Category Archives: environment

We are all High Risk now

I’ve heard it all about Trump. I agree with much of it. He is all the bad things you think he is. He is a whirlwind of incompetence. All true. Not in dispute on my end. And yes, we should be very vigilant and very involved, because what he seems to be doing, primarily, is making people very uneasy about the future. But enough of the hot-takes and put-downs and emperor-has-no-clothes memes. It is time to put away the childish things. All the rants, all the ridicule, all the facepalm… all of it. Even if it is just for a minute.

 

Try this: Think about Trumpworld like you were having it explained to you by a financial advisor. Maybe your financial advisor, if you have one. He/She is likely very serious, very focused, and not a political blowhard. He can chat about either party with equal ease. He knows that filtering out the political background noise is essential to making good financial decisions. What would the Trump administration look like if you filtered out the stadium-volume politics? That is what good financial advisors do. The good ones are good because they can look at a proposition without getting too wrapped up in the writ-large politics of it. Trump is not a politician. He has no political background, skills, or even firm political beliefs. What he has done with his life is amass a personal fortune, and a key part of amassing a fortune is learning to lay off risk. If you play with big numbers and you can get someone to reliably take more risk than you take, you will reliably amass wealth at their expense. That’s how a guy who couldn’t make a casino work; who rolled craps on bottled water, vodka, and steaks (I guess American’s couldn’t get on board with those things); a guy who has cratered and declared bankruptcy at least four times (plus other sell-offs and bail-outs); managed to become the President of The United States of America: Laying off risk on potential voters.

 

That’s not all of it, of course. The other part of the Trump mystique is getting people to ignore or minimize the risk he are asking them to take. To make this sleight-of-hand work you have to either misdirect them about the degree of the risk, or you have to get them very focused on some other risk. The mark has to be so focused on that other risk that they overlook the obvious risks they are being asked to take by Trump. That is how you get investors to buy in, and it extends executives, staff, regulators, and whole governments. Reading the room and having a feel for what token of misdirection will be most effective is probably the one thing Trump is really good at. He proved it during the 2016 campaign. He routinely clobbered people with better, or better-formed, political platforms because he could play an arena full of potential voters in a way they couldn’t dream of. Prairie Home Companion, meet Tony Montana fronting Led Zeppelin.

 

The last tie-in to Trump’s success in 2016 is evangelism. Not just Christian Evangelical evangelism, but also the idea of a true believer who is all-in. Apple was showing their understanding of the concept’s power when they added “Mac Evangelist” to their org chart. Trump is a Trump Evangelist. The Best. The Smartest. The King of Deals. And so on… And that nauseating passage aside, Trump is pulling from both flavors of the word, almost equally. In a religious setting the risk is always outside, facing in, threatening the audience. The unbeliever. The heavy metal music. The gangsta rap lyrics. The [insert your favorite secular pleasure here]. The reward the religious evangelist offers is the safety of being inside, away and apart from the external menacing force. Trump knows this play like he knows the buttons on his TV remote. All he had to do is sprinkle in the barest soupçon of old time religion and the audience understood. Inside Good. Outside, Bad. Prosperity Gospel Politics brought to the Presidency.

 

And yet again, there is a huge risk component in Religious Evangelism. [“Again with the risk?” you ask? Yes. Stick with me for a sec] Think about it like your somewhat boring and outwardly apolitical finance guy would. Guys like Joel Osteen are just laying off huge amounts of risk on their flocks, and the house always wins. Trump is doing the same thing, but in his case the flock absorbing the risk is 350 million US citizens who are now finding out that the risks are high, they are real, and there is no way to mitigate them.

You want an example of what kinds of risk I am thinking of? Here ya go: You have rank amateurs running the departments of Housing, Energy, and Education. How do you feel about those three things? Pretty strongly, I’d imagine. If there is a bedrock to western civilization it is housing, energy and education. So who were “the best people” to guide these bedrock agencies? You have a guy who initially refused the job because he admitted not having any pertinent experience (aside from having lived in a house, I shit you not), running Housing. You have a guy with an Ag degree [full stop] in charge of our nation’s nuclear weapons and fissionable materials over at DOE. And lastly you have a woman with no professional education or education policy background in charge of Education… but who’s brother (Eric Prince of Blackwater fame) made a cool billion(z) leveraging the US population’s concept of risk in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, oh yeah, this: did anyone notice that her husband is the founder of Amway. Amway is basically a peak-risk-distribution effort. The company always takes on less risk than their franchisees. Always. The house always wins. Always.

