Bicycle Diaries: July 2008

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I met the walrus

working for peace
in Mindanao

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Mindanao redux

(until 7 August)

That was the least surprising response I got when I told folks that I was going to Mindanao last summer. Most surprising were the responses I got from those who know that Mindanao is the largest and southernmost of the 7000 islands that make up the Philippines. When I went to get me visa at the Philippine consulate, just opposite the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, an older Filipino gentleman waiting in line behind me asked rather straightforwardly, "Are you afraid for your safety?" I would have easily dismissed his grave concern if the official behind the counter hadn't nodded his head in agreement, adding, "There are a lot of nice tourist sites in Manila. Why don't you go there instead?"

But I wasn't going to Manila except to spend eight hours waiting for a connecting flight to Mindanao. I wasn't going there for the tourist sites either. I was going there for the very reasons that the US State Department tells Americans going to Mindanao, "kidnappings, bombings, violence, and insurgent activity make travel hazardous in many areas." In addition to making the deadlier aspects of human conflict sound rather like a severe weather alert, this travel warning, the highest the State department can give, does little to tell Americans why there is conflict in Mindanao and what, if anything, is being done to end it.

That was why I was going.

The US Institute for Peace had given the Interfaith Youth Core, where I was the Director of Education and Training, a field research grant to study how our interfaith youth approach to conflict resolution might be adapted for use in some of the world's conflict areas. It funded my four-week trip to Mindanao in July and August this summer. This gave me an utterly astonishing view of the paradoxical relationship between Mindanao and the US. More significantly, it revealed an extraordinary group of young people there who, with little support from their national government in Manila and little visibility outside the Philippines, are working hard to fulfill the promise of peace.

Throughout the Philippines, Mindanao is known as "The Land of Promise." It is a mountainous tropical island with rich volcanic soil. Vegetarians who come to Mindanao will think they've gone to heaven. Mindanoans eat an unimaginable variety of fruits, some like the Jackfruit larger than a watermelon, others small and spiky like the Rambutan. As a result, successive Philippine governments in Manila as well as colonial occupiers have encouraged large numbers of migrants from the other islands to settle and farm the land there over the years. But despite the generous gifts of both geography and climate, the promise of the good life so enthusiastically offered in Manila has gone largely unfulfilled. For Mindanao's natural diversity is surpassed only by its ethnic and religious diversity.

When Muslim missionaries came in the 14th and 15th centuries from what is today Malaysia and Indonesia they encountered an indigenous population, today called Lumad, organized into tribes governed through extended family networks with headman or datus, at the top. Reflecting the genius of Islam's adaptability, these missionaries established two sultanates largely on this existing social structure. Coming a hundred years or so later, the Spaniards were surely surprised to be facing yet another Muslim foe. Expecting to repeat their dubious achievement of removing the Moors from Spain, they christened the local Muslim population, Moro. History, however, did not repeat itself. Successful Moro resistance forced the Spaniards to largely bypass Mindanao as they occupied the rest of the Philippines, converting the vast majority of the population to Catholicism.

Until the end of the 19th Century, Mindanao remained an isolated outpost of the declining Spanish Empire with both the Lumad and Moro increasingly marginalized by the Catholic settler majority. This abruptly changed in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. After a rapid victory, the US refused to honor its promise of Philippines independence. Mindanao along with the rest of the Philippines suddenly became the focus of US imperial ambitions in Asia. And it demonstrated the extreme difficulties in suppressing a local armed movement of national liberation. The Philippine Insurrection, lasting until 1902, left a legacy that for the most part remains forgotten in the US today. Echoing Viet Nam 60 years later, it left more than 4,200 U.S. soldiers, 20,000 Filipino soldiers, and 200,000 Filipino civilians dead.

