A Specific Case of Sometimes

There exists a misunderstood or mischaracterized mantra, if we will, that you cannot really succeed without the possibility of failure. And it would seem to make sense, though it is often enough forgotten how much trouble the very rich have over-compensating for the fact that they don’t feel legitimate in their own eyes. (There is a very good novel idea in there somewhere, and you get to it before me, good on you). There is also a specific case of sometimes, if green means that you win even if you lose, how were you ever going to be able to prevail?

Turns out that Robby Mook was the perfect campaign manager for Hillary Clinton after all. He’s just like his boss: can’t win an election, but can get rich giving revolting speeches afterwards.

Buzzfeed reports that Mook has, thanks be to god, landed on his feet after failing to defeat a racist clown who may well devastate countless lives before his term is done. Mook will be teaming up with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s (failed) campaign manager, to “offer a future-focused look at why Trump won” in front of any audience willing to pay enough for their presence. How fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We were all naive, of that there is no doubt. But he wasn’t looking into the abyss we were, or are now. This is first-rate corruption, even to my tender eyes. Golf clap from the hedge-fund gallery, but please let’s awaken, all you little Saint-Justs everywhere. In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

Super statues

There’s so much awesome about this.


Having recently visited the former East Germany and Prague, I can affirm that there is much weird remaining in the form of Communist-era buildings and monuments. For one thing, Prague still has Nazi and Communist numbering on buildings – and they’re still in use. Then you have this thing:





But really, nothing outdoes the creativity of re-painting statues as some kind of frozen justice league. And there’s plenty more where that came from. Take a swing through the former East bloc.


Brandenburger Tor

The Brandenburg Gate has played a variety of roles in the history of Germany. Commissioned by Friedrich Wilhem II to represent peace, Napoleon also used it for a triumphal procession in 1806. I prefer to connect it with peace, at least until peace, too, becomes triumphal. This photo is from Sunday night, taken by Green boy young man.


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The Heavens Are Strange

One of my open books right now is a biography of D.H. Lawrence by Anthony Burgess, a present from Mean Joe for which I am increasingly grateful. Right after he and Freida fled Germany to Italy, Lawrence had to get down to work and make some money. The travelogue, Twilight in Italy, is one of those; his publisher came up with the cheesy title. Freida had another name for it, but anyway, this is from Chaper 4, San Gaudenzio:

In the autumn the little rosy cyclamens blossom in the shade of this west side of the lake. They are very cold and fragrant, and their scent seems to belong to Greece, to the Bacchae. They are real flowers of the past. They seem to be blossoming in the landscape of Phaedra and Helen. They bend down, they brood like little chill fires. They are little living myths that I cannot understand.

After the cyclamens the Christmas roses are in bud. It is at this season that the cacchi are ripe on the trees in the garden, whole naked trees full of lustrous, orange-yellow, paradisal fruit, gleaming against the wintry blue sky. The monthly roses still blossom frail and pink, there are still crimson and yellow roses. But the vines are bare and the lemon-houses shut. And then, mid-winter, the lowest buds of the Christmas roses appear under the hedges and rocks and by the streams. They are very lovely, these first large, cold, pure buds, like violets, like magnolias, but cold, lit up with the light from the snow.

The days go by, through the brief silence of winter, when the sunshine is so still and pure, like iced wine, and the dead leaves gleam brown, and water sounds hoarse in the ravines. It is so still and transcendent, the cypress trees poise like flames of forgotten darkness, that should have been blown out at the end of the summer. For as we have candles to light the darkness of night, so the cypresses are candles to keep the darkness aflame in the full sunshine.

Meanwhile, the Christmas roses become many. They rise from their budded, intact humbleness near the ground, they rise up, they throw up their crystal, they become handsome, they are heaps of confident, mysterious whiteness in the shadow of a rocky stream. It is almost uncanny to see them. They are the flowers of darkness, white and wonderful beyond belief.

Then their radiance becomes soiled and brown, they thaw, break, and scatter and vanish away. Already the primroses are coming out, and the almond is in bud. The winter is passing away. On the mountains the fierce snow gleams apricot gold as evening approaches, golden, apricot, but so bright that it is almost frightening. What can be so fiercely gleaming when all is shadowy? It is something inhuman and unmitigated between heaven and earth.

The heavens are strange and proud all the winter, their progress goes on without reference to the dim earth. The dawns come white and translucent, the lake is a moonstone in the dark hills, then across the lake there stretches a vein of fire, then a whole, orange, flashing track over the whiteness. There is the exquisite silent passage of the day, and then at evening the afterglow, a huge incandescence of rose, hanging above and gleaming, as if it were the presence of a host of angels in rapture. It gleams like a rapturous chorus, then passes away, and the stars appear, large and flashing.