 

So stop thinking about what a braying jackass Trump is. He was one before all of this started. Nothing will change. He will always be a braying jackass. Get over it.

 

I am making the case that we start thinking about Trump as the guy who sees the entire US population as a risk-soak. His presidency is just like every other Trump deal: The less equity you have at buy-in, the more risk you gotta take. And over 95% of the US population does not have the required equity to hedge against Trump. We are faced with the prospects of backsliding on worker protections, civil rights, air and water quality, Social Security, healthcare, foreign relations, foreign economics, domestic economics, and the feeling that a world war is imminent. At the same time we are seeing Wall Street deregulated, energy corporations take over the EPA, and a massive increase in military posture and spending. The payoff is supposed to be a period of sustained economic resurgence. Last I checked the DOW was over 20,000. That was pre-Trump. At the end of eight years of G W Bush it was around 6,500. Talk about selling ice cubes to eskimos! There has been plenty of economic growth in the past 10 years, but it all stayed out in shareholder-land. The money was not used to create jobs, build factories, build coal-fired power plants, and club baby seals for fun and profit. It was used to pay the guys who had been exposed to the least risk in the first place. They are the people who bear the least risk of being without good housing, good healthcare, good education, clean water, affordable energy and good nutrition.

 

While the US Senate deliberates in secret over what version of Trumpcare can get 51 votes, think about the risk you are being asked to take on. Guys like Trump use risk as the basic measuring stick for every major decision. Maybe it’s time we all started doing the same.

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America gets a real-time IQ test

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I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

Long Time, No Blog…

I have been very busy doing things, hence I have not been blogulating or otherwise documenting things. Since this is site is relatively solipsistic, I don”t think it has caused a problem with the public at large…

First, a follow-up on the ACA bruhaha that has been percolating since my last post in October: Anti-ACA folks in government, industry, major media, etc… have one thing in common. They all have or seem to have no worries about the availability or cost of their own healthcare. I’m sure it isn’t 100% but I am also sure that Rush Limbaugh is not paying $1300/mo for shit coverage, or getting denied coverage for his many pre-existing conditions. On the far far far far right (I hope) are the people who think that ACA is “government-run healthcare”, is “worse than hitler, stalin and pol pot”, or is somehow making things “worse”. No. Just like Medicare and Medicad solved actual problems for the poor and old, this solves problems for everyone else. I feel like any further attempt at rationality is futile here, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Item 2: The simplest explanation for the rapid climate change the planet is currently experiencing is proving to be more likely each day. Take all that carbon that the geologic cycle had the good sense to “sequester” under the ground, pump it back into the atmosphere at a supernatural rate, and bingo: climate change. Unfortunately for us humans, the climate may very well be changing back to pre-human conditions. Bad news, meatbags.

Item the Third: Dear Hartford, Connecticut. City Hall will never make your city better. You have to do that yourself. Once you start doing that, City Hall can give you a push. Look around at cities that are fighting their way back an winning. They have active communities, taking pride in them, and working to solve problems. While that happens in Hartford, I think the residents have to give up on any tangible help from their city government. It is a snake pit, and is in no danger of getting any less snakier any time soon.

More hot blog action to come. Maybe something not filled with so much snark, but filled with a little more subtlety.

Lazy or Persistent? Still not sure…..

[I published ths post with the intent of finishing it the same day. Two weeks later, I finally got to it. P]

One thing that should be obvious from a quick tour through my Flickr page is that I hammer on similar compositional elements from familiar/repeat locations. One reason is habit. I habitually walk in the same locations and often have a camera with me. Those locations provide a similar arrangement of terrain/water/sky and I am tweaking my use of them as positive and negative space (or tellimg myself that I am). But another side of the process is the challenge of revisiting the same compositional elements and finding new subtleties in lighting, atmospherics, optical effects from lens/camera choices, and encountering other users of the same space. Ragged Mountain in Southington has been a regular haunt for something like 36 years, and I keep finding new ways to view the same terrain.

