Penn Central commute.

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

Biden pc

The Biden campaign released an ad a few days ago that talks about the importance of family. I particularly like it because it shows a guy commuting from Washington to Wilmington, Delaware daily to be with his kids. And in this picture, he’s shown with the pre-Amtrak metroliner, sporting that fine, fine Penn Central logo.

Yes, I say that a bit ironically, because the PC railroad was formed from the awkward merger of two huge northeast lines, the Pennsylvania and the New York Central, and it struggled under mountains of debt and a fair amount of mismanagement and inability to make early computer systems work together.

But it was also the rail line that ran during the early 1970s down the hill from our house in Grandview Heights, Ohio, so it’ll always be, in that sense, the “home team” for me.

And that logo and their font—based on the italic version of Microgramma—is also a classic of the era.

We see you there, Joe.


Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

Some tweet rolled by my eyeballs this afternoon and I turned to Sammy and said “Happy Bastille Day.”

When we were in Paris in March, 2018, they had a, how you say, scaffolding around the July Column.

She said “There’s your blog post right there.”

Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

It’s le quatorze juillet, the 14th of July, the day in 1789 that the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a castle-y thing built to defend Paris from eastern invaders, among other things, was surrounded by the classic angry mob with pretensions of liberation, and drama ensued.

The partisans of the Third Estate (what a noble sounding name for a ragtag crew) had earlier stormed the Hôtel des Invalides in search of stored weapons. Their quarry had largely been moved to the Bastille, which was housing only seven prisoners (Wikipedia says four forgers, one attempted assassin, one “lunatic” and one “deviant aristocrat.”)

There was chaos, there was miscommunication, there was attacking, there was doubling-down, and when the dust had settled, it counted as a successful insurrection against Louis XVI.

I’m not really sure why. I was not a history major in school.

The building itself was demolished almost immediately after the attack. Now there’s one of Paris’s lovely places with a column (see photo) in the center of it. They kinda kept track of the stones from the building—some ended up on the Pont de la Concorde bridge, some were carved into tiny replicas of the Bastille itself. You can see some of the original foundation in a Metro stop underneath, but for my money, the Metro signage by type legends Adrian Frutiger and Jean-Francois Porchez is more compelling.


Monday, July 13th, 2020

On February 9, 155 days before today’s post, I blogged that “Sometimes I use a script to make a mosaic of my Instagram pics to try and figure out exactly what life I’ve been living the past few months.”

Y’know? I don’t think this tells me anything that profound except I like old TV gear too much and I really need to get out more.

Sponge, proof, fondant.

Sunday, July 12th, 2020

We’ve been looking for televised content that leaves us, I dunno, less stressed at the end of the day. Even during the week, taking on even an hour of news leaves us with, I dunno a sort of ache for our fellow human beings. We’re keeping touch with events, but we’re trying to not obsess.

So it’s The Great British Baking Show, which is the PBS/Netflix rename of The Great British Bake Off. (Why did they change the name? I really don’t know.) We’ve just finished watching a season from 2012. So, the original hosts, and fabled judge Mary Berry along with Paul Hollywood.

Ahh. No politics. No pandemic. Quaint! For an hour at a time, at least.


Saturday, July 11th, 2020

I’m coming across more and more writing that addresses the mental health issues associated with the lockdown, the pandemic, and the clash between those who are obeying the…rules? Recommendations? Challenges to your personal freedom? and those who cry out in defiance, and, in some cases, succumb to the virus just because, well, they weren’t careful.

Ah, whatever. I’m happy to see significant percentages of my neighbors are masking up in store situations, which is really the only place I have close encounters. I’m having no trouble staying within those guidelines, although I have to admit to a slight fraying at the edges. Not the edges of the guidelines…the edges of my mental well being. I’m well aware that mental stress can have physiological impacts, so I’m trying to be careful about that too.

This weekend, as dire reports of large numbers of new cases come in from many states, I also sense a greater overall “yeah, it’s no fun, but let’s get with the program” feeling. There’s no doubt that this is a different look:

The President visits Walter Reed hospital on Saturday. Photo via CNN.

