless you put boots on the ground especially when you say you're going do it. Didn't Chairman Mao say something about "Paper Tigers" once?
And, those of us that choose not to utilize cars, be it for their gas-guzzling, or greenhouse-gas-belching, because they're too expensive or just because riding in cars is boring and anti-social; we're routinely classified as unAmerican, rebellious, or simply faggots.
What could be more American than relying on yourself to get somewhere fast and as cheaply as possible?
And while I'm sure this note will do no more than ring true to a few sympathetic ears and fall on the deaf ears of the masses, it must be said: I'm not a faggot. I'm not particularly rebellious. And I love apple pie.
Not that there's anything wrong with that %) But seriously, there's a big difference between how politically diverse the bike community actually is and what a few loud (and often obnoxiously progressive) voices tend to declare how diverse it is.
Heck, that's one of the reasons I ride a bike. At the end of the day when I'm pulling my bike into my garage and wiping the sweat from my brow, I can rest comfortably knowing that my trip to-and-from work didn't contribute to global warming. And the soldiers that are dying in Iraq are not doing so to protect MY ability to drive a hummer without having to shell out $7.00 a gallon for gas.
Unfortunately, they are dying to protect my ability to but food, drink beer, and order NOS bike parts/accessories on Ebay. And that's the big, bad dilemma...
Sure I use electricity that comes from oil - but as soon as I have a feasible alternative I'm there. Yeah, this is the country that cars built. It's also fattest country on the planet. Coincidence? North America also claims the highest cancer rates in the world. Could it be???
It isn't necessarily the amount of food that's fattening us up. It's the quality. And for the first time in history the rich are typically thinner than the poor. It's obscene that to eat healthy, Americans must pay top dollar.
Here's the kicker: I don't care if you drive your car. Frankly I'm not expecting much to change in my lifetime. But what I would like to be able to do is ride my bike without you telling me I'm an unAmerican, faggot, rebel. Oh yeah, and get off your phone, put down the make-up and pay attention! I'm a person. I have a family. I don't want to die just so that you can read the newspaper while you drive.
I'm not anti-car. I AM pro-choice. Give ordinary people enough affordable options and they'll choose what's in their best interests.
The big easy
...and bigger difficulties
In today's NYTimes, Amy Liu and Nigel Holmes write:
Two years after Hurricane Katrina toppled New Orleans’s levee system, leaving more than half the city under water, there are signs of revival. The city’s population has climbed to 68 percent of its pre-hurricane level, the work force is 78 percent of what it was before the flood, and sales tax revenues have rebounded to 84 percent.
But some troubling trends persist. The city’s share of the region’s population has dropped to 30 percent, an indication that economic activity is shifting to the suburbs.
Danish traffic taming
In Der Spiegel, 24 August 07, Josh Ward writes:
In the summer of 2005, Denmark decided that, if you want to live in Denmark, you have to do what the Danes do. The mandated checklist includes learning Danish, understanding the "fundamental norms and values of Danish society," and making an effort to participate in the community.More here.
Those who drafted that law, however, seem to have forgotten one vital aspect of being Danish -- expert command of the humble bicycle. The country's Red Cross though, is doing what it can to fix that omission.
For three years now, the Danish Red Cross has been offering free cycling classes for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Most of the people who take advantage of the program are women from the Middle East, according to Uzma Andresen, a consultant who helps the Danish Red Cross develop and implement integration programs.
"It's an outdoor activity," Andresen says. "You ride the bike to work and to go shopping, and those are mainly masculine activities in their home countries."
A plan for Iraq?
...find truly hard people
With little legitimacy a new leader faces a brutal civil war in his multi-ethnic country. On 18 August, he issues a memorandum to the henchman of his beleaguered minority party. Reconciliation is farthest from his mind; but Lenin's 1918 plan succeeds ... all too well.
1. Hang (hang without fail so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks [small farmers], rich men, bloodsuckers.
