RW154 - The Things We Lost

This week, Dan and John talk about:

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Dan leaving a note on a car he wanted to buy (Dan Benjamin)
  • Wanting to have a Karmann Ghia (Cars)
  • Patreon pages with different tiers (Podcasting)
  • John's video for KEXP (Music)
  • How to learn that it is okay to feel angry (Personality)
  • Should Dan do a paranormal-themed podcast (Dan Benjamin)
  • Legalizing marijuana by federal law (Drugs)

The show title refers to things we have lost through times, but we don't think of it that way, but we think we have improved on things.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Beautiful weather in Austin and Settle (RW154)

It is a beautiful day in Austin and it was 66 degrees (19 °C) when Dan woke up. Yesterday and the day before it was 101 degrees (38 °C) and today the high is 88 (31 °C). Everybody is outside and everyone is loving it! Dan sat outside at lunch today and it was amazing! People in Texas are used to the heat, but it does hurt. It is a beautiful day in Seattle as well and they may be having the exact same day. It is going to get up to 80 degrees today (27 °C) and it is 72 degrees (22 °C) right now as they record.

According to Dan in the times of the year when it is unpleasant everywhere else it is very pleasant in the Pacific Northwest, but the rest of the year it seems like it is too cold and rainy for him. John says that the conundrum with the Pacific Northwest is that there is no place better. You could argue Austin is just as good as Portland, but you couldn’t argue Austin is better.

You could argue Santa Barbara is at least weather-wise a lot better, but it wouldn't take long before it was a drag. At least John would have to have a completely different outlook on life. Santa Barbara might be nice, but it is too expensive. John could move anywhere in the world right now, but when he runs down the list of places to move he tosses them all out pretty fast.

Not getting the house he wants (RW154)

Two seconds before Dan called, John got a text from the guy that he is trying to get to sell him his house. It is Thursday and he had said he was going to text John on Tuesday. He said: ”Hey there, after giving it some thought I'm going to move forward with my plans to remodel the house. Good luck! There are some other nice homes in the area coming onto the market!” He is pulling out! He is bad!

John doesn’t even really care that he is not going to sell the house to him, he just doesn’t want him to remodel it, but he doesn’t have any power. The guy is the enemy of good and he wants to take an intact house that was owner-occupied up until it fell into his hands and he wants to ”update” it and make it look like every other house. John wishes he could stop him!

He could text him back: ”Chris, I don't even care that you are not selling it to me, just don't move forward with your plans! You are obligated by God to not do what you are going to do!”, but that is not going to accomplish anything. He is not going to say: ”You know what, you are right! I will run it as a museum!” He is going to do what he is going to do and he sounds like a very unhappy person, but who knows what John sounds like! Maybe John should write him and say: ”What is your Fuck Off price?” John had been chasing this house for almost a year.

The house sold twice

The original owners who built the house in 1959 sold it in August of last year to a couple that broke up after they bought the house, they put it back on the market immediately and in November of last year they sold it a second time to this guy that John is talking to. They had never moved in and this second guy also never moved in, but he stays there every other weekend for two days to visit his kids because his wife divorced him and he has two young daughters in Seattle.

John had slipped this a under his door, saying: ”Hey, this is the house that I wanted. I tried to buy it and couldn't. I didn't have the money, but now I do. Why don't you sell it to me?” and he called back and said: ”I have really bonded to the place!” - ”That's bullshit! You stayed here combined seven times in the last half a year!” Two weekends a month is pushing it! It is ridiculous that you would buy a huge house in the trees to visit your kids every two weeks. You should get a condo! You should stay in a hotel! You should get a townhouse if you want a modern kitchen! He was like: ”Well, I really love the architecture!” - ”You don't if you are going to rip it all out and replace it!” He is one of the toxics!

Dayton Tennessee (RW154)

Somebody sent John a real estate listing in Dayton Tennessee, like the Tom Waits song: ”What's he building in there? He is from Mayors Income Tennessee!” (song What’s He Building?), but it is not a real place. Dayton is where the Scopes Monkey Trial happened and it is in the part of Tennessee that is not on the way to anywhere. You would drive through Dayton on your way from Chattanooga to the Oak Ridge weapons plant, but that is not really on the way between anywhere and anywhere. It may be a recreation area or mining country, but it would be more remote than moving to the Washington coast, even though it was a wonderful house!

