Archive for the ‘society’ Category

Cobbler commentary

There is a certain very distinctive atmosphere that is part and parcel of a shoe repair shop, that takes me back in time.

I’ve been in shoe repair stores for a large portion of my life.  I had flat feet and needed special shoes and special inserts, so I’d have to go to the cobbler to have the wedge inserted and the heel modified.  The shoes themselves were a particular orthopedic style (which cause me no small amount of unhappiness and teasing when I was younger) with a steel arch.  The shoes were expensive, so there was a need to be able to re-sole and re-heel them on a periodic basis that my friends with tennis shoes and docksiders didn’t have to worry about.

Time has moved on, the orthopedic shoe stores are now gone, and I’ve been reduced to going with standard off-the-shelf shoes from a generic big-box shoe warehouse store.  My newest shoes needed a quick repair on a heel –the heel was hollow, surprisingly. I’d worn through the thin portion of the heel that covered the void, exposing the opening.  The problem with the void was it made sounds when I walked, and was constantly picking up rocks.  So I opted for a quick trip to the local cobbler.

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I went to King’s Cobbler in the King Contrivance Village Center.

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Walking in, I was immediately aware of the look, the smell, the atmosphere of the store.  Clearly a cobbler live here.  The air was rich with the odor of warm polish and glue. Small piles of shoes, some paired and some not, lay in various parts of the store, waiting for the next task or the next phase of their re-creation. Ahead of me were the equipment of the trade, a craft which despite the years and increased automation in other fields still relies on manual labor, personal skill, and …. equipment that probably hasn’t been built since FDR (okay, likely a bit of hyperbole there, but it certainly looks o-l-d).

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It caused me to think back to the days when a cobbler existed in every nearly every mall, every shopping center.  We used to go to the cobbler regularly, working to glean a little more life and time out of our shoes before they had to be replaced.  I remember having shoes re-soled five or six or more times.  Heels were done even more frequently because of the orthopedic issues of how I walked and wore the heels out.

Those days seem to be gone.  Cobblers are not very common anymore, and there seems to be little interest in the millennials to take on the trade craft.  More significantly, the big box shoe stores sell shoes that have little to no leather or repairable materials in them. My last pair of Rockports were not repairable because of the synthetic material employed in the sole. It’s unfortunate that the materials we use aren’t repairable and that the skills needed for repair are themselves becoming endangered.

Time, and society, move on.  Shoes no longer repairable, and no one who can repair them.  Chicken and egg.  But at least in this case I have an idea which came first — unrepairable shoes.

At least I was able to support both the craft of the cobbler and a local business this time 🙂

#HoCoBlogs

 

 

 

Pence pensiveness

There was a story that came out a few days ago about Vice President Mike Pence and that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.  Apparently the Twittersphere blew up on both sides over this (of course, there is an aspect of redundancy in that, as blowing up is apparently what Twitter is about these days).  The Right extols the practice, while the Left ridicules it.  And I end up with mixed emotions, but with a sense of unease that bothers me.

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On one hand, I think there are times for this sort of approach to life.  In particular Rev. Billy Graham has lived by this rule for his entire ministry.  In his case, it makes sense.  So many are willing to cast aspersions at even the smallest issue or sense of hypocrisy that avoiding even the opportunity for someone to create even the appearance of an issue seems appropriate. For the job he has, and the way ministry works, this seems right.

The article in the Post that has raised this whole issue is a bit odd. The sentence that started this is standalone, not part of a paragraph, and not directly related to either of the two sentences around it.  Simply, “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”  The reasoning is that this builds a zone around the marriage.

It leaves a big question though: how does he interact at non-dinner events with a woman?  If that answer is out there, I haven’t seen it. And it’s important because if it is dinner events only, it’s much ado about nothing.  If it is all types of meetings, it becomes a concern.  If he doesn’t meet with a woman or women without someone else around, what he has done is relegated them to a secondary status in the political machine.  Much political work is done in private discussions with senior staffers,chiefs of staff, private staff, etc.  If a woman in those roles can’t meet with the politician, then she effectively can’t be in those roles in his office or in anyone else’s office that needs to meet with him.  And that seems unduly restrictive. And totally patriarchal.

