RL302 - The Battle Of Turns Out

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: And then what happens?, referring to things that appear very easy to fix, but if you would it, then what happens?

The show title refers to the problem that there is always a turns out or even a double, triple or quadruple turns out that you don’t know about when you only look at something on the surface.

John thinks that Merlin sounds different, he sounds compact, warm, but punchy. Maybe he finally broke in his microphone after 3-4 weeks? Like a baseball glove that you put a ball in and sleep on, Merlin has been waxing his mic.

It is kind of early. Merlin sounds so stupid in his ad-read. He has been up since 6:30am but he is still not awake.

Street Car replaced by buses (RL302)

John started off the day with a little bit of a tummy cramp. Merlin reminds John that he can leave whenever he needs to and what is in the show is in the show. For example, the street car is back. During June until last Saturday they were doing tunnel work on the West Portal Tunnel and Merlin had bus service for 2 months. Merlin is always with the MUNI and the reason why he never wants to move is because he lives very close to a MUNI line and he works near a MUNI line, but he hasn’t stepped foot on a bus and his daughter refuses to get on a bus altogether.

Environment and recycling (RL302)

When John ran for office, one of his platforms was public transit and novel transit. He wanted to re-establish street cars where there had formerly been street cars, not anything crazy, but just put them back where they had been. Within the hyper transit-focused and city-services-focused Seattle liberal community there was tremendous derision from some quarters about street cars, because it was stipulated over and over that buses could do the same job better and cheaper.

In researching it, you will discover that the wear and tear on street cars is much less than the wear and tear both on buses and what buses do to roads. You can put 5 buses worth of people in a street car driven by one person! This seems like one of these deep Turns Out, like ”We should get rid of straws”, and we will remember it as a turning point in the discussion about what individual consumers can do to help the environment. There is a viral video of a sad turtle with a straw in its nose.

A lot of things about recycling are a bit of a jam-up. Sometimes it uses more energy than it saves. It is a whole Penn & Teller type situation. When the markets for it are really good, there are businesses who are happy to take your recycling, but there are other times when the good progressives will put things in the blue bastic [sic] and it just goes to a different dump with more car rides. We haven’t interrogated that because it is one of those things where it feels that we are helping. In San Francisco they have a very large recycling bin and a comically small trash bin. Merlin’s neighbors hardly recycle at all, God bless them, and Merlin fills both 64 gallons of recycling bins every week and that is not even including the boxes. Merlin recycles a lot because he assumes it is better than trash.

Telling a better truth (RL302)

It is very easy for us to see how our political opponents are lying in a big way, not just small lies, and we can’t believe that their following will fall for their lies. What we don’t see is the very common attitude on the Left that we can not afford to give a nuanced answer, because it will confuse people. We can not afford to show the unvarnished truth, because our enemies will take what we show them and use it against us. It is very complicated to be a Leftist! If you want to make an example about homelessness, you will try to find a hard working person who lives in his car with his three kids, his wife just died and he goes to church. You do not just go down to a homeless camp and pick the first person you run into, but you find someone who is photogenic.

If you do say that there are a lot of people down in the homeless camp that are on drugs or committing violence, your leftist friends will shush you because we can’t afford to talk about that. It will just give aid and comfort to our enemies! Over time you do no longer get the unvarnished truth and you will not be able to talk about reality anymore, because we are telling stories. We do it with homeless, we do it with recycling, we do it with everything, and we don’t recognize that we are lying to ourselves and to others, but because we are doing it with good intentions in order to not encourage our enemies to take our words out of context. After a while you create a situation where your enemies will know that you are clearly lying but we are so far into it that it offends us. We are not lying, but we are telling a better truth, the more truthy truth than just the regular dirty truth.

There was one turtle in the world that ever got a straw up its nose, but that was the story! At Merlin’s house it is a very simple thing: He got three cans and one is for compost. Merlin does believe the compost helps and when he rolls 40/80/100 pounds of compost out to the curb, it does make a difference. It also opens up space in the other cans. Then there are the kinds of things that are not surpassingly difficult to do, like putting your toilet paper tube into the recycling, and you can feel good about yourself and you get to look down on people who don’t do it. When it comes to the straws: We have to change so much shit on a much higher level and maybe that whole straw issue is a straw man?

