Death on the Red Line Express

Today, coming home from a night of laughs, we were stuck on a ‘disabled’ train not quite able to pull into Davis Square.  It’s never a good sign when the intercom announcements are interrupted by bursts of laughter – it just doesn’t make one feel safe in the hands of the professionals.  The engine that couldn’t still thought it could, and we backslid down the slight rise halfway to Porter several times.  Fortunately, as the conductor kept mentioning in passing, the breaks still worked.  So at least we weren’t speeding to our deaths.  But it’s still pretty creepy realizing just how much the tracks cause each car to tilt, and seeing the ‘power rail’ sparking in giant arcs of power as the engine tried to tug us uphill.

I thought for awhile we would have to eat Lauren, as she was the one who jinxed us.  Seriously, it’s not a good idea to start talking about all the horrible mishaps that have befallen you on trains right as we’re about to pull into our station.  Simply not a good idea.  Still, i promised her we’d eat limbs first, so she’d still be alive for a few days at least, and Jeanne promised we’d start with her left arm since she didn’t really need that one anyway (see photographic evidence below, and thanks to the random stranger who took this photo and didn’t steal Jeanne’s phone).

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Fortunately for us all, the second engine they brought in to push us from behind was able to do the job, and Lauren offered us Swedish Fish to keep us off her limbs for awhile.  I’m not ashamed to say I accepted the bribe.

I’ll huff, and I’ll hurricane puff…

As an architect (or at least, a former student of architecture) I have an interest in new ideas people have about building.  Ok, mostly I am interested in residential building.  Corporate and industrial structures have little interest for me – they’re less structured to adapt to people.  I find the robotized warehouses of parts not made for people distinctly claustophobic and wrong, despite the fact that they may be highly useful and space efficient.  So – with my intense people-scale residential interest – I was delighted to see a new hurricane house testing project on a massive level.  Of course, it’s aptly named The Three Little Pigs Project.  Never say they don’t have humor in Canadia.

But what is most interesting with the project – outside of its name – is its process.  They’re taking their time figuring out exactly why a hurricane collapses a building, and how.  The ultimate goal is still prevention and building better houses, but it’s deliberate over the long term, which I kinda like.  Pinpointing stressed areas does have a certain validity for the grand work of making houses stronger.  And the way most roofs attach to houses and the way walls themselves are constructed, ‘balloon framing’ has a whole new meaning.  In addition, after New Orleans and all the legal scutwork of various insurance agencies, even research involving exactly why and how a house fails is extremely important. Go Little Pigs!

Since they seem to have everything pretty well covered and are very technologically sound (way to build your house out of bricks, guys), it almost makes me feel bad to be the hurricane.  I think they might need more of a Big Bad.  How about adding some earthquakes, locusts, diseases, or other ravages to the experiements?  I’d be happy to contribute a bit of huffing and puffing myself, if that could scientifically help.

Is that karma?

Sharon Stone is getting a bunch of flack for a comment she made regarding the earthquake in China recently.  She raised the question as to whether or not the earthquake might be punishment for the Chinese ‘not being nice’ to Tibet.  While it’s a little unclear exactly what she’s talking about (not being nice?  are we in preschool?), I still think there have been overreactions.  Ng See-Yuen of UME for example, is now talking of banning her movies from his theaters.  So let’s ban the legitimate work of countless actors and filmmakers for one person’s possibly disparaging remarks?  Especially when Stone’s comments were possibly meant to be forgiving?  You can decide for yourself – the interview clip is below.

While I myself take offense with the way Stone talks down to the interviewer, there’s a positive spin on the whole thing.  She’s trying to say ‘we should all learn from the Tibetans, and forgive, and unite to help each other when things get tough’.  She’s trying to say her initial reaction to the disaster was negative, but that she reconsidered and eventually felt sympathy for those in need.  She’s trying to continue to garner support for the cause of Tibet’s independence at a time with China’s disaster is pulling attention away from a cause she values.  We can all see and understand that, even while we wish she had done so in a more sympathetic fashion.

