June 16, 2019

Serwer: The illiberal right throws a tantrum

Adam Serwer–The Atlantic:
Undetectable in the dispute on the right is any acknowledgment of the criticisms of liberal democracy by those who have been fighting for their fundamental rights in battles that are measured in decades and even centuries; that the social contract implicitly excluded them from the very rights white Christian men have been able to assert from the beginning. Perhaps to do so would be to acknowledge the fundamental immaturity underlying the American Orbánists' critique: that what they describe as a crisis of liberal democracy is really just them not getting exactly what they want when they want it.
Smart analysis of the religious Right's shit-fit over the evaporation of white men's long-running prerogatives.

America's social order is changing, both by inclusion and attrition. No wonder the far Right rails against immigration, justice and equality for marginalized people, and even learned scientific knowledge. They attempt nothing short of the triumph of ignorance; that's the only means available for preserving something whose time has passed.

#americanConservatism

June 15, 2019

Legacies of shame

Joshua Zeitz–Politico:
In Germany, you won't see neo-Nazis converging on a monument to Reinhard Heydrich or Adolf Hitler, because no such statues exist. The country long ago came to grips with the full weight of its history. But you'll find Nazis and Klansmen in Virginia, circling a statue of Robert E. Lee, a traitor who raised arms against his own country in the defense of white supremacy.  
How do we explain to the descendants of his victims—fallen Union soldiers and widows, and so many million slaves—that Robert E. Lee doesn't deserve the same eternal infamy as Eichmann or Heydrich?
America has yet to honestly face the heinous practice and legacy of its white supremacy.

#whiteSupremacy #confederacy #treason #lee

June 7, 2019

Trump, as explained by a Brit

Love this:
God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. 
He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. 
In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.
Read the entire quote here.

#trump

May 24, 2019

∴ Drinks, dinner

A quote I thought too good to let pass:
Cocktails with dinner is uncouth. Before dinner, or after dinner. Draining the last of a pre-meal drink, sure. But a purposeful cocktail with dinner is for the unwashed.
The quoted shall go nameless to protect the wise.

#cocktails #dining

May 6, 2019

Chicago O'Hare's long-term renovation projects

I completed a visit with family living west of Chicago today. This trip always involves air travel into and out of O'Hare airport, which is like nails on a chalkboard for some. I've been lucky with all of my travels through there, however.

Beginning this year, O'Hare will renovate all of its existing terminals and build more over a nine-year span. The place will be all-but-unrecognizable by 2028.

Cranky Flyer has an interesting overview including the current status of the airport's runway relocation project. By the time that project is complete, O'Hare will sport six parallel runways, the most of any US airport.

#oHare #airline #airTravel #united #american #delta

May 1, 2019

Aldrin: Aldrin: It’s time to focus on Mars

Buzz Aldrin: The Washington Post:
As matter of orbital mechanics, missions from Earth to Mars for migration are complex. That said, human nature — and potentially the ultimate survival of our species — demands humanity's continued outward reach into the universe. Call it curiosity or calculation, strategic planning or destiny. Put simply: We explore, or we expire. That is why we must get on with it.
Great essay. Wholeheartedly endorse.

#mars #spaceExploration #moon

The Final Scene of Avengers: Endgame

Shirley Li, The Atlantic:
Yet the Endgame finale—with its heart-stoppingly romantic last shot, of Steve and Peggy dancing in their living room, reunited sometime in the past—has made Captain America a target of some less-than-Cap-friendly commentary since the film's release. His final scene, one critic argued, "makes no sense." On Twitter, he's #notmysteve and #notmycaptain, with the word selfish brought up the most.
The difference between a fan and a fanboy is that fans can still cast a critical eye on the object of their fandom. Fanboys are blinded by their fandom. And yet these critiques are not critical. They are unseeingly petty.

A shameless minor cadre of fanboys–I'm going out on a limb guessing there aren't many women fans chiming in on this one–are masquerading as wanna-be movie critics, decrying one of the longest-wished-for yet least-expected scenes in an otherwise over-stuffed three-hour movie. They ought to give the character a chance to enjoy being more than the avatar of their pent-up frustration at being pantsed so often in middle school.

Li concludes,
How remarkable, then, that Avengers audiences get to watch a hero wrap up his story the way he wants to, by being as loyal as he’s always been and fulfilling a promise he once couldn’t keep. How refreshing that we get to have him be human, out of costume and out of action. How marvelous to see him retire, no post-credits sting necessary, having lived a full life with someone he missed ever since he woke up from those decades frozen in ice.
Just so.

Leave it alone, guys. It was nice to see a well-loved character, born of sacrifice and dedicated to what he believed in, finally get his reward.

To fuse and paraphrase Tony Stark and James Darrell Edwards III, these people need to move their bum asses out of their moms' house and get a life.

(kudos if you know who James Edwards is without Googling it.)

#AvengersEndgame #CaptainAmerica #fanboys

April 30, 2019

Avengers: Endgame summed in three sentences

Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds:
My very brief non-spoilery review is this:
The first third is solid — it's total bedrock.
The second third — the middle! — is plotty, and a bit draggy.
The final third is holy shit.
Nailed it.

#AvengersEndgame

April 27, 2019

NYT: Disinvestment and reinvestment

Emily Badger, Quoctrung Bui and Robert Gebeloff, The New York Times:
"Our black bodies literally have less economic value than the body of a white person," she said. "As soon as a white body moves into the same space that I occupied, all of a sudden this place is more valuable." 
White flight and white return are not opposite phenomena in American cities, generations apart. Here they are part of the same story. 
In the places where white households are moving, reinvestment is possible mainly because of the disinvestment that came before it. Many of these neighborhoods were once segregated by law and redlined by banks. Cities neglected their infrastructure. The federal government built highways that isolated them and housing projects that were concentrated in them. Then banks came peddling predatory loans.
An example of contemporary gentrification in Raleigh, North Carolina brings a handful of racial tropes together in a single story. Worth a read.

#gentrification #whiteFlight

April 24, 2019

Kamala Harris and the "imperial presidency"

Andrew Egger, in an ill-titled but otherwise straight-up conservative take on Senator Kamala Harris' threat to override gun laws, in The Bulwark:
"Of course for most things we'll keep following the Constitution," the partisan suggests, "but this thing is important enough to make an exception." The trouble is that this twinge grows fainter with each subsequent abuse. By now it has nearly faded entirely. How long before candidates stop bothering to offer Congress a window in which to be good and do as they're told at all?
Congress has done nothing about gun violence for at least the two decades since the Columbine HS massacre despite thousands of gun-related deaths in the US. A counter-question to Egger's: Would this not qualify as a national emergency?

With Trump's end-run to fund his wall project, both parties have gone on record with this strategy. A better conservative question would be, "how soon will a president overriding signed legislation be slapped down by the US Supreme Court?"

#separationOfPowers #trump #president #congress

April 23, 2019

Verret:The tipping point

J. W. Verret, The Atlantic:

Republicans who stand up to Trump today may face some friendly fire. Today's Republican electorate seems spellbound by the sound bites of Twitter and cable news, for which Trump is a born wizard. Yet, in time, we can help rebuild the Republican Party, enabling it to rise from the ashes of the post-Trump apocalypse into a party with renewed commitment to principles of liberty, opportunity, and the rule of law.