2. Publish their names.
3. Take from them all the grain.
4. Designate hostages -- as per yesterday's telegram. Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [one verst is about one kilometer] around, people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks. . . .
P.S. Find . . . truly hard people.
fox & hedgehog
Last year, I posted a NYTimes op-ed piece by David Brooks eulogizing the passing of the old school, streetwise skeptics of the Chicago press corps. It, as well as comments from a couple of readers I wrote about in Second thoughts, reminded me of the author, Bruce Chatwin. Although he was sometimes careless with the facts, his writing reflected a connoisseur's fascination with the gritty details of people's lives around the world. I guess that's why I've been reading him recently after a ten year hiatus.
In 1989, I first read Chatwin's The Songlines. It was the year I started grad school at the Unieversity of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. It was also the year he died of what I later learned was AIDS. Not that I was ignorant of HIV/AIDS back in those early days of the epidemic. My cousin, a virologist living in Macon, GA, had just appeared in a photo for the National Geographic Magazine HIV/AIDS cover story ... or at least his hands did. They were in a photo of a rural AIDS hospice where my cousin was examing the residents.
Actually, the reason I was ignorant of Chatwin's illness is that he denied its cause until the last months of his life. Instead, he believed and convinced his family and closest friends that he had picked up a rare fungus in China. Even after it became apparent that this fungus was merely an opportunistic infection, Chatwin stoically refused to publicize his AIDS. His family and friends respected this silence.
Chatwin's death is a tragedy in both personal and literay terms. Salman Rushdie, a close friend who joined him on a roadtrip through central Australia, has said that his books and essays, all of which dealt with travel as a way of life, have changed the way writers write and readers read travel books. Chatwin wouldn't have agreed though. He hated being pegged as a travel writer. He thought of himself as a writer who simply happened to travel ... a lot and everywhere.
Chatwin's great appeal for me lies in an apparent contradiction: he was a hedgehog with one big idea who pursued it like a fox. On the one hand, he believed that the nomads' travelling way of life is the natural state of humanity and having lost this for the most part, the world is now a more neurotic, violent place.
On the other hand, Chatwin rambled across six continents looking for this Nomadic Alternative. While many authors have written about exotic locales, from the comfortable security of their dens, Chatwin loved to visit them. Infamous for his non-stop, rapid chatter, he was yet a sensitive listener. He had intense discussions with a dizzying array of other travellers and writers as well as nomads, warriors, conquerors, cowboys, artists, shepards, mystics, and mercenaries.
No matter how prickly or cautious the people he met, he wore down their defenses. No matter how confusing or murky the setting, he figured out what was really going on. Ultimately, Chatwin is an incredible storyteller; he combines the facts he observed with a brilliant imagination in a wholly novel and compelling way.
So I've returned to Bruce Chatwin as I write this blog. It seems to me that he offers a natural bridge between travel as a way of life and bicycles as a means for travel. In purely Chatwinesque fashion, he asks questions... the right questions:
Why is man the most restless, dissatisfied of animals?All I got to do now is answer them by pointing my bike in the right direction. Yeah, yeah ... it's a corny ending, I know %)
Why do wandering people conceive the world as perfect whereas sedentary ones always try to change it?
Why have the great teachers - Christ or the Buddha - recommended the Road as the way to salvation?
Do we agree with Pascal that all man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room?
The end of Chicago's Critical Mass?
Has 'Mass' ride run its course?
In the Chicago Sun Times, 5 August 2007, Dave Newbart writes:
As we halted traffic on a congested section of Halsted last week, you could almost see the disgust in some drivers' faces. They were already delayed by the construction on the Dan Ryan, and now they had to wait for some 2,000 cyclists to slowly pedal through on a busy Friday night.
But later, as we rode down side streets in Little Village, families ran to the street to see us, holding out their hands for high-fives and repeating our greeting, "Happy Friday!"
And we were a spectacle to see: a street fair on wheels, featuring music, performance art, tripped-out, double-decker bikes, bubble-makers and bikers in costume.
