Monday, November 30, 2015

Whether Vain

Egocentric cyclists seek an epic trek. They only earn bragging rights if they trained on countless routine runs. Scenery, while pleasant, doesn’t matter, though free traffic flow and fresh air do. Ocean views and ridge vistas, where hills and wind severely slow, tempt some of the hardest riding. Spins out to a park or reservoir grant a destination to breathe in for a few seconds before struggling back. Dull outings can be improved by choosing a different return route. Or you could opt for intermodal to make that a single leg, though you’re “all in”, as poker players say, and must complete, why it’s wiser to plan figure-8 loops which you can quit at intervals.

Looked at a map and noticed several city and state parks within a 12 mile radius, so set out to visit them all. Got to furthest one but was disappointed by bare oaks that signal autumn’s conclusion. Flags and weather vanes say southwest winds that bring warmth have been supplanted by northwest chill. Skipped the rest and took to an old commute route toward bikeway strewn with leaves and home. Was disgusted to compare smooth streets elsewhere with own they’ve dug up and patched repeatedly. This pavement disgrace proved dispiriting; ordinarily come home from riding emotionally boosted and pleasantly tired. The truth about bicycles is that they combine elation and pain, joys and sorrows. Brings to mind a couple of recent films with similar themes:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen, dir. 2015) - Philosophy professor Joaquin Phoenix, who was so effective in Inherent Vice, discovers the world outside his mind as he and his seductive student Emma Stone ride bikes. Not the first time Phoenix was filmed cycling, his character Lewis McBride, while on Malaysian vacation in Return to Paradise (Joseph Ruben, dir., 1998), riding with two friends foolhardily on one bike, and run off road by a truck, was so disgusted by damage he hurled bike off a cliff. During an interview he once compared his passage into intense acting to kids who get their first BMX bike, then go into extreme sports. Stone was famously featured on a yellow peeler banana bike for a GQ spread (August, 2010 issue).

Thanks for Sharing (Stuart Blumberg, dir., 2014) - Mark Ruffalo, who plays Bruce Banner in the latest Marvel Avengers action blockbusters and routinely bikes around Manhattan, stars in this less ambitious melodrama. He and other recovering addicts ride bikes. Josh Gad, trying to get into shape and shun temptations by biking, avoids getting doored only to crash into side of a van. Critics panned it for its depiction of “first world” problems. Ruffalo himself, however, is on the Board of Director for The Solutions Project, a global clean energy initiative, and Water Defense, a nonprofit aimed at preserving water supplies from contaminants. Ruffalo is currently costarring in sex abuse drama Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, dir., 2015) based on Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Award winning investigation and called by reviewer Ryan Painter, “One of the finest-acted films in recent memory.”

These days aliens, altruists and strangers are usually met with violence by the selfish and vain. Shakespeare never said, “Vanity, thy name is woman,” though vanity fits better than “frailty”, since anatomically women can endure more pain than men, something patriarchs have used to rationalize their mistreatment. Sharing is an alien concept, for sure: implies bringing and taking, giving and receiving, sometimes introducing people or playing host. Everyone in America is either an immigrant or scion of one, whether arrived last week or millennia ago. The Mother of Exiles promises, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Twelve step programs encourage sharing your feelings to solicit support as a way of breaking your sexual, substance, weapon or xenophobic addiction. Native peoples were historically generous. Qu’ran demands hospitality to guests. Yet, in a war weary world, refugee issues defy resolution and draw press.

There is little difference among conservative, jihadist, neo-Nazi and terrorist hatred. All are convinced that their extremism is the only way. What made America a global magnet for countless dispossessed was its reputation for tolerance. As long as you don't cause deaths or losses, you are welcomed with open arms to act however and believe whatever you want. Foreign terrorists may infiltrate, but domestic serial killers are worse. Millions of Moslem citizens unequivocally contribute to economic diversity and productivity. It wasn’t always that way, and will revert if everyone doesn’t do their part. Moslem countries Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey opened refugee camps. Maybe they’re better suited to handle needs of Syrians with aid from industrialized countries. It would shorten the long journey to freedom many endure, some aided by bicycles. Yet the sheer number of refugees is staggering, estimated in the millions. By forcing people out of their homes, you exert control, keep them weak, and seize their assets. The only true riches are what accomplishments these people are capable of, given better circumstances.

Willie Nelson may claim there’s plenty of room for immigrants in America, but East and West coasts are overcrowded and INS quotas are maxed. Canadian and Mexican border towns are likewise overrun with waiting hopefuls. Perhaps Willie was thinking of Alaska’s bush, Montana’s expanses, Nevada’s desert, urban blight, or Wyoming’s mountains, because all the places natural born citizens want to be are already taken. At the Hotel California, they are, “...programmed to receive. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.” The motherly embrace personified by Lady Liberty stands for America’s core decency, but immigration can only proceed orderly, under control, weeding out undesirables exiled by foreign governments who don’t follow international laws. When citizens are treated worse than undocumented invaders, tolerance wanes.

Why does anyone want to come to America anyway? Past reputation? Life expectancy is the lowest in industrialized world. Cities are going bankrupt. Crime is rampant. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes frequently threaten. Fisheries are fished out. Hunters can't trust game not to be toxic. Loess loss has nearly ruined remaining arable land. Logging and mining are severely limited. Per capita prison populations exceed worldwide counts. Politicians are corrupt, determined to drain every last penny from taxpayers. Public debt means each resident (man, women and child) owes over $150,000. The disparity in wealth between have and have nots is greater than ever in history. America has been called the worse place to live if you are poor, though that seems exaggerated compared to Sudan, Syria, and war zones. Green carders have more rights than citizens, while policies allow offshoring jobs and union busting. If conservatives who oppose immigration (affordable health plans, collective bargaining, drug interdiction, gun control, planned parenthood, separation of church and state, tax reform, and voter registration) get their way, as usual, both social security and welfare will end, so there will be no safety net. Social Security was intended to protect workers from failures caused by government policies; without it murders and thefts would make life unlivable. It's time to make some really tough choices. Forget handouts paid by taxing the dwindling middle class and growing poor.

But who are these refugees? Many are no-threat women with children. Recently viewed previously mentioned Saudi film Wadja (Haifa Al-Monsour dir., 2012), where Waad Mohammed in title role tries to earn enough money to buy her own bicycle against society's will. Film exposes the hypocrisy of Moslem practices subjugating female half of population, who insecure men treat as inferior. The vain do not share power or wealth. Wadja rides to the end of her street and surveys horizon, which seems more threatening than welcoming.

Zane Grey’s novels Riders of the Purple Sage and The Rainbow Trail were both against Mormon polygamy and for woman rights. Set in pre-suffragette 1870’s Utah, bicycles don’t appear, despite suggestive titles. Moab, where film was shot, however, is the mountain biking capitol of the universe. Grey's popular books still resonate a century and a half later because same issues continue unresolved. Why should the underserved majority demand so little from diplomats and leaders and tolerate that?

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