I think what has caused my sense of disquiet has been the reaction of the (religious) right (of which I know many) saying that this situation is as it should be.  It bothers me because it conveys a sense of impropriety/danger/problem inherent in individual male-female interactions. It has to be a pair reaction or it’s the appearance of something untoward.  It makes it seem as though neither gender can be safe around the other. I ‘get’ that people do wander, stray, cheat, etc.  But not everyone, not even most.  I have married female friends at work that I talk to one-on-one regularly.  At least one of them was a major reason I survived a nervous breakdown 7 years ago (thank you L1!). I value and seek female perspective, especially in a male-dominated work world.

If he wants to value his marriage, great and good.  But don’t do so at the expense of others.  Take a position where there isn’t the impact on women that comes from politics.  Take a position where you don’t limit the role and value of women.  Excluding half of the population because they have X not Y seems like bad solution.The world has enough problems; it would be nice if we could bring all our combined resources to deal with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melting on the roof of the world, Tibet.

I follow environmental and sustainability news fairly closely (alright, not as closely as I’d like to given a work schedule) and I tend to be reasonably well-informed.  However, this particular article brought me up short. It showed me how little we really know about what is going on in the world, how few people appreciate it, and why they need to.  An area of the world that is difficult to access, that we in the US and the west don’t understand well, that impacts billions (with a “B”) of people, is having its own crisis.

What do we do if Tibet goes dry, and takes the Mekong, Yellow and Yangtze rivers with it? We don’t see it, but the results could be staggering in terms of geopolitical stability.

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https://www.chinadialogue.net/blog/7422-Tibetan-plateau-faces-massive-ecosystem-shift-/en

https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/9654-Source-of-Mekong-Yellow-and-Yangtze-rivers-drying-up

 

 

Shades of Color

As I watched the election unfold, and the reaction (mine and others) since then, I realize that compared to many, I’m very lucky.  As I look at the friends and acquaintances I have through the variety of my connections, they run an interesting spectrum of colors from far right to far left.

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I have friends to the right of me.  Far, far more to the right than I, both politically and religiously. I know folks who believe the Bible literally in every aspect, others who are strong believers in the Doctrine of Ultimate Depravity (which is almost as scary as it sounds). A couple are fervent advocates of the 2nd Amendment above almost all other rights.  And there are others who are just biased (pick a category, every category) and focused only on themselves.

I have friends to the left of me, some to the far left of me.  I’ve known some who are gay or bisexual, while others are ethically polyamorous.  Some are agnostics, some atheists, some just seeking or defining their own higher power. And there are those who are gamers, cosplayers, and even a couple of friends who are furries (look that one up if you don’t know it 🙂 )

Each one gives me aspects of their lives to think about. Each adds a shade, a color, a nuance, a perspective to my own view or positions.  My views on abortion, gay/LGBTQ+ rights, alternative lifestyles, have all changed by knowing people in those communities. There has been at least one case where a columnist has helped me to understand the view of the world from the life of someone of a different color.  In the end, what I had been harboring as a white,male, hardcore fundamentalist view has broadened to include, and care about, a variety of others that I didn’t know before.  It seems difficult, if you don’t know anyone outside of your pale, your tribe, your mindset, to appreciate the diversity as much as you can with broader contacts.

I’m glad for shades of color that help broaden and enliven my world.

Shades of Gray

In a sense, it’s a bit odd that while I am an engineer that you would expect to have a very rigid and formulaic mind, I don’t see things as black and white; rather, I see them in a whole spectrum of grays (not where you thought this was going is it? 😀 )

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One of my major issues with the talking heads and politics these days is that the details, the intricacy of issues, is lost.  No one wants to look at a discussion in-depth, everyone one wants to solve it with a simple pronouncement, one that ignores the raft of depths and complexity of every issue.  Every issue has some degree of intricacy to it, many are incredibly complicated. Reducing a topic to single aspect, a single fraction of the entirety, a single wavelength, violates the integrity of the whole.  And the tendency of society to move from detailed analysis to 140 character tweets or two-line memes isn’t helping to find solutions or even in defining the problems.  It’s like describing an impressionist painting by one dot of paint, trying to build a plane with one pieces of metal, defining a person by a 2-second interaction.

