Longtime Velo Orange customer, philosopher, social scientist, randonneur, ex-racer, and raconteur, Mike Ross offers us another entertaining guest post. As with all of Mike's post there is social commentary (boy is there social commentary!) Opinions expressed here may not be, (on the other hand they may be), those of our management and staff.
by Michael Ross,
There are specific good reasons for the usual attribution of acts to the person from whom they immediately proceed. But to convert this special reference into a belief of exclusive ownership is as misleading as to suppose that breathing and digesting are complete within the human body. To get a rational basis for moral discussion we must begin with recognizing that functions and habits are ways of using and incorporating the environment in which the latter has its say as surely as the former.
Our entire tradition regarding punitive justice tends to prevent recognition of social partnership in producing crime; it falls in with a belief in metaphysical free-will. By killing an evil-doer or shutting him up behind stone walls, we are enabled to forget both him and our part in creating him.
-- from John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (1926)
I had two Velo Orange Campeurs last year. Both got stolen. Everyone seems to want a Campeur.(You can read my Campeur review here and this review by Gypsy by trade.)
It was New Year's Eve, 2013, that my Campeur was stolen at 6:50pm in downtown Miami, Florida. I loved that bike. Then, at about 7:45, I got it back, a New Year's Eve miracle. It only had to involve a Google Nexus 5 cell phone, high-speed police car chase, helicopter searchlight, guns drawn, Coca-Cola and crack addiction, and my BFF and spouse, Lisa. This was the second Campeur stolen from me; in July, my first Campeur was stolen off my porch in Washington, DC.
So, let's start at the beginning. I had been riding my Campeur since they were made available last year by Velo Orange. Truly it is a great bike, and it had already taken me thousands of miles. One fine July day of 99% humidity, stifling heat, and light rain, I arrive home to my Takoma neighborhood in NW Washington, DC. I store my bike in the house, but I didn't want a soaked bike to just drip and drain all over the wood floor. So I put the bike on the attached porch, just momentarily, to drip dry. It's a small house and the porch is right next to the living room, and elevated a few feet, as it is the ground floor. I go into the house -- with the front door open to the porch! -- and begin fiddling around with various tasks. It's about 4pm in the afternoon and while it's still drizzling it's plenty bright out. I hear a thud, after being home about ten minutes (or fifteen? twenty?), and don't think much of it; but then I go the porch, and...no bike. It's gone. I couldn't believe it. Talk about a brazen theft. The door was open and I was physically no more than twenty feet from the bike at all times. I believe in Pitlock skewers and big U-locks, and have never had a problem locking my various bikes and leaving them unattended in some of the biggest -- and most economically unfair and undemocratic -- cities on the planet. But here I am at home, and...my bike is gone. Luckily, all my stuff was taken off it, so I didn't lose anything but the bike. Clearly, nowhere is safe from bike theft, even at home, especially since the Cops, reactionary as they always are, and channeling the larger culture, simply don' t take bike theft seriously.
I report the bike stolen to the Police. I never hear a word from them. Naturally. It's gone...
Well, I had meager insurance coverage. And Chris, El Hefe at Velo Orange, took pity on me, so I was able to get another Campeur. How's that for a product endorsement? And, so, I ride the new-er Campeur. And ride it. What a great bike. Fast and versatile, utilitarian and affordable, and it looks great.
Come Christmas time 2013, Lisa and I head to Miami, Florida as we usually do. We grew up there and have family there, and it's a nice break from the winter cold in Washington, DC. It's an absolutely horrid place to ride a bicycle, unless you're us: we know all the roads, and there are ways to meander and bicycle, and live to tell about it.
Some of the bicycling is actually quite interesting -- plus it's all flat all the time, except for bridges. And there is a huge, and potentially important, Critical Mass ride in Miami the last Friday of every month. We took in this years ride with our daughter, Claire. It was huge. It wasn't as good or well planned as Bike Party Baltimore, or the Critical Mass rides in San Francisco, and it did not make the overt, explicit connection to the democratic political implications of the bicycle as a social tool. True that. But it was still impressive in a city that has Miami's reputation for progressive inertness.
There are some very interesting spots to ride a bike in South Florida, given its unique geography and despite its horrifyingly bad car traffic: levees to ride on in the Everglades; Key Biscayne; Matheson Hammock; the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach, and more. A bicycle is a great way to get around, if you're a capable bicyclist and have a bike like the Campeur that can ride comfortably on sidewalks and sandy gravel paths.
South Florida is a poster child for mind-blowingly bad land use (and ocean use) development. It is an ecological and (un)democratic disaster. It could be a tropical paradise. We went to the depressing exhibit at the Coral Gables Historical Museum called "Miami 2100." This exhibit highlights the challenges to come as sea levels rise in flat, close-to-or-at-sea-level southern Florida. Basically, Miami's doomed.
The exhibit also neatly highlighted what is so wrong about unsustainable car-dependent America, and the kinds of people this structure produces. The Police we were destined to meet later in this story -- you know, "law enforcement professionals" -- repeatedly called Miami "a shit hole." But I'm getting ahead of myself; and besides, Miami -- that is the City of Miami -- is a small part of South Florida, and not all of southern Florida looks or feels like Miami, which markets itself as "The Magic City." Sure it is. Irony is not dead in Miami, even though the Bay is.
