Coming Soon (Hopefully)
Geopolitics and the English Language
Mackinder and Keynes in 1919
Founders and Friends (1700s World Leaders)
The Cedar-Sinai Region
In 1492, Other Stuff Happened Too
The Future of Shortcuts
Geopolitics 101: A Suggested Reading List
I know, I know, but I’ve decided to do this anyway. Here are the lessons:
1. Winter is Coming
In the North, cycling advocates may need to make a choice between separated bike lanes and seasonal bike lanes. While separated bike lanes are preferable, seasonal ones may be more politically viable. A seasonal compromise between cars and bikes could consist of cyclists getting a bike lane for three quarters of the year, and then that bike lane becoming a car-parking lane in winter. This would allow older drivers to park near their destinations, in order to lessen their risk of slipping on ice when walking to or from their cars.
2. Beware of Dragons
Another choice cycling advocates may sometimes face is between bike lanes on streets versus bike lanes (or boxes) at intersections. While bike lanes on entire streets are obviously preferable, it might be more politically viable to focus on intersections first. It is in the lineup to red lights, after all, where in cyclists’ minds cars can resemble sleeping dragons: an unfurled mass of danger, with a curvy, slithering shape, their scales pushing up tightly against the curb in some places, threatening to crush you when they finally wake.
3. Your Allies May Kill You…
While cars are often the fundamental cause of bike accidents, it is other cyclists themselves, the ones who think they are Lance Armstrong, who are often the proximate cause. As a normal cyclist, you may sometimes spend so much attention trying to safely navigate car traffic, that you will let your guards down and forget to be prepared for a much faster fellow cyclist trying impatiently to overtake you. Or, in GOT terms, coming to stab you in the back.
This is a problem, particularly if we want the Baby Boomers to be able to continue cycling into their seventies and beyond — and especially as faster e-bicycles proliferate. Ideally, we would have bike lanes wide enough for faster cyclists to safely overtake slower ones, or else have slower car speeds in order to allow fast cyclists to safely use car lanes to overtake slow cyclists. But advocating for wide bike lanes or slower car speeds is obviously no easy feat. Which brings us, finally, to:
4. …But You Still Need Allies
With car-sharing, many people may soon have the option of using electric micro-cars — ultra-lightweight, relatively slow ‘cars’ that are far more environmentally and economically sustainable than conventional vehicles — that they would not want to buy but would be happy to use. This, of course, would be just one part of the technological phenomenon that is also bringing cities devices like e-scooters, e-bikes, modern e-wheelchairs, and perhaps many other mobility options as well.
As usual, while it might be preferable for cyclists to have a lane for themselves that are separate from all these other vehicles, it might be much more politically viable to advocate for a single wide lane in which cyclists, micro-cars, e-bikes, electric-assist pedal cars, and any other such device would all be able to use. This might also be more environmentally beneficial, as many drivers will probably be more willing to start using a comfy micro-car themselves, rather than start using a bicycle.
Orwell is one of the best and most widely read authors of the 20th century, but his books don’t adapt easily to the screen. There have been a handful of decent Animal Farm and 1984 films, and also a movie adapted from his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, renamed A Merry War, starring Richard Grant and Helena Bonham Carter.
About a decade ago there was supposed to be a movie made of Burmese Days, starring Ralph Fiennes, but it was never made. That was a real shame; Burmese Days is probably the Orwell book that would work best on screen, and Ralph Fiennes probably would have hit it out of the park as the lead character Flory, a semi-autobiographical version of Orwell himself.
But what about today, the era of prestige television? While 1984 and Animal Farm would still work best as fairly short movies, Orwell’s half-dozen or so other excellent books are probably better suited to TV. They may be especially well-suited to the modern style of TV. Orwell, I suspect, was made for HBO.
With that in mind, I’ve made a very rough draft of a script, to provide a sense of what an Orwell show could like. It uses one or two of his books, plus one or two of his narrative essays, in each season.
Here is Episode 1: Orwell, Ep 1
Burmese Days and Down and Out in Paris and London were the first two books Orwell wrote. They are also interesting mirrors of one another. In 1920’s Burma Orwell is, by virtue of being British, at the top of the social hierarchy, living in a remote outpost. In late-1920’s Paris and London Orwell lives in extreme poverty, but in the two cities that were then still the capitals of the world. In other words, Orwell goes from being at the Top of the Bottom to the Bottom of the Top. And he is much happier in the latter.