In Mindanao, the US army, fresh from its Indian Wars in the American West, fought a scorched earth campaign still remembered locally as the Moro Wars. But American policy was a paradoxical mixed of brutality and benevolence. Army commanders such as John J. Pershing, who later in WWI would be lionized as Blackjack Pershing, built roads, hospitals and schools. Today, Mindanao's double-edged experience of this period strongly colors its special relationship with the US. During my first days in Zamboanga City in the southwest of Mindanao, I discussed this with a two local university professors as we sat sipping coffee just off Plaza Pershing. One referred to the scene from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, where the People's Front of Judea compiles a list of its grievances against the Romans . except for good roads, safe streets, and the aqueducts.

Despite eventual Philippine independence in 1946, Mindanoans continue to acknowledge this special relationship with the US. Each year the many who are denied US visas nevertheless remain hopeful that one day the promise of the American Dream will be fulfilled. Those who actually make it here to study at colleges and universities or work in the health care and other professions have become part of the second largest and fastest growing Asian immigrant community in the US. Their success as new Americans results in even closer social and economic ties between the US and Mindanao.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most Americans remain ignorant of our ties with Mindanao. This would be merely unfortunate if it weren't for the fact that Mindanao is now one of the fronts in the US Global War on Terror. Indeed, since 9.11, US foreign policy has given considerable military and diplomatic support to the Philippine government in its counter-insurgency war against two local Islamist groups: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, and Abu Sayyaf, one of al-Qaeda's most aggressive affiliates in southeast Asia. The relationship between these two organizations is murky and controversial. Nonetheless, most Mindanoans with whom I spoke agreed that they are both outgrowths of the more secular Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, which first appeared in the early 1970s to fight for Mindanao independence from the Philippines. Today, it is one of the few Islamic national liberation movements to have successfully laid down its arms to peacefully govern the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM, with grudging support from the Philippine government.

What is not murky is the US military and diplomatic presence in the south and west of the island where the Philippine army is fighting both the MILF and Abu Sayyaf. And like US counter-insurgency polices a hundred years before, US support is again perceived locally as a paradox. US Special Forces units have operated in MILF territory since the summer of 2002. While training the Philippine army has been their official mission, there seems to be little doubt locally that they are conducting the military operations themselves. In Marawi City, known as the only Muslim City in Mindanao, I met with one of the founders of the MNLF, the unofficial minister for propaganda for the ARMM. He not only reiterated this position, but also forcefully added that the CIA was responsible for both creating and arming the MILF and Abu Sayyaf to defeat the MNLF.

These and other conspiracy theories abound throughout the island despite the generally successful efforts of US public diplomacy. In addition to the roads and clinics built by US Special Forces and USAID, the State Department has reached out to local and regional peace groups working to sustain Zones of Peace where the Philippine army and the MILF have negotiated cease-fire agreements. For the last three years, it has funded a project at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb that bring groups of Christian, Muslim, and Lumad university students and their adult advisors to the Midwest every April to develop their skills in interfaith dialogue, conflict resolution, and community service. Upon returning they implement action plans to create and sustain the promise of peace in their own communities.

The opportunity to observe these young people in action in their own communities after working with them here in Chicago dispelled any notions I had concerning the intractability of Mindanao's conflict. These young people are impressive for they combine an infectious enthusiasm with a hard-won realism. They come from communities caught directly in the crossfire. Many have been evacuated for their neighborhoods and villages or worse, have lost family members. Clearly, they are the best and brightest of Mindanao's emerging generation of leaders. And for me, their work is one important way with which Mindanao can truly become the Land of Promise.

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Walking sucks

and always,
always check

your shoes!

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The urban assualt on Chi-town

this September 28th

This event is New Belgium's funky bike scavenger hunt, involving street-smart riding, obstacle courses, and a huge after party. Mental muscle is just as important as bike skills as teams of 2 choose their own course to checkpoints around the city.