I’m going to resist the urge to pile on and…just take a few deep breaths and sit back with satisfaction and await a change in upper management. Mr. blue tie has got to go.

Ten days in.

Friday, July 10th, 2020

What kind of month has July been? It’s Friday the 10th. I started by describing it as a roller-coaster month, then took a day to encourage nonprofits not to market, not to incessantly plead for support, but just do the thing they set out to do.

Then, we heard fireworks throughout the neighborhood on the eve of Independence, and on the fourth itself, I distracted myself from booming sounds with road signs. Afterwards, I just tossed of a sentence or two about what freedom is, was, could be.

By July 6th, I obliquely discussed my experiment in taking on old white guy forum bullies far from where most other folks I know would explore (I may discuss this in more detail after I’ve pondered it a bit), and glanced at the PPP program and how you could search for the recipients in your town, your state, your zip code. I returned from Target and Kroger and was pleased to see a (very) high mask-using percentage, although I have to tell you there were a lot of folks outside today in 90 degree heat in Midtown Atlanta and many did not even have masks at the ready.

Finally, yesterday I mentioned a Spanish language heist series on Netflix we are enjoying, because when the evening comes on in Atlanta in midsummer and it’s still hot, hot, hot, it’s nice to consume content with your dear spouse. In the air conditioning.

I think the roller coaster continues.

La drama de papel.

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

Oh, let’s see, there’s El Profesor, there’s Tokyo, Rio, Nairobi, Denver, Stockholm, Lisbon, Helsinki, Palermo, Marseille, and Bogota. And a couple of the characters in this world-famous gang of robbers, celebrity masters of the grand heist were in fact on the other side in the early episodes, either as a hostage or with the police. There’s even a newborn named as the other code names, Cincinnati.

Because the professor is brilliant and he is working with an elaborate plan (as we are told) he has assembled a team of people and, during an intense training regimen, forbade them from using real names (hence the cities) and told them romantic relationships were also right out (so, of course, they happen with surprising frequency). These are, of course, beautiful and handsome robbers, even in matching red jumpsuits, with or without their Salvador Dalí masks.

This takes place in Spain. They’re (for the most part) speaking Spanish and we’re doing our best to keep up with the subtitles and listen to the Euro-Spanish words, idioms, and accents, so different from the Mexican Spanish Sammy has give me a teeny bit of exposure to. I now think of Spanish as an amalgam of vocabularies and regional accents, and, ah, thank goodness for subtitles.

It’s called La Casa de Papel (the house of paper) because one of the two heists is at the Spanish mint, where huge printing presses churn out Euros.

The show has been purchased by Netflix (which is how we’re watching it) and in English they gave it the totally generic title Money Heist. I like the original title much more. It was a big big hit in Europe generally, winning International Emmy Awards and others.

It is a great cultural experience, part Robin Hood, part telenovela, because the subtext, oft-subverted and twisted sideways, is as classic as a story of class struggle, and when you fold in the European reaction to the financial crash in 2008 and the Profesor’s depiction of their acts as “the resistance,” hacking into capitalism at its very source…well, it’s a complex story, told in (as is the fashion now) many time shifts and with narration that may or may not be reliable.

We’re enjoying it.

More cities require masks.

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

I’ve been to grocery stores and to (long story) two different Atlanta Targets in the past few days. I’m very pleased to report that the percentage of people wearing masks in the big boxes and the food stores has been very very high, almost 100%.

Really good to see.

But the President is going to force the CDC to redefine its health guidelines for reopening schools this fall. He is, not to mince words, trying to force them to open.

Really disturbing to read.

Just another day in July in 2020.


Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

The full name of the program, that maybe we don’t hear often enough, is the Paycheck Protection Program. It’s operated out of the Small Business Administration. It is supposed to supply small businesses with loans to keep employees on the payroll…here, here’s the official wording:

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses. Click here to read more about PPP loan forgiveness.

The loan will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 60% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

  • PPP loans have an interest rate of 1%.
  • Loans issued prior to June 5 have a maturity of 2 years. Loans issued after June 5 have a maturity of 5 years.
  • Loan payments will be deferred for six months.
  • No collateral or personal guarantees are required.
  • Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.