There is also a second interesting contrast: between the style of British-ruled Burma and London on the one hand, and the more rollicksome French style of Paris during the 1920’s, when it was a magnet for artists and vagrants from across the world, on the other.
Companies like ThyssenKrupp have lately been developing maglev elevators: elevators powered by magnetic levitation rather than hoisted by cables. The possibility that maglev elevators might become widely used has created excitement because, unlike conventional elevators, maglev elevators could be used efficiently even in extremely tall buildings. Even more exciting, can move horizontally in addition to vertically, like a Wonkavator.
One of the most significant potential uses of maglev elevators, however, has been overlooked: their potential to clear subway platforms far more efficiently than normal elevators, and in some cases maybe even more efficiently than escalators or staircases.
Normal elevators, of course, are terrible at getting people out of crowded subway stations quickly. They tend to cause lineups (or scrums) to form outside their doors. This is because only one elevator can operate within an elevator shaft at any one time.
Maglev elevators however could act more like vertical escalators. They can allow multiple elevators to run within the same elevator shaft, which means that so long as you have at least two elevator shafts side by side, one with elevators going upwards and the other with elevators going downwards, multiple elevators can circulate so as to reduce lineups. As soon as one elevator has started to move upwards, another can immediately arrive and open its doors to let in new passengers.
This does not necessarily mean that it will be any faster to use the elevator – though it could become much faster, in cases where the elevator shaft spreads out horizontally at surface level in order to allow multiple elevators to let people off and on at the same time. But what it does mean is that people would be able to get off of their subway platform and onto an elevator more quickly. This, in turn, could mean more comfort and safety within crowded subway stations, and the ability to have trains pulling into stations at shorter intervals.
These elevators could also be very useful for disabled subway passengers, not only by reducing platform and elevator crowding but also because the ability for elevators move horizontally as well as vertically might, in some subway stations, mean that passengers would no longer need to transfer from one elevator to another in order to travel between street level and the subway platform.
One type of station where maglev elevators might be particularly useful could be for trains or bus lines that run in the median of a highway. Maglev elevators could help people access these stations by moving up, across, and then back down (or, if the elevator ran in a tunnel under the highway, down, across, and back up) in order to get people from the side of the highway to the station.
Eventually, perhaps, maglev elevators could also help allow subway lines to be built deeper underground, and at odd angles to the streets above them. This might, in some cases, allow subway lines to be built as diagonal shortcut routes below their cities’ grid-patterned streets, deep enough to avoid the basements of the buildings above them.
Of course, the use of maglev elevators remains annoyingly speculative at this point. In certain situations, there may be lower-tech ways to achieve similar goals:
- Retractable staircases
Downtown subway stations tend to have passengers getting off trains in the morning and back on trains in the evening. As a result, they have a much greater need to clear their platforms quickly in the morning than they do in the evening, and a much greater need to provide spacious platforms in the evening than they do in the morning. Having some of their staircases be retractable (verybasic examples can be seen hereor here), so as to provide a greater number of staircases to help clear platforms in the morning, but fewer staircases taking up precious platforms space in the evening, could perhaps be a decent idea
2. Space beneath staircases or escalators
Another idea to address the trade-off between the number of staircases (or escalators) and the amount of platform space available could be to better utilize space beneath staircases or escalators. Here’s an example of space being used below an airport escalator, for example:
3. Actual Ladders
The worst, but also most fun, solution of all could be to have a bunch of short, sheltered ladders to allow people to climb up and out of a station at the same time.
In theory, ladders are the most space-efficient way to move upwards. In theory, you could have hundreds of ladders fit in a single subway station, allowing a platform to be cleared immediately. Theory is great.
Some of these ideas are much sillier than others. I’ll leave you to decide:
Car-Sharing Vehicles Doubling as Sheltered Bus Stops
Game of Thrones’ Lessons for Cycling Advocates
The Three Card Monty
Next Man Up: The Passenger-Driven Bus
Bus-Bike Lanes: Can I Interest You in a Time-Share?
