Monday, July 28, 2014

Fast Lane

Tip your helmet for Vincenzo Nibali, 101st Champion of the July classic cycling pinnacle 2014 Tour de France. He completed its course of 2196.3 miles (3660.5 km) through England and France with bits of Belgium and Spain in a minute less than 90 hours at a world class average of 24.4 mph. On certain stages the pace was upward of 35 mph, but you must appreciate that 6 of the 21 crested mountains, and more were mercilessly hilly than flat. Nibali, like his heroic Italian predecessors Bartali, Coppi and Pantani, proved his climbing superiority, which typifies every cycling champion.

Not for 30 years had two Frenchmen also stood on the podium, but to relief of host nation Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibault Pinot came in 2nd and 3rd, less than 10 minutes behind. Americans and Tacoma were well represented by Tejay van Garderen in 5th place. And, for once in recent memory, drama was confined to racing instead of substance abuse allegations and xenophobic resentments. Spared these horrors, where was network news coverage? They dissect with rabid zeal ho-hum tennis matches and, yawn, terminally dull soccer games where a couple of dozen of players going at it for 90 minutes score a single goal. Are not cyclists also professional athletes? Why do they scare reporters?

Some days going by bike everyone feels as if he/she could compete with the best, then reality settles in as kids on single speeds muscle past. Society doesn’t normally run at closed circuit extremes, rather mundane motored speeds at a 25 mph mean, half that par pedaled. With no distinct demographic, bicyclists come in all shapes, situations and sizes; most profit through personal victories apart from pelaton. Hefty New Jersey native Scott Cutshall, whose weight topped out at 501 pounds, had doctors writing him off as dead until he noticed an outside example and realized that bicycles made motile sense, relocated to Minnesota, then settled in Oregon 320 lbs. lighter. No doubt, champions inspire wannabes, but so do stubborn adults who conscientiously choose to self propel despite arguments against, blogs about, taboos and terrors. Fast or slow, fear nothing and take whatever lane you're presented for the health of it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On the Road Again

Regret some choices made and roads never traveled. Would have been cool to photograph rock groups for a living. Played in bands, roadied for some, and snapped a number of famous groups in concert. After taking classes, already had a couple of small, well reviewed shows. Could have carried it off with a small investment and stuff owned. Would’ve needed a better paying day job to afford darkroom supplies. Saw director and star Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) chasing Life Magazine photographer Sean Penn by bicycle through Iceland, a dream adventure and personal avocation neither of which will ever happen. Was lured into and met success in filming and writing, even produced a documentary that aired on PBS. Realized that life moves and millions of amateurs lessened value of still images, but videographers were rare competitors until technology and Youtube caught up. Rarer still are those who can transport you right to where events occur so you can seek vicarious thrills from safety of your ivory tower. Cyclists snap shots en route to share on websites, but viewers experience none of the endorphin highs that triggered taking otherwise drab vistas.

Once exhibited at craft shows. The only “artist” who made any money painted frogs on mirror tiles and sold them for cheap by the thousands. Those who demonstrated real effort and skill couldn’t afford to sell bargains below costs, therefore didn’t cover expenses. Finding a way to profit in the arts seems impossible until you assess just how much consumers spend. Movies totaled $11 billion in box office sales last year. Music raked in $7 billion. Porn beat them both at $18 billion. All complain that sales have steadily declined. In 2013 fine art sales hit a record at $66 billion, but artists who produced paintings and sculptures were long deceased. NFL cheerleaders actually pay to get noticed while dancing for a pittance. People admire anyone who starves and suffers, usually after they are dead from abuse and neglect, proverbial fish floating in filthy aquariums. So, not performing or producing but promoting and selling art constitute the profitable part. In the last 12 months, the top earning actor made $75 million, only 7.5% of the $1 billion his top grossing films earned. Shed no tears, since it exceeds salaries of all but top three American CEOs: Chienere Energy’s Souki ($142 million), Gamco’s Gabelli ($85 million), and Oracle’s Ellison ($78 million). Nevertheless, on average, CEOs received 331 times the wages of workers, $16.94/hour, about $35K/year.

