Freedom Toast

Everyone loves Paris this week, but during the US invasion of Iraq, I was in a community theatre musical in Connecticut. At the cast party some of my castmates made a big deal of having wines that weren’t from France. Those were the days of saying, “freedom fries,” instead of, “french fries,” because we were all supposed to be pissed off at France for not supporting the coalition of the willing. Republican Chairman Bob Ney even had french fries and french toast renamed on the menus at Congressional cafeterias.

But now, all is forgiven. Over a hundred Parisians and tourists have died for our willingness to invade the wrong country, destabilize the region, and fund and arm the terrorists that have become ISIS, ISIL, Da’esh or whatever they are called now.

The rest of us will live under increased surveillance, anxiety and fear.

The Economy is Less Bad For Some, Still Bad For Others

FiveThirty-Eight offers a thoughtful article with a misleading title: The Economy is Better. Why Don’t Voters Believe It?

This is one of the central paradoxes of the 2016 presidential campaign. The economy is, by virtually any measure, drastically improved from when President Obama took office nearly seven years ago. And yet poll after poll reveals a national electorate that is deeply skeptical of that progress. In one recent Wall Street Journal poll, more than half of voters said the economic and political system was “stacked against people like me.” That sense of alienation has fueled the insurgent candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders, and led even establishment candidates to emphasize inequality, middle-class stagnation and related issues.

I write ‘misleading’ because FiveThirty-Eight answers their own question, but refuses to accept it.

The easiest explanation for this paradox is that it isn’t a paradox at all: Americans are pessimistic about the economy because, for many of them, the economy hasn’t gotten better. Unemployment is down, but incomes are flat. Millions of Americans left the labor force in the recession and haven’t returned. Millions more are stuck in low-wage jobs or are working part time because they can’t find full-time work.

Since the Great Recession, hardly anyone trusts the people that tell us the economy is great (cough, Jim Cramer, cough, Ben Stein, cough). We don’t even believe Robert Reich when he tells us that we can grow our way out of debt.

Many of us are spending more on necessities, and giving up luxuries. Many of us know people that are essentially unemployed, living off relatives, and abusing alcohol, meth, even heroin. One might dismiss them as ne’er-do-wells, but most of these people used to have good jobs.

FiveThirty-Eight goes on to show us all sorts of people that are doing well – but so what. I know some people that are doing well. I just know more that aren’t.

Older Bike, Younger Knees

In April I wrote about experiencing more and more knee pain after several years of riding my 2004 Xootr Swift increasingly longer distances, and more frequently, to work. One of the problems was that the clamps holding the saddle weren’t tight enough. Even if I got the saddle at the right height after unfolding, it could slowly slide down while I was riding. Fixing the saddle at the proper height with a clamp, was an improvement – but not enough.

In August, I heard/felt a noise from the rear wheel. I saw that a three inch segment of the Swift’s rear rim was pushing out and grabbing the pad during every rotation. While Light St Cycles was working on that in Baltimore, I had my 1988 Trek 1100, a full size road bike, refurbished at Pedal Power in Altoona. I brought the Trek to Baltimore and started riding it to and from work. The dimensions of the Trek are almost identical to those of my custom-fit Serotta, and I soon noticed that my knees weren’t hurting after commuting on the Trek every day.

A cycling buddy at work advised me that saddle height was important, but so were ‘stack’ and ‘reach’ – which define the distance from the pedal hub to the handlebars. I measured, and the Swift’s reach is much shorter than my other bikes. I could have tried a much longer handlebar stem, but instead I have just continued to ride the Trek.

Fortunately I now ride the light rail early, and there are so few passengers that I no longer need a folding bike in the morning. The Trek is not as compact as a folded Swift, but does fit under my desk. And since I ride home, I don’t have to deal with a crowded train at rush hour.

It has been well over a month since I felt any knee pain at all. I now have the Swift setup with grocery bags for one mile rides to the nearby stores, but ride the old Trek to and from work.

A Near Miss

I got up this first workday morning back on Eastern Standard Time, at the same time by the clock, but an hour later in reality. I biked to the light rail station, and caught the usual train, which was unusually empty. “To work, James,” I said to the empty car.