John looking for commercial properties (RW154)

Yesterday John was thinking: ”Maybe I don't want to live in a house? Maybe I want to buy an industrial space!” He had looked at industrial spaces before, they tend to be a lot more expensive because people use them for real life things, and they are in short supply because they are zoned for business. You would think a 3000 square foot cinder block garage with a cement floor covered with oil will cost a similar amount than a 3000 square foot (280 sqm) house, but it costs three times as much because it is commercial property. Every once in a while John looks at the commercial listings because some of them are very fun.

About ten years ago a 1940s bungalow motel out on the Washington coast was for sale. It was a block from the beach, it had 15 bungalows, an owner/manager cabin and a front cabin with a check-in desk, a circular driveway, and an old 1940s sign. Because it was out in Biafey (BFA) it was affordable and John wondered why was he not running a 1940s Motel a block from the beach out in Tsunami Country?

He would have the main house and keep a couple of bungalows reserved for himself. People mistakenly think that because he moved out there the place would become a destination for his friends and for interesting people, but that is not true! Every one of his friends would at one point drive out there and spend the weekend or one night, but after the first two years that would all dry up and John would never see them again. He would become a local guy who runs a motel. John didn't pursue that.

Yesterday John was looking at industrial properties in the region and just down the road on a very busy street that has a Fred Meyer, a gas station, and a Taco Bell he found an old hair salon for sale and as soon as he saw it, he thought: ”Wait a minute! What if I abandoned the whole suburban house tucked back in the trees? What if I moved into a hair salon?” It was right on the main drag and cars are going by all day and all night, it has 15 parking spaces, and a big neon sign out front on a pole that actually has a reader board, not an electric one but one that you put magnetic letters up. John could change those every morning and make them say: "Abandon all hope!” or ”Keep moving and get out of the way!”

There are hair salon chairs bolted to the floor and John was just mentally picturing this as the new direction. He could rehabilitate this place, he wouldn't cut hair any more than he already does, or maybe a little bit more since he would have the chairs, but he could live in an alternative space! It is still zoned as commercial and there may be tax disadvantages to doing this, but as an investment this property is going to continue to be valuable because it is a business property in a growing part of the state.

Old appliances are better than modern ones (RW154)

People think that a refrigerator that works perfectly well but doesn't have an ice maker in the door is something that needs to get pulled out, thrown into a landfill, and replaced with a plastic stainless-steel-coated piece of shit that has an ice maker or a freaking laptop in the door. The expensive ones these days have an inside door made out of Lucite and inside there is a puzzle box and you can play games on your refrigerator.

Meanwhile one perfectly good refrigerator after another is getting pulled out as well as perfectly good stoves and sinks and toilets, and they are getting dumped and replaced with shit! Modern stuff is shit! You pay $6000 for a thing and underneath the plastic sheeting is a piece of shit while we are throwing away the good stuff that works. A lot of these old refrigerators were for all intents purposes hand-built, but they don't have a freakin crisper drawer or whatever!

Modern appliances don't last the way that the old ones used to. Dan has a Kitchen Aid brand oven that needed to be repaired four times in five or six years, and each time one of the burners had been burning itself out. They don't do any kind of extreme cooking in this thing, they probably use the oven once a day for normal things, and these burners keep going out, it happened again last week. At some point you reach a stage where you think you are dumb if you keep fixing it as opposed to getting rid of it and replacing it. It looks new and it was a really nice one, it was a big upgrade to what they had had in there.

An oven just has a heating element, electricity goes through, and it makes it hot, that's it! It is not complicated, it is nowhere near as complicated as a refrigerator or a washing machine. Now Dan is finally getting a new one. So many things could be repaired! Whenever Dan gets something, he tries to get something because he wants it to last. He is not talking about computers that have software on them that needs to be updated and then become harder and harder to use, but Dan still has the same hammer that he got in High School. It works great, it is a hammer, it is simple!