Sounds pretty good as these things go, right? And then we heard stories about not-so-small businesses, some very large businesses who applied for and got large loans.
And then the Secretary of the Treasury was being all circumspect about who was actually getting these things.

But as the New York Times reported today:

We now know the names of many of the businesses that received small-business rescue loans, after a huge data dump yesterday by the Trump administration, which had initially fought to keep the details secret. […]
Here are some of the recipients of PPP money that may raise eyebrows:

• Investment firms that manage billions, including Semper Capital Management, Domini Impact Investments and Brevet Holdings.

• At least 45 major law firms, including Boies Schiller Flexner, Kasowitz Benson Torres and Wiley Rein.

• Some companies connected to federal lawmakers or their families, including the Republican representatives Markwayne Mullin and Devin Nunes and the Republican senator Susan Collins (whose brothers’ business later returned its loan), as well as Ms. Collins’s Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon.

• Several start-ups that still laid off employees.

• The Ayn Rand Institute, which is dedicated to the anti-statist philosopher, and an arm of Americans for Tax Reform, the group founded by the famously anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

Yee-gads. I was pleased when someone took the data and created a site where you could easily browse the loan grants for here in atlanta (or anywhere.)

A lot of the loans were for modest amounts ($150-350k) and a lot of them were for familiar restaurant LLCs around town. And, ah, there’s our dentist, keeping her staff on board when they couldn’t see patients. There’s the company who did tree work for us. But then, down into the Cs, I spot a familiar large Atlanta law firm, Cooper Carry. Wow, $5-$10 million, with an eye to retaining 325 jobs. Churches. Car dealers. King of Pops, the Atlanta fancy popsicle people, got $350K to $1 million to help retain 40 jobs. King and King Law, $350K to $1 million. Their listing says (this may be wrong) jobs retained: 0.

So when is a small business not a small business? In some ways I want to see as many of my neighbors and the places they work protected through this process, and this certainly seems like…a way. But would direct payments make more sense, especially when some of the loan recipients (it seems) are not directly transferring the money to payroll.

One guy on Twitter, with all the succinctness that 280 characters affords said “forgive the rent, forgive the mortgages, forgive the property taxes, pay a monthly check for expenses, and medicare for all” which inevitably (and appropriately) gets into a discussion of fair wages, fair rents, and fair health care.

The pattern of this year.

Monday, July 6th, 2020

I’m not proud of my continued inability to avoid engaging with folks online in this pandemic-y, protest-filled election year.

I get other things done. I get the trash out to the curb on Monday nights. The bills appear to be paid.

But then I see some online snark that blames a fictional partisan “mainstream media”, I have to break out a keyboard (even if it’s just the teeny one on my iPad screen) and start whomping elegantly-crafted paragraphs of passion and, yes, patriotism and casting it off into the ether with a satisfying poke of “post reply.”

This is why I could not exist (nor would I want to) on Facebook, not even for a day. My latest engagements haven’t been on the Twitter or the Instagram, just some not-that-important special interest forum that seems to attract a bunch of guys who like to take shots at Hillary Clinton (still!?) or any Obama or any woman or…agggh.

I like to write! I like words! I like making a coherent argument in a paragraph or two! My (diminishing?) faith in my own writing abilities leads me to the “post reply” precipice again and again.

I’m not proud. But that’s the pattern of this year.

The day after Independence.

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

I think what worries me the most are the folks who say: “independence equals freedom. I can do whatever I want, that’s what the founding fathers fought for, my right to do whatever I want.”

I want to turn to their grade school teachers and say “how did you explain America to these people!?” Maybe that’s unfair. It’s probably unfair.

But there’s more to being this country than having freedom. There’s the responsibility of taking care of others. And it feels like the list of our neighbors who need care and patience and whatever else we can offer is growing by the day.

Stock up on some loud noises just off I-24 between Chattanooga and Monteagle, Tennessee. Our photo from June, 2017.

I like signs.

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

This probably is no great surprise to you if you’ve been reading this site for a while. Signs in general, and road signs in particular. It’s typography perched at the side of the road. Colorful. Regional. Idiosyncratic. Who can ask for anything more?

