9th ray of the sun

Of course by the time John Carter got to Mars it was already too late.

Great civilizations had crumbled. Oceans had dried up. The very atmosphere was on life support. And all that remained were red warriors, green barbarians and multi-limbed beasts to fight over the rubble.

Carter’s story was the ultimate dystopian fiction.

Ok I’ll admit it. I was seduced at a very young age by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the mad master of pulp.

Tarzan of the jungle. Carson of Venus. Innes of Pellucidar. The Moon Maid. The lost continent of Caspar…I ate it all up.

In my pre-teens I devoured his fantastical tales, overlooking the inconvenient fact that Edgar wasn’t much of a writer but a hell of a story teller.

Tarzan got all the attention (which I never understood). But John Carter, the Virginian gentleman turned gunslinger turned red world warlord was my favorite.

But of course, he got there too late.

Mars was already on life support. Literally.

If not for the forboding, fortress-like “atmosphere factory” – pumping out its life-giving air for a thousand years – all of Burroughs’ creations would have been as dead as we now know the red planet to be.

In truth, Burroughs wasn’t any keener a scientist than he was a writer. His science, noted one critic “is just enough to spark imagination, but does not quite measure up to earnest analysis.”

But of course, imagination is what sparks human creativity. Always has.

And I have to admit that, lately, I’ve been thinking about Barsoom’s atmosphere factory as a convenient literary device for putting an entire planet on life support.

Which brings me to Earth’s best known atmosphere factory.

The Amazon rain forest.

On fire now. And every burning moment releasing vast amounts of the carbon that it has been dutifully capturing and locking up for millennia.

They tell us this amazing ecosystem generates 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Which seems like quite a lot to me.

But to be fair, it’s not like we don’ have emergency rainforest backups.

Like Tarzan’s old stomping grounds.

Which, as it turns out, has fire problems of its own.

Heck, the island of Borneo alone is legendary for its massive tree cover.

Or at least what’s left of it after all the timbering and land cleaning they’ve done for palm oil plantations.

We will be hearing a lot about Borneo in the coming months and years. Because Indonesia plans to build a brand new capital city where trees and orangutans once ruled supreme.

This because its current capital city, Jakarta, is slowly sinking into the sea under the sheer weight of its 22 million population.

But never mind all that.

The point is that, after the rainforests have been cut down, burned off and “tamed” so ranchers can raise more cattle and we can all eat more hamburgers…

…we can probably build all of the artificial atmosphere factories we’d ever need to make up our, um, oxygen deficit.

No, seriously, we can do this.

We put a man on the moon.

We invented Tang, for goodness sakes.

Maybe we haven’t figured out how to use the 9th ray of the sun to manufacture air, as the Barsoomians did.

But there are all sorts of “big ideas” to cool down our overheating planet floating around out there.

We can build giant mirrors in space.

Or lighten the very clouds themselves

Or fertilize the oceans with iron.

What could possibly go wrong?

Still, ticking off all of the heroic efforts mankind might make to compensate for the loss of earth’s, um, lung capacity notwithstanding. One question remains.

If a single nation, one intransigent regime, is determined to destroy one fifth of the Earth’s lung capacity…

…is the rest of the Earth collectively obliged to sit by idly and allow it to happen by sheer virtue of someone else’s “sovereign” privilege?

Because Edgar Rice Burroughs’ real gift from Barsoom to we mere earthlings wasn’t the hope that we might possibly, one day, in some way, be able to to build massive atmosphere factories in order to prolong our lives and our civilization.

Not at all.

Perhaps what he was really telling us is that we, as a species, do not have the luxury of merrily dancing our lives away while others interrupt “the uninterrupted working of this planet.”

It shouldn’t require a scientist, or even a great writer, to deliver, let alone understand, that message.

Governing is hard

A moment of silence to mourn the passing of Governing.

In the world of “fake news” and global media conglomerates, Governing is a rather obscure publication that has, for 32 years, examined the inner workings of state and local governance – basically what legislatures, counties and cities do and why they do it.

It’s not sex. It’s not scandal. It didn’t have to bleed to lead. It was mostly about what it really takes to fill potholes, make transit run on time or build a smarter electric grid.

Typical Governing headlines:

“The problem with one-stop government,” and

“The parking garages of the future,” and

“Will upzoning make housing more affordable?”

Alas, such content is fast losing its relevance in a Trumpian Tweetisphere Age where politics often seems to, um, trump policy.

“Governing has proven to be unsustainable as a business in today’s media environment,” reads the magazine’s obit. It concludes, optimistically, with “we’re confident that the tremendous work of America’s state and local public servants will go on.”