One area we ride down to and around is Homestead, Florida, about 30 miles south of Miami, the last built-up area before you hit the Everglades or head down into the Florida Keys. In the past we have brought our tandem to Miami. We've ridden to Miami from Jacksonville, Florida, down the coast on a mini-December-Holidaze-bike tour. It's an easy tour of about 400 miles, and off-season discounted hotel rooms -- at least until you get to south Florida. It's all flat; it's the dry season; and it usually gets warmer every day. Some of the stops along the way are really interesting, like St. Augustine, or visiting the big turtle beaches and whale habitats. Merritt Island is the wildlife refuge around Kennedy Space Center and is Lisa's favorite (more obvious Florida irony: a super nice place on this Earth is the area that we're rocketing off to leave...). The bicycle infrastructure, on route A1A along the east coast, on the edge of the ocean, while retrograde, has improved tremendously since we first started riding this route about 15 years ago. There are bike lanes in most areas, and, here and there, a little helpful route signage for bikes.
But this year we didn't tour from Jacksonville on the tandem, and brought our single bikes, my Velo Orange Campeur and Lisa's Soma Saga, directly to Miami. The Saga is a good bike...but, truth be told, not better than Velo Orange's offerings, and not as affordable. VO simply didn't have anything like the 50cm, 26-inch wheeled Saga when Lisa bought it...although they do now (see the new 26-inch wheeled Campeur!).
On New Year's Eve we were in downtown Miami at 6:50pm, having ridden from around Homestead, Florida. We had meandered over 50 miles at that point. The north headwind we rode into all day was really brutal. Lisa grew up in Homestead, and her family were farmers in the region, having migrated in the 1940s from North Carolina, where she was born in the 1960s. She has fond memories of childhood down there with her farmer family, cultivating tomatoes, and later, when her Uncle Johnny was "running the pole beans." There still isn't that much in and around Homestead, and it's a black hole for anything progressive: what stands out is traffic and generalized ugliness; Walmart; social arrogance which has led to drastic income and class segregation; the lingering effects of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (which created garbage "mountains" in the flat landscape); the large Hispanic population living in poverty and picking our winter vegetables while being led by White Christian Men who control the local politics. When I was a kid I was taken down to Homestead on public school field trips from the Big City. Most memorable was that the minute the buses left Sunset Elementary in South Miami we started sweating, even though that was and is a daily commonplace in Southern Florida (when I went to elementary school in the early '70s we had no air-conditioning, and I can recall many times having to peel the paper I was writing on off my arm in order to turn it in to the Dictator...I mean Teacher). In Homestead we were taken out to U-pick'em fruit and vegetable stands, on the edge of the Everglades, to pick veggies off the vine and learn about joint-stock companies. That's right: the "lesson" we were to connect to this "field trip" was that of learning how the stock market worked, to start and "capitalize" a "pole bean company," selling "shares" to our friends. Nobody then or now understood the real upshot of this lesson. School-based tasks almost never make contact with the "real world," which is why formal schooling is such a waste of time -- unless the goal is ideological oppression and crowd control. Which it is. (Bowles and Gintis started this research...and it has been reinforced by subsequent research ever since: formal education doesn't enhance class mobility -- it reproduces it.) The function of schooling, like any other mass institution, isn't supposed to edify or educate, but make you stupid and obedient. It's easy to train young humans in content and skill acquisition; very hard to educate them as reflective persons who are creative and adaptive, and can explain why they act as much as detail how they act. In any case, it's interesting how the "field" "trip" we were supposed to be movingly enriched by through mere exposure is understood against the immobile drudgery of the typical school day, with its ossified curriculum and age-grade separations, now on a gated and locked "campus" ("safety first!") built by the same corporations in the same style and with the same materials that are used to build prisons. Five letters of the alphabet -- A-F -- somehow measure...what? Learning? Like the SAT or GRE? Bahahahahah! Good one. Is it any wonder students and teachers unreflectively flee these spaces at "dismissal" or "early release"?
As Alfie Kohn has pointed out, it is obvious that the very structuring of the public school day, of the classroom itself, is the problem with public "education." (His *What to Look For in a Classroom* is a good start. *Deschooling Society* by Ivan Illyich is better...or find John Taylor Gatto, who, when he became New York Teacher of the Year -- quit -- in his award lecture! He'll make you laugh...and cry.) A strong case could be made that, given what is now known about cognition and healthy developmental growth, sending children to public school in the USA borders on child abuse. (This despite the best intention of uninformed parents, themselves uneducated but often highly trained, credentialed, well-paid and "successful" -- so they're predictably blind and unintentionally arrogant.)
But I digress. (Although not really -- the periphery of the social conditions I'm just barely touching on are the forces that create...homeless people, drug addicts, bike thieves, and those with "advanced" degrees who punish them, as well as the narrative (utterly fanciful) that assures any insights into these relationships remains hidden.) On a bicycle a brutal headwind sucks as much a formal schooling, and we fought such a headwind for hours en route to Miami from Homestead on New Years Eve. Even with a mid-stop fat-feast at Shorty's BBQ in Dadeland, we arrived in downtown Miami in need of a Coffee and a Coke.
So into a nondescript coffee shop we go, at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 23rd Street in downtown Miami. As you can see from the photo, it's right off a lovely six-laner, done as only Americans can, and since it was New Years Eve, it was getting ready to close at 7pm. We rolled in about ten minutes before. We leaned the bikes against the glass walls, literally about ten feet from where the counter is. Lisa orders her coffee and heads off to use the bathroom; and I get a Coke and a cookie.
