On the train: From past to present to future

On the train: From past to present to future

When the Stourbridge Lion steam locomotive rolled down train tracks for the first time, it was moving very quickly toward the future. It signified a new era for the United States. And by the time the golden spike took one last whack at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory in 1869 to connect sea to shining sea in America for the first time in history, the train had already contributed to rapid growth and a blooming domestic economy. But the train shouldn’t be lost to history. Quite the opposite, actually, as we have seen in countries around the world. The train is a clean, dignified way to travel, and rail travel only continues to improve. Well, in most countries, anyway. The train is still chugging toward the future. It’s the United States, it seems, that is falling behind. On the train For trains to gain popularity, we have to understand the role has played, and continues to play, in the lives of people; how much better it is to travel by train than to drive, or to fly. The train has of course been romanticized in literature and film for years. The meeting of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke while passing through Austria in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The poetry of Philip Larkin’s Like The Trains Beat. The dreams of American ancestors leaning their heads against the glass as scenery rolls past, untouched, beautiful.   Scenery shoots past the windows. We wobble ever so slightly through the gangways as the train rocks side to side. The dining car smells of sandwiches and hot coffee steaming from behind newspapers. Another train passes outside, so close you can see the faces...
Is technocracy the answer to America’s troubles?

Is technocracy the answer to America’s troubles?

Technocracy is a system of government where leadership is comprised of technical experts; experts in specific fields who also have bureaucratic experience, as opposed to elected officials or appointed politicians. The United States looked fairly technocratic when it was first founded: Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, for example, were both renowned inventors, and much emphasis was placed on intellect. But the U.S. has strayed far from the merits of technocracy. Officials without background in the agencies they are running, or without expertise in any field for that matter, is an issue that must be addressed if we are to make our government more effective. Out of 535 members of Congress, only six are engineers and one is a physicist; there is actually a higher number of musicians, accountants, and former entertainers among the ranks. Even of President Obama’s 23 cabinet members, only the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had engineering or natural science backgrounds. Most of the rest were lawyers. Understanding technocracy The idea is that the experts run the show – those with experience in the fields over which they’re making decisions. This removes political agendas from the equation, and it removes (however controversially) the need for anything other than proof and fact when making decisions about the future of our country. It means the bible no longer plays a role in reproductive rights, for example. At it’s core, though, it’s simply a respect for knowledge and skill. An understanding that technocracy is about the people who have dedicated their lives to a certain subject, and are therefore most qualified to make decisions necessary...
Don’t kill Hitler: How the past becomes the present becomes the future

Don’t kill Hitler: How the past becomes the present becomes the future

If you could go back in history to kill Hitler, would you? The popular answer is, Yes. Of course. This makes you a hero, does it not? Humans love to speculate. We spend time in our own heads imagining scenarios where we do something important that changes the course of history. We ask the question, if you could go back in history and kill one person, who would it be? Hitler. But perhaps the better (bigger, more important) question is, Would that actually change anything? Does a single individual make the difference? Do individuals matter? Or would it have happened anyway? The romantic view is that of course individuals matter. The Third Reich would never have happened without Hitler. The atrocities of the Holocaust could never have happened without the singular Adolf Hitler. But that’s not a realistic point of view. And it simply isn’t true. The man is only a symbol. He represents something. A sentiment. A feeling. An idea. Killing the man does not kill the idea; the sentiment remains; the feelings only grow. Today, there are comparisons between U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. Beyond the increasingly-present Godwin’s Law (the longer an argument goes on, the more likely it is that comparisons to Hitler will be made), there has been serious speculation into the similarities between the two. Is the point then to kill the situation that allowed Hitler to arise? And if history is repeating itself, what does that mean for today? We then also cannot blame Donald Trump for creating the sentiments that got him elected. Why people are comparing Hitler to Trump Are the...
Conversations with a brothel doorman (NSFW)

Conversations with a brothel doorman (NSFW)