I was doing some maintenance work today on our vast vast collection of photos, so I was scrolling through my road signs album. It starts, as you see here, with a much younger me with my favorite Oaxacan road sign, which says, of course, “Respect the signs.” (Or ‘Obey the signs.’) Good idea.

Scrolling the signs is (for me) a great diversion from the small fireworks explosions outside and the continued polarized political pandemic experience.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Eve of Independence.

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

It’s a steamy July Friday night in Atlanta, and more often than not, we would be “up north” in extreme upper Michigan enjoying a big party with a couple of dozen people, many who we know and care about.

But not this Friday. It’s really not worth the risks, and besides, the party as a large affair isn’t going to happen (although I bet they’ll attempt a scaled-back socially distanced version with just 8, maybe 10 people.)

So what’s everybody else doing? Apparently a lot of people are watching streaming content, in the house or projected on a drive-in-like screen in their driveway. There’s the film release of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and it sounds (if I believe the Twitterland) that many, many, many people are trying to consume it at once. Sounds like a good test of Disney+’s servers. We’ll catch up with it after the rush.

And there seem to be some fireworky sounds in the near and far distance. Not on my weekend to-do list. Also not on that list: heading out to South Dakota to watch Trump orate in front of a crammed-together crowd under Mount Rushmore, after which they will attempt to do fireworks without setting the tinder-dry Black Hills ablaze.

This seems like a very different birthday of the United States, one where we may be beginning to recalibrate how this place came to be.

Just do the thing.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

We gave some money to a public radio station because we listen to them from time to time. When we sent it in, we enclosed a note that said:

Please configure our account to receive NO email solicitations or notifications or, well, anything. Solicitations make it LESS likely we’ll send more.

Keep paying your fine on-air staff. Thanks for all you do.

and we got a nice note back that said in part:

Thank you. I have set the preferences so that you do not receive email or mail solicitations.

This afternoon, I got three identical copies at the same moment (1:09 PM) of the same marketing email from them. Now this is a small station and I know they probably have a limited staff and are trying to cope with working remotely and so on, but this is still annoying. Annoying in part because (as I later confirmed) they outsourced their bulk email marketing services to some other company and are probably paying them with our money to screw up. What can they do? Complain to their vendor.

As I wrote,

It seems like so much of my contribution goes to MORE marketing and MORE solicitation—not to the very real costs of broadcasting, like paying your on-air and news staffs and paying the transmitter(s) power bill. I sure wish our small contribution could be earmarked in that way. It also seems like the simple act of saying “please don’t keep us on any list where you will solicit us” is just about impossible.

It sure shouldn’t be.

This is true of major national organizations we’re very happy to support—not just public radio and television, but nonprofits involved in supplying food and health services and making sure that the bad guys get taken to court. I’d love to have a checkbox labeled “send no marketing emails and don’t spend a penny of this on marketing or development or promotion.”

Just do the thing you said you were here to do.

July, the roller-coaster month.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

Welcome to July. The pandemic continues.

For many renters who have been out of work for months, the rent is due. They might have to fight evictions in court.

According to the Washington Post, drug overdoses jumped 18% nationally in March, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May.

The President’s campaign has released an America First Trump 2020 T-shirt with an aggressive right-facing eagle remarkably like the one on Hitler’s Nazi banners.

And I went to the Murder Kroger on Ponce today to get some milk, and except for one guy and one woman who was making a phone call with her mask down around her neck, everyone was wearing a mask.

Pence was wearing a mask getting off the plane in Arizona.

Georgia governor Kemp has been wearing a mask in most public appearances.

Mississippi’s governor and Texas’s governor have been begging their citizens to follow CDC guidelines. Some have closed bars and beaches. Some governors have said there’s no way citizens will follow those instructions. But they are pivoting. Republican senators are joining them.

I had started out going to the Atlanta midtown Trader Joe’s, but signs on the doors said it would be closed all day today for “a deep cleaning.”

Less than two weeks ago, it was 100.4 degrees F in Verkhoyansk, in Siberian Russia. That’s a bit warm for the arctic.

That’s a lotta ups and downs for, what, one day?