I'm seeing a trickle of rank-and-file Republican intellects succumb to the Mueller report's findings. Verret is a law professor at George Mason University and was a member of the Trump transition team. He writes,

Depending on how you count, roughly a dozen separate instances of obstruction of justice are contained in the Mueller report. The president dangled pardons in front of witnesses to encourage them to lie to the special counsel, and directly ordered people to lie to throw the special counsel off the scent.

That's particularly damning news. It's difficult for an honest intellect to disregard evident wrong-doing in the absence of over-arching humanitarian need. Trump's actions, all self-serving, don't meet that bar. This trickle will grow, because a political party cannot long survive under the leadership of an evident criminal.

The GOP has been in puppy-dog mode since Trump won their nomination, supporting the candidate and the elected president as their only vehicle to power. Standing for re-election next year means Trump will be more vulnerable to Congressional findings. I suspect the GOP will follow him over the cliff, but who knows, there's always Bill Weld's candidacy in need of support, and the nagging conscience of otherwise decent people.

#election #investigation #trump #congress 

April 19, 2019

Waldman: What AOC gets about coal that the GOP does not

After a brief, amusing back-and-forth between AOC and Kentucky Representative Andy Barr this week, it emerged that she has a better grasp of how best to help workers meet the future of energy production (Paul Waldman, The Washington Post):

There are a few ways to deal with the reality of the people affected by coal's decline. You can give them phony promises that if we just cut environmental regulations, all the coal jobs will come back. You can just say their problems are all caused by a bunch of hippies or elitists. 
Or you can try to create a modern economy that will offer jobs for people in those communities and give them things like health care and child care that will make their economic lives less harsh. Republicans have chosen the first and second; Democrats have chosen the third.

With only 53,000 or so coal miners left in the US, green energy rhetoric needs to include how to protect those in that dying industry, not about how to revive the dinosaur. America's future is in clean energy production.

(The benefit of having a maverick like AOC in Congress is the ideas she pulls into public discussion. Politicians pay lip service to this stuff on the campaign trail. She champions the causes she fronted two years ago.)

#greenNewDeal #AOC #energy

The Bulwark: What obstruction looks like

Charles Sykes, The Bulwark:

While the Mueller report does not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign, the picture it paints is, frankly, devastating: its narrative exposes a cascade of lies, coverups, and corruption, while providing a clear road map to the president's attempts to obstruct the investigation. At times it reads like an open invitation to Congress to launch impeachment proceedings. 
It's that bad.

The (redacted) Mueller report is out, and it's apparently quite a read. Sykes is a well-regarded conservative writer, not of the knee-jerk variety. None of what he discusses is the least bit surprising. An example:

But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns. [Mueller, p.76]

This has always been Donald Trump's modus operandi, hung out by Mueller's team like so much filthy laundry.

#trump #mueller #corruption

April 17, 2019

NYT: Sport betting, gaming, and Tunica

Timothy Williams details the disappointing sports betting revenue, and the state of the gambling business in Tunica, Mississippi, in particular, for the New York Times:

The vast majority of states have shied away from permitting such gambling and tapping into the nation's illegal sports gambling market, estimated to be worth $150 billion. But in places like Tunica, where people began legally betting on sports in August, the results, so far, have been underwhelming.

Sports betting is a logical addition to existing sports books and one I'd expect to have taken off right away. I wonder, though, whether Tunica's problem isn't their sports books per se, but rather a continuation of a long-running decline that sports betting has failed to blunt. Originally a curiosity for being an outpost of gaming action, Tunica succumbed to being in the middle of nowhere offering little beyond hotel-casinos.

Along Tunica's Main Street, there is a bank, a grocery and an antique shop alongside a few empty storefronts. The residential sections include well-tended homes shaded by oak trees, but also tiny shotgun shacks.

These are not tourist attractions. Storefronts didn't make Las Vegas a draw. There, resort hotels offer posh accommodations, dining, and varied spectacle for non-gamblers. Vegas's age-old name cache makes it a top-tier vacation option.

Atlantic City, long in decline itself, possesses less spectacle and resort attraction. Half of the casinos open at the city's peak tourist draw are now shuttered. The city's sole non-gaming tourist attraction remains a beautiful stretch of Atlantic Ocean shoreline.

In the grand scheme of US gaming establishments, Tunica is perhaps only a regional draw. It's difficult to support multiple hotel-casinos on regional interest, and a lower-income one at that.

Perhaps the primary factor harming sports betting's aspirations, though, is the internet. The urge to bet sports is ephemeral, and few will linger hours in a sports book the way they will for slot machines and table games. Why travel at all for a brief interaction at the book? Sports bettors will wait for legal, online books to flourish while they continue patronizing illegal operations.

Internet casinos offering legal sports books will eventually garner the income projected for places like Tunica. And Las Vegas will remain, for a while yet, America's playground for its wide variety of attractions.

April 13, 2019

The Bulwark: A warning, and an appeal

Sarah Longwell, The Bulwark:
Remember 2015? It was an exciting year for Republicans. There were 16 candidates running for president and a slight majority of them looked (at the time) like pretty good options. I remember spending a lot of time trying to decide which candidate in that distinguished pack would earn my vote. It was the rare election where Republicans weren't going to have to choose between lesser evils. Whoever I voted for was going to be pretty solid. Maybe even great! 
 
And then there was this clown Donald Trump who has that NBC show I'd never watched and was once married to that woman with the accent who does the cameo in First Wives Club. What a joke. Ignore.
 
You know how this story ends. But in retrospect you can see where everything went wrong. And therein lies the cautionary tale for you, my Democratic friends.
Sometimes too much choice can lead to unpleasant results. Trump took me by surprise, just as he did Sarah Longwell. I dismissed him for good reasons, yet here we are.

I'm hopeful that by the time we hear Christmas music in stores we're also down to three or four strong contenders for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders will have enough of a war chest to stay in it until the Democratic convention. The same will be true for Joe Biden if he runs. I imagine Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris can, as well, given the breadth of their small-donor support. I'm unsure about the rest. I'm also unsure egos won't prolong otherwise non-viable candidacies.

(Like Longwell, I'd like to see a Republican primary challenge to Trump, though I suspect he'd squeak through. Not enough conservatives will abandon the incumbent president.)

#trump #democrats #choice #candidates #convention #bernie #kamala #warren #biden

NYT: A drug to turbocharge the brain. Who should get it?

Carl Zimmer, The New York Times:
Surveys about gene editing tend to reflect a traditional divide between diseases and enhancement. People are more inclined to approve gene editing to prevent a disease, and tend to say enhancement is wrong.
But if a Klotho-based treatment one day prevents dementia, there may be no way to enjoy those benefits without also accepting its use as a brain enhancement.
"I still struggle with it," Dr. Dubal said. Despite the ethical complexities, she thinks that cognitive enhancement from Klotho could be a good thing — not just for individuals, but for society.
The article details potentially ground-breaking effects from elevated levels of the hormone Klotho and is worth a read for that alone. It goes further, into the question of whether therapies offering enhancing side effects are ethical.

No doubt this question requires in-depth thought. My initial take, though, is that protecting humans from degenerative brain disorders outweighs any fair-play concern over brain enhancement. Whether a patient acquires enhanced capabilities or only protection from disease, the benefit is positive. And if the benefit is made widely available to all manner of patients, we have an evolution of the human condition.

