Europe

Orwell, Episode 1

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, since Burmese Days may be by far the Orwell book that would work best as a movie or show, 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

 

 

 

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Chutes and Ladders: A high-tech and low-tech idea for subway stations

 

Chutes

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.

Picturechut

 

Ladders

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:

  1. 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:

escala

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.

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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.

 

 

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All Transit Articles

Some of these ideas are much sillier than others. I’ll leave you to decide:

Transit Oases
Car-Sharing Vehicles Doubling as Sheltered Bus Stops
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 
Night Moves 
Facelift
Chutes and Ladders 
Tortoise and Hare, 2K19
The Lucky Bus
Unferries
The Roombus
The Parkway
The 1.5-Decker Bus
Gaga For Gondolas
Customs-Built Transit

 

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India

Modi’s in Luck Now: The importance of good luck, and Uttar Pradesh, in the political success of Narendra Modi

(Read PDF Version Here )

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.

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Figure 1– Note: the All India Trinamool Congress, the leading political party in India’s most populous coastal state, West Bengal, is incorrectly included in the Mahagathbandhan (“Grand Alliance”) in the right-hand map above. That alliance, which was formed recently between the Bahajun Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), is led by two former political rivals of one another — Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati – who had consecutively been Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2002 until 2017

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:

  1. 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
  2. Hindu Nationalism
            Arguably, some of the most extreme examples of this include:

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.

Uttar

With more than 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is by far the most populous state not just in India, but anywhere in the world. Its neighbours too are populous: Uttar Pradesh directly borders India’s third and fifth most populous states, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It also directly borders India’s capital city-state, Delhi. Modi, in addition to being MP for the holy city Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, has had his political career intertwine with this state in other significant ways. Notably, by way of the 2002 Gujarat Riots’ direct connection to the Ayodhya Mosque/Temple Dispute (a long, complex story that is analogous to, though in many ways different from and even more tragic than, the Middle East’s dispute over Jerusalem’s holy sites), and the continuing involvement in that dispute by BJP leaders such as Modi’s designated Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. The BJP’s rival, the Congress Party, also has roots in Uttar Pradesh. Its city of Allahabad (now renamed Prayagraj by Yogi Adityanath’s government) was the home of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty (unrelated to the Gandhi), a family that has supplied four generations of Congress’ leaders. The current scion of the family, Rahul Gandhi, is however an MP for a constituency in Kerala, in India’s far south. Rahul also contested, but lost, his family’s historic seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (located just outside Lucknow, the state’s capital).

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.

India states.png

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.

Guj oil.png

As such, the commodity boom and global economic growth helped Gujarat remain the fastest-growing Indian economy in the 2000s, apart from the small Himalayan states Uttarakhand and Sikkim.


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.

Modi

 

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How Amazon Should Adapt The Lord of the Rings

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:

  1. 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  
  2. 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
  3. 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 

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Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 7.56.16 PM

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]

 

 

 

 

 

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All Sports Articles

2019 Playoffs: 
The Holy Month of Sports Begins

Basketball: 
Should Openers be used in the NBA Playoffs? 
Professional Time Wasters
Offense-Defense for 48 Minutes
Cornerstone Players

Hockey: 
The Spiral of Death
Goalies and Garbage Time 
Robots and NHL Expansion 
Back to the Lake
The Londons’ Knights

Other:
Everyone for Tennis? 
Keynesian Sports Fans 
North Korea and the Olympics Curse
Openers and Pinch Hitters
Gunslinger
Wall Ball (Wal-Ball)

 

 

 

 

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Transit Oases

One of the most fitting aspects of the phrase “transit deserts” – areas drastically underserved by public transit – is the mirage-like effect you get when, straining your eyes toward the suburban horizon, you trick yourself into thinking that the headlights of an approaching car is actually the bus you desperately want to arrive.

Today, however, as transit apps get more accurate, the era of transit mirages may be nearing an end. You can now simply look at your phone, or in some cases at a television screen at your bus stop, to see when the next bus will arrive.

In many cases, transit apps might also put an end to another desert-like quality of public transit: waiting in uncomfortably cold or hot temperatures. Equipped with accurate information about when the next bus is likely to approach, passengers might have the option of waiting for their bus indoors a short walk away from their bus stop.

This might have significant implications for the public or private sector. The public sector could, perhaps, create transit oases: indoor waiting areas that passengers could enter by using their transit passes to pre-pay their bus fare, or outdoor parkette spaces where people could wait with shade, nice surroundings, picnic tables, etc.* Or the private sector could provide a similar service, maybe combining transit waiting areas with laundromats, convenience stores, cafes, etc.

*[Alternatively, they could have car-sharing cars parked near bus stops, which would double as sheltered bus-waiting areas. That way the cars could also be available for use as “first-mile/last-mile” vehicles, in areas where walking to and from bus stops can be difficult]

Because some transit apps have even begun providing information about how crowded each approaching bus is, having a more comfortable waiting area of this sort could also give passengers the option of waiting a bit longer than they need to, in order to wait for a less crowded bus to arrive. This could be very useful: public buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses further behind it. With transit apps, people could simply wait to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

Similarly, transit apps can give passengers real-time information about express buses, which could help allow passengers to let a normal bus go by in order to wait for an express bus approaching after it.

Another common challenge in transit deserts, where waiting times are often long and uncertain, and where bus journeys are often long as well, and often require multiple transfers, and often involve seniors or babies, is the lack of bathrooms at bus stops, and the lack of accessible public bathrooms in general. Transit oases could be a godsend, then, for those who cannot hold their water like a camel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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