The disposable mentality goes deep and John can’t abide it, but he has to abide it. He has to Aloha, and you can only do what you can do and people listening to this program hopefully are not the ones who are looking at a classic home and picturing themselves gutting it and making it look like a new-construction apartment.

Double-pane windows, building green (RW154)

The other day John talked with Merlin about those guys that come around your neighborhood, knock on your door and try to sell you double-pane windows when you have single-pane windows (see RL344) and how hose guys are scammers! Somebody came on the Facebook site where fans of these programs congregate, called Gary’s Van, and wrote an angry screed about how double-pane windows are good and John wrote replied: ”I don't think you are right, and also: How dare you?”

Dan says that double-pane windows are much better and John counters that they are not really! Over 20 years the cost of the ”lost energy” that goes out of a single-pane window vs the cost of replacing all your windows will never pay off. Dan totally agrees with that, but they do a much better job of insulating from the outside air and they are better with noise. If John was building a house today, of course he would use double-pane windows.

The question is: Do you buy a 1905 house and rip out all the 1905 windows that are doing a perfectly fine job and replace them with vinyl windows? The answer is: ”No!”, but the window salespeople prey on a combination of feeling that you want to do the environmentally right thing and you want to save money on energy.

This whole "Build Green!" thing is a scam if it involves tearing down a house built in 1905 to build a new house that is ”Green”. Nothing about that process is green! If you are tearing up an asphalt parking lot and building green condos or green townhomes, then it is probably a net positive. You could also make an urbanist argument that tearing down a single family home and building five townhomes is a better use of the land because you get more people in the same amount of land and you are concentrating people in cities which eliminates transportation problems.

If you think of the city as a collective organism, the land of a 4000 square foot (370 sqm) Victorian home occupied by two people could be put to better use, but redevelopment is for the most part not driven by urbanism as a philosophy, but it is driven by the profit motive. It is done so cynically and the signs that say: ”Built green!” infuriate John!

He watches the backhoes come in and tear down homes made out of old growth wood that were functioning as rooming houses with 15 people living in them, and he watches all that perfectly good built-ins and leaded glass and all this beautiful stuff that is irreplaceable go into dumpsters and trucked to a landfill. Then they come in with galvanized studs and staple up some wallboard and sell these townhomes for $800.000 a piece, like ”This is a green alternative! Buying this house is a virtue act!”

Not that it really dislodges John from Aloha anymore, but he is channeling a thing that he used to feel 15 years ago. Now it has become so rampant! What can you do? You can't walk around Seattle, trying to save everything. They are desperately trying to save the Showbox and really nobody cares except 400 people in the city. Also nobody cares about this mid-century modern house in Normandy Park except John.

John can’t control the world anymore, if just everybody agreed (RW154)

We each have to deal with the fact that we are not in control of the world. It has always been true in politics that if you controlled the world and everybody did what you said and everybody believed what you believe, then yes, it would be great, it would be amazing, and our problems would be solved. People walk into politics thinking: ”I have thought this through! This is true and that is true and the solution is obvious and everybody just needs to get on board and then what's the big deal? Problem solved!”

Then they see that there is somebody on the other side who says: ”Well, no! I have got it figured out and the solution is the opposite of what you say!” Your natural reaction is: ”What? No! You are not listening! I have got it figured out! Follow me now as I explain it to you!” - ”Yeah, I hear what you are saying, but I think you are wrong!”

In the past people sat on pickle barrels and argued politics in the general store. Then the congressman would come through town and they would sit and argue politics at him, almost as a pastime, and the congressman faced the challenge of going in and sitting in his chair while the guy across the aisle said: ”I don't think you understand!” It is a professional organization and eventually they realize if they are want to get anything done they have to come to some agreement.

Politics is not a diversion. It is central to all of our daily routines. We don't sit in the morning and read the newspaper anymore like people in days of old. The first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we think of before we go to bed is politics, it is the thing we are all soaking in all the time, but no one is any smarter or any clearer, none of it is any better explained than it was in the pickle barrel days.

