Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Creating walkable neighborhoods is not EZ!



What if you build it and they DON'T come?

Yesterday morning I took a pleasant one-and-a-half-mile walk. It was a great day for a walk-sunny, low humidity and temperature in the high 60s. The route was a loop in our suburban neighborhood which I took on in clockwise fashion. The streets are one auto-lane in each direction with speed limits of 30 mph. The streets also have clearly marked bicycle lanes on both sides and bus stops every block or two. Our city has provided a nice wide sidewalk on both sides of the streets. To my left, outside my walking loop, were mostly single family home neighborhoods. To my right, inside my walking loop, there was a mix of rental apartments, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, a few single family homes, and commercial establishments. 

While, for the most part, everything is single story, unlike cities of a century ago, there is a pretty good mix of housing, retail and service in this area. Residents and visitors are offered a bank, a credit union, a loan company, Gold's Gym, a Walmart Super Center, Walgreens, a coffee shop, an ice-cream parlor, a Whataburger, an american restaurant, an oriental restaurant, a greek restaurant, two or three traditional Mexican restaurants, a taco and fruteria stand and a modern tex-mex cafe. There is a family medical clinic and a dental clinic and an optician along with specialty care for cancer patients and those seeking to escape from addictions. Seekers can find insurance agents, a massage day spa, barber and beauty shops and nail parlors. There is a clock/watch repair shop and at least two churches. For the auto-oriented there is a small used car lot and a tire shop. There is also a cocktail lounge outside my defined “loop” but just across the street at one point.

My walk took about 35 minutes mid-morning on, as mentioned above, a beautiful day. During my walk I saw one other human. A grizzled older gentleman who ignored my nodded greeting. I saw no one on bicycles, scooters, or skateboards. I saw no one boarding or exiting a bus. Keep in mind that this is in a fairly densly populated area as suburban areas go. Keep in mind there are wide sidewalks and marked bicycle lanes. More than half the route is nicely tree-lined. Also note that the businesses described above all seemed to be relatively busy and prospering. 

This seems to be a neighborhood in which people would walk more than most modern suburban areas. But nobody was walking. If people won't walk where it is easy to do, usable destinations are close, and the weather is perfect, how will we get people to walk?

Friday, February 23, 2018

The line between essential government services and oppression may not be EZ to see!

My sister-in law asked my opinion on a Texas law allowing quarantine of infectious people. I told her, "Oh, you are going to wish you hadn't asked."

I don't know enough about this to have much of an opinion. It's the government. People lose their humanity in government service. Governments, by nature, even ours, believe they can do anything they "want" (read, feel necessary, in the best cases). The liberals think they are smarter than everyone else and have supported eugenics or other horrifying social programs. The conservatives think their morality is the only right way to live. Other institutions often support or at least don't openly oppose government action due to feelings of loyalty or just plain fear among their leadership or members. See Germany in the 1930s. Neither the Catholic nor LDS churches offered much, if anything, in the way of resistance. In at least one documented case, local LDS leaders actually assisted the Nazis in detaining and eventually executing one young man who was vocally anti-Nazi. When our (big-D Democrat) government in WWII decided it was "in the national interest" to round up U.S. citizens of Japanese descent (and some Germans, too) I don't find in reading history of the time that there was a great hew and cry from our NGO institutions. The North Koreans thought it necessary to butcher all American soldiers in a take-no-prisoners strategy in 1950. The Japanese thought it in the best interest to make no-holds-barred sex slaves of Chinese and Korean women during the 1930s in order to keep the young Japanese soldiers morale (among other things) up for war. The Taliban really believe they are serving Allah by stoning women who dare go to school, or speak to a non-close-relative man, or bare their face, or......whatever the Mullah decides is sinful. When I was in Afghanistan, my State Department-employee driver was an Afghan citizen. He was a Harvard-trained medical doctor, but drove for the embassy because it paid more and the Taliban was likely to kill him if he attempted to practice western medicine. He had spent 12 years in prison under the Taliban prior to the U.S. invasion (and after the Russian invasion.) His crime against Allah? His beard was not two fists long from his chin. This man had very curly, kinky natural hair. He could grow his beard for eternity and it would never be two fists long from his chin. Twelve years wasted, I don't know what became of his family during those 12 years. Women, without an Allah-fearing man to provide for them, are in a horrible position under the Taliban. While they preach morality, they seem to have no problem forcing women into prostitution, then stoning them to death if they fail to hide themselves and their actions properly. If a Taliban leader is taken in intercourse with a harlot, it's her fault, not his. Remember, in the Old Testament, old man Israel's sin wasn't having had sex with his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was playing a harlot in disguise in an attempt to secure blood-line offspring and thus ensure herself a living and a position in society. No, old man Israel's sin, according to the Bible, was in failing to pay her for her services according to his agreement with her. God knows what modern ISIS does to captives, male and female. They seem to be doing about the same things that King David's army did about 3,000 years ago in that same part of the world. The anecdotal news we get of their actions are certainly horrifying.

