Monday, December 31, 2018

Signs A Five Year Old Is Around

Well, she flew home with her parents yesterday.  But here are some signs.

Keep your seat  belt on as we go into 2019.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Time And Space - Looking at the Big Picture And Taking The Long Term View

As I said the other day (actually it was just yesterday) news stories fly by so fast and superficially, that there's hardly time to put all the pieces together.  We get random puzzle pieces, bits of news, then they either disappear or get thrown into a big messy pile.  So no wonder people don't understand much.  Any story that requires remembering sixteen other stories that whizzed past, won't have any more meaning than the headline or talking point used to frame it by whatever news outlet one attends to.

This LA Times opinion piece addresses Time Denial, Most of us are clueless about humanity’s place in the planet's long history. We need to learn 'timefulness'.  The author is Marcia Bjornerud, a professor of geosciences at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Antipathy toward time rooted in the very human combination of vanity and existential dread is perhaps the most forgivable type of chronophobia. But more dangerous forms of time denial pervade our society. Fiscal years and congressional terms enforce a blinkered view of the future. Short-term thinkers are rewarded with bonuses and reelection, while those who dare to take seriously our responsibility to future generations find themselves out of office. Even two years of forethought seem beyond the capacity of legislators these days, when stop-gap spending measures have become the norm. Institutions that do aspire to the long view — state and national parks, public libraries and universities — are increasingly seen as taxpayer burdens. . . 
. . . We lack a sense of temporal proportion — the durations of the great chapters in Earth’s history, the rates of change during previous intervals of climate instability, the intrinsic time-scales of “natural capital” like groundwater systems.
We are, in effect, time illiterate, and this ignorance of planetary time undermines any claims we may make to modernity. We are navigating recklessly toward our future using conceptions of time as primitive as the pre-Copernican view of the universe. We think we’re the center of it all, unable to see either the past or future in proper perspective.
Another LA Times story, by Susanne Rust, tries to be timeful, after this year of horrific California fires,  to look at the history of fires and other catastrophic events in California:
In 1860, a young botanist raised in New York and schooled in Connecticut found himself on the payroll of the newly formed California Division of Mines and Geology. His job: Roam the vast, new state, taking samples and observations of plants and animals.
Over four years journeying across California, William Brewer witnessed torrential rains that turned the Central Valley into a vast, white-capped lake; intolerable heat waves that made the “fats of our meats run away in spontaneous gravy;” violent earthquakes; and fires he described as “great sheets of flame, extending over acres.”
He, like explorers, journalists and settlers before him, wondered whether people could permanently settle in California, said David Igler, a professor of history at UC Irvine.
“People were flabbergasted by what was happening,” said Igler, referring to the droughts, floods and quakes of the mid-1800s. “They wondered whether this was a place where we could even really settle and where agriculture could be maintained.”
She writes about how the Indians who inhabited California lived in small groups that moved around and practiced controlled burns until the Spanish outlawed them.  The Spanish.  They were the landlords of California for a while before the US kicked them out through force and violence.  But that's another historical amnesia when we talk about immigration.   

And I began this morning working my way through another chapter of Seth Abramson's Proof of Collusion.  That's a book that tries to put all the pieces together in the Trump-Russia collusion story.  I've posted about that book already. It's an example of taking years of news stories and organizing them into sensible, in depth, cohesive organization of the facts.   In the chapter today he writes about how Michael Cohen was a school boy friend of Felix Sater, who immigrated with his family from the Soviet Union when he was eight.  

Abramson's book averages about five or six footnotes per page, so even Abramson is only telling us part of the story, but surely a lot more than most of us know despite the non-stop reports interspersed with click-bait and stories about the homeless, immigrants, murders, football players, weekly movie box-office earnings, and other relatively random bits of infotainment.  So I checked footnote 78 from that chapter - a September 2017 article in the Nation on Felix Sater, by Bob Dreyfuss.