After getting off at Convention Center, I always pass a dignified woman of a certain age walking the other way, then wait for the train operator to either ring the bell or wave me by the tracks. This morning the train went first. After it passed, the light on Howard changed to red, and I got a crossing signal. It was still dark, and I always wait to see if the drivers are really going to stop. A city bus braked in the lane closest to me, and a car slowed just behind in the third lane away. Usually that would have been good enough for me to start across the six lanes to the Convention Center sidewalk, but for some reason I hesitated.

Several seconds after the light changed a nondescript white sedan shot out from between the stopped bus and the stopped car. I watched it go by and felt very lucky. Even with my three front lights and reflective jacket, the driver would not have seen me around the bus until too late, and would not have had time to stop before broadsiding me in the crossing lane.

Later, Penny told me that a couple riding a tandem on Tobacco Road in Calvert County, at 3 PM, had been struck and killed by a Jeep Cherokee driven by a drunk driver. Link here. She was incensed that the driver was out on bail.

1493 Day

Charles Mann followed up his 2006 book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in 2012, with 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which is about the global impact of Europeans finding another New World to exploit.

In a similar vein at The Intercept, Jon Schwartz writes, COLUMBUS DAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF EVERY YEAR:

Columbus’ landfall in the Western Hemisphere was the opening of Europe’s conquest of essentially all of this planet. By 1914, 422 years later, European powers and the U.S. controlled 85 percent of the world’s land mass.

White people didn’t accomplish this by asking politely. As conservative Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington put it in 1996, “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

1492 Day

I have to admit a fondness for Columbus Day because my old boss Joe Vaghi used to let us take the day off. He was usually busy with the Columbus Day parade, and figured if he wasn’t around to watch us we wouldn’t work anyway. Tom, Hank and I did talk a lot more when he wasn’t around. None of my other bosses have given me that day.

Indigenous Peoples Day is a mouthful of a name for a holiday, and Native Americans Day is just as clumsy. Besides that, I was wondering if the holiday’s name could commemorate both European explorers and indigenous Americans.

So I nominate, “1492 Day.”

At Talking Points Memo, Ben Railton tells us the meaning behind granting a holiday for the Italians, explains the mythologizing of Columbus and suggests some other explorers that might be deserving of remembrance:

Among scholars and students of American history, the the figure to commemorate would be Bartolomé de las Casas, the Spanish diplomat-turned-priest who accompanied Columbus and other explorers to the Americas but who became over time both a vocal opponent of the European treatment of indigenous peoples and an advocate for those peoples’ rights and voices. In works such as his seminal Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552), las Casas documented, fiercely critiqued and challenged European practices of enslavement, exploitation and genocide, offering a vital alternative narrative not only of the exploration era, but of European perspectives in and on that initial post-contact period.

Will clean diesels survive the VW scandal?

Several years ago, I blogged about so-called “clean” diesels. I concluded that they were cleaner than previous diesels, but even so emitted too many fine particles. Though HVO seems fairly safe, other bio-based diesel fuel often emits too much nitric oxide. In short, the simple and reliable diesel engine has to be made much more complicated to meet emission standards.

As an alternative to building gasoline-electric hybrids, German automakers like Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen embraced that complexity, and some of their diesel models even won green vehicle awards. In addition to German diesels, American drivers can usually buy diesel versions of full size pickup trucks, Chevrolet and Jeep offer diesel passenger vehicles, and Mazda was thinking about bringing their SkyActiv diesels to the US.

But it has now been revealed that Volkswagen installed what is called a defeat device in their software that would make their diesel engines run cleaner during an emissions test, but then allow them to run dirtier and cheaper at all other times. In what has to be a criminal conspiracy, VW group is now exposed to tens of billions of dollars of penalties and their stock has plummeted. Current owners of VW and some Audi TDI diesels back to 2009 are facing recalls and sales of 2015 and 2016 models are on hold. Other manufacturers will face increased scrutiny.

Even though I have come to see the widespread use of automobiles as an environmental hazard, I’ve generally been a fan of German car design, so this rankles me more than the GM or Toyota design failures.

Now stepping back, can we believe that burning fossil fuels in cars or smokestacks can really be made clean?


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