Today I updated the site theme to Sempress, the great offering by Matthias Pfefferle, to take advantage of the built-in Indieweb features such as Microformat labeling for use in Webmentions. Though the theme itself is updated, for the most part the layout won’t change. However, there have been some improvements to the comments section to make them threaded.

It was a long past time for the update. This site was using a theme based on the very old Default theme that was created back in 2005 and was custom-coded to a great degree, meaning some newer features were unusable. Though the site styling is mostly finished, a few pages still need to be worked on and will look a little off, and a few other styles need to be tweaked here and there. I’m planning on more updates in the coming weeks and months as I try to turn this into more of a hub for my content of all kinds, not just long-form posts.

Stay tuned!

Now that Elon Musk owns Twitter, the time has come to shape how the platform will move forward to meet his goal of it being a public forum that is free from algorithmic manipulation, bias, and meets the spirit of of freedom of speech. But, as the first week has come and gone, it hasn’t been without controversy and a little backtracking.

How can Musk take the platform to its next stage while meeting his philosophical goals, but not allow it to completely fall apart? I have some thoughts and ideas, stemming from my own past as a community admin.

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Clouds
Photo by Sy Clark

Twice this week I’ve come across the same sentiment from two different people: “Atheists (and the non-religious) feel empty without God.”

One was from a Twitter account responding to a prominent lawyer who interacts on the mini-blogging service. It was blunt and to the point, which is how I’ve usually seen this sentiment made. To be fair to that “Tweep”, as the old identification goes, one of my more militant fellows had decided that it was just the moment to be snarky in response to one of the lawyer’s anecdotes. It was a cute, wholesome story, not requiring anti-religious pompousness in reply,  but he just had to be edgy. I think the response from the Tweep was sharing a common belief that such “hallowed out” people are angry at the world and their fellow man and have no problem showing it.

The other was from the writer Andrew Sullivan, who had a column last week in NY Mag where he spent a great deal of time on the corollary that I’ve seen usually accompany the Tweep’s assertion, that the non-religious try to replace this supposed emptiness with another form of religion.

He maintains that the non-religious (or less religious) on both the political left and right replace this with something else. For the left, that thing is social justice, or a set of diagnoses about and policy prescriptions for society. On the right, it is devotion to a wannabe strongman political figure like President Donald Trump, someone who will encourage their nationalist tendencies and xenophobia and the anger behind these things. Andrew’s words were not blunt like the Tweep’s but ultimately carried a similar line of thought, that the non-religious, lacking a clear purpose, will try to find it in all the wrong places. That they will ultimately be driven by their emotions into the arms of people and ideologies that are toxic.

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Castle in Gent

Although my primary goal of this trip is riding the trains, one of the disadvantages of spending only a small amount of time in any given place is that when something happens, you now have even less time to explore that place than you did before.
Such was the case with this leg of the trip. It actually started on the second night in London when suddenly I was experiencing a nausea-like feeling from my stomach. I’m still not sure what it was – maybe a stomach acid thing – but fearing a stomach bug, it sent me back to my room rather than seek out food that night.

I would note that I was still transitioning to the time difference, travel fatigue and all, as well as having kind of pushed myself the first day to stay up, so that may have been part of it.

Regardless of the cause, I was able to get up and to the station for my Eurostar trip to Brussels.
Thinking that maybe the issue was lack of food, I grabbed some breakfast after passport control in St. Pancras. The train trip itself was indeed fast and uneventful. We passed through the Channel and into France and then Belgium.

Upon getting to Brussels, it was clear this stomach issue wasn’t going away. Still thinking it might be food-related, I found some lunch, and then pushed off to Gent, my destination in Belgium. After some previous discussions, it was clear there isn’t a whole lot to do in Brussels, anyway, so I’ll visit properly another time.

It wasn’t long to Gent, about 25 minutes. Once off the train, I found myself in a bit of a bind. I knew I had to take a tram to a street near the hostel, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me how to get a ticket. The machine only took certain coins and even after getting them, it still didn’t work. I finally was able to ask a waiting passenger if they sold tickets about – turns out the answer is yes.

