There's a pattern here. Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi were inspiring when they were trying to free their people. But when they took power, they didn't just disappoint. They failed. Now to be fair, 'The Lady' did not fully take power. Her nation is in turmoil and under military rule. But still, she has failed. This is sad. The lesson here is don't have heroes. Especially people who win Nobel Peace Prizes. They will break your heart.
Five days ago, this blog turned 10. I have several posts getting cold in draft status. So I will just mark 10 years similar to the way I started the blog - with a music video.
I could describe a couple of posts in-progress the way Aesop describes his unfinished paintings:
Then a week goes by and it goes untouched
Then two, then three, then a month
And the rest of your life, you beat yourself up
More posts soon. 2017 will have more than double the number of posts that 2016 had.
30 years ago today, we got The Joshua Tree. A front-heavy rock album. Not as consistently great as The Unforgettable Fire (1984). But it was the commercial peak U2 fans knew they were capable of. Suddenly, I was not alone in choosing U2 on the jukebox in my favorite pizza joints in Brockton, Massachsusetts. I was in my final weeks in junior high, surrounded by kids who loved Bon Jovi and Motley Crue, and they HATED U2. Come September, I was in a high school where if you didn't love U2, you were considered way out of touch. You could love R.E.M. You could secretly listen to New Order or Depeche Mode. Or you could be so far ahead of the curve like me and own three Pixies albums by 1989. But if you didn't express your love of U2, you were an automatic outsider.
Now the album itself does not move me like the next three U2 albums did. I still think Achtung Baby is their best masterpiece. But there are very few rock albums that open as strongly as The Joshua Tree. We're talking Led Zepplin IV or Back In Black-caliber openings. Where The Streets Have No Name is a soaring opening - peak classic U2. I Still haven't Found What I'm Looking For is this emotional gospel rock anthem. And despite its basic four bars, and resemblance to another Eno-produced four-bar classic, Once In A Lifetime, With Or Without You is still, still a great song thanks to the lyrics and Edge's galloping riffs. Then they follow that up with Bullet The Blue Sky, the leftist, violent song about Reagan's proxy wars, among other things. And then, THEN, U2 give us another anthem - the major-keyed song about heroin addiction, Running To Stand Still. Holy shit, this album. 30 years, kids.
The Democratic base flared up for a couple of weeks after Trump's inauguration. But where is the base now? Any why aren't they consistently mad? Why are the most newsworthy congressional town hall meetings occurring in heavily Republican states?
For quite a long time now, Democrats have behaved as if they didn't have a base of supporters whose views they needed to consider when casting votes in Congress. And even after Trump's first month, I sense a lack of commitment from Democrats to fire-up their base. Believe me, Republicans NEVER forget their base! The one thing they always fear is being challenged, from the right, by an ever more radical, anti-government crank. Democrats, like Obama, often take a perverse view of their political situation. Some are actually PROUD of disappointing the most loyal party members, as if that proved their bipartisan credibility. And when the Democratic base rebels, these people seem genuinely puzzled by the outrage they've provoked.
Democrats have enormous decisions to make this month. They can choose to help or impede the House in raising the Federal debt ceiling. They could fight to delay the Judge Gorsuch confirmation hearings, or let them move forward.
Each week of the Trump presidency has brought bad news, often at night as major newspapers print stories on the administration. The Democrats can't fight every breaking news story. But they lack a messaging machine to tell their base what to fight against. There's no motivation or organization at the top. It's all been from the bottom. When this happens, the top gets overthrown. Time will tell.
And yet, here we are, a nation controlled by white people in landlocked states.
63% of white men voted for Trump
53% of white women voted for Trump
What was Clinton's mantra? Love Trumps hate? Well apparently not. Hate is an immensely powerful motivator. Trump didn't need a sophisticated ground game to get his supporters to vote. All the intensity, and all the enthusiasm was on the Republican side this time. And in politics, intensity matters. As for the Democrats, it's astounding that Hillary, with all her negatives, turned out to be the party's default choice. In any event, we'll all pay for it now.
