What’s next

Posted on February 22nd, 2010 by george.
Categories: future, history, society, space, synthesis, technology.

Endeavour landed yesterday on its penultimate mission. I tweeted about it, noting that there are only four space shuttle missions left on the manifest. My friend Patrick just asked me what’s next for NASA after the Shuttle retires. My reply on Facebook turned into an essay, so I thought I’d share it here.

What comes after the Shuttle? All the things about NASA that don’t make the headlines will continue. Some even get more funding. The Shuttle has been the poster child for 30 years, but in the meantime, NASA has been instrumental in furthering our understanding of climate dynamics, earth observation, deep space astronomy and cosmology. Robotic planetary and solar exploration, cutting edge research in biology, materials, aeronautics, energy generation, propulsion, you name it, have all continued. Shuttle launches are sexy. But when they end, perhaps a little more light will be shed on everything else NASA does. Cassini, the robotic probe that has taught us more about Saturn and its moons than we ever knew before, just got a seven year life extension. And human space exploration isn’t dead; the Falcon 9 rocket just went vertical last week, with a test capsule that SpaceX claims can be human rated. Static test firings of the Falcon 9 could come as early as this week. Private subspace (read: Virgin Galactic) should come online this year. The Russians are cranking out Soyuz launches like Henry Ford did Model Ts. Europe, Japan, China, & India all have launch systems. The Shuttle will stop flying, but humans won’t. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll resurrect the HL-20. Or the X-33. And don’t forget: the Air Force has a spaceplane now.

Humans have had a continuous presence in space since the year 2000, thanks to the International Space Station. Think about it. For the last decade, a single second hasn’t passed that someone wasn’t zooming over your head at 17,500 mph. It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but that’s the reason I answered a question about NASA’s future with international and private examples: as we go forward, this will be a cooperative effort. It’s one planet. One home. That is an inescapable fact. We are one species. Why not pool our efforts? There’s no need to reinvent the rocket just because you live in a particular spot on this planet behind some imaginary line. There’s no need for every country to send an individual probe to the moon or Mars just because we hoard information about our solar system as if we own it because we were the first to discover it. A fact is a fact; congratulations on learning it first. Now SHARE.

Newsflash: you can’t see borders from space. In my book, that means they don’t exist. They are mere constructs, accidents of history, that everyone seems to agree upon. They are fiction. Made up. There is true reality, and then there is that of which we are convinced. Exploration is inevitable. So is growth. I hope the void left by Discovery and the other shuttles makes room for the spaceships…and discoveries…of tomorrow.

12 comments.

Rat race

Posted on February 3rd, 2010 by george.
Categories: automotive, epiphany, society.

Photo by Roger Smith

Let’s say you’re looking for a job.  You find an announcement for one that matches your skill set, apply, and get an interview.  You show up, the interview goes well, the boss is nice, and the job sounds great.  You agree on a fair salary, and discuss benefits.  You’re just about to sign on the dotted line when the boss jumps in.

“Oh, I almost forgot.  There’s one more task we require for this position.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s nothing, really.  Most people don’t even think about it.”

“Okaaaaay.”

“After you work here for a while, it just becomes part of the routine.”

“Huh.”

“In fact, most of the time we don’t even talk about it.”

“What is it?”

“Well, you may have noticed the track outside.”

“Yeah, I thought that was kinda odd for this company.”

“Sure.  It may seem that way.  But it’s just something we do.  It’s just the way it is.”

“What’s the way it is?”

“Look, I don’t make the rules.  It was like this when I got here.”

“Fine.  Just tell me what I have to do.”

The boss sighs.  “Ok.  Well.  Every morning before you get to work, you have to drive a few laps around the track.”

“Really!”

“Yes, really.  And in the evening before you go home.  Same number of laps.”

“Well that’s…interesting.”

“Oh, it’s fun.  A lot of people enjoy it.  You can listen to music.”

“Sure.  Ok.  So this will be part of my normal eight hour workday?”

“Actually, no.  We’re gonna need you to make these laps before and after your normal shift.”

