Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Alternative to Screaming

We have too many guns. The NRA is no longer functioning as a rational organization, and is instead acting as a single issue shill for a right that does not exist to trump all others. We exist in society, and our society is much more densely populated and much more diverse than it was 240 years ago. There are many more chances for interpersonal friction, and it is far too easy to resort to a gun when these encounters arise. We need to make this harder. We need to somehow make people see the humanity in each other in the instant before rage or ignorance or fear triggers reaching for a firearm. We need to do better at keeping weapons out of the hands of people who are aggrieved, unstable, violent, murderous. We need fewer guns, and we need those guns still around to be held responsibly.

We have too many racists. We don’t need a wall, we need privileged fuckwit blowhards to shut their traps and learn some empathy. We need to understand the perspective of people who have lived in fear, or resignation, or exasperation in their own home, who the system was rigged against for (nearly) all of our country’s existence, who still face governments and political parties that do their damnedest to take away their vote and their voice, who have many more good than bad, but are still referred to as thugs or worse in “respectable” society. Black lives do matter. It needs to be said, because for far too long we’ve behaved like they didn’t, and that is unconscionable. 

We have an irresponsible media. In times that call for frank discussion and reasoned debate, we give over an ungodly amount of airtime to spectacle and screaming. PBS and NPR can’t shoulder this burden alone, we need Fox and MSNBC and everyone else to understand that there is duty above profit in the profession of news, and it’s well past time for them to answer the call. 

We have a dysfunctional politics. At the national level our Congress won’t understand that their job is to behave like adults and work with people that aren’t a part of their particular tribe to accomplish what our nation needs. Many of our leaders are beholden to moneyed and powerful interests as opposed to their full constituency. In several states the notion of fiscal responsibility and long term planning is farcical. But by blowing dog whistles and kowtowing to idiots they try to maintain power, just adding powder to the keg for their own greed.

We have an apathetic citizenry. Liking something on Facebook isn’t political action. “Throw the bums out” isn’t research. Supporting the troops is fine, but even better would be demanding their engagements are chosen wisely and judiciously. Donald J. Trump is the Republican candidate for the President of the United States. In no sane world does that happen with an engaged public. And voting in the presidential election and nothing more isn’t affecting where the biggest problems lie; midterm, state, and local elections are of huge import.

We’ve got a fucked up relationship with the police. Cops are too often put into the position of “service of last resort”, forced to deal with the preponderance of guns, the stratification of the economy, the segregation imposed by historical policies, the inflammation caused by media rhetoric, the loss of governmental services inclusive of mental health treatment, the criminalization of benign activities, and so much more. They are not experts in all these fields, they do not receive training sufficient to deal with all these issues, they are often understaffed to perform the job safely, but the vast majority put on their big girl/boy pants and do their best. We vilify them for doing their job, and we demonize them when they screw up. Yet they are simply humans doing work that is unbelievably hard, mentally and physically. 

Yet the police have a fucked up relationship with themselves. I get the blue line. I still agree with it. I’ve seen enough media circuses and political agendas to know how easy it is for some to throw others under the bus, and cops are easy targets for many reasons. But goddamn, if you’ve got an asshole amongst you who’s going to screw up in a bad way, and they’re not going to be made accountable through the avenues the rest of us are subject to, then it’s on all the brothers and sisters in blue to make sure it’s dealt with properly behind that line, and before the shit goes down. 

That's all for now. I'm tired. And sad. And angry. And hoping to be hopeful again, sometime soon. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steven P. Jobs

To create. To simplify. To delight. To empower.

Steve lived his life with unblinking purpose. The things he built were clean, and pure, and true. And he showed a world, one not very willing to see, that joy and craft and art and beauty matter. To everyone.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Badge

From the first day of work I knew, at least some part of me not so deep inside knew, that this was not the place for me. I knew it from the walls, fastidiously painted in a uniform near white, and the cubicles, woodgrain interiors with half-height glass. I knew it from the lite rock music playing overhead. I knew if from the company decree that only women's voices could be heard on the intercom during business hours. I knew if from the completely bewildered look on the manager's face who came to pick me up from HR, and who had no desk or phone or computer for me to use when I landed. I knew.

