So my question is, can cosmologists really maintain their sanity? How can anyone contemplate facts like these, and not go stark raving mad? Where, exactly, does our piss ant planet fit in a universe as immense and mysterious as this?
Or as the British say, the KL Jeep Cherokee is now "sorted."
The current Jeep Cherokee (chassis code KL) has been a solid hit for Jeep. It was, until this year, a strong fleet vehicle (Jeep says it will no longer be sold as one). It was a popular choice at rental counters. And it generally sold between 150K and 200K units per year. It's a profitable car in the most competitive car segment in the US. The addition of the Overland trim in 2016 made it even more profitable. And it replaced a truck that very few people miss. Jeep made the correct call bringing back the Cherokee name and putting it on this vehicle.
But Jeep's parent, FCA, is slower to redesign vehicles, opting to keep platforms longer, refreshing them periodically. This means that FCA vehicles have lagged-behind most other manufactures in meeting the highest safety standards. It took a few model years for the Jeep Renegade, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee to pass the brutal IIHS "moderate overlap front" test. But in 2017, they finally passed. I'm just speculating, but I wonder if FCA got any help from Hyundai Steel. They do work together sometimes.
The KL Cherokee was introduced in 2013 and went on sale in 2014. I was excited to see it developed and released nearly five years ago. And while an all-new Grand Cherokee is still three years away, it was time to refresh the Cherokee. Jeep sales have flattened. The brand is healthy. But I don't know if Jeep will ever sell 1.3 Million vehicles in the US again. Not again this decade, anyway.
This refresh seems like a new start for the KL. Here is some of what has changed:
- A new front fascia and rear end. The front end keeps the short, raked seven-slot grille, but eliminates "stacked" lights in favor of a more traditional headlamp and turn signal cluster. And it looks really good.
- A new FCA two-liter turbo (same as the one available in the new Wrangler, minus the mild hybrid system). This new motor provides V6 power with the CO2 emissions of an inline four cylinder, which it is.
- It appears that "Ski Gray" is going to be a new interior color choice for the Limited. So one doesn't have to get the top of the line Overland trim to have an interior color palette similar to a Land Rover Discovery Sport.
- The center stack has been redesigned to allow a phone storage slot, LED lights below the climate controls, and the new 8.4-inch Uconnect screen with Apple Car play will be available (just like the new Wrangler Sahara and top trim Grand Cherokee).
- The lift-over height for the rear cargo area is still at least an inch higher than competitors (due to the fact that you can store a full-size spare tire under the floor). But the cargo floor is now wider.
- The 2019 Cherokee has lost 200 pounds, thanks in part to an aluminum hood and a redesigned, composite rear hatch. The hatch can now by activated by sticking your foot underneath the vehicle, just like the Ford Escape and Edge.
These changes should be enough to maintain Cherokee sales. But I don't see its sales catching up to the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester or Ford Escape. That's because this Jeep is unique in its drivetrain configurations and off-road capability. It's frankly a little weird. You can spend $35,000 and get it with two electronically-controlled transfer cases and a locking rear differential. That's very truck-like, even though it has a longitudinally mounted engine for a front-wheel drive bias in normal pavement driving. Or you can spend $22,000 and essentially get a fleet vehicle / rental car version, with either front-wheel drive or part-time AWD, the inefficient-but-dependable Tigershark motor, black cloth seats, and a soft steering feel. So you can get a Cherokee that can easily traverse the Valley of the Gods, or get a basic Cherokee to move you and the kids around town. The Cherokee can be as wild or as anonymous as you like, all in the same platform. Jeep knows it can't beat Hyundai or Honda's features at the base price. But the brand is so attractive, enough people find a Cherokee that suits their needs. And more important for FCA, enough people buy premium Cherokees to keep the model very profitable. I look forward to seeing it at this year's New York International Auto Show.
Here is this morning's press event, in which Jeep CEO Mike Manley introduced the revised Cherokee.
High speed rail is not coming to the US in any sustained system, except perhaps in California.