“Oh really?  We didn’t discuss this when we spoke about salary.  And what about the extra time spent away from home?”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Are you going to pay me for my time on the track?”

The boss laughs.  “Oh no.  We consider it part of the job.”

“Huh.  Well, I really like the position.  I guess I can make a little sacrifice with my time.”

“It’s no sacrifice, really.  Everybody does it.  It’s normal.”

“So you said.  Will you at least provide me with the car?”

“No, that’s not our responsibility.”

“Really!  So you’re making me buy a car.”

“I’m not making you do anything.  But you need one if you want this job.”

“How do you propose I pay for it?”

“Out of your paycheck, of course!”

“Ok, what about fuel?”

“Your responsibility.  Oh, and it’ll need to be insured.”

“Insured?”

“Yeah.  We don’t want you to have to pay for damage to the other cars.  It’s optional if you want to insure your own, so you don’t pay for damage out of pocket.”

“Other cars?”

“Yeah, we all start work at the same time in the morning and leave around the same time in the afternoon, so we all hit the track together.  Plus, not everybody’s going the same direction.  Gets kinda crazy out there.”

“That sounds dangerous!”

“Well, maybe for a new hire like you.  But the more experience you get, the less dangerous it is.  You’ll learn how to go with the flow.  Just pay attention.  We only lose about three out of every 20,000 people.”

“Lose?”

“Yeah, they die in crashes.”

“Die?!  How many are injured in crashes?”

“Hard to say.  But we have emergency response crews, and a hospital nearby, so you won’t need a helmet or roll cage.  Or a fire extinguisher.  You’ll be fine.  Of course, you’ll have to pay for any ambulance rides.  But there are bonuses:  you can use the car and the track 24 hours a day, even if it’s not before or after work.”

“What for?”

“You know, to get around.”

“Let me get this straight.  Every day…”

“Rain or shine.”

“Every day, rain or shine, you want me to give you laps on the track outside, for free, in a car that I purchase, fuel, and insure…”

“By law.”

“What?”

“It’s a law.  You have to insure it.”

“Okay, by law.  So I have to drive, without pay, my own car…”

“You can get a nice one.”

“What?”

“A nice one.  That way you’ll stand out from the rest of the field.  And there’s less maintenance with a newer one.  Maintenance can cost you a month’s pay.”

“Don’t I just need to make the laps?  Can’t I get something cheap?”

“Sure, but you don’t want to look trashy while doing it.  It could affect your promotion potential.  You want to feel good about yourself, don’t you?”

“I guess.”

“Oh yeah.  And not everybody has to drive the same number of laps.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it depends on how far you live from the office.  The further you live, the more laps you have to drive.”

“Well I didn’t really get to choose my house based on its distance from here.  There weren’t many places I could afford…”

“Not our problem.  You can move.”

“Listen buddy, I don’t like your tone…”

“Buddy?  You’re the one being interviewed here.  I really don’t see what the big deal is; this is how we do business.  I mean, I even take my kids out on the track.”

“What?”

“Yeah.  If you drive your kids to school, they have to spend time on the track too.”

“With all the other people out there, all of different skill levels?”

“You bet.  And some people knock a few back before hitting the track.  Takes the edge off.  So we wrote the laws, and now all the cars for sale have seat belts.  If your kids are young, they’ll need a car seat.”

“Let me guess:  by law.”

“Yep.”

“Are there any alternatives?”

“Oh sure.  You can ride a bike.”

“In the rain?”

“Yeah, some people do it.  Claim it’s good for exercise, whatever that is.”

“They ride bikes.  On the track.  With cars.  Some of which are piloted by alcoholics?”

“Yeah, crazy, right?  You can’t ride on the shoulder, either.  You have to take the same path the car does.  Make ‘em slow down, that’s the law.  Of course, drivers don’t like it.  Plus, it takes a helluvah lot longer to finish those laps when you’re doing fifteen miles an hour.”

“You’re telling me.  So if I get a car, I can go faster than a bike?”