And Trumps personality and pattern is well established. He will never really work at anything. He is unwilling or unable to work harder to be presidential. He doesn't have to work hard to motivate his supporters. He already has a slogan for the red hat in 2020. And he win again, so long as his presidency doesn't fall apart. His base of 40% appears to be rock solid. But his presidency is showing way too many cracks to last one year, let alone three more.
Yet another new study shows that the US has not seriously taxed its rich people since Reagan signed his tax reform into law in 1986. The great project launched in 1980 by Reagan has reached its apotheosis. We have a government of, for and by the rich. SUCCESS!!!
Record inauguration turnout. 3 Million undocumented immigrants voted. The "Bowling Green Massacre." Bad hombres. Only 109 people inconvenienced. Refugees are illegal immigrants. The Trump administration is a fountain of propaganda. The more the news media points out the lies, the most Trump supporters love the administration.
Nothing can stop that. It's a no-win situation.
When a favorite magazine of wealthy white people publishes a dark cover, you know times are BAD. It's the final chapter of the USA. Of course, this chapter started with Bush v. Gore. But we finally get it now, at the end.
Shortly before Christmas, I received another reminder from my RSS feed that I hadn't written enough posts in 2016. A story boomeranged and got recycled by lesser news outlets 11 months after it first made the rounds. Way way back in January 2016, a teenage hero named Charlotte Heffelmire rescued her dad from a house fire. How did she do it? Well, he was pinned under a car in his garage, so she found superhuman strength and lifted the car off of him. That prompted the editor at Jezebel (then still park of Gawker Media) to use this great headline, containing the F word.
I forwarded the story to my parents, who liked it, but my mom felt some reservations about the use of the word fucking in the headline. She shot an email back:
"...here's my complaint. Since when does the four letter " F " word appear everywhere?? It's a noun, verb, adjective, adverb ( just add an ly or an ing) etc. Serious stories and reviews often descend into vulgarity in the use of this word. It's lost all shock value and bite. The use of the word is supposed to be effective? Or a shock? Or describe something so harrowing that the word adds raw emotion and fierce meaning to the event? The overuse of what used to be a word, though vulgar, had a particular place in our verbal lexicon. The article that complained about the vulgar exchange between the public spectacle of Gervais and Gibson used the "F" word. Need I say more?"
Now this news story came out the same week as the Golden Globes. And in 2016, I believe Ricky was the first host to drop an F-bomb.
The word is powerful and should be used sparingly. I like the modern journalist standard of using it in a quote, but not in the copy or editorially in a headline. The late Gawker Media used the word liberally, so that's why we see it above in the headline.
The word has been with us since the 1600s. But I feel it went mainstream during the Nixon administration. The Vietnam war popped that bubble, and a Nixon official used the term "ratfucking" in the media.
I always liked Hunter S. Thompson's restraint. He used the word most often in quotes, often quoting himself. Those were his exclamations. But in describing things, he used very eloquent language. I always liked that mix. There was the character writing the story, and there was the story.
Fuck is a tool. Respect it and use it wisely. Like a cymbal crash.
Uncle Tim is a historian. He told me a few times about how Barcelona resisted Franco, the murderous Spanish dictator, from 1939 to 1975. It was a marathon resistance that helped give us generations of artists and actors - from Joan Miró to Javier Bardem. People in Barcelona were able to live in a mild state of panic but they persevered. Now I know New York has a history of being different. It is a safer place to be gay or transgender, for example. But New York also has a history of being a place where resistance is not tolerated. The British were never kicked out of New York. Kids protesting the Vietnam War in 1970 were savagely beaten by cops and construction workers because their march was an insult to real, working men who weren't fighting the war or something.
So let me say right now that I have zero faith that New York will resist Trump. I don't think New York is a safe space from Trump. And I think quite a few New Yorkers are going to find themselves in prison or on no fly lists or under constant government surveillance during the eight years we will have under Trump. Trump is a New Yorker. I live just nine miles from Trump Tower. Aside from occasional protests, there is no resistance here.