When you dig beyond the surface issues of the one axis of something that you understand, there is almost always something way more complicated under the surface that is not as obvious. That is where you get into the double, triple or quadruple turns-out and you get to these layers of yeah, but this, yeah but that, and then you go into the deeper systemic level and see all these huge differences. Maybe the people in Seattle just don’t want noisy street cars riding around or maybe they think they are ugly and for poor people, but can’t say it.

Campaigning for transportation, Run for office (RL302)

There are a lot of smart people in politics and they are all practicing a version of ”You got to lie in order to tell the truth” You cannot tell the truth to people because that will not get you elected. Instead, you need to bold-face lie every minute of every day. The number one lie is ”I will address your concern directly when I get to office” because every single person who comes up to you wants to passionately talk about their tiny little obsession and they won’t take any answer other than that you care about this issue as well and as soon as you get to Washington you will make this your personal mission. Every politician says that to every single person all day long and they don’t even roll their eyes at it. The really virtuous ones are ”Well, that is a very complicated issue. I have people looking into it and as soon as we get to Washington we are really going to take a hard look at that” without really promising anything.

The world of Turns Out becomes a battle of Turns Outs. Turns out, over the lifetime of a street car system it is much less expensive than buses. The other side will say that as it turns out, ridership declines during rainstorms, but, turns out, new streetcar stops become urban hubs where new buildings go in with coffee shops and dog grooming services that won’t happen around buss routes because people feel buses are impermanent. You won’t ever see that it is possible if it has never happened before.

They changed a lot of things with Merlin’s streetcar line last year. They wanted to reduce the number of stops because right now it is almost every other street and that is too many stops, even accounting for folks with disabilities. Every other street in Merlin’s far-flung neighborhood is a little bit crazy. The nuttiest change was that they took out the stop right next to Safeway and people flipped. Of all the ones they could take out? People actually did use that one and they put it back in.

John talked about this on the campaign trail all the time: Where do people drive with their car? To the grocery store, the doctor and to work. You put the grocery store and the doctor in people’s neighborhood and build little communities instead of consolidating everything in giant commerce parks. Then you distribute people’s work environments the same way, if you can.

There was a fellow city council candidate, a younger, pretty dynamic guy with an ear ring, who had been in politics since he was a young democrat in high school. Everybody knew him, he was really in the game and he gave the impression of someone who is going to have a lifetime in politics, whether he is elected to office or not. Towards the end of the campaign, right before the primary election that John lost, they were talking and this guy told John that no-one had really heard of John in politics when he joined this race and this whole thing about the streetcars was just dumb because nobody was going to vote for John because of that!

John replied that it didn’t matter if anybody was going to vote for him because of it, but it needs to happen! The guy and three other candidates were like ”Oh, boy!” They really did roll their eyes right in John’s face because he said it didn't matter whether people voted for him about it or not. John was talking about something that fell far outside the circle of issues of the moment. When you are running for office you need to really address the fashionable issues.

They were all grateful that they didn’t have to talk about transit because that was 4th down on the list, but John was out there ”You know what would help?” and that was dumb, because what he should have been talking about was big developers ruining the lives of innocent mothers. There were already a lot of hot takes on that and John really didn’t feel like he needed to add one and that made John seem like he wasn’t up on the issues. He’ll know better next time when he will run for sheriff of Twisp (Reference to episode RL28), he will walk right in there and ask ”What do you guys care about?” - "Dingleberries!"

There are people who make a life out of focusing on local politics, which is a weird self-selection, because you would have to be kind of crazy to make local politics your form of civic engagement and entertainment. What are we going to do tonight? We could go to the movies or we could go down to the high school where a bunch of candidates are answering questions. Who wants to do that? Some people do! Some of them show up for every one of those events and they wear their signature hat that has buttons on it. When you first arrive on the scene as a candidate, you think that these people are the kooks and you are trying to get to the real voters instead.

What you learn over time is that these kooks actually have a crude power, because they will get themselves elected as the legislative district 43 campaign organizer and then that person decides where the event is and who is going to be there. Over the course of the years this evolves from a very small group and becomes the Democratic party. It grows and grows, and whoever shows up for these meetings is going to have an outsized influence. They are the party, they decide where the money goes and other things. As they get more sophisticated, they will try to address their little thing about ”Why are all my electrical outlets in my house upside down” - ”That is not really a city thing!” - ”What do you mean not a city thing? Stop avoiding the question!”

