Trapani: Sacrifices made by federal workers reveal their integrity, dedication

A friend asked last week why, in the absence of a salary, I continued going to work. The federal government had been partially shut down for over four weeks by then. He kidded that the private sector would love to figure that out.

It was difficult to put into words why I and my fellow Feds returned to work each day. We expected to be paid when it was over, sure; those still woking were designed “excepted” and would be made whole eventually, whenever that was. The president reminded us near-daily that our non-pay status could go on for months.

Hundreds of thousands more were furloughed with no guarantee of back pay, until late in the shutdown.

This article in The Hill explains our rationale. It’s not something Feds think much about. It’s what we do. Clearly, pay and benefits are important. Just as clearly, service is equally imperative. This quote of National Air Traffic Controllers Association executive VP Trish Gilbert is succinct:

As an official for the Air Traffic Controllers Association told the New York Times: “We have taken an oath. We know we’re important to the United States economy, and we are going to work. We’re just not getting paid. So even if this drags on, people will come to work.”

I’m also thankful to Ryan Trapani for The Hill’s article encapsulating the ineffable reality of federal service, a quality that cannot be duplicated in the private sector. They have the profit motive. We’ve sworn an oath to something higher.

#NATCA #service #feds

Jonah Goldberg: Wars to Come

Jonah Goldberg—National Review:

… it really does feel like things are coming to a head.

I have no idea what Mueller will reveal, and I have no idea what Trump will do in response. But I am sure that we’re going to hear a lot of “Whose Side Are You On?” once Mueller walks to the cameras in his Grim Reaper’s cloak and swings his scythe.

Goldberg has spent quite a lot of words writing from outside the left-right bomb-throwing echo-chamber throughout the current administration. He’s what thoughtful conservatives sound like in 2018. In this edition of his regular column he combines hyperbole in early paragraphs and mea culpa (it’s subtle) later along with a refusal to commit to a “team” into a writerly masterpiece. It’s a gem.

I’m mostly with Goldberg here, though with a decidedly more progressive mindset. I hold Donald Trump in extreme contempt, having had my fill of his bigoted and misogynist behavior years ago. His New York media act told me what to expect from a Trump presidency. For this, I’ve been accused of harboring an anti-Trump bias. My take, though, is more from the other side of the coin.

I’m bewildered that anyone—anyone—still bears admiration for this man or his half-assed politics. Such latter-day support is more accurately labeled cynicism or anti-decency, take your pick.

It is no vice to oppose the indefensible. Demanding better from America is a virtue.

As with Watergate, the fallout from Bob Mueller’s investigation will be, I believe, justice. The despicable will be vanquished. Laws will be upheld. And Trump will, I think, be shown the door from public life. History will cover him in disgrace, and in a century hence he will be as forgotten as the more cretinous office-holders of the nineteenth century.

At least Nixon offered useful contributions to foreign policy, writing as he did throughout his years in the wilderness. Trump has nothing to offer. He never did.

#Trump #Mueller #justice

∴ Sympathy

A t-shirt slogan popular in the 1980s has been on my mind lately. It read, “It’s a black thing. You wouldn’t understand.” For white America this has always been true; it could not be otherwise.

Understanding the plight of others requires an authentic sense of ‘been there, done that,’ which is empathy. White America has never had to live the black American experience—historically through slavery, Jim Crow laws, the legislated systemic racism of the New Deal, redlining, and discriminatory employment, or contemporarily amid gentrification and over-policing—and therefore can never truly understand the experience or its long-term effects. We cannot understand what we have not been.

Empathy with people of color, then, is a path that does not exist for white America. Fortunately, empathy has a sibling: sympathy.

Sympathy is not the same as pity. While the former is a non-judgmental awareness of another’s plight, the latter begins from a judgement of failure or loss. Sympathy is neither political nor spiritual; it is humanitarian and secular.

Sympathy is an understanding-in-common, arrived at indirectly. Unlike empathy’s path of direct learning, sympathy comes by intellectual effort and an emotional leap of faith. It begins with thoughtfully putting oneself in another’s shoes and considering their experience. There’s no shortage of written or spoken accounts helpful for this. It’s an easily surmountable hurdle—one has only to read or listen.

Emotionally, sympathy is a willingness to honestly weigh what’s been learned and an unwillingness to be swayed by prejudice or cruelty. That’s the point of departure between affording, say, poor white Americans sympathy for supporting a self-acknowledged sexual predator on the one hand while responding with disbelief regarding racist policing systems on the other. In the second instance, deep-seated prejudice curtails the possibility of developing sympathy.