Good luck, everyone. These eight years will be hard. And we still have the continued destruction of our planet and our species to look forward to.
I have been sitting on this blog post since May of 2016. I was going to call it, "Paris Dooms Most Cars More Than 20 Years Old To The Crusher." But this story has grown over the months. Paris is trying to get to the point where very few people own cars, and those who do, use it to escape the city, not use them to travel within the giant metropolis. That's how I use my car in Manhattan. It is my get out of town for the weekend ride.
This story really went global when Paris announced it was banning most cars made before 1997 from driving on roads. But then this week, Paris mayor Anne Hildago explained that it wouldn't be enough to meet her vision. And that vision is a capital with nearly no cars driving in it. And so she is accelerating efforts to do just that by banning cars from some major thoroughfares and expanding bicycle lanes. For Paris, the answer is not electricification, as all cars are "archaic," and waste space. If Hildago gets her way, cars will no longer have priority access to the streets of Paris.
I have never been to Paris. I am more of a London kind of guy. But there are two things we need to understand about this push to sharply reduce the number of cars in it.
From our colleague Uncle Tim:
Paris has the mass transit infrastructure to do this, of course. It is already faster and cheaper to get to any of Paris' 20 arrondissements by metro or bus. And Paris has confidence that it can increase capacity to carry more passengers who give up cars. New York couldn't do that. No US city could. London could, and it has encourages a shift to mass transit with its congestion tolls, now going strong in its 13th year. If Paris combined its aggressive car restrictions with London-style congestion tolls, it would see results even sooner. Let's see how Paris is doing in a year (2018).
And look what direction Madrid is now going.
In a groundbreaking study, published in September 2016, The Guardian found that about half the nation's firearns are owned by 3% of the population. In addition, the number of handguns in the US has skyrocketed since Bill Clinton's first term. Our nation is being held hostage by a 3℅ gun crazy minority. The US population has increased, and overall gun ownership has declined since Clinton took office. But we have seen the rise of the "super owners."
A gun crazy three percent, and a craven, virtually worthless Republican party. I knew we were in serious trouble if the Democrats collapsed in November. And they did. And now we are at the mercy of the gun lobby and the GOP.
Gun-related news is part of the background noise in the US. Just this week, Smith and Wesson released the long-awaited second version of their M&P pistol. And in Ford Lauderdale, a possibly schizophrenic young man emptied his magazine in an airport's baggage claim area, killing 5 and wounding 8. Just a normal, acceptable mass shooting. In almost any other nation, there would be a quick reexamination of flight rules and gun policy. Not here. Rampages are perfectly normal and acceptable. New guns need to be sold.
In 2014, President Obama announced that the US war in Afghanistan would wind down in 2015. But announcing it did not make it so. It is nearly 2017, and historians still consider the war to be ongoing. And just over a year ago, the US committed one of its biggest atrocities, the deliberate, 60 minute airstrike on the Kunduz hospital in northern Afghanistan.
The story has disappeared from the news, but history will not forget. And it will be a major mark on Obama's record. President Obama issued a very rare apology to Doctor's Without Borders (MSF) for killing its providers and patients. But a war crime is a war crime. Hospitals cannot be attacked for treating wounded enemies. Demands for an independent investigation were ignored.
There was no advance warning of the airstrike. When it was time to report on the incident, as the Pentagon does, there was simply a whitewashing of all responsibility and accountability. Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept correctly called out major US news outlets in avoiding acknowledging which military attacked the hospital for the first 48 hours of coverage.
The US is still in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The US is a country that can't fix the problems in Detroit, or Cleveland, or guarantee the descendants of slaves their right to vote, but it has the temerity to imagine we can reshape the Middle East to our liking.
More to the point, our political class, led by Trump, and soon Mike Pence and Donald Trump, is a pack of craven cowards, and their policies have made virtually everything they touch worse.
There's a new list of college professors that RIght WIng has deemed progressive bullys and fascists. Just remember, It's Always Projection.