Meanwhile, the primroses are dawning on the ground, their light is growing stronger, spreading over the banks and under the bushes. Between the olive roots the violets are out, large, white, grave violets, and less serious blue ones. And looking down the bill, among the grey smoke of olive leaves, pink puffs of smoke are rising up. It is the almond and the apricot trees, it is the Spring.

A break from this miraculous heat, at least.

Affluence Using Less

Way less. Of everything. Isn’t that what greater efficiency in allocating increasingly scarce resources – and why we’re opposed to it – is all about? We’re scared of being poor. Any way we slice any of the barometers – peak oil, greenhouse gases, climate change… this seems to be why we (Americans) oppose any remedies – they will necessarily lower our quality of life, which to us means necessarily less stuff. Considering the literal impact of that statement, this is saying quite a lot. I always make the point that by driving less, eating less, living in cities and towns instead of ‘burbs, we’ll be changing the things we should want to change. Like Gang of Four sings – open up up the till and give me the change you said would do me good. Well, this is it.

Okay, so not everyone agrees that less stuff would be better. Some posit that we’re the best and this is the best it’s ever been. Driving, getting enraged by talk radio, slurping H-F corn syrup, ahh… passion and freedom twisted around Zion, with sprinkles. Not only that, some think, nay fear, that this is the best things’ll ever be and agitators like me are just trying to bring you all down. whatever. I am. Your mileage may vary on what qualifies as ‘down,’ and the case could be made that this qualitative dissonance is source of many ills. Unless we try to figure who and why it is that our way can’t change or we’ll suffer – god forbid! – we’re only convincing ourselves. And I think we’re already convinced.

So let’s get a beat on people who think things – especially quality-type things – are being taken away from them in the name of planetary-mindedness. Who equate less with poorer and… lower. Yeesh, we’ve got some twisted brethren.  Anyway, biking and eating fresh food from the market is for pinko commies and euro… what a minute, a lot Americans like euro-whatever – remember this? or this? There’s a thousand things those Euros like that seem cute but… well… What’s that saying, a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there? You wouldn’t? What’s wrong with you? Do you think of those people as poor or bereft? I know you could, but let’s unpack this. And while we’re at it, stay a while.

This is just to point out that the only way to know about any other places (places with different and less stuff) other than the place you live is to… go other places. The 15% of you who already have passports can go back to watching the game.

And that these things are connected.

Taking Different Routes

to the same place(s), when you could have taken the train. Sweet baby Joshua… how our perceptions of liberty have us by the short hairs. Is it just that we think we’re too good to be sitting in a line going in the same direction as other people? Seem too egalitarian or Marxist for you? Come on, people! Train travel is the kind of sexy everybody understands. And… you were going there anyway.

Really good rebuttal of typical, widely-disseminated HSR critiques, here. You know, the ones with casually construed cost-benefit analyses that say they will need so much annual public support they will never work so let’s cut the crap and not waste any of the serious consideration we might instead devote to new fighter jets and switchgrass ethanol. And lo, as turnips mold in the field where they lay, High Speed Rail actually pays for itself over time.

That may even to have been Glaeser’s [NYT Economix blog] intent in writing the series. The problem is that–through a sorry mix of omission, oversimplification, distortion, and deficiency–his calculations bear no relation to the effects he is claiming to consider. So it’s important to show that “the numbers” do not at all undermine the viability of HSR in the US, even outside the northeast and California. In fact, they tend to support it.

By populating his model with a better set of assumptions, we hope to show how badly the economist missed the mark even on his handpicked example of an HSR link between Houston and Dallas. In reality, a well-designed high speed intercity rail project between the two largest cities in Lone Star State would likely produce a net economic benefit–not at all the white elephant Glaeser suggests. In this more comprehensive model that takes into account trivialities like regional population growth and a reality-based route, the annual benefits total $840 million compared with construction and maintenance costs of $810 million. Which is to say, our numbers show that HSR pays for itself rather handily.


So instead of deeply flawed attempts to project ridership based on the Northeast, we should be focusing on high-speed rail’s noted ability to take substantial market share away from the airlines and even from automobile commuters. Evidence from overseas to this effect is plentiful, though Glaeser doesn’t even mention it. In France, for instance, the 200 mph TGV Est line between Paris (metro population 11 million) and Strasbourg (600,000) carried 11 million passengers in its first year of operation. Rail now commands 70% of total travel market share, including automobiles, versus 30% before the line opened. Today, roughly 10 million people a year travel between Dallas and Houston either by plane or by car.