Sidewalks in Lake City (RL302)

The biggest issue for people in the North East part of Seattle is that they didn’t have sidewalks in their neighborhood and when Lake City was annexed to Seattle in 1952, part of the annexation agreement was that they would lose their autonomy and become part of Seattle, but in return they would get city services and sidewalks would get put in. This is a Korean War era agreement that still hasn’t been fulfilled. There are some sidewalks up there, but it is a very difficult neighborhood with a lot of steep hills and a lot of people who feel a lot of resentment.

Every time they look out their window and see somebody struggling up the hill with their grocery bag, they note that down in their spiral-bound notebook of people inconvenienced by lack of sidewalk, and every time a kid falls down, every time a dog gets hit by a car, that is another crime that the city of Seattle has created by virtue of not fulfilling their promise to put those sidewalks in. If there were sidewalks in Lake City, no dogs would ever be killed by cars, and although that is not true, there hasn’t been a dog killed by a car that wasn’t a result of the lack of sidewalks.

Those people are not crazy. They understand that it is a relatively small thing, but what they want you to understand is the trail of tears, the fucking carnage that has resulted and what a simple ask it is. It is not even an ask, because they were promised! You look at them and you say that you are just the latest guy to run for city council and what little you know about the budget is that there are not $250 million to put sidewalks in Lake City. There is not even $1 million to fund a study about how there is no chance of getting a sidewalk.

The problem with local government (RL302)

The solution to people not cleaning up after their dogs is to have a cop on every street corner with an active fire hose and the discretion to hit anybody they want with it, but then tell them to only hit dogs that are pooping on the sidewalks. When John was talking to his neighbors across the street about their barking dog, he got the age-old ”Well that is what dogs do! They bark all night!” right away as the first words out of their mouth. The dog-poop people say the same thing: ”That’s what dogs do: They poop. Everybody poops! It’s right there in the book!”

Whatever the next leap is: No town-hall in the world can hold everybody’s hand and walk them through whatever the logical steps are to get them to the next place, which is ”What if every dog pooped on the sidewalk? It would be like Paris and we would be walking though knee-deep poop!” Then the person is going to be ”Nah, man!”, but what if I pooped on the sidewalk? Don’t do that! How can you let those people know that right now there is less than no plan for this. There is the opposite of a plan for this and we don’t really have any way to change it.

One problem of civilization is that half of the people think that the architecture of civilization is oppressive. There are too many rules and the Jack-booted feds are waiting to take your land and your guns and your cigarettes. What they don’t see is all the daily shit that government does for them. They take it for granted and they think that the water just comes out of the pipe and is mostly not deadly because of God.

When they go down and file a claim, they are very into their property lines and they don’t think about the fact that they don’t have to be out there defending their property lines against their neighbor every day, because the government enforces their property line. If somebody decided to build a shed over onto their property, they would immediately go to whatever government agency it is that takes care of that. There is an apparatus in place for dealing with stuff like that on a scale. The people who are against the government, zoning and property rights in general just don’t reflect enough to see that they are benefiting from that system and they don’t add their benefit into their calculation of how much it costs them to be ruled over by this government.

The other problem is all the other people who think that government is magic and that government should be doing something! What they don’t understand is the problem of enforcement. You can make as many laws as you want, but there is no army of zoning cops who walk around every day with a baton, brushing people’s kids back over their property line into their yard, because the community itself enforces its own understanding. That is why we built fences!

People wonder why the government doesn’t protect beautiful Victorian houses from getting torn down. Do you want to prohibit people from buying property unless they can prove they are going to do something you approve of with that property? Do you hire a team of 600 college students to walk around and catalog every single beautiful home in San Francisco? They can’t just be college students, but they have to know the difference between a shitty home that has been painted pink and a beautiful home that has fallen into disrepair and looks like shit. Then they would have to be making pretty sophisticated calls about every single house on the block. You look at that house across the street every day, you know what it is, but somebody coming along with a clipboard doing a survey?

In San Francisco the last thing you want is somebody saying that your house is historic, because that makes it way harder to do practically anything with it. It has been used by people against people as a punitive thing. It is one way to screw with your political enemies to have their private property declared important. There is a longstanding feud in Merlin’s neighborhood between this guy and this woman in some level of government. When he was in the middle of a remodel she had his house declared important. It is pretty good! She is the worst!

