The Day We All Went Underground

He was ten feet off the cave floor, bike and rider stretched and twisted in the old-school BMX trick that was called a “Judge” and a “Leary” before settling into the modern appellation of “lookback”. Then he disappeared down the backside of the jump and we all heard the thump echo back across two hundred feet. The two thirtysomething men who were pedaling back up to the rest of us in the staging area dropped their bikes then broke and ran in that direction. Silence fell as the chattering children to my right picked up on their parents’ vibe, shut up, and turned to face the incident. Three, four empty seconds and then there was a loud cough. After thirty-three years behind the handlebars of a BMX bike I can heard blood in a cough and this time I heard blood.

More silence. Then: “HE’S UP! HE’S OKAY!” At the trails or the skatepark, “okay” doesn’t mean “unhurt”. It means that the ambulance isn’t coming. A wave of guilty relief swept through seven of the twelve riders surrounding me. They’d come down from Fort Wayne as a group, vans filled with bikes of all sizes for them and their children. An ambulance trip would have ended everybody’s day. I saw the fellow who had crashed stumble out from behind the jump. Someone else carried his bike away. We sat up in the staging area and fidgeted. Nobody wanted to be the first person to hit that section afterwards. You could call it respect or superstition or cowardice; it is all of those. Finally, one of the socially awkward spandex-clad mountain bikers who had arrived right before the wreck clicked into his pedals, rode down the slope, and bumbled through the line, accompanied by the bounce and clank of chain and derailleur. We frowned at this crass incompetence but in truth we were grateful. The spell was broken. Four of the Fort Wayne guys rolled in a tight line after him. The third one boosted a sky-high lookback over the recently-cursed jump and landed it with fingertip delicacy. Then the kids flocked after them and the noise of conversation rose again in the humid, dusty air.

I took a run down the center line and walked my bike back up the incline to conserve energy. When I got to the picnic benches up top the injured rider was sitting there in slack-jawed shock, his helmet still on, twisting his body to get both hands on his drooping left shoulder. He looked like he might vomit in the near future.

“Did you dislocate your shoulder?” I asked. His response was delivered in the patient monotone that always follows a direct impact of helmet to ground.

“I have metal in here,” he replied, “from an old wreck. A lot of metal. And I think… it’s bent.”

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Twilight Of The Trijets

I saw it lifting from the runway at RSW, plain white with the windows masked off and not a single bit of livery to be seen, nose up and stretching for the sky with the exuberance you’ll sometimes see when there are no passengers to be placated or drinks to be kept level. “That’s… a DC-10,” I told Danger Girl, “or… wait… it’s probably an MD-11.” As we rounded off the main road and headed to the rental return area I saw two more of them parked at Terminal B. Were they military? NASA? Some sort of black-ops equipment that dare not speak its name on the fuselage but which also didn’t need to be hidden too carefully from the retirees, golfers, and snowbirds that use the Fort Myers airport on a daily basis?

None of the above. These were MD-11F freighters operated by Western Global, part of its eleven identical trijet fleet. Western Global is a very new airline, having recently celebrated its fourth year in operation. You won’t ever take a ride on a Western Global plane, unless you are a specialized piece of cargo or possibly a FedEx package on an overflow weekend. (And if that’s the case, how are you reading this site?) The last passenger flights to use an MD-11 happened three years ago, with a KLM plane named “Audrey Hepburn”. That final flight occurred just a few months after the MD-11’s predecessor, the occasionally star-crossed McDonnell-Douglas DC-10, took its final passenger flight with a Bangladeshi airline.

The trijet era is a footnote in aviation history now — but it’s worth taking a quick look at how these early widebody aircraft both exemplified and influenced some of the tropes in both engineering and marketing that continue to raise their ugly heads in the aviation — and automotive — world even today.

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In Which The Author Bets On His Son, And Loses

As we walked hurriedly through Ai Weiwei’s feel-good-psuedo-art beneath Washington Square Park’s famous arch, hustling towards the Uber driver in his Accord who was unconcernedly blocking traffic in at least two of the intersection’s three possible directions, John shook his hand free of mine and glared up at me.

“I didn’t even learn anything!” he snarled in that furious close-to-tears voice I’ve come to expect after everything from a lost game of dodgeball to a failed attempt at clearing a jump on his BMX bike. He’s not particularly sensitive to pain or physical effort but he anything he perceives as a loss or failure enrages him. “And you wasted five dollars of your money betting on me to win!”

