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Politics, Sundry

Notes from April, 2019

“It’s like finding the Holy Grail clutched in the bony fingers of Jimmy Hoffa, sitting on top of the Lost Ark.”

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

The ambulance arrived, and the paramedics started treating the bleeding man for shock. A police officer took my statement, and the knife. I washed my hands at some point. Then my date and I got in a Lyft to the Palace Hotel.

We walked into a scene reminiscent of Versailles. A pair of models in red gowns stood in banded hoops from which one could pluck a champagne flute. There was food, dessert, wine, music. Dancing pandas. Live bands. A silent disco. Women in gowns, men in suits and tuxedos. A casino, with the buy-in going to a local charity. The night glittered. This time next year, I whispered, our heads will all be in baskets.

Richard Mehlinger

In many ways, the train crews practice railroading as it was done a century ago, from assembling the train in the yard and coupling one car to another, to climbing down to the tracks to maneuver heavy hand switches. As they lumber along through the dense urban landscape, passing highways, parks, cemeteries and shopping centers, the freight trains draw curious stares.

“The surprise on people’s faces when we go through their L.I.R.R. station — they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Alex Raia, a 50-year-old engineer, as he worked the throttle and brake on a 2,000-horsepower diesel locomotive to thread it between tight rows of sooty freight cars in the Glendale yard. He likened the task to “playing a game of chess every day.”

The railway also handles so many cars of flour and beer that Mr. Bonner has nicknamed it “the pizza-and-beer railroad.”

During peak beer drinking times — think St. Patrick’s Day and the Super Bowl — that can mean 30 rail cars of beer a week — each car can hold 3,500 cases — including Modelo Especial and Corona that has rumbled by train all the way from Mexico.

New York City’s Hidden Railroad

I would prefer if I could take a bus to work, because then I would have a great swatch of time for reading. I have instead, on the bicycle, been listening to podcasts, which is sometimes difficult amid heavy traffic, but whatever.

On 99% Invisible, I was digging on the story of Froebel’s Gifts. Froebel pioneered the idea of kindergarten in the 19th century. Along the way, he developed the first educational toys. Starting with a soft ball of yarn at 6 weeks old, and progressing to more and more interesting objects, along with an educational curriculum where the objects could help teach a kid important concepts of how the world works. Before Froebel’s gift, kids basically played with whatever leftovers the adults had: the carpenter’s kid played with scrap wood, for example. When the idea was brought to America, our Capitalists seized upon this idea that parents and schools might be willing to pay money for objects that children would play with. Froebel gifts are cool and all, but how about an endless buffet of TOYS!?

Anyway, they claimed that early 20th-century design was influenced by Froebel, as Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Le Corbusier each learned important geometric concepts in Kindergarten. Fuller conceived of the buckyball in kindergarten and Wright kept a set of blocks on his desk to inform his creativity.

The fact that I most dug is that around the time kindergartens were taking off, the very first playgrounds were created. And the very first playground was a “sand garden” where they got a huge pile of sand and dumped it in a vacant lot for the kids to play with over the summer. Over time, the “sand garden” became a smaller component in playgrounds which featured other things like swings and slides. Today the giant pile of sand is maybe a sandbox. When Tommy was a baby, there was a sandbox down at Murphy Park. I found it a nice place to lie down as I was often sleepy back then. They took the sandbox out when they fixed up the park. We have come so far … but, I feel that in one respect, Max has been cheated.

With Regard to Uncle Joe . . .

The last election seemed to go “choose between the politics of the late 90s, where we are super careful not to take any positions based on strong principles, just middle of the road stuff that doesn’t offend or inspire anyone, or vote for the guy who will tell you whatever you want to hear, lie to you with a straight face, while he grabs your pussy.”

Why did that second guy do far better than anyone believes he deserved? Because he speaks “straight” to the concerns of a lot of Americans and he doesn’t give a fudge whether his solutions offend your delicate moderate middle of the road do nothing sensibilities.

Now we have Warren and Bernie and AOC and dozens upon dozens of other Democrats who have taken the clue that the electorate is hungry, not for some kindly sooth-saying grandparent, but for someone who is willing to speak up for their beliefs, even if they make some folks feel uncomfortable.

I voted for Clinton. Both of them. But even in the 90s, I yearned to vote not for some warmed-over middle-of-the-road do-nothing compromise, but for leadership that spoke to and acted from convictions. Uncle Joe used to appeal in those days, but now he’s the warmed-over establishment.

