Joe Biden on Meet The Press

Instead of their opinions and guesses, I wish political commentators would offer simple facts, observations, like: Joe Biden doesn’t complete about 23*% of the sentences his starts.

A typical example of a Biden not completed sentence is like half a statistic or something followed by “I mean look” and a jump to a new thought.

Starting a new sentence whenever you’re lost is probably a great tactic if you find you get confused, lose the thread, or make frequent meanderings into language territory you can’t always get out of.

I’m aware Joe Biden has struggled with a stutter, and respect his struggle with it, you can see that in this Meet The Press appearance, that may partially explain this fact but doesn’t make it not a fact.

As for Mike Pence’s on Meet The Press, the less said the better.  Rare cheers for Chuck Todd for pinning him down on naming names of what specific Democrats are “politicizing” the crisis. Pence came up with “the New York Times” (referencing I believe Gail Collins’ column).

One thought I’ve had about politics is there’s a wide gap in how important people think politics is or should be.  I get a sense that, say, young Bernie voters tend to think “this is life or death!  Politics means people’s lives!” while among a Trump-type voter you often get a sense of “whatever, it’s a stupid puppet show.”

After the 2008 election, when I looked back on how much time I’d spent like refreshing blogs and stuff, I resolved not to get too sucked into like following the events and commentary, but it’s a great temptation.

*actually counted and tried to make a fair estimate, what is wrong with me.


Coaches, Super Bowl LIV

Andy Reid, head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, poses for a photo with leadership of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, at the Chief’s training camp in St. Joseph, Mo., Aug. 14, 2018. The Chiefs hosted a military appreciation day on their final day of training. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Michael Crane)

Will you be doing a coaches profile for the Super Bowl this year, Helytimes, as you’ve done in the past?

I get asked this so much when I’m out.

To be honest, I can’t do it this year.  Just haven’t had the free time and enthusiasm to study the biographies, food habits, and philosophies of the two coaches to give a true, honest effort.

I’d say from a quick skim I admire much about both Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan.

(I like those shoes.)

Reid is from LA:

Born in Los Angeles, California, Reid attended John Marshall High School and worked as a vendor at Dodger Stadium as a teenager.

If I have to make a flash prediction it’s that Reid will put in the superior coaching effort and execute the better strategy, and the Chiefs will win the game as well as beat the current 1.5 Vegas spread.

(I will not be betting on it, I don’t think I have any edge, sports betting isn’t my thing.  The only skin I put behind this prediction is my public reputation for sports predicting acumen (which I don’t value much)).

Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone.  Send us a picture of your favorite snack!


When I read about UK or USA politics

sometimes I’m just like, haven’t we seen this before?


Notes on a decade

Born near the turn of a decade, the decades of the marked years neatly match my own personal decades.  The 2010s were pretty much my 30s.  Probably I was less in tune culturally than I was in the 2000s / 20s.  Or maybe I was REALLY tuned in.  Who can say?  Sometimes re: “current events”, they did feel like little more than backdrop to my own personal dramas.  If nothing else I was present for a lot of cool moments, the finales of The Office and VEEP, for example.

For that I’m grateful.

Helytimes was launched in 2012, out of a desire to claim a space for myself on what we still called “the Internet,” plus a sense that figuring out how to write online would be important.  Haven’t quite made it to ten years yet, which I remember setting as a benchmark to strive for.

The 2010s decade, if we’re being flexible, has to begin with the September 2008 financial crisis and aftermath.  The bad guys really did get away with it.  That’s a fact we’ve had to sit with all decade, and I think it’s an ugly, unpleasant fact that lies beneath a lot of the roiling turmoil since then.  A small percentage of people rigged the economy and were reckless with the lives of others, and mostly left others holding the bag and were never held to account.

Did it all begin here?

The decade was really split by the shock of the 2016 election.  A troubling, disturbing shock, even to the guy who won!  When I consider that was almost four years ago it feels weird, I’m still kinda not out of the initial dizziness that Donald J. Trump is the President.  It feels like it warbles the universe to even write that and have it be true.

Historywise, what was this decade?  Was it good?  Was it bad?  Was it tumultuous?  Are we brimming with more hope than we were in 2009?  If you were making one of those CNN docs of the decade, what would you have to include?  The fact that it is kinda hard to answer does – well I don’t want to say it disappoints, but it might suggests this was not a decade of great innovation.

Art and culture of the 2010s?  How were they distinct from the 2000s?  I can’t name the true trends in music, or even film or TV.  What about literature?  Here we are in 2019 and who’s a hot young writer?  Sally Rooney?  Jia Tolentino?  Is there anyone else who pops out of this decade in literature?

Technology-wise, 2010 was very different for me than 2000, when I didn’t own a phone.  But I don’t think 2019 is that different from 2010.

The big ticket of the 2010s, it seems to me, is “social media.”  My phone regularly reports to me that I spend five or so hours on it A DAY, and I don’t think I’m that unusual.  Twitter, Insta, TikTok, etc.  Gaming streams? Social is where people live.

Is sorting the decades by their cultural touchstones itself kind of a Boomer idea?  Feels like it became strongest with “the Sixties.”  As David Halberstam pointed out in his book, it wasn’t like nothing was going on in the ’50s, it just felt like that for a certain generation which hadn’t yet come awake.

maybe thinking about “decades” is itself an old idea, we’re so fast now we’re on years, months, days, moments.

