Even Pulsars Can Be Made Boring

Day 3 of our American  vacation and we had a busy day of  sightseeing, with the emphasis on  the Museum of Natural History and Central Park, but more on that in a moment.

My cousin, who is more moderate than  I  am politically, gets the New York Times delivered daily so, whereas I would not normally even click through to get their take on anything, since I still remember their role in the Gulf War with great bitterness, today I read all  about John Ossoff’s loss there.  I got through the first page and was thinking “Well, they didn’t even hint at the real reason  for his loss on the front page, how very disingenuous of them” and then turned to page 16 and read the rest of it and they never got to it at all, in fact, they seemed to think the whole reason he lost was because he was just too darned liberal.  Democrats, and the New York Times, just don’t get it.  Republicans are not going to vote for a Democrat, because they vote for Republicans, so there’s no sense trying to appeal to  them  or appease them, which is what John Ossoff did, what with pledging not to raise taxes on the rich and refusing to support medicare-for-all.  What they need to do, in order to ever win any elections at all, is to get liberals to vote for them, and that means having some liberal (or I guess we have to say progressive now) policies, and John Ossoff didn’t have them.  So, he lost.

Anyway, we started off with a walk across the George Washington bridge into the  city and took the subway down to the museum, which has a big plaque right there in the lobby with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt which says “A great democracy must be progressive or it will remain neither great nor a democracy.”  We saw a lot of dinosaur bones, some American Indian stuff, and then  went to the science section for a concert which was based on  the sound of pulsars, which I thought would be fascinating.  But first, there was a lecture about pulsars, which was the opposite of fascinating, and seemed to take about an hour, then a lady came on to speak and introduced the music, and then they  had a taped voice droning on, which we thought would be a very  short intro to  the music but which went on and on, and was basically a repeat  of the lecture but in a low, sonorous, sleep inducing voice like you’d hear at a poetry reading, and then came the music which was interesting, but showed no  sign of ever ending and so, when we saw one of the musicians turn their page and  saw two pages chock full  of  more notes, we slid out.
Got lunch from the food carts out front, I had a Philly cheese steak  since we’d decided not to go  to Philadelphia, and then we headed over to the park.  Rented rowboats on the lake, and that was a lot of fun, it was like bump cars but with boats, almost, but everybody was cool about it, then heard an opera singer under a stone arch  which definitely added something, that’s why she chose  that spot, I’m sure.  Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, a bit of shopping (Sim card, we are now truly in America), Pizza, New York, greasy pepperoni pizza, which was totally rejuvenating, a walk around Broadway, Times Square, then Rockefeller Center, and then the Subway back up to the bridge, the bus to the  car, and here we are and done, quite done, done in in fact, for another day.
It’s great.  The kids are seeing so much and they are such good travelers.  I  am content.

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The Masses of Manhattan

Day 2 of our American vacation began with breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, and then a trip to the supermarket, where things were a bit more expensive than Prague, but not quite as much as I’d feared.  Then we went to visit my aunt in the old age  home.  Last time I  saw her she was 93, and that was ten years  ago.  So, she’s in a wheelchair now and missing a leg, but still completely lucid and entertaining and we had a great conversation and she loved seeing the kids.  We’ll see her a couple more times while we’re here, that’s one of the main objectives of the trip.

Then, we went into Manhattan, had a short walk in Riverside Park, then  took the subway to South Ferry, saw Battery Park and Castle Clinton (had not realized that Battery Park is all built on landfill, it changes my historical and geographical perception of the island, so it was a very educational day), then we walked up Broadway a bit, saw Zuccottti Park, the Statue of the Bull and the Defiant Girl, who  is really small, it’s like the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, kind of surprising when you see how small she really is and yet such an international sensation, there was a constant stream of people taking pictures and we were part of that stream.  That is one of my biggest impressions of the day, just the massive crowds everywhere.  Perhaps I am a bit spoiled by living in  Prague, but I don’t think I could ever live here again.  (When I lived here I was 21, and it was too much for me even then)  Then we went into Federal Hall, the building where Washington gave his inaugural address, and that was cool – literally, because it was cool and it was so hot outside, so it provided a nice change.  Then we went to the Westfield Mall, aka Oculus, which is an absolutely awesome piece of architecture, cavernous I guess you’d say, with a huge vaulted ceiling and a sky light.