I’ll vote for him in the general, if that is what we got, but Trump is good at beating up on the establishment, and I think we’d do better to ride with someone who isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, to have a point of view that doesn’t focus test well with every last median-income household in Nebraska, someone who has plans to make up for all the time America has lost bending over backward to accommodate the right wing.

Remember Obamacare? That’s Romneycare. The uninspiring mush of consensus. It is adequate for liberals and hated by conservatives. Well, you know what? Screw those ungrateful jerks. If we’re going to have a system of universal healthcare that offends them, we might as well have at the very least a Public Option. (For example.)

I’m tired of compromise. Tired or compromise with right-wing extremists. And when it comes to the collapse of our planet’s climate stability, there’s no room for compromise and consensus anyway. We are decades behind on preventing a disaster that is beginning to truly unfold upon every last man, woman, and child on the planet and we have to stop Appealing to the Middle for the Politics of the Possible and engage instead in Policies of Necessity to make our planet and our country better for everyone.

An extensive thread regarding a tragic incident in Sunnyvale on April 23: 8 folks were deliberately hit by a car driven by an Iraq war vet, who is allegedly suffering from PTSD, and was allegedly targeting the victims because he thought they were Muslim.

The thalidomide tragedy was averted in the United States because Dr. Kelsey, alone and in the face of fierce opposition, did her job. Her perspective was educated, fresh and unique. If there had been no thalidomide crisis, the United States, with the rest of the world following, would still at some time have brought pharmaceutical regulation into the 20th century. But thalidomide created one of those moments when something had to be done. It could not be ignored in 1961-62, and it led immediately to a better and stronger regulatory system. Maybe someone else would have stopped thalidomide in the United States had Dr. Kelsey not been assigned the NDA, but, interestingly, no one else stopped it anywhere else until it was too late. Dr. Kelsey was the only person in the entire world who said no. She said no to a bad drug application, she said no to an overbearing pharmaceutical company and she said no to vested interests who put profits first. She was one brave dissenter. In the end, the question is not what made Frances Kelsey, but why aren’t there more like her?

William Kaplan, Why Dissent Matters

I don’t know what to do to help. There’s an informal memorial at the corner. You could leave some flowers there. A family member passing by will have another sign of love.

I think that driving with a bit of love, as posted above, is good advice. As a bicycle commuter who carries kids on a bike in mixed traffic, seeing the pictures of twisted bicycles and backpacks in an intersection I travel often was really disturbing. We need better bicycle infrastructure in Sunnyvale so that people can get around safely. Until then, when you’re behind the wheel of a car please do take a moment to appreciate the folks around you. Slow down and in a moment of frustration try to take a deep breath and count your blessings.

The girl in the coma, and all the victims, and I think even the perpetrator are all carrying different kinds of wounds. Please share your prayers and compassion with them and also for everyone on the road.

-Danny

A note I posted on NextDoor

The Earth’s climate is usually very erratic. Decades of drought, then decades of flood, for example. Humans have existed for a few hundred thousand years but only after the last Ice Age, when the planet hit an unusual period of climate stability, did humans manage to achieve agriculture and civilization.

I keep trying to rationalize an optimistic outcome, but as best I can read the situation, we are at a crucial point in history where humanity understands that we have an existential challenge that can be solved only through a spirit of shared sacrifice and cooperation. We know what adaptations we need to make to maintain these stable climate patterns, but so far we have not demonstrated a collective will to make these adaptations. The window of opportunity is shutting more and more rapidly. Mainly due to complacency, we’ll miss the opportunity, the climate will continue to deteriorate, agriculture will fail, and the long and delicate supply chains required to sustain technological civilization will fail. All in the next few decades.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe civilization will make it through the century. The last century was pretty dire, too, but we managed to avoid the worst outcomes. But my feeling is that civilization will collapse, in my lifetime, and that most of humanity will die, at first through war and tyrannical government but mostly of starvation. Humans, as a species, will survive. A few of the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes will adapt to the crisis. They will be joined by several new tribes peopled from refugees of our failing civilization.

Humanity will muddle through on a hostile planet amidst a mass extinction. Tens or hundreds of thousands of years will pass before the Earth enters a new stable phase. Agriculture and civilization will re-emerge, perhaps a bit faster due to whatever technological clues we leave behind, perhaps a bit slower and more sustainably, due to our having robbed them of the easiest fossil fuels. Perhaps there will even be a memory, perhaps uncovered through archaeology, and an understanding of The Fall of our First World Civilization. If we fail to survive this century, it is my hope that our distant descendants will avoid repeating our mistakes.

Tens or hundreds of thousands of years from now, our descendants will re-establish technological civilization, and they will find these well-preserved artifacts on the moon.

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