We need to learn to embrace the larger, more diverse, more expansive, more accurate and complete picture. The bigger, fuller picture allows us to find more appropriate solutions, ones that might actually work.  Looking at the bigger picture may allow to avoid more, or even worse, problems in the future.  But that requires us to consider hundreds or thousands of words, to consider the past and the future, to examine ourselves and others.

It requires us to look beyond a world of 140 character. The shrinking world of characters is already the bane of thought, and it may be the death of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

M&M Engineering….Metro and Monument

Coincidently, this post gets published during National Engineer’s Week in the US. That wasn’t my intention when I started writing this, but it seems to have worked out appropriately, if not well.

This past year has not been a good one for engineering in the DC area.  While a major accomplishment goes unnoticed, two serious failures have rightly captured people’s attention.  Why aren’t things going better?

The good news story is the drilling of the DC Clean Rivers Project.  Two tunnels, 48″ and 108″, drilled under the city, will keep stormwater runoff from flooding the sewage treatment plant and contaminating the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.  An incredible undertaking of engineering and construction, it has been practically invisible to the public.  And it is going well (almost complete!).

Not so the other denizen of tunnels, METRO.  Nothing seems to be going right for them, and hasn’t for years.  Inspection not performed, repairs not made, maintenance left undone; from policy to execution nothing has gone right. When in the middle of the very-public, very-massive safety push you have train operators who still almost hit the Federal inspectors on the tracks, you know you have problems.  Surprisingly (and I am very surprised, as the horror stories keep coming out) no one has been charged criminally for the years of running a system that has apparently been so woefully unable to complete even simple task. Years  of falsified records and billed-but-unperformed tasks and no one has been charged?  Really?? Unbelievable.

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Commuters wait for their train at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

And then there’s the other major monument to problems in the engineering world, the Washington Monument.  Closed for almost 3 years to repair damage from the earthquake of 2011, it opened in mid-2014. Almost immediately it had problems with the electrical systems and elevators. The elevator problem is so serious that the Monument will now be closed until 2019 for repairs.  So in an 8 year period, our National Monument will have been close for almost 6 of them.  Not a very good track record, not at all.

I understand complex issues, interconnected problems, deficits of money, time, and manpower.  But to have to such major problems at the same time is a sad state of affairs.  Maybe some of the infrastructure money being promised by the administration can help both of these out.

I hope so.

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Dennis Cook/Associated Press

 

 

Safe Zone Sillies

There has been no shortage of issues from the election that have stirred thoughts and irritation with me this year. One aspect of the past campaign that has bothered me (there were lots, but we’ll focus on just one for now!) was “safe places”.  Really, when did we become like this?

Let me start with an affirmation that I firmly and unequivocally believe that there are people who have experienced great calamities, events that truly are triggering.  An unexpected reference or description of sexual violence can trigger PTSD in a survivor.  Or a scene of physical violence that could provide a reaction from a domestic abuse survivor.  Theres I understand and support.  The trauma of what they have been through should be respected, and consideration given to how they would react if the trigger were sprung on them unknowingly. They have personally suffered something and there is an aspect of it that requires particular care and deference due to the nature of it.  For this type of situation, pre-notice for them of pending possible issues seems appropriate.

But, Jiminy Crickets folks, not every mean word, opinion, reaction requires a safe zone! Contrary opinions and mean people are a way of life (even more so now in the anonymous safety of the internet). Dealing with criticism and harsh words are a part of life. Dealing with angry, unkind, spiteful people is (sadly enough) a part of life.  We need to deal with it, learn to handle it, learn to let it roll off.  Yes, there should be limits on some things, but the protection should be for the people who have gone through a trauma.

When we claim too broad a privilege it diminishes the value and purpose for those that actually need it.  Call for it too often and for too frivolous a reason and it becomes “wolf”, except that it’s not then the false crier who suffers by the silent sufferer.  And much like surface tension in an overly full cup of tea, once broken the spillage is uncontrollable.

Let’s be more judicious in calling out the need for safe spaces.  Let’s learn to hear and manage those reactions, take away the power they have over us.  Be sensitive to actual people who have experienced actual harm.  But not call “safe zone” just because our feelings are hurt.

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