By that time, though, the kids were getting stroppy, and hungry, so we just stopped quickly at the 9/11  memorial, and walked through City Hall park on our way up to Chinatown.  Had a huge meal, we’re at home now and didn’t even bother with supper (well, lunch was at 5 o’clock) and after Chinatown we walked through Little Italy, up to Washington Square Park, then took the subway back to the car and we’re done.

Tomorrow we’re doing the Natural History Museum and Central Park.

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The Vacation Begins

Day 1.  It feels good to be here, we had a big deli sandwich dinner and we are beat, because, while it may just be 7 p.m., it’s 1 a.m. by the body clock and we’ve been up since 3.  The flight was no problem, Prague to Amsterdam left right on time, KLM was great, just about a 90 minute flight but they served sandwiches and coffee and the crew was gracious and friendly, like in the old days of flying.  The flight was packed, though.

The flight from Schiphol to Prague was a bit more problematic.  It was delayed for  about an hour, first there was a problem with the air in the cabin, and the announcement that they were trying to cool the plane down by leaving a rear door open was not too reassuring.  Then they said they needed to get a radio from another plane – it sounded like something  you’d say when you’re 16 and starting off on a road trip, not a major airline before a transatlantic flight.  But the crew was fine, they can’t  be blamed for that or even, as the flight was, once again, 100% full, that the toilets got a bit grotty, ran out of paper and just had a box of tissues there.

People talk a lot about how air travel sucks  nowadays, but it’s largely a victim of its own success.  Also, maybe, the 100% capacity may have led to cutbacks in service, because the airlines know they can pull all sorts of shit and the flights will still be full.  People have to get where they’re going to go.

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On Our Way

Tomorrow morning we have to get up  at an  absolutely insane hour to get to the airport, where we will board a KLM flight to Amsterdam, where we will  change planes and continue to New York.

There should be no problems.  Passports are in order, we have everything packed, the taxi has been ordered, we have enough cash, all the phone numbers and directions we will need, Fifi has been at the cottage for a week where she will stay for the summer, and all of my classes have been canceled, most for the duration of the summer.

Nonetheless, I am nervous.  Some of it, I’m sure, is just pre-travel jitters, a macro version of the OCD checklist I go through every morning when I leave the house, looking into my bag and patting all my pockets many more times than the once that is all that is really necessary, and which is all a successful executive would usually go through.

Another part, however, is just that I’ve been away from America so long and it has, apparently, changed so much.  I’m sure, on one level, I’ll find little changed.  People are still people, not all of them will have gone completely nuts, and those who have, well, it’s probably more an exposure of the attitudes that were already there.

The pendulum will swing back.  How long that will take, I do not know.

 

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The Class War Has Begun

Of course it’s a bit disingenuous, silly even, to say the Class War has begun, since it probably began about 65,000 years ago, around the time human beings started living in settlements and one family had a better animal skin tent than the next, and it probably goes  back even before that, with the alpha male of each simian pack and his cronies being the upper class, and  everybody  else fighting for the  scraps.  But recent events, and I’m talking mostly about the Grenfell Tower disaster, have brought it into sharp  relief.

It’s not just that Conservatives (in class warfare terms, the rich) are somewhat responsible for the fire, with their hatred of  building codes and safety regulations, and their overall contempt for the value of poor people’s lives, it’s how they are behaving in the aftermath.  No sign of remorse or taking of responsibility  by  Theresa May, or Boris Johnson, or any  of them.

When Jeremy Corbyn suggested, quite reasonably I  think, that empty luxury homes could be used as temporary housing for the victims so  they don’t have to sleep on the streets, which would be pretty cruel considering they’ve just lost everything in a fire, and many of them may have even lost friends or family members, the Daily Mail went after him with a vengeance, saying ‘Corbyn Wants to Confiscate Rich People’s Homes.’  I suppose that technically could be considered factual, but it’s not homes they are living in, which means they are just houses and not homes, and it would be temporary, and if rich people who own property in the neighborhood are not going to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, then what the heck.