Broadly solve the problem of degenerative brain disorders with a daily pill and few will quibble over enhanced SAT scores.

#medicine #brainDisorders #klotho

April 8, 2019

Privileged

Kyle Korver, The Players' Tribune:
What I'm realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I'm still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I'm given that choice — I'm granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.
Pitch-perfect, Korver's essay is perhaps the most lucid explanation of white privilege by a white guy I've encountered. Every paragraph conveys self-aware, first-hand understanding of the culture of whiteness in America.

If you've any doubt about the systemic nature of bigotry or the long-term effects of four-hundred years of ethnic-based mistreatment, you owe yourself the education of reading this. Everyone else should read it, too.

I, like Korver, believe that.

#NBA #privilege #bigotry #race

March 29, 2019

∴ Old Manhattan


Old Manhattan
(click to enlarge)
We had guests at Andrew's Bar and Kelly's Kitchen and Rest this week. My sister, Pam, and her family paid us a visit from Illinois. As part of our hospitality, I laid in an assortment of local craft beer and opened the bar for cocktail experimentation. We ended up with a new drink.

Pam is fond of bourbon and bourbon cocktails. An echo of our mom's younger days, she enjoys an Old Fashioned. I'm partial to Manhattans, a close cousin to the Old Fashioned. With a little tweaking she was pleased to enjoy what I'm calling an Old Manhattan. It's a simple riff on both drinks, incorporating the sugar-sweetened bourbon of an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan's rich undertone of quality vermouth/amaro, tied together with orange and cherry bark-vanilla bitters. To wit:

  • two ounces good bourbon. I used Hudson Baby Bourbon from Tuthilltown Spirits.
  • one ounce Carpano Antica Formula amaro
  • ¼ ounce agave syrup
  • 1½ dash (12 drops) orange bitters. Mine are from Bittercube.
  • ½ dash (4 drops) cherry bark-vanilla bitters
  • 1 bing cocktail cherry
  • a large, thin slice of orange peal

Stir the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice for thirty seconds. Drop a bing cherry garnish into a cocktail tumbler, followed by one large ice cube. Do not use refrigerator ice maker cubes. Aspire to greatness and buy yourself a cube mold or spherical mold and make big cubes.

Pour the chilled cocktail over the cube, then garnish with a large, thin orange slice. Use a Y-handle peeler, not a blade on a stick.

In Pam's words, "this is really good." High praise.

Representative Adam Schiff explains bad vs. good governance



The Republican party has apparently either forgotten its Congressional oversight responsibility or wants America to stop expecting it of them. That's not ok.

#elections #Mueller #Russia #Trump #Schiff #Nunes

March 22, 2019

Lucid explanation of an "inverted yield curve" and what it (might) mean

Josh Brown and Michael Batnick explain today's big financial story and why it's maybe time to panic (not really). Eight minutes of smart, simple discussion.



(These guys are principles at Ritholtz Wealth Management, and are both worth a follow on Twitter or at their blogs; they're smart, straightforward, and honest. There's a boy's club vibe to some of their writing, but no shortage of irony, so it's a wash. Josh is one of my longest follows on Twitter.)

#investing #finances #YieldCurve #economy

March 17, 2019

On Joe Biden, by way of The Bulwark

There's an insightful piece by Liz Mair up on The Bulwark that's worth a read if you find yourself between our contemporary political extremes. She makes a concise case for Joe Biden's candidacy from her perspective on the political right. A couple of interesting tidbits that jibe with my thinking follow.
It's also worth remembering that regardless of how conservatives and pundits may see them, not that many Democratic voters actually think of themselves as great big lefties. According to CNN data, about a quarter of 2016 Democratic primary voters were Independents or Republicans. Two in five call themselves "moderate" or "conservative." And only a quarter call themselves "very liberal." Biden's perceived centrism probably helps more than it hurts.
Biden has been long hailed as a Democratic legislator with whom Republicans could and would work. He's well-regarded by his remaining colleagues in the Senate and by policy-makers and pundits in the non-Trump GOP. His centrism is more real than "perceived." That's a clear advantage for any Democrat succeeding in winning the campaign for president.

At the same time, the CNN data Mair quotes neatly lassos the label-refusers among the electorate. I've long denied the labels "liberal" and "Democrat." I've never belonged to a party longer than the time required to vote in a primary. Even then, it was as often Republican as Democrat, and quickly reverted to Independent a week or so after. Among the current crop of Democrats vying for the 2020 nomination, I'm most closely aligned with Amy Klobuchar, who is neither a wild-eyed liberal nor a darling of the woke Left.

In short, Biden is home territory for me and, I suspect, quite a few not-Republicans.
But of course, there's this bottom line fact: As much as everyone who is a political activist or an ideologically driven political opiner wants to deny it, the truth is, voters do not actually vote on policy. As documented by Christian Lenz in Follow The Leader, voters actually rarely support candidates whose issue positions accord with their own. They are actually quite likely to pick a politician-avatar, and then—you guessed it—follow the leader. If you don't believe me, or Lenz, go look at polling of self-described Republicans on topics like trade or foreign policy over recent years.
This is a critical point for anyone seeking higher office. Mair is saying that voters don't pick a candidate for their policy takes, but rather as an aspirational choice for what they want America to become. In short, we select our candidates as a better version of ourselves. This strikes home for the thoughtful crowd.

The entire piece is well-reasoned, and critically there's not a hint of inflammatory rhetoric within. That last bit delights me, coming as it does from a conservative publication. Have a look.

***

An aside: I've been pleasantly surprised by The Bulwark lately. A new publication edited by Charlie Sykes and boasting writers with a decidedly conservative bent, it's become a home for the intelligent remnant of what was once a functional conservative movement. From among their writers, you'll also find an occasional left-of-center piece, like the recent CPAC-focused writing of Molly Jong-Fast that skewered the rabid, Trump-leaning "Republicans" at their annual conference. The Bulwark isn't afraid to poke a little fun at the excess within and without their fellow travelers and provides the sort of thoughtful insight opposing the Left's policy intentions that's always handy to an informed opinion. At the risk of appearing the fool for it down the road, I endorse a close read of its offerings.

February 6, 2019

Abrams: Identity politics strengthens democracy

Stacey Abrams, writing in Foreign Affairs magazine:

The marginalized did not create identity politics: their identities have been forced on them by dominant groups, and politics is the most effective method of revolt.

Abrams’ cogent essay goes to the heart of contemporary progressive politics. People long relegated to lesser-class status in American culture, employment, and economics have, at last, reached critical political mass. Witness their diverse representation among 2019’s incoming Democratic House majority and in statehouses across the country.

The hypocrisy, now, of criticizing these community’s embrace of the identities long held against them represents a last gasp as the wave of minority status laps over the old guard’s heads. We are witnessing their fearful recognition of the rising brown wave in American politics, a movement backed by inexorable demographic shift.

Abrams’ essay counters popular conservative contentions point by point. It’s worth a read.

#identityPolitics #StaceyAbrams #progressive

January 27, 2019

Trapani: Sacrifices made by federal workers reveal their integrity, dedication

A friend asked last week why, in the absence of a salary, I continued going to work. The federal government had been partially shut down for over four weeks by then. He kidded that the private sector would love to figure that out.

