Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Christmas Thing

800px-Christmas_tree_sxc_hu.jpg

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree#/media/File:Christmas_tree_sxc_hu.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0

Many folks prepare for the Christmas holiday for weeks; decorations, food preparation, and (of course) the frenzied shopping for gifts.  It is sometimes an orgy of consumerism, although thankfully, some people in the world have turned away from this (Join the Christmas Resistance!).  What has always bothered me about the holiday season is the push for people to get gifts at a specific time of the year, put on a happy face, and be in a jolly, giving (and forgiving) mode, and generally forgetting about the rest of the year.  This observation is brought up by more than a few folks, with admonitions and attempts to keep that “Christmas spirit” around at least past the second week of January.  Mostly, the hustle and bustle of modern life takes control at about the same time the Christmas trees are being tossed out, and society goes back to its regularly scheduled ways.

People do tend to get philosophical during the season, and yes, it is good that donations tick up a bit, and some people, at least for a short while, put aside their more selfish ways and thoughts.   Holidays can focus a community and family, and can remind us of what is important.   For sure, the various holiday specials and movies try to convince us of such.  As we like to say, “all well and good,” but our society still rockets along an unsustainable trajectory, with no happy ending in sight.

There are a few other holidays and dates that share idealistic worldviews, centered around specific ideas:

  • St. Valentine’s Day – about romance
  • Memorial Day – about remembering the fallen
  • The Fourth Of July – about remembering how we became independent
  • Labor Day – about the workers in society
  • Thanksgiving Day – about giving thanks for our family and fortune
  • Veteran’s Day – about remembering veterans
  • New Year’s Day – about new beginnings and new resolutions

There are others, of course, but these are the biggies.  One of the more modern ‘holidays’ is Earth Day, and likewise, it is centered on a specific idea; having people think about ecology, environmental protection, and our impact on the earth.   One of those snappy comebacks that my parents gave when we complained that “there is no Children’s Day!” (there is, of course) is that, “Every day is ‘Children’s Day.’   Likewise, there are those who have said the same about environmental protection; “Every day is Earth Day.”

It takes some wind out of your sails when you see people go to Earth Day, listen to speeches, and really think about their own environmental impact… and then go back to their own ways a few days or weeks later.   This isn’t to say that Christmas, Thanksgiving, Earth Day and so on should be banned.  But certainly, these events and holidays have been so hyped and warped by consumerism that we’ve lost track of the entire point of these days and holidays.

Questions:

  • How do we bring back the true meaning of Christmas, Earth Day, Thanksgiving, or any of our national or societal holidays?   How do we change the way we “celebrate” them?
  • Which holiday has been perverted the most?  The least?
  • How much success have we had in turning back consumerism during these yearly markers [kudos to REI for trying to turn back the tide on Black Friday, for example]?

 

 

 

Advertisements

The real heroes

generic_superhero.png
(Generic Superhero Logo)

Last week, it was noted that sometimes, people way up a the top of the food chain actually tell the truth, and “tell it like it is.”  This is in contrast to their usual modus operandi; they generally stay in power by telling whatever fairy tales are necessary to keep themselves in power.   In contrast, there are people who do honest work, and do work that has to be done right, or else people suffer.

In A Voice From The Gulag, by Ivan Chistyakov, recommended here, a wonderful bit of truth was quoted:

Observing an accident brigade repairing a broken train rail, he writes: “Silently and confidently, everyone does his bit and the passengers in the trains have no idea that their lives have been saved in this quiet, straightforward, businesslike, understated way. It’s a simple truth that, in many ways, people going about their daily work without a fuss are the real heroes.”

For those of who are doing your daily job, it is sometimes not easy to see the impact you have on the world, especially if it is something as “simple” as repairing broken rails and roads, making sure our drinking water is safe, or a zillion other things that need doing in our complex society.