Ragged is the slice of cliff seen northeast of Hart Pond, and east of Wasel Reservoir.

The most prominent feature seen from the summit of the Ragged Mountain main cliff is Meriden Mountain. The view is directly south, down the spine of the “Hanging Hills” of Connecticut’s traprock ridge complex. As I developed a better organized digital photo collection I was able to assemble a calendar-sequenced series of photos of that view. Click on it and you can see it as a slideshow and watch the seasons progress. While a true photo-nerdlinger would have taken all the shots with the same equipment from the same spot, I am not that nerdlinger. I probably have enough photographs in my collection to create similar sets for a few other locations. They would be similarly “similar” but not forming an exact time-lapse. But it does raise the question of “process”. I am not sure if I revisit the same spots for any specific reason other than enjoyment and convenience. That would make the collected photos more of an artifact than a conscious work. But I don’t carry a camera around for my health either. What started as a way to combine  photography time with a hike with my dog or walks with my wife and friends has definitely evolved into a search for interesting clouds/skyscapes and flattering lighting of the landscape. A midday hike may be invigorating, but sunrise or sunset (more likely sunset) provides something closer to “golden hour” lighting and more vivid dimensionality.

If the upside of revisiting the same locations on a regular basis is allowing deeper compositional analysis and targeting better lighting and weather, the downside might be working on the fly to make the most of a visit to a new locale. Recently I was on a drive with my wife and we stopped at a pier across from Galilee/Point Judith, RI. It provided a very different view to the north than you get from the east side of the inlet (Salty Brine/George’s), where buildings obscure a lot of the horizon:

Jerusalem, RI

That is a location that might very well be worth revisiting, though it isn’t all that convenient. It might not be the most photogenic, but it does have a good view of a rare South County perspective, the northern horizon. This is one of the shorts where I am tempted to use Photoshop to knock out the clutter on the left side. There is great detail in the clouds but the wide shot and the fiberglass boat are not helping show it off.

The skill that I hone while working with DSLR gear is getting a good digital negative, and improving my skills at manipulating exposure and focus on the fly. That can include looking for an improvised camera support to allow a better HDR series (since I rarely carry a tripod/monopod) or using spot metering to evaluate the range in a scene before choosing a metering method. I have also become less dependent on auto focus and auto exposure. Aside from occasionally forgetting to set the AF/MF switch on the lens back to AF , I feel like I am better able to hit the intended values on the digital file.

In the upcoming weeks I’ll post a few more example images with detail about the conditions and challenges of the shot. Thanks for reading.

The Only Thing Changing is the Climate

Bold move by President Obama this week, getting all kind of stabby on greenhouse gas emissions and “carbon”. I will bow to BikeSnobNYC and tell you that “crabon emissions” are what I have on enchilada night…

In a major way, I am not imprressed. Not because the ideas aren’t good, or because they are rehashed, or because they have zero chance of being implemented… but it is that the reason they have zero chance of happening is because the United States is still a wholly owned subsidiary of the petrochemical industry. And don’t you forget it. Setting prices of gasoline, uh, that is their turf. If you want to play that game they will double down on your pathetic carbon tax with $150/bbl crude faster than you can say “gouge me”. The public won’t care who did it, they will pillory the guy who they believe caused gas to top $5/gal. If they wanted that shit they would move to Europe and pay $6/gal, and get healthcare for the troubles.

I’ve probably related this before but here goes: on my first full day in a job dealing with climate and energy policy I joked “fix gasoline at $5 and we can declare victory tomorrow”. And then it happened. Gas hit $5 in almost all major markets in 2007 and the top blew off. SUV sales cratered, economy cars were flying out of showrooms, people were carpooling, public transit saw a ridership spike (even the bad systems)… and you can go check the math with the EIA, gasoline sales and deliveries took a major hit. BUT, that was due to wehat I believe to be massive futures manipulation in energy markets, facilitated by a lenient SEC under the Bush II administration. If there had been a carbon tax driving that pricing you would have the social changes, the consumer changes, and the tax revenue to start building real next-gen infrastructure. Throw in the income tax swap and you would have more money in consumer’s pockets and a nice economic boost in all the other sectors. But instead all we got were record-breaking profits over at Big Oil.