They've received a ton of requests to bring the UAR to the City of Big Shoulders...and here they come! It's a BIG city and it's about time for bikes to descend in force. With all the traffic and people, bikes are a great way to get around. They have a SWEET start/finish venue - right next to Wrigley Field. They'll bring the beer, obstacle courses, and big wheels. You come ready for the best time ever on two wheels. Registration is $45 with proceeds going to West Town Bikes.

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Off to Mindanao


Obama in Berlin

'nuff sed

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David Cameron...

joins the masses

The leader of the UK's Conservative Party had his bike stolen earlier today. Nearly 20,000 bikes are stolen in London every year.
I was cycling home and stopped to pick up some things for supper. I chained the bike through the wheel then put it around one of those bollard things. I have reported it using the police’s new online facility but I’m not expecting to get it back any time soon.
A Conservative spokesman remarked:
Obviously David is quite hacked off by the theft of his bike, especially having locked it up.

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Radovan Karadžić

New Age Hell?

The former President of the self-styled Republika Srbska was arrested on the streets of Belgrade 13 years, almost to the day, after the Srebrenica Massacre. Calling himself Doctor David, Karadžić peddled meditation and alternative healing, and made the rounds on the lecture circuit, and sold amulets on his website.

While the site is still up, you should check it out. The site includes some rather ironic Chinese proverbs, given his previous career:
You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.

He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them.

If your strength is small, don't carry heavy burdens. If your words are worthless, don't give advice.

The one who gives up his own, should dig two graves.
Karadžić will face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities. During his presidency, he oversaw a campaign to repress Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serbs as Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. This includes organizing the 11 July 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, the largest atrocity in post-World War II Europe. Karadžić and his wartime army commander, General Ratko Mladić, are the last major Balkan war crimes suspects.

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don't think so...

Lee Siegel writes in the New York Times Sunday Revies:
The problem is that the cartoon accurately portrays a ridiculous real-life caricature that exists as literal fact in the minds of some people, and it portrays it in terms that are absolutely true to that caricature.

An analogous instance would have been a cartoon without commentary appearing in a liberal Northern newspaper in the 1920s — a time when Southern violence against blacks was unabated — that showed a black man raping a white woman while eating a watermelon.

The effect of accurately reproducing such a ridiculous image that dwelled unridiculously in the minds of some people would have been merely to broaden its vicious reach. The adherents of that image would have gone unsatirized and untouched.

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Bike box!

From the City of Portland Office of Transportation:

The bike box is an intersection safety design to prevent bicycle/car collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and bicyclists going straight. It is a green box on the road with a white bicycle symbol inside. It includes green bicycle lanes approaching and leading from the box.

The main goal is to prevent collisions between motorists turning right and cyclists going straight. It's all about visibility and awareness. At a red light, cyclists are more visible to motorists by being in front of On the Move video screen shotthem. At a green light, the green bike lane through the intersection reminds motorists and cyclists to watch for each other.

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Time for some campaignin'


Green bicycle murder

5 July 1919

89 years ago today, Bella Wright was murdered in rural Leicestershire, a county in central England. The body, with her bike lying beside it, was found just off the road outside the small village of Little Stretton. Local authorities first assumed she had fallen from her bike. So they moved the body to a nearby chapel where it lay overnight. The following morning a more thorough investigation revealed that she had died of a gunshot wound.

Unfortunately, in moving her, they had destroyed valuable forensic evidence. The case was never been solved. Subsequently, The Green Bicycle Murder has become one of England's most celebrated unsolved crimes. This is largely due to the unexpected acquittal of the chief suspect, former schoolteacher and WWI veteran, Ronald Light.

No other suspect has ever been discovered. So many still believe that Light did indeed murder Wright. Recent research reveals character traits that point to his potential for killing. Or at the very least, perhaps Light accidentally shot Wright while hunting birds in an adjacent field. Sir Marshall Hall, the accused's defense lawyer, admitted as much in court.
Imagine a girl cycling along a lane highly flanked by a hedge. In a nearby field a man or boy is out shooting birds with a rifle or revolver at some distance. He takes aim at a large bird upon a gate between the field and the lane. The bird is hit; but the bullet continues on its flight, or perhaps ricochets into the lane. Tragically, the girl is struck by the bullet. The man with the gun may remain sadly unaware of the terrible result of his actions.