The dogs in John's neighborhood (RL302)

Dog-pooping on sidewalks is something that should be community-enforced. We all know not to do it and every once in a while somebody gets away with it. About 8-9 years ago there was a dog up John’s street that barked all day. The people who owned him would put him out in the morning and then go to work. It was a big Poodle with a big bark who sat out there and barked all day. John went over there one time with a letter, he walked up to the fence and the barking dog and as he got closer, the dog’s tail started wagging and he got a big friendly look on his face. John tentatively put his hand over the fence and the dog was like ”Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” for any kind of contact or anything to do or think about. He was licking John’s hand and wagging his tail like an excited seal.

John went inside the gate and put the letter in their mailbox saying ”FYI: Your dog barks all day and it echoes through the whole neighborhood and there has got to be something else you can do!” A couple of weeks went by, the dog was still out there and so John wrote another letter and put it in their mailbox ”I asked you to think about this and the dog is still barking every day and I would like to point out that it is not very neighborly, because you may not hear it, but I work from home and it is exasperating and starting to drive me crazy”. By the third time John wrote an even more exasperated letter to them, and you can imagine what an exasperated letter from John sounds like, and they solved the problem. John doesn’t know if they locked the dog in the basement and it has become a raving lunatic, but the dog doesn’t bark outside anymore.

John is not like his sister who thinks on behalf of the dog. When the dog stopped barking all day, John’s mind went back to a peaceful state of rest and he doesn't care whatever accommodations that family had to make. That is their responsibility! John has to resist the impulse to put on a sword every time he walks out the door and he does resist that impulse because of neighborlyness. When the family across the street bought those two giant-necked Pit Bulls and chained them in a 8x8 shipping container across the street for them to bark all night, it empowered the people with the Poodle to leave their dog out again. All of a sudden John hears barking from a couple of locations.

That was not a coincidence because the Poodle came back after 8 years. It was maybe 3 years old then and it is fucking 11 now! It has lived its life somewhere else and now it is back! When John was talking to the family with the Pit Bulls, the second thing they said was ”Well, we are not the only ones! There is that dog up at the corner” and it was impossible for John to explain that it didn’t used to be there, but now it is there again. It is an ”Would you jump off a bridge if they did?”-argument, but people don’t hear. They having been raised differently.

The problem of the way Liberals interact with government is that they do think it is magic and they do think that government can solve all these problems. John looked into what it would take to call the cops or animal control on the people across the street, but he realized that government isn’t set up to do this. They have a lot of stuff on their website about what their process is about filing this kind of complaint, but as you read it, you realize that they have to think about this from 20 different ways. Merlin says this is a very Next Door problem, and every time John has ever heard about Next Door, it was always in the context that it is very problematic.

San Francisco's homeless problem (RL302)

Right now the hot topics in Merlin's neighborhood are a guy in his 40s who revs his motorcycle who everybody is mad about and lots of package theft. There is the prevailing feeling that there is something that can and should be done about all these things that are trivially easy for somebody to do if they would just do their job, sir! If they would just run down every one of these leads! Merlin does believe that San Francisco has gone off the fucking charts on car break-ins, that there are package thieves and that this is all true.

Merlin mentions a headline from Business Insider saying ”People are being paid more than $70.000 a year to clean poop off the streets of San Francisco”, a hilarious San Francisco story! Can you even believe that they have gotten to the point now where this dingeling city can’t get people to stop pooping on the streets, they have to hire people to clean up after them, and people envy them for their salary? Turns out: Do you think people are pooping on the streets because they are super into pooping on the streets? They don’t! They poop on the streets because they don’t have a bathroom! Why don’t they have a bathroom? Starbucks is not in the business of being a public restroom and shower. If there is not a sustainable amount of public restrooms for people who need to poop, they will go to the park, or they will do whatever, but what do you do? They don’t have a bathroom because they don’t have a place to live because they have been priced out of the market.

A lot of these issues eventually end up back at income inequality and an unaffordable town that is run by tech companies. No matter how you chose to frame the problem and talk about what the solutions are, it is just pissing in the ocean. It is terrible we have to do that, and it is hilarious when your friends pass around the places in San Francisco where the poop has been counted. It is really a huge serious problem and there is no magic wand for it or else it would already have been done. One of the great turns outs is to spend less money on homelessness and homeless people by giving them a fucking free place to live. Nobody wants to do that because it is not in the budget and if you get to any of this stuff, you assume stupidity and bad faith of everybody who doesn’t see it the way that you do. Maybe Merlin is doing that, too.