I hope they’re right.

Politics is easy. Governing is hard. And America’s dirty secret – the one that may ultimately lead to our downfall as a functioning civilization – is that we too frequently opt for the easy way out.

You can see it at all levels.

Congress:

Politics: Cut taxes, yes.

Governing: Balance the budget, no.

Legislature:

Politics: Prohibit cities from doing anything about guns, pollution, unsustainable growth, yes.

Governing: Do something about guns, pollution and unsustainable growth, no.

For a long time it seemed as though cities and counties would be the last bastions of good old fashion governance in America. The old chestnut that potholes aren’t political is comforting if oversimplified.

But the right wing think tanks have figured out that cities, especially large ones, tend to be run by Democrats, while Republicans usually dominate the legislatures. Thus the new “preemption agenda” has been aimed at stopping city and county commissions from doing pretty much anything. The politics of preemption just forced Alachua County and Gainesville to back off their newly enacted plastic bag bans.

Now all we have to do is sit back and wait for Tallahassee to do something about the one-and-done bags that clog our sewers, litter the landscape, kill marine life and poison the food chain.

Still waiting….

“Will states stop cities from combatting climate change?” poses one Governing headline. They’re certainly trying.

Governance, it seems, isn’t just irrelevant, it’s becoming a fighting word.

Just understand that when Trump derides Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta et al as “rat infested” hellholes, he’s using Republican shorthand for “governed by Democrats.”

Which is not to say that governance is dead in America. Not yet.

Partisan gridlock may be the status quo in Congress. One-party state rule is trying mightily to stymy local innovation and problem-solving. But if there is anything like a governance revival going on in America, you’re still more likely to find it at city hall than in the executive mansion.

Alan Ehrenhalt, who has been writing for Governance almost as long as it’s been around, puts it best:

“What if the national political culture is just as bad as most of us believe, but another corner of the political system is steadily getting stronger?” he poses in one column. “Federal and state government may be a mess, but local governments are an increasingly positive force, innovating and solving problems that would have been beyond them a generation ago.”

Which is another way of saying that you can’t keep good governance down.

So keep fighting, commissioners.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)

Why I ride

People are all the time asking me why I ride.

Isn’t it dangerous? Don’t you worry about getting hit by a car? I would never ride on the road with all those automobiles.

And I get that. Navigating your way safely through autoAmerica is no walk in the park.

And, listen, I have never tried to convince anyone who is not comfortable with the idea to get on a bicycle and see for themselves what lies in store.

Instead I give them Ron Cunningham’s Acme Anvil Theory of Risk Management.

It goes like this: You can spend your entire life avoiding that which makes you supremely happy because doing so may lead to discomfort, pain misfortune or death.

But then, one day, you walk out your front door.

And an Acme Anvil falls on your head.

So you might as well stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

And so I ride.

I ride through space and time.

Around Florida

Around The USA.

And Europe

And Canada

And so far, no anvil. Fingers crossed.

So why do I ride?

Because getting on a bicycle take me places that I never dreamed I’d go and shows me things I never quite noticed before.

And under my own power. My own terms. My own resolve. To go. To do. To see.

Because a bicycle is not just a bicycle. It is form, function and freedom of movement. And a work of art.

All the signs point to roads not yet taken and paths not yet discovered.

Oh the places you’ll see.

And the things you’ll do.

And the life you’ll experience.

Under you own power. On your own time.

I am not traffic.

I do not ride to live.

So much as live to ride.

Where to now?

Days of wine and poses

We spent five weeks this summer on Otty Lake, in Lanark County Ontario. And I probably took a hundred sunset photos. I could not help myself.

After the sun sinks behind the tree line on the opposite shore magical things begin to happen.

Explosions of pink, orange, blue, purple and gold light up the sky, reflect off the clouds and ripple across the water.Endless variations of hues, shades and shapes.

A work of art, really.

Electric, neon, arresting.

Jill spent a lot of time on the lake with Roman on her paddle board.

Roman is not a great admirer of sunsets.

Mostly he just wanted to bite the water.

But I kept a close eye on them from the dock.

Never letting them out of my sight.

Allowing nothing whatsoever to distract me.

Or alter my keen sense of perception.

As I contemplated life the universe and everything.

Hey, where’d they go?

They were here just a second ago.

I must have gotten distracted.

By Trump, Turkmenistan and The Times.

Maybe I should launch a search and rescue operation. Hey, anybody got a paddle?

Oh, never mind, there they are.

Not that I was worried. I had two rescue canoes.

Except you need two hands to work a paddle.

When life throws one curve balls one must, um, rise to the occasion.