Finally friends, if such a disaster really were just punishment for civil rights abuses in Tibet, it wouldn’t have been centered in the western provinces.  It wouldn’t have been centered where a variety of minority groups without real political power would suffer.  It wouldn’t have destroyed a landscape that is beautiful and remote and arouses sympathy around the world.  Sichuan and the other provinces affected are not responsible for Tibet.  Just as I do not always agree with my own government, I continue to love and respect the Chinese people while not reserving the same respect for all the actions of their government.

4 packets of biscuits and a pair of flip flops

Flood.  Famine.  Earthquake.  Disaster.  It seems that in recent news, the world is tearing itself apart.  In some cases, such as the earthquake and related destruction in China, relief has been quick and a source of a revival of nationalism.  In others, such as Burma, the crisis is complicated by other political motivations.

What does it mean when a family of 14, is apportioned “4 packets of biscuits and a pair of flip flops’ as one of the lucky families winning aid from the government from the drawing instituted by the local headman?  What does it mean when villagers outside Rangoon survive on the charity of those within the city, rather than the direct aid being sent in by humanitarian organizations? We can talk about relative power, we can talk about foreign aid not getting where it’s supposed to be going, we can talk about various international perspectives on Burma’s military junta and what to do about it.  We could even write a book.  None of these discussions would come close to explaining who we are, or why we are mean to each other, occasionally even despite our best intentions.

Double Stuf

Some of you may be familiar with the singer Harry Chapin, who does a variety of more ridiculous songs for adults.  I know him via his brother Tom, who was my childhood substitution for Raffi.  Anyway, one of Harry’s songs that I delight in is ‘30,000 Pounds of Bananas’.  Just picture it – a truck losing control outside of Scranton, sacrificing its load to the demon of bad breaks on a  treacherous road.  Now replace the treacherous road with a relatively flat and straight one, and substitute the bananas with 14 tons of Double Stuf Oreos, and you have today’s news.

While I find it ridiculous to envision literal TONS of cookies stopping traffic, there are other questions.  What happened to the driver?  Did he lose control?  Was he injured?  Did he have to eat his way out of tons of cookies after the spill?  The article claims none of the cookie bags ripped open (yeah right), but even for those cookies still in bags, are there legal issues to selling them after the spill?  Nobody likes crumbly Oreos.  Personally, i think the company should sell the goods at a discount.  Who knows what kind of invisible damage could result from the spill?  There could be a complete loss of structural integrity, resulting in dissolving cookie if I try to dip it in milk.  I vote, if not for a discount, at least for a random dipping test of the cookies spilled, just to check.  I would guess there are very few who like oreo cookie floaters in their milk, either.

Thanks to Kate for the article and keeping me up to date on the Midwest (woohoo!).

Where’s Burma?

Not long ago, the U.S. was outraged about the lack of aid  and quick relief to one of the more vibrant regions of our country.  I’m talking, of course, about Katrina and New Orleans.  Rebuilding is still going on there, and though the eager life of the city is revitalizing itself, there is till work to be done.  Of course, one of the things that made the area unique was its diverse and strong community, which remains, despite natural disaster.  What happens when such a disaster strikes and area that is not so visible, that is not so well known, or that is already recovering from previous injury or adapting to increasing need?

We have one example in Myanmar, where the strong arm of the military junta has oppressed various groups of people (such as the Karen) and regions for decades.  Now that oppression has been exacerbated by tornadoes in the delta region, killing tens of thousands and causing flooding, bridge damage, and crop loss.  People are being left to rot on the ground, as fuel is limited – the living need everything they can get to survive.  What’s more, due to the junta’s fear of international criticism, they aren’t allowing any aid workers or volunteers into the country.  They have only let one plane bearing food in, though arrangements are being made for others.  Worse, as flooding continues, even aid within the country is having a hard time reaching those in need.

While the international community has been very outspoken against the actions of the junta, now could be the perfect opportunity for reconciliation.  Let’s help people.  Let’s help people, regardless of what country they’re in, or who they’re governed by, or how.  Let’s make a start at differentiating between control and genocide, between political expediency and political necessity.  Let’s at least try and move ina  different direction.