Moments.  Were the 2010s the decade of moments?  We could capture and share moments better than ever before.  I remember a tech bro pitching me an idea in Austin for some kind of photo storing service.  “I was getting so sick of missing moments,” he said.  Within a few months another person pitched me essentially the same idea, though neither time did I really understand what the problem was, exactly, nor the solution.

One quality the 2020s will need is hope.  One of the best things there is is hope, and here’s hoping for a decade of amazing moments for Helytimes readers, and well heck, why not wish everyone a peaceful, happy, prosperous decade with just the right amount of excitement.

I put on Spotify’s best of the decade and man, I’d forgotten this one:

CeeLo’s “Fuck You” if the link dies, as they inevitably do.


Nissan

A Datson Model 11 by HKT3012 for Wikipedia

The best business story of last decade snuck in under the wire, when Carlos Ghosn, the former head of Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA who was out on bail in Japan awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, popped up in Lebanon just before New Year’s after being smuggled out of Japan in, apparently, a large black case used for audio equipment.

As Matt Levine put it.  Interested in the mysterious case of Ghosn the Nissan outlaw, I started looking into the history of Nissan.  A key figure is an American engineer, William Gorham.  Gorham traveled to Japan several times as a boy with his dad, an Asia manager for Goodyear tires.  In 1918, he moved to Japan with his wife and children, and got involved with Gonshiro Kubota:

Gonshiro Kubota, a successful businessman who founded and led his eponymously-named firm into becoming the largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Japan was eager to enter the automobile market. At the time, the only two mass-production Japanese automobile manufacturers were Isuzu, and Kaishinsha, founded by Matsujiro Hashimoto. Kubota hired Gorham as chief designer, with Gorham designing the vehicles and setting up the manufacturing plants for Gorham’s three-wheeled automobile. Along with other Japanese investors, Kubota and Gorham would found Jitsuyo Jidōsha, who would manufacturer the three-wheeled automobile as the Gorham, and a four-wheeled automobile of Gorham’s design as the Lila. Jitsuyo Jidōsha and Kaishinsha would later be merged into a predecessor of the Nissan Motor Company.

A vivid picture:

In David Halberstam‘s 1986 book The Reckoning, Halberstam states: “In terms of technology, Gorham was the founder of the Nissan Motor Company” and that “In 1983, sixty-five years after [Gorham’s] arrival… young Nissan engineers who had never met him spoke of him as a god.

In May of 1941, Gorham renounced his US citizenship.  Reported in the NY Times:

He stayed in Japan as the US and Japan went to war.

After the end of the war, the United States government declined to charge him or his wife with treason since they had become Japanese citizens before the war began; in fact, he ended up working in a liaison position with the headquarters of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur regarding industrial problems

Gorham:

 

 


They Britney’d the abandoned KMart!

Not sure the photo captures the majesty of seeing it in person.


America as casino

Now we finally have a former casino operator as our President.  It was inevitable.  Gambling is really at the heart of America, IMO.  Even in the ancient myths of the desert Southwest we hear of The Gambler.  The thing is, this isn’t really a country, it’s a casino.  Anybody* can come here and take their chances.  Any immigrant to America was weighing the odds and taking a big chance.  If you win big, congratulations, if you crap out that’s on you.  Maybe that’s why we don’t have nationalized health insurance, and why we tolerate rule by billionaires.  It’s a feature, not a bug.  Social safety nets for societies.  Casinos don’t have a safety net.

Before Trump, Bill Clinton might have been our most casino-adjacent president.  He liked to describe himself as the man from Hope, but he was really from Hot Springs, a kind of local Arkansas Las Vegas from before the age of Southwest Airlines.  His mother spent her time at the race track and the house where young Bill spent his time had “a bar on which stood a rotating cage with two huge dice in it.”

I’m not saying I love that America is more of a casino than a country, but let’s accept that reality.  Maybe a winning political messaging could come out of something like “MAKE THE CASINO FAIR” or “A FAIR CASINO FOR ALL!”  It’s hard to look around and not think the casino is at least a little rigged, or at the very least that current management is crooked.

Or how about CLEAN UP THE CASINO! or EVEN THE ODDS!

 

 

 


Tom Wolfe

The people in the psychedelic world had been religious but had always covered it up.  There was such a bad odor about being frankly religious. I mean Kesey would refer to Cosmo, meaning God; someone in the group used the word manager.  Hugh Romney [a.k.a. Wavy Gravy] used to say, “I’m in the pudding and I’ve met the manager.”

On unusual style / carrying yourself as a reporter:

When I first started at Esquire, I made the mistake of trying to fit in.  And given the kind of things I was sent to cover – stock car racing, the Peppermint Lounge, topless restaurants in San Francisco – not only did I not fit in no matter how hard I tried, but I would deprive myself of the opportunity to ask very basic questions that the outsider can ask.  You just discover after awhile that people like to be asked questions they know the answers to.

Elsewhere:

be an odd, eccentric character… people will volunteer information to you

On American literature:

In France they discovered Faulkner – not as we would, as a very complex and somewhat arty writer, but as a primitive who had barely emerged from the ooze, somehow, to write.

At the same time they were admiring the energetic, classless and low-rent, rude, animal side of American art, our artists were striving like mad to shed all of that and to stop being hicks and rustics.

re: The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

I want people to pay attention to what I think is my sole contribution in these areas – showing how certain fashions, certain styles, certain trends come about.  They’re not like the weather.  Most of our critics and historians seem to think that styles are like Bermuda highs.  That it’s the spirit of the age and so cosmic in nature that you don’t have to think about how it happened.  You just note that it happened, and if the weather is serious enough, you bow down.  What I keep saying is that styles are created by people.  And the task of a historian – which is all I picture myself as in these books – is to find out who these people are and what the competitions were that brought the styles out.