"Of all the characters caught up in Russiagate, none come close to Sater for having a decades-long record as a larger-than-life, outside-the-law, spy agency-linked wheeler-dealer from the pages of a John le Carré novel. His past record includes a conviction for lacerating a man’s face with a broken margarita glass in a bar brawl and his involvement in a multimillion-dollar stock fraud and money-laundering scheme. Despite that record, which came before he worked with Trump, Sater spent nearly a decade working with the Trump Organization in search of deals in Russia and other former Soviet republics. But on August 28, Sater made the front pages of the Times and The Washington Post, thanks to leaked copies of e-mails that he sent in late 2015 and early 2016 to Cohen, concerning Sater’s efforts to work with a group of Russian investors to set up a flagship Trump property in the Russian capital.
In language that Cohen himself described to the Times as “colorful,” Sater seemed nearly beside himself as he reported on his work in Moscow on behalf of Trump:
“'Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” wrote Sater. “I will get all of [Vladimir] Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.… I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.” Echoing a line that would later become Trump’s own description of why he and Putin might get along, Sater wrote that the Russian leader “only wants to deal with a pragmatic leader, and a successful business man is a good candidate for someone who knows how to deal.'”
Netflix and Prime and HBO should be doing these stories now, when they can make a difference.  These characters and their misbehavior are as colorful and bizarre as anything they have up now.  And learning about who all these people are now would help Congress members and voters understand how outrageous the Republic Congress' lack of integrity is.

All the President's Men - the Watergate tale - came out in June 1974 - not quite two months before Nixon resigned.  The movie didn't come out until 1976.

Proof of Collusion came out November 13, 2018.  But the Trump story is much less focused than the Watergate burglary.  Trump's tentacles go out long into the past.  His crimes and corruptions are myriad.  His ties to Russia, Ukraine, and other nations - through his obsessions with putting up giant phallic buildings with with his name on them - require much more patience and attention from readers and viewers.  And Bernstein and Woodward were better known as the two reporters who had been keeping the story alive.

But you can read Proof of Collusion online. There's an audio book.  Simon and Schuster is offering a free book if you sign up for their email list.  (The link takes you to the Proof of Collusion page.  I didn't follow the link to see if PoC is one of the books available free.)

Yes, long term, comprehensive knowledge packaged so that United States consumers of news can make sense of what is happening - in detail - is severely lacking.  Instead of presenting the United States viewers with the picture of the completed puzzle (like on the box of jigsaw puzzles), or even sections of the puzzle as the pieces get pieced together, we get shown on piece at a time and little or none of how it fits into the larger picture.

The optimistic view of all this would be that technology has been changing so fast we haven't yet figured out how to slow down and get decent journalism for most people.  Newspapers, trying to survive, are fighting for survival and clicks, and that eventually we'll figure this all out.  More pessimistically, that hacking and trolling is taking us down the path to a version of  Orwell's 1984. Just a few decades later than Orwell predicted.

You want more?  An obvious part of the problem of getting the big picture is follow up of stories.  So here's a video that was posted two days ago - a talk by Robert Tibbo, Edward Snowden's attorney in Hong Kong who is also the attorney for the refugees in Hong Kong who hid Snowden while he was there.  It seems the Hong Kong bar association has created trumped up charges against Tibbo and are trying to disbar him.  He tells us that they demand information from him, but the complaint against him is from an anonymous source and they refuse to give him any details.

I'd note that I lived in Hong Kong for a year when the British were still in charge.  While it was nominally a democracy, people didn't have a whole lot of power compared to many democracies.  Today  it is part of China and the special protections Hong Kong people thought they'd gotten before they were handed back by the British, have little meaning.  The fact that the bar association is doing what the government wants it to do is hardly surprising.  China doesn't treat lawyers or anyone opposing them with much respect.  Tibbo's arguments here are based on bar association standards in Western countries.  I didn't hear him citing any Hong Kong rules or laws (though I may have missed it.)  That's not to belittle his situation or his valiant efforts on behalf of his clients.  But it suggests this video is aimed at the West, particularly Canada (his home) whose government is also dragging its feet in accepting this refugees.

Here's a Montreal article about Tibbo.  It gives more background on Tibbo's life and legal career in Hong Kong.  I can't figure out the date, but it seems to be much closer to when Snowden was in Hong Kong.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Science Stories 2019 -Space, Metric System, Antarctica, Opioids, Periodic Table, Climate Lawsuit, Moon, Gene Editing, Gun Research

We get so much news, so fast, and so superficially covered, that it's hard to separate the trivial from the truly significant.  We knew, back in 1969, that landing on the moon was a major change for human beings in their relationship with space and with humans' self image.  But today such earth-shattering (certainly in a figurative sense the moon landing was) events whiz by our consciousness.*

So I'm offering you some predictable science events coming up this next year as outlined by Deborah Netburn, Melissa Healy, Julia Rosen in the LATimes today under the title, "Nine stories to watch in the new year."  Of course, the article itself has a lot more details on each project/event.  And it has cool pictures too.