Go read the whole thing. via Yglesias. On a related note, I guess de-regulation of the airline industry is taking the long way around, leading us into the waiting arms of HSR as airports/airlines undermine their business model by inviting us to despise and increasingly avoid them. Neat trick. Maybe in 2024, we re-name the first non-stop intercontinental HSR route connecting Charlotte and Seattle after Ronald Reagan, at a sparkling, Gipper-themed gala at its new connection point in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The 4R’s, indeed.

Hand-made Global Warming

You know the feeling – I was reading the other night and made a note to remember to look up a word I came across. If you don’t look up strange words in books or read books with strange words, you’re probably not reading this. So I’ll never mind about that.

Anyway, anthropophagic. There, I said it. Gross, sure, but I didn’t know the term. It means, basically, cannibalistic, and I’m sure Kazantzakis what getting at something good when he used it. Sarcophagus is also kind of gross, when you realize what it means.

By the time I remembered to look it up (just now) I was on to something else, so I’m fitting it in a bit oddly, I’m afraid. The goal of eating is not cheap food. That won’t come as a shock, I hope, but it’s instructive in its way when we relate it to other activities we engage in. We have approached eating and food acquisition as activities that should be completed as quickly and cheaply as possible, with minimum effort, price and enjoyment. In doing so we have done great harm to ourselves physically but also we’ve lost many more delicious aspects of eating that has nothing to do with taste – though we’ve greatly mucked that up, too. No, here of course I mean that we have eliminated discussions and arguments about other cultural artifacts that occur during meals. This is a crucial loss, equaled only by the quality of the cheap food that we ingest, that must be farmed on a mammoth scale in order to be cheap, that require prodigious amounts of petroleum fertilizer, again, in order to be cheap. All because we no longer like to talk over dinner.

Travel is much the same. The goal of moving around seems to be cheap trips. Wrong. The goal of traveling is much more pernicious to our sense of place, pride and perfection that that. It enhances one and inhibits the others, or changes them into something more problematic and in need of further investigation and more traveling. And it can get expensive. But what moving about on the cheap does to us is the key, and especially when travel is prioritized only on the basis of its cheapness, its harmful effects are most on display. When you can move around on a whim and eat for nothing, you become impatient with all other complexities – of palate, of locale, of politics, of… sutras. You name it. When we turn to whimsical, cheap entertainments to pasturize our neglected imaginations, we greatly succeed.

And it’s hard to turn back, to break the habits of ease. We construct all-or-nothing scenarios where the choice is between McDo and hunting/gathering, and do our selves no favors by it. Put a little more consideration into where you go, how you get there, what you put into your body… pretty soon the monstrous implications of life on the cheap go away. There can be no hand-made global climate change. You just can’t do it, my friends.

You can look it up.

Building a Staircase

They call this a WWIII propaganda poster. Okay. So if it’s a how-to kind of day, plus it being summer and the height of the vacation season, maybe we turn to the Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader. This one is How to Buy a House, from Bitter Lemons, 1957.

SABRI TAHIR’S OFFICE IN THE TURKISH QUARTER of the Kyrenia bore a sun-blistered legend describing him as a valuer and estate agent, but his activities had proliferated since the board was painted and he was clearly many things besides. The centre of the cobweb was a dark cool godown perched stategically upopn a junction of streets, facing the little Turkish shrine of some saint or warrior whose identity had vanished from the record, but whose stone tomb was still an object of veneration and pilgrimage for the faithful. It stood under a dusty and desiccated pepper tree, and one could always find an ex voto or two hanging beside it.

Beyond was a featureless empty field of nettles in which stood a couple of shacks full of disembodied pieces of machinery and huhe heaps if uncut carob and olive, mingled with old railway sleepers and the carcasses of buses which turned up her at the end of the trail, as if to some Elephants’ Graveyard, to be turned into fuel. Sabri’s empire was still in an embryonic stage, though ti was quite clear that he was speculating wisely. A circular saw moaned and gnashed all day in one of the shacks under the ministrations of two handsome Turkish youths with green headbands and dilapidated clothes; a machine for making cement blocks performed its slow but punctual evacuations, accompanied by a seductive crunch.