Two paths diverge

Donald Trump will not be the next President of our United States of America.

Yes, I know. I have heard all the pundits opine otherwise.

About how the Democrats are already blowing it with their reckless talk of impeachment and Medicare for all and open borders and gun control and yada, yada, yada (insert your own favorite leftist talking point here).

Because Democrats will trend too far left to win.

Because they’ll surely stray from the dead center middle of the road.

Because Trump will make certain that The Squad is the new face of the Democratic Party no matter who gets the nomination.

Because if Warren or Sanders or Harris or whoever gets the nomination instead of Biden or Gillibrand or (insert your own favorite white center of the roader) they will hand the election to Trump.

Because the American voter is as skittish as a cat on a hot tin roof when it comes to taking a chance on a socialistic America-hating radical.

I mean, people: Didn’t we learn anything from George McGovern? (You remember, the WWII war hero who lost to a crook).

But I say screw all that.

Listen, I’m a pundit too. I’m a dues paying nattering nabob of negativism. I was punditing when Ronnie Reagan invaded Grenada on a whim and the Army nearly ran out of suntan lotion.

I’m one of those storied sultans of swat who are reputed to ride down out of the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded.

Yeah, that guy.

And for what it’s worth, here is my prediction for the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump will not be the next president of our United States of America.

Won’t happen.

Because one of two things will happen.

Thing One:

I believe the American people, for all of their faults, are at heart too decent, ethical and moral to reelect a pathological liar, sexual predator, bigot, con man, sadist, Russian collaborator and all around pathetic excuse for a human being.

It’s like Abe said. Fool me once, hey it happens. Fool me twice, my bad.

But I may be wrong. In which case:

Thing Two:

The American people may in fact have descend so deeply into self-indulgence, self-gratification self-abasement, self-denial and general all around selfishness that just enough of them (under our bizarre electoral college math) will indeed pull the lever for The Donald.

But even so, Donald Trump will not be the next president of our United States of America.

Because if the electorate has become so debased, so decadent or so disinterested in their civic duty as to reelect arguably the worst excuse for a carbon-based life-form in the known universe, then – simply – this will no longer be our United States of America.

No, we will have instead become the Authoritarian Vassal States of Trumpistan.

And another notch in Putin’s gun.

And if that comes to pass the only thing to be said for certain is that we will have the president we so richly deserve.

I take no great solace in making this observation. But history is ever on the march.

Great nations are born. They grow and, hopefully, prosper. They make their contributions to the entirety of human civilization.

And then they tend to weaken, go astray and eventually die.

It happened to ancient Greece. It happened to Rome. To the Brits, the Ottomans, the (insert your favorite fallen empire here). And it must inevitably happen to our United States of America.

Call it the Immutable Law of National Entropy. The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. And then something else takes its place.

There is no glorious thousand year reich lurking behind Trump’s MAGA promises. He has already squandered our credibility and dependability so far as the rest of the world is concerned, so our passing will not be overly mourned.

Frankly, I hadn’t expected national entropy to occur in my lifetime. And I still hold out the hope that the American people – having teetered this close to the very edge of the abyss and peered over into its darkness – will choose to step back before it’s too late.

OMG, what have we done!

I have to believe that. Because I am born and raised American. I have been to war in the defense of my country. I have dutifully paid my taxes. I have voted at every opportunity. I believe deeply in the civic compact that has united us for more than two centuries.

We citizens of our United States of America are better than Donald Trump. Whether we still, collectively, believe in and are willing to fight for our American ideals remains to be seen.

In November 2020 two paths will diverge in the course of American affairs.

One path can lead to an American renewal.

We can choose to stand up in the face of the relentless march of history and say, with one voice: Not now. Not yet. Not on our watch.

The other path will surely lead to the death of the American dream.

But only if enough of us choose to stand by idly as the parade marches past.

Courage Americans.

Keep the faith and do the right thing.

If you – if we – do that then our United States of America will not perish from the face of this earth.

Come the revolution

“Scooter horror is coming to Gainesville!”

I saw that comment on Facebook. Oh, the humanity!

Soon there will be e-scooters strewn across the sidewalks all up and down Main Street. Anti-scooter vigilantes will be tossing them into Depot Park’s ponds.

And the carnage!

The Associated Press reports at least 11 e-scooter deaths since the beginning of 2018.

“Andrew Hardy was crossing the street on an electric scooter in downtown Los Angeles when a car struck him at 50 miles per hour and flung him 15 feet in the air before he smacked his head on the pavement and fell unconscious,” AP reports.

Having miraculously escaped death, Hardy concluded “These scooters should not be available to the public. Those things are like a death wish.”