“Up to a point.  We can’t have people going too fast.  We commissioned a study a while back.  The faster you go, the higher the risk.  So there’s a speed limit.  Plus, we’re trying to help you out, keep your fuel costs down.  Oh, and part of your paycheck will be withheld.  Taxes, you know the drill.  To pay for maintenance.”

“What happens if I just wanna get my laps over with, and go a little faster?”

“You can try, but there are fines.  Bigger fines the faster you go.  Go too fast, and we’ll put you in jail.”

“Perfect.”

“You don’t wanna drive?  Fine.  There’s also a bus that makes laps around the track.”

“Oh!  That sounds good.”

“It runs once an hour.”

“I knew there had to be something.”

“Yeah, that’s why we all drive.  Those bus riders spend a couple extra hours at the track, waiting for the bus.  And the buses are slower.  Aren’t too clean, either.  I mean, all those people sharing the same uncomfortable seats?  No control over the temperature?  Honestly, who would want to ride one?  That’s why there’s only one bus:  not enough demand.  And not all tracks have buses.  It just depends on the office.”

“This is insane.”

“Look, I don’t make the rules.  In fact, I didn’t even have to mention this to you.  I just thought I’d do you a favor.  You look like a good kid.”

“Thanks.  But this is all a little hard to swallow.  I don’t have the money to buy a car right now.  They cost a significant percentage of the yearly salary we spoke about.”

“Don’t worry!  There’s plenty of financing out there.  You can just make payments.  In fact, you can have them taken right out of your paycheck.”

“For something that has nothing to do with this job.”

“Sure it does.  We all do it.  We just don’t get paid for it.  Don’t think about it too hard, champ.  You’ll get used to it.”

“Huh.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What are you waiting for?  Sign right here!”
___________________________________________

If you commute to work by car, you are an unpaid racecar driver who finances the race team, pays for the car, and underwrites the fuel and maintenance.  You race on a track with speed limits that requires insurance.  Everyone on this track is going a different direction, and has a different finish line.  There is no prize for crossing the finish line when you’re supposed to; it’s just expected.  You pay taxes to maintain the track.  You risk your life every day on this track for your job.  They don’t compensate you for your time, and they make you pay for it.  All of it.

Emily Haines says it far more succinctly than I can.

“Buy this car to drive to work.  Drive to work to pay for this car.”

1 comment.

On climate and opinion

Posted on December 2nd, 2009 by george.
Categories: environment, society, space, technology.

There’s a lot of buzz lately about the so-called “Climategate,” with so much dispute and contention that the wiki article has been locked.  Some say environmentalism has become ideology and should be regarded as a religion.  Lines are drawn, people choose sides, the issue polarizes and progress grinds to a halt as we all stand around fiddling while Rome burns.  I recently sent an email to a friend who tweeted about it, and she encouraged me to share my thoughts with the wider public.  The following are excerpts from my side of our conversation, with a few additions.

Global warming, climate change, pollution, environmental destruction, species extinction…these are all tough things to swallow, especially when we humans decide to acknowledge our responsibility as the dominant species and custodians of this planet.  It can be difficult to parse out just how responsible we are.  We’re learning, after all.  We don’t have a perfect overview of the situation, but I think the clues point in a general direction.  Our emerging global awareness helps highlight that at a population of around seven billion, we’ve reached the point where the sum our actions, for better or worse, has a measurable effect on the life support system we call Earth.

