A year ago I was finishing my second Steve Ramsey build. Or first, if you count the workbench as a “bonus” … I had fun doing the miter cuts and setting up a jig for square angles, sanding, gluing, assembling, screwing … the finishing and sanding and finishing and sanding and finishing was a drag, especially because it was cold out and I had to do the smelly stuff indoors and even put a little space heater in the garage just to keep the gooey stuff warm enough.
At the end of the day, I had a nice table. It has been sitting out in my yard all year, and the tabletop is still smooth as silk.
But as I finished that project, a mob attacked the US Capitol and tried to kill Congress, and we let it happen. We barely managed to keep our Democracy that day. I stayed up late to watch Congress certify the damn vote count. And a few weeks later I listened to Amanda Gorman’s poetry.
I look forward to rekindling my enthusiasm for woodworking. That’s been deferred a bit as I slowly erect a bike shed / fun fort in the back yard to store the bicycles so I can once again putter around the garage workshop.
I caught the opening of the impeachment trial today. The video from the House Impeachment managers was harrowing and damning. As a friend said last night, the US Capitol is sacred ground. Then Trump’s lawyers got up and rambled aimlessly. Bargain bin guys who came in unprepared to defend a guy who incited a mob to try and kill Congress. I wanted to feel that the case was so one-sided and the defense such a sham that the Senate would see through it and convict him and set a precedent that the United States will not tolerate anyone trying to take the government by force but I know better.
President Trump doesn’t need any defense better than a farce because we all know exactly what will happen. A majority of the Senate, all the Democrats, and some Republicans will vote in favor of Democracy. But not enough. Republicans are loyal to their party. Their Fascist will run again. He’s got a lot more charisma than Ted Cruz.
When the Insurrection happened on January 6, I was impressed that Congress picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back into session. I watched until they certified the vote. Every time the objections to the count were withdrawn for lack of Senate support, I cheered, and for the few hours that objections were required to be heard, I rode it out. Congress certified the vote towards 3 am in Washington, and I counted it fortunate that I only had to stay up towards midnight in California. I explained that as a SysAdmin, when the system crashes and people get upset, I feel like I need to keep an eye on the systems as they get back to normal.
I feel optimistic that Joe Biden could well turn out to be a great President. He’s got a lot of experience, a lot of rapport, and the challenges are substantial. I also feel dread that our flirtation with autocracy is only going to get worse.
… millions of decision variables that affect any solution, including varying road widths, differing bus infrastructures (for example, the presence of wheelchair lifts or child safety restraint seats), students who require the same bus driver every year, students who have monitors, and students who have been in fights and, therefore, need to be on different buses … Emma Coleman
The Anthropocene Is a Joke
There’s an idea kicking around that humanity has created its own geological era, characterized mainly by the rapid change in the atmosphere’s CO2. I like this idea, primarily because it emphasizes the degree of change that is happening, and quick change on a geologic scale is dangerous. The shift we are undergoing now rivals the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs. I am simultaneously hopeful and skeptical that we will survive.
Yes, the rapid change in atmospheric Carbon is a Big Deal, but on a geological time scale, it is at best an “event” that may one day puzzle some intelligent species. It certainly isn’t a new “era,” and in the grand scheme of geological time, we don’t register and if we were to go extinct in the next few millennia, we would disappear without a trace.
If one wanted to know what a particular 10-, 100-, or 1,000-year span was like, buried in this vastness of time (or, even worse, in some particular region of the continent), good luck.
This astounding paucity can be explained by the fact that there just arenâ€™t that many rocks that survived these extreme gulfs of time, over this vast province. And even among those rocks that did survive, and which are exposed today, the conditions for fossil preservation were rare beyond measure. Each fossil was its own miracle, sampled randomly from almost 200 million years of historyâ€”a few stray, windblown pages of a library.
If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselvesâ€”it would be virtually impossible to tell. All we do know is that an asteroid did hit and that the fossils in the millions of years afterward look very different than in the millions of years prior.
The Promethean fire unleashed by the Manhattan Project was an earth-changing invention, its strange fallout destined to endure in some form as an unmistakable geological marker of the Anthropocene. But the longest-lived radioisotope from radioactive fallout, iodine-129, has a half-life of less than 16 million years. If there were a nuclear holocaust in the Triassic, among warring prosauropods, we wouldnâ€™t know about it.
