Monday, May 17, 2021

Old Metal

You never know where you'll see something old and memorable. This was in a friend's garden.

It probably did come from a literal basement.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

eBikes as an Example of a Shifting Worldview

When your worldview shifts, it's noticeable. A Twitter friend reminded me of one of those instances today. James, whose Twitter handle is STPBike (St. Paul Bike), had this short thread about his bikes:

Two of my neighbors reeled in shock when I told them I spent $6600 on my @ternbicycles GSD ($5500 base + accessories + tax). There was a certain insinuation of flaunting my riches. But they’ve both purchased cars in the last 5 years.

James and his cargo ebike.

That $6600 purchase represents 32 months of saving — about $200/month set aside (I haven't had car payments since I started buying eBikes). Would they have the same reaction if I drove home a used 12+ year-old Toyota Corolla with 150,000 miles on it? [Screen snapshot showing that's equivalent to the price of a 12-year-old Corolla.]

But James, you have THREE eBikes! This is true. Total I have spent on eBikes is $14,200. About equivalent to a 5-year-old Corolla, 2/3rds of the way to 100k miles. Total time I spent saving for those eBikes was about 84 months — about $170/mo.

eBikes are expensive...very expensive, compared to traditional bikes. But I'm not trying to replace a bicycle. I'm trying to replace a car. I'm trying to NOT buy that 5-year-old Corolla or any car for a long time, if ever. [photo of James with one of his other bikes, for winter)

Instead of buying yet another used car, I chose to get eBikes — each of which eliminates a reason I needed to drive my car. I’m 48 years old and I’ve never owned a brand new car. For the same expense as that used Corolla, I got the experience of three shiny new-in-box eBikes! Three eBikes, which are way more fun to ride than my personal 2004 Corolla. With those eBikes, I've eliminated over 90% of the trips I used to take by car.

So for me, I'm not flaunting. I'm investing in my future transportation needs. Some still choose cars.

Addendum: In summary, eBikes are still seen, by most, as luxury items — not transportation. Any equivalent investment in a car would be unremarkable in comparison. If we want to reduce car trips, the bicycle (electric or acoustic) needs to be seen as transportation.

Another biking friend (among many other responses) replied:

Also, I'm pretty sure if you were showing your neighbors a motorcycle, or boat, or ATV that you spent $6000 on they would never freak out about how expensive that was and how crazy you were to spend that.

And that's all true. As I said, this is a good example of the difference in worldview between mainstream America where the cost of cars is invisible and the world we need where something like an ebike becomes transportation instead of an extravagance.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Box Top, Oooooh Noooooo!

Daughter Number Three-Point-One presented me with this perfect pareidolia photo today, so I have to share it because it's Saturday and there's a lot going on and no time to write about any of it:

I told her if it was set on fire, its distress would be even more evocative, but maybe that's just me.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Exclusion Is Not Part of Inclusion

Several weeks ago, I saved a tweet thread by A.R. Moxon, who uses the Twitter handle Julius Goat, and then forgot to post it. So today's the day:

My suggestion: Stop using "viewpoint diversity" to mean "conservatives get to talk more" and recognize that the conservative reaction against academia is mainly driven by a broad expansion of diversity in voices, which conservatives categorically oppose.

The problem with even talking about "both sides" is, it accepts the worldview of people with abusive intention and a politics of domination. They win before you start.

The idea there are only two sides, and they are one of them? That's their framing.

It's bullshit. It's a lie. There's a reason that conservative framing around diversity boils things down to roughly two sides of "conservative" and "liberal." It allows them to ignore the fact that we ALREADY have broad diversity, and to frame themselves as the marginalized "side."

And so: voices of every ethnicity become not a multitude of ethnic voices, but "ethnic studies." And so with every facet of gender studies, and religious studies, and all of THAT get boiled to one side: Liberal. Against which conservatives posit themselves the whole other side.

Listen: All of us, trying to figure out how to honor everyone's basic humanity? WE ARE THE SIDES. People with a politics of domination have a completely different mission—an unacceptable one. Our mission is honoring everyone's basic humanity. They aren't a side in that.

So of course the side that wants to be the "normal" side of a binary against a broad spectrum of diverse voices they boil down to a single "side" is going to feel marginalized. Their framing is anti-diversity. It is structurally anti-diversity.

The marketplace of ideas gets to reject ideas. I think conservatives could be capable of bringing thoughtful ideas to a marketplace of ideas that ALREADY supports a broad diversity. Largely what they've opted for is complaining to have their already-rejected ideas subsidized.