Welcome to Critical Mass, the monthly bike ride through Chicago that will celebrate its tenth anniversary next month.
The ride is cyclists' chance each month to take over the streets they normally cede to cars, and ride wherever they want. Some riders say it's the only time they truly feel safe on Chicago's roadways
But some riders wonder if the ride has gotten too big and too party-like, and no-longer conveys a strong message. They are pushing for the ride to end after its ten year anniversary ride Sept. 28.
"It is not as much an instrument of change as it used to be,'' said Howard Kaplan, 43, of Little Village. He complains, "It looks like an Indiana University frat party.''
Others say it would be foolish to end the ride now that awareness of global warming and cars' contribution to it is at an all-time high. And with more cyclers on the streets--something the mass has sought to promote since its inception--it's natural there would be more riders at Critical Mass. More than ever, bikers should push forward, they say.
"Things have gotten better, but we have got a long way to go,'' said Dan Korn, 36, of Little Village.
Korn would like to see an entire shift away from cars--and throws out ideas like banning cars from the Loop. Others say the city should create more dedicated bike lanes--where cars and bikes are separated by medians--or even commit entire streets to bikers.
The debate on whether to end the mass has raged on the Internet, although most concede there is little chance the ride will really stop as long as bikers keep showing up in Daley Center Plaza the last Friday of every month at 5:30 p.m. Some admit calling for the end was actually a publicity stunt to reinvigorate the ride and get more recent riders to take the lead.
Over the years, riders have traveled through nearly every neighborhood in the city, on Lake Shore Drive and even the Eisenhower Expressway. There have been nude cyclists and costumed cyclists for the annual Halloween ride. They have had as many as 3,000 bikers on a ride last summer and as few as 100 in a cold, rainy February a few years ago.
Whatever happens, the ride was in full-force late last month as riders headed on a nearly 15-mile ride toward Berwyn.
We gathered at a true work of art, the Picasso at Daley Plaza, and then made plans to visit another one, although of a more controversial status, the Spindle at the Harlem-Cermak Plaza. The ride is to protest a move to tear it down, and bikers see the cars impaled on a giant spike as promoting their goal of someday making cars a museum piece.
"Massers''--as they are called--ranged from twentysomething, tattooed and pierced bike messengers to middle-aged parents pulling kids in trailers, from spandex-clad, hardcore gearheads to women riding in dressy flip-flops and purses drooped over one shoulder. One guy, who rigged up a huge make-shift tire that formed a circle around his bike, did somersaults for the crowd.
"This is as grassroots as it gets,'' said longtime rider Steven Lane.
By 6:30 p.m., the throngs became restless, and one by one, and then group by group, they begin riding laps around the entire plaza, blocking the busy downtown streets in their wake. The group finally sets off for its destination by heading South on Clark Street.
You quickly learn that nearly 2,000 bikers don't go anywhere very fast.
As we cruise past the Harold Washington Library, Queen's "Bicycle Race'' song plays in the background, courtesy of a rider with a large boom box on the back of his bike. Riders ring their bells in unison to the song.
On Halsted south of Roosevelt, one driver screams, "Get the f--- out of the way.'' While at times it takes 10 to 20 minutes to pass through an area, the riders are careful not to spend too much time on any one street so as to not slow things down for too long.
Other drivers take the delays in stride. Pizza delivery man Joe Sabian, stuck at 21st and Wood, says, "I don't mind. Whatever festival you have, more power to you.''
Still, things get ugly on 18th in Pilsen, when 10-year-old Will Healy is creamed by an alleged drunk driver. The driver, Robert Rogers, who riders said was being tailed by police, turned directly into the crowd of cyclists, scattering riders to the curb and crunching bikes underneath. Healy couldn't get out of the way fast enough and wound up sprawled on the driver's hood, before falling to the ground, his mother, Jane, said.
Biker Antoinette Moore said at least 10 cyclists were hit, although no one suffered serious injuries.
Healy was treated at Stroger Hospital for bruises, cuts and scrapes--but miraculously no broken bones.