Everybody got a platform to say basically the same thing: "If everyone agreed with me, if everyone did what I said, all these problems would be solved! They either need to wake up, they need to be educated, let the scales fall from their eyes and stop being so ignorant!" Of course now we have added that they need to stop being so bigoted. If they refuse to wake up or if they simply cannot wake up, then they need to be forced to do what you know is virtuous and what they fail to realize is virtuous because they are either stupid, evil or deluded.

If you approach every political issue by thinking: ”Anyone who doesn't feel like I do on this issue is either stupid, evil, or deluded” you are done. If the other side is doing the same thing, if the other side is convinced that you are stupid, evil or deluded, you are on the lead-up to war. There are a lot of reasons for wars, a lot of it is just conquering territory and splitting up the shares, but now we are in the lead-up to the French Revolution style war, the philosophical war where your opponent becomes inhuman, stupid, evil, and deluded so you give up trying to convince them and you give up trying to win them over and you start to lose faith that educating them or helping them along is even possible and you feel like they just need to be forced.

We just need to force the opposition to accept our viewpoint because we know it is true. It is not that we are forcing them to accept our viewpoint because we think we stand anything to gain from it, we are not saying: "They need to accept our viewpoint because we are trying to make money for ourselves or we are trying to make ourselves kings", but we believe we are correct, we are trying to solve the problem, we are trying to make a good world. It is super-hard to point a finger at someone who thinks they are just trying to selflessly make the world a better place and say that they are acting motivated by a selfish desire.

The darker conservative argument is that the left wants to undermine tradition and make the world a place with 7-year old drag queens where no-one pays any taxes and the United States is ruled by Sharia law. They think the left is motivated by evil and by hatred of God and country, but the left thinks they are trying to make the world a more equitable and open place full of opportunity for people. How would you possibly meet in the middle there? There is no middle! It is two completely different languages, a completely different universe!

The end result is that if America gets a Democratic president in the next election, particularly a radicalized one, the 30% of the country that is convinced that the Air Force is spraying chem trails on them are not going to go back in their bottle, they are not going to sit back and say: ”Oh, okay, well I guess, sure: Free college for everybody!”

John knew what the world needed and he knew that if everybody just did what he said it would all work. Why don't people listen? Why are they so ignorant? Running for city council he realized that even on the small scale of Seattle where everyone generally shares a political sensibility and is more or less a liberal, there is a lot of antagonism. We want to make Seattle an environmentally friendly open city that welcomes everyone, that provides services for the poor, that is clean and inviting, that is a sanctuary, but what does that look like? How do you accomplish the detail of: ”What do we do about this? What do we do about that?”

People go at each other's throats and accusations fly around where people who are generally trying to do a good job are accused of being in service to global multinational banking interests, wanting to undermine the fabric of society, to the point that right now the city is gridlocked and nobody can do anything! City government is a sham! Running for office and being in the middle of that John realized: ”Oh wow! I thought that I knew how to run Seattle at least on my way to run the US and then run the world!”, but John couldn't even run a community board of 11 people who were trying to get drinking fountains put in on the sidewalks.

John saw how many little community groups there are, how many little districts, panels and little boards. All of them are using Robert's Rules of Order, all of them have a chairperson and four people on the board who are trying to do a good job, who have somewhat of an ulterior motive representing a narrower constituency, and then there are two people who are there because they are bored and just want to disrupt something. They think: ”You know what the world needs? The world needs me to straighten people out!” and they join a community board about water fountains and are just going to be the opposite of every idea that anybody has.

Those people think they are doing a good job. They think that if it weren't for them, that the city wouldn't have any… You would be astonished at the number of people who just disagree with everything and if you challenged them about it they say: ”You need a little bit of a fly in the ointment. I am doing a good job, I am doing a service to everybody because I am making them think a little bit harder about what they are trying to do!" They will justify themselves sitting in these meetings and making everything harder. ”Are we all in agreement? Ready? The motion is about to pass!” and then this person in the back says: ”What if we did everything over again and changed everything?” - ”We were just about to pass this unanimously!” - ”Yeah, I know, but what if we just looked at it all again and did it all over?”