This really is back to the future. We haven't seen a true enemies' list since good old Dick Nixon. I suppose it's a matter of some pride to have made this list. We have a lot to look forward to in the next three years. Imagine, a real, honest to God, right wing government in our dear old land, with a lying demagogue in charge.
Mister Sterling's biggest influence at U Mass was Sut Jhally. He made the list.
Professors in western Massachusetts, home to five great colleges in Pioneer Valley, have responded the best way possible, by requesting to be added to the list.
Every president has had a list of adversaries or people to avoid. Trump already has an well-known enemies list, and it will only grow.
UPDATE December 26 2016: The Wingnuts have fired up the Liberal Fascism narrative once again.
Back in the early twentieth century, Labor organizers would say, don't complain, organize. Robert Reich still uses that phrase. Often I see it as "Don't agonize. Organize." But it's the same message.
And it seems that Democratic politicians and prominent Democrats are not heeding that call. Now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to resist Trump, as he is already acting as our de facto President.
A few weeks ago, I thought that some Democrats would walk out or now show up to Trump's first State of the Union address. But today, I expect all of them to sit there and applaud.
It's December 2016! This year has flown by. Probably my fastest ever (makes sense, as I am just getting older). But here's the first post I will post before the year ends. It's quite simple. Canada, you need to take care of Justin Trudeau, because he has your nation on the right track.
In his first year, Trudeau and the Liberal Party have brought some swift, progressive changes, They've helped working families, stressed gender equality, and have put a new emphasis on human rights at home and abroad.
But Sterling came around. Yes, Trudeau is he son of a Canadian Prime Minister. Putting him in charge is no better than putting a Clinton in charge of the Democratic party. As a general rule, a party should not use nepotism to remain popular. But that analogy doesn't flow perfectly to Canada's Parliamentary system. People vote for the party as much as the person in charge of it. And Canada sure as hell need the Liberal party in charge.
And let's face it, even Johnny Depp would be an improvement over Trudeau's predecessor, Stephen Harper. How that Canadian version of Richard Nixon got to be Prime Minister for nine minutes, let alone for nine years, is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Good riddance to the Canadian Torries, and here's hoping young Trudeau can turn our friendly northern neighbor back to the right path. With Trump and a particularly irrational and evil GOP in charge to the south, we need progressive leadership in this continent anywhere we can find it.
I am over elites telling me what sucks. I was over it in 2005. Does anyone think that Stephen Colbert, Lin Manuel Miranda or Beyoncé lose any sleep over who controls the Federal government? No. We little people are the ones who lose sleep. Trump and Republicans are going to impose a Federal parental notification requirement for abortion. They will pass a Federal 20-week limit on abortion. They will roll back car emissions standards 30 years. They will try to kill off the food stamp program. They will cut funding to most cities (except maybe NYC, where Trump still has his stuff). They will launch a ground war somewhere in the middle east. They will kill the ACA. All together, they will make it more difficult than ever before for poor people to break out of poverty and despair. That has been their end game since 1980.
Most of us have gone on road trips, and not always as the drivers. Since 2011, my wife and I have gone on an ambitious annual road trip in the American West. We put about 4,000 miles on our New York City-based car per year. But on these Western road trips we don’t take the car we own but instead, we fly to our starting destination and put over 2,000 miles on a rental while meandering to our final destination. It took just one trip for us to get hooked on this.
This is a guide about next-level road tripping. This is the art of the remote road trip, well outside your home region. This isn’t about renting a camper, either (I might do that someday driving across Australia). This is about seeing your great country, where too many people fly over the best stuff it has. What would you want to see on an American road trip? Would you want to see cities and towns that look like your own, or would you want to see what Teddy Roosevelt once called “big things”? Wouldn’t you like to go big?