It’s this historical unwillingness to give black America the benefit of the doubt, a refusal to make the leap of faith required to arrive at sympathy, preventing the white majority from making a faithful effort at leveling the opportunity landscape guaranteed at our nation’s founding. We will never approach a fully just culture if we do not make this last connection to sympathy.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic, put his finger on the problem. Consistently denying those outside the majority for differences of darker skin or foreign birth is an act of cruelty. And cruelty, as he writes, is exactly the point. It is a binding practice, one that brings fearful, angry, ignorant people together in common cause, even as many of them spend their Sunday mornings professing love for their fellow man. Cruelty takes the place of sympathy among those unwilling to accept people of color as eligible for their affections.

To understand the truth of life as a black American, ask a black American. We’re fortunate to have prolific authors, podcasters, and public intellectuals among people of color. White America needs to read, listen, and respond with the sort of sympathy that builds affection despite difference, and to elect leaders who will work to unite through virtue rather than vice.

It has famously been stated that America is great because America is good, and when America is no longer good, it will no longer be great. How great is a nation or a culture that systematically represses and ignores its citizens while denying that repression exists throughout its entire history?

∴ Mt. Rainier, and Seattle

Kelly and I spent a quick five-day vacation in and around the Seattle area last week. It was an add-on to her prior week at Spring Quilt Market in Portland, Oregon. She drove up with a friend and they picked me up at SeaTac airport to begin our stay, dropping us at our hotel in Renton.

Me posed next to a Boeing sign

Our hotel was adjacent to Gene Coulon Park on Lake Washington. To my delight, it was also adjacent to a Boeing assembly facility, the one where all new 737 jets are built. We saw three unassembled fuselages arriving by rail during our stay.

The hotel location provided for a nice hour-plus walk in the park, another stroll to dining on our first evening, and three relaxing day-enders on the rooftop lounge, sipping an Oregon Pinot Noir as the sun set over the lake. It was mostly that kind of a vacation.

Mount Rainier

We spent our first full day driving down to Mt. Rainier National Park. We purchased an annual pass at the gate when we realized that we’d use it again elsewhere in August.

The park is well southeast of Seattle and Tacoma, but Mt. Rainier is prominently visible from just about everywhere in the region. Still snow-capped in late May and bearing several permanent glaciers, Rainier is a beautiful site against a blue sky.

We drove into the park through the southwest entrance and continued along the access road as far as we could. There were numerous places to get out and walk or enjoy a view along the way. The road was closed due to snow just past the visitors center that precedes Paradise Valley, so we were unable to enjoy the view of wildflowers and greenery the area is known for. The snow must melt before any of it makes an appearance.

Nisqually River glacial valleyOne roadside stop, in particular, gave us a twenty-minute walk down into what used to be a glacial valley but is now only a wide gouge in the land with the narrow Nisqually River swiftly running through the bottom. It made for some great photos and a beautiful view of the mountain looking upstream. The rock- and tree-strewn valley also gave me an understanding of the enormous size and energy of a glacier. The overall mass of objects moved by what was once a slow-moving river of ice was mind-boggling seen up close as we walked the valley floor.

A footbridge over the rapidly moving Nisqually River

Rocks and debris alongn the glacier valley bottom

Torn and fallen tree on the glacier valley bottom

Crossing the footbridgeStacked stones with Mt. Rainier in the background

***

Christine Falls

A waterfall along the way, nearly hidden under a roadway bridge gave us a break from what was becoming our warmest day in the region. The temperature topped out at 85 degrees that day, and the refreshing air flowing out from the waterfall was welcome. We spent the rest of our time in the region in comfortable low- to mid-seventy degree temperatures.

We were fortunate during this trip; I flew in during a blue-sky day, and the skies remained so for the next two days. We woke to a solid overcast on our third morning, but that broke into partial sunshine later in the day. Only our fourth day was overcast throughout.

Although current and prior Washington and Oregon residents tell me that it doesn’t rain all the time, it’s very often cloudy to the point of no direct sunlight. What they refer to as “not rain” is more commonly referred to as extremely heavy mist back home. It may not involve big raindrops, but you’ll get soaked without a waterproof jacket and hat, and your windshield wipers get a workout throughout the year. So I think we lucked out; we had no rain of any sort during our stay.

Kelly and meOur journey to, around, and back from Mt. Rainier was something I’d greatly looked forward to. Our busy work and home lives give us less opportunity to sit and talk than I’d like; long drives are how Kelly and I get to relax, talk, and generally enjoy each other’s company. It was a physical and mental relief for me after the very long flight delay and trip from Dulles airport the day before, and a sweet slowdown for Kelly after her always-busy Quilt Market week.