Plastic, that ubiquitous pollutant of the oceans, might be detectable by analyzing small samples of sedimentâ€”appearing, like many organic biomarkers in the fossil record, as a rumor of strangely heavy hydrocarbons. Unassuming peaks on a chromatograph would stand in for all of modernity. Perhaps, perhaps, if one was extremely lucky in surveying this strange layer, across miles of desert-canyon walls, a lone, carbonized, and unrecognizable piece of fishing equipment may sit perplexingly embedded in this dark line in the cliffs.
Dinosaurs in space. All that has passed has passed. If humanity is doomed, or if humanity has a bright future ahead, this will happen. I have a tiny vote in my tiny lifetime, and I vote that my species adapt to the challenges of its time. I want us to survive and thrive, and reach out into space and find the rest of the life that I hope is abundant in the Universe beyond our local star. The final tally of this poll will be smeared into a layer of ash, eroded by wind and rain and crushed by rocks and wholly forgotten in time.
If I am piecing this together correctly: 1) Orange Skull starts trade war with China 2) China stops buying US soybeans 3) China says hey Brazil got any soy 4) Brazil says yeah hold on a sec we just gotta burn down the Amazon real fast 5) That McKinnon Hillary skit was on point pic.twitter.com/exYhEIU9Dz
Warren is bursting with what we might call â€œcharismaâ€ in male candidates: She has the folksy demeanor of Joe Biden, the ferocious conviction of Bernie Sanders, the deep intelligence of fellow law professor Barack Obama. But Warren is not a man, and so those traits are framed as liabilities, rather than strengths.
Itâ€™s significant that the â€œI hate you; please respondâ€ line of political sabotage only ever seems to be aimed at women. Itâ€™s also revealing that, when all these men talked about how Warren could win them over, their â€œcampaignâ€ advice sounded suspiciously close to makeover tips. In his article, Payne advised Warren to â€œlose the granny glasses,â€ â€œsoften the hair,â€ and employ a professional voice coach to â€œdeepen her voice, which grates on some.â€
Warren really is an intellectual, a scholar; moreover, she really is running an exceptionally ideas-focused campaign, regularly turning out detailed and exhaustive policy proposals at a point when most of the other candidates donâ€™t even have policy sections on their websites. Whatâ€™s galling is the suggestion that this is a bad thing.
The â€œschoolmarmâ€ stereotype now applied to Warren has always been used to demean educated women. In the Victorian era, we called them â€œbluestockingsâ€â€Šâ€”â€Šunmarried, unattractive women who had dared to prioritize intellectual development over finding a man. Educators say that 21st-century girls are still afraid to talk in class because of â€œsexist bullyingâ€ which sends the message that smart girls are unfeminine. Female academics still report being made to feel â€œunsexual, unattractive, unwomanly, and unnatural.â€ We can deplore all this as antiquated thinking, but even now, grown men are still demanding that Warren ditch her glasses or â€œsoftenâ€ her hairâ€Šâ€”â€Što work on being prettier so as to make her intelligence less threatening.
Warren is accused, in plain language, of being uppityâ€Šâ€”â€Ša woman who has the bad grace to be smarter than the men around her, without downplaying it to assuage their egos. But running in a presidential race is all about proving that you are smarter than the other guy. By demanding that Warren disguise her exceptional talents, we are asking her to lose. Thankfully, sheâ€™s not listening. She is a smart woman, after all.
On average, cars left 10 inches (29 cm) less room when cyclists were using painted cycle lanes, 12 inches (30cm) less room when there were rows of parked cars along the curbs, and 15.7 inches (40cm) less room when a road had both parked cars along the curb, then a painted cycle lane. (In other words, cars left cyclists the most room on stretches of road with no painted cycle lanes and no parked cars.)
“We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation. Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” said Dr. Ben Beck, lead author of the study.
Over time, my husband and I started to suspect that Samâ€™s musings on doxxing and other dark arts might not be theoretical. One weekend morning as we were folding laundry in our room, Sam sat on the edge of our bed and instructed us on how to behave if the FBI ever appeared at our door.
Mr. Smart Phone sized me up â€” an elderly, decently-tailored gentleman with a walking cane â€” and thought I would immediately be on his side. He walked towards me and started to complain about how the gray-haired man and his hippie van were parked overnight on the street.
â€œOkay,â€ I said, â€œbut why are you surveilling him?â€ It was a loaded question for Mr. Smart Phone. He knew â€œsurveillanceâ€ was still not totally cool in San Francisco. As he was continuing towards me, his jaw hardened and his eyes grew cold. He said nothing. So I asked him another question, even though I knew it would be even more provocative. Like I said â€” Iâ€™m an idiot. We live in times when even the most everyday altercations can turn deadly. But I couldnâ€™t keep my mouth shut.
