Sunday, July 7, 2019

2019: Of Many Machines

Florence + The Machine

Sometimes music finds you when you need it most, and that’s just what happened when Florence and the Machine greeted the earnest crowd gathered at TD Garden last October. She opened with the song, “June (Hold On To Each Other)” then segued to her anthem, “Hunger.” Her music as a clarion call to stop looking down, stop giving energy to needless things, and focus on what really matters.

“June (Hold On To Each Other)”

“Those heavy days in June when love became an act of defiance.”

Happy belated Pride month, fifty years since Stonewall, and so much has changed, and yet so much left undone. I ask – is it really so much about pride, or just simple human dignity? But I digress.

She openly engaged with the audience, thanking someone in the audience who had given her flowers, calling them her “anxiety flowers,” and said she could feel the feminine energy in the arena. Whatever she asked us to do, we obliged. Hold hands, tell strangers we love them, jump up and down. We would have followed her anywhere.

At the end of the night, she exhorted us to keep up our hope for peace, joy. “Hope is an action. Keep doing what you’re doing, it makes a difference.”

We are told so many times, to stay in our lanes, and stop trying to change things that are outside our control. The day we stop trying is the day we hang up our cleats and go home. To try is noble. Our dreams, our ambitions, our passions – we must run to them, run as we would to pull a drowning child from the water, and rescue them, and keep them alive.

The Machines of Climate Change

Speaking of change, next was the panel discussion on Climate Change sponsored by Mass Humanities at the JFK Library in Boston on October 28, 2018, moderated by Steve Curwood, titled: Science, Democracy, and Climate Change: Finding the Tools to Save Our Biosphere. Panelists included: David Cash, Evelyn Fox Keller, Michael Pasquier, Reverend Mariama White-Hammond.

Steve Curwood introduced the topic and some of the challenges in understanding whether climate change is real, and if it is, what can be done about it. “Science doesn’t care about politics. Science cares about reality.”

Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller noted: “We have had the evidence for thirty years. There is a culture of denial by the oil industry, and no action. It’s imminent now, and we’re still not doing anything. Why?” she asked. Do we not believe it? Or, if we believe it, do we not grasp the severity of it? Or, if we understand the magnitude of the problem, do we turn away because it’s too late? “We don’t need hope, we need courage to face up to our fear of what we’re facing in the future.” 

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond compared it to addictions. “By the time you realize you’re heading to rock bottom, it’s too late to do anything.” 


David Cash made an interesting comparison: “We’re clinging to the carbon in the ground because of the economic value it holds, just as the South clung to slavery; the value of slaves was more than the value of land in the South.”

By the end of the panel discussion, it felt like we had entered the Age of Futility. Two key technical advances – fracking and directional drilling – have revolutionized oil and gas production. We used to be able to get people around the idea of cutting demand when we were oil dependent on the Middle East, and in fact many of our military strategies revolved around maintaining stability in the region for this very reason.

Achieving oil independence took the wind out of sustainability’s sails. It’s all about market forces, and we are addicted to oil and gas. We can try to appeal to people’s morality, but even then – not everyone can afford electric cars, hybrids, solar panels, etc. You have to meet people where they are, and unfortunately we are dealing with two crises: people who lack a fundamental science education (and don’t believe climate change is happening), and the magnitude of the problem, making all these individual efforts feel too small, like spitting into the wind.

In the current culture of skepticism of science and real news, scientists must do a better job at communicating their messages to the masses. Even as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, a Gallup Poll in 1999 found that 6% of US citizens doubted that it actually happened.

Towards the end of the talk, someone mentioned that photosynthesis (plant growth activity) removes carbon dioxide from the environment. I had forgotten all about this until the recent headline about a Swiss study, that says planting a trillion trees could help overcome the effects of climate change, since the trees can sequester carbon dioxide.

Here is the link to the actual study published in Science on July 5, 2019, titled “The global tree restoration potential.”

Planting a tree has always been a symbol of hope, something that wouldn’t be realized in one’s own lifetime, but a legacy for generations to come.

The Motor City

December found me in the Motor City, Detroit, for a week, and while parts of downtown are starting to be revitalized, there are brick ruins and vacant lots along the riverfront crying out to be re-imagined, for where some see ruins, others see opportunity.