“Well, John, I’m not sure that I agree with you about what we did and did not learn,” I replied, yanking the Accord’s door open and tossing him into the center seat before our driver could lose his courage and bolt from the scene, “and it’s not really my money, you know. You’ll inherit everything when I die, so that was really your five dollars, you know.” This was intended to add some humor to the situation but instead my son threw up his hands and yelled, “Why did you waste my five dollars, then! That’s even worse!

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In Which The Author Conducts A Technical Interview On The Shoulders Of Giants

I was in the gig economy before the gig economy was cool, you know. In the past two decades I’ve been a consultant, a third-party service provider, a contributor, a self-employed technocrat, and just a plain old temp. Sometimes it’s been remarkably lucrative and often it’s been remarkably depressing. Sometimes both at once.

Last month I said goodbye to the last of my technical support customers and took a new full-time contract. I’m surrounded by very nice people there. The commute is short and the parking is free. It’s a little hard not to get depressed when I’m sitting in my cube and seeing all my various journo-friends and journo-foes traveling the world and enjoying all the perks that the business can provide. The best I can tell myself is that Hawthorne started his adult career in the Custom-House and Melville spent his final years there. At the end of every day I do not worry about whether I sold my integrity cheaply or whether I failed to fight for the truth on any given subject. Such things have no meaning or relevance in the eternal late-fall twilight of that seventy-four-degree flourescent office building.

I make no decision on any subject beyond the technical. There are a thousand dreams and ambitions in that building and there are people who are compensated to a truly stunning degree and there are people who spend their lunch hours in worried dialogue about bills and childcare but it matters not to me. I show up in the morning and I do my work and I leave and by the time the oil is warm in my CB1100 on the road home all thoughts of the job have slipped from my mind with that same light viscosity.

This past Wednesday I assisted one of the fellows in the office in conducting a short technical interview. It was my intention to ask a couple of bland questions and shut up, but things got a bit out of hand.

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In Which The Author Suffers A Failure Of Parenting Ability And Is Literally Burned As A Result

Approximately ninety seconds after pulling up at Adkins Raceway in eastern Ohio for John’s first race in the Junior Sportsman class, I realized that I was the only father who had not pulled a trailer to the event. The concrete path to the pre-grid was lined with the kind of hardware that in my world is used to haul pampered Bimmers from one CCA pretend race to the next; twenty-footers, twenty-four-footers with big side doors. While I was realizing this, a massive Fleetwood RV pulled into the spot next to me and an arrogant-looking tween-ager popped out to effortlessly set the stationary jacks with the aid of a Snap-On electric ratchet.

“We don’t have a trailer,” John said, and he looked up at me in much the same way that I suspect Chris Pirsig would look at Robert during the worst parts of their cross-country trip. Dad didn’t plan. Dad doesn’t know what’s going on. We are different from everybody else. This cannot be good.

“Not yet,” I chirped, “I didn’t know if we would need one.” I grabbed John’s shoulders and steered us both out of the way of a hurried-looking father pushing a brand-new TonyKart on a electric-lifter rolling stand. The man’s son strode behind him, imperious and unworried behind the mirrored visor of the same $1,500 carbon-fiber Impact! helmet that I use in my racing. I get ten years out of mine; if this kid was anything like John, his helmet would be outgrown and junked by Christmas.

We were late, we were underprepared, and John’s kart didn’t run. Things looked pretty bad from the jump. Naturally, I figured out a way to make them worse.

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Oh My God, The Two-Tone Watch Is Coming Back

Walk around any major city and you’ll see an entirely new and utterly baffling phenomenon: the person, usually male but occasionally on the distaff side, wearing a FitBit or other heart-rate tracker on one arm and a watch on the other. Why would anybody bother to do this? After all, virtually every fitness tracker you can buy has a perfectly accurate, maintenance-free digital watch built in — and don’t forget that the average Westerner in 2017 spends half their life looking at their phone, which has a satellite-synchronized clock built right into it. Why are people carrying around three watches when surely they only need one?