Do well to find facts, but just what do you do with them? Figure you’ll always earn little unless you start your own business. Began 3, each with limited success, which can only be declared honestly by expanding and hiring others. You need to feed community, customers, employees, stakeholders and stockholders, but most are managed by either establishment or government. The best clients have the deepest pockets, so getting onto some corporate, federal or state payroll should be your first foray into business. After trillions spent annually on energy, food, insurance, savings, shelter, taxes and transportation, public has little left for discretionary spending. Although hundreds of thousands of entertainers in film, music and sports split a couple of hundred billion per annum, IRS alone takes in tens times that; in addition, states take in twice as much. Big and small businesses nationwide turn $16 trillion, over 100 times what the arts take in collectively, although life would be unlivable without them. Pharmaceuticals, most of which you can do without, outsell expressions of emotion. Artists sometimes blow cash on pills and supplies compulsively producing more art while they go hungry and jump from one loft to the next. Others perfect or revive existing techniques nobody else considers worthwhile. Good manufacturing practice requires producer to develop around clients' needs. Innovation which propels marketplace can only be derived from careful communication with and observation of end users. However, the disconnect between corporations and customers has never been profounder. Prospects get ever fewer and poorer.

On the Road comes to mind over and over. Some might see Kerouac’s peregrinations as a series of fuel wasting vacations crisscrossing a continent, but it’s really desperate wanderlust that sought authenticity and redemption through, “...all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it...” You hopelessly wish to connect with own tribe. When nobody cares, all you have is the allure of blacktop ribbons, which gladly swallow your identity whole. Hour after hour bicyclists begin to blend back into corporate drones and landscape dust then disappear forever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Backstab Coxswain

In some movies, enemies might be better than family or friends. Little Birds (2012, Elgin James, dir.) has twitchy teen Juno Temple dragging bicycling BFF Kay Panabaker straight into adult trouble. Schoolmarm Cate Blanchet rides a bike in Notes on a Scandal (2006, Richard Eyre, dir.) while being blackmailed for an illicit affair by coworker Judi Dench, a psychotic dominatrix. Requiem (2006, Hans-Christian Schmid, dir.) stars Sandra Hüller as an epileptic with an unforgiving mom who begins by biking up a high hill, then believes she's possessed by a demon. Figures. Fail to see any irony in it at all. Cruelest almost always to themselves, humans hurt targets of convenience next. Unknown others remain a plausible threat, which explains the pathetic attempts at steering spectators by unwanted advice constantly delivered over airwaves. Yet it’s what you’d expect during a dearth in leadership.

Lately disturbed by well intentioned comments on social media. Wondering what motivates commentators to repeat pithy sayings by acknowledged luminaries. Is it mental laziness or need to dominate? Bellowed beat of presumptuous bigwigs becomes unbearable. The shrewd surmise servants rise into masters. Anyone worth citing doesn’t have to quote geniuses;
he or she does and says original things. You can only learn from others when you apply their knowledge for yourself. Why not skip the middle man? Be your own genius (or pet) by formulating theories, solving problems and tackling chores. Find and fulfill needs in overlooked niches with a quantum of pizazz even if it takes a kickstart from kickstand stop.

Harvard and MIT along with other institutions offer MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) anyone can take. Eager outsiders enroll faster and finisher sooner than jaded locals, though 90% of those who enroll drop out. Ivy League education resembles advertising come-ons, taunting ambitious youth with potential earnings then tugging rug out when they request work in their field. Setting up competitions so only a few succeed and most fail perfectly mimics capitalism, where the feeble and incompetent only exist to exploit, ignore or sacrifice. Public cares more about how pets are treated than how unfortunate members of their own species survive.

Applying one’s allegedly unbiased mind can be daunting task with risk of being incarcerated or ostracized. Offspring of the privileged take freedoms for granted. Maintaining class status seems easy enough when all they have to do is nothing. Stealing is child’s play once they know the “lay of the land”. Success only means insiders were warned just ahead of profit windfalls; too early or too late, where outsiders live, won’t do. Good intentions don’t count, mere tokens that take gain into account and transcend guilt. But what you do will mostly go unnoticed anyway, whereas you’ll be condemned on what you say. Citing nobility can forgive crimes depending upon celebrity status. Smart peasants act independently, heed no false cadence, navigate own course, pull oars themselves, and serve community, not just themselves, not what they teach at their university.