On advice to young journalists:

You should get up your courage and approach the biggest magazine you can think of that might be interested in the subject.  Approach a junior editor rather than the man at the top, because the junior editors are in competition with one another to discover new writers.  Even if you’ve already written it, present the story idea to the editor, because editors like to feel that they’re part of the creative process. Wait a decent interval of about two weeks and then send them a manuscript.  Magazines will be in a receptive mood if you have approached them ahead of time.  They’ll want it to be good, they’ll want to buy it, and they’ll want it to be a success.  There’s a continual shortage of good writers and good journalists.  It’s really not an overcrowded field because there’s not that much talent to go around.  A lot of it is having the determination and perseverance to do the reporting.

There are several references to an article I’m not sure I’d read before, about carrier pilots operating off the USS Coral Sea, dodging missiles over North Vietnam, “The Truest Sport: Jousting with Sam and Charlie,” which you can read here on Esquire’s website.

Status competition, that’s what interests Wolfe.

Making writing appear spontaneous:

I wanted the writing to appear buoyant, free and easy, spontaneous.  Creating the effect of spontaneity in writing is one of the most difficult and artificial things you can do.  I was much relieved to learn that Celine used to spend four or five years rewriting his novels in order to achieve the effect of someone just sitting down across the table from you, spouting up the story of his life.  Writing is an extremely artificial business: it’s artificial by its very nature – you’re taking sounds and converting them into symbols on a page.  To make that transference from one sense to another and reinvest the words with vigor and rhythm and spontaneity is quite a feat.

more:

my intention, my hope, was always to get inside of these people, inside their central nervous systems, and present their experience in print from the inside.

[after he wrote an attack on The New Yorker, and everybody came after him]

I suddenly found myself denounced by the likes of Joseph Alsop, Walter Lippman (he called me an ass in print), Murray Kempton, a distinguished columnist for the New York Post.  Richard Goodwin called up from the White House to denounce me; E. B. White; even J. D. Salinger, whom the press hadn’t heard from for years, sent in a telegram denouncing me as a yellow journalist.  I really felt that perhaps the world was coming to an end. All these eminent people descended upon me, and I felt the sky was falling in.  Then a few days later I woke up, and nothing had happened.  It dawned on m that it’s very difficult to get hurt in a literary fight. In a strange way, all the shouting and shooting and the explosion were part of the literary excitement.

(funny that one of the criticisms, J.D. Salinger’s term, was that Wolfe’s attack was “gleeful.”

The next two are from an interview with Ron Reagan in “GEO, 1983.  The prompt here is about Pol Pot and the then rampant Khmer Rouge:

So much of the political thought and fashion among writers and other commentators in the United States is based on the idea that liberty has always existed in a kind of mist over the left.  In this country there have been very few ideologues, but there has often been a Marxist mist, the idea that there is something wonderful about socialism that if pursued correctly will lead to liberty, peace, harmony and the betterment of man in a way that nothing going on in modern industrial nation can.  In the past ten years it’s been discovered that socialism, when put into effect by experts, leads only to extermination camps.  This has been a terrible blow to a very fashionable idea.  That’s why it’s embarrassing to dwell on Pol Pot.  Pol Pot is not a maniac.  He’s a man who studied the future for his country for years starting in France, and the whole Khmer Rouge movement was probably as rational an undertaking under a Marxist ruler as has ever occurred.  Everywhere the experts have put socialism into effect, the result has been the gulag.  Now to point this out is to be regarded as right wing.  I regard it only as obvious – so obvious, in fact, that you have to be crazy to avert your eyes from it.

On why writers like Hemingway and Mailer are interested in fighters and “people who got their hands dirty”:

For this analysis, I go to Sigmund Freud.  He said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground.  They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers.  In a way, that resonated with the fantasies and dreams of other people who were not so talented.  When they are successful in presenting these fantasies to the public, they end up achieving through fantasy that which they were previously able to achieve only in fantasy.  But somehow it’s not enough to be known as someone who is a skilled fantasist.  That is second best; it would have been much better to have ruled the playground.  So they constantly try to prove to themselves that they can rule the playground if they really try.  But only rarely do you run into an obsession like that.

Wolfe later mentions he things handguns should be banned:

I think if manufacture and sale stopped, the price of the ones remaining would go up on the black market.  If it became a felony nationally to possess a handgun and there was a public call to turn them in , I think you’d be surprised at how many would be turned in.

Wolfe had really done his homework to develop his styles.

I really made a concentrated effort to get in the game.  I adapted a lot of things I had run across in graduate school.  For example, there were these early experimental Soviet writers like Aleksei Remizov, Boris Pilniak, Andrei Sobel and the Serapion Brothers.  One of them, Yevegeni Zamyatin, was best known for We, the book that Orwell’s 1984 was based on.  From Zamyatin, I got the idea of oddly punctuated inner thoughts.  I began using a lot of exclamation points and dashes and multiple colons.  The idea was, that’s the way people think.