So: my opinion. As a public health professional, I believe that it is necessary for our society to have the ability to quarantine when needed. I think the ebola nurse in Vermont should have been forcibly quarantined and I think she should lose her license to practice for refusing to self-quarantine. Do I trust a government to use that power only appropriately? Absolutely not. Is the killing of a U.S. citizen without trial or warrant OK because some bureaucrat has deemed him (or her) a terrorist? It that OK if it only happens in the "wicked" Levant area of the world rather than on U.S. soil and if a drone is used rather than a human assassin? Is it OK to hold prisoners of war at Guantanamo indefinitely without trial, or without even being formally charged? Is it OK for a government agency to confiscate the assets of a U.S. citizen never convicted nor even charged with a crime just because some law enforcement officer thinks those assets may have been used in a crime, or thinks they may be intended for use in a crime in the future? No. Yet our government does those things. And this wasn't just the "evil" Republican - Bush dynasty doing these things (but they did, too). No, this was our "enlightened, tolerant, and fair" liberal administration under Obama continuing these policies and practices--I don't see much, if any, improvement under Trump. The (D) liberals are tolerant only so long as you believe, profess, and act as they want you to. Anti tax? You hate poor people. Anti abortion? You hate women. Anti anything else? You are a racist redneck. A wealthy conservative? You are a greedy bastard--never mind that the richest of the rich are very liberal and that, overall, liberals are, as a group, much more wealthy than conservatives (and if you consider that most of the urban poor are liberal, too, you get an idea of just how much wealth the liberals control--most of the hated 1% are liberals--nearly all of the liberal power brokers and politicians are within the 1%, but they get a pass because they vote (D). A black conservative (like Ben Carson or Alan West)? You are nothing but a "house nigger" having sold out to the white power structure. Yet no one challenges these ideas or questions this? (well, very few do it publicly anyway.) No, we must simply be racist and a hater if we dare to disagree with our anointed leader. Remember, the young Mormon murdered by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s - why, he was clearly a Jewish sympathizer because, look, he dared to disagree with der Fuhrer! And we didn't speak out for his life and his freedoms, because we weren't Jewish sympathizers, either. Our media is complicit - most simply won't report honestly. The others live for ratings and use half-truths, lies, and fear to get those ratings, stirring up hatred at every turn (think MSNBC and FOX).

One last thought: Either we are free, or we are not. The Constitutional amendments, (first, second, fourth, fourteenth--all of them) apply to and protect everyone or no one. Gay rights? Yep. If I allow the government to tell them who they can marry or where they can work or whatever, I've given that same government the power to do the same for me. If I allow the government to determine what Larry Flynt can publish, I'm volunteering to have my thoughts censored. If I allow the government to tell the Santeria practitioners how they may worship in their sanctuaries, I've asked that same government to examine and allow or deny my worship practices. If we allow the government to define what speech (or cartoons or images or art) is OK, we've given that government power to banish us (or worse) if we offend them--ask Mr. Solzhenitsyn how that works out.