I also knew, in a much more direct fashion, that I was desperate. Ten months. No offers. My life became very small. My parents no longer able to hide the concern in their voices when we spoke. My bank accounts dwindled to very small numbers. Just maybe I'm not as good as I think I am, even though I do consider myself as erring on the side of humble. 

So I get the employee badge, with the photo of me needing a haircut and the green stripe saying that, yes, I am at the lowest rung of this pithy ladder. And I begin to scramble, to define a job without definition, without respect, without in most cases even common courtesy. I receive no direction, no feedback, nothing but barely intelligible worklists and grossly optimistic deadlines. I know this can be better.

Yet every morning I slide that badge off the dresser top, clip it on the pocket of my khakis, and murder another tiny sliver of my soul. At first, I do it because I think I have to. That my world requires this of me, and that I must do what it takes to meet my basic needs. And then, just a little while later, I do it because I don't think at all. Because thinking about it feels more painful than simply trudging forward. Because my hopes and dreams no longer feel possible. 

For over six years I chained myself to that badge. I felt a twinge of guilt and loss every time I clipped it on. Save for vacations, for Oshkosh, I lost perspective. I ground out the weeks, the months, the years. They gave me a pin, which meant nothing, and a round of applause, which I clung to fiercely. And then they gave me a euphemism, in the passive voice, and they took that badge away.

So strange, and silly, a small plastic rectangle that took so much from me. That I let it. 

Absurd. And never again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oil and Coal

"BP has already spent an estimated $760 million in fighting the spill"

"BP on Wednesday said it had paid more than $32 million so far to settle claims from people and businesses in the Gulf Coast states harmed by the disaster. A company spokesman, John Curry, said BP had paid out $19.7 million in Louisiana alone through Tuesday."

Why should I give a damn? With somewhere between 180,000 and 3.5 million barrels of their oil now either suspended in the Gulf of Mexico or washing ashore, am I supposed to feel sorry for them? I've not looked for guidance concerning BP's next quarterly performance, but if it's comparable to 2010 Q1 then $760 million over 36 days means they're still making a profit. The company is so large that they can actually afford to eat a catastrophe like this without experiencing an operating loss. This makes me sick.

For several centuries now we've been pulling up oil and coal from the ground and burning it to make our lives easier. In earlier days the byproducts from this process served to darken skies and blacken lungs when performed on an industrial scale, and in some places it still does. But even where the skies are now clear, the carbon that's contained in these hydrocarbons is released into the atmosphere and acts as a thick thermal blanket over the Earth's surface. 

We've learned a fair bit over those centuries. Air pollution can be toxic, mineral extraction is a dangerous and dirty process, carbon dioxide blankets serve to heat up the planet, there is a finite supply of fossil fuels. Economically, we know that the true costs of oil and coal are not captured when the medical, social, political, and environmental effects are not fully accounted for. These externalities distort the relative position of these products in the marketplace.

We've also learned that energy from the sun can be converted to useful work, and that the Earth absorbs enough solar energy on a daily basis to power the world's existing energy demand more than 7,000x over. We've developed means of harnessing that solar energy that are net positive when all resource and manufacturing costs are accounted for. And we know that the environmental impact of these technologies is minimal relative to fossil fuel production and use, and with further research even that can be minimized.

7 of the top 10 largest companies in the world in 2009 were Oil and Gas producers, with combined profits of over $117 billion, and combined revenues of nearly $2 trillion. To say that they are a large, entrenched, and powerful interest group is to put it mildly. 

We as a nation, and as the human race, need to focus long-term on our energy policy direction. We need to accelerate our movement away from an Oil and Coal-powered world. And we need to do so even when there aren't environmental travesties getting front page coverage. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Photo Tuesday

An addition to a skyscraper. Who'd a thunk it? And it looks great; proportions are obviously what the architect was planning for from the get go. 

Obligatory self-portrait at Cloud Gate ("The Bean"). I forgot to smile.