The four basic techniques of novels Wolfe tried to introduce to nonfiction:

The first is scene-by-scene construction.  In other words, telling the entire story through a sequence of scenes rather than simple historical narration.  Second is the use of real dialogue – the more the better.  The third, which is the least understood of the techniques, is the use of status details.  That is, noting articles of clothing, manners, the way people treat children, the way they treat servants.  All the things that indicate where a person thinks he fits in society and where he hopes to go socially.  The fourth is the use of point of view, which is depicting the scenes through a particular pair of eyes.

Re: psychedelia and mus:

Without that world, without Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, there would have been no serious music by the Beatles.  They take off from the Grateful Dead, starting with that album Revolver.  Everything from Revolver on comes out of the American psychedelic world, to which they were turned on by Bob Dylan – in person, in private.  Not by listening to his records, but by getting involved with him personally.

One more:

Here’s another thing that’s now like a foreign notion.  The seven deadly sins are all sins against the self.  And this is an idea that’s vanished pretty much.  Lust for example.  The reason that lust in Christian religion was – particularly in the form of Catholicism that originated the seven deadly sins – was considered a sin was not that some man would be leading some nice girl from Akron into white slavery, or the pages of pornographic magazines, but that he would be hurting himself by wasting his spirit on this shallow and pointless, base passion.

I hope editor Dorothy Scura doesn’t mind me quoting so extensively from her book, which is itself a roundup of other interviews.  My goal is simply to share some of these wonderful insights with likeminded readers.

True Wolfeheads can find more content here.

 


Charlie Rose Memories

 

There was a period when I was working on a novel, not working a steady job, and I figured, “I should make sure I at least hear an hour of human conversation a day.”  That was the time in my life when I watched the most Charlie Rose.

The Charlie Rose Show website used to be elegantly organized.  It’s still good, but there was a neat way it used to be indexed, there was section called like “writers on writing” I appreciated.

Charlie Rose has now been banished for his crimes which sound bad enough.  Sometimes in the wake of what’s (perhaps unfortunately) called “the MeToo movement” I hear like “well what about due process?!” or arguments along those lines.  But shouldn’t our public media gatekeeper/narrative shapers be not just merely not sex pests, but in fact above reproach?  Couldn’t we have higher standards for our public broadcasters?

This got me riled about about Brett Kavanaugh as well — like, can’t we find someone for the Supreme Court who can’t be credibly accused of anything?  I believe it is possible!

Anyway.  Here are some memories of moments on Charlie Rose that stuck in my craw:

  • The Franzen/DFW/Mark Leyner “Future of Fiction” episode
  • When John Grisham was on, and Charlie asked him “what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?”  Grisham said, “figure out where you’re going to get your paycheck from.”
  • Charlie needling David McCullough about selling the rights to John Adams to Tom Hanks.  McCullough was going on about how Hanks came to him with the book all marked up and noted, and how THAT was what convinced him.  Charlie: “But surely some money changed hands, David.”
  • Charlie would often say to a guest, who was just back from Iraq or whatever, “take me there.”  (In fact, I think Charlie himself even called attention to this technique.
  • Charlie referencing his “girlfriend”
  • In a Remembering John Updike episode, David Remnick (or maybe Updike’s editor, or both) noting that Updike wanted to “get it all down.”  Like, all of life, his every thought.  Is this a good instinct?
  • Charlie saying “c’mon, Toby” to Tobias Scheeman’s bullshit justification about why he had sex with a Papua New Guinean tribesman in Keep The River On Your Right

Annoying

I had a thought about human nature.  It has to do with people who are “annoying.”

When a person perceives they are failing to win someone over, or not connecting, often their reaction is to double down on trying to ingratiate.

They become desperate to find connection, shared humor, to offer something of value, anything, to try and repair this.

But this, to the annoyed party, only makes them more annoying.

In their fear and insecurity, the annoyer make the problem worse.

If you think you’re annoying to someone, you should back off.  This is what the annoyed wants, and it offers the best hope of eventual repair.

There might be a larger meaning here, that our frantic solutions to problems often make them worse.  When we perceive we’re causing a problem, maybe our first move should be to stop doing anything.  Withdraw, pull back, cool out, consider.  It takes great discipline to do this though, it’s very rare.

This perception comes from being on both sides, both finding someone annoying and feeling they kinda knew it and watching them overreact, and feeling more annoyed.  And from cases where I suspected I myself was found annoying, and how my urge was to “turn on the charm”!

I used Fran Drescher as a gif here because I feel like “annoying” was kind of part of her brand, but let me be clear, I don’t find Fran Drescher annoying, I think she’s cool, and one of the most gifable stars out there.


Lizzo

Lennon Photography for Wikipedia

My friend CB was visiting the other week.  He lives on a small island in Canada and, it turns out, had never heard of LIzzo.  This came up because in three Uber rides in a row here in Los Angeles, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” played from the radio.  On the third hearing we were discussing it, and the female Uber driver asked us if we’d ever considered the lyrics.

We contemplated them together.