I don’t get into the debate, and I try to find common ground with everyone.  Surely there are things we can all agree on, and surely the solutions will be manifold, not singular.  It is still an issue of science for me, and I think everyone needs to stop choking the air with uninformed opinions and politically-rooted (and ultimately self-serving) diatribes.  The bottom line is obvious:  we need to reduce our impact on the incredibly complex, wonderful, and naturally-occuring systems of the Earth, all of which are vital to our continued existence and prosperity.  The solutions are easy to state, but hard for those profiting from the status quo to concede.  Don’t dump trash and hydrocarbons into the air and sea.  Use the sun and sun-powered natural phenomena to generate electricity.  Reduce packaging and the frivolous use of plastic.  Design, redesign and grow cities around the pedestrian.  Make goods, including electronics, easy to disassemble and recyclable.  Eliminate wanton and senseless consumption and destruction.  Align ourselves with the seemingly hard to appreciate yet demonstrably priceless processes that recycle our oxygen and water and provide a temperature- and pressure-controlled, radiation shielded, food-bearing wonderland.  One simply has to tick off the list of challenges and costs in supporting a continuous human presence in low earth orbit to make it plainly obvious that it is beyond our ability to do what the Earth does for all of us.  We may be able to keep a dozen humans alive for a limited time and with a constant resupply in a precarious perch overlooking our little blue marble, but good luck doing that for the entire human race without the inestimable gift of our biosphere.

We can’t just blame corporations, think that clears our consciences, and go on contributing to the demand that drives global exploitation.  We also cannot set up entities whose sole reason for being is profit at the expense of all else.  “Else” in this case being the welfare of Earth and humanity, whose fates are inextricable.  There must be balance.  Profit is not bad if earned within a responsible framework.  Unbridled, irresponsible profit that cuts corners, pollutes and exists only for the benefit of a mighty few is unsustainable, and will eventually crumble.  We cannot continue to treat Earth’s resources as infinite and free and expect life to go on exactly as it is in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, there are a million other things to tackle, like the health, welfare and education of BILLIONS of our brothers and sisters.  The Earth is going to warm up; we’ve already done it.  That goose is cooked.  It’ll be a shame to see some of my favorite islands and coastlines swallowed up, but we’ll adapt.  We’re going to be forced to, and no amount of blathering in the high school hallways that our media has become is going to make a whit of difference about it, except insofar as it influences people to change their habits in manageable ways.  The sum total of our lifestyle choices has an undeniable globlal effect.  There’s only so much we can do as individuals…but that’s exactly what we should do, and all that can be asked of us.

On this and all topics, people need to be open to discussion, truly listen to each other, examine the facts, and most importantly be willing to change their minds.  All too often ego trumps logic, and for some unfathomable reason, people think that admitting you were wrong, even partially, is a bad thing.  On the contrary, it shows that you are willing to assimilate new information and to refine your viewpoint, bringing it closer to the actual truth!  Truth, life, faith, they are all journeys of refinement.  In manufacturing and economics they call it “continuous improvement.”  In the Baha’i Faith we call it drawing nearer to God.  We need to let go of the idea that as a single human being, we can be “right.”  Only God has the claim of ultimate Truth, as the Source.  All human understanding is limited by definition, thus are our opinions, including mine.  No one should be proud of their opinion; our responsibility is to interact with each other with the utmost humility and love and to be ever-learning, ever-growing, ever-improving.

Think of it this way:  what would you rather be?  A feather, light and airy, devoid of any solidity, blowing about on the winds of public opinion and at the mercy of novelty?  A rock, staunch and unmovable, stuck in the mud, powerless to move or progress but proud of your crusty and outdated sediment, gathering moss and refusing to interact, offering nothing but blunt, cold, and hard opinion?  Or a blade of grass, firmly rooted in historical precedent but flexible, drawing upon the rich soil of previous human accomplishment and the guidance of the Almighty, able to bend in the breeze of new information and the breath of confirmation, soak up the rain of divine blessings and technological progress, and grow through the animating energy of the Sun?

This excerpt from The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, which Lorenia read to me this morning, says it better than I ever could.

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men.

1 comment.

Driving smart

Posted on September 18th, 2009 by george.
Categories: automotive, coincidence, environment, friends, fun, society, technology, travel.

Five months ago I posted a photo on flickr of a SMART car.

SMART

I remember seeing these little jewels on a trip to Europe as a teen, where they left a lasting impression on a young American.  Would you look at that!  Cars don’t have to weigh two tons!  And these suckers can “parallel park” with their nose to the curb!  I posted this shot because I’m very excited that they finally made it to America.  I didn’t expect anything from the comments, but the first one, from my friend Atoosa, caught me off guard.