The world is full of people who are just looking for something to do! They want to feel like they are part of something. Those are the ones who are engaged, those are the ones who care! 94% of the people are just staring at their refrigerator and wishing it was a different kind. John can’t rule the world anymore! He doesn't believe that he is going to convince everybody to do what he says, and he doesn't think he is ever going to have the power to force them to.

In a normal arc of life John would at his age start to be the one who sat in a chair and said: ”Let's think about what you just said!”, he would take that professorial place, but he is grateful that podcasting is available to him where he can somewhat fulfill that function and that is enough. He doesn’t have to teach a college class or go back and get an advanced degree. He just has to keep studying and keep talking to his friends on the internet.

John feels a pull away from the real public square and away from teaching at a public university and toward teaching at a small private university. Most of his podcasts, certainly this one and the one with Merlin, are small liberal arts colleges tucked up in the trees in some Western state. Not teaching at the University of Pennsylvania is probably his course.

Are we living in bad times? (RW154)

We are currently living in bad times. He did say a few episodes back that this was the best time to be alive, but in the course of our lives we have seen enough time go by that we have seen good times and bad. When John was born in 1968 the US was in Vietnam, Martin Luther King was killed, Robert F. Kennedy and the Civil Rights Movement were under siege, there was unrest in the streets, there was the Democratic convention and Kent State, but we also put multiple people on the moon, automobile design was at its peak, and Rock’n’Roll was really good.

Looking at all the different eras John has lived through, there were areas where he thought at the time: ”Whoa, this sucks!” and later he thought: ”Yeah, I know, but Blondie's first record is really good!” and we have been edging toward a time right now where we all agree that this is no good and we are not in a good time. Not only that, but Pop music is no good either! It is hard to see what is good right now!

It is a terrible time to live in Seattle! The city is going through an upheaval that will make it a way better place to live 15 or 20 years from now, and the people who move to Seattle 15 years from now are not going to know how it was like now when it was impossible to get around, when everybody was furious, and when the city was barely hanging together. Some of the stuff that is making it terrible to live here now is that we are doing it on behalf of the people 15 years from now. We are now making changes that we should have made 30 years ago.

John is only ever going to be 50 years old once, and it is now. He would prefer to be 50 years old in a time when Seattle's transportation problems have all been solved and had settled down and people could move around freely. Every time you walk out the door these days you are just signing up for a nightmare-hour. He is just trying to get from here to a place he can see on the horizon, but he can't get there without a lot of agony.

This wasn't the case when John moved to Seattle, but he didn't realize that this was what was nice about the city. There were traffic problems in Seattle in the 1970s, but if he wanted to go to a place in 1999 he just got in his car and drove there. You didn't have to think about what time of day it was or what route you were going to take. You just went from here to there and you didn't realize that it was a gift and you didn't realize that it was a form of wealth. Now it doesn't matter how rich you are, you still cannot get from here to there!

15-20 years from now the pain and suffering we are experiencing now will hopefully produce a new reality, not that we are building a transportation network that means that 20 years from now everybody just rides around on hover bikes, but it is so unbearable now that something has going to give and something has to change. We can't keep it like this! It can't be like this! It can't keep getting worse! Dan’s understanding is that things can always get worse.

Humans are naturally innovative and something will happen, somebody will devise a solution, and there are tens of thousands of people working on devising a variety of solutions right now. We don't know what is going to happen next. You can talk into your phone right now and it will translate it in real time and you can hand it to somebody and they can read what you just said in their own language. 20 years from now everybody will work from home and nobody will drive around, or there will be a system of mass transit around self-driving cars and computer-controlled grids that makes traffic flow into a manageable system. Some combination of those two.

John will be 70 years old then and maybe when you look at the arc of his life as it relates to transportation he will be able to say: ”When I was a kid we used to sit in gridlock on the freeway and everybody's big American car would sit there pumping leaded gas smoke into the air until their radiators boiled over while we tried to inch down the road on two-lane freeways.