Why men great ’til they gotta be great?
Woo
I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch
Even when I’m crying crazy
Yeah, I got boy problems, that’s the human in me
Bling bling, then I solve ’em, that’s the goddess in me
You coulda had a bad bitch, non-committal
Help you with your career just a little
You’re ‘posed to hold me down, but you’re holding me back
And that’s the sound of me not calling you back
Why men great ’til they gotta be great?
Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face
Best friend sat me down in the salon chair
Shampoo press, get you out of my hair
Fresh photos with the bomb lighting
New man on the Minnesota Vikings
Truth hurts, needed something more exciting
Bom bom bi dom bi dum bum bay
You tried to break my heart?
Oh, that breaks my heart
That you thought you ever had it
No, you ain’t from the start
Hey, I’m glad you’re back with your bitch
I mean who would wanna hide this?
I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be your side chick
I put the sing in single
Ain’t worried ’bout a ring on my finger
So you can tell your friend, “shoot your shot” when you see ’em
It’s OK, he already in my DMs
Why men great ’til they gotta be great?
Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face
Best friend sat me down in the salon chair
Shampoo press, get you out of my hair
Fresh photos with the bomb lighting
New man on the Minnesota Vikings
Truth hurts, needed something more exciting
Bom bom bi bom bi dum bum bay
I’ma hit you back in a minute
I don’t play tag, bitch, I been it
We don’t fuck with lies, we don’t do goodbyes
We just keep it pushing like aye yi yi
I’ma hit you back in a minute
I don’t play tag, bitch, I been it
We don’t fuck with lies, we don’t do goodbyes
We just keep it pushing like aye yi yi
Why men great ’til they gotta be great?
Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face
Best friend sat me down in the salon chair
Shampoo press, get you out of my hair
Fresh photos with the bomb lighting
New man on the Minnesota Vikings
Truth hurts, needed something more exciting
Bom bom bi bom bi dum bum bay
the songwriters: Jesse St John / Melissa Viviane Jefferson / Ricky Reed / Steven Cheung
On October 15, 2019 Lizzo revealed at her concert in Denver, Colorado that she lived in Aurora, Colorado for 1 year, and worked at King Soopers

photo by Plazak for Wikipedia


WSJ with content I CRAVE!

 

This detail!

Ken Wells with the byline there.  How about this?:

link. Sam Walker the writer here:

 


many things on the internet

remind me of this one:

from:


Scrapbasket

Some scrap items found on my phone:

1)

I had to stop following Caroline Calloway on Instagram which is too bad, there’s a genius to sentences like this.

2) A view in Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh is beautiful.

3) Rocks

4) I believe the source here is an interview with Years & Years singer Olly Alexander in Issue 11 of The Happy Reader, but can’t confirm, no longer have the issue.  The phrase “Who is the hot boy?  Who is the boy that will always bring the looks?” does not appear exactly in a Google search.

5) Seen in Hollywood:

6) Cat on a tray:

7) Portrait of the blogger as a boy:

 


Is it a crime if no one stops you?

The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all,

is a quote I’ve heard and seen attributed to Tacitus.  I couldn’t find it in The Histories, just did a search.  Maybe I missed it somehow, it might be in there.  I did find a postcard from my sister.

You gotta be careful, a lot of these “classic quotes” were conjured up somewhere and never really checked, or in context they mean the opposite.

Set down to write here after becoming agitated and worked up watching Senator Ron Johnson two weeks ago on “Meet The Press.”  Witness the sputtering nonsense.

 

 


Joshua Tree National Park has exploded in popularity: why?

This chart was an attempt to test my thesis, that Instagram played a role in the dramatic rise in visits to Joshua Tree National Park.

I also incorporated a challenge to my thesis, offered by a colleague who suggested the answer might have something to do with the popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.  Drivers to that festival from Los Angeles would have to pass signs for Joshua Tree NP and experience the intoxicating desert landscape.

What about the AirBNB factor?:

Was stunned to be reminded about how recently Instagram (2010) and AirBNB (2007) were founded.  These companies changed the world very, very fast.  We still haven’t had time to contemplate what these changes mean, both to communities and to human brains.

How does a fragile patch of desert ecosystem handle two million extra human visitors a year?  You might think they’d increase the park’s budget.  It appears the opposite is happening?

(Any time I look into a fact like this, so much appreciation for our nation’s journalists, looking into the files, tracking it all down.)

There’s rarely a single cause for things, but I feel confident in saying Instagram, or maybe more broadly, the instant sharing of powerful photographs on phones, played a role in the dramatic rise in popularity of Joshua Tree national park.

What might be other factors?  Commercial photography and car commercial stuff may have boomed out in Joshua Tree and joshua tree-populated areas.  I don’t know how you’d measure that data, but I feel it.

Credit to the wonderful movie Ingrid Goes West here, a movie about Joshua Tree and Instagram and California fantasy in general, which makes the same connection between the desert landscape and Instagram.

My studies suggest no burst in popularity connected to the U2 album “The Joshua Tree.”

Source data on visitors.

 

 

 


When The World’s On Fire

enjoying Ken Burns Country Music (I guess, I wish it had a table of contents or something).  This is the Carter Family song that’s been on my mind as I read the news!


Las Vegas, USA

Made a brief visit recently.  Whenever I’m in Las Vegas, I have a weird urge to become a degenerate gambler who hangs around the sports book.  Writing things in the racing form with a little pencil, leaning back in one of those chairs at the little desks, crumped up napkins around.  What is the attraction there?  Maybe it’s all the screens covered with numbers and information.  There’s got to be a pattern if I could just figure it out!  Dissolving the self in the hunt for a tiny edge.

baishampayan ghose took this one for the Wikipedia page on “Sports Book”

There are a lot of famous restaurants in Las Vegas these days.  One I’ve returned to is:

Inside New York, New York casino.  They’re not kidding around here, it is straight-up America food:

There are something like twenty beers on tap.  You can admire a sculpture that models the United States:

Half the fun of flying to Las Vegas is having a look at the Mojave:

truly Mars level wastes.  and I say that as a Mojave superfan!