I'm going to put this list on the refrigerator, so when these become news stories, I will remember they were coming and have a more holistic sense of them all together.  And I can add other key stories that aren't on this list.  

1.  New Horizons pays historic visit to Ultima Thule: While you’re sipping champagne this New Year’s Eve, a spacecraft 4 billion miles from Earth will be making history.
2.  "Redefining the metric system: On May 20, the international metrology community will change the definitions of four basic units of measurement: the kilogram (mass), the Kelvin (temperature), the mole (amount) and the ampere (electrical current)."
3.  "Antarctica gets ready for its close-up: It’s summer in Antarctica, which means it’s the season for science. In January, two big expeditions will begin to explore pressing questions about how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is changing — and what that means for the rest of the planet."
Sorry, can't skip this comment from the Antarcica story without my own comment:
"In addition, scientists will “collaborate” with seals by outfitting them with monitoring equipment that gathers data as they forage."
Even with the quotes around collaborate, this is still misleading.  They are using seals to further their research.  Whether the actual experiment is ethical or not, using 'collaborate' makes it sound much more like the seals are eagerly in on this and getting something out of it too.  (And the research may well be intended to help the seals long term, but the seals surely are not willing collaborators.)

4.  "New ways to prevent opioid abuse: The statistics of opioid dependency and death remain grim. And let’s not sugarcoat this: The data suggest things will probably get worse before they get better. In 2019, government agencies, health policy experts and medical researchers will be looking for ways to change the trajectory of this American crisis."
5.  "The periodic table turns 150: It’s time to step back and appreciate one of the great marvels of science. That’s why the United Nations has designated 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table.
The choice wasn’t arbitrary: 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the theory around which the table is organized. Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev discovered the cyclical pattern — or periodicity — in how the elements behave as they increase in atomic weight." 
If subtracting 150 from 2019 is a challenge, that gets us back to 1869.  So, no, Abraham Lincoln never heard of the Periodic Table because he was assassinated in 1865.
6.  "Youth climate lawsuit may finally go to trial: A landmark climate lawsuit has been inching closer to trial for four years. And in 2019, it may get its day in federal court at last — unless judges toss the case once and for all.
The suit was brought by 21 young people who say the U.S. government is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels in spite of the dangers posed by climate change." 
7.  "A traffic jam on the moon: If you thought going to the moon was passe, think again.  In 2019, China, India and Israel are all expected to land unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface, while NASA steps up its efforts to return a human crew to the moon by 2028."
8.  "How to move forward with gene editing: Few were expecting that 2018 would see the birth of twin girls whose DNA had been edited in the lab when they were just days-old embryos. But it did, and now the scientific and bioethical questions raised by gene editing promise to be front and center in 2019."
9.  "Will money start pouring in for gun research? If the trend continues, the coming year will bring more school shootings and more mass shootings. And those will keep the complex of related issues — gun access and storage, mental health and violence prevention — front and center.
Philanthropies have responded to nearly 20 years of federal funding limits on firearms research with new private investments , and that money has begun to nurture a generation of public health researchers with expertise in these subjects."
*As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the late sixties, I watched the moon-landing in a Thonburi classroom.  That was one event that garnered plenty of attention in - then - far away Thailand.  But I learned during those years that not hearing the US daily news wasn't that big a deal.  Things that were truly important, I would learn about.  The rest - like car crashes and routine murders - were just variations of the same story with different details that I really didn't need to know.  Exceptions like the Sharon Tate murder, I did find out about eventually.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Mar Vista Wall Art

I Biked over to the Mar Vista post office yesterday and there was a surprising number of murals on the way.  

It's cool that artists can tag their work now and you can find them easily online.  Unfortunately I wasn't paying enough attention when I took the pictures and I didn't get all their links.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Article Not Quite Accurate When Comparing California And Alaska [Pot] Taxes

This might seem like a post on pot, it's really a post on journalism and packaging information.  A chart comparing pot taxes and a sentence referencing Alaska caught my attention in this Los Angeles Times article
"One year of legal pot sales and California doesn’t have the bustling industry it expected. Here’s why"

LA Times reports marijuana business in California is below expectations.

