(Roughly) Daily

“I took the one less traveled by”*…


An interactive map highlights the least traveled routes in the country—and some of the most scenic.  Using 2015 annual average traffic data from the Highway Performance Monitoring System Geotab identifies the least traveled roads in each state, and in all of America (replete with a virtual preview of each route via Google Street View).  Then it ranks the top 10 most scenic paths (starred on the map) from those listed, as selected by the conservationist and photographer James Q. Martin.

Explore it here.

* Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”


As we seek solitude, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that the Strategic Highway Network (STRAHNET) affirmedto Regional Federal Highway Administrators the minimum clearance requirements for highways that are part of the STRAHNET system: a clear height of structures over the entire roadway width, including the useable width of shoulder, of 4.9 meters for the rural Interstate; in urban areas, the 4.9-meter clearance is applied to a single route, with other Interstate routings in the urban area having at least a 4.3-meter vertical clearance.

The STRAHNET is “a system of highways that provides defense access, continuity and emergency capabilities for movements of personnel and equipment in both peacetime and wartime. The STRAHNET was based on quantifiable DOD requirements, addressing their peacetime, wartime, strategic, and oversize/overweight highway demands. The network consists of approximately 96 000 kilometers of highway. The STRAHNET has been incorporated into the National Highway System (NHS). Almost 75 percent of the system in the continental United States (about 70 000 kilometers) consists of roadways on the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.” [source]



“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*…


A few of the words first used in the year of your correspondent’s birth…

Enter a year (in recorded history) and find the words first used then: Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler.

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


As we root around for roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that the Beatles played their first evening gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.  One month earlier, fresh back from Hamburg, they had played a lunchtime set; the club, which had focused until then on jazz, was experimenting with rock.  The test was a success, so the club’s owner, Ray McFall, declared Tuesday nights “Blue Jean Guest Night,” and kicked off with Dale Roberts & The Jay Walkers, The Remo Four, and the Beatles.  The band swiftly became a regular fixture at the Cavern, attracting a loyal audience to over 290 performances until their final appearance on August 3, 1963.  It was, of course, at the Cavern Club that Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles.

The Beatles (with Pete Best on drums) at the Cavern Club. Best was replaced by Ringo the following year.



Written by LW

March 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right”*…


People disagree about morality. They disagree about what morality prohibits, permits and requires. And they disagree about why morality prohibits, permits and requires these things. Moreover, at least some of the disagreement on these matters is reasonable. It is not readily attributable to woolly thinking or ignorance or inattention to relevant considerations. Sensible and sincere people armed with similar life experiences and acquainted with roughly the same facts come to strikingly different conclusions about the content and justification of morality.

For examples of disagreement about content, think of the standards ‘vote in democratic elections’, ‘do not smack your children’, and ‘do not eat meat’. Some reasonable people recognise a moral duty to vote, or a moral prohibition on smacking or meat-eating; others do not. To see the depth of disagreement about justification, consider the variety of reasons advanced for the widely accepted moral standard ‘do not lie’. Should we refrain from lying because God commands it, because it promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number, because in deceiving others we treat them as mere means to our ends, or because the virtue of honesty is a necessary condition of our own flourishing? Each of these reasons is persuasive to some and quite unpersuasive to others.

Reasonable disagreement about morality presents educators with a problem. It is hard to see how we can bring it about that children subscribe to moral standards, and believe them to be justified, except by giving them some form of moral education. But it is also hard to see how moral educators can legitimately cultivate these attitudes in the face of reasonable disagreement about the content and justification of morality. It looks as though any attempt to persuade children of the authority of a particular moral code will be tantamount to indoctrination…

Michael Hand asks– and suggests an answer to– a desperately-important question: “If we disagree about morality, how can we teach it?

* Isaac Asimov


As we struggle to teach our children well, we might send fabulous birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  Known in the English-speaking world as Ovid, he was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus.  He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature.  Ovid is today best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-book continuous mythological narrative written in the meter of epic, and for works in elegiac couplets such as Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”) and Fasti.  His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature; he was, for instance a favorite– and favorite source– of Shakespeare.  And the Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology.

Ovid enjoyed enormous popularity in his time; but, in one of the great mysteries of literary history, was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death.  Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, “a poem and a mistake”; but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.



“The map is not the territory”*…


Much of the area around a Tanzanian safe house for girls threatened with genital mutilation isn’t recorded on Google Maps. By logging buildings and streets on OSM, volunteers can help outreach workers navigate. (OpenStreetMap)

“For most of human history, maps have been very exclusive,” said Marie Price, the first woman president of the American Geographical Society, appointed 165 years into its 167-year history. “Only a few people got to make maps, and they were carefully guarded, and they were not participatory.” That’s slowly changing, she said, thanks to democratizing projects like OpenStreetMap (OSM).

OSM is the self-proclaimed Wikipedia of maps: It’s a free and open-source sketch of the globe, created by a volunteer pool that essentially crowd-sources the map, tracing parts of the world that haven’t yet been logged. Armed with satellite images, GPS coordinates, local community insights and map “tasks,” volunteer cartographers identify roads, paths, and buildings in remote areas and their own backyards. Then, experienced editors verify each element. Chances are, you use an OSM-sourced map every day without realizing it: Foursquare, Craigslist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Uber all use it in their direction services.