â€œIâ€™m curious â€” Iâ€™ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time and I donâ€™t recognize you,â€ I said. â€œHow long have YOU lived here?â€ Since he was applying residency standards to the man in the hippie van, I thought it was a legitimate question. But Mr. Smart Phone didnâ€™t. â€œFuck you!â€ he exploded, just a few feet from my face. Here I was trying to calm things down and they were quickly spiraling out of control.
Just then a neighbor whom Iâ€™ll call Maria, whose fluffy little dog often plays with Brando, came to the rescue. â€œWhy are you bothering people with your phone?â€ she bravely asked the menacing man. â€œWe donâ€™t like that sort of thing in our neighborhood.â€ And with that show of neighborhood solidarity â€” that clear expression that Mr. Smart Phone was violating our more tolerant community standards â€” he sheepishly backed down and walked away.
The hippie van-owner then hurried over to Maria and me and thanked us profusely for our intervention. â€œThis gives me hope about our city,â€ he said. â€œYou canâ€™t treat people the way this dude was treating me â€” like I donâ€™t belong here â€” like I donâ€™t have a right to exist. Iâ€™ve lived in San Francisco for 35 years. I was a social worker, but I lost my home. Iâ€™m only going to park here for a couple more days, then Iâ€™m leaving the city.â€
The spate of milkshake attacks in the United Kingdom follow on from the story of Australia’s “Egg Boy,” a swoopy-haired teenager who cracked an egg on the back of far-right lawmaker Fraser Anning’s head at a news conference in March. Following the attack, Egg Boy was punched in the face by the senator, as security officials scrambled to control the situation.
Last month, political eggings continued in Australia. Prime Minister Scoo Morrison was hit on the head with an egg – although on this occasion it failed to crack.
In Britain, it is believed that milkshakes have become the preferred weapon of choice as attackers sipping shakes appear far more inconspicuous than bystanders clutching eggs.
The trackball was invented 11 years before the mouse, in 1952. It was invented by Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff as part of a computerized battlefield information system called DATAR, initiated by the Canadian Navy. It used a standard five-pin bowling ball as its trackball, which is smaller than the more common 10-pin bowling ball.
“And then there is the ever annoying parking in the cycle lane.”
AT LAST! A bit of Dutch infrastructure that sucks in a way that an American can relate to!
I love watching these vehicles but it also makes me frustrated that the most cutting edge American bicycle infrastructure is already obsolete in the Netherlands. :)
In late 2014, Lieutenant Graves said he was back at base in Virginia Beach when he encountered a squadron mate just back from a mission â€œwith a look of shock on his face.â€
He said he was stunned to hear the pilotâ€™s words. â€œI almost hit one of those things,â€ the pilot told Lieutenant Graves.
The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a cube.
The near miss, he and other pilots interviewed said, angered the squadron, and convinced them that the objects were not part of a classified drone program. Government officials would know fighter pilots were training in the area, they reasoned, and would not send drones to get in the way.
â€œWe have helicopters that can hover,â€ Lieutenant Graves said. â€œWe have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.â€ But â€œcombine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.â€
Lieutenant Accoin said only that â€œweâ€™re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.â€
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.
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.
â€œThe surprise on peopleâ€™s faces when we go through their L.I.R.R. station â€” theyâ€™ve never seen anything like it,â€ 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 â€œplaying a game of chess every day.â€
The railway also handles so many cars of flour and beer that Mr. Bonner has nicknamed it â€œthe pizza-and-beer railroad.â€
During peak beer drinking times â€” think St. Patrickâ€™s Day and the Super Bowl â€” that can mean 30 rail cars of beer a week â€” each car can hold 3,500 cases â€” including Modelo Especial and Corona that has rumbled by train all the way from Mexico.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The gist of this is: restrictive zoning makes housing more expensive. The folks who can afford expensive housing tend to be college educated. College educated people tend to be more liberal, and vote Democratic.
If you restrict the amount of housing that can be built in a city, you squeeze out poor folks, and the folks who can afford to buy in are the “Liberal Elites.”