A Simple Proposal

For the offices of President, Vice President, US Senator, and US Representative, incumbent office holders will be provided public funds to use in re-election efforts, and no other funds may be spent on these campaigns. Qualified challengers may elect to raise funds subject to existing campaign finance laws, or to receive and be limited to public funding equivalent to their incumbent opponent. 

No pesky term limits, and a significant leveling of the imbalance between incumbent and challenger. What's not to like? 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Joy of Bicycles

Spring has a power unto itself that, especially after a difficult winter, borders on the miraculous. People from all walks of life are compelled to take pause as the trees turn misty green, the wind's knife edge is blunted, and they can finally take a deep breath, or two, minus the outcry from their lungs. Life. Dreams. Joy. Possibilities. It's hard to be a cynic when surrounded by the rebirth of nature. 

I'm a fan of bicycles. I don't ride as much as I should, but I get out more these days than I have in some time. A ride along the lakefront, or up the North Branch Trail, maybe out to Ravinia, an excursion to the single track at Palos, or Kickapoo; it's a great feeling to get where you want to go under your own motive power. 

I also love working on bikes. There's an elegance of design to a well-built bicycle, a distillation of purpose that shuns excess in favor of meeting it's rider's specific needs. A bike can be understood in it's entirety, it can be stripped down to its constituent parts and built back up in a matter of hours, it is in every way made to the scale of the individual. Diagnostics are performed with the hands, and ears, and eyes. Repairs are with simple tools, and demand a discerning feel and eye to obtain proper function and performance.

The bond of a rider with his or her bike is strong, an outward expression of self and a trust that can be deeply personal. To violate this through theft or vandalism is enraging. It is hard to think of a bike as anything other than a societal good; when that is marred by a crime against the bike and its rider it's hard to see how the world makes sense. To drag a bike down to the simple level of property and to treat it as such seems somehow profane.  Perhaps a misdemeanor against humanity. 


I give a bit of my time most weeks to Working Bikes Cooperative, an organization dedicated to helping people obtain bikes both in developing countries as well as right here in Chicago. They ship donated bikes to places across the globe where they are used as tools to improve lives and communities. And they sell donated bikes in their storefront to fund these charitable activities. It's a happy virtuous cycle. 

This time of year the storefront is particularly busy, as the weather is lovely and a bike ride seems like the best idea ever. I rather enjoy talking with customers, learning how and why they ride, seeing people who haven't been on a bike for 10-20-30-40 years hop on and give it a go. It's a pleasure to witness their joy, let down their guard just a little, and live their lives solely in that moment. Yay Spring!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Photo *

It's been some time since I've hit a Friday for Photo Friday, so here's my latest take. When I take interesting photos, or perhaps mundane photos, I'll post them. I'll try to do so on a weekly basis at minimum. And I won't beat myself up for not posting by the end of Friday. Deal? Great.

This was the third time in my life that I've been evacuated for a hotel fire. Not amused...

Seen in the gate at LGB. Little guy knows his airport.

 Coming home. Love that sky.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mental, and Physical, Fog

This past weekend a 20 year old, Soviet-designed aircraft carrying a who's who list of Poland's elite crashed near it's destination in Smolensk, Russia; all souls aboard were lost.

Such as it is, that's most of what I know about the incident, but certainly less than what I've read about it. And even simply stating these facts adds a bias, calling to mind an aging aircraft from a region and era that were not known for sophisticated civilian transport designs. 

I would guess that most people not affiliated with the aviation industry use their experience with automobiles as a near-analogue to developments in aviation. Hence, the general public might hear "20 year old aircraft" and imagine a rustbucket of barely functioning parts that's just waiting to seize up at the worst possible opportunity. Thankfully, in the industrialized nations this is quite far from the case. 

Civil transport aircraft are designed from the outset to meet an in-service lifetime of approximately 30 years. The regulatory regimes of the industrialized nations require an ongoing series of in-depth inspections, maintenance, and overhauls for all operating aircraft, and the rules are much more strict for aircraft that carry passengers for commercial activity. 