Dispatch from Nairobi

A friend was having a 40th birthday party in Nairobi, an excuse to see what’s up in Africa.

Top down view

On the first morning I was in Nairobi I walked over to the KICC building and went up to the top, 33rd story I believe, where you can stand outside on the exposed helipad.

Going to the top of a tall building at the start of a trip is a tactic I got from Neomarxisme.  He recommends this for first-timers in Tokyo.  Go somewhere high, and take in the vastness of what you’re dealing with in Tokyo.  Then you can begin to appreciate what’s going on.

Nairobi is not as vast as Tokyo.  Nairobi’s population can be estimated at somewhere around 4.5 million people, higher or lower maybe, if we’re counting commuters and outlying areas.  Roughly equivalent to LA.

From the top of the KICC you can see the grasslands of Nairobi National Park.  For LA residents, imagine if Griffith Park had free-ranging giraffe and zebras wandering around.

There is also a dense forest in Nairobi, Karura Forest.  On the fringes of this forest I saw two fairly chill monkeys lolling about. I believe they were Sykes monkeys.  The embassies, the Muthaiga Country Club, impressive and secure houses are along the edges of this forest.

The only other sightseer on the top of the KICC was an African girl younger than me who had me take her picture on an Nikkon camera and also filmed several jubilant videos of herself talking into her phone.  I say she was African because her skin was very dark and her English accented but maybe her home was France or the Netherlands for all I know.  My guess would be she was a tourist or a student from somewhere else.

From the KICC you can see the railyards.  Nairobi was originally a railway town, founded in 1899 to service the British-run Uganda Railway.  The train still runs to Mombasa on the coast but I was told it wasn’t running to Uganda anymore.  “We’re not there yet.”

The KICC building is near Kenya’s Senate and Supreme Court.  In this area, near the CBD (Central Business District) you pass a lot of security checkpoints.  To get near these buildings, you’ll have to talk to someone with a gun.  But none of the people with the guns seemed too anxious.  This is good, I guess?  In Kenya they’re obsessed with having you write down your name in a ledger when you go anywhere.  But supervision of this process always seems indifferent.  What are they ever gonna do with these ledgers, I wonder, with scribbled signatures?  I wonder if there’s some kind of witch doctor / voodoo priestess who would pay for books of signatures for use in rituals, perhaps burning them while drawing on the power of these spirits.  Gotta look into that.

Kenya is in a sort of war with Al-Shabaab and stateless actors in neighboring Somalia (maybe even Somalia itself if we consider that a functioning state with that name).  There have been several dramatic,, extreme acts of terrorism in Nairobi.  The bombing of the US Embassy in 1998 killed two hundred and thirteen people.  Osama bin Laden was in on that one, and maybe we shouldn’t have allowed him to keep living for thirteen more years? In 2013 four gunmen shot up the Westlands Mall, an upscale shopping place.  Seventy-one people dead.  Maybe ghastliest of all was the killing of one hundred forty eight mostly university students in 2015.  That happened outside of Nairobi, at Garissa University.

This article, by Katherine Petrich, about how al-Shabaab and Kenyan slum-dwelling sex workers do business together, I found illuminating.

Given this deeply conservative position inside Somalia, its willingness to cooperate with and reward sex work in Nairobi, where the group is more constrained in its activities, suggests al-Shabaab is a limited, rational organization with concrete territorial aims. It is not a maximalist extremist group prioritizing ideological principles over tangible benefits, and because the group has a state-based goal, it is comfortable supporting or at least engaging with activities that contravene sharia law. An informant remarked wryly, “Al-Shabaab likes [that group of sex workers] very much. They are worth many sins.”

If you’re from the US, can you really criticize another country for its mass shootings?  An Uber driver taunted me that Nairobi is safer than US cities like Chicago.  Uber works well in Nairobi, the drivers were good and showed up when it said.  There seemed to be pretty reliable 3G service to communicate with them.

The columnist / travel writer cliché of quoting the cab driver is well-documented.  I’ve noticed even Paul Theroux does it.  But what’re you gonna do, you know?  These are the Kenyans I ended up spending the most time with.  There we were, may as well get their story.  Traffic can be horrific in Kenya.  Coming into/out of the city in rhythm with regular work hours could leave you crawling for an hour or two.  The grind of that life must be immiserating.  It’s also a sign of a boom, I guess.  Nairobi is exploding.  My host explained to me that it is the NGO/government/development/banking/energy/international business capital for East Africa.  If you’re doing business in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia you might have an office in Nairobi.

From the KICC I could see a particularly crowded and chaotic street where it looked like the road itself was fully occupied by stalls and stopped minibuses.  This was the area where Tom Mboya* Road meets Accra Street, and it was full of matutus, private competing independently operated (I think? maybe there’s some kind of informal union?) minibuses that might go as far as Mombasa, plus surrounding businesses.  Around here I popped into a textbook store.  The desire of learning in Kenya seemed intense to me, I went by many stalls selling books on business topics, and schools and colleges.  Even in Kibera slum the kids are wearing school uniforms, and the desire to make money to pay school fees was several times expressed as one of life’s drives.

Karen

In Nairobi there’s a neighborhood called Karen, named after Karen Blixen, real name of author Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa.  Meryl Streep played her in the movie.

