Saturday, October 31, 2009

Miranda Devine, showing the love to cockroach cyclists and the burden of the Manichean colmunist

(Above: Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter).

One of my favorite characters is the sociopath, played by Robert Mitchum and known as Preacher, battling his demons and widows in The Night of the Hunter.

It was a flop at the time, and also a trend-setter, because Mitchum had "Love" tattoed on one set of fingers, and "Hate" on the other, and when it came to a wrestle about morality, love, pain or the whole damn thing, he only had to join his hands together and wrestle away. It was a neat way of conjuring up his schizophrenia, his madness, his bipolar Manichean struggle with the world and gullible widows.

So we come to Miranda the Devine, who in her Saturday column tends to incline to the hand with the fingers reading "Love", and sure enough Going berko over a biscyho is an attempt to sound rational after the rage induced by her bout of bicyclist bashing in Roads are for cars, not Lycra louts.

In that epic effort with the "Hate" fingers dominant on the keyboard - and provoking an editor-pleasing nigh on five hundred comments - the Devine used one incident to tarnish cyclists, pedestrians and anyone else who stood between her and her car getting somewhere, anywhere quickly. And ordered them off the roads.

Now she tries to sound a little rational:

You always know when you write about the battle for road supremacy between cyclists and motorists that you will touch a nerve. But the avalanche of email and online comments in response to Thursday's column shows an extraordinary new level of sensitivity.

But not really, when you think about her choice of words. A battle for road supremacy? The survival of the fittest. A hundred points for any motorist who can swerve across three lanes and take out a child cyclist heading to school? Write and think like a thug? That which does not kill you will make you stronger, but be prepared, because a Hummer against a bike in that primordial battle on the roads is the better killing machine. Death to the bicycle. Because it's Darwinian out there.

Dearie me, why ever should that touch a nerve? Time for a strategic retreat?

With one of Australia's most picturesque and convivial bike rides, Sydney to the Gong, on tomorrow, it is time for a fair-minded reappraisal of what has gone wrong in relations between cyclists and motorists, who now see each other as adversaries competing for an increasingly scarce resource.

Hmmm, would that have anything to do with the Sydney Morning Herald being a sponsor of the Sydney to the Gong MS fund-raising bike ride, here - event sold out? And after the tirade of a few days ago, now we expect to read a fair-minded reappraisal? I guess in the sense that even Robert Mitchum might try to sound sensible and balanced.

The bad blood is not just because one feral cyclist dressed like Cadel Evans got himself filmed punching a bus driver on the North-West T-way. It's that somehow Sydney's (and perhaps Melbourne's) tolerance of subprime driving conditions has reached a tipping point.

There, you see, it was just one little moment of road rage that blinded her, took her over the tipping point, made her shake with rage and froth and foam.

For motorists worried about losing their licences amid an orgy of fines, speed cameras, school zones, chicanes, speed humps, road closures, infinitely variable speed limits and a dizzying array of new signage, the growing band of entitled cyclists on painfully congested roads is simply the last straw.

Oh the poor dears. So blinded by tears and blood, what else could she do but write about the privileged, entitled cyclists.

And her retreat is so sweet, such a nice strategic retreat. Same message, but phrased so much more politely. It's so hard on the roads, that it's natural for people to want to run down cyclists, the newest form of cockroach on the road.

Especially as catching public transport simply isn't viable for a newspaper columnist with important places to go to, so important people can be seen. By yesterday. And naturally there are people who agree with her about these obnoxious, disgusting, self important cockies spreading across the roads like the bubonic plague:

"Some cyclists have become … the most obnoxious, aggressive and self-centred people in Sydney," wrote William. "A single cyclist on an inappropriate road often causes a cascade of delays and congestion to multiple people in cars behind them."

Naturally there were vile cockie cyclists, entitled and arrogant and opinionated, as all these cockies are, who assaulted sweet hapless Devine in ways that were shocking:

There were cyclists like David who wrote to call me a "toilet bowl scum", and the usual missives addressed to "The Retard Miranda Devine".

How cruel. How unkind. Wait, I feel a song coming on:

How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend

Oh wait, the Devine's singing has brought out some fellow lickspittle lackeys who are sick of miltant bikies, and want to shelter under the warm forgiving embrace of a militant ratbag car driver:

But there were also cyclists who were sick of the militant among them alienating drivers whose goodwill they need to keep safe on the road. They have even coined a new word in honour of the North-West T-way maniac: bisycho, a "cyclist who goes postal on drivers who don't share the road".

There were people who wrote distressingly of loved ones killed and maimed while riding pushbikes. David Oliver's 39-year-old nephew, a triathlete, was killed while riding near Dapto by a car allegedly driven by an unlicensed driver. He leaves a widow and toddler son.

But by the law of the Devine, he shouldn't have been on the road at all.

Steady, it's time to reach out that "Love" hand:

Others described the hostility of motorists: "I've been hit in the back with a drink bottle thrown from a passing car while riding in a designated bike lane," wrote Fletcher. "I've been yelled at by a guy hanging out the car as [it] sped past at 100km/h in a 60 zone. On the Old Pacific Highway a guy in a four-wheel-drive missed me by two centimetres while holding his mobile phone to his ear. I was almost killed by a P-plater overtaking a car over double yellow lines. I've had cars deliberately swerve at me."