The American West has the attractions you didn’t know you wanted to see. From mountain ranges and canyons, to ghost towns and colorful Mexican cemeteries, to Indian reservations and native American tribes we should all educate ourselves about, to boneyards, and missile bases, to massive national parks and monuments that you and I own, the West has the goods. Look at this map of our national parks. If you live east of the Mississippi, how would you explore the great American West in any reasonable amount of time? You could join a tour group. But you love to drive. No, you are a driver.
There is a cool way to explore the West without a tour group or an RV. It can be expensive, but it's worth it. You can fly to one city, take a week driving to a final city, and fly home from there. That’s 7 days, over 1,000 miles (or 2,000), and many photos and memories. This is the one-way American West road trip.
A quick note about timing: Summer is the traditional time to do road trips but it is also when a whole lot of other people do them. Some of our incredible national parks and monuments have traffic jams during the summer. The best way to avoid this? Go after Labor Day. I want to present my guide for you Jalopers to get inspired to go out there to see your great nation. Every part of it has something interesting, but my example is the West, since that’s where you can clock the most miles and see the most diverse things in a week.
A big reason to do a one-way rental road trip is time. Like me, you probably can’t disappear from your day job for more than a week at a time. So you only have 8 nights away from home. A one-way road trip gives you the opportunity to cover a single region in a week. Renting a car one-way usually comes with a hefty fee. But we’re in a golden age of internet price research. Even some of the biggest rental companies reduce their one-way fees for certain locations with high inventory, like Las Vegas or Phoenix. Once you know your starting and ending airports, you can do reverse searches on flights and car rentals to help decide which travel direction will cost you the least (either in time or money).
Everyone needs at least one partner for a road trip. I have my wife, my “navigatrix.” I recommend you don’t go it alone. That’s reserved for people who seriously need time to themselves. But you, fellow driving enthusiast, you need a partner to navigate you and help you chose what to see each day and where to sleep each night. Which brings us to preparation, and some rules. A road trip is not a race. I consider myself a boring, safe driver. However, I have been warned about my speed by small town cops on two different trips. You’re not an endurance or cannonball driver, either. You need to take this slow. A typical road trip day goes like this: you wake up, find a place for coffee and breakfast, and then drive to the next site on your itinerary. You should have an idea of where you’re getting fuel, as well as lunch and dinner, and you know where you are resting your head after sundown.
I got hooked on faraway road trips the first time I did it. But like a lot of first times doing anything, it was the least planned, as we had no experience. We did it in early November, which is too late for a trip in the Southwest. And, we only gave ourselves 3 full days as we weren’t sure that this would be enjoyable. We ended up seeing too much in too short a time. Here’s the route we took on day 1:
On that single day, we drove from the Vegas strip, to the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge observation deck, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (the serious way to see it), and then through a corner of Navajo Nation to Flagstaff for dinner, and finally our hotel in (Take it Easy) Winslow, Arizona. That was nearly 450 miles in over 15 hours on the road. Oh, and we were met by thundersnow in Flagstaff.
On the following 2 cold days, we crammed in 5 more major attractions, including, amazingly, Monument Valley, before arriving late in Albuquerque for our last hotel stay and flight home. Along the way, we caught a glimpse of Shiprock, a beacon for future trips. Since then we have been far better paced. Here’s what you need do to become a pro at this:
- Find your flights and car combination. You can choose Midland (Texas), Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, or smaller airports as start and end points. Play around with flight and car rental itineraries. Does it cost less to start or end the trip in one of your two cities? And with the car, skip the supplemental insurance from the rental company and buy a separate insurance policy.
- You can rent a good car. I’ve rented respectable Infinitis, Fords, Volkswagens, and Chevys on these trips. There are some decent, comfortable cars to rent. It just requires research and sometimes a little persistence at the counter. If you do a full week trip, you could be spending over 50 hours in those car seats, so keep that in mind. Lately any Ford Escape EcoBoost has won out for me. The seats are right and it’s pleasantly zippy.
