Monthly Archives: February 2011

Crossing the Hudson (bridges edition)

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Hudson River (Livingston Avenue) bridge Harpers LOC.jpgThe Livingston Avenue Bridge, the graceful and anachronistic swing bridge that carries trains across the Hudson River at Albany and still swings open to let larger ships reach Troy, has been part of the landscape longer than anyone now alive. It is often cited as dating to the Civil War, which is, like many local legends, partly almost true.

The earliest bridge across the Hudson was completed in 1804, at Waterford, by Theodore Burr, who also built the first bridge across the Mohawk at Schenectady. Despite being a wooden bridge, it remained in service for more than 90 years. Waterford was, as its name indicates, a good place to cross the river, but the bridge was too far from the population centers of Albany and Troy to satisfy their needs, and soon there arose a call for a bridge across the Hudson at Albany. Legislation was introduced to provide for its construction in 1814, but the booming city of Troy objected vociferously,

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Shocked, shocked!

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…to find that gambling is going on in here! From Whish’s 1917 “Albany Guide Book”:

Athletic sports always have been in great favor in Albany, and the vogue follows the trend of the times. There are a number of associations of various kinds, ranging from athletic to yachting. If a visitor is more “sporty” than athletic, a quiet talk with his hotel clerk in all probability will furnish the necessary information as to the haunts of Fortune. The city is liberal but orderly.

Spring spatters

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Spring spatters, originally uploaded by carljohnson.

43 degrees. Wet lube on the chain, double-bagged knees and some embrocation, bike shoe galoshes. Twenty-two slow kilometers but a nice hour’s ride, as much as I could take after three months off the bike. Now for the endorphins.

(What you’re seeing is the sun shining through my winter cycling jacket, splattered with mud despite my having put the fender on.)

Certainly doesn’t

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Certainly Cures Cancer 1895.png

Oh, how we used to laugh at the generations that came before us, falling for these ridiculous patent medicines and cure-alls. How could they have been so simple? Who would believe that going to Dr. Vines for his Vegetable Concoction would be the way to treat cancer?

Well, our forebears should be laughing at us, because we have vastly increased scientific knowledge, incredible medicines, and a couple of centuries of know-better, and yet now is the Golden Age of Charlatanism. Thousands of people are choosing to endanger their children and society because a blond bimbo believes that vaccines cause autism. People who know absolutely nothing of how many people used to die from food poisoning are characterizing government as jackbooted thuggery because it wants to ensure that milk is pasteurized. People are at once convinced that pesticides cause every cancer under the sun and that DDT should be brought back to deal with bedbugs.

When I was growing up in the Space Age, science and knowledge were revered. We believed in advancing knowledge using the scientific method, and improving our world as a result. Now, through a bizarre combination of “question authority” (reinterpreted as “always doubt authority”), religion-based blinders and a popular and political culture that is proud of idiocy, we are turning progress on its head, rejecting solutions our somewhat more sane forebears would have killed for, and believing that the desire and belief of the individual now completely overrides the needs of society. I really can’t figure out how we got from there to here, how we have embraced both an absolute lack of personal responsibility, where someone else must be at fault for everything that happens to us, and an absolute right to having each personal opinion indulged. But I do know that here — a place where people think that it’s their own personal choice to have or not have diphtheria or mumps or measles, and if we have a few deadly outbreaks, what’s the big deal? — is not a place I want to be.

Laugh if you will at the folks of days gone by who might have tried Dr. Vines’s C.C.C elixir — but they didn’t have any better options. We do. Let’s stop choosing to be stupid.

Still having school nightmares

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I am half a century old. It is time to stop having school anxiety nightmares. Last night’s was a doozy – forced to go back to school, I was faced with a two-hour essay exam. In my backpack were dozens of pads, each one completely filled with writing, and I had nothing to write my essay on. The teacher had no more paper. I started freaking out. I left to wander the halls, hoping to pop my head into a room and get some paper from a teacher, out of a printer, anything. No one could help, no printers could be found. One offered me 3×5 cards, which were all individually wrapped in plastic. The front office secretary assumed I was there for detention and curtly told me to come back at 3:45. She wouldn’t listen to my question, just kept repeating the time to be there. In the hall in front of the office were displays with dozens of student projects, all handwritten reports in pads and notebooks. I started rifling through them, hoping to find some blank pages to remove. Not a one. Every pad was filled. Now I had wasted half an hour out of the 2 hour exam and didn’t see how I could possibly finish the exam. Eventually I found what seemed like the social services office, where there was some kind of student-parent drama going on but a very helpful counselor offered me some of their paper. Now I had to worry about whether I could find my way back to the classroom in this unfamiliar school.

So I was glad when I woke up to the beginnings of the blizzard. Told Hannah my dream, and she was surprised that I still had school anxiety dreams (seems like it never stops), and helpfully suggested I look for printers. “I tried that! There were no printers to be found!”