Who wants to be the one to show up at the meeting and say that based on the budget we got, this is a problem that we can not solve and can barely afford to even talk about. We are going to need something much bigger than hiring people to pick up poop if we want to solve the actual problem behind this problem. It is a turns out that is going to require something much deeper and it is deeply embarrassing that the city still has not figured out a way to address this problem. Whatever they tried hasn’t worked! It is the government-is-magic-problem: A lot of those issues are not even under anybody’s original definition of what government does.

What do you want a government to do? What can a government do? Anybody who is older than 28 knows that San Francisco had poop on the streets a long time before tech was even a thing. In 1986 The Mission Below and the South End Market before it became the Moscone Center was a pretty dangerous place to go. When John was there for the first time in 1986, it was like Escape from New York (the movie) just on the other side of the street.

There is a nexus of activity at places that involve lots of local people and tourists, like where the cable car turn-around is, right next to Pal Street station. It is only a few blocks away from Civic Center station and people from all over the world who come to San Francisco because it is such a great place come to the cable car turn-around. But as soon as you start walking West of there, your mind is going to be blown within only one block. You go two blocks away and get closer to Civic Center station, it is basically a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. It is fucked up and there are people camping on the grass outside City Hall. It is really dark and that has been the case for a really long time. San Francisco was one of the pioneer cities of Libertarian Liberalism, which is ”We are not going to pay for a bunch of cops to break people’s heads, we are not going to move panhandlers along, because we are compassionate and we are not going to be draconian in terms of enforcement of civic law”

In the mid-1990s, a city attorney in Seattle passed a law prohibiting sitting on the sidewalk. It was a civic attempt to deal with this epidemic of people sitting on the sidewalk. The people who were against it argued that you can’t outlaw sitting, but people were blocking the road, causing public nuisance and there was a health issue. In reality they were empowering police officers to make ad-hoc decisions as they are walking down the street. If two people in pin-striped suits are sitting on the sidewalk counting $100 bills, the cops are not going to say that it is against the law, and if you happen to be standing there with a cup that says ”Please help”, they are not going to tip their hat at you, saying ”Good day! Thank you for not sitting!”, but they are going to move you along with that law.

The myth of Reagan emptying mental health asylums (RL302)

The city of San Francisco made a real point of being compassionate. The conventional wisdom was that when their former governor Reagan became president in the early 1980s, a lot of people were pushed out of mental health facilities that used to exist in the State of California. He cleaned everybody out of these institutions where people were getting some kind of De-Minimis Care for mental health issues and the question was: Where are they going to go? The climate and the attitude of the city kind of made it a destination for people, which is where it really became a problem.

John heard from a listener that it turns out that the United States had been emptying the asylums for decades! It had been a project that began in the late 1950s, early 1960s and during that whole period they were taking away that aspect of involuntary incarceration, those big infirmaries we called insane asylums, the Nurse Ratched style. We have been shutting those down and we have not seen any increase in homelessness or street crime.

That increase started during the Regan administration, but it was the defunding of the housing and urban development department. Reagan took all this money away from HUD, the organization that was providing rent assistance and public housing, an invention of the 20th century that had taken the place of what had formerly been an incredible constellation of Catholic human services and local this and local that. HUD consolidated it, we came to depend on it and then Reagan defunded it and all these services went away all at once. It wasn’t the asylums, John had said that for years! Since that time no politician has successfully refunded it.

The limitations of government (RL302)

One of the most profound lessons John learned when running for office was what the practical limitations of government are. Often it comes down to how to enforce that, not just knocking on people’s door and saying ”You can not do this!”, but then what happens? People don’t want to go two or three ”And then what happens?” into their cockamamy idea. John was reading this website on what to do if your neighbor has a dog that barks all night and with each sentence they were trying to answer all those Next Door people. First we would like you to document every incident in a journal that you are keeping on your hatred for your neighbors. They want to give people some difficult busy work and maybe 10% of the people will resign themselves to the dog because they don’t want to keep a journal. After you kept a journal for 60 days, at any point of which you could just give up, it is always better to talk to your neighbor in person rather than write them a letter, at which point 30% of the people don’t want to go over there and talk to them.

When you go down this list of what the city asks you to do to make this complaint, every step in the way is an attempt to make you resign to the problem. The end-result would be that 2 people from the city knock on the door and say that they had a complaint about the dog and the person will say ”That is just what dogs do!” and the cops go ”Yeah, we know, but there has been a complaint and you have 90 days to rectify the situation or we will come back out and have this conversation again” They are not sitting there, reading your Next Door. They are not going to come with two crack agents and park across the street from this place at 3am to make sure that the dog i barking. The city itself knows that they can’t deal with this because there are just too many of these. There is a guy at the other side of town who is running a generator all night and these guys have loud music playing and these guys have no soup.