The only driving downside was that Kelly did all of it. Enterprise car rental does not permit spouses to drive unless they’re present with a driver’s license when renting the car.

We spent another day browsing through Pike Place Market and the surrounding streets, having an obligatory coffee at the first Starbucks, and settling into lunch at The Pike Brewing Company’s brewpub.

Readers of my other blog, Bodhi and Beer, know I enjoy visiting craft breweries. Kelly isn’t a beer fan, so The Pike was a good find. It includes a full-service restaurant where we both enjoyed above-average pub food, and Kelly found a regional wine she enjoyed while I sampled a flight of six Pike Brewing Company beers.

We managed to hit some of Seattle’s renowned traffic on the way back to our hotel. I guess it was inevitable.

The roads are not under construction there, they’re wide enough, and there are plenty of signs and limited access exits and on-ramps. The trouble is, as is the case everywhere else with traffic jams, there are too many people in too many cars.

The Seattle area sports a bus system and a terrific light rail, which we’d attempted to make use of getting to Pike Place. By the time we reached the closest station that morning, however, commuters had filled the available parking. We could have headed a couple of miles south to the airport station and parked in the large garage adjacent to it, but I realized the Waze app could construct an eighteen-minute route into the heart of Seattle from where we were. It would have taken that long getting to and park in the light rail garage.

I’m frequently amazed at how well that app works, though I’m often not a fan when I see it routing traffic through local streets where I’m walking. Efficiently distributing the traffic load has its drawbacks.

A building in SeattleA building in Seattle

A building in SeattleA building in Seattle

For our last full day in the area, we took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, a half-hour sail across the Puget Sound. We were treated to some of Seattle’s beautiful architecture as we pulled away from the dock.

Temperatures were in the mid- to high-sixties due to a solid cloud cover, and the wind chill on an open deck was significantly lower. We rode much of the middle part of the trip inside the cabin, only to discover a much better place to enjoy the crossing: standing on the car deck at the stern of the boat. There’s a safety rope keeping passengers from getting too close to the deck edge, but we were left alone for the last ten minutes of the ride by staying behind it. Worth keeping in mind if you’re on such a ferry crossing!

Bainbridge Island is mostly residential, and the small town of Winslow sits just north of the ferry landing. We found a terrific place for lunch and beverages after walking along a short trail and through the Main Street area. There were plenty of shops along the way, but our goal was food, and we found it at Café Nola.

Our next stop was the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, the site where 227 Japanese Americans were forced to leave the island for internment camps at Manzanar, California and Minidoka, Idaho in 1942. The memorial park is half-constructed, with a visitor’s center planned but not yet built. It possesses a wooden “memory wall” bearing the names of those Americans and legal resident aliens whose forced departure by ferry took place from there. A modern dock with pleasure craft tied up sits adjacent to the property. The original ferry dock is gone, but the entire property sits across an inlet from the contemporary ferry landing where he had arrived earlier.

The memorial was quite moving, and remindful of our cultural bad habit of often looking at those who don’t look like ourselves as others. Objectification is the first step on the path to exclusion and it’s a steep drop after that.

We see the same behavior today in the treatment of Muslim Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars. Some things do not change, which is why the memorial prominently features a quote in Japanese: Nidoto Nai Yoni, “let it not happen again.”

Kelly ready to flyOur trip home was just about the easiest, most comfortable air travel I’ve experienced. I wrote about it in a previous article. It featured a quick ride from the airport hotel where we’d spent our final night, to the terminal, through security in record time, and a first-class cabin ride back to Virginia. We even managed to arrive just before thunderstorms swept the area.

Seattle provided a varied, fun place to visit. Dodging the traffic was tricky, but the town yielded a wealth of things to do.

 

(← my favorite person in the Universe.)

#vacation #Seattle #MtRainier #BainbridgeIsland #Renton #LakeWashington #PikePlaceMarket

∴ A first-class experience

I joined Kelly for a short vacation in Seattle a week ago, after she completed her annual Spring Quilt Market work. Market is a quilt shop owner’s buying opportunity where vendors show off the latest products and wholesale orders may be placed for delivery later in the year. It’s moved from city to city each year and was in Portland this year. We met up in Seattle afterward.

I flew out on a much-delayed coach-class reservation, but we flew back together seated in the first-class cabin. The differences between the two experiences were stark enough to render air travel pleasant. Those are three words that almost never go together in a sentence.