Why? The USA missed its chance after World War II, when it had the capital and its rail corridors could have gotten the width they needed for freight and passenger trains on their own tracks. If the US tried to make room for high speed rail on the west and east coasts today, it would cost hundreds of billions. Of course, the US is still spending $2 Billion a week in Afghanistan. So I guess we can't afford it.
In France, Germany Japan and China, where four of the world class train systems are found, the high speed passenger services were built from scratch, not piggybacked on an old, existing, mostly freight rail system. A world war helped, and that included a lot of bombing by the US and UK. But I don't think that's any excuse. The USA remained a wealthy nation through the space age. Just look at what happened to Penn Station. The French National Rail Corporation would die laughing if it ever got a good look at Penn Station and Amtrak. After all, France is a first world country, while the United States barely qualifies as a banana republic. And I wrote these words before news came out that the state of New York is considering yet another private company to manage the crumbling Penn Station.
This ties into the bigger, more obvious issue that mass transit in the US is generally terrible. The underlying reason is the same: the best chance for planning and funding was in the last century (either before the 1920 crash, or just after WWII). In my father's day, New York City took care of it's essential infrastructure. The automobile had not yet become the dominant means of transportation, and Robert Moses had not yet rearranged the city to accommodate millions of cars. Now, after decades of neglect, the bill is coming due. I hope the city gets the help it needs, because it's approaching a dangerous tipping point.
Here's another story for 2017 I didn't post until now. A Brooklyn site next to the Gowanus Canal is to be excavated. There's reason to believe it holds a Revolutionary War mass grave, dug in the aftermath of the Battle of Brooklyn.
The Battle of Brooklyn wad a bad defeat, but thanks to Mr. Glover of Marblehead Massachusetts, Washington's troops were able to make good their escape to the Jersey shore, and live to fight another day. By the way, Continental cannons were emplaced in Red Hook to strike the British fleet as it entered the harbor, but they didn't hit a thing! If they find a mass grave, the city, state and Federal governments should erect a fitting monument.
But the tide might be turning back to the cities' favor.
After the election of Donald Trump in November 2016, there was a wave of bad behavior by his supporters. Hate crimes spiked. The Federal government threatened states. And some states punished their cities, the largest of which voted for Hillary Clinton.
This conflict is about raw political power, and I'm afraid that cities are at a huge disadvantage in any conflict with the state. Legal precedents all give enormous deference to the state, holding that cities, towns, counties and all other local jurisdictions are under sovereign state authority. If Texas wanted to abolish the charters of local government and designate them differently, increase or decrease their powers, they can, and there's little the local areas can do about it. When a cult like the Texas Republican Party gains unchecked power, it will use it to crush local opposition. The same pattern is being replicated almost everywhere in states with Republican governors and legislatures. Elections, as they say, have consequences.
Interestingly, the onslaught against the cities might have been slowed down thanks in part to Trump not being able to get his administration to focus on any one issue for long. And the Trump backlash has been in-gear since Roy Moore was upset in Alabama in December 2017. The aforementioned Texas Republican Party's unshakable hold on power is suddenly under threat.
You thought 2017 was turbulent? We've seen nothing yet.
The first month of 2018 has brought a pack of storms through Washington DC and the world. We've read the biggest threat of a nuclear war ever written by a US president. A new book came out, and we're still feeling the shock waves it has caused. We've seen the first reporter insulted during a press briefing in the Trump presidency. The administration ended protected status for over 200,000 El Salvadoran asylum seekers. The president said racist things in a meeting for a second reported time. Shithole is already the English word of the year. Trump's trip to the UK has been canceled, as I predicted. A Democratic Senator on her way out has released the valuable Senate interview of Glenn Simpson, and it offers a preview of what's going to be in the Mueller Report later this summer. But don't expect Robert Mueller to indict Trump. It might be too late for him or anyone to rescue this republic from Donald Trump. Just hang on tight.
There wasn't any doubt that Trump and his base are racists. And finally, the press has acknowledged it.