When commercial companies like Google decide to map the not-yet-mapped, they use “The Starbucks Test,” as OSMers like to call it. If you’re within a certain radius of a chain coffee shop, Google will invest in maps to make it easy to find. Everywhere else, especially in the developing world, other virtual cartographers have to fill in the gaps…

Too often, men– and money– decide what will be mapped and why.  But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space: “Who Maps the World?

* Alfred Korzybski


As we find our way, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Sir Richard Francis Burton; he was born on this date in 1821.  An explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures (according to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages).

An exception to the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, he relished personal contact with human cultures in all their variety.  His best-remembered achievements include: a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.



“These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does”*…


Late 19th-century Americans loved railroads, which seemed to eradicate time and space, moving goods and people more cheaply and more conveniently than ever before. And they feared railroads because in most of the country it was impossible to do business without them.

Businesses, and the republic itself, seemed to be at the mercy of the monopoly power of railroad corporations. American farmers, businessmen and consumers thought of competition as a way to ensure fairness in the marketplace. But with no real competitors over many routes, railroads could charge different rates to different customers. This power to decide economic winners and losers threatened not only individual businesses but also the conditions that sustained the republic.

That may sound familiar. As a historian of that first Gilded Age, I see parallels between the power of the railroads and today’s internet giants like Verizon and Comcast. The current regulators – the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority – and many of its critics both embrace a solution that 19th-century Americans tried and dismissed: market competition…

The current controversy about the monopolistic power of internet service providers echoes those concerns from the first Gilded Age. As anti-monopolists did in the 19th century, advocates of an open internet argue that regulation will advance competition by creating a level playing field for all comers, big and small, resulting in more innovation and better products. (There was even a radical, if short-lived, proposal to nationalize high-speed wireless service.)

However, no proposed regulations for an open internet address the existing power of either the service providers or the “Big Five” internet giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like Standard Oil, they have the power to wring enormous advantages from the internet service providers, to the detriment of smaller competitors.

The most important element of the debate – both then and now – is not the particular regulations that are or are not enacted. What’s crucial is the wider concerns about the effects on society. The Gilded Age’s anti-monopolists had political and moral concerns, not economic ones. They believed, as many in the U.S. still do, that a democracy’s economy should be judged not only – nor even primarily – by its financial output. Rather, success is how well it sustains the ideals, values and engaged citizenship on which free societies depend.

When monopoly threatens something as fundamental as the free circulation of information and the equal access of citizens to technologies central to their daily life, the issues are no longer economic.

Stanford historian Richard White unpacks an important historical analogue; read it in full at “For tech giants, a cautionary tale from 19th century railroads on the limits of competition.”

[Image above: source]

* Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things


As we wonder if The Invisible Hand is giving us the finger, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that Henry Wells and William G. Fargo joined with several other investors to launch their eponymously-named cross-country freight business.  The California gold rush had created an explosive new need, which Wells, Fargo and other “pony express” and stage lines leapt to meet.  It was after the Civil War, in 1866, when Wells, Fargo acquired many of their competitors, that it became the dominant supplier.  (Ever flexible, they adapted again three years later, when the transcontinental railroad was finished.)

From it’s earliest days, it also functioned as a bank, factoring the shipments of gold that it carried.  Indeed, when Wells, Fargo exited the freight business as a result of government nationalization of freight during World War I, the bank (which merged with Nevada National in the first of a series of “transformative transactions”) continued to operate as “Wells, Fargo,” as indeed it does (albeit under unrecognizably evolved ownership) today.



Written by LW

March 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”*…


A market doubles as a bookstore in Obidos, Portugal

What makes a book town?

It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale…

Tour some of the world’s best at “Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers.”

* Jerry Seinfeld


As we browse in bliss, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one of the most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.




Written by LW

March 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”*…


An estimated 77 million Americans have a debt that has been turned over to a private collection agency. Thousands of these debtors are arrested and jailed each year because they owe money. Millions more are threatened with jail. The debts owed can be as small as a few dollars, and they can involve every kind of consumer debt, from car payments to utility bills to student loans to medical fees. These trends devastate communities across the country as unmanageable debt and household financial crisis become ubiquitous, and they impact Black and Latino communities most harshly due to longstanding racial and ethnic gaps in poverty and wealth.

Debtors’ prisons were abolished by Congress in 1833 and are thought to be a relic of the Dickensian past. In reality, private debt collectors — empowered by the courts and prosecutors’ offices — are using the criminal justice system to punish debtors and terrorize them into paying, even when a debt is in dispute or when the debtor has no ability to pay.

The criminalization of private debt happens when judges, at the request of collection agencies, issue arrest warrants for people who failed to appear in court to deal with unpaid civil debt judgments. In many cases, the debtors were unaware they were sued or had not received notice to show up in court…

Read this deeply-troubling story in toto at “The Criminalization of Private Debt“; then read the full ACLU report at “A Pound of Flesh.”

* Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1


As we dust off the adjective “Dickensian,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1811, five days after the birth of the movement in Nottingham, that Luddites smashed over 100 machines intended to eliminate their textile industry jobs in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Kirby, Woodborough, Lambley, Bulwell, & Ilkeston in Derbyshire.

an 1812 illustration of “Ned Ludd,” a fictional apprentice who (per his legend) destroyed two weaving frames in 1779.



Written by LW

March 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: