"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Thursday Hate: Alderman Mell

Yesterday, Alderman Mell of Chicago's 33rd Ward spoke up during CDOT commish Gabe Klein's address to the city council about his upcoming cycling initiatives - including the new protected bikelanes and bike share program - to ask Klein if the city could license bicycles.

Licensing bicycles is not the solution to stopping reckless cycling. There are myriad reasons for the conflict between motorists and cyclists, but the biggest of all is that the streets are simply not designed for anyone but someone driving a car.

This then leads to the misconception that cyclists are somehow scofflaws and freeloaders who don't pay for the infrastructure. Not true. Most people riding bicycles are also car owners and they're ALL taxpayers. User fees and gas taxes pay for a very small percentage of local road maintenance.

How will a licensing scheme address what is fundamentally an infrastructure and education issue? What will an unenforceable regulation for a non-problem (hanging license plates that are big enough to read from a distance as a cyclist flees from one of the handful of non-injurious hit-and-runs a year?) do besides turning an entire mode of transportation into criminals (because no one will follow it) and adding another level of useless bureaucracy? Meanwhile 32 pedestrians were killed in Chicago car-crashes last year.

It should be clear, then, that calls for licensing cyclists are nothing but reactionary support for the status quo intended to prevent more people from being cyclists while ignoring the fact that car-culture is carnage culture.

Why impede the very mode of transportation that makes our streets safer and city more livable?

Considering the state of traffic safety and congestion in Mell's ward - home to some of the most dangerous and dysfunctional intersections in the city - his failure to recognize that Gabe Klein's proposals are the solution to cyclists riding outside the law makes Mell part of the problem.

To be fair to the Alderman, he did suggest alternatively that public service ads be produced.

Good for you Richard! Advocacy groups like Active Trans and Transportation Alternatives have been shouting their education message for years, but without the needed funding - which the private sector will never provide without the necessary prodding - their voices are lost in the din of traffic noise and automobile marketing.

Perhaps Alderman Mell could lead a charge in forging a public-private partnership, such as the Downtown Seattle Association and their successful brand Commute Seattle, and work to support CDOT's efforts to make Chicago a safer and better place to live, work, and play.


Assholes of the Week: General Motors

President Obama bailed them out so they could spend our tax dollars on this?

The League of American Bicyclists calls it, "one of the more remarkably ill-conceived car ad campaigns of all time:"

If you are a student looking to add tens of thousands of dollars of long term debt, care little about the environment, and want to lump two tons of steel around campus while paying through the nose for insurance, gas, and parking…General Motors has got a perfect deal for you. Bonus: it’ll make you fat and unhealthy! All you have to do is give up that dorky bicycle that’s easy to use, practically free, gets you some exercise and is actually fun to ride.

Considering that 95% of all advertising is sexual innuendo, this is about as literal as you can get:

Copenhagenize.com points out the hysterical contradiction between GM's stated environmental values and their actions in the face of "...stiff and growing competition from bicycle traffic."

Except GM gets it wrong. There certainly is a correlation between sexual performance and the car you drive, or don't drive, rather. The woman in the ad, her eyes directed...(ahem) lower...is actually just fed up with her driver's erectile dysfunction.

No wonder Cav is so happy and Tony is such a grump:

That's where my laughter stops, because the fight is just beginning: in 2008 bicycles outsold cars for the first time since before World War II. While GM has now pulled these ads preying on the financial insecurities of broke college students, they serve to remind us that the stakes couldn't be higher in the battle for making our streets safer while building a sustainable economy.


Thursday Hate: "Welfare Queens"

Finally, someone has done the real math for the ever vigilant battle on busting the myth that commuter cyclists don't pay their way for road maintenance and construction.

The call to tax cyclists (and license them, or mandate helmet-use) is the kind of reactionary bullshit that is always proffered by those who simply wish prevent new cyclists from taking to the roads, which - as demonstrated here - is completely idiotic and against their self-interest. Why "conservatives" can't seem to get this kind of math in their heads when they're the ones who are supposed to be fiscally-minded...

Oh, well - soon it will no longer be a lifestyle "choice" but rather a lifestyle necessity and everyone can get over all the liberal vs. conservative, nonconformist conformist v conformist nonconformist, hipster douche v. jarhead douche crap and find something else to fight over. Like who to bet on in the Hunger Games.


According to Elly Blue, Grist.com's "Bikonomics" Professor: user gas taxes and fees only pay .07 cents per vehicle-mile-driven, not even coming close to offsetting a total of 5.6 cents/vehicle-mile cost. Add in external costs per mile driven for free parking, crashes, congestion, and land use, and the total now is nearly 34 cents a mile! That's deficit of almost 100% being paid for by state and local taxes!

Meanwhile, smaller, lighter, and cleaner cyclists pay almost the same in taxes while causing just 1 cent/mile traveled in damage costs.

Guess what that adds up to? The drivers - who harangue you constantly to "get the fuck on the sidewalk!" and to "pay your own way, freeloader!" - or just try to kill you - are the ones sucking at the government tit - to the tune of $3,000 a year, each, on average. You bikers? Yep, you're subsidizing these fucking welfare queens with a profit to the local government of about $260 each.

In fact, to run the average city road system at break even, there needs to be 12 bike commuters for every driver. Put that in your tea cup (in your H3's cup holder, of course) and drink it.

See you in the bike lane, Eric Cantor, you fucking communist.


Yo, Baby Mo!

The headliner did indeed finally arrive on Wednesday, August 3, after four interminable days of coming attractions - I mean, contractions.

Hell Week:

Last Saturday, Patty began feeling some minor cramping that morning, followed by some "show," a sure sign that her cervix was beginning to soften up for dilation. Things quieted down after breakfast and we spent a very nice day hitting the sidewalk sales going on throughout Andersonville. Then we stopped by our friends' condo for a birthday celebration, and as we were leaving, the cramping returned.

Then by 11:30, the cramping had turned into the first real contraction, and then about 15 minutes later, another one. Early labor was on.

For four nights in a row.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday the contractions would begin around the same time, and last through the night - keeping us awake and dutifully tracking the intervals between, while we worked through the coping mechanisms learned in childbirth class. Then, just as regularly as they started, they'd slow and then stop just as the sun came up. During this time we became almost nocturnal, except we didn't sleep that much during the day either.

A brief break in the painful monotony came when we decided to go into triage at Prentice Women's Hospital after a tough Sunday night, when the intervals began closing to five minutes. They of course slowed as soon as we got into the cab, and once at the hospital we were told there was just a fingertip of dilation. They gave Patty a routine monitoring for fetal vitals, and sent us home.

We weren't sure what to do with ourselves, besides try to nap, so we did some of that and distracted ourselves in other ways. Monday night was no different, with even stronger contractions, and this time we knew we'd need to wait until it was flat out unbearable before going back to the hospital.

Tuesday was a great day once the contractions subsided. We had a yummy breakfast, took a long walk with Jack, then spent the afternoon at Hamlin Park pool, Patty walking back in forth in the cool water on a beautiful sunny day.

Once home, I began prepping for a long night by cooking all the veggies in the fridge to keep them from spoiling once we had to finally go into the hospital: a roasted beet salad w/ feta, egg salad w/ green onions, and a marinara.

"We need to go"

Arriving as timely as an Italian commuter train, the first contraction of the night hit at 11:30 and the next one less than 8 minutes later. I began getting our things ready. From midnight to 0300 we averaged 9 to 10 contractions per hour, and if they got any more intense...

At 0315, Patty was in the dining room and geared up for an approaching contraction. Bent over the buffet hutch, breathing and "ahhhhh"-ing she suddenly let out a yelp and burst into tears. This was it, the contraction that put it over the edge. Cab called. Jack watered. Lights out.

As the cabby was loading our gear into the trunk and Patty getting in the back seat, I calmly told him that this was not an emergency, we were hours, maybe even a day, from delivery, and that a baby would not be born in his car. He shook his head understandingly, then proceeded to drive us to Prentice down Lake Shore Drive at over 70mph, carving a line through the Oak Street chicane that Fabian Cancellara would admire.

"You're admitted!"

Once in triage we found out Patty was 3cm dilated. Normally, that wouldn't be enough to warrant admission, but the contractions were 5 minutes apart and closing, and we'd not slept because of them for four nights. Momma was running high blood pressure however, so the RN asked if we were planning on pain meds; we'd need blood work done to rule out pre-eclampsia, which could impact an epidural. We were definitely reconsidering our desire to go drug-free, so it was better to order the blood work now, in case she decided to grab my bottom lip and pull it over my head.

Around 0600 we found we ourselves in labor & delivery and things were really moving. The next cervical check showed a gain to 6cm in less than 90 minutes (typically, 1cm/hour is the benchmark). They broke Patty's bag, and then our OB showed up, at the end of his night shift to see how things were going. Patty was pretty sure at that point that she wanted an epidural, and after some discussion, we ordered it. It was right then active labor hit like an atom bomb.

As the contractions seemingly had no definable end or beginning, even coming on top of the last, the lab was delayed in getting the results of the blood work. Patty and I stood, arms interlocked, rocking back and forth there in the room. At first we were alone (she burst into tears when seeing the blood-tinged fluid accumulating on the floor between her legs), then amid doctors and nurses who made welcome lighthearted jokes about 7th grade slow dances and that, "it's not the cleanest of medical practices." They told us we were really working well together, using our coping skills expertly. Breathing and "ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"-ing our way through the worst pain Patty had ever experienced in her life, with me sternly reminding her to stay in control, and not give it up to the agony.


After what seemed like hours (in reality about 75 minutes) the epidural was approved and I was told I'd need to step out when it was administered. Anesthesia soon showed around 7:30, and I left for some cafeteria breakfast. Upon returning, it was as if I'd walked into the wrong room. Patty was lying peacefully on her side, the motor of the IV drip humming along soothingly. No one else was there.

The next cervical check at 0800 showed another gain, out to 8cm; as well as 100% effaced and at 0 station. We were ecstatic. Dr. Chen, the OB who would be delivering Baby Mo then said, "I'll be back in about 90 minutes. You should be feeling strong pressure on your rectum, and we'll be ready to push!"

I happily reported via text to family members that we could expect a new baby by 11am.


The next cervical check indicated no change, so a small dose of pitocin was added. It was hard to interpret the monitor's contraction readout but it did seem as though the action had begun to slow. I then had lunch, watched a movie, but anxiety had begun to creep in. It was evident in Patty as well. Two more cervical exams revealed no change, and each time the pitocin dosage was slightly increased.

I warily noticed long intervals in between gently sloping contractions and Baby Mo's heart rate rising to the upper limit of normal, high 150s. Patty was also running a 101 fever, indicative of a possible uterine infection. The pitocin wasn't working like we wanted it to, and Patty and I were trying to work through a sudoku puzzle to calm ourselves when Dr. Chen walked in around 1420. Cervix was still at 8cm.

She told us that she was going to do a Cesarean-section procedure and would be back in a couple hours. If Patty made progress in that time, and felt the need to push suddenly, a midwife was on the floor who could deliver Baby Mo. If there was no progress, "we'd need to consider other options."

There was no delusion that "other options" was only one option.

I tried to not show my growing fear. Barely anyone wants a c-section and this was the dreaded end after 4 weeks of child birth classes and long discussions about delivery: cutting the chord, baby going straight to momma, maybe even standing birth. C-sections are far more common in the United States - nearly 40% of total births - largely because of the more medical/surgical nature of obstetrics in this country.

Dr. Chen returned by 1600 and when Patty told her that she felt some pressure, all of our spirits jumped. It could be the progress we were hoping for. A check of her cervix revealed, however, that we'd be going into surgery.

Not that we had any other choice. As I sat there, unable to speak while doctors and nurses came in to prep Patty for surgery and sign the necessary waivers, I couldn't find any regret for our course of action up to now. Four days of sleepless nights and painful contractions, breaking the bag, the necessity of the epidural...I wouldn't have changed any of it. If a Cesarean resulted from the chain reaction of interventions, then I could live with that.

It still didn't keep me from being scared shitless.

"I need you to stay calm for me"

I had 20 minutes alone in the labor & delivery room after they wheeled Patty away for surgery. I was to put on the scrubs they left for me, and wait for the RN to come and take me to the operating room for delivery. I sat there shaking and trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong with a very routine surgery on a women with a 101 fever and elevated blood pressure - not that I knew anything at all about surgery, except that when I was a little kid even M*A*S*H episodes used to scare me.

The RN was back to get me more quickly than I expected, and walking out with her to the OR was an out of body experience. I was watching myself as though I were a different person.

It was hyper-real. The operating room was as bright as a high school detention class. Not dark, like in M*A*S*H episodes, or in the movies. I didn't have to wash my hands, or go through an air lock. The voices and mannerisms of all the doctors and RNs oozed confidence and professional detachment while my ears were attuned to any reveal of something going wrong, through a shaky or hesitant word, or sharply issued order. I only heard deliberate footsteps, regimental dialog, and a few casual comments mixed in with the beeps and whirs of the surgical apparatuses all over the room.

A large green surgical sheet was up between us and the action and I could only see Patty from the chest up. Her arms were spread crucifix-like from her sides and she looked up at me - noticing my hurried breathing and darting eyes above my face mask - and with relaxed panic, said,

"I need you to be calm for me."


Those words were like an order from a general to a private as he was about to go around a wall into a hail of gunfire. I owed it to her to place my trust in the hospital, the doctors, in our own decisions that brought us to this moment. There was no going back, nothing I could do but face the situation for what it was. We were moments away from putting the last nine months behind us forever.

I stroked her cheek and just nodded, my eyes stealing in response. As I looked at the floor, deliberately slowing my breathing with deep draws from my diaphragm, I heard Dr. Chen say, jokingly:

"I think I'm more concerned about the dad than the patient!"

And then,

"Dad, you can stand up now!"

My knees straightened, my back became upright, and I watched the green sheet between me and the source of all the unseen activity move downward followed by its top edge and then the open space of the room...

I was looking at Baby Mo at the moment she was being pulled from the womb, 1656 hours on August the 3rd, 2011, covered in murky fluid and blood, unfolding from her fetal position, and held up for me to see by Dr. Chen, whose eyes were smiling brightly from behind her mask. I didn't consciously try to count 10 finger and toes, or two eyes, or see the quivering mouth, but when I heard her new, untested voice gurgling and then gaining strength into an angry shriek, I knew Baby Mo was with us to stay.

I didn't realize I was weeping until I felt the gush of tears down my face.

When I looked down at Patty she was weeping too, having watched my reaction, and then Baby Mo was whisked away to the side room for all the measurements to make sure she was, in fact, a live human baby, despite the confirming evidence of her continued bellowing and shrieking at the indignation at having been ripped naked from the only existence she'd ever known.


The relief continued to flow, morphing to joy, as I heard the OR staff laughing and joking approvingly at the healthy sounds of displeasure. The pediatrician was then waving me to come around and join him in the room for a first picture. Baby Mo was definitely a live human baby, all eight pounds, 4 ounces, and 20 inches of her, and named Vivian Rose Morrissey.

Patty was lying just as helpless in the next room, waiting for more than 15 minutes to finally touch the skin of her new baby. I was soon able to place Vivian in her arms before they moved them from the OR into recovery.


Thursday Hate

You know what job I wouldn't want to have?

The account executive at the agency that had to come up with all the Captain America tie-ins for Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins.

I would shoot myself rather than show up to work and give revisions back from the client to that fucking creative team.

"More/bigger swirl/blue/stars/red, white, and blue sprinkes? I'm a serious artist and don't have time for this shit. I need to make screen prints for the record store I'm entering in an awards show. Tell them no. Now leave. I was shopping on craigslist for fixie conversions and Yelping salons because my wife hates my Dave Navarro haircut."

Now THIS is great creative!


Going the distance for bike theft

Remember this scene from “The Big Lewbowski”? The Dude sits in his recovered and now trashed car and the police officer laughs at him when asked if they had any leads:

The River Forest Police Department certainly didn’t let a lack of perceived property value get in the way of bringing bike thief Jose Bautista to justice.

Authorities were able to track down Bautista, a convicted DUI offender, with DNA analysis of the blood left on some broken glass at the crime scene. It took ten months to get the results back due to higher-priority violent crime cases, but it’s good to see that even bike thieves are not considered below the reach of such useful technology.

Anyone who’s ever had a bike stolen hardly considers it petty theft.


Thursday Hate: Stupid Mudder F***ers

The Tough Mudder is coming to a city near you. And soft, pampered bros and bro hoes everywhere will be signing up and overcoming their self-esteem issues, one backwards Red Sox cap at a time.

Can you imagine one of these people meeting Pat Tillman - the ultimate example of self sacrifice and giving up the good life to be a part of something bigger?


Mettle to the Pedal

May is National Bike Month.

I can think of no better way to celebrate in Chicago than becoming a Team Leader for the Bike Commuter Challenge. Put your knowledge of practical and safe cycling towards growing the ranks of the healthiest, happiest, and most productive travelers around.

Signing up is easy, free, and fun. Anyone at your office - you, for instance - can do it. All anyone else at the office has to do is pledge to bike all or part of the way to work at least once during Chicago's Bike to Work Week, June 11-17.

And once you're registered, the Active Transportation Alliance will send you all the tools you need to recruit a winning team: a poster, flyers, maps, how-to manuals, email support, plus access to all the discounts Active Trans members get, and much more. You can even get a free onsite bike safety seminar at your office! Send Active Trans your numbers the week after and they'll recognize the winners plus every organization that participates.

You know that bicycling in Chicago runs much deeper than just the Lakefront Trail or Bike the Drive. That with a little vigilance and alertness, our bike lanes and streets are safe places to ride. You have a favorite route to most anywhere in the city. You can pack a suit (wrinkle-free) in 5 minutes before riding to a morning meeting. You know that a five mile ride at a moderate pace doesn't require a shower, only a few baby wipes.

You know that a small amount of extra effort doesn't mean a loss of convenience, yet can save thousands of dollars a year. You know that if you could just get the chance to convince a few friends and coworkers, with others like you around the country, millions, perhaps billions of dollars could be saved in fuel costs, productivity, and the public health impacts of air pollution and sedentary lifestyles.

Don't just be a bike commuter. Be a Leader.


Looking down

Today on my ride to work I saw $4.90 for gasoline at the intersection of Clark and Berteau on Chicago's north side.

We are seeing record prices in the city now. There are those of us, such as myself, that cluck our tongues with a "told-you-so" tsk, and go about our daily lives, fuel free for the most part. Small apartments in efficient buildings shield us from extravagant energy costs, our walkable neighborhoods entitle us to a standard of living that must be experienced to see the real value...so far.

But all of us will be feeling the pinch - if not now - sooner or later at the grocery store. For sure, one way to alleviate a lot of the pain is having that room in your budget instead of losing it to direct fuel costs. But soon formerly well-fed people will be going visibly hungry, and along with the news of high fuel prices, will be the news of growing starvation among the first world.

Prices will not go down until demand does first. Supply is in fact static or even falling, and relative bump in the ratio is out of the question. This is because the trailing bell curve of production has finally caught up with discovery.

Since 1960 the population of Earth has been discovering one barrel for every four we consume. Some call it "Peak Oil Theory."

Actually, according to the International Energy Agency, and now the International Monetary Fund, it's reality.

A reality that now dictates a painful, convulsive, death spiral for our oil-addicted civilization as demand dips and rises, dips and rises, each time a little less than before, as the airlines once again become the exclusive dominion of billionaires and our standard weekend of multiple trips to Costco and Walmart are no longer affordable; until the final freefall at the end, when the big lumbering jets disappear completely from the sky and we'll walk and ride past abandoned cars and trucks rusting in the deteriorating streets.

When will we start noticing the fewer planes in the sky? The abandoned cars and trucks rusting in the streets? In ten years, who will be able to afford them? Each day, the dollar buys less and less, fuel becomes more and more expensive, because there is less and less net energy to fuel production of the goods and services that fuel our economy.

Any return to growth as pined for in the mass media is a self-delusional lie. We are headed into a new, heretofore unexperienced historical epoch of contraction. All of our economic growth was ultimately driven by the annual increases of available net energy...increases in energy production. But those increases in net energy are gone, never to return.

Says Jim Kunstler (who has been sounding the alarm on oil-dependency since the late 80s) of Clusterfuck Nation:
The "drill drill drill" gang is under the impression that North America has vast unexplored regions where oil is just begging to be discovered. This is not true. The New York Times reported after Obama's speech - in a disgracefully dumb story by Clifford Krauss - that the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast contain 3.8 billion barrels of oil. Really? Hello! The US uses over 7 billion barrels of oil every year. Does the Arctic National Wildlife refuge contain between 4 and 11 billion barrels (US gov estimate)? Great, that averages out to about a year or so of US supply. And I'm not even against drilling there, only against the idea that it represents a meaningful "solution" to our problem.

Meanwhile, the old standby Alaskan oil fields at Prudhoe Bay are depleting so remorselessly that there may not be enough flow in a year or so to move the oil through the famous pipeline.

How about Canada's tar sands? Well, first of all, they belong to Canada, not us, unless we want to change that - and that could be politically messy. The tar sands will never produce more than 3 million barrels a day. The operations are already too huge, costly, and damaging to the northern watershed. Canada is our number one source of imported oil, but China would also like to buy Canadian oil. Are we planning to invoke the Monroe Doctrine to prevent Canada from selling its oil to parties outside the Western Hemisphere? That could be messy, too.

It's only when looking at the situation in the Middle East through the lens of Peak Oil does it make any sense. We are not there to "steal" oil but rather rather to ensure we keep our share when there is no longer enough to go around for all and we no longer can afford a bidding war. One can only hope the Earth's global powers retreat into isolation and accept inevitible contraction rather than continue the bidding with nuclear warheads.

Don't be the proverbial Grasshopper. Instead learn from the Ant. This doesn't mean, move to a Montana militia camp and hoard supplies; it means adopt a simpler, more self-sufficient and self-sustaining lifestyle. Replace your car with a sturdy bike. Live close to transit. Grow as much of your own food as possible, and get the rest locally.

Of course this means sacrifice!

Just because it's not what you want to hear - a new magical way to fuel all the cars and continue living in a fantasy land of limitless, nearly-free energy - doesn't mean it's not the right answer. Those who play the Grasshopper however, and hope for the slight of hand for society will discover that painfully enough.

Just ask the former residents of the once-palatial suburbs-cum-slums in Detroit, Cleveland, and a growing number of other dying American towns.


George Will hates trains

Dear Mr. Will,

I occasionally enjoy your writings for the principled conservatism you express, but I found your February 27th contribution in Newsweek to be nothing but good, old-fashioned red-baiting at its most base:

"...the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism."

High Speed Rail as is being pushed by the DOT and Obama is undoubtedly going to be wasteful, but don't use that to paint the entire mode of Rail. Rail is much more economical than driving in terms of fuel efficiency in $/passenger-kilometer, and the basis of the infrastructure is already there and just needs to be revived/updated.

Yes, if viewed as a purely government-funded exercise, rail is more expensive. But rail pays a greater percentage of its way through fares (62% of operating expenses) than driving does via gas taxes and tolls (less than 50% for the Federal Highway Administration).

Further, why is rail vilified for being subsidized by the government when the same can be said for our highways? Because its detractors can't let go of cheap gas (gone forever), and are deliberately comparing apples to oranges: on percentage of current mode-share vs. what is currently subsidized through taxes. Rail ridership grows every year, and track infrastructure with equal mode-share is much more economical than continued maintenance of interstate highways we can no longer afford.

Fighting "global warming" is an unwinnable battle but, rail also pays dividends in reducing pollution and improving public health. Why do you hate people's lungs, George?

There's no denying the $50-80 billion nationally per year in additional healthcare costs from transportation related pollution. To say nothing of the $150 billion in additional costs dealing with type 2 diabetes - a direct result of our car-dependent sedentary behavior.

The free ride of cheap oil is over, George. The airlines will soon be a millionaires club, and local travel and development will be increasingly more oriented towards transit, bicycling, and walking. The direct and indirect costs of a car-only transportation policy are simply too great to bear anymore. Roads are not an entitlement, and it's time to stop paying for them with the wallets of the middle-class and lower, as Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin.

Your argument is bullshit and reactionary. You know this, so you just resort to the fossilized cliché of calling people "communists." It is your only defense against people who don't embrace the pointless consumerism of car-culture or the fallacy of "individualism" predicated on an endowment of cheap, convenient energy. Against those who place more value on public space, community, efficiency, and health.

American individualism is far older the automobile; it was born out of finding a better way of doing things.


Thursday Hate: Where is John Burge when we need him?

I really hope - and you never know with Brazil - that they cut this guy's balls off and feed them to him at gunpoint.


My email to David Brooks of the New York Times

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I have recently become a big fan of your writing.

Your recent columns, "Ben Franklin's Nation," "Run, Mitch, Run," and "The New Normal," resonated with me greatly. Indeed, the middle class need to reclaim our dignity by distinguishing ourselves by what we spend on, rather than what we have to spend. I, too, hope for a measured approach in ensuring the inevitable austerity is less painful.

I suppose you might call me a progressive-realist. I work for a Chicago nonprofit that advocates for better biking, walking, and transit for our citizens. Not the typical resume of a Republican. And I don't identify as such, but I am a fan of Mitch Daniels.

Mitch Daniels played not a small part in the passage of Indiana's landmark Complete Streets bill late last year. Complete Streets is the concept that most new public roadway development considers all possible users. Daniels realizes there are great gains to be achieved by reclaiming a portion of the public space for the use of all.

These are gains in energy efficiency, quality of life, and public health that will positively affect the bottom line of governments across the land.

Our current infrastructure, heavily car-centric, is much like a third-rail entitlement program, eating up increasingly more of the budget and creating dependency (on low energy prices).

Several recent studies have shown the huge dividends of investing in bicycling, walking, and transit-oriented development, especially in fuel savings and lower public health burden.

The American Journal of Public Health reported last November - covered by NPR - that in cities with high rates of active transportation, obesity and diabetes rates are 20% lower or more. Treatment of type 2 diabetes claims $1 in every 100 dollars spent in this country, and each sufferer can incur additional lifetime healthcare costs of up to $400,000. One in three born after the year 2000 will contract it.

A brand new study by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that by 2040, bicycling investments in Portland, OR in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million and fuel savings of $143 to $218 million.

Finally, the Chicago Tribune reported that the city's Bike 2015 Plan is indeed working: they've built the lanes, and the cyclists - finding increased safety - have come. Business Week cites findings that such infrastructure cuts cyclist injuries by half. Mayor-elect Emanuel has pledged to increase the rate of bike lane development in Chicago from 8 miles per year to 25, and has promised to open the Bloomingdale Trail - the sister of NYC's much celebrated and successful High Line - before the end of his first term.

It is my hope that you will weigh in with your support on these solutions that Indiana, Chicago, and many other towns across America are implementing to cut loose the stranglehold that car-only infrastructure has on their budgets, their health, and their public space.

Thanks for reading.


On Wisconsin (so go the rest)

It's too bad it takes an internet meme to make us realize - much too late, self-evidently - the real value of teachers and other state employees:
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
*South Carolina -50th
*North Carolina -49th
*Georgia -48th
*Texas -47th
*Virginia -44th

Wisconsin is #2 in ACT/SAT scores. Re-post if you think this is important.
Where it starts to get really ugly is when the lies quickly get mixed up with the facts. Indeed the Wisconsin state unions offered concessions with their pensions and benefits as an alternative to losing their collective bargaining power. Indeed Governor Scott Walker ignored those offers of negotiation and is now attempting to legislate their collective bargaining rights out of existence. Indeed, the police and firefighters unions who were spared their right to collectively bargain on the virtue of their previous endorsement of Walker have now rebuked him in support of their brethren.

But, a claim is now also making the rounds that Wisconsin actually had a budget surplus and that Walker has engineered the crisis to pay for his corporate tax-breaks.

It's bullshit.

The figure being cited by Rachael Maddow and her sycophants omits over $200 million owed to state programs ("But ignoring it would have meant turning away eligible Medicaid clients, which was not an option..."), and could be an additional $200 million in the red if additional debts are figured in, pending a court ruling. As well, the hits from the tax breaks won't hit for another two years.

Scott Walker is specifically targeting the collective bargaining rights of state workers because he knows what the people repeating these memes and distortions do not: that the overall financial pie is getting smaller and will continue to do so. Targeting the strength of these workers to negotiate their earnings is the Right Wing's longer-term strategy for holding on to their total volume of resources, versus keeping merely their share, relative to the rest. The growth simply isn't there to support the infrastructure we've built for ourselves over the 20th century without cannibalizing - as in this case - functions deemed "less essential."

The proof is in the "fine print" as the JSO notes with regards to the Medicaid debt. Those arrears were obviously deemed "least essential" by the state, until it was evident they couldn't get out of paying those debts, legally. So, the plan then became: make up the difference by screwing those who can be screwed legally. Only "screwing" isn't exactly a mandate and now we have the present situation in Madison on Capital Hill - mobs of protesters eating in the cafeteria intended for the politicians, who - Democrats anyways - are on the lam to prevent a quorum from being established to vote on the pending bill.

This explanation leaves some bigger questions hanging, and to answer those we need to look at the bigger picture. Why isn't there growth to support the debts being incurred by Wisconsin, and of course other states, including Illinois? This lack of growth is evident globally, in fact. Look at what's going in the Middle East due to fuel and food shortages, as well as the riots in Greece, The UK, and France earlier last year in response to very similar budget tightening measures.

The pie, as I mentioned, has been getting smaller every year since global oil production peaked in 2006 (even the Wall Street Journal acknowledged the premise in 2008, and the IEA declared it so last year.) This is a very...big...problem, and what we are seeing in Wisconsin and world wide is just the beginning of the reprecussions.

At the core of it is the following paradox: a global financial system predicated and fully dependent on constant growth to pay the debts incurred by the creation of wealth, driven by loans, yet fueled by a finite resource. Yes, that growth comes from (came from, sorry) the increasing net energy available to us, through energy production. It's what made us as a society more productive each year.

The industry countered the Peak Oil announcement by saying that there was plenty of oil being discovered all the time, and that we'll always be able to switch to other fossil fuels, such as methane, or to electric cars, not to mention renewables.

Indeed, there's plenty of oil. But the reason why this article is wrong and highly misleading is that it doesn't account for "net energy," ignores the downward curve of global discovery - inexorable since 1964 - and it repeats the economist's mantra - predicated on our financial system requiring growth - that the more energy we consume, the more we produce.

Unaccounted-for net energy and what basically amounts to ignoring the 1st law of thermodynamics were the principle arguments of three prominent "Cornucopians" debunked in Richard Heinberg's 2002 book, "The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies."

Heinberg, and other "Cassandras" as they are known, state that while half of all the oil we've ever discovered may still lie underground, it's the harder-to-get-half. The net return, once the increasing amounts of energy invested in extracting the oil are accounted for, will get lower and lower, resulting in higher and higher prices.

Oil accounts for 40% of the world's total energy needs and simply replacing that energy through other means without considering the effects of the cascading consequences is pure folly. Not the least of which is that all of the infrastructure changes required to make such a shift are still dependent on an oil-based system. And others, such as Bush's "hydrogen economy" are pipe-dreams, net-energy losses.

And most basically, the fact that no other fuel comes close to conventional oil's efficiency and convenience. Billions of years of sunlight, locked up in a drivable, flyable, shippable, pipeline-able package, all at our convenience.

Our total net energy available to us has begun decline and it will not stop until it reaches equilibrium. Who knows where that will be? The Earth's population was about 2 billion before the industrial revolution began in earnest around 1850, and now stands at 7 billion.

And that brings me back to Wisconsin and the reason why the Tea Party is growing in popularity, and will continue to grow, to the dismay of the more level-headed among us. They represent unthinking reaction, lashing out at the decline in living standards. They can't accept that those previous standards they took for granted simply aren't possible to such a large portion of the population anymore, hence the disappearing middle class.

And finally the election of Scott Walker, et all. They will deliver scapegoats and the promise of the status quo. Not the painful truth.

It's like a trust fund kid who's money is running out and has to take the bus from now on.

Contraction is coming, in a big way. We've far overshot the natural carrying capacity of our environment - artificially inflated by the energy from fossil fuels, a once-in-a-planetary-lifetime shot, and we've squandered it in little over 200 years.

It's a long way back to equilibrium. Put your head between your knees and hang on. Get a bike. Plant a garden. And get a gun.

This one's gonna be a mother. Let's hope the bidding war launched by the shortages is waged with cash, and not warheads.

Written in 2009:
I know that I have only seen it rain
That never has it stormed within my path
I read the pages, looking at the pain
And heard the ruminations on God's wrath.
I cow'r in fear to dwell upon my fate
That's been foretold by corpses walking past...
They cackle at my slick-skinned naivete
With toothless leers and bony fingers crossed.
Expensive clothes and robes now turned to mold
Rotten, sour agelessness of excess
To be undone by no amount of gold -
Illuminating only scars and sadness.
While great swaths of fire, birthed by lightning,
Clear the remains of every living thing.


Dib this

I can't believe this is my first post since December - "the Don, rest his soul, was slippin'" - but the current situation without my comment is untenable.

Keep your mop bucket in the closet and give your old crutches to Goodwill. Claiming "dibs" on a shoveled out parking space is the most egregious act of self-entitlement since you bought the goddamn car in the first place:

Since when did the public right of way become storage for your private property?

In Andre Gorz's 1973 screed, "The Social Ideology of the Motorcar," he proposes an analogy of private autos to beach houses. The car is still a luxury in a very real sense - like a beach house (or for my purposes here, a time share) - and only makes sense when few people own them. Or when a lot share a few. Cars become more devalued the more people own them.

"The automobile is the paradoxical example of a luxury object that has been devalued by its own spread," says Gorz. I'm not anti-car, I'm anti-car culture. Cars are incredibly useful tools - I have an I-Go membership and use it all the time - but nobody ever thinks about how much space they use until snow takes it away. Space - like energy - is a precious resource that must not be abused or wasted.

So currently, while cars are still an ideological luxury, in reality they've become an addict's fix because we've completely adapted our environment to their use. This in turn breeds a sense of self-entitlement and "fuck everybody else" impatience that turns us all against one another. Yesterday, on my ride to work (throughly enjoying myself on the wide open roadway) I noticed several side streets choked with snow, unplowed. Yet, even then, some asshole had decided he absolutely had to dig out his car RIGHT NOW - even with so many public transit options within less than a quarter mile...then promptly got it stuck, and had to abandon it right in the middle of the street. What then of the other people that have been waiting until a plow came through before digging out?

Fuck 'em.

Well I say, "fuck them." The suburbs, built for cars and with no viable alternative at all, are dead as oil appears to be more or less permanently above $100 a barrel.

But, imagine how much more livable and enjoyable Chicago and other big cities with viable transit and walkable neighborhoods would be if mass-private ownership of cars died. Think of how much more space we'd have; how secure we'd be riding our bikes and crossing streets.

Think of how healthy and relaxed we'd be - how much better we'd treat each other - if "exercise" was no longer such a loaded word because we walked and biked everywhere...if so many weren't dying from diabetes and obesity and depression and stress...and the rest of us weren't rushing to the gym to get our mandated 30 minutes of running in place while staring at a glowing rectangle because we spent the rest of the day driving and sitting on our ass.

Dig yourself out and claim "dibs" by getting rid of your car.