More restrictive counties tend to shed Republicans and become more Democratic over timeâ€”a pattern that seems to have accelerated since 2012. And, more restrictive counties tend to gain more college-educated people and shed fewer educated ones, which contributes to their partisan shift. As Sorens notes, college education may causally mediate a substantial part of the relationship between zoning and partisanship at the county level. In other words, a countyâ€™s becoming more educated as a result of building restrictions makes it more Democratic.
I think our policies, especially in the privileged suburb where I live, need to allow and facilitate more housing. As a Liberal Democrat, I do not want to live in a bubble community. While I take some pride in the idea that education leads to progressive politics, I am disappointed that a party that prides itself as a champion of the working class and the poor, gains a partisan advantage when the working class and poor get squeezed out of our communities.
As a Democrat in a Blue City, I think we owe a debt to our communities to correct restrictive zoning in order to redress the damage done to our own working class, who can not afford to live here.
I answered that those who have bought homes here ought to fight for opportunities for the next group. The greater challenge is that a lot of folks who got theirs don’t want to make allowances for the next generations.
Too many people who bought in the past seem set on protecting theirs with little regard for the next or future generations. Itâ€™s sad that people put their views, their perception of neighborhood character, or their biases before building more housing and supporting more dreams.
On social media, my liberal bubble is split into two sub-bubbles of folks who aren't talking to each other. Some are upset that Franken resigned already and some are upset that he didn't resign sooner.
I don’t know yet. I think I agree with both sides. I haven’t looked too closely, but it sounds like his errors were regrettable but forgivable.Â On the other hand, a controversy like this, deserved or not, impairs his ability to be an effective leader.Â His resignation draws a contrast with the other party. I respect him for falling on his sword, so to speak.Â Though, would he have resigned under a Republican governor? His seat is “safe” …
I think women need to be taken seriously.Â I also fear that we could enter an era of “Sexual Harassment McCarthyism” as someone put it.Â So, yeah, I guess I don’t know which bubble to hang out in.
The gist of it is “good on the Democrats for holding themselves to the moral high ground while the other party digs a hole ever deeper but maybe we are harming the country because we’re the only ones playing nice.”
I think Democrats should continue holding themselves to moral and ethical standards. We are losing ground right now because of a lack of willingness to surrender our moral principles for political gain. But I think … you need to be good with yourself before you can be a good leader for your nation.
Our country badly needs good leadership. That the GOP is willing to fall behind Trump or Roy Moore illustrates just how badly deficient they are in good leadership. When you go too long without moral principle you lose your pipeline for good leaders.
National elections are won and lost in the middle. Hillary Clinton was tainted by old and unfair perceptions that she was morally compromised, so folks were able to toss a coin and take the other morally compromised candidate.
I supported the “Draft Franken 2020” thing … now I am hoping we find some fresh blood, who can be lifted up by a party which observes moral standards. That makes the next election a little easier for people to vote for a leader they believe will live by and lead from a place of ethics and moral decency.
I think we shouldn’t be afraid to fight hard within the system, but we should avoid the notion that we need to put forward leaders who can not uphold our principles.
Bill Clinton was a decent President, but we can do better than Clinton. We had Obama and now we have Trump: I know which direction I want my party to move.
We are at a time that will grow increasingly dynamic. When things get weird is when you need all the more to be centered and grounded and ethical. We need to weather the storms, but not at the price of losing ourselves.
A fleet of TGV waiting to serve passengers in Marseilles, France in 2002. These trains have a top speed of 200 MPH. Proposed US safety rules would permit lighter, faster trains that meet European safety standards to run at speeds of up to 220 MPH.
Current US regulations, from the 1800s and the 1930s, mandate heavier trains to survive crashes. Unfortunately, heavy trains cost more to build, operate, and maintain. Heavier trains are also harder to stop in an emergency.
European train safety regulations are comparable to modern cars: lighter trains are cheaper to build and operate, and they stop faster. They feature “crumple zones” to absorb damage in an accident.
Since the United States is a small market for passenger trains, divergent safety standards make it even more expensive to buy trains. Instead of purchasing inexpensive, reliable, “off-the-shelf” European-designed train sets, vendors need to make alternate, heavier, slower, more expensive designs for American railroads. The adoption of European safety standards will make it cheaper and easier for American railroads to provide modern, comfortable, faster passenger service.
In anticipation of these new rules, Amtrak in September announced the purchase of 28 Avelia Liberty trains from the French company Alstom. The trains will be manufactured in upstate New York and will be used for Acela service starting is 2021. These trains can be upgraded to run at 220 MPH, but this will only be allowed after right-of-way upgrades on the Northeast Corridor.