“My cousin Neda is a paramedic and she calls these ‘smartcoffins’ because she’s pulled so many dead people out of them. Basically she says in a collision, this is a little plastic deathpod.”

“That’s unfortunate. But understandable, considering how overweight American cars are. If everyone drove a SMART, I’m sure the story would be different,” I replied.  While the SMART car is perfect for the tiny streets and low speeds of European city driving, I now see what a frightening proposition it is to take these things out onto the highway to slice and dice with SUVs and pickups at 70mph.  I went on to post links to crash test videos of the little Mercedes/SWATCH “deathpod,” and an article on SMART safety, that indicates this city car wasn’t really intended for highway driving.  On the other hand, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety praises the car’s low-speed (40mph or so) crash safety in the official crash test video with commentary.  I finished my flickr comment by saying, “It’s much safer than a motorcycle,” to which Atoosa replied, “My dear G, ‘safer than a motorcycle’ is hardly a reassuring recommendation.”

Fast forward to present day.  I got an email from my brother-in-law (happy birthday, Dan!) about Volkswagen’s L1, a 170-mpg, tandem-seat-layout, carbon fiber monocoque concept that’s been around since 2002 and whose original prototype famously drove 100 kilometers on one liter of fuel.

L1

They’ve updated the design of the new prototype with a diesel engine and a more production-ready design, hence the buzz.  VDUB claims it will bring this beauty to market in 2013, but I told Dan I was skeptical.  I love VW; Lorenia and I just purchased a Jetta and a GTI.  But I admit I’d be surprised to see the L1 make it through to production.  If it does, though, I’d buy a 2013 model.  In 2018.  In the meantime, there’s the glorious Aptera…if it ever makes it out of California.

Aptera

And, if we’re lucky, the US will get the zippy new Fiat 500 in 2010 or 2011.

Abarth

I cracked up when in the comments on WIRED’s article about the L1, someone said, “Who’s going to be the first to comment on how the vehicle will fare in a collison with a semi?  Somebody always does.”

Indeed, Atoosa made the semi comment five months ago.  “And yes, they do pass all crash tests or they wouldn’t be allowed on the road, if they hit an SUV — or even worse, an 18 wheeler, the tiny car goes bouncing like a skipping stone. Remember the video with the concrete wall only demonstrates the effects of the momentum of the SMART car itself. What would the impulse transfer be like if it hit an 18 wheeler going 70 mph?”

And that brings us to the purpose of this entry, which is to post my little flickr manifesto from April.  I made the following reply.

“True. It’s not as reassuring as, say, a new Volvo. I’d just like to point out that even SUVs are no match for 18 wheelers, so that argument against SMARTs is moot. Knowing that a big truck would pulverize your Celica doesn’t stop you from driving it. These are the choices that the individual driver has to make when we’re forced into car ownership by the societal status quo of a sprawled America devoid of intelligent urban design or the individual will to pay for such design through taxes that contribute to hard-to-measure quality of life benefits.

Bike vs. car is an even worse proposition than SMART vs. SUV, but that doesn’t stop me from riding my bike. Long story short, European-style, high density cities powered by renewable energy and with centers that exclude motorized traffic and emphasize pedestrians and bicycles are the way forward. Ultimately, the safety of a car is relative, and for most people cost, fuel efficiency, performance, utility and looks are all more important, since fatal crashes are relatively rare (42,000 vehicular deaths per year in the US versus 300 million inhabitants, or 0.00014% — 14 in 100,000).

Furthermore, almost no one considers the cost to the earth in terms of the materials and energy that go into producing a new car, which is why most don’t recognize that the greenest cars on the road will always be the pre-owned models: their environmental production cost has already been paid. No matter how efficient a 100% electric Tesla is, it can’t match the alternative: not gathering the materials and energy to build a new Tesla, and continuing to repair and drive what you have. Or better yet: selling your car and purchasing the nicest bike money can buy.