Karen is around where Karen Blixen’s farm was (in fact I sometimes heard the neighborhood called Karenblixenfarm).  It’s funny to me that there’s a neighborhood called Karen, partly becomes of the meme-ing of the name, partly that it’s just cool that a neighborhood is somebody’s first name.  How great would it be if after I’m dead my neighborhood is called Steve?  I remembered reading somewhere that late in life Karen Blixen ate nothing but oysters and champagne, but she also died of malnutrition.  Karen’s farm can be visited, a guide will sit you down and recite some of her biography, and then they’ll show you things like her old wooden toilet.  They don’t let you use that toilet.

The first line of Out of Africa the book, intoned in the movie by Meryl, is “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”  The Ngong Hills where Karen tried to grow her coffee are now spotted with windmills.

Karen’s place

Karen Blixen’s farm was one of the sites on a little tour a Stanley Hotel-recommended driver took me on.  The elephant orphanage was next.  Be advised you can only see the elephants between 11am and noon, unless you pay extra to adopt one I believe.  It’s kind of fun to see young elephants doing their thing but the idea of an elephant orphanage is so sad, and the crowded circle of humans around them kind of unpleasant, so I bailed pretty fast on that.

Next is the giraffe center, where they give you a little bag of molasses-based giraffe treats and you can feed them and feel their rough tongue.  But you can do that in San Diego too.  Across the grass of the giraffe center is Giraffe Manor, where you can stay (pricey) and the giraffes will poke their heads in the window apparently.

Last stop was some kind of depressing zoo where they did have some good venomous snakes but the vibe isn’t very cheery, it’s next to a dreary, unused amusement park.  The girl leading me around, Valentine, asked me if I wanted to hold a snake.  No thanks.  Had she ever used the anti-venom?  Yes, once.  On a snake-handler.

It was about three in the afternoon.  I asked my driver what was next and he said “that’s it.”

The City Outside

On the streets of Nairobi I encountered no more people asking for money than I would in downtown Los Angeles or West Hollywood.  Surprised, before I went, not to find a Tyler Cowen snapshot/bleg for Nairobi.  There’s an active street market scene at most busy corners.  You will find vendors selling boiled eggs served with salsa and small chicken sausages.  None of the street food looked too appealing to me, but around the Nairobi Railway Museum there were some makeshift restaurants that looked like they served goat stews and stuff that I might’ve liked to try if I’d had more time.  Always a challenge when traveling and especially in non-Western places is like figuring out the system, how you order, what the deal is with the line, etc.  This can be kind of fun and always interesting but when you’re traveling you’re often pressed for time or you find yourself kind of exhausted and suddenly very hungry, the cognitive and sensory overload is too high and the fuse is too short to deal. There’s rarely a time I pass a McDonald’s in a busy foreign city and am not at least a LITTLE tempted by the freedom and temporary mental break offered by the dependability there.

Buying, selling, marketing, cooking, eating, sitting, life being lived outside is a striking part of Nairobi, if you’re coming from an American city.  But I can’t declare this especially African or Kenyan, you see this in the cities of Central and South America too.

For two of the nights I was in Nairobi I was in the care of a friend, an American semi-resident.  We ate a dinner at a Peruvian Japanese kind of fusion place on a high floor of shopping structure catering to expats and wealthy Africans.  The following night I was part of a group dinner at 45 Degrees, which my host said made a strong case for being the best restaurant in Nairobi.  The roast pumpkin soup was excellent, and the setting, in what I was told was the owner/proprietor’s own house in an almost country-seeming neighborhood was pleasing.  On the one night I was on my own I ate at Nyama Mama, now a chain with a few locations.  Chicken stew with chapati, totally fine, if I were in Nairobi again I might try Wasp & Sprout.

Got a lot out of Vogue’s Kenyan Cool Girls Guide to Nairobi:

Local style: “It’s in our culture to dress up on Friday, not knowing what kind of party we’ll go to, but the whole crew has to look fresh.”

Gladys Macaria:

Go explore: “My favorite part of the city is downtown. I am lucky as a majority of the stone merchants and gold smiths I work with are based there. There is lots of quirky buildings and you see the real hustlers of Nairobi. Watching them go about their work inspires anyone.”

Muthoni Drummer Queen recommends:

Her spot: “The Nairobi Railway Museum. It’s smack in the middle of downtown. All the old trains no longer in use transport me back to an imaginary time. Its also super cool that a lot of these carriages are now occupied by visual artists with great studios and galleries.”

I missed this gallery area, if it’s still there, though there is a lot of rich street art around the area.  What I found at the Nairobi Railway Museum was rooms full of old train lanterns and the chair Queen Elizabeth sat in, and then old engines parked outside.

Several times in my life I’ve found myself, as I did at the Nairobi Railway Museum, the only customer at the place, sort of dragging out my time and staying longer than my interest would hold because I don’t want to offend the guy who took my ticket by bailing after five minutes without really inspecting the old printed out articles about the man-eaters of Tsavo.

Rift Valley

If you have time for a day trip out of Nairobi, you can pretty quickly be at a vantage point where you can see the Rift Valley.  Something like 35 million years ago the continent of Africa nearly ripped apart along here**.  The African Great Lakes are along this continental cut, and some of the oldest fossil humans and pre-human ancestral primates have been found here too.

One problem I have as a casual iPhone photographer is capturing depth of field, I’m not saying I’m satisfied with this photo, but maybe you can see how quickly and dramatically and how across a vast area the elevation drops along this part of Kenya.