It was difficult to put into words why I and my fellow Feds returned to work each day. We expected to be paid when it was over, sure; those still woking were designed “excepted” and would be made whole eventually, whenever that was. The president reminded us near-daily that our non-pay status could go on for months.

Hundreds of thousands more were furloughed with no guarantee of back pay, until late in the shutdown.

This article in The Hill explains our rationale. It’s not something Feds think much about. It’s what we do. Clearly, pay and benefits are important. Just as clearly, service is equally imperative. This quote of National Air Traffic Controllers Association executive VP Trish Gilbert is succinct:

As an official for the Air Traffic Controllers Association told the New York Times: “We have taken an oath. We know we’re important to the United States economy, and we are going to work. We’re just not getting paid. So even if this drags on, people will come to work.”

I’m also thankful to Ryan Trapani for The Hill’s article encapsulating the ineffable reality of federal service, a quality that cannot be duplicated in the private sector. They have the profit motive. We’ve sworn an oath to something higher.

#NATCA #service #feds

The hidden automation agenda of the Davos elite

Kevin Roose—The New York Times:

in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

There-in lies the fatal flaw in conservative labor policy: its embrace of unfettered capitalism ignores the human cost of unimpeded operation of the engine of wealth creation. Capitalism converts to value-added commodity every resource it encounters, including human resources.

(It’s telling that the people most directly connected to labor recruitment and benefits within an organization, the personnel office, was rebranded human resources at around the time real wage growth flattened—the era of Ronald Reagan and the rise of contemporary movement conservatism.)

Capitalism bridled by an overwhelming respect for and nurturing of the people exchanging their labor for pay and benefits is the progressive way forward. The executives meeting at Davos reject that, seeking replacement of (most) workers by artificial intelligence and automation. They are not friends of humanity. They are, at best, an adversary.

Witness:

Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.

The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.

A clearly defined line is drawn. People or profit. Lean too hard into profit, as the congregants at the capitalist church of Davos self-confessedly will, and there will be few left to exchange hard-won income for the goods and services rendered by advancing automation.

There’s little concern about leaning too far in the other direction. The plight of workers and their families over the last four decades is evidence that their well-being in the off-hours is irrelevant to business interests.

#automation #Davos #capitalism #labor

How air traffic controllers helped end the shutdown

Joseph A. McCartin—The Washington Post:

A small group of strategically placed workers just acted to help bring a widely detested shutdown to an end. They refused to play the role of victim and instead became agents of their own liberation.

You don’t say.

#Trump #MAGA #EndTheShutown

January 18, 2019

The R-Word

John Gruber, writing for the prominent Apple-centric blog Daring Fireballon the possibility that Apple’s recent revenue miss for the holiday 2018 quarter points to a much greater problem:

I think what has [Apple CEO Tim] Cook spooked is not the drop in iPhone sales, but the fact that the iPhone sales drop in China might be a symptom of a bigger problem. An effect, not the cause. Apple has gotten crazily good at predicting everything about their financials. It’s almost freaky how accurate they’ve been for years. But they got something very wrong last quarter. Again, it was a slight year-over-year decline, but it was the second-best quarter in history. iPhone sales were disappointing compared to expectations, but weren’t bad in the abstract. What was bad was Apple’s guidance. A $7 billion miss is bad, but Apple not foreseeing a $7 billion miss is a red flag. I think they’re evaluating deeper plans just in case it was more than just one thing in one quarter. No one wants to say the word, but I think it’s what has Cook spooked.

Recession.

As Gruber wrote elsewhere in this article, we cannot trust the economic data coming out of China as we can that from politically open countries. We’re left to glean secondary indicators like iPhone (and other product) sales as proxies for deeper trends within that economy. A wide variety of companies are warning on sales in China.

It’s a long-held belief that when the American economy sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. What, then, can we predict accompanies a Chinese economy tumbling into recession, if that is indeed happening?

Equities markets often provide an early hint that an economy is about to dive into recession. The US stock market hemorrhaged just prior to the last two economic downturns here—some would argue that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, even—leaving those with intuition room to step out of the way. I’m not a market-timer with my investments, and I don’t advocate anyone try. Catching the falling knife that is the eventual end of a market downturn is fraught with peril; it’s so much easier to get that timing wrong than right. Knowing what came before, and knowing that it’s never “different this time” can be useful managing one’s own investments, though.

All of which is to say there may be a far more interesting story playing out in the Chinese economy right now that may have significant implications for the US economy and personal investment later this year and next. I don’t trust the political hands at the wheel here in the US—Steve Mnuchin has prior experience managing big money, but is beholden to what he can convince Donald Trump of, and Trump, in turn, has little successful* experience at economic stewardship—leaving only cooler heads at the Federal Reserve as a backstop.

Think carefully about your level of trust vis-a-vis your financial future.

#China #recession #economy #Apple #indicators #investing


* how successful is a businessman who loses money and files bankruptcy on New York City real estate, which never devalues, and casinos, where people pay to give away their money?

December 2, 2018

Jonah Goldberg: Wars to Come

Jonah Goldberg—National Review:

… it really does feel like things are coming to a head.

I have no idea what Mueller will reveal, and I have no idea what Trump will do in response. But I am sure that we’re going to hear a lot of “Whose Side Are You On?” once Mueller walks to the cameras in his Grim Reaper’s cloak and swings his scythe.

Goldberg has spent quite a lot of words writing from outside the left-right bomb-throwing echo-chamber throughout the current administration. He’s what thoughtful conservatives sound like in 2018. In this edition of his regular column he combines hyperbole in early paragraphs and mea culpa (it’s subtle) later along with a refusal to commit to a “team” into a writerly masterpiece. It’s a gem.

I’m mostly with Goldberg here, though with a decidedly more progressive mindset. I hold Donald Trump in extreme contempt, having had my fill of his bigoted and misogynist behavior years ago. His New York media act told me what to expect from a Trump presidency. For this, I’ve been accused of harboring an anti-Trump bias. My take, though, is more from the other side of the coin.

I’m bewildered that anyone—anyone—still bears admiration for this man or his half-assed politics. Such latter-day support is more accurately labeled cynicism or anti-decency, take your pick.

It is no vice to oppose the indefensible. Demanding better from America is a virtue.

As with Watergate, the fallout from Bob Mueller’s investigation will be, I believe, justice. The despicable will be vanquished. Laws will be upheld. And Trump will, I think, be shown the door from public life. History will cover him in disgrace, and in a century hence he will be as forgotten as the more cretinous office-holders of the nineteenth century.

At least Nixon offered useful contributions to foreign policy, writing as he did throughout his years in the wilderness. Trump has nothing to offer. He never did.

#Trump #Mueller #justice

October 22, 2018

Daring Fireball commentary

John Gruber’s commentary on the Trump administration’s plan to re-define “transgender” out of existence (Daring Fireball):

Outright hateful policies will neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

Nailed it.

#transgender #Trump

Mike Pence's Spin About SNAP Work Requirements

Olivia Paschal—The Atlantic:

Pence’s support for “dignity in work” belies the reality of the work requirements: According to a new study from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, most SNAP recipients are either already working or physically can’t. The share of people who aren’t already subject to work requirements within the program, who aren’t currently working, and who have no interest in working? “Less than 1 percent,” said Laura Bauer, a Hamilton Project fellow and one of the study’s authors.