The problem is that every climate scientist, economist, back bencher, tree hugger, knows or should know that carbon tax policy is sound policy. You can swap it against income tax, and it is a win-win. Even nutjob supply-siders on the right nod in agreement. The trick is to make sure you are spending the revenue on leveling the playing field for competing technologies. And doncha know that Daddy Petrobucks hates that shit all day long. It isn’t enough for him to get Billions of USD in free money at the taxpayer expense, and have a captive market, and legalized pice fixing… no, he certainly will not allow sales of his product to fund his competition.

So enjoy the show, but feel free to leave early because… SPOILER AlERT!  The Bad Guy Wins in the End.

BTWD Wrap

A little late (or a lot) but here we go… BTWD 2013 was a great time with perfect weather and good riding. The plan was on rails: up early, stretch, quick snack, fill water bottle, and roll out of the driveway a little after 5:00am for a meetup with the Commissioner of DEEP, Dan Esty.

A funny thing happened… My dog got sprayed by a skunk at 4:30am! But, being that I am not new to this skunk-related fire drill, I was able to wash him down and get myself cleaned up in 30 minutes, and depart on time. A little smelly, but on-time.

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, and Bike-wizard Pete Salamone, downtoen Plantsville, CT @ 5:25am

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, and Bike-wizard Pete Salamone, downtoen Plantsville, CT @ 5:25am

On-Time was the operative phrase for this day. The Commissioners are intent on arriving at the Blue Back Square, West Hartford, CT meetup at a very reasonable 7:15am, if not earlier. Timing a 26 mile ride is easy if you can keep up a good pace. We averaged 14mph over 26 miles, and were among the first to arrive at the meetup. The ride was uneventful, with good camaraderie and cheer, and nothing unexpected. Since I am mostly a solo rider, it was an interesting change of pace to be in a small group. As with other group activities, I was seeing things like road surface, intersections, and auto traffic in a different light. When alone it is easy to get more of a flow, where in a group it is about keeping together while pacing, and still making sure that you aren’t leaving anyone in a bad spot v-v traffic or traffic control.

Sunrise

Sunrise in Farmington, CT

By staying in the Quinnipiac River valley we were able to cut down on the hills, but we also stayed in the shadows until the sun was really up. This photo was taken in Farmington, CT near the Hill-Stead Museum property. A nice cruise down Farmington Avenue, including that sweet downhill section where you want it the most, and we arrived for bigwig schmoozing and I made the epic mistake of wolfing down a garlic bagel. Rookie move… I smelled like an Olive Garden died in my mouth until the next day…

Commissioners Redeker, Smith and Esty with CT State Sen. Beth Bye

Commissioners Redeker, Smith and Esty with CT State Sen. Beth Bye at Blue Back Square, West Hartford, CT

All was going swimmingly until the ride from West Hartford to State House Square, Hartford. This was not the police-guided ride of 2011, or even a normal group ride of experienced cyclists, but apparently a chance to be yelled at by strangers about obeying traffic signals! I am fine with rules of the road, but it was hard to take them seriously when we were confronted by a school bus running a red light at Boulevard and Sisson. Please: ride safe, ride smart, see and be seen, but believe me… anti-bike people will not convert because bike riders stop at every stopsign. Not a popular opinion with my friends at Bike Walk CT, but it is my opinion. Obeying that traffic light would have gotten me under the wheels of a big yellow school bus. At no time did I see the bus driver being shouted at by fellow motorists or scolded by any self-appointed school bus gestapo. But it was early. Who knows.