Questions:

  • How do we celebrate and recognize real day-to-day heroes?
  • Could we ever lose the hero archetype in our culture, the “save the day” superhero that cartoons and histories champion?
  • When we believe in and celebrate superheros (or save-the-day kinds of heroes), rather than day-to-day ones, is this part of the same wish-fulfillment/hopium that thinks “Science/Technology will save us!” ?  It’s the plodding day-to-day ride-your-bike-to-work/don’t-take-airline-flights-halfway-around-the-world-for-fun-every-year sort of stuff that really needs to be done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recognition of reality

Original photo: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_House#/media/File:White_House_north_and_south_sides.jpg , ‘matrixed’ via funny.pho.to/matrix-image-generator/

It is a very rare thing, but from time to time, the occupant of the Oval Office will say something that resonates with the outlook of the Long Emergency.    The notion that the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can actually speak without obfuscation and political smoke and mirrors is novel, but it does happen.  Most of the time when presidents speak, they give us grand gestures, promises, and pie-in-the-sky platforms that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually solving the problems that need solving (perhaps because they are unsolvable problems (predicaments), rather than true problems).

In 2006, George W. Bush blew me away when he made the comment “we are addicted to oil.”  A stunning admission, especially coming from an oilman and a Texan.   Other presidents, from Nixon to Obama, have also mentioned oil,  as Jon Stewart (transcript) bravely/hilariously/sadly cataloged (video) years ago.

Donald Trump made a comment about recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and buried in his remarks, he stated, “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”  Now, if he (or anyone else) could wrap his head around the reality of our energy/financial/environmental situations, and say the same thing, we’d have something.

Eisenhower’s farewell speech is probably the most haunting, and the most prescient.   In a time when America was economically on top (and still exporting oil), he had these words:

As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Questions:

  • What other realities have politicians been blatantly obvious about?
  • When are politicians more likely to mention reality and unpleasant truths?  The higher up in office they go?  Only at the end of their term in office, as per Eisenhower?
  • Are politicians in other countries any more or less blunt?

If you want to search for bon mots of presidential truth, you can do so at the Miller Center of UVA.  Try searching on the terms “reality”, “hypocrisy”, “existential” versus terms like “hope” and “freedom”.  And, if you want to bring the Matrix effect to your images, go to  funny.pho.to/matrix-image-generator/.

 

 

Jevon’s Paradox, Ride Sharing, and Self-Driving Cars

1280px-NYC_Taxi_in_motion

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Taxi#/media/File:NYC_Taxi_in_motion.jpg

For the moment, forget about some of the things Uber has been accused/criticized of; its sky-high valuation, data breaches, very variable pricing, and general criticism in the financial press.  All those particular problems could, in theory, be rectified with new management and/or tweaking their business model.  The fact that they have a new CEO might mean they are trying to actually solve those problems.   Sure, on the whole, ride sharing is a nifty idea; why drive or take public transit when someone else can do it for cheaper than a taxi?  The idea of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services sounds great; you get what you want, when you want it, for cheaper, and faster.

Not so fast – and that may be literal.

Jevon’s Paradox (which makes people use more of something the cheaper it becomes) seems to be putting in artificial bumps in the road when it comes to these services.   Ride sharing services appear to be making gridlock worse.   Of course, ride sharing services make life easier for you for now (one of the articles below mentions a ride of over an hour on the DC Metro, vs 21 minutes in a ride share), but as these services proliferate (unless they start carpooling intensely), things may start to slow down.  Even worse, they may siphon off ridership from public transport, making a death spiral for buses, subways, and other forms of mass transit.   Here are a few articles on the topic:

http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2017/02/27/its-settled-uber-is-making-nyc-gridlock-worse/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/despise-your-commute-metro-uber-and-lyft-are-conspiring-to-make-it-worse/2017/12/04/cca0cebe-d915-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/upshot/is-uber-helping-or-hurting-mass-transit.html

https://www.thezebra.com/insurance-news/5339/uber-actually-make-traffic-worse/

Perhaps when people start paying the real amount of a ride-sharing ride, this effect will be reversed.   Subsidizing rides for market share can work for a short while, but unless you actually grab market share and stop subsidies, you’ll go broke.

https://www.fastcompany.com/4026256/investors-are-paying-2-billion-per-year-to-subsidize-your-uber-ride

Questions:

  • So, if (and that’s a big if), they figure out self-driving cars, what do you think will happen then?   Will the roads be clogged with self-driving cars?
  • What restrictions would you put on ride-sharing services, so that these problems are alleviated?
  • Surge pricing can cause a standard ride-share price to inflate significantly.  If local governments could take a bit of that very lucrative income and put it towards public transportation, would this help?
  • Just like BitCoin, the idea of ridesharing is an idea; there are thousands of cryptocurrencies, and a host of ridesharing companies.  Can the idea of a ride-sharing company be stopped?