The motivation behind the Republicans’ inclusion of additional work requirements for food stamp recipients isn’t about moving people from assistance to employment. As the Hamilton Project revealed, deadbeats account for less than one percent of recipients. The GOP’s motivation is a reduction of the program with an eye toward eventual elimination.

‘America is great because America is good. When America is no longer good, it will no longer be great.’ I’ve read that somewhere.

A conservative favorite long ago put his finger on our current problem. A major political party has been overcome by people who know no good.

#GOP #SNAP #HamiltonProject

October 9, 2018

Max Boot: The dark side of American conservatism has taken over

Max Boot—The Washington Post:

The Republican Party will now be defined by Trump’s dark, divisive vision, with his depiction of Democrats as America-hating, criminal-coddling traitors, his vilification of the press as the “enemy of the people,” and his ugly invective against Mexicans and Muslims. The extremism that many Republicans of goodwill had been trying to push to the fringe of their party is now its governing ideology.

This is quite the Op Ed essay by a stalwart of the Republican party, or perhaps I should say, a stalwart conservative. Max Boot lays out the considered history of the Republican party, detailing how it went off the rails. By his lights it hasn’t been a recent change.

It’s long been my thinking that, given the enshrinement of the electoral college in our Constitution, America is rigidly bound to a two-party system and, as such, requires a robust intellectual and rhetorical effort by thoughtful, well-intentioned progressives and conservatives. It’s only by finding common ground between these two schools of thought that we reach livable consensus.

I’ve seen the corrosive effect of today’s hateful, nasty version of conservatism as practiced by the Trump GOP up close. What began with the rise of Newt Gingrich’s national coalition in 1994 has given us the bigoted, misogynist, and closed-minded Trumpist nationalists of today. Spittle-flecked invective replaces rational conversation, support for self-admitted sexual predators and crank conspiracists (and their ridiculous theories) becomes the norm, and contemporary “Republicans” become cheerleaders for the darkest and most shameful intentions.

Political parties are not permanent fixtures. They occasionally outlive their usefulness and pass into history. It’s high time the so-called “party of Lincoln,” a mantle the GOP shrugged off in the 1960s, passes from political relevance and is replaced by an American Conservative Party. There are among us fair-minded conservative intellectuals who can manage this. They have only to lead.

#GOP #American #conservatism

October 5, 2018

∴ Sympathy

A t-shirt slogan popular in the 1980s has been on my mind lately. It read, “It’s a black thing. You wouldn’t understand.” For white America this has always been true; it could not be otherwise.

Understanding the plight of others requires an authentic sense of ‘been there, done that,’ which is empathy. White America has never had to live the black American experience—historically through slavery, Jim Crow laws, the legislated systemic racism of the New Deal, redlining, and discriminatory employment, or contemporarily amid gentrification and over-policing—and therefore can never truly understand the experience or its long-term effects. We cannot understand what we have not been.

Empathy with people of color, then, is a path that does not exist for white America. Fortunately, empathy has a sibling: sympathy.

Sympathy is not the same as pity. While the former is a non-judgmental awareness of another’s plight, the latter begins from a judgement of failure or loss. Sympathy is neither political nor spiritual; it is humanitarian and secular.

Sympathy is an understanding-in-common, arrived at indirectly. Unlike empathy’s path of direct learning, sympathy comes by intellectual effort and an emotional leap of faith. It begins with thoughtfully putting oneself in another’s shoes and considering their experience. There’s no shortage of written or spoken accounts helpful for this. It’s an easily surmountable hurdle—one has only to read or listen.

Emotionally, sympathy is a willingness to honestly weigh what’s been learned and an unwillingness to be swayed by prejudice or cruelty. That’s the point of departure between affording, say, poor white Americans sympathy for supporting a self-acknowledged sexual predator on the one hand while responding with disbelief regarding racist policing systems on the other. In the second instance, deep-seated prejudice curtails the possibility of developing sympathy.

It’s this historical unwillingness to give black America the benefit of the doubt, a refusal to make the leap of faith required to arrive at sympathy, preventing the white majority from making a faithful effort at leveling the opportunity landscape guaranteed at our nation’s founding. We will never approach a fully just culture if we do not make this last connection to sympathy.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic, put his finger on the problem. Consistently denying those outside the majority for differences of darker skin or foreign birth is an act of cruelty. And cruelty, as he writes, is exactly the point. It is a binding practice, one that brings fearful, angry, ignorant people together in common cause, even as many of them spend their Sunday mornings professing love for their fellow man. Cruelty takes the place of sympathy among those unwilling to accept people of color as eligible for their affections.

To understand the truth of life as a black American, ask a black American. We’re fortunate to have prolific authors, podcasters, and public intellectuals among people of color. White America needs to read, listen, and respond with the sort of sympathy that builds affection despite difference, and to elect leaders who will work to unite through virtue rather than vice.

It has famously been stated that America is great because America is good, and when America is no longer good, it will no longer be great. How great is a nation or a culture that systematically represses and ignores its citizens while denying that repression exists throughout its entire history?

August 8, 2018

Standard: Ohio special election points to Democratic blue wave

Haley Byrd, writing about yesterday’s OH12 special election—the Weekly Standard:

Although they touted the race’s results, some GOP operatives noted lessons from the campaign for other Republicans up for election. “While we won tonight, this remains a very tough political environment”

If the GOP is calling near-full employment and an expanding economy “tough,” they’re doing something wrong. Republicans should reap electoral benefits from such an environment. What could they be struggling against?

#Trump #GOP #electoralPolitics

August 1, 2018

Trump-Russia Collusion Is a National-Security Issue

David Frum—The Atlantic:

It was—or should have been—obvious to anyone paying attention on voting day 2016 that Donald Trump was not an honest businessman. What has come further and further into the light since Election Day is something much more dangerous even than dishonesty.

A good, short read deconstructing the claim “collusion is not a crime.”

Wake up. America elected a racist buffoon president. How it happened is a matter of history. Where you stand now is a matter of conscience. You’re either comfortable excusing the moral failings of a cretin, or you aspire to his fall. Choose.

#Trump

July 21, 2018

The Nationalist's Delusion

Adam Serwer—The Atlantic:

These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.

Yeah, economic suffering drove a lot of votes, but the core of Mr. Trump’s support was white folks of all incomes and ages. It can be encapsulated as fear of the rise of a non-white population.

The US census tells us that at some time in the 2040s white Americans will become just another minority. That staggers and enrages a surprisingly large segment of America.

Mr. Trump is a symptom of this fear. In him is reflected the truest expression of white America’s intent. Turns out we haven’t come all that far since the civil rights days of the 1960s. As Serwer writes:

had racism been toxic to the American electorate, Trump’s candidacy would not have been viable.

One hundred thirty-nine years since Reconstruction, and half a century since the tail end of the civil-rights movement, a majority of white voters backed a candidate who explicitly pledged to use the power of the state against people of color and religious minorities, and stood by him as that pledge has been among the few to survive the first year of his presidency.

When you look at Trump’s strength among white Americans of all income categories, but his weakness among Americans struggling with poverty, the story of Trump looks less like a story of working-class revolt than a story of white backlash. And the stories of struggling white Trump supporters look less like the whole truth than a convenient narrative—one that obscures the racist nature of that backlash, instead casting it as a rebellion against an unfeeling establishment that somehow includes working-class and poor people who happen not to be white.