Fatal accidents in which you as the driver have no fault are exceedingly rare, on the order of acts of God. The majority of accidents can be avoided by paying closer attention to the task of driving and using defensive driving techniques, especially leaving enough distance between yourself and the car ahead. The unavoidable accidents, rare as they are, are not going to convince me to drive an SUV instead of a SMART, especially when the smaller, lighter car is more nimble and thus better at avoiding an accident. I’d rather die while trying to minimize my carbon footprint than survive crashes to burn another dinosaur another day. We can’t avoid it when it’s our time to go. What matters is how we treat others and our global life support system until we do.

Atoosa replied, “Very well put, my friend. That was like a blogpost unto itself. We keep fixing up our old Toyotas and riding our bikes when we can, but hopefully we won’t be pulverized, but will live to see the day when society around the world is built to minimize the human footprint on our planet.”

How strange, then, that both my 1992 Toyota Camry and her mid-nineties Toyota Celica would die last month.  After an extensive search and over twenty test drives, Atoosa finally purchased a Hyundai Genesis Coupe.  Notwithstanding the repair nightmares of being an early adopter, I’m very excited about her car.  But I’m equally excited that after my own protracted search for four-cylinder standard-shift cars, I found the fastest car I’ve ever owned:  a 2003 VW GTI 1.8T.

GTI

That’s right, GDUB has a VDUB.  One that goes to 70 in second gear and still gets 30mpg, thanks to the turbo.  Not as flashy as the L1, and I’m working on a few repairs to problems the dealer failed to mention, but I’m thrilled.  Living in a “city” where cyclists have glass bottles thrown at them and working at a job whose security gate is six miles from the office and bans bikes during rush hour may force me into car ownership, but if I must drive, at least I can have a car that’s responsible, affordable and faster than a scalded dog.

14 comments.

Oprah interviews Dwight

Posted on March 10th, 2009 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, life, prayer, society, video.

I am getting chills…chills…listening to Oprah’s interview of Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight Schrute on the Office.  To hear Oprah, vanguard of American opinion, the billionaire African American woman with a direct line into living rooms across the country, mention the Baha’i House of Worship in Chicago in reverent tones sent a shiver down my spine.  Do yourself a favor and tune in to this funny, enlightening, and uplifting interview about acting, Chicago, the Baha’i Faith, art as prayer, service to humanity as our highest calling, and the meaning of soul pancake.

4 comments.

Pale blue dot

Posted on January 30th, 2009 by george.
Categories: enlightenment, environment, epiphany, film, future, life, music, society, space, synthesis, technology.

Didn’t think I was gonna get a post up in January, didja?  HA!  That’ll show ya.

Here’s a month’s worth of hope in one short film.  Watch it full screen.

2 comments.

Sky high

Posted on June 19th, 2008 by george.
Categories: society, travel.

Let’s talk for a second about airlines, shall we?  (Disclaimer:  Lacey, my friend, this is in no way directed at you.  I realize you and hundreds of thousands of other people make their living working in the air transportation industry.)

Now.  I’m an avid flyer.  I love it.  I love travel.  I want to be a pilot.  And amidst all the clamor of rising fuel prices, I’ve kept mum.  I’m happy petrol prices are rising; I hope it spurs change, since nothing but the bottom line seems to be able to motivate the majority of humanity.

But I’m gonna take a moment right now just to vent about the creative ways that airlines are looking to make their business profitable.  You’ve heard about American setting the standard by charging for checked bags.  Within weeks everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, and that one’s easy:  I travel light.  I never check bags.  It got a little tougher after the Theater Security Administration banned liquids and gels, but it’s just another bump in the turbulence, right?

Well we’re headed up to Chattanooga in a couple weeks to meet my new nephew (due any day now!) and I got the good word from Dad that I should check out Allegiant Air for direct flights from Orlando.  All well and good, right?  Yeah…

It’s nice that the internet has forced (or allowed, depending on your perspective) airlines to show you the price of each leg of your journey, so you can adjust departure and arrival dates in search of the lowest fare.  But the fees are starting to get ridiculous.  You think to yourself…each leg for under $100, that’s not bad at all!  Then you’re reminded…oh yeah…taxes and fees.  It would be one thing if it were on the order of sales tax, somewhere under ten percent.  But twenty-seven percent of the base price?!  Isn’t that higher that credit card interest rates?