As long as "conservative" remains — by conservatism's own insistence — structurally anti-diverse, any institution committed to diversity of thought must categorically reject it, at a structural level, to preserve diversity of thought. That's not oppression. It's opposition.

"Why is there so little room for CONSERVATIVE thought when there is so much room for gender studies and queer studies and racial studies and ethnic studies and religious studies and..." That's called being one voice among many. That's what diversity is. Get used to it. Everyone else has. The only reason that would be difficult is if conservatism makes no room for any of those things.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Israeli Ethnic Cleansing

I have never stuck my nose into the Israel/Palestine struggle. It was too involved, too complicated, I always thought. I was leaving it for others who knew more and were going to spend the time to go back in the history and learn enough.

That said, my under-examined tendency has always been to think both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to exist and that they should figure out a way to share the land they both have historical claims on. I liked the Israeli doves. I liked the two-state solution. I liked Sadat, and Shimon Peres. I don't like Netanyahu. I don't like the fact that evangelical Christians are Israel's biggest supporters in the U.S., goading us toward their love of Armageddon.

What is happening now is clearly ethnic cleansing on Israel's part and the world and the U.S. are letting them get away with it. 

The "right to return" to land that other people also think is their land is inherently problematic. This is settler colonialism before our eyes, as if we had mass media during the many times European Americans stole land and burned the villages of the Indigenous peoples living here, or forced those people into fighting back (as in the Dakota War).

Don't comment on this. I don't want to discuss it.


From Twitter:

This is Awad Abuselmya. Israel killed him today in Gaza. Israel also killed his father, mother, brother and sister before. Tonight he will reunite with part of his family, and he will miss the other part.
Ahmed Alnaouq

Awad lost all of his family in 2006, when Israeli war planes bombed their house killing his parents, and his 6 siblings. Awad was the only survivor, he was 19 back then. Today the Israeli army killed Awad in Gaza


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Not a System of Fostering Care

You may know that Ma’Khia Bryant — the 16-year-old Black girl who was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio, cop a half-hour after the Derek Chauvin verdict — was living in a foster care home. But you may not know the New York Times reported yesterday that her time in foster care started because her grandmother was evicted and so child services removed the children from her care.

In the Twitter thread by the Times writer, Bryce Covert, one response pointed out that the initial eviction was in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits evictions based on having children in a rental unit. Others responded that occupancy limits (per square foot) contradict that rule, creating a catch-22.

Others pointed out that it would have been both better for the children and cheaper for the state if the grandmother — who wanted to keep the children — had been able to keep the children. Paying her, even just for housing, would be cheaper than the amount paid to "professional" foster parents:

The really absurd thing is that the state had to shell out money every month to keep all four kids in foster care. They probably could have given the grandmother a lot less to help with housing.
Katherine Scofield

It's so bizarre to me. Most foster placements could have been kept in their homes (at less cost to the state!) with a social worker checking in regarding the initial concern. Who does it benefit to remove these kids, causing trauma and requiring a lot of money?

It's hard to process all of that and not take a comment like this at least somewhat seriously:

Everything in this country is designed to separate Black different from slavery...

Of course it is different from slavery in the specifics, but it has a whole lot too much in common with it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Liz Cheney: Not a Hero

I'm back!

And the first thing I want to say is that Liz Cheney is not a hero.

Yes, it's good that she isn't on the Trump train, it's good that she organized the former Secretaries of Defense to sign a letter saying the military should stay out of the presidential election process, it's good that she seems to have a commitment to the truth about what happened in November. All good.

But the idea that she's now about country before party is absurd. She was party-before-country for four years during the Trump presidency, as evidenced by her voting record. Now she's making it clear she's party-before-Trump, that's all. She thinks Trump is going to ruin the party, and that's what she can't stand.

She clearly thinks the best interest of the party (as she sees it) is what's good for the country as whole, so that's what she was doing for the years of the Trump presidency: supporting McConnell's agenda, such as it was. Judges, judges, judges, tax cuts for the wealthy, no health care, and so on.

She wants to win elections for the party, and she knows that there has to be a realistic base to that. It sounds as though the thing that put her over the edge was the fact that National Republican Congressional Campaign staff straight-up lied to members of Congress about polling data, which showed Trump's weakness in key districts. His unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorables in these places, but the NRCC staff withheld that data.

Cheney is clearly better on many levels than House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who spoke out against the January 6 insurrection while it was happening but almost immediately started pretending it didn't matter and then went to kiss Trump's ring. Earlier, he had signed onto the amicus brief to overturn the election (after telling Cheney he would not). 