Rogers, 44, of Maywood, allegedly had a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit, authorities said. He was indicted Thursday by a grand jury on two counts of aggravated DUI and leaving the scene.
Massers say the incident was quite rare. More common are minor bumps with other riders, like when two bikes pass too close, and their bikes lock together. "Bike sex!'' someone screams. The female rider manages to pry her pink bike (I'm not making this up) from his bike as others tell them to "get a room.''
As we ride, some bikers pass beers back and forth and rest them in their water bottle holders. Later, I catch up with Jeff Bewier, 53. He's an engineer from Highland, Ind., who is here with his two college-aged kids, wife--and another 15 friends from the Hoosier state.
They come each month, he says, for "the camaraderie.'' Indeed, it's easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. And it's a great way to see parts of the city off the beaten path. In one stretch, we see a church processional led by a priest in full robes while carrying a cross, a home with head-high corn stalks sprouting in the front yard, and children singing outside a school.
As we head through Cicero, it quickly becomes clear that doing interviews on bike isn't necessarily the safest way to get a quote. I hold my digital recorder out with one hand and rest the other on my handlebars, but I plunge the recorder into my pocket as we hit an expressway-style interchange at Ogden and Cicero. I manage to avoid wiping out, but as we quickly gain speed, one cyclist goes flying over his handlebars and lands in front of a car, which was luckily stopped by cyclers known as "corkers.'' These brave souls park in front of the cars at intersections until everyone passes. I look back and see the fallen rider has gotten back on his bike and sped away.
We finally reach the Spindle about two hours after we kicked off, and I feel like I ran a marathon, even though we really didn't go that far or ride that fast. The bikers congregate around the Spindle, crack open beers and generally celebrate. For the next hour or more smaller groups of riders make their way back home.
I join up with a group of six riders who ride North to Augusta and then East back into the city. At about 11 p.m., one rider--no one in our group had met him before tonight--gets a flat in the middle of Lawndale. He tells us to go ahead, but that would be counter to the spirit of Critical Mass, now wouldn't it? So we wait, and someone lends him a spare innertube, and he changes his tire. We finally get back on the road a half-hour later.
Whatever happens in the future, massers say they hope to get 4,000 or more riders for the celebration next month. They have even asked Daley, a known cycling enthusiast, to be the "mass marshall.''
The mayor's office did not respond to questions about the event, and other city officials were sheepish about giving an opinion about what should happen to the ride.
Officials with Mayor Daley's Bicycling Ambassadors were at the start of the mass ride promoting bike safety and passing out bike maps. But they didn't ride in it, and program director Emily Willobee wouldn't even say whether she had ever been on a Critical Mass ride or not.
Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the ride has been a mixed bag.
"Critical mass has posed some problems at times depending on the traffic those evenings and the direction the riders choose to go,'' Smith said. "We know that motorist have on many times found these rides frustrating. But the city also has done a lot to encourage bicycling and done a lot to make riding easier and more enjoyable, and in that regard, Critical Mass and the city are certainly partners.''
© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group
Jakarta traffic taming
for health, clean air
for health, clean air
In the Brunei Times, 19 August 07, Marwan Azis writes:
JAKARTA is notorious for its air pollution and traffic jam. Taking bicycles to work places, as well as for shopping or visiting friends and relatives has captured the hearts and minds of a number of people in this busy, smoky city.
Started among people who like cycling for sports and recreation, more and more Jakarta inhabitants have moved forward by using their bicycles as their main transportation on their daily routines.
The community of bikers among professionals, who call themselves Komunitas Bike to Work (Bike to Work Community), believe that by cycling to work, they help preserve the environment, keep themselves healthy, save energy as well as reduce pollution, stress on the streets and traffic jams.
The initiative of using this environment-friendly transport started two years ago among mountain bikers, who dreamt of having clean air in Jakarta. They felt that the Jakarta air was worsening, with more and more smoke from motor vehicles flooding the streets.