You can’t expect the government to house  the victims in the empty spare houses of poor people, because poor people don’t have empty spare houses.

Anyway, my point is, Class Warfare is  out  in the open now.  It’s clear the rich have no sympathy for the poor whatsoever, not even  when the poor have just survived a deadly fire.

 

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Investigate

When there is an airplane crash, there is an investigation.   The investigations are fairly thorough and, in some cases, scientifically impressive.  (I remember the Lockerbie disaster, how they were able to identify which piece of luggage the bomb had been in – after all that destruction)  They’ve even got a TV program about it, “Air Crash Investigations.”  It’s interesting.  It’s also worth noting that these investigations, once they’ve identified the cause of the crash, often lead to actual changes in design or safety precautions, so that no future incidents happen because of that specific cause.  This is why air travel has become the safest mode of travel, and I’m grateful for that because I, with my family, will be getting on a plane Monday  morning and going to America for 3 weeks.

Nobody accuses the investigators of politicizing the crash.

Yet, when a tower block burns down because the sprinkler system was inadequate, and certain parts of the construction were more flammable than they should have been, or when a mentally ill person with a history of domestic abuse buys an automatic weapon and shoots a bunch of people at a baseball game, we’re accused of ‘politicizing the tragedy’ if we say “Why was that building unsafe” or “Why do the Democrats and Republicans have to have a baseball game and isn’t this a sign that they are all good friends and all working together to fleece the public out of just as much as they can get away with?,” we are accused of politicizing the issue.

Of course we’re politicizing the issue.  Lots of people are dead, and it’s the fault of the politicians.  Now, Republicans (and, in England, Tories) claim to be against regulations because of freedom, but I don’t buy that because they are the kind of people who are not so big on freedom, they just love throwing people in jail for long terms just for smoking weed, and other trivial stuff like that.  They are just against regulations, and probably because it will cost them a little bit, the greedy bastards.

Everything is political.  We live in a crowded society and, I think, a clear majority of people would like that to be a society where your chances of not being killed are higher.

So, let’s investigate.  Not just the Grenfell Tower fire, and not just the Virginia shooting, but all fires, and all shootings, until they start to become rarer and rarer incidents, and then let’s continue to investigate them whenever they happen.

So, just as air travel has become the safest mode of transportation, our society will become the safest society ever.  Because nothing puts a crimp in your freedom like being dead.

 

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Hot

It was hot today.  Real hot.  So  hot the sun was a menace to society.  So hot I feel sunburned and I was not  at the beach.  So hot the bus was  like  a sauna, as the sun came focused through  the window.  So hot people were congregating  wherever there was  shade.  So  hot I  dawdled  in a  shop, just because they had AC.  I didn’t  see anybody trying to fry an egg on  the sidewalk, but I’ll  bet you could  have.  So hot it’s still kind  of hot  now, and its midnight.  So hot the teachers on the playground set up lawnchairs under a tree and let the kids do whatever the hell  they wanted.

I suppose it was due.  It IS summer, after  all.   And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.  It was my  last day for the summer with all of my Thursday classes.  At the gymnasium I tried something I  haven’t done before, in all my years of  teaching, but maybe I should have.  In  two of  my classes (the ones  that had more than 6 people  present) I asked  them to write  down on a  piece  of paper – unsigned, I specified unsigned  but one girl  ignored that, plus the girl who write in over sized letter in  pink  marker, I know who  that  was, all right – what they thought  I could  do differently next  year.  I was surprised.  I got some really good, serious suggestions.  Some questions they don’t  like.  Some things they think  I do too often.  Some games – not just that they suggested we play more games, but some  of  them suggested  quite specific games.

So, now I’m committed.  If  I  don’t  try at least some of their suggestions next semester, I’ll look like  an asshole.  And  I  wouldn’t want that.

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