Only the people who refuse to accept reality fail to comprehend the visceral racism of Donald Trump. This is a man who demanded the death penalty for young African Americans who were clearly not guilty of the attack on the Central Park jogger a few decades back. He led the "Birther Lie" campaign against Obama, for reasons transparently racist, said a Mexican American judge, born in Indiana, couldn't fairly preside over a lawsuit involving him, and began his pursuit of the presidency by slandering the entire population of a neighboring republic. It's clear we have the most overtly racist president since Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869, who did all in his power to destroy the chances of 4,000,000 freedmen of ever achieving legal equality in this country. There are two primary reasons this fat, orange man is president. His Democratic opponent was pathologically hated by millions of Americans, and chose to vote for the least experienced, most ignorant, and most psychologically damaged candidate to ever run on a major party ticket rather than put her in the White House. And the second reason is equally chilling. Trump validated the deep racial resentment of millions of white Americans.
Trump's base remains a solid 35% or so. This base is not only overtly racist, but demands an authoritarian leader. We can pay lip service to our sanitized corporate culture and say that they are not aligned with "American values." But actually, there has always been a minority of citizens like this in the US since the Civil War. We have seen flare-ups in support of the KKK, the Third Reich, and the "Patriot Movement" (roughly 1978-2010). Trump has helped us re-identify and track them going forward. They are going to play a role in both local and national politics long after Trump is gone.
I have always liked the Liberty Hotel in Boston since it opened in 2007. The Liberty is one of the bestter adaptive reuse projects of this century, as it turned Boston's nortorious Charles Street Jail into a five-star hotel. Here is a video tour of the hotel in 2017.
The exterior of the old, medieval jail is still intact. It always had a grim and depressing aspect, built next to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, on the grounds of the Massachusetts General Hospital. The hotel is really imaginative, and makes clever use of the existing architecture. The old jail has been used in a couple of movies, and I think it even appeared once in a Spenser for Hire episode.
New York City's bridges are falling apart. It would cost over $20 Billion to reapir them.
New York City's rails, from the state owned subway and commuter rail to Amtrak, are a mess. It would cost tens of billions to replace, fix and renovate signals, switches, tunnels and stations. The only major projects that are currently in-progress are the repair of the L train tunnel under the East RIver, and the MTAs East Side Access project to move Long Island Rail Road Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal. Other critical projects, such a new Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson River and the replacement of Penn Station remain unfunded,
And even when the state of New York maintains its rails, the waste and corruption is is easy to identify.
Even if Trump and the Republicans actually gave a rat's ass about the state of America's cities or public transportation, the Administration's crippling incompetence and absurd scandals make serious action nearly impossible. This is what middle America voted for, and all of us, beginning with the people of New York, are going to pay for it.
It matters not that this guy didn't make it onto a Federal bench. The damage has been done. Trump has filled the judicary with baby Clarance Thomases for decades. They are all under-qualified and are also religious zealots who pick-up caes already knowing how they will vote.
The charge of Liberal judges "legislating from the bench" is just projection. It is the right wing judges who have been biased, voting with their ideoology rather than on the merits of the case. The right wing members of the court have been nakedly partisan since the appointmet of Scalia in 1986 and Bush v. Gore in 2000. It's only gotten worse since.
Trump's legacy is three-fold. First, as detailed above, he has made the judiciary biased and under-qualified for decades. Second, he, his White House staff, and his appointments have all had a severe and alarming lack of experience. And third, he has brought his naked and highly amplifed ego into the executive branch. Our standards of how a US president should act and communicate have been forever changed.
Bridges. Airports. Highways. Tunnels. We Americans have a terrible habit of naming our infrastructure (what little we have) after people. Why?
When John Roebling designed a mile-long suspension bridge to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, there was no question what it was going to be named. A bridge should be named after the town or neighborhood it connects to - Brooklyn! But over 100 years later, when Boston had the chance to build an iconic bridge between itself and Charlestown, and simply call it the Charlestown Bridge, it walked into a political battle over whether to name it after a civil rights attorney or a Revolutionary War battlefield. And what did Boston do? They named it after both. Clarity and courage!