The bikes are in full view. We had not locked them. Lisa is religious about locking her bike, and until last year neither of use have ever had a bike stolen as an adult. Good U-locks and Pit-lock locking wheel skewers do wonders even in NYC, Philly or Washington DC. But this coffee shop felt so safe, and the fact that I would be standing there, and the fact that the bikes were in plain view...lead even Lisa to not lock her bike as we went into the coffee shop.
So when I turned around after getting my Coke, having not looked at the bikes for what must have been a millisecond, I did a double-take, because my bike was gone. Maybe I'm not looking in the right place? So I went outside. Lisa's bike was there, but mine was not. I ran a little down the adjacent streets to look. Nothing. Then I walk back up to the coffee shop and Lisa is there asking me what's happening. I tell her my bike is gone...and so is all our stuff, as I'm the one who carries everything in two big rear panniers. I then start to experience the drowning, swirling Dada-esque sensation that we've all seen in the movies...you know, like in Hitchcock's Psycho as the water drains out the tub after the shower stabbing...
I was speechless. We had *everything* in my panniers: Lisa's papers from her University; our Macbook Air laptop; prescription glasses; all our electronic-gizmo chargers; my wallet with cash and all my ID and credit cards; rain jackets, my clothes, extra running shoes and Lisa's fancy running clothes; my mp3 player, my headphones, and my cell phone. A new Google Nexus 5 phone to be exact, with Android Kit Kat OS and with the tracking feature turned on...and the phone was on.
So, I'm still incapable of moving or speaking, but Lisa calls the cops. She still has her Google Nexus phone, just like mine, among the few items she carries in her panniers. Calling the cops can't hurt, she says. I had already given up and I know how unlikely it is that a stolen bike is ever recovered.
A young tattooed male cop (one full "arm sleeve," in color) shows up in a cop car in about two minutes. We tell him what happened; he takes all our info and puts out the word on the police radio to look for a stolen gray ten speed. You bikies know: if it has drop bars it's a ten-speed. He makes it clear that bikes aren't usually recovered...and besides, it's just a bike. Five minutes later, a second younger cop then shows up; he's 27, been a cop since he's 20, started in NYC, been in Miami 6 years, and he's half Hispanic (huh? -- 20 years old with a gun? using deadly force?? in complex societal disputes mired in historical, mythic, and social structural complexities it takes years to understand?...can you say Ferguson, Missouri?...nothing like law enforcement professionalism in the USA).
I stood there, and realized that there was, in the abstract at least, this fancy techno-wizardry that's supposed to be able to track my phone...I guess. So as Lisa is talking to the cops I'm trying to figure this out on Lisa's phone, Googling "how to track my Nexus 5 phone." Will this work? I'm also calling my buddy and techno genius and Belgian hard-man cycling hero, L, in Washington, DC, to ask him if he knows how to track my phone. L answers my call right at the moment I am figuring out that I may be able to track the phone that is on the stolen bike in my pannier. I tell him or Lisa tells him...I can't remember...something about Police, stolen bikes, androids, aliens...and then we hang up on him. He tells me later it was pretty funny because he had no idea what was going on. He had wondered if I was stealing bikes. Or abducted an alien.
But I did manage to get Google's Android tracking device working on Lisa's phone...and I'll be damned if that little blue blinking dot isn't telling me where my phone is on the Miami streets -- *right now*! And that little blue dot seems be fairly near us, albeit moving away at...bike speed!
So I try to communicate this to the law enforcement professionals. I fail. Words are always half- some-elses.
Lisa then tells them what I am not communicating: that blue dot is telling us where the phone is, and it is probably still on the bike. She asks, "Why can't we follow the blue dot?" So the younger cop calls ahead for other cops in the area of the flashing blue dot to be alert for a stolen bicycle. But this is not good enough for Lisa. She is *insistent* that we should get going *now* and track down the bike. She asks again how we can do this. Arm sleeve cop will have none of this; but young Hispanic cop looks at the phone, sees the blue dot flashing, and after Lisa's insistence, he looks at me and says, "lets go."
Go? Go how? With his squad car. I go to sit next him in the front seat...but, uh, no...he tells me to get in the back. It was warm out, of course, and the back seat was even warmer, as the windows were rolled up and it was separated from the front seats by Plexiglas. Zero ventilation. The seats had no cushions and were hard plastic. And I wasn't going anywhere as I was locked in.
Off we go, with flashing lights on but no siren. Young cop has his phone in his left hand, AND Lisa's phone also in his left hand; and his radio in his right hand while he was steering with one finger of his right hand. We are going about 70mph on a 25mph city street, slowing for red lights to make sure it was clear, then driving through them. This is too rich: can you say "Idaho Stop"? We zigged and zagged chasing the blinking blue dot, and at one point hit 80mph. This was not enjoyable. And not just because I was locked in the back seat, but because I was channeling an experience we had a few days earlier. Just days earlier Lisa and I had been in downtown and watched a fleeing car go right by us -- after we jumped onto the sidewalk -- being chased by multiple cop cars. It was cray-zay, as the kids say. Like something out of the movies as the bad-guy car zoomed by, catching air on the bumps, and skidding around corners, chased by the cops. As they all sped by and sped off, we thought nothing more of it, until later that day we see on the TV news that one of the chasing cop cars crashed at an intersection while in pursuit, into a car that didn't see or hear him. And that cop was hurt bad. So as we're flying through intersections I could already see the headline: "For Second Time in Week Police Car Crashes Chasing Bicycle Thief, Killing Victim in Back Seat."