Ok, where do we begin?  Federal taxes of $23?  That should cover the FAA and ATC and the TSA and any other TLA, right?  Wrong.  They’re STILL charging a “September 11th fee.”  Just to keep the fear in us, I suppose.  Segment fees?  PFC?  Miscellaneous?  Forget what those are even supposed mean?  Miscellaneous?  Seriously, guys?  You might as well say, “we added this on so we could advertise a lower fare.”

Still, all this I was already grudgingly aware of.  What gets me is what comes next.  Just like signing up for websites means that the little box for “please send me spam” is already checked, Allegiant pre-selects all its fees for you.  Oh!  How convenient!  You’re going to charge me $15 to reserve EACH seat?  There and back?  It took me a full minute to figure out how to decline seat reservations.  Surely that’s it.  But wait, there’s more!

These are small regional jets, so the carryons are limited to 8 by 16 by 19 inches.  Good thing I bought my suitcase in Lilliput.  Even if I wanted to check a bag?  $20 apiece.  Just to start.  And that’s when you tell them in advance!  It’s even more if you show up at the counter with grandma’s heirloom wardrobe in tow.

Click through to the next screen.  Surely I can input my credit card info now.  Oh wait, what’s this?  A rescheduling fee?  You want me to pay you sixty bucks just so I can have the OPTION of changing my flights?  You must be joking.  Southwest does that for free.  Quick, where’s the deselect button?  Better yet, where’s another airline?

Add this to the fact that many airlines are now charging piecemeal for every single consumable on board, coupled with the TSA’s diligent prohibition of food and drinks from home and the airport’s oh-so-reasonable prices (did I mention how convenient it is to the airport’s quarterly projections that you’re forced to buy food there?), and you have a perfect storm of passenger discontent.

Still, I guess it beats driving.

8 comments.

Spin

Posted on May 15th, 2008 by george.
Categories: numbers, poetry, society.

ten thousand headlines
every day
the same sad song
sung seventy ways
lose your head
for looking up
plastic coffee
from a paper cup
racing the rats
buying the hype
untold power
out an idling pipe
quarter projections
short selling stock
biting the hands
of the ticking clock
a trillion white rabbits
in every direction
a worrisome bulge
at your own midsection
feeding on hearsay
drinking down lies
a rumble of thunder
from menacing skies

see through the smoke
tear down the veil
walk through the fire
break out of jail

challenge the system
jump out of line
swim up the river
dare to be kind

you may own seven cars
but you can only
drive one
at a time

3 comments.

All I Need

Posted on May 14th, 2008 by george.
Categories: coincidence, life, music, serendipity, society, synthesis, travel.

It would take a novel to tell the tale of our recent trip south of the equator. I could wax poetic about the natural beauty of Peru and Bolivia, and indeed, Lake Titicaca is everything the Animaniacs crack it up to be, and Machu Picchu is most deserving of its spot among the New Seven Wonders of the World. What keeps emerging as I tell the stories to friends, however, is an aspect of that same modern world that we as Baha’is are working to eradicate: extremes of wealth and poverty.

Coming home to my first Radiohead concert, after waiting more than a decade to see one of my all-time favorite bands live, only threw the contrast between the United States and Peru and Bolivia into starker relief. While the experience was underwhelming (most likely due to the poor sound quality at Ford Ampitheater in Tampa, the lazy crowd and the mellow setlist), it was still worthwhile. There’s no comparing it to Peru, but I couldn’t get Radiohead’s songs out of my head for days. Indeed I still can’t. In Rainbows defies my knack for hyperbole. I think Vince, who joined us at the concert, said it best.

IN RAINBOWS – choose 1:

a) Great Radiohead Album, or

b) Greatest Radiohead Album

Leave it to a band who defines my generation to say what I wanted to say about South America (and indeed all countries not as privileged as the G8) with a powerful music video, released while we were in Peru.

4 comments.