On the Arizona-Nevada border, there is the impressive Hoover Dam Bridge. But it was not named that. It was named after a former Nevada governor and the most famous pro-athlete turned soldier of our time. The latter name is the one most people use when they talk about the bridge.
And then there's the special, unprecedented case of New York City and New York State re-naming its bridges and tunnels. It is an incredible history that dates back decades. The latest re-naming proposal would re-name the Williamsburg Bridge after Sonny Rollins. Why not John Lurie? He's a great New Yorker. Why not fellow artist, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat? Also great. New York has too many greats to honor. But why honor them on infrastructure? Why?
What happens when a state names infrastructure after the wrong person? Well, New York holds that title as well. John F. Kennedy Airport is named after a president from Massachusetts. He had sex with Marilyn Monroe here. But JFK wasn't from here. His brother was a US Senator for New York for just two years (and he got a bridge renamed for him in 2008).
I can go further with examples of bad naming. What's the name of the airport in Liverpool? It's John Lennon, a man who was born there, but spent almost no time there after 1964. Liverpool John Lennon Airport was the first airport in the UK to be re-named after a person in 2001. The disease has spread.
Renaming Idlewild International Airport was a costly, hasty error, in my opinion. New York City gave its biggest airport the wrong name just so they could be first to rename infrastructure after JFK (just six weeks after his assassination). If any city should have renamed their airport to JFK it should have been Boston. Can you imagine an alternate universe in which the big New York airport is named after someone who actually lived or died in New York? How about Joey Ramone from Queens who sung a damn song about the very part of Queens the airport is located? Or how about David Bowie, who lived his last 22 years in New York? Or maybe even Jane Jacobs, who stood up to Robert Moses and saved SOHO? Or how about Margaret Sanger?
Yeah. Margaret Sanger International Airport. I'd get behind that. Remember kids, legal abortion brought down the crime rate. You're welcome.
But we need to stop the madness. Can we get back to naming bridges, tunnels and airports after places, please?
Places, not people. Places are where we go in our cars and planes.
I meant to share this in June, when I stayed at El Blok for the first time. It was my ninth June vacation in Vieques. I had stayed at Malecon House for seven straight years. But with that inn under new management, I decided to give El Blok a try. I'm glad I did. I had been to their bar and restaurant in previous years. But this was my first time as a hotel guest, and I loved it. Despite some door lock issues (I think their security server lost power a few times), and the failed promise to provide a cooler to take to the beaches every day, I think El Block is a fantastic, modern hotel to make one's "base" during a stay in Vieques. The longer the stay, the better. Don't just visit for the bio-luminescent bay. Stay for the beaches and one of the best bars in the Caribbean.
The eye of hurricane Maria passed very close to my favorite island. It will be several weeks before the recovery can begin. The cleanup is still ongoing.
Here's an overview of he hotel, designed by Fuster + Architects. And here are detailed photos and floor plans of the hotel available at Arch Daily.
Here are a few shots of El Block after Maria. The storm blew inches of sand onto the main street through Esperanza. El Blok is the concrete structure.
When Trump appointed Kelly, Mattis and McMaster to high posts in the government, a chill went through me. There's a solid, history-based reason for insuring civilian control of the military. There are only a few thousand good histories of the phenomenon, available in any University library, or I suppose these days, online. We now have an ignorant president, with a childlike admiration for high ranking military figures. Far too many commentators took solace in that fact, imagining that they would bring intelligence, discipline, and common sense to an otherwise chaotic administration. There is no reason, no reason whatever, to believe that's true. Trump hiding behind generals means we're in deep trouble in this country. Those are totalitarian techniques, and I think it will get a hell of a lot worse in the next few years.
Our bloodthirsty, military-worshiping news media declares the president's swipe at his predecessors and dead soldiers as "rock bottom." Not pussy grabbing. Not "both sides." Not the white nationalists had "permits." No, rock bottom has to be his swipe at dead soldiers. That's bad. I get it. But this is not rock bottom Trump. This is not the worst he can get. This is the US news media showing its military-worshiping ideology. Worshiping military service members and even military hardware has become our official religion behind the worship of money.
Splendidly, I see. When a minority party member delivers that much burn, you see just how outdated and terrible the DUP is. If anyone believes that Northern Ireland, in 2017, is "Britain," then he's really living in the past.
When the Conservative Party won the flash general election this past June, it was obvious that it will be difficult to form a stable government. The Tories, desperate to remain in power, had no choice but to let the Unionist tail wag the UK's dog. This deal with the backward Irish Orangemen promised to produce a hideous government in Westminster.
But as you might have seen today, the chances of that government holding together became more difficult. How a party looks can be just as important as how a party performs. That rule used to be true in the US, but it holds in the UK.
As you probably recall, back in the 1990's, peace was impossible in Northern Ireland because the British Tories were absolutely dependent on Ian Paisley's Unionist Party for their parliamentary majority. It was only when Labour won in 1997 that the Good Friday agreement became possible. Because Blair's government was not in need of Unionist votes, he could use Clinton's good offices to broker a deal in Belfast.
Memo to celebrities: don't die during the Trump administration. There's so much chaos, you won't get a proper send-off. It's like the weeks after 9/11, except life doesn't settle down. It has been unsettled since March.
The majority of people who enlist in the US armed forces come from poor families. And after a few wars, what has emerged is a warrior caste. You ever hear how just a handful of families have ruled the Philippines for the last 600 years? Well some tens of thousands of US families have done virtually all our fighting since the Vietnam war.
Vietnam poisoned the idea of a large military draft, feeding an endless and stupid ground war, for millions of Americans. The citizens of this country are unlikely, any time soon if ever again, to tolerate the existence of a conveyor of healthy young men, fed into a war machine. The draft enabled Johnson and Nixon to pour young lives into an unwinnable and unjustifiable conflict in Southeast Asia. The lesson the political class learned from this was to establish an all volunteer force, largely removed from the great majority of the population. Now, when these wars are fought, justifying the immense defense budgets which enrich an entire industry and securing the professional opportunities of our military elite, the mass of voters hardly notice. The wars go on and on, the money and the promotions flow, and the politicians don't even have to explain to the taxpayers. Genius!!
It's nothing personal. I don't mean fuck you, personally. I mean it in general terms. Fuck you. You know who you are, even though I don't know you personally.
I will not stand up for you. I will not salute you. I will not call you a hero. I will not call you a first responder. I will not thank you for your service. I won't fantasize of being anything like you. I repeat, I will not use the word hero.
It's not your fault. I have been told to worship you. I strongly reject that. Politicians have told me. Movies, going back to Backdraft have told me to idolize and honor you. But I'm 44 now. And I think I know better. And I think I see through all the bullshit that has been sold to me in the last 16 years.
I will not stand for the Star Spangled Banner. I will not face or salute the flag. I am not down with your program. I am not down with the USA's program. It's a broken and cruel republic. The only thing it has left is its empire. And I'm supposed to say "thank you for your service," to the men and women who maintain that empire? Bullshit. Fuck you.
To the police. I will not thank you. I will not call you when I need one. I will not respect you. I will not ask you to pose in a photo with me. Fuck you. You do not protect and serve me. You exist to police black people and make me and other white civilians feel safer. And for that politicians put you on a pedestal, and direct me to honor you. Fuck that. And fuck your evil unions, too. They are the worst.
To the firefighters. Fuck you too, although I admit I hate you less. We do need firefighters. What we don't need are fire departments full of white supremacists. But because politicians tell me that you need to be worshiped and idolized, I have to lump you with the soldiers and cops. It's nothing personal. Fuck you.
I'm not quite sure how nationalism became intertwined with worship of "first responders," in addition to our soldiers, but here we are. And here I am. Fuck you.
Fuck nationalism. Fuck hero making, hero narratives, and hero worship. Fuck flag lapel pins. Fuck the flag. Fuck the president (all of them since Carter). Fuck this.
Donald Trump is toxic to the Republic. The Republic has been dying for decades now. Americans had progressive improvements to their standard of living taken away from them beginning in 1973. Bush v. Gore (2000) dealt an enormous blow to our electoral system, and manipulated the course of US history.
But Trump seems to have taken the United States on an accellerated path to ruin.
Here's some quick bar napkin math. In 9 months we have lost an FBI director, the White House Chief of Staff, a cabinet member, and we've reached a point where the Senate is not going to let any bills reach the president's desk. Add to that a disastrous travel ban, a threat of a military transgender ban (that we'll probably never hear about again), repeated threats of a nuclear strike on North Korea, and a promise to build a wall that will never be funded.
An aside about the Republicans in Congress. The GOP is not a normal political party. Apparently they care about their own power and the transfer of as much wealth as possible to their political contributors. I find among them precious little interest in the welfare of this nation. In its current incarnation, that party is entirely unfit to govern the United States.
On July 15, chaos began to manifest in plain view. Trump gave an incredible speech at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree. In any other administration, it would be a shocking turning point. The Secretary of State allegedly mulled his resignation over that speech. In Trump's administration, it was just another bad day at the office before things really got chaotic the following week, with the unexplained, dramatic ouster of Sean Spicer and Reince Preibus.
Then, the last 8 weeks, we had the white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville (and the laying of blame on those who tried to defend the city), the disbandment of two presidential councils, word that the Department of State is in shambles, and a dramatic, historic 15 minutes on August 15 which will likely lead to European leaders asking Trump to never visit their nations as president again (Merkel and May are on the verge of just that). That unhinged press conference should have destroyed him. But no. He wasn't done.
Then came the end of summer. Hurricane Irma ripped through the US Virgin Islands and put the Florida Keys in a pool of sewage. And then, barely two weeks later, Hurricane Maria tore through Vieques, Culebra, and Puerto Rico. But Trump paid no attention to that storm in its first four days. He instead attacked black professional athletes in the NBA and NFL. He didn't make rescue and recovery in Puerto Rico a priority until he saw the situation on television. That's another thing that historians will have to track, if there's a nation left after he and Pence are gone. Trump gets most of his information from US cable news. And when the news about him becomes sour, he holds a campaign rally. One time he told an adoring crowd of white people that he would be good to black Americans. That went down well.
The lost weekend while Puerto Ricans died should have destroyed Trump. But no. His administration cannot be killed. It just limps along. Donald Trump has done something that no president has done since Nixon. He was worn down national morale. But he has also done something Nixon and Reagan wouldn't dream of doing. He has energized the white nationalist fringe, who now march unmasked -at least for a little while. He is ruining the classic, optimistic American mood that has kept us going despite so many aspects of American life worsening since 1973. The first 9 months have brought a white house in turmoil. In 9 more months, we could have a flaming constitutional crisis. This is not sustainable.
Tomorrow, Donald Trump goes to Puerto Rico to view recovery efforts. I hope the boos are constant and loud. He might not hear them. But the news media will. As we have seen, Trump has very poor communication skills to say the least. When he ad libs, disaster strikes.
Trump has his supporters. A solid 35% of American adults fully support him. He is their racial antidote for 8 years of Obama. Millions of Americans are perfectly content to accept a dictatorial right winger, who'll promise them safety and a healthy economy in a white supremacist, nationalist context. As for Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, I wouldn't want to put much faith in their saving us from Beloved Leader Trump. That leaves a free press and and an aroused citizenry. Maybe that'll be enough.
Uncle Tim contributed to this post.
The United States, one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, is letting one of its colonies suffer without power, gasoline, and communications for weeks, perhaps months. Our president gave them a hashtag. I just came from a nation's colony that has state of the art sea tunnels and mobile communications on every square meter of land. And you can be damn sure that if disaster struck the Faroe Islands, Denmark would have regular life restored within days. Where is the fucking outrage?