The good news is we didn't crash, and soon arrived at NE 68th Street and the railroad tracks in the delightful area of Little Haiti. It was an industrial area with the kind of bombed-out buildings and people that says "Armageddon" and Marxian "Lazarus-layer." The blinking blue dot had stopped, and young cop opined that "he must be around here somewhere." So he gets out of the car and tells me to stay here...you know, locked in the backseat with the windows rolled up. We're parked between two buildings, with the railroad tracks running behind, and he goes through a hole in the chainlink fence to gain access to the tracks and the area behind it. Moments later I see him in the dark shadows, barely discernible, but I can see his armed stretched out, and his flashlight; he was talking but I couldn't make out what he was saying.
Meanwhile, an annoying light keeps shining from above and I hear a helicopter; and two black, unmarked cop cars come skidding next to the car I'm sitting in, now sweating, and a single police car arrives as well. They all jump out and run behind the building. I do manage to yell at the super tall cop who gets out of the marked squad car and ask to him to let me out. "That's my bike!" I yell at him, pointing. He put his face to the glass, and said, "What?" So I tried to explain what was going on, including pointing out that I wasn't in handcuffs, but he looked back at me said: "I don't know who you are." He then joined the Police party out on the railroad tracks.. He left me in the car.
Moments later smiling young cop comes to the car and let's me out; he thinks he has my bike. So I walk through the fence and out into the area of the dark, creepy tracks, and there sitting against the wall is my bike, my Campeur. I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it.
The bike was fine: the Edelux II headlight had the wire cut, and the tail-light was smashed, but other than that the bike was fine. My big, forest green Ortleib panniers -- which they don't make any more -- were still on it, as was my lock. But the Perp only had three items of all those taken: The Mac-book Air laptop; my wallet; and Nexus 5 cell phone. Still, this was a hugely successful recovery in my book -- and so it was for the cops.
Thank goodness for Google and Android. This was truly a digital-age miracle. And it represented a class-based issue as well: an affluent, formally educated thief with cell phone savvy would have turned off my phone the moment it was discovered. If it's off, it can't be tracked. But as with so much in this culture, the poor and stupid are blamed as if they created the conditions of their cognitive and material impoverishment, and trapped by the necessary actions they take (or don't take) on the basis of such impoverishment. Oh, I forgot: in this culture, what's right and wrong is in the stars, our hearts, on the flag, in the pulpit, in crystals or Gaia, Aztec or Maya...the list of supernal absurdities providing guidance and goals never ends in the USA. Our Perp was so stupid he had no idea that tracking was even a possibility. But he was *made* that way...
On the other side of the train tracks sat the Perp, already in the back of one of the unmarked cop cars, in handcuffs. Two more unmarked cars had arrived on the other side of the tracks, totally unbeknownst to me. The helicopter is still swirling around overhead with the bright spotlight flashing now and again. I mention that there must be a lot of crime going on in the area, assuming the helicopter was not for a mere bike theft. Young cop tells me that the helicopter was for us.
Huge tall cop, it turns out, is the guy in charge, an ex-Marine, and he has lots of "hoo-rahs!" for "his men" (and they were all men); he congratulates them all on a good job. Apparently it is very rare to catch a thief red-handed.
I get my bike and we put it on the back of young cop's car...he just happens to have a bike rack in the trunk -- 'cause, you know, he's an "avid cyclist" -- and we use it to transport the Campeur and us back to the site of the theft. (The always "avid cyclist" is an interesting meme to trace...) I am told to get back in the back seat...but at least the ride to the coffee shop isn't at 80mph through red lights and cross traffic, although it is still hot and I'm definitely sweating.
I also get the whole story on the drive back, which was about 2.5 miles from the coffee shop. As young cop went through the fence he immediately saw the Perp sitting on some steps smoking what turned out to be a crack pipe -- with my Campeur next to him. Young cop pulled his gun and told him not to move, but since the Perp wouldn't show him his hands he didn't train his gun off of him until the reinforcements arrived. That's why I saw him, from the backseat of the car, with his arms out, not moving, yelling. He was ready to shoot, I guess. Over a bicycle?...or a crack pipe?
When we get back to the coffee shop Lisa knew what had been going on, being told by arm-sleeve tattoo cop as he was getting updates over the radio. She was thrilled. The side street to the coffee shop was now filled with four cop cars, one of which had the Perp in the back seat. It's now about 7:40, and the employees of the coffee shop are closing up and filtering outside wondering what the hell is going on. They were quite amused by the story.
While the Police process the crime scene (that's what they say on TV, right? -- isn't "real" life now just a less-real reflection of TV?), Lisa and I are talking with three of the reinforcement cops and arm-sleeve cop. It is interesting to see how arrest and processing are done these days: the picture-taking of the evidence with cell phone cameras was news to me. This also meant none of our stuff had to be kept by the Police for evidence. All three of the reinforcement cops were Hispanic; and they all clearly liked tattoos, as they were covered in them.
Lisa mentions in passing that the Perp looks sad sitting the back of the cop car, and that she feels sorry for him. Man, did that open the comments section of our Police interaction:
"Don't feel sorry for him. Don't feel sorry for him. He's a piece of shit. He's a crackhead. You and I go to work in the morning and you know what he does? He spends the day stealing our property. He's a piece of shit, a piece of shit. Don't feel sorry for him."
Well. That settles that.
