If you're familiar with the New Yorker, you know that they like to do these articles where they round up a bunch of books on a similar theme, and then the writer bloviates, pontificates, and otherwise waggles his dick over them. In this particular case the books were about cities, and one in particular--"The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s"--is about bikes, as one might infer from its title.
Here's what Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker has to say about it:
The grid, useful as an accelerant for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, ended up being unintentionally well-adapted to the imperialism of the car; a short ride in a London cab can take forever, while taxi- and Uber-drivers race up and down the midnight Manhattan avenues at hyper-speeds. Evan Friss’s forthcoming “The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s” (Chicago) wants, in turn, to show us a forgotten parenthesis when the city had not yet yielded to the car. But he ends up showing mainly how terrific research and a feeling for detail can be undermined by the pieties of the contemporary social sciences. Common sense wins, barely, but not without the author taking many frightened-looking glances over his shoulder to see if the consensus of the discipline is gaining on him.
I didn't understand any of that.
Fortunately, he clarifies it all in the next paragraph:
The consensus of the discipline takes a dim view of common-sense considerations (say, that people rode bikes because they were the best way to get places before cars). More sinister Foucauldian épistèmes must be shown to govern social life: any social explanation that can’t be expressed as a conspiracy theory involving bourgeois society stamping out Difference is inadequate to the phenomenon, even if the phenomenon is on two wheels with gears and going many different places at once.
Sorry, no he doesn't.
What the hell is he talking about?
And what the fuck is a "Foucauldian épistème?!?"
Don't tell me to look it up, either, because I plugged the term into a popular search engine and all that came up was a picture of Eustace Tilley masturbating:
(As for Tilley's aim, his chums from The Ivy Club don't call him "Ol' Deadeye" for nothing.)
The book itself sounds legitimately interesting though:
Still, Friss has a good story to tell. In the late nineteenth century, bicycles were not just a sweet means of romantic transport—“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,” and all that—but a technological triumph creating fanatical followers and interest groups. The bicycle was more like a personal computer than like a love seat. There were “dozens of exclusive bicycle clubs dotting America’s leading cities. . . . Libraries, card rooms, and billiard tables kept members busy while dumbwaiters shuttled food from kitchen hands to hungry cyclists.” Women considered them “an almost utopian instrument,” Friss says, and quotes a contemporary source: “Now and again a complaint arises of the narrowness of woman’s sphere. For such disorder of the soul the sufferer can do no better than to flatten her sphere to a circle, mount it, and take to the road.”
Sadly, Gopnik appears to be doing his best to discourage us from reading it by flinging fistfuls of inscrutable prose into our faces:
Yet one feels impatient as he torturously tries to track academic concepts of class and mentalité onto what are, clearly, the inevitable inner squabbles of fan clubs and interest groups. Friss illustrates, without quite articulating, the central Trollopean social insight: like-minded people with similar passions typically end up fighting among themselves far more than they do with their class or intellectual opponents.
Foucauldian épistèmes, Trollopean social insights...this is some truly Herculean wankery.
Now I remember why I let my New Yorker subscription lapse--and it's not just me, either. Actual intellectuals are also fed up with it. For example, George Plimpton is turning in his grave...in which he is interred with his beloved Y-Foil, I might add:
Even Martin Amis thinks it's too much:
("Hey Gopnik, less nominal adjectivalisation, more spondee.")
Mess with Amis and you'll feel the spondee of a "ONE-TWO" punch::
Speaking of word choice, here's an article with an actual point, which is that we need to stop calling crashes "accidents:"
Our joint campaign with the street safety advocates at Transportation Alternatives is about language, but it isn’t an academic exercise in scolding people about word choice. Our objective is actually to challenge the assumptions behind those words—assumptions that lead to policy decisions that allow the carnage on our streets to continue, with no driver accountability.
How could a DMV judge throw out the tickets for the SUV driver who killed my daughter? I believe that the use of the word “accident”—by DMV officials, the media, and general public—is a big part of the problem. When we say “accident,” we are basically throwing up our hands and saying that the deaths of children like Allison are inevitable, something no one is responsible for, like bad weather.
I'm in awe of Hsi-Pei Liao's advocacy in the wake of what happened to his daughter, and I'm disgusted that this sort of thing continues to happen with nary a peep from our mayor, who campaigned on the idea of "Vision Zero" in the first place. Sadly the city and state fail families like this pretty much every day. In fact, it's so bad out there that people are beginning to take matters into their own hands:
Sources tell the Post that two men were crossing the street at Gates when the driver made the U-turn and almost struck them. They got into a shouting match, and one of the pedestrians then pulled a gun and fired, striking the driver in his thigh and lower leg.
I'm not a fan of the guns, yet at the same time I'm perfectly okay with this.
Meanwhile, people still think the idea of running people down is HILARIOUS, like the owner of this car I spotted over the weekend:
Seems about right for a Camaro owner.
Alas, while you're waiting fruitlessly while things to change, you can pretend that you're doing something by using a bike light that alerts your loved ones if your bike winds up horizontal:
This would drive the spouse or life partner of a triathlete completely insane in very short order...
...though I'm sure they've already gone insane from having to hear the incessant race reports.
("Guess what? I achieved another personal best!")
Oh, it also allows you to customize the light's color pattern in order to confuse the fuck out of motorists:
This is exactly the sort of situation in which you don't want to be ambiguous. White means front and red means rear, so just leave it at that. Save the "fushia freakout" for Burning Man.
Looks like the skid marks in Wavy Gravy's underpants.
Lastly, cycling is saved! Yep, USA Cycling has a new president:
I asked him, Why do this to yourself? Why leave a lucrative position at Wiggle to take over a sport constantly dinged by doping cases, including a recent one involving Tom Danielson, a top American rider who testified in the Armstrong doping investigation? In August, before the Tour of Utah, Danielson’s initial urine sample tested positive for a steroid.
Bouchard-Hall answered, “I love the sport that much.”
He added that he couldn’t bear to watch cycling flounder, post-Armstrong.
Trying to save this sport is like trying to reuse bar tape.
Just throw it out and replace it already.