The second paragraph offers a list of reasons:

"But as the first year of licensed sales comes to a close, California’s legal market hasn’t performed as state officials and the cannabis industry had hoped. Retailers and growers say they’ve been stunted by complex regulations, high taxes and decisions by most cities to ban cannabis shops. At the same time, many residents are going to city halls and courts to fight pot businesses they see as nuisances, and police chiefs are raising concerns about crime triggered by the marijuana trade."

The article also has this chart comparing taxes in various states.

Chart from LA Times article

It's not clear from this chart exactly how Alaska's cultivation tax translates into a way to compare with California's sales and excise tax and its cultivation tax (1/5 of Alaska's) impact on prices.  It also leaves out the fact that local governments may add their own tax on marijuana.
  • So I did a quick comparison to an Anchorage store and an LA store to see their on-line prices.  :

    Anchorage - Alaska's Green Light District


     Headband - By Parallel 64                       1G  $18
  • Cinderella Dream - By Parallel 64  
  • Pineapple Dream - By Parallel 64   

LA's The Pottery offers:

Happy House (s) - KNBIS  1/8 = $52   (says it includes all taxes, though there's a 10% charge for credit cards)

Cherry Sherbert - Passiflora (S)  1/8 = $50loc

Cherry AK (S/H)  Glass House  1/8 $50

[I just picked a store online near me where I'm staying in LA, and an Anchorage store that popped up online. Alaska stores have to use Alaska grown pot so I really don't think I can compare 'brands' like I could with, say, soft drinks.  But I picked Sativas.    These links probably won't last long as products and prices change.  Here's a guide to the quantities pot is sold in.]

There's one reference to Alaska in the text:

"With nearly a tenth of the population of California, that state has more licensed cannabis shops — 601. On a per capita basis, Alaska has also approved more pot shop licenses than California, — 94 so far. The state imposes a tax on cultivation, but there is no retail excise tax on pot."
First, Alaska approved pot in 2014, it went into effect in February 2015 and the first pot shop opened in October 2016.  

California voters didn't legalize pot until two years later.  The first legal recreational pot shop didn't open until January 2018.

So Alaska had a two year head start on California.  So it should have more licensed shops.  Also it took nine months longer than California to work out its regulations and have the first shops open, so maybe that meant fewer problems.  Though a less populated and more isolated state is probably easier to regulate.

I'd also point out that last sentence, while factual, may leave the sense that the lack of retail taxes might make a difference on prices.  As my quick comparison shows, if there is a difference, it's probably not significant.  It also doesn't mention that in Alaska local jurisdictions may tax marijuana.

What's notable about Alaska (state) marijuana taxes is that it is based solely on volume, not price.  

The other issues listed in the article - local resistance, excess regulation, the illegal market - probably are bigger issues than the taxes in California.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

King Tut

My daughter had gotten tickets for the King Tut exhibit at LA's California Science Center.  This was the Museum of Science and Industry when I was a kid.

Here's part of the old facade.

It was all pretty overwhelming.

The Mercury capsule that took the US' first chimpanzee into space is there.

So is the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

The museum itself is free - in contrast to the Science Center in San Francisco.  So that means a lot of lower income families can come in and experience all he exhibits.   And during this holiday break, it was very crowded.

I'm still trying to process the exquisite craftsmanship of the items buried in Tutankhamen's tomb in 1300 BC.  It was really kind of crazy in the darkened rooms full of people and baby strollers crowding around the glass display boxes.

`But I thought I' share a little bit here while I think about it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

So Many Good Movies On Line - This Is A Golden Age - My Favorites For 2018 On Netflix

We only have Netflix.  They have more good movies and shows than we could ever watch.  Truly this is a Golden Age of film.  Not everything is perfect, but there is so many films that offer something worth watching - whether it's great cinematography, great story telling, great acting, great writing, or ideas worth considering.

And there are lots of ways to find the good stuff, For instance someone tweeted a link to this list of art related documentaries.  Fortunately, only a few are on Netflix.