A doorman sees everything. It’s part of the job. And when you work the door of a popular brothel on Große Freiheit Straße (“Great Freedom Street”) along the Reeperbahn (Europe’s largest Red Light District) in Hamburg, Germany, you see more than your fair share. But it’s not just about nightclubs, 6AM shots of brandy, or pay-to-play prostitution. There is a lot of history in St. Pauli. A million stories running through the cracks and spilling out onto the street. A million people with a million different views, scents, and sounds for the world to absorb. A doorman, then, becomes more than just a doorman. A doorman becomes a gatekeeper of experience, a holder of secrets, a monolith at the mouth of pleasures, memories, emotions. This is one doorman’s story. The doorman POV “I start when the sun goes down. The Reeperbahn is busy most nights, but especially so on weekends when the suit and tie people don’t have to wake up early in the morning. Mostly I give directions, tell people where to go. I tell them not to come inside unless they want a woman, and if they want a woman that they have to pay. I am like a stoplight. You know? I say when to stop, when to wait, when to go. People listen to me. They must. We get the kids drunk asking how much, how much. Some of them serious, most of them not. I don’t want to be mean, but I must be firm. If they can’t pay, or they are too drunk, then I tell them to leave. They listen. I’m not supposed to...
Bringing the country together

Bringing the country together

The United States seems as divided today as it has ever been. Racial, economic, religious, and intellectual divisions have spread us further and further apart. And while it’s in the country’s DNA to be divisive, things are seemingly at a breaking point. Politicians call for the country to come together. Is it even possible? Is it possible for there to be “one” America?  Or maybe a better question is, has there ever been one America? A country founded on dissent, based on bringing different cultures together. The term “melting pot” has been used over and over. When imagining the “great” America that Donald Trump seeks to return to, something painted by Norman Rockwell comes to mind. That is one part of the U.S., and it is the one that dominated politics and society for much of recent memory. This is where the problems arise. The idealistic/idyllic white families sitting around a dinner table and talking swap meets with a dog dreaming at their feet and a white picket fence around the front yard only worked for one portion of the country. That is no longer the predominant culture (whether symbolically or otherwise).  The painting pictured above, aptly titled Freedom From Want, depicts the only piece of the country that could actually afford freedom from want. This is the demographic that had it all/everything, and they feel as though it is slipping away. As in the video posted by the Atlantic, the U.S. is no longer a white, Christian nation. But the notion that it is only the subjects of those paintings struggling with the social progress and equality embraced by modern...
Those jobs are gone, and they’re not coming back

Those jobs are gone, and they’re not coming back

For years we’ve heard that the U.S. is losing jobs to countries that get things done quicker and cheaper. President-elect Trump had this issue at the forefront of his campaign. As he said in an early Republican debate, “I will bring jobs back from China. I will bring jobs back from Japan. I will bring jobs back from Mexico. I’m going to bring jobs back and I’ll start bringing them back very fast.” But in trying to bring back the jobs we’ve outsourced, we miss a simpler reason as to why these jobs have disappeared: They are out of date, and obsolete for humans. Trump has promised manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs that simply do not exist anymore. Technology is coming for, or has already taken, as many jobs as have been sent abroad. The blue-collar, benefits-laden work that allowed for a down payment on a nice, two-story home in an American suburb and the means to start a family have now been handed over to R2D2. Well those damn robots are taking our jobs! Recall the 1964 Twilight Zone episode The Brain Center at Whipple’s in which robots replace all workers at a factory, including, in the end, the boss himself. This is what we are dealing with now. We have millions of Americans scrambling because Happy Days-era jobs don’t exist anymore, and too many people are unwilling or unable to retrain, stuck with a skill set better utilized by robots. As Rice University professor of computational engineering Moche Vardi told Factor earlier this year, “US factories are not disappearing; they simply aren’t employing human workers. Job losses due to automation and robotics are often overlooked...