Lisa did probe the Cops further and we found out that our Perp, Eddie, was a homeless white guy of long standing in the area. He had been arrested many times before in his 47 year-old life, always for nonviolent theft or drug possession. He claimed he stole my bike because he had no shoes and was tired of walking. Sure. Anywho...he had burglary tools in his backpack, and a small amount of crack cocaine and crack smoking pipes. This was doubly bad, since he had been out of jail only since December 14th, after being arrested and charged with burglary. He was out of jail awaiting trial. The conditions of his release were that he not do drugs; or possess any tools that could be used for burglaries. Whoops.
More pressing were Lisa's concerns about where Eddie got rid of the rest of our stuff. I was pretty happy with the outcome, and what we did recover, as were the Cops. But she wouldn't let up and refused to take no for an answer: Lisa wanted to just ask Eddie where he got rid of the rest of our stuff.
Despite being told multiple times that we should be happy with this great outcome, and I was, Lisa was unrelenting, until the editorializing Hispanic cop agreed to go over to the squad car and ask Eddie where he threw our stuff. And, I'm happy to report, Eddie told him! -- out on the railroad tracks directly at the end of the street we were on -- 23rd.
As is the case for most information that is nontrivial, like Hamlet seeing the ghost of his father, or that a bullet at the sub-atomic level is mainly empty space, it was hard to tell if this was good news or bad. At this time of day, in the dark, and at the end of this block -- 23rd Street -- this is the heart of Overtown, a famous site of the riots of the early 1980s (for good reason, involving police misconduct, but that's beside the point....well, not really). I was at Coral Gables High School in 1980, and I remember those weird but predictable days, of army guys with big guns standing on LeJeune Road street corners, far from downtown, enforcing the curfew. Overtown is an area that historically used to be called "Colored Town." It's now an abject ugly, ghetto-ized area that meets Cornel West's definition of "niggerization," and that parades poverty and violence as only the schizophrenic USA can orchestrate under it's "individual responsibility" rhetoric of "anyone can grow up to be President." Overtown is 100% percent African-American; and poor. The exploited and oppressed people who are forced to live there -- most of whom are decent and compassionate -- are no more to be blamed for their situation than poor Eddie. (Please don't tell me they have a choice not to live there...)
Nevertheless, it's dangerous - especially for two white people walking the train tracks alone, in Colored Town in the dark on New Years Eve. Uh...I wasn't going to do it. But Hispanic cop came to the rescue, sensing that my headstrong spouse was going out there no matter what, and said he would drive the train tracks in his squad car behind us as we walked, and hopefully his headlights would illuminate our stuff...if we came across it.
And so we prepared to walk the tracks looking for our stuff, with him behind us with his headlights shining the way forward. But not until we were given another requisite civics lesson: "Miami is a shit hole," he began. All the other cops nodded in agreement. I'll spare you how many times he repeated this line, as if he were obsessive-compulsive on this point. "Do you know where we're supposed to be tonite?" he asked. "Tonite is NewYear's Eve, and we are *ordered* to be inside, under cover, between 11:45pm and 12:15am. Why? Because so many people shoot guns into the air at midnight that we could be hit by falling bullets. And do you know who we're going to arrest tonite? And I'm not prejudiced since I'm Hispanic, but almost everyone we arrest tonight will be Hispanic and drunk. Miami is a shit hole..." I could repeat this coda for effect multiple times, as he did, but you kinda get the idea. Not exactly a poster child for the Chamber of Commerce.
But enough talk. Off we went to walk the dark train tracks with the cop car behind us. We walked just a few minutes and I saw a mound of clothes in a heap in front of me in the cop car's headlights! I couldn't believe this, either. It was our stuff. When we looked around we found everything. This was clearly the spot Eddie had decided to sift through his loot, before moving on. A couple of the gizmo chargers were broken, but other than that we recovered *everything.* A New Year's miracle.
So, we thanked Hispanic cop, and I thanked my spouse for once again, in so many ways, having benefited from her nerve, strength, perseverance and support. We prepared to ride north to my Mother's house in Sunny Isles Beach and finish the days journey, which had started in Homestead in the headwind. It was only about 8:20, but this ordeal felt many days in the making. We had something to celebrate this New Years Eve, during a night we usually find boring.
Who knew that earlier today I would have my second Campeur of the year stolen, but that I would at least get this one back!
Back home in Washington, DC we start getting robot-produced postcards, from the District Attorney's Office of Miami-Dade County. It seems I am a "victim." I already know that, given my economic status, but they meant a *crime* victim. As a social scientist who knows the relevant history of the Police as an American institution, I know it is apocryphal to suggest that I am not a supporter of the Police as they are currently constituted. We've all heard the heaped on praise: "They're first-responders!" -- "They run towards danger when *everyone* else is running away!" -- "Oh how dangerous it is to be a Police Officer!" Etc., etc.. (Ideological spoiler alert: studies show Police work is very safe; for instance, construction work is much more dangerous.)
If the "Po'-lices," as they're called in da 'hood, are "first-responders," it's by default. But they shouldn't be. They're second-responders.
In a DEMOCRACY worth having the first-responder should be that person you don't know standing a few feet away, who is a competent, multi-faceted, talented, *integral,* not disposable, *contributor* to the larger society of which he or she is a vital part, and *educated* to be the equal of any other productive *citizen,* and not just a passive consumer. DEMOCRACY is a mode of shared experience, steeped in agape, not just a substantively "empty," value-neutral voting mechanism of the sort drilled into students in Political Science 101. This is merely Nietzche's "mania for counting noses." In a DEMOCRACY that person over there who you don't know follows rules intelligently but not blindly, allows exceptions in exceptional circumstances, is psychologically secure and mature, economically viable, and will always spring into action to help his fellow citizens when needed because s/he actually believes all that Christian ethical bullshit about being "my brother's (and sisters) keeper." There is a recognition that the *self* -- who *I* am -- is reflected, viscerally and practically, in that homeless, urine smelling bum you just stepped around, embarrassed to make eye contact.