Once I checked into the hostel, I was feeling better, so I took a walk around the old part of the city. It’s a nice area, with some thin streets, some wider ones, and even a castle and some churches. All in all, it’d be a nice place to stay for a few days and I will return.

Although I was able to walk a decent distance, my stomach had other plans, and I had to return to the hostel. I got a few hours sleep. I wasn’t happy about it but thought it better than getting ill. After waking, I thought I’d better get some food, so went to a nearby place. Nothing special – just some nuggets and fries. Something was definitely up, though, because my appetite was shot. I ate as much as I could and returned to the hostel.

One thing becoming apparent by that time was my constipation. It is unusual for me not to need the bathroom at least once per day, and with Crohn’s it’s usually more. I now wonder if that was part of the problem, perhaps in combination with crap food and not a lot of food. The next morning I was feeling better, so it was off to Gent station and to Amsterdam.

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Hello from London! So far, mostly so good. My adventure started off on April 1 (no joke) with a bus ride from Hartford and then a shuttle to and flight from Boston Logan. Boston has done a good job getting people from the bus terminal to South Station, so props to them for that. No real trouble at Logan, except the flight was delayed 20 minutes. I even got an aisle seat in a nine seat row, so that was very nice since the Crohn’s was acting up a bit.

Passport control wasn’t bad at all, though getting though it took about an hour. Had some slight trouble at Gatwick Station accessing my ticket. I guess with my ticket, it is mobile only and I hadn’t downloaded it to my phone! Finally asked someone about the issue but their Internet was a bit shoddy. Eventually got my ticket and was off.

No such issues with the Underground to my hostel. It was very easy to get a ticket. Like with all subways, it takes a moment to learn it, but it was not too bad to figure out. After six hours in London, got to the hostel and settled in a bit.

I then took off to see some sights, starting with Trafalgar Square. Lots of people milling around there and going to the National Gallery.

I spent a little time there and then headed down to the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Despite the recent attack, there were a lot of people. I took a walk around the entire building and also took a look at the London Eye. Waited there until night to get a photo of the lit up building.

After that, I was tired as heck, what with being up since 9am on Saturday. Therefore, I headed back to my room for a nice sleep, albeit with a glance over at the Prime Minister’s residence and a trip part way across another bridge.

The next day I spent exploring the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. For the castle, definitely an interesting history, from its use as a home and a fortress, to its darker side as a place for torture and imprisonment, and a holding place for the Crown Jewels. I’d definitely visit again because it seemed like there was some things I missed, just looking at the architecture alone.

The Bridge was alright as well, with a fantastic history, though I’ve seen similar attractions elsewhere. Wasn’t there for a bridge lifting experience but I’d like to see one if I get back to London when one is scheduled. After that I ended up getting almost lost in the Shad-Thames area. It might have been just me getting claustrophobic from narrow streets, but it seems like an area that’s misleadingly sketchy. As I now know, it’s an area with many wealthy residents. 

I’d like to have explored it more but wanted to get to Buckingham Palace, so I turned back. I got back to Westminster and headed down to the Queen’s house.

No sight of the Queen but I did catch a guard-changing ceremony (not one of the main big ones, just literally one guard being relieved).

 I only spent a short time there, given the length of the train ride and walk but wanted to get back to the hostel to sleep before an early morning Eurostar trip. I cut through St. James Park to get to its station, where I had the weirdest experience.

One of the pelicans that resides there started marching toward me and yelling. I’d just been eating a snack, so I expect that had something to do with it, but I had nothing for it and wasn’t going to feed it, anyway. It didn’t hassle me after I went past it, though, and I continued on my way. Got to the station and headed back and prepared my stuff and showered.

I was still kind of dozing off from a long three days of travel and sight seeing, so you might think I slept well that night. No such luck. Got about four hours of sleep and couldn’t get back to it. So I uploaded some photos, checked some emails, and made sure my Eurostar ticket was downloaded onto my phone (lesson learned).

Got up, checked out, and Undergrounded it toward King’s Cross St. Pancras. Now I’m headed toward my next stop in Belgium. I’ll be back in London for one more day at the end of the trip, so hope to do a bus tour and maybe the British Museum. All in all, I think a longer future trip to the UK is warranted.