Then there was an energy crisis and nobody could get gas, but then there was a period where they built a bunch of roads, they cleaned up the cars, gas was cheap, and from about 1985 when I got my driver's license to 2005 we had 20 years where transportation wasn't something I had to think about. I had 20 great years between when I first started driving until the time when I was driving my band all around the world. I could just stop at any gas station, put gas in, it wasn't expensive, and just drive freely. Those were 20 great years and I didn't even realize how great they were.

Then from 2007 to 2027 it just sucked from a transportation standpoint. It sucked to own a car, it sucked to put gas in it, it sucked to drive around, it sucked to park, everything about it sucked. Hopefully in 2027 it became fun to get around again and if I was over here and I wanted to get over there, it wasn't a thing I had to think or worry about. It didn't cause me stress. It wasn't expensive. You just moved around like you would dream!”

Looking at the overlay of his life and the hopefully 90 years that it spans John can see it broken up into four 20 year periods where transportation is good for 20 years and then bad for 20 years. He can live with that! It could have been a lot worse. A lot of his friends have kids who are 16 years old now and they aren't interested in getting driver's licenses. They don't see what the point would be. What is the advantage for them of learning to drive? They live in a city, they get around just fine and they don't put a lot of thought into the fact that their moms and dads drive them places still.

Driving all the way to Fairbanks (RW154)

When John was 16 years old he wanted a driver's license as fast as he could get one because then he would be free: "If I had a car, if I could get in a car and just go where I wanted? Can you imagine?” Pure freedom! The ultimate freedom! ”If I could go over to a friend's house and they could get in my car and their parents would be cool with that and we would drive off‚ drive somewhere? We could drive to Girdwood!”

The first time John and some friends left Anchorage they were headed up to Palmer. They stopped to visit a friend on the way out of town and the friend's mom answered the door and said: ”He is not here this weekend, he went to Boise State!”, which is in Fairbanks and Fairbanks is as far away from Anchorage as you could even conceive. It is all the way across Alaska as far as they were concerned at the time.

They looked at each other and said: ”Wait a minute, we could also drive to Fairbanks!” and you might as well have said that: ”We could drive to New York!”, but they realized they could drive to Fairbanks and they drove all night, but it was late spring, early summer and the sun was up the whole way. It takes you six hours to Fairbanks and they got there. They had all been to Fairbanks as kids, but this time they drove there themselves, and nobody in Anchorage even knew.

John called his mom from Fairbanks and she asked: ”Where are you?” - ”Fairbanks!” and it blew her mind, too! ”How did you get to Fairbanks? You drove to Fairbanks?” but gas was $0.85 a gallon! Kids nowadays at 16-17 years old don't even want a drivers license! Maybe John was lucky, maybe he lived in the last waning days of the Wild West when you could buy a Fiat convertible for $1800 and drive it to Fairbanks. They probably did realize how great it was, they just didn't know this time would come to an end.

We can regain many of the things we have lost (RW154)

When the motorcar first arrived the 50 year olds at the time were like: ”I remember one time I rode my horse all the way over to Kansas City and back and as far as the eye could see it was just passenger pigeons and buffalo!” You can read back in history and read the sentimental reflections of people at various different times, the autobiographies where people wrote: ”Then the steamship came and it ruined everything!” and that sentimentality is an interesting way to read history because some of those make you realize that we have lost a lot. Some of it would be simple to regain if we all agreed that it was something we had lost and not just something that we had improved upon.

That is what happens to John when he thinks about this house that had sold twice. The people who want to replace that kitchen feel like we have improved upon it and why not benefit from those improvements? John’s desire to keep it the way isn't just that everything works fine, ”Just leave it alone!”, but he wants to keep it because it is beautiful and because he wants to keep that kitchen as it was as an act of sentimentality because he wants to live life like it was because it stimulates his imagination.

A lot of people's imaginations are stimulated by having an iPad in their refrigerator because they can look at their refrigerator and the iPad tells them what the temperature and humidity of every one of their rooms is. They feel like they are living on the Starship Enterprise! John wants to look at that avocado refrigerator and see his daughter's school artwork hanging from it from a magnet of Wiley E. Coyote that he got when he was 11. He wants to imagine that some of the things we have lost and squandered are still available to us. It is still possible to live unencumbered without knowing what the humidity of your bathroom is.


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