Of course such behaviour is intolerable, even criminal.

Shocking, but of course by now you will know that this kind of even handed attempt at rationality will only lead to a 'but' of the billy goat school of butts, which will once again reassert that it's all the fault of mad cyclists:

But (yep, and it's a big billy goat butt) what some cyclists don't understand is that they have squandered the goodwill even of decent motorists with such belligerent antics as the Critical Mass bike ride at peak hour on one Friday a month, designed for maximum commuter inconvenience. The fact that police condone the disruption has only fuelled public resentment.

And while shooting the messenger may play well on a cycling blog, the public has drawn its own conclusions.

You see, everybody agrees with her - not that she's megalomaniac or anything, just a messenger of the people who've drawn their own conclusions - and she's only thinking of the cyclists when she ranted like a raving mad petrol head in a megalomaniac out of control four wheel drive tractor bearing down on anyone who disagrees with her.

And to prove her point, she can recyle more rants from her many responses, thereby making column-writing a really easy task, with thinking and consideration a secondary requirement:

"How many of you cyclists think you have a god-given right to ride four abreast on the Pacific Highway on the weekends without the SLIGHTEST regard for any other road user?" wrote Chris.

"I've had several nasty experiences with cyclists on King Street, Newtown," wrote John. "Cyclists feel they have the right to aggressively attack motorists and perform acts of malicious damage to their vehicles on a regular basis."

Baz wrote: "Every morning and afternoon I have to pass cyclists riding on a roadway when a perfectly acceptable bike path is only two metres [away]. Then when I pull up at the next set of lights they pass me again and ride through the red lights only to cause another traffic jam further along. I am now forced to leave 15 minutes earlier to make up for time lost due to inconsiderate cyclists."

Ah that feels better. Maintain the rage. Now it's time for a personal confession, and perhaps a little suck-up to those brave souls on the Sydney Morning Herald sponsored bike ride to the Gong:

For those correspondents who demanded to know my bike riding habits, I once was keen enough to tackle Sydney to the Gong, but when my bike was stolen from my garage it took me a year to notice that it was missing.

We cowards can't help a sneaking admiration for the two-wheeled warriors who risk life and limb in the unequal battle of the road. But they seem not to realise how terrifying it is for a motorist to come upon them on a busy road.

Lordy, did you read that sentence and not choke with laughter on your cornflakes? Not realize how terrifying it is for motorists to come upon a cyclist on a busy road? Motorists in Sydney are terrified of cyclists? Yes, and cats that howl in the dark, and noises, and things that go 'boo', and two wheels up against two tons of metal and plastic.

You known, even Robert Mitchum had a better grasp of reality.

The reality is that cycling in Sydney is risky at the best of times but borders on suicidal on busy arterial roads during our lengthening peak hours.

The solution is not to make motorists' lives more miserable with utopian attempts to re-engineer our lifestyles, but to encourage commonsense and courtesy on both sides.

And meanwhile get those utopian cockie cyclists off the road! Now!

The good news is that sensible cyclists are beginning to accept responsibility for their behaviour.

In Toronto, Canada, cycling groups recently launched a campaign of solidarity with motorists after a bike courier was killed during a road rage altercation. They hand out thank-you notes to drivers who are thoughtful and courteous to cyclists.

Which is all very well, but get those cockies off the road! Schnell! Raus.

Roads are for cars, not lycra louts. Why on earth should we follow the example of ... Canadians. Who must have tattoes of "Love" on both sets of fingers, spreading their insidious evil niceness everywhere.

In Australia the website Cycliquette, which was launched this month by the Canada-born "average cyclist" Wade Wallace, is another example of the new, conciliatory approach.

"Cyclists need to clean up [their act] in order to coexist with motorists so that we're respected on the roads," writes Wallace.

"As it stands, there are too many of us (myself included) who ride in massive bunches, abuse our rights and act like a bunch of hoons."

You see, it's all the fault of the cyclists, and some of them have the grace to recognize it, unlike Sydney car drivers who are the very model of elegance and discretion under very trying circumstances which sometimes drive them into a tizz.

But not road rage. That's the business of hoon cyclists who don't show respect and fear for the two ton beast bearing down on them.

The Amy Gillett Foundation, named after the elite Australian cyclist who was killed while training in Germany in 2005, is another endeavour to "promote a safe and harmonious relationship of shared respect" between cyclists and motorists.

As with everything in life, courtesy goes a long way.

Courtesy? Oh dear, another load of cornflakes gone down the wrong way.

Courtesy, except of course when writing columns about bicyclists while under the sway of Robert Mitchum and howling to the full moon ...

Ride safely to the Gong my pretties, but ride close and with care. Sure Miranda the Devine has locked away the hounds for the moment, but remember she still has a squadron of flying monkeys standing by, ready when they finish their primary task:

Mr. Burns: This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon, they'll have written the greatest novel known to mankind. (reads one of the typewriters) "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?!" You stupid monkey!
[The monkey screeches]
Mr. Burns: Oh, shut up.

(Below: the eternal struggle continues).

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