This is a post about trains. Also about innovation. But mostly about trains.
I. A Victory Celebrated
I’m celebrating a victory for public transit. Yes, of course I’m consumed by rage about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement (maybe). But I’ve been acting locally to promote public transit in one way or another since I was 16, in the face of NIMBY assholes. Victory on local actions is what gives us the wherewithal to keep pressure on the global struggle.
Ted Eytan is a wicked smart guy. So I’m not surprised that he managed to write something so totally on-pitch about Vivian. It got me thinking about beginnings, too. Vivian was hired at IFTF about a week before me. A spring conference was in full swing, Continue reading →
So my SB challenge and so many other things have been on hold for the past week. I’m not done grieving, and won’t be for a good long while, but I do need to start writing again. My kick in the pants came from the realization that it was Viv’s turn to do the regular blog post in our blogifying map forecasts series.
I started writing it and then I stopped. I decided to share her words instead. It still took me most of the day to track down links and proof and whatnot. It was both cathartic and helpful to tiptoe around the cognitive dissonance of writing about forecasts bathed in optimism bordering on hubris with ruminations on mortality rattling about my brain.
Regenerative medicine will replace, restore, maintain, or enhance tissue and organ functions, dramatically improving patients’ health and quality of life, and potentially reducing the cost of their care. Tissue engineering will heal diabetic foot ulcers, reducing the need for amputations; organs grown in a lab will ease our dependence on donor transplants; and tendons, cartilage, and bone regrown with autologous cells will be used to repair injuries and joints. Advanced prosthetic devices and biomechatronic-based limb replacements will interface with the body’s nervous systems to give users a range of natural function and movement.
When we first presented this forecast at a conference, our colleague Vivian told a story that illustrates the potential, and some possible pitfalls, of the growing capacities of regenerative medicine. It was part of a complicated dance of vignettes and exposition with Vivian, Bradley and myself that will remain one of my fondest memories of working here.
Image by Rachel Hatch
Of course, when you get sick enough, you end up having to go to the doctor for help.
That’s what finally happened with Eric, who has Type 2 Diabetes. He is a very successful 56 year old lawyer. He has a history of working too much and not taking very good care of himself. He was overweight, ate poorly, and didn’t track his blood sugar levels consistently. As a result, he has had some serious complications from his illness. Last year, he developed a foot ulcer that just wouldn’t heal. The doctors had to amputate his foot. His eyesight also deteriorated because of damage to his retina. And his doctors have been warning him that he may need to go on dialysis. Eric’s body is failing him.
…with a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. (The Constellation’s Southern Gothic has been my soundtrack to life the last few weeks. It’s getting weird up in here.)
Welcome back, therapy blog. Oh, didn’t I tell you? I started this blog partly as exposure therapy for my fear of public writing. That’s also part of why I’m so inconsistent about actually posting things. I’m surprised it isn’t more of a thing in this day and age, but there are apparently other “scriptophobes” out there.
HOWEVER…I picked this as my first game of the SuperBetter beta I managed to squeeze into, so dagnammit, I’m gonna be writing (here and at the orders of magnitude more trafficked IFTF blog) in the next six weeks, come hell or high water. My epic win is around posting consistently, but seeing as how I’m studying quantified selves at the moment, I’m thinking of tracking and keeping mission journals of minute/word count ratios as well.
Consider this my first skirmish against a minor henchman: Scorn of Off the Cuff Posting. Take that back to your foul master, Auditor Perfecto. Score one achievement: Admitting You Have a Problem.
A teenager in yellow jeans shifted a little into a shadow of a dance step, furtively mimicking the handful of more exuberant men and women twirling and gesturing gracefully in the center of the clearing. A man in a suit sits on a bench, flipping through the music on his karaoke machine, filling the area between three large trees with a few bars at a time of music both grand and pop. The dancers are unconcerned, continuing their movements and tailoring them every minute or two to the new music.
This was just the beginning. This is what I came here, to Purple Bamboo Park, to see. This was my first day “off” in a week of interviews and facility tours across Beijing, two to three each day. Today I spent walking—over 8 miles all told—visiting places that people we interviewed mentioned as significant to their well-being. Time and again we heard that the “health dances in the park” were where someone got out to, socialized and exercised. So here I was, in this enormous park that is only the seventh largest in Beijing, looking for dance.
I had been wandering around for hours, watching joggers wind through the bamboo groves, parents and children and elders using the public cardio and self-massage equipment. I was actually on my way out, ready to give up, when I stumbled on this scene in a clearing, surrounded by benches and coat racks, with a few dancers and their audience.