Various sites tell you what's new or what's best or what's leaving Netflix 'this month'.  Just google. I'm finding lots of great foreign films (an ethnocentric way of saying made by someone other than a US citizen).  Some show up in Netflix's lists for me, though Netflix seems to think that no one wants to watch non-English films so they never say in their descriptions "Danish language."  I'm sure I've missed shows I would have watched because I didn't realize it was not made in the US.

Here are some really stellar shows and movies I can think of off the top of my head:

Occupied - this is a truly gripping tv show from Norway.  The Norwegians have discovered an alternative source of energy and have told the European Union they are shutting down their oil production.  The Russians send troops in to occupy Norway and the EU, concerned about their energy source, doesn't object too seriously.  Tense!

Babylon Berlin - a German tv show that takes place in pre-Hitler Berlin.  Great characters, stories, and history.

Fauda - an Israeli tv show about a counter terror unit that doesn't glorify the Israelis and doesn't paint the Palestinians just negatively.  Though it's told from the Israeli perspective and I suspect most viewers will be rooting for them.  But they will see the cruelty and humanity on both sides.

The Good Place - A US show that features a lot of philosophy, humor, and thoughts about the meaning of heaven and hell and being a good person.  Very well done, very funny.

Mr. Sunshine - Not quite as high quality as some of the others, but this Korean series offers a look at a period of history I knew nothing about - as the Japanese and US spar over Korea.   A little more romantic, but interesting characters and a different world view.  And a very good story.

Atypical - The world as seen by a high school kid on the Autistic Spectrum.  Well worth watching this US show.  Funny and enlightening.

Hannah Gadsby - Nanette - This Australian comedian starts out telling jokes like any other stand-up and then somewhere along the way it all changes and becomes one of the most powerful standup act I've ever seen.  This is just a single show, won't take up that much of your time and it will suck you into something you didn't expect.

Sense8 - This show has about eight people living in different parts of the world - US, Mexico, Iceland, India, Germany, Korea, Kenya - who are all connected in a bizarre way.  This series follows how they discover each other and help each other.  Well made and worth watching because the concept is so unique and you connect with people in a variety of countries and sexual orientations.

13 Reasons Why -  I decided to try out the first episode because there were stories that Netflix was going to take it down.  I'd thought it was a documentary about teen suicide, but it isn't.  It's a fictional story about a high school girl who leaves a set of 13 tapes and instructions for who should listen to them in what order.  As I recall, each episode is a different tape as we find out what was happening in her life and the complex lives of the kids and parents in her world.  Gripping and original story telling.  And enlightening.

Dear White People - We see the world through the eyes of the black students at a predominantly white college.  Dear White People is a radio show one of he black students airs that talks about things that normally don't get talked about across races.

Gracie and Frankie - Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are friends only because their husbands Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston have been good friends.  In the first episode, the men take the women to dinner to tell them they want divorces because they are lovers and have been for 30 years and now they want to get married.  The two women, who never liked each other much, now have to learn to share the two families' joint beach house.  This is a funny show, with characters in their 70s, and was a great way to dispel the tension after watching an episode of Occupied or Babylon Berlin.  The characters are NOT poor people.

All but the Hannah Gadsby comedy special are series.  I suspect they stick in my mind more because I saw a lot of episodes over a period of time.  Enjoy this feast of great film.  This is just 2018.  A good year.  Not sure all of these are still available, but enough are.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Stroll On Venice Pier

It was a hazy day.  People were in shorts and t-shirts.  People had sweatshirts and winter coats.

Below us the surfers were catching waves.

There were lots of birds on the pier hoping for handouts from the humans.

Or posing for the photographers.

Then we made some sand castles on the beach.  A good day to be out and about with the family.   

Sunday, December 23, 2018

About Pulling Out Of Syria

[I'm thinking out loud here, trying to bring disparate thoughts together.  Bear with me.]

It's not at all clear to me the costs and benefits of the US having troops in Syria.  I think finding ways to pull out of places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and ending support of the Saudi war in Yemen are important goals.

Ro Khanna, a Democratic member of congress from California, in this Washington Post piece,  supports President Trump's instinct to pull out of Syria, though he argues we need to do it in a way better coordinated with our allies, and in a way that uses leverage over Turkey's Erdogan that keeps him from massacring Kurds in the area.

He also mentions,
"We have spent more money in Afghanistan than we did in the Marshall Plan and continue to spend more than $40 billion each year."
The Marshall Plan helped Western Europe rebuild after the destruction of WW II.  It help lift their economy so Western Europe could help us defend against the Soviet Union as the Cold War ramped up and so they could buy American products, which helped repay what we spent.

Imagine $40 billion a year.  What could the US have spent that money on?  Helping with education and economic development in Central America so that the people there could make a living and build safe lives, so they wouldn't feel the need to flee over the US border.

Think of the US veterans who wouldn't be suffering from PTSD and other serious ailments, not to mention missing body parts.  War is only good for people who make money selling guns, planes, tanks, technology, and all the support items needed for soldiers to live and fight and die.

Think about all the fossil fuel that would not have been used. And how global warming would have been a little bit slower.   The Union of Concerned Scientists write:
"The U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world. Every year, our armed forces consume more than 100 million barrels of oil to power ships, vehicles, aircraft, and ground operations—enough for over 4 million trips around the Earth, assuming 25 mpg."
According to Wired, $40 billion a year is only 2/3 of what's needed to rebuild our infrastructure.
" $1 trillion sounds great, but it ain't enough, not if the country wants to keeping fixing roads ten years down the line. According a US Department of Transportation report, just maintaining current highways and bridges through 2030 will cost a cool $65.3 billion—per year. That’s being conservative."

You get the point.  If the Soviet Union, which borders Afghanistan could take control, how can the US do it from half-way around the world away?

Unfortunately, few people, and I know this includes many members of congress, don't have a comprehensive understanding of the factors involved in wars like the ones we're involved in.  We originally went to Afghanistan to punish those who killed 2,955 people on 9/11, 2605 of whom were American citizens.

Brown University's Cost of War study offers this summary of what we've unleashed* in return:

  • Over 480,000 have died due to direct war violence, and several times as many indirectly
  • Over 244,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
  • 21 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
  • The US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is over $5.9 trillion dollars
  • The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries
  • The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad
*I say 'unleashed' because the US forces didn't kill all these civilians, but the wars we've engaged in have.

Saddam Hussein was a ruthless leader.  Getting actual figures of the number of people his regime killed - civilians and and conscripted soldiers - is not easy.  As I look, numbers range in the hundreds of thousands - at least 300,000 and probably significantly more than that.  Some sources:

Surely, there are people alive who wouldn't be if we hadn't invaded Iraq.  But there are also people who are dead, who wouldn't be if we hadn't invaded Iraq.

I'd note this Brookings Institute (a liberal leaning think tank) prediction from 2002 about the costs of getting into a war with Iraq which I found while getting data for this post:
An invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein would likely cost the United States about $50 billion, though it could plausibly range from $25 billion to $75 billion or so, with likely annual U.S. costs of maintaining order in Iraq ranging from $5 billion to $20 billion for a number of years thereafter. The latter costs of winning the peace, and associated wear and tear on American military personnel, may actually turn out to be a greater concern than the one-time cost of winning the war.
If only it had been so 'cheap.'

My point is, again, that the number of people who actually have looked closely at all the costs and benefits - economic, human, political, opportunity costs - is relatively few.  I'm not in that group.

It's clear to me though, that the money spent "fighting terrorism" could have been better spent creating opportunities for human beings - education, health care, economic development.  These kinds of initiatives would have created positive changes in people's lives and put the United States and the world in a much better place than it is now.

It's time people went back and read some of the old stories we were supposed to learn simple truths from.  For instance the story of B'rer Rabbit and the Tar Baby might be an apt story for the United States' war on terrorism.

I'd note that many such old stories are seen today as sexist or racist.  I suspected people hadfound reason to question the Uncle Remus stories.  So  I checked and they have.  But it's hard not to be racist if you grow up in the United States even today.  Joel Chandler Harris was born just before the Civil War in the South, so surely he had lots of racist tendencies.  But all that considering, it seems he was pretty progressive for his times, and the Uncle Remus stories seem to be a tribute to an old black slave Harris looked up to.  See this Pittsburgh Gazette article on Harris' life.

In The Unbelievably Racist World of Classic Children's Lit,   Malcolm Jones writes:
"The case of Joel Chandler Harris is particularly relevant in this regard. A lifelong southerner and an Atlanta newspaper editor (and incidentally a friend of Twain’s), Harris was probably as enlightened as a white person could be in his time and place. If you read his Uncle Remus stories, you’ll see that to Harris, Uncle Remus was a hero. He’s certainly the smartest and kindest person, black or white, in the narrative that frames the folk tales collected by the author from former slaves.
More important, had Harris not collected those folktales, we almost surely would have missed much of a vast trove of oral storytelling (“our most precious piece of stolen goods,” Twain called them—so that’s what we were getting away with!), because before Harris, no one else had the sense to realize how wonderful those stories were, much less that they should be recorded for posterity. Whatever sins he may have been guilty of, Harris knew at least that much. James Weldon Johnson called the 185 stories published by Harris 'the greatest body of folklore America has produced.'”  
He's not as kind to Disney's Song of the South, from which this clip was taken.

None of this changes my belief that the sooner we get Trump out of the presidency the better for the world and the United States.  And the Republicans who have had control of both houses of Congress since Trump became president, share the blame, because they haven't done their job as a check on the criminal* who is in the White House.

*I think that anyone who looks at the Trump organization and Trump objectively has to acknowledge that he has abused our laws repeatedly.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Scooter & Bike Shares And Other Transportation Around Venice And Santa Monica - Updated

Over the last couple of years when we visited LA, I've notice the scooter thing.  First it was my bewilderment at seeing scooters just sitting, seemingly abandoned, on the bike trail along the beach.

The bikes had stations like this one, where you could use your phone to rent a bike and you had to return it to another station.

But the electric scooters had gps and could be left anywhere and rented anywhere you found one.

This didn't go without controversy.  People complained about scooters menacing pedestrians or being abandoned where they block sidewalks.  There have been reports of vandalism against the abandoned scooters.

The picture shows two Jump scooters (Uber) and a Bird scooter.  I've seen Lyme and Lyft scooters as well.

When the bike trail along the beach goes from Venice (a neighborhood that is actually in Los Angeles) to Santa Monica (a separate city), there's the sign banning scooters.

I've seen some scooters left there at the border,

like this Bird and the others in the background just before this sign.

But I also see a lot of folks riding their electric scooters along the Santa Monica beach bike trail.

Two riders on this scooter.

An electric skateboard.

 An electric mini bike.

Selfie bikers

A speed biker overtakes someone just cruising along.

Non-motorized tricycles.

 Just for fun I'm adding in a couple of forms of transportation that don't actually take you anywhere - the rollercoaster on the Santa Monica pier,

and this guy who was swinging so high and for so long that I was wondering if he was chemically high as well.

And a non-motorized race to the top.   

Besides the beach, there are lots and lots of people riding around the streets of Venice and Santa Monica on these scooters and bikes.  I think it's a great idea whose time hasn't actually come yet.  That is - the streets, bike trails, and sidewalks aren't geared for all these different vehicles going at different speeds.  The idea that you can pick up an easy means of short transport - say two or three miles or less - and just leave it where you end up, is a great alternative to the car.  And a great connector from buses to your final destination.

People are working out how to do this without endangering pedestrians or blocking people's way.

Here are some Jump scooters that found a good spot to park, not far from my Mom's house.

I think this could be a big part of everyone's future.  We just need to redesign streets to accommodate these slower options.  I'm a bit concerned by the lack of helmets among riders.  I haven't seen anyone crash yet, but I've seen a few people looking scared as they come around a curve faster than they were ready for.  

And I'm not sure what the City of Santa Monica intends to do about motorized scooters on the beach bike trails. There sure doesn't seem to be any enforcement at the moment.   When rules are not enforced and then suddenly enforced or selectively enforced, they're a lot easier to challenge.  

I don't know what's happening in the rest of the LA area.  I suspect because of the beach, Venice and Santa Monica have more scooters, but I'm not sure.  I haven't noticed them much when we've been out of the area.  

[UPDATE Dec 22, 2018 7:50 pm - well, it seems the scooters are doing well in the Westwood area where we had a Persian dinner tonight.  

It turns out there's a company doing the same thing with electric cars.  My granddaughter and I passed this place this morning near the Santa Monica Saturday market. 

I looked up Ioniq and got this website for Waive cars.  It says you get the app, locate a car nearby, book it, and drive it for two hours FREE!  They say they make their money from advertising.  After two hours it costs $5.99 per hour.]  There were six or seven more in this lot.]