The answer is simple even if it’s a bit embarrassing. If you grew up in the WASP tradition or any social circle remotely affiliated with it, you know that there are only two acceptable items of jewelry that a man can wear. The first is his wedding ring. The second is a wristwatch. That’s it, period, point blank. The H1-B crowd at my job all wear a gold necklace with some kind of gold charm on it, my old mentor used to wear gold rings and ropes to match his velour tracksuits, and the Eurotrash-Brit types I just did a couple of features with over in Europe all wear multiple precious-metal and corded bracelets like high school girls who got a $500 gift certificate to the local Pandora at their sweet sixteen party, but the people who have the United States Of America don’t get to wear that stuff. They get a ring and a watch. Period.

Once Hans Wilsdorf created the marketing miracle known as Rolex, the eighteen-karat yellow-gold Datejust or Day-Date became a universally-recognized symbol of success. In no time at all, the world learned a new kind of value language. A stainless-steel Rolex was the equivalent of driving a Buick; it meant that you had enough money to spend on luxuries. The gold Rolex was a Cadillac-like statement of fiscal exuberance. After the excess of the Eighties died down, many people put their gold watches away because they didn’t like the way other people interpreted that particular social signal. It didn’t help that the stainless-steel Daytona became an absolute icon both of motorsport and of sporting watches after Paul Newman was spotted wearing one. For many years, the gold Rolex was more of a punchline or a stereotype than anything else, associated with oil money, crime money, and new money.

Our modern Gilded Age hasn’t yet done much to change that. It’s still not really acceptable for a WASP to wear a gold watch. To accommodate the need of our imperial plutocracy to spend more money, Rolex now offers some of their watches in white gold and/or platinum. (The new white-gold GMT-Master II is the hottest thing out there for people who can put the cash equivalent of an Accord V6 Coupe into a watch.) Yet the company has nontrivial economic reasons to get people interested in gold watches once more. There’s about 2.5 ounces of gold in a gold Rolex, roughly $3,200 in today’s money, but the markup between a stainless steel GMT-Master and an 18k yellow gold GMT-Master is a staggering $15,200. With twelve grand here and twelve grand there in a company that can easily make, and sell, a million watches per year — well, pretty soon that’s real money.

As a consequence, there’s an odd new marketing program at Rolex which might lead to a chance for you, the average watch-wearing typa dude, to make money on your next watch instead of losing it.

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A Really Smart Guy’s Response To A Smart Guy’s Memo Accidentally Explains Why Modern Software Is Utter Garbage

If you’re at all interested in “tech” or “tech culture” then you’ve no doubt heard about the pc-considered-harmful post written last week by a (mostly) anonymous Google employee. In that post, the employee suggests that there might be biological, “innate” reasons why women aren’t flocking to software jobs. He then goes on to say that the full-court-press for diversity at Google is damaging the company. He suggests that the company consider diversity as a scientific issue, deserving of research and development, rather than as a moral issue which must be addressed to the satisfaction of the high priests regardless of cost.

Needless to say, the pitchforks have come out for this guy. He’s getting death threats. Google has made the usual “that’s not who we are” public response. He’s being called “The Manifestbro”, the word “bro” of course used to dehumanize him and prepare him for the inevitable consequences of extrajudicial unpersonhood in much the same manner that racial epithets were used in the Jim Crow South. All of this was eminently predictable; perhaps not to the insulated, isolated Googler who wrote the memo, but to everybody who lives in the real world outside the Google Bubble with its scarcity, misery, and psuedo-sharia lose-your-job courts of acceptable discourse. To quote Stilgar from Dune, this dude put himself in the way of the Harkonnen fist. It’s sad to watch, and it’s ironic that his employer is probably going to take real steps to crucify a fellow who loves Google so much that he’s willing to sacrifice his own career for the general good of the company, but this sort of thing happens all the time in the post-Kulturkampf world and as such it’s no more interesting than the thirty-ninth time a Christian was martyred in a Roman arena.

Here’s what I did find interesting: a former Distinguished Engineer at Google named Yonatan Zunger decided to write a lengthy screed detailing how and why he’d have walked that unfortunate, naive engineer right out the door. I think his post was probably meant to be nothing more than a public declaration of fealty to the golden calf of progressive thinking, an affirmation of group membership similar to the various abuse heaped on Trotsky after the fact by anybody who wanted to be found alive the next morning.