#racism #America #Trump whiteVoters

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Gabrielle Glaser—The Atlantic:

The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

This excerpt from a fascinating article about an alternative alcoholism treatment points to Americans’ white-knuckled grasp on the eighty-year old AA twelve-step program and its attendant dismal results.

Finnish therapists use a science-based approach that provides a high success rate by blocking opiate receptors in the brain. The result is reduced interest in alcohol as the comfort it provides evaporates. Conditioned craving ebbs.

The opioid antagonists used are naltrexone and a more contemporary drug, nalmefene:

Among other effects, alcohol increases the amount of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a chemical that slows down activity in the nervous system, and decreases the flow of glutamate, which activates the nervous system. (This is why drinking can make you relax, shed inhibitions, and forget your worries.) Alcohol also prompts the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure.

Over time, though, the brain of a heavy drinker adjusts to the steady flow of alcohol by producing less GABA and more glutamate, resulting in anxiety and irritability. Dopamine production also slows, and the person gets less pleasure out of everyday things. Combined, these changes gradually bring about a crucial shift: instead of drinking to feel good, the person ends up drinking to avoid feeling bad.

Sinclair theorized that if you could stop the endorphins from reaching their target, the brain’s opiate receptors, you could gradually weaken the [alcohol-strengthened] synapses, and the cravings would subside. To test this hypothesis, he administered opioid antagonists—drugs that block opiate receptors—to specially bred alcohol-loving rats. He found that if the rats took the medication each time they were given alcohol, they gradually drank less and less. He published his findings in peer-reviewed journals beginning in the 1980s.

Subsequent studies found that an opioid antagonist called naltrexone was safe and effective for humans.

This was a good long read about an aspect of substance abuse that’s always around us: recovery. The upshot is that for most patients this drug therapy provides potentially life-long benefit. The only thing standing in the way of applying this promising therapy is America’s infatuation with twelve-step programs, specifically AA.

Maybe we should use science to combat addiction, rather than misplaced faith.

#alcoholAbuse #substanceAbuse #sobriety #scientific #evidenceBased

July 17, 2018

3D color x-rays could help spot deadly disease without surgery

Emily Baumgaertner—The New York Times:

Researchers in New Zealand have captured three-dimensional color X-rays of the human body, using an innovative tool that may eventually help diagnose cancers and blood diseases without invasive surgery.

The new scanner matches individual X-ray photon wavelengths to specific materials, such as calcium. It then assigns a corresponding color to the scanned objects. The tool then translates the data into a three-dimensional image.

Fascinating images of the co-inventor’s wrist and ankle using this new scanning technology. A clinical trial begins in New Zealand in the coming months.

#medicalTechnology #scanning #imaging #diagnosis #nonInvasive

July 16, 2018

∴ The day he went too far

I’ve steered away from politics lately. Either you get what I’ve said and agree, or you’re lost. I know that’s polarizing and partisan and harsh, but it’s also true. That’s America today. You’re either in the tank for Trump, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate and fear or you’re not.

I. Am. Not.

However, today Donald Trump gave me another reason to raise my voice. To wit:

Thomas Friedman—The New York Times:

My fellow Americans, we are in trouble and we have some big decisions to make today. This was a historic moment in the entire history of the United States.

There is overwhelming evidence that our president, for the first time in our history, is deliberately or through gross negligence or because of his own twisted personality engaged in treasonous behavior — behavior that violates his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Trump vacated that oath today, and Republicans can no longer run and hide from that fact. Every single Republican lawmaker will be — and should be — asked on the election trail: Are you with Trump and Putin or are you with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A.?

“Trump and Putin,” indeed. Mr. Trump has acted in reprehensible ways prior to today, most egregiously in his treatment of people seeking a better life in America, particularly children. Today, he broke with our intelligence community and established fact by siding with the Russian president’s version of reality re: Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election.

This man is not only unfit to serve, but actively working against the interests of the American people and our allies. In his own words:

Trump actually said on the question of who hacked our election, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. And in a bit of shocking moral equivalence, Trump added of the United States and Russia: “We are all to blame … both made some mistakes.” Trump said that it was actually the American probe into the Russian hacking that has “kept us apart.”

He actually equivocated between the US and Russia, just as he did between the neo-Nazi white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia and protesters last year.

This, after trashing our allies at the G-7 meeting in Canada and calling into question NATO’s value.

In the words of John Brennan, former Director of Central Intelligence:

Donald Trump’s news conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

In an after-the-fact statement (Politico) by Senator John McCain:

The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate, but it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule. Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency.

An assessment by David Frum (The Atlantic):

The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.

And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the EU as a “foe,” threatening to break up nato, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and his continued refusal to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it adds up to a political indictment whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.

The United States faces a national-security emergency.

Another, by James Fallows (The Atlantic):

I am old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon telling lies on TV, about Vietnam in both cases, and Watergate for Nixon. I remember the travails and deceptions of Bill Clinton, and of George W. Bush in the buildup to the disastrous Iraq War.

But never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.

Trump manifestly cannot help himself.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. We’ve just lost an eye and there is no rock-bottom to Mr. Trump. Are you willing to wait for more?

Your vote was yours to cast. You now have one last chance to let the scales fall from your eyes.

I stand against this man and his so-called presidency, and hope for the downfall of his administration and his adjudication to prison for his past acts and, most importantly, his treasonous acts to legitimize Russia’s work that gained him the presidency. Where do you stand?

#treason #highCrimes #notMisdemeanors #Trump

July 14, 2018

Stephens: America first, America hated, America alone

Bret Stephens—The New York Times:

America First is America Feared. But it is also America hated, and hated with justification. Where’s the upside in that? For Trump, the upside is the substitution of a liberal order with an illiberal one, based on conceits about sovereignty, nationality, religion and ethnicity. These are the same conceits that Vladimir Putin has long made his own

This will suit Americans for whom the idea of a free world always seemed like a distant abstraction. It will suit Europeans whose anti-Americanism predates Trump’s arrival by decades. And it will especially suit Putin, who knows that an America that stands for its own interests first also stands, and falls, alone. Surely the dead at Colleville-sur-Mer fought for something greater than that.

The sad fact is that our president does not know, nor does he care about political or even moral norms of behavior. Whatever Donald Trump is or represents, it sure as hell isn’t decency, American leadership, or the Christianity his evangelical followers profess.

#Trump #AmericaAdrift #worldPolitics

July 5, 2018

Friedman: Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up

Thomas Friedman — The New York Times:

We asked people: ‘What is the most important thing for a successful community?’

“The answers that came up over and over again,” Bressi said, “were a community that creates respect and unity, respect and unity. People want to be heard and want to be respected. And they want unity, no divides. They see the national trends, they feel the division and they don’t want it.”

A blueprint for civil and cultural renewal in communities spiraling downward; at its core this is about pragmatic politics, devoid of posturing and labeling. Well worth a read.

#AmericanRenewal #communityOrganization #grassRoots

July 4, 2018

Reminiscence for the Fourth

President Barack Obama’s speech at Selma marking ‘Bloody Sunday’ anniversary — The Washington Post:

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.

the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

I miss that man. I miss his leadership, grace, and intellect. Mostly, I miss that he led by uplift and encouragement, with a vision for bending the arc of history toward justice.

How far we have fallen in so short a time. We can and will do better. That’s America, too.

Happy 242nd Fourth of July.