Running for office taught John that you have to ”Turns out” yourself every day and you have to reject the obvious thing that makes sense to you in favor of new information, trying to ask ”And then what happens?” Like in the case of barking dogs, you end up realizing that this is not a job for the government. The government has a webpage which makes it seem that they are acknowledging their job because they had to and because people were calling 911, but the whole job of that webpage is to divert you and get you away. The people who follow the steps all the way through are the insane people. They are mad! If our cops were actually empowered to keep your neighbor's dog from barking, they would have too much power. You would have cops knocking on people’s doors all the time, there would be a lot more cops, and you would be empowering and funding them to be doing things that you didn’t even want. You just wanted them to make dogs stop barking!

Restorative Practices, testing new ideas in schools (RL302)

At Merlin’s daughter’s school there is a thing called Restorative Practices. If kids get into a fight or if kids are screaming at each other at school, you take them aside and talk about what happened. It mostly makes a giant amount of sense and it is a great way to get the heat out of the situation and talk about what happened, who is aggrieved, and what we are going to do about it. Ultimately it is supposed to minimize the arbitrary discipline and frontier justice that has to happen. It works okay a lot of the time, especially with younger kids who do have a more innate sense of justice than many of us realize. They normally do feel bad about it and apologize.

A friend of Merlin’s kid got punched at school and they go into restorative practices, which is probably good, but what if that kid is just a fucking bully? The poor kids who get punched by this asshole has to sit down in a little plastic chair and look into each others eyes and talk about their feelings. That kid is probably a bully because he is getting bullied. There is some part of Merlin who does want the frontier justice in those cases. The same thing is true for governments: They need you to try and work this out, because they do not have a team of paratroopers that are going to come in and solve it for you. They do not have a dedicated dog force.

What do you want the government to do? Restorative Practice is a glimpse inside the liberal world view, which is that we are trying to make the world a better place. It is not just designed around the simple aspect of teaching kids resolve problems, but it is much bigger! Schools have that idea of creating a society and trying to create better kids that can make a better world. The vision of a better world is then the second and third question.

They are trying to promote a world without discrimination and with equal opportunity for everyone, but at a certain point you get into a world where you are asking ”And then what happens?” We very quickly get into a place where in order to make the world better we have to prohibit some behavior and the list of prohibited behavior in order to create a world where everyone is free starts to get longer and longer. At a certain point we have to start prohibiting families of behavior or schools of thought, because schools of thought lead to certain families of behavior.

At that point we are monitoring how the frames of minds of whole families and communities interact and it becomes very theoretical. Looking at problems that adults are having in the world, theorizing the cause and the source of those problems, and then theorizing what you could do to children in order to change the behavior of some imaginary future generation that you don’t want to have have these problems, there is a whole intestinal system of theories that you are progressing through.

Each time you have a theory, you move on to the next step and the theory you had is gradually calcifying into what you imagine is a fact. You say that this is because they didn’t have enough Vitamin C and you need to get more Vitamin C into schools, but as you focus on that, you forget that your original theory is just a theory and you don’t know if it is true. It was just an idea you had one day and it might have been Vitamin D instead! You had that theory and then you pivot to how to get Vitamin C into our schools to solve this problem and all of a sudden your theory has turned into a fact.

Then you start to talk to companies to put Vitamin C into their tooth paste. Now your last supposition also is a fact and pretty soon you are all the way up to some public meeting where you are screaming in someone’s face that they are trying to keep Vitamin C out of our kids and that is going to create world war! Maybe the other person is still all the way back of ”What does Vitamin C have to do with it?” Restorative practice sounds amazing, but if you scratch the surface of its intent, it isn’t just to get Bobby and Billy to solve the problem on their own who’s ball it is. It is about a whole universe and about how to get people to vote for a president who doesn’t actively want war.

The picture of the turtle with the straw got an emotional hook into us and that is now our framing for this problem. We tut-tut our neighbors if they put the green bottles in with the clear bottles, but what about Bitcoin mining and all this other stuff that is so much more consequential? The garbage trucks go into those big facilities through 4 separate doors that are different colors and on the other side it is just like the apartment of Help by The Beatles! They all just dump their garbage into the same sunken living room.