My driver, Samuel, took us out to Hell’s Gate National Park, where you can see zebras and so on.  What was most impressive to Samuel is the immense geothermal workings at Hell’s Gate.  Jonathan Franzen seems sad about the “green” (quotation marks his) energy in Kenya’s national parks in his latest New Yorker piece.  But to Samuel this construction was a miracle.  Samuel kept saying that “they should feature the power plant!” He several times recalled that he’d once taken around an engineer who could explain all the different parts of the geothermal plant.  Maybe he was disappointed that I couldn’t explain anything about it.  It appears I didn’t even take any pictures of it.

In Hell’s Gate there are chunks of obsidian rock lying around everywhere, blown out by the eruptions of Mount Longonot (last one was apparently in the 1860s).  Couldn’t help wondering if our millions-ago ancestors used this stuff for tools.  Made me think of 2001.

On the shores of Lake Naivasha we got some fish.  Samuel told us he’d once been out on a boat on the lake.  You have to pay more if you want a guy with a gun to protect you from hippos.  I passed on a boat ride.

It’s well-known in Kenya that people of Obama’s tribe, the Luo, are very smart because they live on the shore of the lake and eat so much fish.

Here is a roadside vegetable market.  I was told this is called Foolish Market, because the prices are so low.  A bag of potatoes seemed to cost about 100 Ks (a dollar or so).

If I’d had the time to get all the way out to Lake Victoria, would’ve really enjoyed that.  Would’ve required about eight hours of driving.  Instead I lounged by the pool of the Muthaiga Country Club and then took a guided tour of Kibera.

Kibera

Kibera is an enormous slum, supposedly the largest in Africa, a sprawling ramshackle area of shared toilets and tin houses, originally given as a kind of grant by the British to Nubian soldiers in their army.  This might be where you end up if you move to Nairobi from a rural area, renting a small room with a tin roof for $30 a month.

Moses was my guide there, by way of Experience Kibera.  He suggested I bring two bags of rice or sugar as a donation to local single moms, many of whom are HIV positive.

Was sorta bracing myself for this experience, the trash and open sewer scene, leaky roofs, survival-level subsistence is pretty tough but there did seem to be a positive kind of community spirit to be seen in Kibera. Moses’ sense of potential for the future and improvement over a past noted for election-related violence, sexual assault and general bad times was contagious.

Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. The 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census reports Kibera’s population as 170,070, contrary to previous estimates of one or two million people.

says Wikipedia.  No one seemed to think in a white guy walking through with his guide was worth staring at, although quite a few kids wanted to say “howareyou” — I asked Moses about this and he said various NGO type people come through all the time, it’s not much of a novelty.

 

When I’ve been describing Nairobi to Americans they often seem interested to hear there’s a Cold Stone Creamery in one of the malls.

Kenyan English, like the English in India, is full of suprisingly rich phrases and constructions.  I noted a few down:

  • re: some bikers who’d died in a flash flood in Hell’s Gate: “these young chaps were still taking selfies”
  • Samuel suggesting that Chinese road loans could be predatory, always qualified with “according to my observation.”
  • Churches called “First Born Of The Holy Spirit” and “Bride of the Messiah”

With the signs of growth everywhere, and the potential for the region, I think real estate in Nairobi would not be a crazy investment, although I don’t think I myself will bother getting involved.  There was much talk of oil discovery in the remote Turkana region, where many of the early man fossils were found.  There are huge gains, it would appear to me, to be made in infrastructure and transportation development both in Nairobi and around the countryside.

Here is a bus themed after Dr. Ben Carson.

* Tom Mboya‘s work with JFK allowed African students in the ’50s and ’60s to study in the US — without him, would Barry Obama have been born?

** this statement not strictly geologically accurate, or at least a geologist would quibble, but for our purposes it’s approximately right I think


Maine and Texas

This one came up on Succession, a fave show. (Had to look it up because I wondered if they were doing a double joke where the guy was attributing Emerson to Thoreau)

Usually I’ll approach with tentative openness the pastoralist, simpler times, “trad” adjacent arguments of weirdbeards but Thoreau here WAY off.  Maine and Texas had TONS to communicate!  Who isn’t happy Maine and Texas can check in?  (Saying this as a Maine fan whose wife is from Texas, fond of both states and happy for their commerce and exchange).  Plus, if Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough, I WANT to hear that, that’s interesting goss!

The “broad flapping American ear” there — a snooty New England/aristocrat attitude we haven’t heard the last of.  These guys are the original elites.  There’s really two classes in America: Americans, and The People Who Think They’re Better Than Americans.  Though they’re a tiny minority the second group wields outside power and influence over the first group.  I’m a proud member of the first group though I admit I have second group tendencies due to my youthful indoctrination in the headquarters of these Concord Extremist Radicals, in fact at their head madrassa.

When you hear America assessed by Better Thans / eggheads, wait for the feint toward fatshaming.  It’s always in there somewhere.  American Better Thans adopted this from Europeans, whom they slavishly ape.  It’s a twisted attitude, designed to take blame away from the Better Thans and their friends in the ownership.

As if it’s Americans fault that they’ve been raised associating corn-based treats with love and goodness!  Or that corn-fatted meat is the easiest accessed protein on offer!  You think that’s more the Americans fault, or the fault of the Better Thans, who manipulate our food system with their only goal creating shareholder value?

Is it the fault of the American that a cold soda is the best cheap pleasure in the hot and dusty interior where they don’t all have Walden Pond as a personal spa?

Thoreau.  Guy makes me sick.

In researching this article I learn about Maine-ly Sandwiches, of Houston.