It is a shame that Amazon didn’t pick Detroit for one of its new hubs, and ironic that Waymo (a division of Alphabet, aka Google) did pick Detroit as the place for assembling its driverless cars. Bravo Waymo!

Ironically, it was about this same time that I was reading the book, Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, which really could and should be made into a movie.

Some other recommendable books from my reading list:

Bernadette, Where’d You Go? By Maria Semple, also being released as a movie this August.

All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a book so beautifully written, one almost weeps with each turn of the page, knowing that it only draws you closer to its end. A story about radios, a mineral museum, and occupied France during WWII. And a can of peaches.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, on the surface about a book tour, a bit of a travelogue, and a lot about understanding one’s place in the world, and how misinterpreted it could be. For anyone who has ever felt less than. It would also make a great movie.

Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin.

If I Built A Car, by Chris Van Dusen.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, another story of community living, shaped by the landscape of Russian history, and perhaps gives us another take on Groundhog Day.

I am still in the middle of reading this last book, when it struck me, this quote that comes at the end of a conversation between the main character, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and Osip, in 1946, on the similarities and differences between the Americans’ and Russians’ rise to power.

“But where do we stand now? How far have we come? By marrying American tempo with Soviet aims, we are on the verge of universal literacy. Russia’s long-suffering women, our second serfdom, have been elevated to the status of equals. We have built whole new cities and our industrial production outpaces most of Europe.”  

Count Rostov asks at what cost, and Osip replies:

“At the greatest cost! But do you think the achievements of the Americans – envied the world over – came without a cost? Just ask their African brothers. And do you think the engineers who designed their illustrious skyscrapers or built their highways hesitated for one moment to level the lovely little neighborhoods that stood in their way? I guarantee you, Alexander, they laid the dynamite and pushed the plungers themselves. As I’ve said to you before, we and the Americans will lead the rest of this century because we are the only nations who have learned to brush the past aside instead of bowing before it. But where they have done so in service of their beloved individualism, we are attempting to do so in service of the common good.”

This difference in motivations between Americans and Russians observed by Osip, could equally well describe the divide between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans philosophically seem to ascribe to economic Darwinism, survival of the fittest, and what is good for business is good for the nation, and anyone can make something of themselves, and all the beauty and illusion of the Horatio Alger story: anyone can make it if they work hard enough and persevere. Or, can they? Or, are there fundamental inequalities in opportunity that hold people back? This takes me back to the Baseball & Business blog. People like John Henry seem tormented by this question, and how to level the playing field, and bring everyone along.

Democrats philosophically seem to advocate for the greater good, as a social conscience, ensuring there are safety nets for the weakest and most vulnerable in society, as well as our future generations.

This quote by Amor Towles’ Osip seemed to capture the divide that has so polarized the country since the 2016 election, when people’s true colors have been exposed, the hatred seething just below the surface. Reading about Russia, and thinking about the philosophic differences between Republicans and Democrats, of course brought to mind:

The 2020 Election

The following observations and predictions are shared strictly to promote dialogue, in the interest of our Democracy, and in the spirit of free speech, non-partisan, and never seditious.

What will the Republicans do?

The Republican nominee heir-apparent is President Donald Trump. No other Republican is going to announce their candidacy. It would be career suicide.

What will the Democrats do?

Right now there are over twenty candidates. It is like a condo meeting one week after an assessment has been announced; everything is not okay, and everyone is showing up. The problem for the Democrats is that the strongest front-runners right now are the most polar opposites from President Trump. Like a horse race, the early leaders don’t always win the race.

What should the Democrats do?

Speaking very pragmatically, the best candidate for the Democrats needs to be not the most different from Trump, but the one who is closest to and most palatable to the mainstream. The Democrats need to think pragmatically and strategically. I hate to bring this up, but every symbolic, emotional vote for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 national election was a vote for President Donald Trump. There, I said it.

Who would be the ideal Democrat candidate for President?

Someone who is not just smart, but wise.

Well-spoken, strong, and well-respected.

Someone who has experience, and a demonstrated career of service.

Someone who has served in the House, the Senate, and even the military.

Someone with character beyond reproach.

Someone worthy of this highest office.

A tall order? Yes.

Impossible? No.

Does such a person exist? Yes. Figure it out.

Breaking the Tax Code

While we are back to politics, and how best to level the playing field, I had some ideas, which I’ll share below for any of the candidates to pick up and use.