I departed Virginia on a non-stop from Dulles, our closest airport. It’s only an hour and a quarter from our home in rural Culpeper county.

(Dulles possesses a somewhat aging neo-futurist style terminal designed by Eero Saarinen, and a set of gates used by United that have survived as “temporary” for nearly thirty years despite United being the dominant carrier. Security lines are usually long, but membership in the TSA PreCheck program solves that. Transport between the land-side terminal and air-side gates is by modern automated train, a recent improvement. The terminal parking area is currently in the process of getting a Metro subway stop; eventually, this place is going to be a great airport.)

Some days flying coach is, at best, not miserable. At other times, most times, it’s awful. Complaints of narrow seats, near-nonexistent leg room, cardboard meals for purchase in a cardboard box, overworked flight attendants, and the need of booking a window seat and checking in a day before departure to get a chance at the overhead bins are de rigueur. Checked luggage fees are an insult atop already pricey coach-class fares.

My outbound flight day also brought with it a mechanical problem on the aircraft that was to fly me west. Its flight north from Tampa was canceled altogether as a result. United managed to rebook some of the passengers while leaving the rest to wait for another aircraft, which departed, oh, five-and-a-half hours later.

I managed to bump into a friend at Dulles who has status with United, so my wait on the outbound flight was more comfortably spent in the United Club. I was a late sardine upon arrival, though, walking away from my Seattle arrival gate dazed.

The return trip was like air travel in Bizarro World. It was everything that flying coach is not.

To begin with, I have a financial issue with booking air travel. I look at the first-class fares, grunt, and book coach. Before last year I’d flown in the first-class cabin exactly once, during a familiarization flight as a young air traffic controller. The pilot excused me from the cockpit to sit “in the rear.” The rear turned out to be up front, which was nice. I was relatively young at the time and hadn’t begun my years of flying coach, and so didn’t fully appreciate what I’d stumbled into.

I flew first class to visit my pal in Bozeman, Montana last year, scoring a bonus A320 ride up from Denver that’s usually operated with a regional jet. I booked the flights with frequent flyer miles, and first class was a relative bargain one-way on award points. There were no award seats in coach, so the choice was the bargain up front or pay for it in coach. I flew coach on the return trip, looking longingly forward through the curtains.

Our return from Seattle last week was as I remember last year’s flights to Bozeman. In order, the process of making air travel both pleasant and even pricier includes electronics, the TSA, and the living room I typically walk through on my way to sardine hell.

We arrived at the airport already checked-in with electronic boarding passes on our phones. Nothing new there. The TSA PreCheck line was, as usual, shorter than the regular security line. Our wait in line for a coffee was longer than it took us to get from the airport hotel, through the terminal, and past the TSA. $85 for three years of shorter to non-existent lines is well worth it.

Then began the best part of the trip. We sat across from the gate and read news headlines as we drank our coffees. As soon as the first passenger got up to stand in the group 1 boarding line, we walked across to join him. Ten minutes later we were walking down the jetway.

Boarding as a first class passenger was like walking into a restaurant. The lead flight attendant greeted and welcomed us aboard. There was no rush; plenty of time to place carry-ons in the overhead bin in which there is always room for your bag. There’s no crush squeezing into a window seat; the leg room in each row is like another aisle.

I’ve been a coach-class passenger eyeballing the first-class passengers already seated as I trudged through the first-class cabin many times. The experience sitting in first class is the exact opposite. Once seated, I spent the next twenty or so minutes getting situated and forgetting about the rest of the boarding process. The wait wasn’t unpleasant; it wasn’t all that much different from waiting in the gate area. And it’s very easy to completely forget there’s anyone sitting behind you, which amounts to the bulk of the passengers. All I saw were people comfortably lounging and a blur of bodies walking past.

That’s the first significant difference between seating classes. The boarding process for coach class is almost always a hassle. The wait to board is long, the line in the jetway is long, the trudge back to your seat is long, and there’s almost always someone who has pre-boarded (i.e., elderly or with small children) already seated in the aisle and middle seats who then has to unbuckle, stand, and move out of the way, negating the benefit of pre-boarding.

About five minutes after I sat down a smiling flight attendant (They always smile in first class. I’m not making this up; it’s all smiles. It’s like you paid for the smiling with your fare.) asked whether I’d like something to drink. It was eight am, so I opted for orange juice. It was served in a glass. Whatever they have onboard to drink, it’s yours free of surcharge. Morning Mimosa? Check. Bloody Mary? Check. Wine? Check. Bourbon? Buffalo Trace, check.