Your fellow citizen -- not consumer -- is and should be your "first responder," but since this culture of narcissism has so blown it, we mistakenly think of Cops and their institutionalized counterparts as first-responders. As David Graeber has remarked, "Cops are bureaucrats with guns." I realize the American Sheeple have purposely been produced to disdain authentic Democracy, so I'm not blaming them, especially now that the USA is an Oligarchy, making discussion of Democracy moot. (99% percent of income gains to the top 1% over the last 30 years or so: Did you vote for that? CEO of Wells Fargo Bank has been paid over $60 million in the last three years. Etc., etc.. Let me guess: you think that's unfair? -- *it doesn't matter what you think.*) But explaining the larger carceral and self-servailing society explains why we have harmless homeless people running around with no shoes smoking crack and stealing bicycles; why the (putative) "law-enforcement professionals" and "first-responders" have such disdain for the "public" whose "public safety" they are "policing," and why the State Attorney is *always* blindly "tough on crime." As the kids today say, Epic Fail and big Yawn.
Most Supreme Court issues have been caused by Police stupidity, and as a quasi-military agency their sensitivity to the nuances of a life well-lived in a Democracy worth having is rather...minimal. In short, contemporary law enforcement is merely reactionary, not extending and deepening Democracy but impoverishing it. But miseducated common folk are fed a steady ideological diet about the heroic nature of law enforcement, valorizing what they do but making sure they aren't paid what they are claimed to be worth (like military service; nurses; teachers, etc.; look at the amount of overtime most cops put in). Just note the amount of cops and cop themes on TV, and how deeply the cultural narrative of the contemporary USA is so rooted to "control" and "security." And if you raise an objection, pointing out that the Founding Fathers (itself a woeful concept) would find such a narrative inimical to the USA's claimed values of liberty and responsibility, you are instantly vilified as unpatriotic. The whole of the "criminal justice system" is a joke (which has very few real criminals, very little justice on any definition, although they sure got the Weberian "system" part right...). It is racist, classicist and eugenicist. Nobody is being made penitent in a Penitentiary, nor are they being "corrected" in a "Correctional" facility. The prison-industrial complex Americans have stupidly created is now a huge economic engine. So it's not going anywhere. And naturally, since America is always #1, it certainly is when it comes to imprisoning it's poor and ethnic minority population, when compared worldwide.
So pervasive is the prison mentality that it is reflected in the public schools: if you're a student you "get" an education and then leave "school" and it's worthless school tasks and drop it behind like so many other necessary but useless commodities. (Formal credentials do matter in a bureaucratic oligarchy, regardless of how achieved -- that's why cheating is so easy, rampant, and rarely an issue.) In school you yearn for "early release," want to avoid "detention" at all costs; and require a "pass" to move around a building designed by the same firms that build prisons, replete with cameras tracking your every move, while your mandatory photo ID hangs around your neck with your student number, validating your existence in the name of "security." Children are our future. The whole of the "facility" is ringed in chainlink and barb wire, and there are private security policing the grounds. Policing your mind are curricular ideas like "domesticating literacy": the idea that, like a pet finding the food dish and litter box, you only should know enough to understand the Bible, your moronic congressman, TV sit-com jokes, sales at the mall, road signs for your drivers license test, and violent spectator sports. The fix? Naturally it's more tests, more accountability in education; more disassociation among content areas (STEM anyone? Kahn Academy for mere skill and content acquisition?) -- and some more tests. Yeah, that's it. More tests across the board! I can't make shit like this up.
So when I tell you that a few months after Eddie was arrested we found out he was given 7 mandatory years in Florida prison -- through a plea *bargain*? -- we were kinda stunned. That's right, 7 years.
I also learned -- and it wasn't easy getting this info -- Eddie spent about 15 minutes with his court- appointed lawyer discussing his case; and about 5 minutes in the plea bargain meeting. I kid you not. 7 years of your tax money, folks...
When I started getting the post cards from the State Attorney, I started phoning and emailing. I wanted to talk to Eddie's Public Defender, or talk directly with Eddie. The latter request was met with stunned silence. I sent many emails and made many calls over a couple months. I called the State Attorney probably 20 times, asking what his sentence would be, and asking how it got calculated, and why. None of the State Attorney wizards I talked with -- none answered any emails -- knew the particulars of the case. None. Without even asking me what my concerns were -- arrogance is simply epidemic in this culture -- all 4 of the State Attorneys I talked with assured me that he wouldn't know who I was, I was safe, that he would remain in custody, that they would for sure severely punish him...and they'd take his first child and cut his balls off.
"Custody" is a cute word for jail used by people of privilege and power who have no idea what jail is like...or any idea how many non-criminal and innocent people are put in one. Most of my calls to the State Attorney referred me to their paralegal assistant. Any time I thought I had the correct Attorney prosecuting the case, it shifted to someone else. The same sadistic theme mentioned above was constant: every single person I talked with didn't even ask why I was calling before preemptively launching into what could have passed for a typical campaign speech for the American Sheeple: this guy wasn't going to get away with this; we are going to punish him bad; and we won't back down on the maximum punishment recommendation. When I asked if he'd get drug counseling, they all told me "if he earns it." Right! Of course. I asked if drug use in prison is allowed -- of course not! Is drug use widespread in prison, I ask? Of course it is! It is? Huh? How then can that be if it's illegal and you, State Attorney, assure me there are no drugs in prison? To this question I got the same response: silence.