One of the least talked about topics this past year is the change in tax code that increased the standard deduction to such an extent that it essentially leveled the playing field for renters and homeowners. Many people who used to get tax refunds wound up owing money, increasing the tax revenue funding stream. Historically, this tax loophole, the deduction of mortgage interest and real estate taxes from one’s income, essentially discriminated against people who have been unlucky enough to not be able to raise the funds needed for a down payment. Think about it. Two households might have the same monthly expenses, but one pays rent and the other pays a mortgage, but the latter would get a tax break. Let’s be honest, it often takes more than hard work alone to come up with enough money for a down payment on a house. 

And it’s that way with so many other things as well. Those who are in the worst financial situations have the least access or means to pull themselves up, and are exposed to further vulnerabilities when any kind of disaster strikes.

The trouble is that we can no better predict natural disasters than we can personal disasters. Things can change in the blink of an eye.

FSA accounts are a meager attempt to help, allowing use of pre-tax dollars to pay medical bills, but they require you to decide on an amount at the start of the year. If you guess too high, the unspent amount disappears. If you guess too low, it’s too bad, sorry Charlie. They are not that flexible, despite their name: Flexible Spending Accounts. It’s almost laughable.

What I would propose is to deduct all health care costs from one’s income prior to applying the standard deduction, the same way that contributions to retirement savings plans (401Ks, etc.) are all deducted from one’s gross income beforehand. Health care costs have a very real effect on one’s net income, and this would be a way to level the playing field.

What if we took this one step further, and to promote education, what if we did the same thing for school costs? Every dollar earned and invested in your education would not count towards your taxable income.

These are measures that would provide both a safety net for all members of society (as we are all truly “one phone call from our knees”) and a motivation to pursue education and invest in oneself. It would be the perfect blend of Osip’s ideals, in service of both our “beloved individualism” and “the common good.”

Happy (Belated) Birthday, America!

Truly a nation of thinkers, dreamers, believers, do-ers, and makers.


Florence + The Machine: The opening band was so loud, I was delighted to find that ear plugs are available at Guest Services, on the Level 4 Concourse, next to Loge Section 4, at TD Garden.

Thanks to Mystic Coffee Roasters for hosting my photo exhibit over the winter!

Thanks to Belmont Books for the many great book recommendations!

Thanks to Brookline Booksmith for hosting book readings by Adam Rubin and Chris Van Dusen.

Reading to a child is a great way to have a positive impact on a child’s life. Anyone interested in volunteering with Read To A Child, check out their web page:


Thanks to the Holiday Inn Express downtown, offering friendly service and perfectly good accommodations, despite being a little worn, the hotel had everything a traveler really needs: a comfortable bed, quiet room, and great water pressure. Right across the street from the Westin, you have access to Starbucks in their lobby, and their multiple restaurants, including 24 Grille, which also offered live music, and had a surprisingly good Gumbo. I am hopeful for Detroit.

While working in Detroit, we ordered in lunch each day, and every single day just got better than the last. We had deli sandwiches from Mudgie’s, Shawarma kebobs, BBQ from Slow’s Bar BQ, and some of the best Thai food ever.

Maybe Waymo could start with making food deliveries!

Mark Your Calendar:

·        August 16, 2019: Movie release date for “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

·        HUBweek 2019: October 1-3, in the Seaport, where Music, Art, Science, and Technology (MAST) collide!

For those who really like to plan ahead:

·        June 27, 2020: Shadow of the City Music Festival, featuring Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers, in Asbury Park, NJ. Tickets on sale now:


Bastin, Jean-Francois, Yelena Finegold, Claude Garcia, Danila Mollicone, Marcelo Rezende, Devin Routh, Constatin M. Zohner, and Thomas Crowther. 2019. The global tree restoration potential. Science, 05 July 2019. Vol. 365, Issue 6448, pp. 76-79. DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0848.

Bigelow, Pete. 2019. Waymo to build self-driving cars in Detroit, invest $13.6 million in factory. Crain’s Detroit Business. April 23, 2019.

Borenstein, Seth. Planting a Trillion Trees May Be the Best Way to Fight Climate Change Study Says. Time/Associated Press. July 4, 2019.

© 2019 Rosemary A. Schmidt

Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life” (Gainline Press 2004). The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of any other agency or organization. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. Twitter: Rosebud@GainlineRS

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