She's better than just about any other Republican in the present Congress (with a few exceptions). But that doesn't make her suddenly good.

The fact that Cheney seems almost good is an indication of how far the Republican party has sunk into nihilism and will-to-power. Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker story on Lee Atwater's papers gives all the details on when that conversion began:

Atwater’s tactics were a bridge between the old Republican Party of the Nixon era, when dirty tricks were considered a scandal, and the new Republican Party of Donald Trump, in which lies, racial fearmongering, and winning at any cost have become normalized.... Atwater...admits outright that he only cared about winning, not governing. “I’ve always thought running for office is a bunch of bullshit. Being in a office is even more bullshit. It really is bullshit,” he wrote. “I’m proud of the fact that I understand how much BS it is.”

It does seem that Liz Cheney is not in the Lee Atwater school, at least, I'll give her that. 

But she's still a long way from being a hero.


Monday, May 10, 2021

A Handmade Sail

A while ago, I joined a Facebook group called Nettles for Textiles, which is for people talking about exactly what that sounds like. These folks also occasionally talk about the use of other plant fibers in textiles, such as flax or hemp. 

Recently, this image was shared in the group, along with this accompanying text:

This is the corner of a hand-sewn sail made in the 1800s. The craftsmanship and quality of the work is amazing. This is a lost art. The canvas sails were made of hemp along with clothing, ropes, and the caulking used to fill gaps between planks among other things. Hemp is three times stronger than jute and was preferred because it was unaffected by salt water.

What a thing of functional beauty! Humans: we make things work.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Shedding Some New Light on Things

Have you ever thought about streetlight design?

The city of Los Angeles held a competition not too long ago, with the winner announced last September. A design studio called Project Room won for its concept, which met the challenge of including not just new technologies (like LEDs and allowing for 5G), but also space for banners and signs and ways of creating shade as the climate crisis accelerates.

Los Angeles will use the design to gradually replaces its 180,000 standard streetlights (not ones that are considered historic) — which they do at a rate of one to two thousand a year. 

As the linked story says,

Project Room's winning design reimagines the traditional lamp post as a bundle of tubes where each service -- roadway light, pedestrian light, and telecommunications equipment -- is assigned a dedicated tube fabricated of steel or aluminum, according to a city statement. The design allows for additional features, such as 5G equipment, shade fixtures, and even a bench, to be added as needed.

I'm particularly excited that each of those lights could have a bench built into it. What an obvious thing to do, and a simple thing that will make the city better even if the lighting wasn't also better.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Expensive Infrastructure: for a Not Great Reason

A civil engineering friend of mine posted a link to this article recently, called Why American Costs Are So High. I've heard discussion of this before off and on, when it comes to public works projects like new subway lines. Comparable projects in European (let alone Asian) cities do not cost anywhere near as much. Why is that? 

It's not possible to blame labor unions, since Europe is at least if not more unionized than U.S. cities. So I was curious to see what my friend, whose opinion I respect, thought was worth sharing.

This is how she summarized the article:

Moral of story: we should be more humble and curious, willing to look far past ourselves for solutions.

Great overview of why infrastructure, like new public transit, costs so much more in the U.S. than in other rich countries. It's a big problem because things that can really help people and make our lives/towns better don't get done because [they're considered] too expensive, cost overruns.

Also, too often our high cost of construction is blamed on unions and environmental laws, and then used as reason to lower wages and protections. This is so easily debunked because countries with strict environmental laws and very high unionization/high wages, like Sweden, France, etc build things for so much cheaper than us.

There are many things in this article, from building techniques, to how we deal with cost of changes/conflicts, to project management. But as the author notes, they all stem from our lack of willingness to learn from other countries.

"Incuriosity is not merely ignorance. Ignorance is a universal trait, people just differ in what they are ignorant about. But Americans are unique in not caring to learn from other countries even when those countries do things better. "

"The United States at best thinks it’s the center of the world and at worst thinks it’s the only thing in the world, and this has to change."

"However, all of this depends on solving the last of the above nine problems. Americans have to understand that they are behind and need to imitate."

The full article is worth the read.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Laughable but Scary Alternate World of Children's "Literature"

About six months ago, I found out about the existence of a guy named Matthew Sheffield. He describes himself as a former Mormon and former conservative. In those days, he cofounded a publication called the Washington Examiner. The only time I mentioned here previously was in a Twitter round-up, where I quoted him as saying,

What I did not realize until I began expanding my work into creating actual media and reporting institutions such as the Washington Examiner... was that U.S. conservatives do not understand the purpose of journalism.