Wait a minute. Shouldn’t the takeaway here be the absolute insanity of any motorist in any downtown in any city being able to drive 50 mph?

Still, nearly a dozen e-scooter fatalities in a year and a half sounds serious.

Until you consider that, In 2017, more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions. Including 6,000 pedestrians and cyclists.

Oh, and bike-ped deaths are on the increase even as traffic deaths in general have been declining. People inside cars are safer than ever, while those on the outside grow more endangered with each passing year.

We’ve seen this movie before. Pedestrians are just distracted jaywalkers, no wonder they’re getting killed in record numbers. Cyclists are reckless rule breakers, so pity the poor motorist who accidentally runs one down. And now lawless scooterers (scooterists?).

Here’s what its come to: We routinely give 90 percent of the public transportation realm (roads, streets, highways) to mostly single-occupant motor vehicle use. And everybody else – walkers, cycles, people in wheelchairs and now on scooters – must cram themselves into the narrow slivers (sidewalks, shoulders) along the edges.

And that’s even presuming there are slivers available to cram into. Often there are not.

No question there are legitimate issues to be resolved regarding e-scooter and e-bike use. Who should be allowed to share sidewalk space or bike lanes and who should get precedence therein? And how do you control e-clutter in ride-share situations when the things can be picked up and dropped off anywhere a respective user cares to begin and end?

All of that conceded, the bottom line, whether one’s personal mobility device of choice be scooter, bicycle, skates, pogo stick or just good old fashion shoe leather, is the same.

We have deliberately designed our public streets for the convenience of people who encase themselves inside fast and powerful motor vehicles. Gainesville’s signature street, University Avenue, is a prime example.

We design everything from lane width to speed limits to intersections to pedestrian crossings to curb cuts to turning radius with the primary intent of enabling traffic to flow as quickly and as efficiently as possible through the urban landscape. Because being forced to stew in traffic is the closest thing to a cardinal sin in autoAmerica.

So now e-scooters are coming to Gainesville. Sound the alarm and hide the children.

But if this innovation city is serious enough to hire a Director of Mobility (yes, I’m looking at you, Malisa McCreedy) we need to give a lot more than lip service to the notion of “complete streets.”

The personal mobility revolution is coming. Is Gainesville ready for it?

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Follow his blog at floridavelocepe.com)

It’s all about Him

Have you seen this man?

He makes me crazy.

He makes all of us crazy. Some crazy enough the bay at the moon. Some to bay at the Fake News Media. Me, he makes me crazy enough to collage. I cannot help myself. Like eating peanuts at one of his circuses. It is a compulsion.

At first it seemed like a harmless vice. A shot here, a shot there. I could stop whenever I wanted.

I imagined him going head to head with the worst of my life’s presidents. Nixon and LBJ basked in the heat of napalm. But he…he lights a fire in the worst of us that burns hotter and more intensely than anything LBJ or Nixon laid down in ‘Nam.

He is there to protect us.

And incite us.

He is our first Fake News President. And he’s ok with that.

So long as the news is all about him.

And all eyes are on him.

And on him

He understands that we are Fossil Fuel Man. And that all of those New Age hippies who want to run their cars on vegetable oil and power their homes with wind hate America.

He abhors socialism. Except for the right kind of socialism.

Oh, there are the naysayers. The detractors. The but-what-about-ers. But with cheap gas who cares?

Because he brings the circus. He is the circus. He is every one of the thousand clowns. The ringmaster. P.T. Barnum was an amateur by comparison. “Come see the elephant,” he whispers. And we must. We must.

He could sell ice water in Hell. He serves up his revenge cold. “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia,” he shouts. And we all look around for this Al guy.

And we think, don’t we have enough drama in our lives? Clearly, we do not.

He will give us Iran gift wrapped. He will deliver North Korea with a big red bow. He has it on good authority that Putin is a good guy. Venezuela is toast. China will surrender. Tariffs go well with a nice claret.

Oh, and about that special relationship? Right after Boris and just before Brexit is the sweet spot.

He is for America. So long as he is America.

Did I mention he loves war, the flag and patriotism? And fast food and apple pie.

Rain on his parade? Never happen. He is the parade.

He tells us ten impossible things before breakfast. Never mind those other story tellers. Fake narrative.

Some of his stories are dark, ugly and outlandish. Because he “tells it like it is.” Or at least like some of us secretly wish it to be.

He says “follow me.” And some of us do.

Talk about a special relationship. What can possibly go wrong?

We are mad at him. We are mad for him. We are mad about him. We are mad.

What, us worry?