Schools in particular are an incubating petri dish of this kind of thing and they can’t get away and give you this brush-off! Early in the year John talked to the principal about standardized testing. He was missing one of his front teeth which is a thing that happens sometimes around the first of the year. He might also have been wearing a fedora with a giant peacock feather in it, but he is not a 100% sure. She gave him the real principal-reply which is that she gazed off into the distance to make sure some kids weren’t hitting each other with hockey sticks and she said ”Standardized testing is not really a thing that we put that much stock in, but we have to do it because we are doing it" They don’t really do anything with the results, but it is how schools are funded and judged and so they do end up tailoring everything to it.

John found out later in the year that the principal was a massive Long Winters fan, but she didn’t recognize him. At the end of the year he ended up signing her syllabus, but at the beginning of the year he wanted to talk to her about standardized testing and you could see that she had that conversation with 800 parents before and there are some that have more confidence rolling up on her, but she has even more confidence in redirecting their energy. Somebody told her during the year that John was the guy from The Long Winters and all of a sudden John could have said that we should eliminate standardized testing around here and put in helicopter lessons, because that will bring order to our community. She is a professional educator and her job is to be in between the parents and the people who are ordering her to test students. In the meantime she also has to deal with teachers and kids all day.

Marlo came home a couple of times and was in tears because she was terrible at tests. When John asked the school about it they told him that it was a computerized thing and as long as they keep answering questions correctly, the questions will get harder until they reach the point where they can’t answer them anymore. That is how they are testing the limits of their knowledge, but what they were doing is inculcating horror in children about tests, because the test will not end until they failed. People want to do well on tests, but John was just supposed to tell his daughter not to worry because the test will just keep getting harder until she can’t answer the questions. That is the way and somebody designed this!

Both John and his daughter were very confused about it, because what if you already can’t answer the first question on the test or what if you don’t know the answer to 5 questions, do you just lean back and think you have found the limits of this computer? They didn’t explain this concept to the kids at all! The parents have never experienced anything like that and why is every kid sad now? John loved taking tests because they were measurable. You could just answer the question and at the end you would get a grade. It was simple. It wasn’t an essay. Nobody could give you a C although your writing was good, but your topic was a little weird. Imagine if you would do your SAT and the questions just kept getting harder! Who came up with this? What theory is this? Even if you score off the charts, you will still walk away feeling like the biggest loser.

Merlin’s daughter is the highest everything, but she still stresses over all this stuff so badly. She told Merlin something that might have been what John just said, but she did it in a dumb kid way.

It feels like computers are hammers that make every problem look like a nail, and if you have the ability to randomize questions and make it harder every time, why would you not use it? Would you just have the computer duplicate an old-fashioned paper test? It is a Jurassic Park type situation. You can train the computer to do things all kind of tricky ways.

Merlin’s favorite number (RL302)

Merlin usually picks 37, which is the random number most people pick 1 and 100, because it feels the most random.

MUNI streetcars (RL302)

Merlin sent John a MUNI Metro link. The current streetcar fleet consists of three different types of streetcars. When Merlin first moved to San Francisco, they had the Boeing Vertols with the orange side which transitioned into the very heavy Breda, the Italian streetcars that you can hear clamoring by very loudly. During the last year they introduced a new car from Siemens that is very updated and modern. The older models had 2000 miles and 5500 miles between failures, while the Siemens is supposed to have 59.000 miles between failures, which is a mind-blowing figure compared to the previous two. Forget about comparing this to the latest buses, because buses have so many more moving parts, even if you are running on an electric line. The buses going up and down Van Ness avenue are going to be trashed.

There is a lot of emotion in public transit and the people who are looking at it from outside don’t understand how emotional the issue is. Especially Merlin who is living half a block from a MUNI station is very emotional about it. Some people don’t want to ride a buss, but they will ride a trolley, while a lot of people wonder what is the fucking difference? A trolley is elegant and neat. You need to make transit neat-o so that it is better than something that feels dirty and lame. People scoff and roll their eyes, but: There are people who are buying the cheapest, greyest car because it is the most efficient. Those people probably work in government, but everybody else is trying to buy a neat-o car. That stuff matters to people!