We're doomed, folks. 99% of the income gains went the top 1% in the last 30 years; marijuana is easy to get and remains illegal, yet the black sellers get punished, not the white users. Study after study after study shows car-laws are not enforced in any statistically meaningful way; and the Idaho Stop is safely practiced by 99.999% of bicyclists on the road in the USA, all day, every day -- but will never be law, because it's "too dangerous." Helmet Nazis tell me I should wear a helmet while bicycling, and sometimes I do. Yet falling down the stairs is more dangerous than cycling, and the typical helmet worn is not a plastic hard-shell full coverage helmet, but a top-of-the-head-covering "racing"-type helmet that is more akin to a styrofoam coffee cup than a piece of protective gear. 3 million people rode bikes today in Copenhagen, and didn't wear helmets...and they're fine. Country's like Australia and Ireland, and cities like Seattle, Washington, with mandatory adult helmet use, have seen no decrease in the severity of head injuries or the number of head injuries due to bicycling. (Almost everywhere does have mandatory helmet use for minors...which, of course, is not enforced, especially in minority and poor neighborhoods. Children are our future.) Max Weber's views on the Protestant Ethic and Capitalism, and alienating bureaucracy, and sheer stupidity and irrationalism, including the "disenchantment of reason," have never been more relevant. (I recommend David Graeber's book, *The Utopia of Rules.*)
FORWARD TO THE PAST: The original Campeur reveals itself!
Fast forward to June 23, 2014, a hot summer day. It's 11pm and we are headed to Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, DC, for our usual post-Nationals Baseball game drink and snack before heading home. My 10 year-old nephew, Tyler, is with us; he lives in Asheville, North Carolina. We're riding the tandem, and he's on the back; Lisa is on her single bike. We're baseball fans, but hate spectator sports (no, this is not a contradiction). Baseball is a 19th century game, and while it's corporatized and fetishized, to be sure, in 2015, and for the worse, it still possesses many remarkably important cultural values (primarily libertarian socialist) that connect and illuminate seemingly discrete contemporary social practices. Baseball on TV is OK; but only after deep appreciation of its lyricism live, in-person, at the ballpark. The Washington, DC Nationals are in my town, downtown, near the Capitol dome, not out near shopping malls somewhere in suburbia ringed by endless parking lots and soul-crushing collector roads from Anywhere America, screaming anomie. We only get to the games by bicycle, since the ballpark has free, monitored, secure bike parking in the stadium, with the "Bike Valet." (Although we could take the Metro train, or use Car2Go one-way, car-share...DC is not a transportation desert...)
Baseball's example can be prescriptively telescoped to a better future off the field, assuming you value participatory democracy, and at least like a few other people. It connects with Democracy in the USA as no other sport does, as a cultural institution and "pastime," emerging as the latter did in the age of leisure...you know, after those horrible Socialist Unions got us a 40-hour work-week. You will not like Baseball if you think you can passively watch it; it's not easily consumed, the season is six months long, the singular games are long (as events go in 2015), and there is no time limit for a game, it goes until it is over, according to its own internal logic -- always at least 27 outs to win. Individual performances may stand out as exceptional, but only emerge as such from a background of team structure, and team strategy. There may be more or less valuable players, but there are no "rugged individualists" in Baseball. Baseball honors the psychological insight that all selves of all persons are socially produced; and that individuality is not bestowed, but achieved -- if it is achieved in one's lifetime. The self, in Baseball as in Life, is "socially distributed" --- recall the Dewey quote at the start of this story (or read Alva Noe's *Out of Our Heads.*) High levels of individual distinction may emerge in Baseball, but are meaningful only in the context of the structure of the game...where the last shall be first and the first shall be last: it's an irreducibly team sport. It makes no more sense to claim a great player or team is so in the abstract, than it does to claim that red blood cells are more important than a left arm, or that a Plumber is worth less in remuneration than a Wall Street Banker. And if these comparisons come as news, perhaps you haven't thought through Baseball as completely as you should: it is explicitly historical. You must actively participate to enjoy watching Baseball, unlike TV or pop music. Like all so-called abstract art, in appreciation it reveals and reflects the meaningfulness of the viewer as much as it offers and exhibits its own sensuousness. For good reason Baseball has been compared to jazz music. Since the USA is an ahistorical culture, Baseball is, naturally, on the decline in terms of cultural appreciation... (A deeply, orthodoxly religious culture, like the USA or Iraq, is necessarily an historical culture.)
So, we get to Meridian Pint and can't find a table; or they're closing or...Meridian Pint is not exactly well run. So, by this twist of Fate (Fate? Haha -- I'm joking...), we leave there and head towards the Mexican place in Columbia Heights, down the street a few blocks. They have outdoor seating as well, right on the sidewalk, which makes it a good bike stop. As we ride up on the sidewalk to the Mexican place, with Tyler on the back of the tandem, and Lisa on her own bike in front of me, I see a 40ish-aged couple walking towards us. As we pass I catch a glimpse of his bike by his side, as he strolls past. It's gray...it looks beat up...it has purple alloy brake cable hangers. Huh? Wait. A. Minute. I look more closely, over my shoulder, as we are riding by. Yep -- that's my bike, my stolen-off-the-porch Campeur, that's been gone now for about a year. I can tell by all sorts of little accouterments and cables and the saddle and bar end shifters and my penchant for adornment with paint markers...that's my bike! So, I don't say a word, and ride to the Mexican place. I sit Tyler down at the table, jump off the tandem, and take off down the street running after the walking couple. I yell to Lisa to lock her bike and follow me.