"It started with the community of mountain bikers, where we usually get together on weekends outside Jakarta," said Toto Sugiharto, chairman of Bike to Work Community Indonesia.
"And we thought, 'why not use these bicycles to go to work, and reduce pollution?' We all agreed on that idea. From then on, we campaigned on using this alternative transport to go to work in super-crowded Jakarta."
The community gains members quite quickly. Only after two years, it now has about 5,000 members, according to its information officer Rivo Pamudji. Some 2,500 of them are active in communicating with one another via the community's mailing list.
"Every day, about 100 new members enlist," said Rivo, when met at the Bicycle for Earth event at Senayan last month. Among professionals who are cycling to offices in Jakarta are Andi Malarangeng, the President's spokesperson, Minister of Environment Rachmat Witoelar and his wife, the environmental public figure Erna Witoelar, and other famous names in business, politics, and other fields of professions.
Bike to Work also has branches in other Indonesian cities like Yogyakarta, Jabodetabek (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi), Bandung, Mojokerto, Aceh and Balikpapan and are always looking to expand.
"Bike to Work Makassar will be established this month," Rivo added. The rapid development of this community is made possible by the seriousness of the chairman, Toto Sugiharto, in making this programme work. A strong fellowship between bikers also contributes to it members are always helpful to bikers, even though they are not members, when they have problems on the streets.
"Our community is open to everybody. It requires only ownership of a bicycle, regardless the type and class of the bike," said Lutfi, a biker from Bekasi who only recently started cycling to work.
"I enjoyed biking since my childhood. Three years ago, I started cycling again. I started using my bike to go shopping and to office. I kind of enjoy it. With this community, I am more encouraged." He also tries to influence his colleagues at his office to do the same, reminding them about the worsening air quality in Jakarta that may endanger people's health.
Jakarta's traffic snarls are notorious it could take some one two to three hours to get from home to the office.
One biker said he was doing better by bicycle on the 36km home to office trip, compared to using his car.
"The government should realise that there is a crisis of transportation in Jakarta, and there must be a solution to that," Luthfi said.
Some people might raise the possibility of inhaling polluted air while cycling, therefore making the exercise unhealthy. However, there is a study by Rank J, Folke J and Jespersen from University of Roskilde, Department of Environment, Technology and Social Studies, Denmark, that says otherwise.
They sent two teams of bikers and motorists, equipped with air-testing devices, to roam the streets for four hours in two different mornings in Copenhagen. The air sample the teams took were analysed of their benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) content, including dust particles.
The results: The concentration of BTEX in drivers was two to four times the amount recorded for the cyclists.
What has been initiated by the Bike to Work Community is good to emulate, since Jakarta is projected as one zone that may be severely affected by global warming.
Research from the International Institute for Environment and Development Britania in cooperation with City University of New York and Colombia University in 2007 says a tenth of the world's population, or 634 million people, living near the oceans will drown when polar ice melts as a result of global warming.
This research also predicts that Jakarta, some parts of West Java and Banten province are some zones that would drown by the end of this century. The Brunei Times
Asta la vista, Karl!
the Rove Presidnecy
With his announced departure from the White House, the Darth Vader of politics exits stage right. Although the timing of Rove's move reflects the many congressional investigations that now have targeted him, his leaving became inevitable last November, when the American electorate shattered Rove's dream of a semi-permanent Republican majority.
Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, puts his legacy for the Republicans best.
The face of the Republican Party ... is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he's little more than Jesus Christ's running mate.For more on the Rove Legacy, check out The Atlantic.
Namibia traffic taming
the power of 2 wheels
Over at BBC Radio 4, in a new series, The Fall and Rise of the Bicycle, Mark Stephen discusses the importance of the bicycle as a global barometer of social, economic and environmental change.
Namibia's scattered population faces a huge struggle against poverty and AIDS. A bicycle can provide great freedom - access to healthcare, education and work - that sheer distance often renders impossible. Taking a trip across this vast country, Mark sees for himself the impact that owning a bicycle can have on the lives of Africa's rural poor.