Trolley-Trucks and Autonomous Cargo Handling
Like Night and Day (E-Commerce Transit)
An Electric Car/Bike Lane Plan, for Cities like Toronto
Toronto’s Railways to Nowhere (Semi-Autonomous Cars)
The Witching Hour
RoRoRo Your Car
Superhighway in a Box
Numerology and Public Transit
The Private Sector
The Intersection of Yonge and Danforth
Devil’s Advocate: Elon Musk
Travel by Hibernacula
Chutes and Ladders
Coming Soon (Hopefully):
Tortoise v. Hare, 2K19
The Wine Cellar
The Lucky Bus
Double-Decker Buses for Short People
Gaga For Gondolas
With a slowing economy, a rival Congress Party forming alliances with regional parties in states like Tamil Nadu, and a separate alliance being formed between two former Chief Ministers of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, many had expected Narendra Modi to risk losing his majority government, and perhaps even his position as prime minister, following the elections held in India this month. Instead, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased the size of its majority, winning 56 percent of seats—or 65 percent, when combined with smaller BJP-allied parties—in the lower house of India’s parliament. BJP’s rival the Congress Party, which had held the office of prime minister in 55 out of India’s 67 years prior to Modi’s being elected, won just 10 percent of seats. Congress’ alliance won 17 percent of seats, mainly thanks to voters in Tamil Nadu.
As in the previous election in 2014, the BJP and its alliance dominated the north and west parts of India, leaving Congress’ alliance, along with several parties unaffiliated with either Congress or the BJP, to split the smaller south and east[*]. The unaffiliated BSP-SP alliance in India’s north, meanwhile, which was formed in response to the BJP sweeping Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and winning state-level elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 (for the first time since 1996), won just three percent of seats[**].
[*]More so than in 2014, however, the BJP now made inroads into the south and east, notably in West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, and Karnataka
[**]Despite receiving a sizeable chunk of India’s popular vote, because of how populous Uttar Pradesh is. This occurred to an even greater extent in the previous election: in 2014 the BSP received more than 20 million votes, the third most of any party in India, yet did not get even a single seat in parliament
Modi’s BJP was thus able to be re-elected with a majority government for the first time in its history. The only politicians who had ever previously been re-elected with a majority were India’s founding prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi. By defeating Indira’s grandson Rahul in the past two elections, Modi has now joined this illustrious list.
Modi has many skills that have contributed to this political success. He is notoriously hard-working and uncorrupt, for example. Yet Modi has also been in possession of an even more important attribute thus far during his political career, the most important a politician can have: luck.
A Quick Analysis of Modi’s Career
Modi’s political career, first as Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and then as Prime Minister of India since 2014, has been based on two pillars:
- Economic Ability
- Gujarat was often the most dynamic economy in India while Modi was leading it
- India, despite slowing along with much of the world economy, has maintained a decent economic performance since 2014, and recently overtook China’s growth rate
- Hindu Nationalism
Arguably, some of the most extreme examples of this include:
- Modi’s reaction to (or even deliberate failure to prevent) the 2002 Gujarat riots
- Modi’s selection of Yogi Adityanath to be the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017
These two aspects of Modi’s appeal have contributed to his political success in northern India in particular, where Hindi(-Urdu) is spoken relatively widely and where, especially in inland states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, poorer populations live who may be more susceptible to BJP-style nationalism or promises of economic growth (or at least, of reduced corruption). Modi himself represents the constituency of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh. 20 percent of BJP seats are from that state.
This has led to an obvious, arguably misleading debate in Western media, over whether Modi’s economic pros justify his political cons. This might or might not be a legitimate debate, but it also overlooks one of the key realities of Modi’s career: the fact that much, maybe most, of his economic success has been due to factors beyond his control. Modi has been extremely lucky in relation to factors such as global economic growth, oil and gas prices, and the utterly different economic characteristics of Gujarat (the state where Modi rose to fame) compared to India as a whole.
Gujarat, 2001 to 2014
Modi was Chief Minister of the state Gujarat from October 2001 until May 2014, when he became India’s prime minister. Two facts must be recognized to put Modi’s time in Gujarat into context: the exceptional status of Gujarat, and the exceptional nature of the period from 2001-2014.
The period from 2001 to 2014 was the 2000s commodity boom, the period that followed the early 2000s recession when, apart from a sharp dip during the 2008-2009 recession, energy and other commodity prices were high and global economic growth was significant, particularly in China and other developing markets but also in North America and (before the 2010s) Europe. Brent crude oil, for example, rose from all-time lows of $9 in 1998 to $144 in 2008 and $128 in 2012. Modi came into office in Gujarat when oil prices were $20, exited office with oil at $110, then watched from his new office in New Delhi as oil prices fell to $46 in the subsequent seven months.