I confront the couple with my bike on the sidewalk in the center of Columbia Heights. They're Hispanic, and they don't seem to speak any English. How do you live meaningfully in a culture and not speak the language? (Answer: you don't. You just exist. Like a tree. Or an economic slave.) Anyhow, I make some stupid gestures indicating that he has my bike, and that it was stolen last year. They seem to not understand. Lisa catches up to me and immediately sees what is happening. Lisa, whose mother is from Cuba, does speak Spanish and takes over from here. She tells them it is stolen...and the woman rolls her eyes and says something to her man.
It turns out that the wife suspected that there was a problem with the bike when her husband bought it used on the street for $100. She said that she urged her husband not to buy it, but he did anyway. As I look more carefully at the bike I realize it's been brutalized. I would learn later, when I had taken it apart, that it had been left outside; thank goodness frame-saver rust-proofing sprays work as good as they do. Also, there was no Schmidt dyno-hub front wheel; and there was no Edelux headlight; and there was no Tubus Cargo rear rack; and there was no Velo Orange rear wheel and hub -- they were all gone. I wonder what they sold for, and to who? In there place are heavy bolt-on wheels that are Big-box store boat-anchor crap, replete with...schreader valves! So you can pump up the tires at the gas station or with your basketball pump.
As if to make the absurdity of all this complete, the pedals are still my pedals: Speedplay Frogs, which are small, clipless pedals, about the size of lollipops. $5 to change to big flat pedals and no one did so? Given this guy has probably never seen bicycle shoes, much less own a pair, he was riding around in his sneakers -- necessarily uncomfortably -- on a tiny pedal made for special bicycle shoes. That must have been fun, especially in the rain.
Lisa and I did immediately feel guilty for taking this guy's bike -- he has no other way to get around. And while he bought it stolen, he didn't steal it, and he knew nothing about bikes. But it's not like we are wealthy beyond our dreams, either. In fact, we're part of the other 1% -- the amount of our outstanding student loans puts us in the top 1% of student loan indentured servants (I'll spare you the exact figure, because you simply wouldn't believe it in a culture whose rhetoric of economic opportunity, heaped on praise for educational attainment, putative democracy, and administrative fairness is so steeped in superlatives. Anyone who believes all the empty nonsense about how free the USA is, and how we don't have debtor prisons, need only stop paying their income tax...) Also, in fact, we didn't take this guy's bike from him -- he handed it to us. I had already called the Police; and Lisa told him that the Police were coming. Illegal immigrants are smart enough to avoid the Police, for good reason. And we were certainly not looking to punish this guy. His day-to-day life is punishment enough. It's too bad, though, he didn't have the insight education allows: this was a bicycle theft, and like enforcing the speed limit for cars; enforcing the cell-phone band while driving; enforcing the 3-foot law for cars passing bikes; or arresting white people who use pot as opposed to black people who sell pot...the Police just don't give a damn, and were certainly not rushing to the crime scene. Had he insisted on not giving the bike up there would have been little we could have done about it. Recall how lackadasical the Po'-lices were with the Miami Campeur theft, until they literally could be shown the thief moving in real time at bicycle speed.
So, we walked away from the Hispanic couple, my bike in tow, feeling a little guilty. I called the cops again on the phone and cancelled our "request for assistance." I could have helped this guy get a used bike, and help set it up for him, as I have done for many people over the years. But we had a communication impasse, and he probably saw me as the face of the enemy. And while I'm not his enemy, he was right to feel that it's faces like mine -- a formally educated white male -- that, writ large, are certainly the enemy. Alien abduction isn't a sci-fi theme for undocumented workers: it's real. Can you say "immigration reform" in the USA?...nah. Unnecessary.
So, that's my bike theft story, times two, and I'm sticking to them. As I walked back to the Mexican place, wounded Campeur in tow, who would have thought I'd have two bikes stolen within the year? And yet get back both? Wierd. Everybody, it seems, wants a Campeur!
If you're interested in some of the topics I briefly touch on, you can consult the following introductory books, of which, of course, there are many more: Michelle Alexander, *The New Jim Crow*; Alfie Kohn, *What to Look for in a Classroom*; Daniel Kahneman, *Thinking: Fast and Slow; David Brooks, *The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement*; Scott's *Two Cheers for Anarchism*; Daniel Dennett's *Darwin's Dangerous Idea*; Gladwell's *Blink*; Suskind's *Nudge*; Haidt's *The Righteous Mind; Richard Lewontin's *Biology as Ideology*; Zinn's, *A People's History of the United States*; Kunstler's *The Geography of Nowhere*; Duaney et. al.; *Suburban Nation*; Zach Furness, *One Less Car*; Cotton Seiler, *A Republic of Drivers.*
More technical are: John Dewey's 1916, *Democracy and Education* -- more important than ever and has been confirmed by the latest research in the cognitive sciences. Dewey's famous distinction between training and education is as relevant today as ever. Donald Davidson's, *Truth and Interpretation* -- "truth" can't and shouldn't be the aim of inquiry. Evan Thompson, *Mind In Life*; Mark Johnson, *The Body in the Mind.*