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The Tailor of Ulm


(Ulm 1592)

Bishop, I can fly
Said the tailor to the bishop.
Just watch me try!
And with a couple of things
That looked like wings
To the big, big roof of the church he climbed.

The bishop walked by.
It's nothing but a lie
A man is not a bird
No man will ever fly
Said the bishop to the tailor.

Broken winged he crashed
And now lies smashed
On the hard, hard city square.

Let the church bells ring
It was nothing but a lie
A man is not a bird
No man will ever fly
Said the bishop to the people.

from Five Children's Songs

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Mayakovsky was a cager

Several weeks ago, Illya Szilak wrote me about my post on Rodchenko Mayakovsky:
FYI: Mayakovsky did own a car, a Renault that he brought back from Paris for Lily Brik. He was already accused of being insufficiently proletarian, so it would have been better to stick with his bike. In any case, I thought you’d be interested in the website for a new novel Reconstructing Mayakovsky.

The site is inventive and interactive. Like the novel, it combines elements of science fiction (the man did ask to be resurrected in the future,) poetry, the detective story and historical fiction to tell the story of Mayakovsky in a radically different way.

If you enjoy it, I hope you’ll share it with your friends or on your blog. Thanks.

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The question?

Top 15 favorite responses to women who ask the question:
15) A lady doesn't ask and a gentleman doesn't tell!

14) If you want to get down on your knees, I'll show you!

13) As you can see.. my socks and shoes/boots!

12) The usual.

11) Well, well, well.. you must be the bad girl in your family!

10) I'll bet you didn't know that I wear a kilt.. just to meet women like you.

9) What do you think? Buy me a pint and maybe I'll let you check for yourself!

8) Well, I don't want to brag... but this may be a turning point in your life!

7) Nothing is worn... everything is in perfect working order!

6) Only my wife knows.

5) If I tell you, you're gonna want to see for yourself, just like the last dozen girls!

4) Of course it's true! But, if you want to check, you'll have to show me yours first!

3) If your hands aren't too cold, you can reach up under there and check for yourself!

2) How bad do you want to know?

1) Good girls don't ask.. but bad girls find out for themselves!

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Who needs the W.N.B.R.?

when you've got
a Lady's Brooks

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Proper touring prep:

the classic
Walter Dutton

These a but a few of the sketches Dutton penned back in 1887. As a 25 year old bachelor living in the West Derby area of Liverpool, he certainly put a lot of time and effort into planning his runs.

He sought out the proper inspiration at The Blue Bell, a favorite pub of Dutton's and his friends.

Of course, the day of the tour, Dutton made sure to lay in a sufficient supply of libation...

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British touring

an Anglophile's
dream come true

The NCU, founded in 1878, was Britain's first cycling association for regulating bike races. It banned open road racing (think: alleycats) in 1890. The British League of Racing Cyclists, which opposed the ban, eventually merged with the NCU in 1959, creating today's British Cycling Federation.

Cycling was Britain's premier magazine for much of the early and mid 20th Century.

This elevations chart comes from Bartholomew's Touring Atlas of the British Isles, 1923.

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Your bike...

misses you.

Photo by Max Estes!

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Slovenia rolls!

The former Yugoslav republic's Bicycle KRPAN is truly an alternative form of transport. It's a safe, economical, and green bike for moving light- to medium-weight goods. It's high quality components were carefully selected and built with an eye toward its primary users – Europe's postal workers.

Manufactured entirely in Slovenia, the KRPAN comes in various design options. Weighing in at 25kg it can carry up to 200kg. There's no news about when it might be available in the US, however.