Books on wheels
readin', ridin', & reparin'
From flood-ravaged Big Easy to the City of Big Shoulders and stops in between, Shelley Briggs and Ward Tefft drive Mo'Book Mo'Bike Mobile, electric-blue GMC minibus, handing out books and repairing bikes. Founders of the nonprofit Books on Wheels, they've combined their two passions: bikes and books!
And I'm sooooooooo jealous. As their website explains:
Because both literature and transportation are liberating and both help with the well-being of people both mentally and physically. Both books and bikes are educational, and help people towards empowering themselves through literature and transportation!Moreover,
The organization ... travels to communities and certain community events to provide services free of charge to people. This organization is able to distribute books and bike parts to a variety of communities, though there is a focus providing such resources to economically disadvantaged communities. By providing books and bikes we strive expand our community’s access to information and transportation. Books on Wheels has bi-monthly events within the city of Richmond and makes sporadic trips to other cities.
Want to donate to Books on Wheels?
They're always accepting gently used books and bikes or parts.
Donations can be dropped off at
Chop Suey Books
1317 W. Cary St.
Richmond, VA 23220
11-6 PM Monday-Saturday
1-6 PM Sunday
For those of you who don't live in Richmond, you can make a donation through PayPal:
They're always accepting gently used books and bikes or parts.
Donations can be dropped off at
Chop Suey Books
1317 W. Cary St.
Richmond, VA 23220
11-6 PM Monday-Saturday
1-6 PM Sunday
For those of you who don't live in Richmond, you can make a donation through PayPal:
Save the Spindle
How to write about anywhere
sunsets and starvation are good
sunsets and starvation are good
Binyavanga Wainaina, in the latest issue of Granta, offers advice on How to write about Africa. I've only been to Africa several times myself: Nigeria, Egypt, & the Maghreb. But now that I'm with an organization that works principally in Africa, Wainaina's concerns certainly resonate. What strikes me most is that what he writes could be easily applied to any travel writing especially if a wold-be author is taking up a complex region for the first time.
What I've noticed is that it's very difficult indeed to Veni & Vidi without letting your preconceptions Vici. Around the world, places (and their hapless residents) can quickly become metaphors or allegories for rest of us ... especially in the West. In the 90s, it was the ancient ethnic hatreds of the Balkans. Before that in the 80s & 70s, it was the heroic peasant struggles in the Third world. And in the 50s & 60s, it was the starving children in Africa - eat your peas!
Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.
Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.
Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.
Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.
Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent.
These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).
Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.
Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.
Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.
Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them.
Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).
After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or 'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales.
Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.
Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).
You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.
Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.
Tavalodet Mobarak, Négin!
Anti/global traffic taming
Bicycling for a New World
Bicycling for a New World
A bicycle caravan -- with the theme, Money or Life -- travels 500 miles across Europe to join protests in Prague against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The goal is to create a mobile utopian community which will be a living counter-example to the values of these powerful financial institutions. The landscape is beautiful, and bicycles possess their own poetry. But it's not always easy functioning without money. The authorities have their own ideas about policing the intersection of utopia and everyday life. And then there's the matter of shutting down the IMF/World Bank meeting!
Caravan/Prague, a feature-length documentary, is a first-hand account of this journey to the historic 2000 Prague protests. Filmmaker Zack Winestine rode the entire trip with the caravan, filming from his bicycle as events unfolded. He recounts his hopes, fears, and questions, conveying the experience of participating in a bicycling community trying to bring about change that is both visionary and concrete. The film is being released to DVD on August 14 by Cinema Libre Studio.
Zack Winestine has directed short films, documentaries, and music videos. His first feature film, States of Control, played at film festivals worldwide and received both domestic and international distribution. He has also worked for many years as a Director of Photography on independent features, music videos (for groups such as the B-52's, ZZ Top, Harry Connick Jr., and Public Enemy), and documentaries. A formative early experience was his work as assistant to the Director of Photography on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. For further information please contact:Andy Schreiber
Cinema Libre Studio