#BarackObama #Selma #America #FourthofJuly

May 30, 2018

∴ Mt. Rainier, and Seattle

Kelly and I spent a quick five-day vacation in and around the Seattle area last week. It was an add-on to her prior week at Spring Quilt Market in Portland, Oregon. She drove up with a friend and they picked me up at SeaTac airport to begin our stay, dropping us at our hotel in Renton.

Me posed next to a Boeing sign

Our hotel was adjacent to Gene Coulon Park on Lake Washington. To my delight, it was also adjacent to a Boeing assembly facility, the one where all new 737 jets are built. We saw three unassembled fuselages arriving by rail during our stay.

The hotel location provided for a nice hour-plus walk in the park, another stroll to dining on our first evening, and three relaxing day-enders on the rooftop lounge, sipping an Oregon Pinot Noir as the sun set over the lake. It was mostly that kind of a vacation.

Mount Rainier

We spent our first full day driving down to Mt. Rainier National Park. We purchased an annual pass at the gate when we realized that we’d use it again elsewhere in August.

The park is well southeast of Seattle and Tacoma, but Mt. Rainier is prominently visible from just about everywhere in the region. Still snow-capped in late May and bearing several permanent glaciers, Rainier is a beautiful site against a blue sky.

We drove into the park through the southwest entrance and continued along the access road as far as we could. There were numerous places to get out and walk or enjoy a view along the way. The road was closed due to snow just past the visitors center that precedes Paradise Valley, so we were unable to enjoy the view of wildflowers and greenery the area is known for. The snow must melt before any of it makes an appearance.

Nisqually River glacial valleyOne roadside stop, in particular, gave us a twenty-minute walk down into what used to be a glacial valley but is now only a wide gouge in the land with the narrow Nisqually River swiftly running through the bottom. It made for some great photos and a beautiful view of the mountain looking upstream. The rock- and tree-strewn valley also gave me an understanding of the enormous size and energy of a glacier. The overall mass of objects moved by what was once a slow-moving river of ice was mind-boggling seen up close as we walked the valley floor.

A footbridge over the rapidly moving Nisqually River

Rocks and debris alongn the glacier valley bottom

Torn and fallen tree on the glacier valley bottom

Crossing the footbridgeStacked stones with Mt. Rainier in the background

***

Christine Falls

A waterfall along the way, nearly hidden under a roadway bridge gave us a break from what was becoming our warmest day in the region. The temperature topped out at 85 degrees that day, and the refreshing air flowing out from the waterfall was welcome. We spent the rest of our time in the region in comfortable low- to mid-seventy degree temperatures.

We were fortunate during this trip; I flew in during a blue-sky day, and the skies remained so for the next two days. We woke to a solid overcast on our third morning, but that broke into partial sunshine later in the day. Only our fourth day was overcast throughout.

Although current and prior Washington and Oregon residents tell me that it doesn’t rain all the time, it’s very often cloudy to the point of no direct sunlight. What they refer to as “not rain” is more commonly referred to as extremely heavy mist back home. It may not involve big raindrops, but you’ll get soaked without a waterproof jacket and hat, and your windshield wipers get a workout throughout the year. So I think we lucked out; we had no rain of any sort during our stay.

Kelly and meOur journey to, around, and back from Mt. Rainier was something I’d greatly looked forward to. Our busy work and home lives give us less opportunity to sit and talk than I’d like; long drives are how Kelly and I get to relax, talk, and generally enjoy each other’s company. It was a physical and mental relief for me after the very long flight delay and trip from Dulles airport the day before, and a sweet slowdown for Kelly after her always-busy Quilt Market week.

The only driving downside was that Kelly did all of it. Enterprise car rental does not permit spouses to drive unless they’re present with a driver’s license when renting the car.

We spent another day browsing through Pike Place Market and the surrounding streets, having an obligatory coffee at the first Starbucks, and settling into lunch at The Pike Brewing Company’s brewpub.

Readers of my other blog, Bodhi and Beer, know I enjoy visiting craft breweries. Kelly isn’t a beer fan, so The Pike was a good find. It includes a full-service restaurant where we both enjoyed above-average pub food, and Kelly found a regional wine she enjoyed while I sampled a flight of six Pike Brewing Company beers.

We managed to hit some of Seattle’s renowned traffic on the way back to our hotel. I guess it was inevitable.

The roads are not under construction there, they’re wide enough, and there are plenty of signs and limited access exits and on-ramps. The trouble is, as is the case everywhere else with traffic jams, there are too many people in too many cars.

The Seattle area sports a bus system and a terrific light rail, which we’d attempted to make use of getting to Pike Place. By the time we reached the closest station that morning, however, commuters had filled the available parking. We could have headed a couple of miles south to the airport station and parked in the large garage adjacent to it, but I realized the Waze app could construct an eighteen-minute route into the heart of Seattle from where we were. It would have taken that long getting to and park in the light rail garage.

I’m frequently amazed at how well that app works, though I’m often not a fan when I see it routing traffic through local streets where I’m walking. Efficiently distributing the traffic load has its drawbacks.

A building in SeattleA building in Seattle

A building in SeattleA building in Seattle

For our last full day in the area, we took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, a half-hour sail across the Puget Sound. We were treated to some of Seattle’s beautiful architecture as we pulled away from the dock.

Temperatures were in the mid- to high-sixties due to a solid cloud cover, and the wind chill on an open deck was significantly lower. We rode much of the middle part of the trip inside the cabin, only to discover a much better place to enjoy the crossing: standing on the car deck at the stern of the boat. There’s a safety rope keeping passengers from getting too close to the deck edge, but we were left alone for the last ten minutes of the ride by staying behind it. Worth keeping in mind if you’re on such a ferry crossing!

Bainbridge Island is mostly residential, and the small town of Winslow sits just north of the ferry landing. We found a terrific place for lunch and beverages after walking along a short trail and through the Main Street area. There were plenty of shops along the way, but our goal was food, and we found it at Café Nola.

Our next stop was the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, the site where 227 Japanese Americans were forced to leave the island for internment camps at Manzanar, California and Minidoka, Idaho in 1942. The memorial park is half-constructed, with a visitor’s center planned but not yet built. It possesses a wooden “memory wall” bearing the names of those Americans and legal resident aliens whose forced departure by ferry took place from there. A modern dock with pleasure craft tied up sits adjacent to the property. The original ferry dock is gone, but the entire property sits across an inlet from the contemporary ferry landing where he had arrived earlier.

The memorial was quite moving, and remindful of our cultural bad habit of often looking at those who don’t look like ourselves as others. Objectification is the first step on the path to exclusion and it’s a steep drop after that.

We see the same behavior today in the treatment of Muslim Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars. Some things do not change, which is why the memorial prominently features a quote in Japanese: Nidoto Nai Yoni, “let it not happen again.”

Kelly ready to flyOur trip home was just about the easiest, most comfortable air travel I’ve experienced. I wrote about it in a previous article. It featured a quick ride from the airport hotel where we’d spent our final night, to the terminal, through security in record time, and a first-class cabin ride back to Virginia. We even managed to arrive just before thunderstorms swept the area.

Seattle provided a varied, fun place to visit. Dodging the traffic was tricky, but the town yielded a wealth of things to do.

 

(← my favorite person in the Universe.)