Sabri could watch all these diverse activities from the darkness of his shop…

On that first morning when I stepped into the shadows of his shop, the headquarters of the empire, he was sitting dreamily at his desk mending a faulty cigarette-lighter. His good morning was civil, though preoccupied and indifferent; but as I approached he paused for one instant to snap finger and thumb and a chair materialized from the shadows behind him. I sat down. He abandoned his task and sat silent and unwinking before me. ‘Mr. Sabri,’ I said, ‘I need your help. I have been making inquiries in Kyrenia and on all sides I am told that you are the most untrustworthy man of business in the place – in fact, the biggest rogue.’

He did not find the idea offensive so much as merely interesting. His shrewd eye sharpened a trifle, however, and he lowered his head to scan me more gravely. I went on. ‘Now knowing the Levant as I do, I know that a reputation for being a rogue means one thing and one thing only. it means that one is cleverer than other people.’ I accompanied this with an appropriate gesture – for cleverness in the hand-language is indicated by placing the forefinger of the right hand slowly and portentiouusly on the temple: tapping slightly, as one might tap a breakfast-egg. (Incidentally, one has to be careful, as if one turns the finger in the manner of turning a bolt in a thread, the significance is quite different: it means to be ‘soft in the head’ or to ‘have a screw loose’.) I tapped my skull softly. “Cleverer than other people,’ I repeated. ‘So clever that the stupid are envious of one.’

He did not assent or dissent from the proposition. He simply sat and considered me as one might a piece of machinery if one were uncertain of its use. But the expression in his eyes shifted slightly in a manner suggesting the faintest, most tenuous admiration. ‘I am hee,’ I went on, convinced by this time that his English was good, for he had followed me unerringly so far, to judge by his face, ‘I am here as a comparatively poor man to ask you a favour, not to make you a business proposition. There is no money to be made out of me. But I want you to let me use your brains and experience. I’m trying to find a cheap village house in which to settle for a year or two – perhaps forever if I like it enough here. I can see now that you I was not wrong; far from being a rogue you are obviously a Turkish gentleman, and I feel I can confide myself entirely to your care – if you will accept such a thing. I have nothing to offer except gratitude and friendship. I ask you as a Turkish gentleman to assit me.’

Sabri’s colour had changed slowly throughout this harrangue and when I ended he was blushing warmly. I could see that I had scored a diplomatic stroke in throwing myself completely upon the iron law of hospitality which underpins all relations in the Levant. More than this, I think the magic word ‘gentleman’ turned the trick in my favor for it accorded him an unaccustomed place in the consideration of strangers which he certainly merited, and which he henceforward lived up to in his dealings with me. By a single tactful speech I had made a true friend.

The negotiations continue from there, but you get the idea. I had to look it up but a godown is a kind of warehouse or other storage place. Which completely makes sense. Once again, knowledge wins!

Train epilogue

Sometimes in an airport, you can feel like you’re anyplace, or no where in particular. The same can be said of the exits off of any major interstate, with their full compliment of fast-whatever offerings.

So, to spend 15 hours on a train crossing a large swath of the country in few ways resembles the same trip by car or plane. But of course, rail travel diverges from the other two in non-trivial ways right out of the gate, or station, such as they are.

First trains are all about a schedule; you leave at a certain time and arrive elsewhere at a certain time. This certainty is where the airline version can and does go off the rails with great frequency, and its anti-thesis is exactly the point of a car trip. Auto excursions are self-defining; in theory, we travel by car in order to chart our own course, in space and time, to eschew the very idea of a schedule. It’s supposed to be liberating, this idea of freedom and, except for the extraordinary telecommunications tools that become necessary (cell phones, GPS navigation, etc., not to mention the portable DVD players to distract passengers from the monotony) as a result, I guess it is. There is a case to be made that we have created a need for highly complex communications systems exactly because we have fouled up our transportation systems so badly, but I won’t make it here.

But back to those 15 hours… were they lost? This question belies the mythical crux of our ability and desire to move about, and the associated problems our choices have created. With no internet connection or TV, I was out of of touch in modern parlance, except, curiously, with the other people in my sleeper compartment. Laughter, conversation, meals, sleeping – these have their place, though we have dethroned them to a great extent, and we all know it. Sharing a constantly changing view out of the window with your family presents an opportunity we could all get to know better. So if the crux is about defining productivity up or down, you be the judge.

And we got there, on a schedule everyone could follow without a lot of last minute calls. We were picked up, by other family. It was a nice reunion, limited to those present; we were rested and in a different place, a very specific place, along with our luggage and all manner of souvenirs from the city. The energy that often gets sucked up by the stress of these other individual elements of travel, we could instead employ elsewhere.