Things you learn from guys at bars

About secret, hidden underground subway tunnels.

According to bar-guy, they exist in the Twin Cities. Further research: the only “subway” tunnels that exist are tunnels holding the electric wires for streetcars. Well, that’s almost the same. Wikipedia unverifiably confirms the existence of streetcars in the cities. In this historical document (an automotive industry trade publication) we learn that the streetcars certainly did exist; they even extended to a proposed speedway. This is in the 1910s. They had automotive speedways back then? This website of unclear provenance tells us more about the history of streetcars in the area (they ended service in the 1950s). Here’s the sad story of what happened to the cars. Newark? Wikipedia’s history of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company is quite comprehensive, as is to be expected. It confirms this guy’s story, which blames the demise of the streetcar on a Cloverleaf-style takeover of public transportation. Privatization and all that.

In its heyday, the streetcar system was huge:

Of course, the out-of-state takeover by a Wall Street speculator in the 40s was preceded by a 1917 worker’s strike and the rise of the automobile. Street cars were dying everywhere.

The Minnesota Historical Society confirms:

The Twin City Rapid Transit Company (a New Jersey corporation) was incorporated in 1891 as a holding company, with the MSR and the SPCR as wholly-owned operating subsidiaries. The TCRT was succeeded in 1939 by a new Minnesota corporation of the same name. A management change in 1949 brought New York financier Charles Green to the presidency of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Green and his associates decided to abandon the streetcar lines and convert to buses as quickly as possible, apparently in order to maximize their short-term profit. The company’s entire streetcar fleet was scrapped and replaced by buses in an aggressive conversion plan completed in 1954 under TCRT president Fred A. Ossanna, a former associate of Green’s who managed to oust him in 1951.

(And a simple chronological history of the streetcar in the Twin Cities. 1949 and 1954 in particular are quite interesting.)

Anyway, the point of this story was that I wanted to find underground streetcar tunnels. Since they were streetcars, though, obviously they won’t be underground (unless, apparently, they were crossing railways, in which case they were to be built underground as subways). Simply etymology. However, the tunnels holding the electric wires are obviously accessible (scroll all the way down) somehow, so maybe not all hope is lost.

The adventure might continue…

(h/t guy at bar)

Red White and Blue. With Love.

This holiday is already bad enough, what with the drunkards out in full force and not even pizza shops open to save them from their own inanity.

Why I felt the need to indulge in my bitter, self-righteous loneliness and complete unfeelingness twoards this day of eminent pointlessness (my uncaring is so strong I even had to hover over the Goog-icon until my Homer Simpson “doh” moment hit) is beyond me. Maybe sometimes you really just need that tiny push, that extra excuse, to grab a six of mediocre belgian-style wheat beer and two-day-old strawberry shortcake. Well, the strawberries were already macerated so it’s not as if I put any effort into this fandango.

What are we celebrating, anyway? The day a bunch of old (now dead) white guys signed a crinkling piece of parchment, announcing their grand intentions to cease, and I mean absolutely desist, paying any more representation-free taxes to the oppressive colonial powers that be? What, so we’re celebrating some version of our libertarian roots? Hallelujah.

Besides, it seems terribly ironic to celebrate what is ostensibly a holiday about America and freedom and independence and over-indulgence when ships full of people are being detained (for example) in Greek ports (yet another irony, o bastion, motherland of democracy) en route to protest against the inhuman suffering of one group of people at the hands of another, far more powerful group of people.

O, the humanity.

Woe, the humanity.

Independence from nothing but our own moral compasses and human responsibility. I’ll drink to that.

In defense of understanding (#OBL)

I received an email from a friend saying he was waiting for Obama to make a speech. It was 10 pm on a Sunday, East Coast, and he was in Central time – not a usual speaking hour.

Minutes later I got a New York Times New Alert saying Bin Laden had been killed. We hunted for a local NPR station – or any radio that wasn’t playing country or metal (we were in the woods of New Hampshire, driving back from a day of climbing) – while we speculated on what could have happened.

Eventually we found some radio hosts talking about it. Obama had been scheduled to speak at 10:00, then 10:30, then 11:00…and in the intervening time, our hosts were waxing poetic about what this means for America! Freedom! Democracy! Righteous Goodness! The demise of all things evil in the world! Their emotional, if misguided, rants were interspersed with “reports from the White House,” which for the most part consisted of #reasonsObamawaslate (he was fine-tuning his speech) and coverage of the masses gathered outside the White House, waving flags and chanting “USA! USA! USA!” (It’s too bad we don’t have a particularly good soccer team, otherwise we should have found them some vuvuzelas and relocated them to the next site of the World Cup.)

Finally Obama began: a small team of soldiers (Navy SEALs) raided a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Sunday morning Pakistan time. (I’m sure we all heard the speculation regarding Obama’s hearty good mood at the Correspondents’ Dinner the previous evening.) Osama Bin Laden was killed, no civilians were hurt, no Americans were lost, and the United States had custody of the body. Bing bang boom, cut and dried, the way I like my assassinations.

I later heard they had spent about a year tracking him and planning this assassination. For Obama, it seemed to be a tactical political move, cementing (or at least improving) his incumbent election bid. And Obama behaved, in my opinion, completely appropriately. Somber announcement of the death of an enemy, disposing of his body in a militarily acceptable way, and refusing to bow to the “deathers’” pressure to see the body first hand. The administration has been respectful and has not overblown the affair.

No sweeping pronouncements about the end of the War on Terror, no sweeping pronouncements about the end of the war in Afghanistan, no sweeping pronouncements about the end of hatred of America.

Mainstream journalists and civilians, on the other hand, have been more than prolific in their rampant, mostly-idiotic speculations about what this means. Does this mean terrorism is dead? Is the War on Terror over? Will Al Qaeda disband? Will other terrorist groups, influenced by Al Qaeda, disband? Will Muslims like America? Is Islam dead? Will extremism cease to exist?

Let me pause. If you think these are questions with legitimate answers (or, if you think they are legitimate questions, really, based in understanding and knowledge of the world outside your white picket fence), please stop reading now, and go to this website.

The only legitimate question I did hear asked, and this was on Al Jazeera and among lefty, non-mainstream print and electronic journalists, was: “Will anything change at all?” And I believe the answer to that is, other than Obama’s poll ratings, absolutely nothing at all. Terrorism still exists, hatred still exists, and in a less ideological train of thought, the Taliban still exist in Afghanistan. Whew, wouldn’t want to exit two wars in a presidential term.

And the rhetorical War on Terror, Islam, the Arab & Persian worlds, the Orient as a whole, is not over. Bin Laden did not singlehandedly orchestrate the September 11 attacks. He did not singlehandedly hijack three planes. He did not invent terrorism, and he did not invent hatred of the United States. These latter two phenomena are a product of a global system that breeds inequality, a power balance that heavily favors the US and has no internal method to rectify the imbalance or treat its symptoms. Terrorism and hatred are a symptom of a problem but, though problematic, not the problem itself. In a way, terrorism exists because of a shared perception of global inequality, and a terribly misguided notion about how to rectify it.

Rami Khouri of Lebanon’s Daily Star said it best, and most simply, when being interviewed on Al Jazeera: “the problem is inequality in the region.” Inequality fueled by American dominance, fueled by Western favoritism (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel), fueled by the nature of the natural resources trade in a global capitalist system, fueled by historical imperialism and colonialism in the region (British, French), and fueled by war-mongering and an imposed self-righteous superiority. To think the problem is anything more or anything less – say, “hatred of America” – is neglectful of the circumstances that have cultivated this hatred, and it is ignorant and dismissive of the effects an imbalance of power, even a perceived imbalance, can have on the collective mindset.

The War on Terror and its offspring (Afghanistan, Iraq, even Libya in a way) are part of a larger political war of attrition against millions of people who are subject to a global system of injustice and inequality and have always gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It is a hot and a cold war against a region whose seemingly-eternal subjugation under American political, military, and economic dominance and interventionism – not to mention a history of Western and European colonialism and imperialism – is a root cause of regional social injustice and inequality, where terrorism is symptomatic, not causal.

We see #OBL’s and Al Qaeda’s (and many others’) rhetoric and violence as baseless, unfounded, and irrational loathing for “our way of life,” because we innately believe in our manifest destiny, our right to do what we want to the exclusion of everyone else, the criminality of the other. We see this mindset as the cause, not as the symptom of global inequality. The War on Terror is a PR War with a militant wing, and it isn’t over.

I always come back to that quote in Casablanca when Victor Laszlo describes the Resistance as an amorphous union of shared belief (my words). The Nazis can kill him, but they cannot kill the Resistance.

“And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places.”

Now, of course, Osama Bin Laden is no Victor Laszlo. But the concept is the same; one man might be a leader (Laszlo) or a financier (Bin Laden) or some combination of the two (Bin Laden), but no movement of belief can be destroyed by destroying one man.

We began learning this in 2001 when we went into Afghanistan; Al Qaeda is a disconnected network of cells, not a personality cult built around Bin Laden (well, it might be that too, but it is primarily a network of independent cells). We are learning there will always be another man, another group, another ideology, that is ready and willing to take its place.

If we believe killing Bin Laden will destroy terrorism and hatred, we do not understand the world, nor do we understand the nature and causes of hatred. Outwardly and collectively celebrating Bin Laden’s death is only a sign of our own hatred, our own intolerance, and perpetuates his legacy. The correct answer to hatred is not, nor has ever been, nor will ever be, more hatred.

(I find it heartbreakingly ironic; we are taught from birth to love, to accept, to embrace difference, yet over the course of our lives we are injected with hatred, and we are retrained to reject and to destroy.)

What right from birth?

Before we begin, I have to acknowledge that I have no idea if the group in question is or is not affiliated with Birthright. From my own experience I can, however, be sure that the version of the story I overheard fits in perfectly with the Birthright-sanctioned version of events.

Field trip! As part of something to do with work, we had a tour of Old Jaffa from a native. It was in Arabic, and predominantly told the story of the wrongs visited upon the Arab population by the invading Jewish colonizers. Totally legitimate, and full of factual details and colorful anecdotes.

Like Akka, Jaffa was once an important coastal city for its citizens but also for Crusaders, Ottomans, and the British, among others. The architecture and layout of the city itself tells the story of this rich and layered history. We began along the old wall at the edge of the port. As we walked, through arched stone gates and over uneven stone pavement, we came upon another group hearing stories of the city of Jaffa. But this group was not like ours.

We were a group mostly of 30, 40, and 50-year-olds (with the exception of myself and two others, offspring along for the ride) guided by an Arab and listening to the Arab history of Jaffa in – what else? – Arabic. They were a group of early twenty-somethings, a shady character packing heat in their midst. They looked exhausted, dehydrated, and wavering between interested and desperately bored. You could tell all they wanted to do was jump in the water (I would have gladly joined).

But it was the stories that set us so much apart.

Their leader was spinning the yarn (in a slight New York lilt) of Avi Aryeh Weiss, or some other equally Ashkenazi Jewish-sounding name. He was an immigrant from Russia? Poland? wherever.

He arrived in Jaffa while it was under the rule of the “Turks”. Mr. Weiss is expecting the Promised Land, the Land of the Jews. He was shocked to discover the actual political situation. “We’re not in control anymore, we don’t rule. What has happened?” Avi Aryeh Weiss laments. He disembarks from the ship, horrified: “what is this? All the signs are in Arabic!” Avi Aryeh Weiss is dumbfounded. This is Israel, what are these heathens [my word] doing here? He finds out the Jews of Jaffa have a meeting that night to discuss how “the Turks are cutting them off from the water”, and he resolves to attend. He storms in. “For years and years and years we’ve been dreaming, and now you’re here and you’re not fulfilling your dream? What are you doing?” The Jews of Jaffa look at him skeptically[…n00b]. “I dream of Hebrew! I dream of Hebrew street signs and a country where people learn Hebrew, speak Hebrew! Anyone who wants to establish this Hebrew city with me, please join.” He appealed, desperately.

He must have had some weight, or some oratory gift, because next thing you know the Jews are establishing a city – a Hebrew city – next to Jaffa. The birth of Tel Aviv.

I wanted so desperately to lean over the railing and talk to these kids. “Listen!” I wanted to tell them. “Really listen! Do not so easily accept what is presented to you. Think for yourself.” I wanted to confront the woman speaking. I wanted to ask her, “do you believe what you are saying? are you morally at peace with this?”

I could see us through their eyes: almost a threat. A group speaking a language whose culture and legacy they were at that moment being indoctrinated against. Who is the enemy here? Two simultaneous histories, one egregiously omitting the other, that other demonizing the deeds of the first.

I wanted to show these young ‘uns the Jaffa, the entire history of this land, that they were being forced to ignore. Such attempts to invisible-ize cannot succeed. How is it possible to ignore the Ottoman (Turkish written in Arabic script) engraved in cornerstones on most historic official buildings? Hebrew signs cannot dream to to whitewash the entire cultural history of this place. It is in the architecture, in the streets, in the air. It is in the stones.

But all I could do was watch, and listen, and hope against hope that even one of them would listen to what wasn’t being said.

Duality

It is so easy to get caught up in one side of the story when the prevailing dialogue is dichotomous. But both of these sides, caught up in their perpetual battle of rhetoric and mud-slinging, turn a blind eye to the third side of the story. This is the story that tells of an idealism manifest in reality (for some, though certainly not all). A place where you are welcome because of who you are, not in spite of who you are. Not quite utopian but for many it is the better – the best – option. It is a pity this principle has been so lost, so warped, and so used for the base and short-sighted needs of the politicians and the pundits and the provocateurs.

Oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us. No nation on earth has survived such struggles and sufferings as we have gone through. Jew-baiting has merely stripped off our weaklings; the strong among us were invariably true to their race when persecution broke out against them. … Continue reading

A Tale of Irony, Greed, and Betrayal

6 May

Ma and Pa Donner set out for the West sometime in the 1860s. They were accompanied by 25 of their nearest and dearest.

Sometime in the spring, they stopped to fix their wagons (presumably their oxen did not successfully cross the Snake River – FAIL) in the mountains on the west side of what was someday to be called Lake Tahoe. Evidently, they also neglected to sufficiently stock up on spare axles and wheels and, frankly, whoever it was really sucked at Oregon Trail. In any case, their wagons became mired in the ungodly marshes of the Sierra Nevadas (damned mud puddles). Without spare wagon parts they proceeded to fell trees to build their own. Several party members forgot to move and got squashed. During this feat, which took a good while since they had chosen the ubiquitously useless careers of teachers and lawyers, a snowstorm befell them.

Woe unto the Donner Party! Stuck in a bog on a mountain in a snowstorm, they slowly began to get very hungry and cold. Here, the story becomes a tad sketchy (I swear to this point it’s the truth). Common knowledge asserts that they all turned to cannibalism and went up in pillars of smoke and flame. Ish. Alternate renderings suggest some profound sacrifices on the part of the mothers, all to save their children.* Hopefully, this sacrifice involved their own blood and flesh because that’s the only good part of the story anyway. Only eleven members survived.

In any case, the “Donner Camp Picnic Ground” (oh, it hurts) graces the side of CA Rte. 89 somewhere north of Truckee. Its plaques commemorate the bravery and pioneering spirit that made California what it is today: the land of saintly cannibals.

*This is the National Park version of the story. Wimps.