To car owners public transport seems abstract because they don’t need it. It is a nuisance like giving money to people in Africa. A big argument is made about which of these systems is less in the way of cars and many people say that buses just use the streets and are not in the way of cars the same way as if you sequester a train over to the side and give it a dedicated path. That will take a lane away, but in a city where the streets are full of buses your lane will not be somehow super-liberated. Also, a streetcar doesn’t cut you off. John loves streetcars and he will argue for them all day and night. In Portland you can get on a streetcar at the airport and get wherever you want to go. Everything they do in Portland that makes Portland better and shows the world how to go makes John so mad! It is so infuriating! Merlin likes the idea of Portland.

Merlin finds that people act differently on a streetcar. They comport themselves better, they are not shucking and jiving as much, and they are not fucking with people as much. He doesn’t know exactly why. Somebody should write a thesis on this! Merlin has ridden a lot of streetcars, buses and BART, and pound for pound, mile for mile, there is less bullshit on a train and people act better on a train. John finds this absolutely true! Even riding the streetcar every day for decades is fun and part of the reason is that it goes ding-ding. When you talk about it at public meetings that way, like why we need gondolas in Seattle, it is because they are fucking fun!

It takes 45 minutes to take the train and people imagine that it will only take 10 minutes by car because they have done that drive one time when it took them 10 minutes, and now that is what they think it takes, even though it takes an hour and 45 minutes. At meetings where people are trying to apportion money to different programs we cannot talk about building public projects or making things that are fun. People will get out of their cars and take gondolas or trains if you build them because they feel like their lives are fun. It sounds crazy, but when we are building cities we are thinking of a collective of workers who are all dressed in blue uniforms, mostly one person in a car driving somewhere.

People have all these examples of public housing projects that people didn’t care about and started throwing trash down the stairwells until it was uninhabitable and we had to tear it down. It is very hard to ask if we built those things in a way that would make anyone proud in living there. Did you give the windows a view? Did you make the spaces cheery and amenable? Instead they built a white-collar prison, they put up the minimalist, cheapest things they had, put up a bunch of bright lights that are on all night and they say that all the poor people live there and cause problems. They find that if they would make the ceilings 8 foot (240 cm) tall, it would cost an extra $0.30 per mile, and if you make them 7 foot (210 cm) tall, you can save $0.10 on everything. It will make the project be ahead of time and under budget, but they don’t realize that every little decision like that robs the world of whimsy and creates problems that you later have to solve. It ends up being more expensive in the long run and it is impossible to do a single study that demonstrates this.

When you ask for a budget for a sunny lobby that serves no purpose other than to give people a place to congregate, or for putting a little bit of trim over the doors that makes it feels less like army housing and more like a home, we know it is going to cost a little bit of money and you don't need to do 50 university studies on it, but you can just imagine yourself living there and imagine what little it would take to make you feel like this is your home and not just some place where you have been shunted.

This is the little train I ride to work and not just the easiest thing to put on the road tomorrow: A bus! Merlin and John are not against buses, because they are a component of the system. In 2011 there were 380.000 cars registered in San Francisco and 320.000 street parking spaces including meters. If you account for the vehicles that come into San Francisco to work during the day time, there are 505.000 vehicles in the city and 320.000 street parking spaces.

The Friendly Fire Reddit (RL302)

John was on a reddit the other day because his other podcast about war movies called Friendly Fire apparently has an active reddit community. The other two hosts have a show about Star Trek and the theme of that show and of that community is very ”Yes, and…” If you say ”Star Trek is ridiculous”, everybody is ”Hahaha” Everybody is supportive and agrees with each other 99% of the time and the 1% they disagree is very friendly disagreement. These two hosts brought a lot of their Star Trek audience over to Friendly Fire where John says ”I do not agree with you” and he also does not agree to disagree, but he just flat out disagrees with not only your take on this war movie, but also your entire premise about how the world works and let me explain to you about Vietnam and also about Napoleon and also about the 30 Years' War.

John’s cohosts are his friends and doing the show is super-fun, but people who have come from that other show get their feelings hurt just because John is a mean-y-pants. They just did Star Wars because it has the word Wars in the title and one of the guys said it was a war movie while John insisted it was definitely not, but if you have cohosts you have to collaborate and do what they say sometimes. Somebody said that they haven’t listened to that episode because they don’t want to hear what old grouchy Roderick has to say about their favorite movie.

John is on this reddit because somebody on the program told him that everybody is loving it over there, and so John read this comment and wrote a reply to them which they were probably not expecting. ”What can I say or do on this program to make you stop listening sooner?” and they deleted their comment and then commented on John’s comment with ”I apologize!” and now John knows what he needed to do: Not go on reddit! This is for you! He does not belong there!

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