The only model known to be in the US is owned by George Bush %( He was given it by Slovenia's prime minister, Janez Jansa. It was presented during Bush's recent farewell tour of Europe. Jansa is a bike-freak like Bush. He spends much of his free time on a carbon Black Gold XTR, a top level hardtail bike. It's a Cult Bike, the same company that produces the KRPAN.

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Manhattan traffic taming

The Big Apple's
Highline Park

The High Line is an abandoned elevated railway that once carried freight to, and sometimes inside, warehouses. It's a mess industrial decay and native plants, and it has the potential to be the most delightful and unconventional green space in the country.

Back in June, city officials and the group Friends of the High Line presented the final design for part of the $170 million High Line park that is under construction on the West Side of Manhattan

It's an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind recreational amenity: a grand, public promenade that can be enjoyed by all New Yorkers and visitors. They'll be able to rise up from the streets and step into a place apart, tranquil and green. They'll see the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline, and secret gardens inside city blocks. And they'll will move between Penn Station and the Hudson River Park, from the Jake Javits Convention Center to the Gansevoort Market Historic District, without meeting a car or truck.

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So what?

although I'd prefer
a Rudge lightweight

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aren't cool

but neither is this...

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Two great habits

Tour de France

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Evo cycle

another cool design
from the Brits

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A truly holy profession


The expectations of life depend upon diligence;
the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.


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4th of July


Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Social Contract

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Safer cyclists?

Crimes of Carelessness

From the "Weird Al" Yankovic - Live! DVD:
Bicycles are also very dangerous - you could break your neck.

If you have to ride a bike, make sure to ride it really, really slowly.

Or better yet, why not turn your bicycle over and peddle it upside down.

It's also a good idea to check for bombs planted by Commie spies.

Make sure you wave hello to pedestrians before you run them over.

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Get your tires now

"Rise early,
work hard,
strike oil."

John Paul Getty

While many of my comrades in the velotariat are positively gleeful about rising oil prices, they should remember that we are just as vulnerable to their impact. Oil is used in the manufacture of tubes, tires, and lubricants; not to mention those bright and shiny Lycra outfits. And so it isn't surprising that Michelin NA has announced that US market prices for bike tires will rise 15% come September. As Tyres & Accessories, UK explains:
US market prices for Michelin, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal passenger and light truck replacement tyres, plus those for private and associate brands, will rise by up to 12 per cent as of September 1. Michelin and BFGoodrich brand commercial truck tyres sold in the US replacement market will increase in price by as much as 8 per cent, also effective September 1. This price increase will also apply to Michelin Retread Technologies retreads, the company adds. On the same date motorcycle, scooter and bicycle tyre and tube prices will increase by up to 15 per cent on Michelin brand products sold in Canada, Mexico and the US. All two-wheel products delivered after August 31 will be invoiced at the new price.

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Boston traffic taming

2old 2roll?

Susan McLucas doesn't think so. She's been teaching bike riding to adults for the last 20 years. Her Bicycle Riding for Beginners, offered through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, has nearly doubled since 2006.

Emma Brown, reporting in The Boston Globe on 30 June 08, explains that demand for one-on-one lessons for adults is rising. With prices hovering above $4 per gallon the reputation of Boston's Bike Whisperer has risen accordingly. The 59-year-old chronic smiler, with a reputation for teaching even the most fearful and frustrated adults to balance on two wheels, is
an activist who has protested more than one war and who 11 years ago started the nonprofit Healthy Tomorrow to end the mutilation of women's genitals in Mali. Teaching people to cycle is a sort of activism, too: "It's part of getting rid of cars," she said, "and making bikes rule the world."
Her students, like Michael Lamb, are typically are utter newbies. Despite being nearly four decades older than the usual beginner he took the course to finally learn how to roll. His motives are modest. He wants to ride well enough to join his two young lids on the local bike paths.

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