#vacation #Seattle #MtRainier #BainbridgeIsland #Renton #LakeWashington #PikePlaceMarket

May 28, 2018

∴ A first-class experience

I joined Kelly for a short vacation in Seattle a week ago, after she completed her annual Spring Quilt Market work. Market is a quilt shop owner’s buying opportunity where vendors show off the latest products and wholesale orders may be placed for delivery later in the year. It’s moved from city to city each year and was in Portland this year. We met up in Seattle afterward.

I flew out on a much-delayed coach-class reservation, but we flew back together seated in the first-class cabin. The differences between the two experiences were stark enough to render air travel pleasant. Those are three words that almost never go together in a sentence.

I departed Virginia on a non-stop from Dulles, our closest airport. It’s only an hour and a quarter from our home in rural Culpeper county.

(Dulles possesses a somewhat aging neo-futurist style terminal designed by Eero Saarinen, and a set of gates used by United that have survived as “temporary” for nearly thirty years despite United being the dominant carrier. Security lines are usually long, but membership in the TSA PreCheck program solves that. Transport between the land-side terminal and air-side gates is by modern automated train, a recent improvement. The terminal parking area is currently in the process of getting a Metro subway stop; eventually, this place is going to be a great airport.)

Some days flying coach is, at best, not miserable. At other times, most times, it’s awful. Complaints of narrow seats, near-nonexistent leg room, cardboard meals for purchase in a cardboard box, overworked flight attendants, and the need of booking a window seat and checking in a day before departure to get a chance at the overhead bins are de rigueur. Checked luggage fees are an insult atop already pricey coach-class fares.

My outbound flight day also brought with it a mechanical problem on the aircraft that was to fly me west. Its flight north from Tampa was canceled altogether as a result. United managed to rebook some of the passengers while leaving the rest to wait for another aircraft, which departed, oh, five-and-a-half hours later.

I managed to bump into a friend at Dulles who has status with United, so my wait on the outbound flight was more comfortably spent in the United Club. I was a late sardine upon arrival, though, walking away from my Seattle arrival gate dazed.

The return trip was like air travel in Bizarro World. It was everything that flying coach is not.

To begin with, I have a financial issue with booking air travel. I look at the first-class fares, grunt, and book coach. Before last year I’d flown in the first-class cabin exactly once, during a familiarization flight as a young air traffic controller. The pilot excused me from the cockpit to sit “in the rear.” The rear turned out to be up front, which was nice. I was relatively young at the time and hadn’t begun my years of flying coach, and so didn’t fully appreciate what I’d stumbled into.

I flew first class to visit my pal in Bozeman, Montana last year, scoring a bonus A320 ride up from Denver that’s usually operated with a regional jet. I booked the flights with frequent flyer miles, and first class was a relative bargain one-way on award points. There were no award seats in coach, so the choice was the bargain up front or pay for it in coach. I flew coach on the return trip, looking longingly forward through the curtains.

Our return from Seattle last week was as I remember last year’s flights to Bozeman. In order, the process of making air travel both pleasant and even pricier includes electronics, the TSA, and the living room I typically walk through on my way to sardine hell.

We arrived at the airport already checked-in with electronic boarding passes on our phones. Nothing new there. The TSA PreCheck line was, as usual, shorter than the regular security line. Our wait in line for a coffee was longer than it took us to get from the airport hotel, through the terminal, and past the TSA. $85 for three years of shorter to non-existent lines is well worth it.

Then began the best part of the trip. We sat across from the gate and read news headlines as we drank our coffees. As soon as the first passenger got up to stand in the group 1 boarding line, we walked across to join him. Ten minutes later we were walking down the jetway.

Boarding as a first class passenger was like walking into a restaurant. The lead flight attendant greeted and welcomed us aboard. There was no rush; plenty of time to place carry-ons in the overhead bin in which there is always room for your bag. There’s no crush squeezing into a window seat; the leg room in each row is like another aisle.

I’ve been a coach-class passenger eyeballing the first-class passengers already seated as I trudged through the first-class cabin many times. The experience sitting in first class is the exact opposite. Once seated, I spent the next twenty or so minutes getting situated and forgetting about the rest of the boarding process. The wait wasn’t unpleasant; it wasn’t all that much different from waiting in the gate area. And it’s very easy to completely forget there’s anyone sitting behind you, which amounts to the bulk of the passengers. All I saw were people comfortably lounging and a blur of bodies walking past.

That’s the first significant difference between seating classes. The boarding process for coach class is almost always a hassle. The wait to board is long, the line in the jetway is long, the trudge back to your seat is long, and there’s almost always someone who has pre-boarded (i.e., elderly or with small children) already seated in the aisle and middle seats who then has to unbuckle, stand, and move out of the way, negating the benefit of pre-boarding.

About five minutes after I sat down a smiling flight attendant (They always smile in first class. I’m not making this up; it’s all smiles. It’s like you paid for the smiling with your fare.) asked whether I’d like something to drink. It was eight am, so I opted for orange juice. It was served in a glass. Whatever they have onboard to drink, it’s yours free of surcharge. Morning Mimosa? Check. Bloody Mary? Check. Wine? Check. Bourbon? Buffalo Trace, check.

The door closed and we were off, taking a brief ground delay for Dulles by slow-taxiing to the end of the runway. So, no delay.

Breakfast service began about twenty minutes into the flight. Breakfast was the second big difference. Meals are, of course, free of extra charge. And they come on ceramic plates, with metal silverware and a linen napkin, served on a linen-lined tray. Mine was a savory egg and vegetable soufflé, a cup filled with fresh fruit, a decent sized cup of yogurt and a sweet roll, which I declined. Oh, and a glass of water to wash it down.

As I was wondering about that Buffalo Trace bourbon a couple of hours later, the flight attendant came through again smiling and asking whether we’d like something more to drink. I wasn’t in the mood for whiskey, so I opted for water. I’d taken them up on the complementary bourbon on my first-class flight last year, though, and enjoyed every drop. So much so that I went ahead and paid for it on the way back, in coach.

Arrival is the third significant difference flying first class. Best begin buttoning up any books, tablets, or earphones as soon as the aircraft rolls off the runway because getting off the jet is a speedy process for someone accustomed to the stand up-and-wait of coach class. Many first-class passengers stand-and-wait, as well, but the difference is that there isn’t a line. There’s just a group of people pulling and assembling bags from the overhead and under-seat storage and looking in the general direction of the lead flight attendant. With a wider aisle and longer leg room, it still feels more like a living room than an airplane. The door opens within about a minute, and off you go.

No more airplane. No more passengers, no line, no hassle. In an instant it’s like the whole trip didn’t happen. If you’re using carry-on luggage only, you’re probably on the conveyance to the main terminal by the time the last row of coach empties.

I remarked about all of these conveniences to Kelly during our drive home. We’d split at the end of the automated train; she headed to the baggage carousel for her luggage while I went to free our car from the garage where I’d parked. She had her bags before I reached the car; I saw later that United fastened “priority” tags on them. I guess they rode first class, too.

First class is hands-down costly compared to coach, which is merely expensive. There’s a fair argument to be made as to whether what you get in exchange for the price bump is worth the extra money. Having flown many miles in what I derisively refer to as steerage, I’d say yes, if you have the coin to spend, the first-class cabin makes air travel the exact opposite of what most of us experience every time we fly. It turns mental and physical torment into actual pleasure.

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