The characteristics of Gujarat’s economy are similarly exceptional. Together with its next-door neighbor the city of Mumbai, the state of Gujarat is India’s leading commercial hub. This is largely a result of Gujarat’s uniquely long and naturally sheltered coastline, which has allowed it to account for an estimated 69 percent of all cargo volume handled at India’s private ports, as well as being home to India’s busiest public port, a remarkable feat considering that Gujarat’s 60 million people are only 5 percent of India’s population.
Just as remarkable is the Gujarati diaspora, which leads in commercial activity throughout much of the Indian Ocean, particularly in eastern Africa. (The most famous Gujarati abroad was, of course, Mohandas Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for more than two decades). The diaspora thrives as far away as the US, where 20 percent or so of US-Indians are Gujaratis, and are one of America’s most successful groups.
The Gujarati diaspora has historically also been prominent in the nearby Gulf region of the Middle East. It remains active in the Gulf today, particularly in Oman and the coast of Pakistan. Gujarat itself, moreover, holds the most prominent position in India’s oil and gas industries, in terms of oil production, oil refining, oil pipelines, gas pipelines, LNG regasification, and petrochemicals.
India, 2014 to 2019
India’s economy is the opposite of Gujarat’s. It is relatively insular rather than dependent on global economic activity, the major exception to this being the large amount of oil it imports, more than any country apart from the US or China. Global economic conditions since Modi became prime minister are unlike those which existed prior to 2015, however. Oil prices have fallen to a range of $30-$70, benefiting India. Global and developing markets have slowed, which has hurt India but not nearly as much as it has hurt most other economies, in particular commodity exporters like Brazil or Russia. Indeed, India has become the fastest-growing “BRIC” economy.
There is even a possibility that India’s slowing economy has helped Modi. It may be that the slowing was not severe enough to undercut Modi’s reputation as a great economic steward, yet was significant enough for people to want a great economic steward – Modi – to remain in charge in order to deal with it. In other words, the lucky timing that helped Modi to build up his economic reputation in Gujarat, combined with the luck which has prevented India’s recent economic slowdown from being severe like many other countries’, may have helped lead to Modi’s huge victory.
This is not a unique situation. Politicians, no matter how praiseworthy or skilled, often do not control their own fortunes. Modi remains in luck now. More troublingly, perhaps, so does Yogi Adityanath.
The Internet has come a long way since the fellowship of its earlier years, but some things do not change: Why have a blog and not use it to give unsolicited opinions about how to adapt The Lord of the Rings?
At 250 million dollars for Amazon to buy the rights, plus an 100 million dollar budget per season (the same as Game of Thrones) for five planned seasons, of books that are not at all easy to adapt, which already have a fan-beloved movie trilogy, with a dubious plan to use invented prequel material that expands on the Appendicidal adventures and man-elf love interest of a young Aragorn, and a stunning example of how this sort of thing can go wrong, namely the recent Hobbit movie trilogy, this could end up being the biggest bomb, or at least the lowest quality per dollar spent, in the history of television.
Luckily, there could be a way to pull it off. Here are the three simple suggestions to follow:
- Do not make up filler material, whether or not it is derived from the books’ Appendix. The stories in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings can provide at least four, if not five, seasons of content
- Start with the Hobbit (3-4 hours long). Unlike the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit is an incredibly easy and fun story to adapt to the screen, and has never had an adaptation that was good or that was even remotely similar to the book
- Animate the Hobbit using Tolkien’s own artwork (see below) for inspiration. Then, when you come to The Lord of the Rings, partially and gradually transition to a more realist, though still psychedelic or grandiose, style of animation. Viewers may be more indulgent of the lore-filled plot and dialogue this way. And it will help to distinguish this adaptation from the live-action movie trilogies
To get a sense of how difficult, but also how great (at least, for fans of Tolkien) a detailed adaptation of the Lord of the Rings could be, I strongly suggest listening to the audio-drama version made by the incredibly talented Phil Dragash. He single-handedly narrated the entire books, voiced all of the characters by mimicking the actors from the movies, and skillfully added in the music from the movies throughout, as well as other sound effects. It’s 48 hours long.
[There has, by the way, been a short Russian film made of one of Tolkien’s children books, Mr. Bliss, animated using Tolkien’s own illustrations. Here’s the trailer for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itzcNwJ-y3M]