The door closed and we were off, taking a brief ground delay for Dulles by slow-taxiing to the end of the runway. So, no delay.

Breakfast service began about twenty minutes into the flight. Breakfast was the second big difference. Meals are, of course, free of extra charge. And they come on ceramic plates, with metal silverware and a linen napkin, served on a linen-lined tray. Mine was a savory egg and vegetable soufflé, a cup filled with fresh fruit, a decent sized cup of yogurt and a sweet roll, which I declined. Oh, and a glass of water to wash it down.

As I was wondering about that Buffalo Trace bourbon a couple of hours later, the flight attendant came through again smiling and asking whether we’d like something more to drink. I wasn’t in the mood for whiskey, so I opted for water. I’d taken them up on the complementary bourbon on my first-class flight last year, though, and enjoyed every drop. So much so that I went ahead and paid for it on the way back, in coach.

Arrival is the third significant difference flying first class. Best begin buttoning up any books, tablets, or earphones as soon as the aircraft rolls off the runway because getting off the jet is a speedy process for someone accustomed to the stand up-and-wait of coach class. Many first-class passengers stand-and-wait, as well, but the difference is that there isn’t a line. There’s just a group of people pulling and assembling bags from the overhead and under-seat storage and looking in the general direction of the lead flight attendant. With a wider aisle and longer leg room, it still feels more like a living room than an airplane. The door opens within about a minute, and off you go.

No more airplane. No more passengers, no line, no hassle. In an instant it’s like the whole trip didn’t happen. If you’re using carry-on luggage only, you’re probably on the conveyance to the main terminal by the time the last row of coach empties.

I remarked about all of these conveniences to Kelly during our drive home. We’d split at the end of the automated train; she headed to the baggage carousel for her luggage while I went to free our car from the garage where I’d parked. She had her bags before I reached the car; I saw later that United fastened “priority” tags on them. I guess they rode first class, too.

First class is hands-down costly compared to coach, which is merely expensive. There’s a fair argument to be made as to whether what you get in exchange for the price bump is worth the extra money. Having flown many miles in what I derisively refer to as steerage, I’d say yes, if you have the coin to spend, the first-class cabin makes air travel the exact opposite of what most of us experience every time we fly. It turns mental and physical torment into actual pleasure.

#airTravel #firstClass #coachClass #upgrade #premiumExperience

How much alcohol is too much? The science is shifting.

Julia Belluz—Vox:

“We wanted to find how much alcohol people can drink before they started being at a higher risk of dying,” said the lead author on the study, Cambridge University biostatistics professor Angela Wood. “Our results suggest an upper safe limit of drinking of around 100 grams of alcohol per week [about seven 12-ounce beers or 5-ounce wine pours or 1.5-ounce liquor servings] for men and for women. Drinking above this limit was related to lower life expectancy.”

The article is worth a read for its more detailed comparison of what we thought we knew about alcohol intake and what the subject meta-study suggests. I’m mildly surprised, but not shocked at the results. I’m still below the exponential departure from “safe,” but I’ll bet a quid this opens a few eyes.

Amusing that some craft beers (imperials, doubles) rate as malt liquor in this article, and that a standard pour of wine amounts to about one-fifth of a bottle. 750 ml is roughly 25 ounces. Five, not four, and not a half-bottle.

This piece reminded me of an article from the New York Times Magazine—Is Sugar Toxic? Turns out it is. And the American diet is full of it.

Keep thinking.

(Hat tip to Dr. Kenning for this article.)

#drinking #alcohol #health

∴ Utter crap on Medium

Do you have a Medium account? Do you read the weekly digest of recommended articles? Have you noticed that much of the content is navel-gazing crap?

I’ve taken the weekly digest of Medium articles for a few years. There were some interesting articles there when I began reading, but more recently I’ve found a cacophony of introspective nonsense masquerading as intellect. I’d sum it as a waste of time if it weren’t revealing of the contemporary state of writing.

I shit-canned the Medium digest. Maybe you publish there. Maybe you take the content. I’d urge you to give it all a harder look, a more thorough read. There’s a lot of junk, applause for junk, and dumb ideas sprouted by people who have so little experience of life it’d take a day to explain what they don’t understand about the words they wrote.

***

Today feels an appropriate moment to let on that I’ve withdrawn from much of social media. Maybe I’ll return to some of it. Now seems a better time to look inward and consider the takeaways from what I’ve read. At the same time, I plan more writing on my blogs and less scanning the wasteland of where content winds up.

Sometimes the right move is to fold and move on with your agenda and let the world burn.

#Medium #writing #thoughts