These rules coming at the end of the Obama administration, with promises of infrastructure spending under the Trump administration, could help American rail transport see more rapid improvements in short order.
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it
When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it
A few rules of thumb I use in evaluating California ballot propositions:
1) Is it a REVENUE BOND? — Likely YES
2) Is it a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT? — Default NO
3) Endorsed by Jerry Brown? — Likely YES
4) Argument in favor/opposition use LOTS OF CAPITALIZED WORDS AND PHRASES — Those arguments are nutters
5) Wait, why shouldn’t the legislature, &c. be figuring this out?! — Likely NO
This time around I figure condoms, ammunition, and plastic bags are issues Cal/OSHA and the legislature need to figure out.
On October 10, 2016, file 16-0548 was heard by the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. The item was to down-zone a condominium development per the General Plan, and to up-zone a one third acre parcel from Residential Low Density to Residential Low-Medium Density. By up-zoning the site at 838 Azure St, the property owner would be able to build four homes on the property instead of a maximum of two.
The Planning Commission passed the down-zoning proposal but denied the up-zoning at 838 Azure St. I do not believe the decision with regard to 838 Azure was consistent with the public interest of Sunnyvale residents. At a time of housing crisis, we should err on the side of providing more affordable homes for more families, and the location at 838 Azure is well suited to providing housing with minimal impact on congestion.
Current Status and Options
The property presently hosts two dilapidated structures which had recently housed squatters. There are dying trees and contaminated soil from Sunnyvale’s orchard days.
Proposed zoning for 838 Azure St
Present zoning is R0: 7 homes per acre, or 2 per 1/3 acre
Two lots of 7,200 square feet, homes up to 3,240 square feet
Requested zoning is R2: 12 homes per acre, or 4 per 1/3 acre
Four lots of 3,600 square feet, homes up to 1,620 square feet
3200 sq ft / 5 bed / 3.5 bath
1600 sq ft / 3 bed / 2.5 bath
The lot in question is about 14,400 square feet, and present zoning allows for up to two houses. At 45% FAR one can build two homes of 3,200 square feet. Comparable homes in the area are typically 5 bedroom, 3.5 baths at $2,400,000. With a 20% down payment of $480,000, a 30 year fixed mortgage at 3.875% with taxes and insurance runs nearly $12,000/mo.
On the other hand, a 1,600 square foot townhouse or condo in this area is typically 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath at $1,000,000. With a 20% down payment, a 30 year fixed mortgage, taxes, insurance runs nearly $5,000/mo.
If we assume that housing is “affordable” at 33% of Gross Income, then the big houses are affordable to a family with $436,000 annual income, and the smaller homes are affordable at $182,000.
Location: Pedestrian and Transit Quality vs Congestion
Much of Sunnyvale is poorly suited to walking or public transportation. Housing in such areas encourages automobile trips and results in congestion. If you want to increase housing while avoiding congestion, you want to place the housing in areas where walking and public transit are viable options: when people have the option not to drive they are less likely to add congestion.
The average Walk Score in Sunnyvale is 55. For 838 Azure the walk score is 78. The site is well within Sunnyvale’s walkable downtown core, a very close walk to multiple groceries, restaurants, and Murphy St. This pedestrian accessibility does not encourage automobile trips, thus it mitigates congestion.
To avoid congestion, put housing in Sunnyvale’s walkable core: 838 Azure is at the Y of Mathilda and Sunnyvale in the lower right. Source: Sunnyvale Walk Score
The site is very near VTA’s premier bus route: the 22/522 El Camino Real, as well as the 55 and 54 routes for North-South mobility. Within an hour, public transit can get residents across Sunnyvale, including the offices on the North Side, as well as much of Cupertino and Santa Clara. The downtown areas of San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto are accessible. At just over a mile to Sunnyvale Station, the site is not a convenient walk to Caltrain: residents may prefer to bicycle.
Two neighbors spoke against the zoning change. A neighbor who lived in an adjacent townhouse was concerned that the development of townhouses on the neighboring property would not meet his aesthetic standards. A neighbor to the south was concerned that his dogs might get out if the property was developed, and that if the driveway were moved from Sunnyvale-Saratoga to Azure then there would be less street parking available on Azure.
Per the minutes:
Commissioner Melton noted that the benefits of the GPA and Rezone of the Azure site are the PD designation and an increase in housing density, and that the negatives include parking, neighborhood incompatibility and inappropriate density.
Commissioner Simons said he does not like the potential spot zoning of 838 Azure.
MOTION: Commissioner Melton moved and Commissioner Simons seconded the motion to recommend that City Council deny the General Plan Amendment and Rezone for 838 Azure Street.
Vice Chair Rheaume said he is not supporting this motion and supports increasing the density of this lot.
This item should come before the City Council on November 1. Anyone who might wish to speak up on behalf of the virtue of increased housing in Sunnyvale can contact the City Council or make a public comment of up to three minutes at the upcoming council meeting. I am hoping to attend and speak November 1. If you think you might also be interested, or would like to be notified of any updates, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This item was considered by the Sunnyvale City Council on November 1, 2016. City Council heard testimony from City Staff and the Property Owner. City Council candidate John Cordes and I made public comments in favor of the change. A few neighbors made public comments against the change.
The City Council enacted an ordinance to change the zoning at 838 Azure from R0 to R2-PD. The vote was 6-1, with Council Member Pat Meyering in dissent. Council made it clear that they were only approving the zoning change, in order to provide more housing in an area well-suited to pedestrian, bicycle and public transit. Council was generally most concerned with how the development would transition from the adjacent R2 zones to the rest of the neighborhood, which is among the several considerations which will be addressed subsequently in the planning process.
The Property Owner is now at liberty to submit plans for development, which will be subject to review by the Zoning Administrator, with community feedback, and potentially by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Caveat:it has been pointed out to me that my data source is not entirely accurate.Raw data can be obtained directly from the city. Unfortunately, that data is provided in PDF format. If I find a convenient way to parse the data out of those PDF files, I’ll take a crack a re-doing the Financial Backings visualization, below.
Heading up the “Core” are Mayor Glenn Hendricks and Vice Mayor Gustav Larsson, who have each received overwhelmingly large sums from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
Jim Griffith is an Software Engineer who has mainly bankrolled his own campaigns. He is the only second-term member of the council, thus his cumulative financial backing is larger than most members of the council, with the exception of Mayor Hendricks and Vice Mayor Larsson. Jim maintains a blog about city council activities at dweeb.org.
Next are what I would label the “Friends” which includes Larry Klein and Tara Martin-Milius. Klein very recently won a special election held in August after the resignation of Dave Whittum. Neither of these candidates have the volume of donations as Hendricks, Larsson or Griffith, but the Inner Core have made friendly contributions to the Friends. Martin-Milius has received contributions from Hendricks, Larsson, and Griffith while Klein has received contributions from Hendricks and Griffith.
The Inner Core and Friends make up a five-member majority. Council motions are often made and carried with minimal dissent.
Beyond the Core are the two “Independents.” Jim Davis‘ campaign contributions are mainly from non-resident individuals, none from the Core members. He generally votes along with the Core, though he did vote against the Maude Ave bike lane, an issue which I took a special interest in. Pat Meyering‘s campaign is completely self-funded. He often clashes with Mayor Hendricks and other members of the council.
Mapping Out the Election
The Deep Pockets (Hendricks, Larsson, Griffith) are not up for election this year, but everyone else is.
Seat 4: Recently won by Larry Klein, is challenged by John Cordes and Mike McCarthy. Klein, who recently served on the Planning Commission, is backed by a few Business and Real Estate PACS, and several residents, including the Core council members, and Stephen Williams, who ran against him in the special election. John Cordes, who also ran against Klein in the special election, is an environmentalist who serves on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. He is mainly self-funded, with an even split between resident and non-resident contributions, and a single PAC donation from the California League of Conservation Voters. Mike McCarthy is entirely self-funded.
Seat 5: Incumbent Pat Meyering is solely self-funded, and I could not find a campaign web site. He is challenged by Russell Melton, who has served several terms on the Planning Commission, and has the support of several developers, the Core council members, and numerous individuals. Melton also managed Mayor Hendricks’ successful 2013 City Council campaign.
Seat 6: Incumbent Jim Davis is a former Public Safety Officer who has served many government and community organizations. He is funded mainly by non-resident individuals. Challenger Nancy Smith has chaired the Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee, and is funded by several residents and non-residents.
█ Business █ Business PAC █ Developer █ Real Estate PAC █ Candidate █ Elected Official PAC █ Political Party █ Political Committee █ Resident █ Non-Resident █ Environmental PAC █ Social Issues PAC █ Union PAC Source: http://www.specialinterestwatch.org/, cumulative contributions through June 30, 2016