- Plan your visits and stops. Research what you would like to see along your route. Then figure out your exact route so you can come up with a daily list of sites you want to visit. Start with National Parks and National Monuments, and then find things that interest you. It can be museums, cultural sites, cars, planes, or even joints featured on Guy Fieri’s TV show (I can’t be the only one who watches that). Note closing times of the places you want to visit. When is that Spaceport tour? What time does that restaurant open or close? What is the latest time you can get stamped at the park visitor’s center? Is that ghost town accessible year round, or only on certain days? Figure out with your navigator which stops are priority and what could be considered bonus objectives if you have time. You’re going to be keeping track of what you hit and what you can come back and visit on a future trip. And as you do this, plan out where you’ll sleep. Thanks to airbnb and VRBO, hotels and campgrounds are not the only options.
- The distance between your start and end airports is not as important as limiting how many miles you cover each day. 200-300 miles per day is ideal. You want to do all your sightseeing in daylight. We’ve done Las Vegas to Albuquerque, Albuquerque to Denver, Midland to Albuquerque, Minneapolis to Las Vegas, Midland to Phoenix, Tucson to San Diego, and we have Albuquerque to Austin at the end of this summer. In all my trips, my navigator and I have chosen the overnight stops, and using Google Maps (or your preferred map site), we plot an exact route and watch the daily mileage total carefully.
- Produce a travel binder. Remember Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women?” Well you are going to need a single binder full of trip information, in chronological order. Grab a binder and hole puncher (find a hole puncher where you work). Start with your flight reservations. Then your car and insurance documents. Print out your hotel reservations. Then for each day, you will insert printouts on where you’re going. Print out driving directions, as mobile phone coverage in the West is sparse. In fact, make sure you print out the address or GPS coordinates of every place you plan to visit. Also take a GPS device as a backup to your phone.
- Learn to like Wal-Mart. I know. That’s a tall order for a leftie New Yorker. But in some small towns, Wal-Mart is the only source for beverages and snacks. Buy a styrofoam cooler, put ice in it at your hotels, and you have a mobile fridge.
The rest is up to you. If you love to drive, you ought to try it. Take a week off to see this amazing country and maybe you too will get hooked. When you are ready for the next level, there’s Canada and Australia to explore. Then you’ll know three nations with ‘wild wests’ and near-empty roads to drive. Just don’t speed. Local and tribal police know when big city people are headed their way.
While not an enthusiast's platform by any means, it is finally time to say goodbye to GM’s crossovers built on the Theta platform. And what better, trendy way to kiss them goodbye then to offer murdered out editions? Yeah, all black everything, like it’s 2013! Early this year, the GMC Terrain got the “Nightfall” treatment, and now it is the Chevy Equinox’s turn with the “Midnight” edition, before the current platform bows out in 2017.
Now say what you will about the blackout editions, the Theta platform is one of GM’s recent big successes, outside of truck sales. The Equinox, Terrain, and former, Mexican-made Saturn Ion/Chevy Captiva have been very reliable, quiet, and easy to drive family crossovers. Sometimes boring is good when it comes to a family vehicle. The Theta has been pretty solid and without drama.
Enthusiasts lament the loss of the North American Chevy Trailblazer, while Chevy sells a decent international version in the southern hemisphere. But a few have respected the Theta platform for its balance and the venerable 2.4L EcoTec motor, which remains a popular choice for Baja Bugs and Sandrails. In fact, I saw the American Captiva as a forbidden fruit, as it was sold only to GM fleet customers. I liked the Captiva so much I insisted on it at car rental counters for years. It was quieter and more efficient that any RAV4 or Edge at the time. And I think GM customers would agree, as the Equinox has solid sales numbers even as it enters the final months of production.
In keeping with the tradition of GM dealer order codes, if you want a Midnight Edition Equinox, you have to combine the LT trim with the Convenience Package. That is, if you really want one.
It seems even the GM faithful are weary of these blacked out cars. But doesn’t The General do it well with the Cadillac ATS Midnight Edition?
And how about Jeep’s Altitude edition of the Grand Cherokee? Is this trend dying a few years after it caught on? Do any of you still want a black grille and wheel set from the factory?