A discordant blare broke the mad rhythm of the indecisive karaoke box.
There was another speaker on wheels in the clearing, louder, indicating they were ready to provide the music now. The style was older—chanting choirs and a vaguely military rhythm. The handful of pioneers dancing to the light of the setting sun became more synchronized in their movements. As they danced, a cluster of a dozen people approached the new music master with friendly greetings, then fanned out to join the dancing. (Adding more videos when I get around to editing them. I took a lot of video. Video is slow.)
As twilight set in I was now swaying on the edges of a sizable group of thirty or so people, arrayed roughly in a grid, stepping and swaying and gesturing in unison. Sometimes they would rearrange, and the men and women would trade-off in some pre-determined pattern. Another few dozen people were on the outskirts like me, swaying and stretching and bouncing in a more partial mode of participation. The ages now ranged from 16 to 60.
I noticed I could hear other music now. I skirted the group and wound my way to the next clear spot—a wide plaza by one of the park gates. There fifty or so women with bright red pom-poms and fans did their own choreographed thing. As I watched them someone set up another karaoke machine on the bench on the other side of the widening path from me, and before I knew it there were 3-4 couples doing competition-level ballroom dancing in suits and dresses, with a fast-gathering circle of fans. Just beyond them in the gathering gloom, over the heads of men clustered around dimly lit games of mahjong, was yet another dance area in a wooded courtyard, filled with several dozen couples swaying.
A gregarious autodidact approached me, eager to practice his English. He was in his mid fifties, all smiles over a gray Mao jacket. I asked him if this was a typical turnout for a Tuesday night in the park. He asserted that this was typical every night it didn’t rain—even in the winter people dance in coats. “The everyday people, you see, the workers, not the cadres, they can’t afford to go to fancy cinemas, things like that. This is real entertainment. And it’s free! Free for everyone. Every night.” (It’s amazing how just a few years variation in age between the cohorts in their 40s, 50s, and 60s makes all the difference in whether someone speaks the language of the cultural revolution with caution, irony, sincerity, or nostalgia. After a while the conversation turned to wages, housing, family, and the comparative necessities of a good life in the US and China.)
When I lived in China as a child, I dimly remember the early mornings in the park filled with people practicing tai chi in large groups; marching and dancing with my pre-school classmates in our yellow Transformers jumpsuits. And I’ve read Judith Farquar’s extensive and nuanced analyses of the park as a site of civic life, biopolitics, and embodied nationalism. But dim memories and scholarly imagining didn’t quite prepare me for the scale, the rigor, the total experience of hundreds of people gathering nightly to dance in public.
And in the back of my head, some distance away from my observe-describe [and participate just a little] ethnographer’s brain, I kept wondering,
“WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS BACK HOME?”
People dance a little at street fairs, at concerts, they pay to dance in clubs, in gyms. There are flash mobs and performance artists and the self-consciously alternative Burning Man frequenters. But why can’t teenagers and elders dance in any park, any time?
What would it take to get anybody to dance together as if nobody was looking, for free, in public, any night of the week?
Like a whale or a turtle, to the surface, for air, and then back down to the deep.
Flickr CC/ joeforjette
Yes, I’m alive. Yes, I’ve been writing things in the last 2 months. No, I haven’t been writing ANYTHING here. My list of things to write about has evolved its own sentience and is threatening to steal my lunch money. Most of my gross word-count over the past six weeks will not see the light of day, in public at least, for another year, which always makes me a little sad.
But, basically, I’ve been thinking about how science and technology offer promise and comforting, official-sounding futures; what the hell “well-being” means in contemporary discourse, and its relationship to other ideas about ourselves like “health” and “happiness” and personal “resilience.” I’ve also been trying to suss out what the mutually constitutive relationships are between personal resilience and resilience at the level of communities, organizations and systems. A whole lot more of that thinking is forthcoming very shortly.
Delicious is a crappy research tool. I can usually find something faster by searching it on Google than by digging through my moderately massive library of links. However, the one thing Delicious is good for (besides the occasional project-specific tag-based RSS feed) is Wordle. I was really excited when I had enough momentum for a cool looking and fairly accurate jigsaw-thingie of awesomeness everyone seems to have nowadays. I even sortof look like a specialist from this angle. That’s an artifact of my colleague Brad and I using delicious to catalogue our entire bibliography for the first year of the Global Food Outlook program*.
*I'm co-director now am I? That's gotta be a misprint!