These days, it's quite likely that an aircraft will be delegated to the boneyard not because it's been deemed unsafe, but rather that it's become too expensive to operate profitably. Fuel and maintenance costs drive industry decisions, and older aircraft are generally much more thirsty and cantankerous than their modern counterparts. But the safety of a well-maintained older aircraft is closely inline with that of a well-maintained newer aircraft.


Now to talk about the fogs. Flying is a mentally demanding task. Doing it well requires close adherence to established procedures and a constant, dispassionate, realtime evaluation of risk. The psychological and human factors elements of pilot performance are many, and while pilots are well-trained, they are also subject to human error. Sometimes the "need" to be on the ground at a certain place and a certain time can overwhelm, and decision making starts to become suspect.

I'm a pilot, or at least a student pilot, and I relish the opportunity to be in the air. Even as a passenger in cattle-class, I still get a thrill when the turbines spool up to takeoff power and I'm thrust deeper into the back of my seat. I'm also an aerospace engineer, albeit on the periphery of the industry, having worked for a sub-tier supplier for many years. I enjoy providing a play-by-play of what's going on with flight's I'm part of, sometimes to the alarm of those flying with me.

On a recent red eye flight into Chicago-Midway, I was one of the few passengers awake in the dimmed cabin as we approached the airport. We were in clouds, and I expected we'd get below them promptly and be on the ground in short order. Except the clouds went down to the ground and there was no visibility of the runway. We did two go-arounds, meaning that the pilot determined the landing approach was in someway unstable or unsafe and chose to climb out before trying something else.

I was worried at this point; worried mostly about the frame of mind of the pilot and co-pilot. While my car was parked at Midway and it'd be a PITA to land elsewhere at ~2am, I didn't want the folks up front to be thinking of anything other than how best to get the plane safely on the ground. Airline procedures, FAA regulations, and air traffic control were all aligned similarly, but it was the two people with their hands on the controls that were making the decisions that mattered. 

Maybe by the third time around the fog was patchy enough that they caught sight of the runway's threshold and could land with sufficient confidence. I hope so. But that third approach was the most fear I've ever felt in an aircraft; moreso than my first time skydiving, or even when a 2-seat Cessna's door popped open after takeoff right next to my elbow. Because at the end of a long day, when everyone else around was already asleep, those two pilots were battling physical and mental fogs. And my life depended on their ability to do so successfully.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Addicted to Refresh

We have a society that is addicted to the new. The fresh. The breaking. The hot. The up-to-the-minute. The short-term. The quarterly. The weekend gross. The day's closing price. The firehose of what's next. The refresh button.

Is this necessarily bad? What's so wrong with staying on top of things? Doesn't that show a desire to be informed, to have knowledge of the latest developments? 

These are the excuses I tell myself when I can't focus long enough on the deep dive tasks I know I want to accomplish, but never seem to get around to when facebook and my RSS feeds are peeking around the corner. They are how, when I have enough distance and quiet, I know that I'm an addict. Nothing too major, but still not something that I'm happy about.

But it does present a particularly nasty problem. If I'm not receiving a consistent and high quality feed of information on topics of importance, I'm significantly less likely to be well grounded and capable of thinking critically on these subjects. It takes quite a bit of gumption for me to go digging when cheap and easy distraction abounds. 

Modern Public Relations professionals know this proclivity, and they exploit it to their significant advantage. Releasing negative information late in the day on Friday is an age-old example, but there are plenty of other effective tactics that allow for the sophisticated manipulation and control of the public narrative. It often seems that without a continuously developing story that has front page staying power, anything else can be played down and eventually swept under the rug. 

I thought about this regularly during the most recent Bush presidency. So many revelations of abuse of power seemed to lack persistence, and for that matter, perspective. Ironically, scandal fatigue seemed to set in at the major media outlets; justified outrage at the government's actions was never quite as large in proportion to the original acts. Eventually the bad behavior became old hat, and coverage just seemed bored with the extra-Constitutional acts of our elected officials. Instead, it was replaced with the latest disposable scandal that was constantly in motion, Britney, Lindsey, and all their ilk.

The question is: if this is a problem, how do we solve it? I have some ideas, and I'll try to share some of them here soon.