We had a little meet up at State House Square, saw some familiar faces, compared some ride notes, took a few photos and then started to make tracks back to our respective jobs… The  morning was wrapping up nicely, and then… on the ride back to the office, THIS happened:

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (if you don't believe me, read his embroidered bike jacket)

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra (if you don’t believe me, read his embroidered bike jacket)

We were joined by current Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra as we waited for a chance to cross the road. He rode with us across Main Street and down Pearl, toward Trumbull, until realizing that we were not going anywhere near City Hall, and promptly split off on his own. And we were trying so hard to be nice, and not make any caviar jokes (Hartford news thing). But we had been joined by Mr. Mayor and it was a nice sight. However it happens, it is good to see civic leaders out on the streets and not just being limo’d around town. Enough of that kind of activity and maybe they can see how vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians are in their cities.

I made the ride home after work, tweaking my route to attempt to avoid some bad roads and intersections, but it still needs work. Downtown Newington (Main and Cedar) is a very bad place to be on a bike at any time. More so in the drive-time afternoon. As referenced in my previous post, Newington is a bad place to ride a bike, and it will get worse before it gets better because users of the CT Fastrak bike path will be riding to and from Newington Station on these same unimproved road shoulders with no safe way to get to their destination. But I digress (or was this post a digression from grouching about bad roads for bikes?)

All in all, a successful Bike To Work Day 2013, and a great way to kick off the fair-weather bike commuting season!

Bike To Work Day 2013 – Preamble

First off, if you want to see the 15 minute version of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s conceptual focus on Transit Planing and urbanization, Click Here . I highly recommend it.

Friday May 17 is this year’s Bike to Work Day, and my plan is to participate. I ride in to my job about twice a month, and I would like to ramp that up to once a week. It is a 18 mile ride, each way, if I take the most direct route. All of it is on surface streets with no bike lane or other bike/ped facilities. Because of that I have to be up for an early morning departure, and a 40 mile day on the bike, with a work day sandwiched into the middle.

But BTWD is more like Opening Day for fishing season. Even the people who won’t be out on the water at any other time will make it out for the Big Day.

Just like in 2011, my plan is to participate in DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty’s ride from Cheshire to Hartford (about 30 miles, one way). Notice that the distances I am talking about are very different from the target audience for many bicycle advocacy campaigns: people who live within 5 miles of their workplace. In a region with normal urbanization that might be a healthy sampling. In Hartford it is the land of the 30-60 minute car commute. That is 15-30+ miles of roadway, much of it interstate highways. So those people (like me) have a double whammy of swapping a relatively fast and sedentary car commute for a long and sweaty 90 minute grind on the bike. The immediate options are along the lines of move closer to the workplace, or find a new job closer to your home.

Those options are based on minimal if any change in the current situation. You don’t need special lanes or traffic control or traffic calming… you just need to have a commute that doesn’t feel like you are training for an ironman competition. But where someone like Colville-Andersen comes in is completely about the future, and looking to the past as a codex for projecting how the future can be better than today. I have been following bicycle advocacy and its related branches for over a decade, and I have started to realize that I become most aggrivated/critical when I forget to view things through my preferred lens of futurism, and get dragged into the muddy waters of the status quo.

I have bloviated about the CT Fastrak project a few times and am regularly depressed regarding the way its mediocrity is its defining feature. Half of it, and not the useful half, includes bike/pedestrian lane. It crosses within a kilometer of a university campus (CCSU, my alma mater), but does not include a stop for university students/staff. It is considered a boondoggle driven by federal transt infrastructure funding, as opposed to solving an actual public need. And while it will meet/create a transit need, the lack of a distinct focus means that the peoject is easy picking for detractors.

My futurist mind sees a Fastrak system that links downtown New Britain to CCSU, and CCSU to downtown Hartford. That makes the city accessible to both univeristy people and New Britain people, without forcing them to deal with the cost of cars and parking. It makes the university accessible to the people of Hartford. There is a planned East Street station, over half a mile on foot from the CCSU Student Center. That sounds close, but it is a slog, and currently you would be walking on a combination of busy two-lane and off-campus housing streets. Is that the kind of decision you make when accomodating people, or accomodating cars? Maybe the university starts a shuttle service, but with the State University system taking cuts to essential services in each budget, I don’t see a lot of spare change around to run a shuttle service.

I’ll have a nice blog post with photos of BTWD 2013, but my feeling is that it will be a long time and many more BTWDs before the landscape supports alternatives to automobile commuting in any substantial way.