That Twitter thread had a lot of good examples of what he meant by that, but unfortunately it appears he has deleted his tweets from before mid-January. I meant to quote more of it at the time. But the gist was that conservatives think the purpose of media is to propagandize their side, while progressives, independents, centrists, and even leftists think journalists are trying to get to some factual version of reality, based on reporting. They may have a world view (who doesn't?) but there's a relationship to facts on the ground, an attempt to relay reality — not to just sell or even force one side, regardless of what may be found when a reporter goes to a place.

So when I saw the following tweet from him more recently, it fit together. Mainstream children's book publishing — while far from perfect, everyone knows! — is also not overtly trying to propagandize everyone. It's reproducing our culture, sure, and the culture is steeped in white supremacy, so we get lots more books about white kids (and animals) than kids of color. But we don't get books praising the Klan, right? Or promoting Christianity as the national religion?

Rest assured, we can leave that to conservatives. Sheffield tells us:

What's known as American conservatism is mostly rural white cultural sensibilities that have been marketed as a political philosophy. This is nowhere more evident than the many children's books that have been published to fulfill a supposed need for "godly" kid-lit.

And then he reeled off a series of tweets, each showing four stunningly revolting covers. Here are the worst ones. 

Many are both WTF in terms of what they're about and how badly they're drawn:




A few of the covers are better drawn, but they're such cartoons of propaganda, it's hard to believe they don't see it as a parody:

And then there's Rush Limbaugh's series where he inserts himself into the past:


(Imagine the damage Limbaugh could have done if he traveled to the past.)

This cover was not one of the bad ones in terms of obvious political content…

…but here's what Sheffield says about the book:

The content of some of the books is terrible as well. The Pepe and Pede book is anti-Muslim propaganda and promotes white nationalist themes. It was written by a (since-fired) junior high assistant principal.

Well, obviously the content of all the books is terrible (not just the covers), but what he means is sometimes the cover hides the terrible content. In the case of Pepe, the linked article about its author describes the content this way:

[Pepe and Pede are] excited because Wishington Farm, where they live, has a new farmer in charge. After eight years of bad leadership, the friends are happy to finally enjoy everything the farm has to offer.

Their revelry is cut short when they find out their favorite pond is now a murky swamp ruled by the terrible alligator Alkah. The buddies use teamwork and honesty to take down Alkah and free his minions from their muddy chains. "With law and order now restored, this land was great again"....

A reader's interpretation ... will depend on their working knowledge of alt-right memes. Pepe the frog is a cartoon character ... that became an internet meme.... the alt-right adopted him as a symbol and mixed him with fascist imagery, and today both the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League recognize Pepe as a hate symbol.

Online fans of Donald Trump refer to themselves as centipedes. Alkah is a bearded alligator, his name is one letter off from Allah ... and ... his minions are ... covered in icky black mud [to] look like women in burqas.

Judge for yourself on that:

Not surprisingly, it sounds as though the book's author deceived the illustrator (who's Ukrainian and not totally up on alt-Right memes). She never saw the full manuscript.

All of these books are laughable, but they're also scary because they show that that Right has built an entirely separate, insulated publishing world. Are they being bought, and more important, are they being read to children? Are children reading them on their own?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Paul R. Williams

This story about architect Paul R. Williams came into my consciousness back in February, but didn't make it onto the blog until now. I saw it courtesy of the Los Angeles NBC affiliate, which teased it like this:

Imagine it's the 1940s and you've given years of your life to redesigning one of the most iconic hotels in the U.S. Imagine it's then hailed by your peers as a modern-day marvel. Now, imagine you're not even allowed to stay there because you're Black. 

The lettering on the sign is based on Williams' handwriting, according to his granddaughter.

Williams designed not just the Beverly Hills Hotel, but also the LA County Court House, the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue store, and many homes of the rich and famous.

But despite his genius vision, Williams still had to overcome the discrimination of clients who saw his race before his talent.

"He had a few things he would use just to help him to win them [clients] over," said Williams' granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson. "They got there and stopped in their tracks because they didn't realize he was Black, and they were ready to back out."

There were a few methods Williams would use to help persuade potential clients.  One of the most well-known was drawing upside down. Instead of sitting shoulder to shoulder with clients, Williams would sit across the table from them, asking questions about their vision. As the client described what they were wanting, he would sketch the design upside down.

"He would say, what's your vision, as you sat there across the desk from him," says Hudson. "He would sketch it upside down, and it would come alive before your eyes."

The video that accompanies the linked story has lots more details about him, his work, and images of his buildings.