These impassioned reiterations of the status quo have become much more common lately, and most of them, the Zunger piece not excluded, boil down to The Progressive Theology Is Never Wrong And Here’s Another Reason For That Unchallenged Supremacy Which Had Probably Not Occurred To You Until Right Now. Five hundred years ago, scientists used to regularly write pieces about how you could Clearly See The Existence Of The Christian God In The Design Of The Hummingbird Nectar Tube. Their purpose then, as now, was to provide preemptive evidence against any future charges of heresy — and then, as now, they were utterly ineffective.

Yet this pile-on piece is much more than that. It’s a completely accidental, but utterly truthful, explanation of why modern software is so thoroughly, horrifyingly bad. It’s also a graphic reminder that nerds are gonna nerd, so to speak, with all the positive and negative consequences that result. So what I would like to do is ignore most of the crap on both sides about whether or not women should be programmers and focus on the inadvertent, but hugely relevant, revelations in Mr. Zunger’s post. You don’t have to be a programmer to click the jump; in fact, if you know nothing about computers, this will help you understand why computers and websites and whatnot are so hard to use.

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National Review And The Autarky Malarkey

Let’s get this right out in the open: Donald Trump was the only potential Republican candidate for President who had even the slightest chance of beating Hillary Clinton and her Big Blue Media Machine. Without The Donald, the Republicans would have cheerfully kept on being the Washington Generals of American politics, the “loyal opposition” to a one-party State in which the interests of politicians, media elites, and the impossibly wealthy are all aligned to the mutual satisfaction of everybody with a net worth over ten million dollars and/or a severe distaste for traditional Western values. You might not want to believe this; like my brother Bark, you might continue to hold a flickering belief in a “traditional conservative platform” or in Chamberlain-esque appeasers like Marco Rubio. But it is true. The Republican party is effectively derelict, weakly supported for the moment by local gerrymandering and facing execution at the hands of seemingly unstoppable demographic change.

If you need a reminder of why modern conservatism is DOA, however, Kevin Williamson at the National Review will be happy to provide you just that, with the additional bonus of a head-in-hands-worthy lesson in how to become smitten by one’s own kindergarten-level logical fallacies.

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CNN Is Gonna Doxx Ya

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.
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CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

It happened, ironically enough, on Independence Day. When President Trump decided to re-Tweet a home-made GIF that modified some old pro wrestling footage to show him “slamming” CNN, the media erupted in collective, coordinated frenzy about the “danger” this would put CNN into. Never mind that, by definition, the original footage was “kayfabe” footage from a pro-wrestling spectacle and therefore no more real than the cause celebre Trump-as-murdered-Caesar Central Park play. And never mind that CNN itself is in no way above criticism, satire, lampooning, or spoofing. We were all solemnly assured that this was “deadly” targeting of private individuals by someone whose power exceeded theirs to a frightening degree.

When the general public response to the manufactured outrage turned out to be indistinguishable from “eh, who gives a shit,” CNN did what anybody in that situation would do: They used the limitless resources of a multi-billion-dollar corporation to target, find, doxx, threaten, and blackmail the creator of the original image. I mean, that is what anybody would do, right?

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From Avatar to Voldemort: How Our Infantile Stories Create An Infantile (And Racist) World

It is only reasonable that many readers here at Riverside Green occasionally mistake something that Bark wrote for something I’ve written, or vice versa. We have the same last name, we have written for the same outlets, we agree on a reasonable number of subjects. (Areas where we disagree include: the music of Nickel Creek, the ability of a woman to wear a size 12 dress and still be attractive, whether or not soccer is a real sport.) All I can say it this: If you’re confused now, wait until my son writes his first new-vehicle review, which should happen in the next few months depending on certain delivery schedules and various eminently unreliable manufacturers.

In this case, however, I feel compelled to make it explicit and plain that I (Jack) am writing this, because while Bark might agree with me that modern Western society has restructured itself around several explicitly infantile and irrational ideas, I doubt that he would be willing to place the blame for this situation on the consumption of “young adult” media by people who should be consuming “regular adult” media. Bark is a big fan of the Harry Potter books. He watches the “Guardian Of The Galaxy” movies. I believe that he would defend those stories and that media.

As for me, however, I come to bury Potter, not to praise him. And in this, I have a rather unlikely ally from the mainstream press.

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