I haven’t written much about this trip, here or on Facebook. In fact, I haven’t written about a trip here since the big Cross-Country train trip in 2015, even though I’ve been to San Diego (on business) and to Orlando and Canada (Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Montreal – for pleasure) since.

I’m heading to Europe for 16 days in just under a week from now. I’ll be getting back to the continent after 10 years away, the last trip there being to Greece in 2007. It’s going to be a bit of a whirlwind of a trip. Why? Because I’m my own worst enemy. What started out as a desire to travel to London and then east to Belgium and The Netherlands has since turned into a bit a monster of a trip that will see me travel in all four cardinal directions. I’ll again be going on a massive train ride that will take me to seven countries in this time period.

Europe Trip 2017 Train Route Map

The above map shows more or less the route I’ll be taking through Europe. Starting out in London for a couple days, I’ll continue on Eurostar to Ghent, Begium for a day, and then the intercity train to Amsterdam for a couple days.  I’ll continue into Germany, stopping in Cologne and Bonn for a couple days. Then I’ll have what I think will be the first big highlight of this trip with a ride along the Rhine River on my way to the little southern German city of Freiburg. I’ll be there for a couple days as well.

Part of what turned this trip into a monster is that, before deciding on much else, I got taken by the prospect of a trip through the Swiss Alps by train, which will be the second and probably prime highlight of the trip (I’m a sucker for a nice mountain range). After a night in Zurich, I’ll be taking the popular Bernina Express on that route, from Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy.

I’ll continue on to Turin via Milan, and stay there for about a day and a half. Afterward, I’ll take a TGV train to Paris, where I’ll explore for another couple days. Then I’ll grab a Eurostar back to London for another day and then head back home.

So definitely a lot going on in a relatively compact amount of time but it’s definitely going to be exciting.  I look forward to seeing a lot of cool architecture, some of it very old, as well as mountains, valleys, and the backyards of seven countries. It’ll also be my first time on a high-speed train (including our own “high-speed” Acela), so that’ll be very interesting to experience.

I’ll be missing three big events during my time in Europe, either by choice or by coincidence:

  • Queen Elizabeth’s birthday will be four days after I leave London for home.
  • The French Presidential election will be seven days after I leave Paris.
  • I thought about including Rome on this trip but there is no way I wanted to be near there close to or on Easter Sunday. I imagine it’ll be a madhouse as people go to The Vatican.

I hope to do some updates while I’m there. I’ll be spending a lot of time on trains, so surely there will be some time. We’ll see how it all goes, though. I’ll have at least something on Facebook.

Over the course of this campaign cycle, Donald Trump has frequently gone after people or organizations who have criticized him in some way. Usually that person or organization has been related to journalism. They’ll say something about him and he’ll hop on Twitter to fire off one or more tweets in anger about those he feels have slighted him.

I think many people will brush off criticisms about these Twitter, thinking something like “They’re just journalists. They definitely deserve it for lying about him.”

Lying or not, they’re not just journalists. Yesterday he also went on one of his rants against Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense. Weirdly his defense for doing this is that Gates spoke out against his former bosses. Well, his last boss in government was Obama, so you’d think that would be okay with Trump, but I guess not.

Once again we’re seeing how Trump immensely dislikes disloyalty to him personally and will trash anyone who goes against him, even in a small way. That is extremely disturbing as the president’s job is to represent the entire nation, not just his personal ego.

But Gates was a political appointee, so maybe some think that opens him up to criticism like this. Okay, perhaps, but who is Trump going to go after next? Well, we know that despite his statements to the contrary, he’s perfectly fine going after first responders as he once trashed a fire marshal just hours after being rescued from an elevator by the marshal’s fellow firefighters. This person said nothing about Trump and yet it still happened anyway.

Worse still, Trump doesn’t just go after people, he usually assigns them some kind of epithet. Just in the last 24 hours, he’s used “wacky,” “crazy,” and “dopey” on two different people. In the past, he’s been well known for using “bimbo” against people like Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. “Lying” and “crooked” are also favorites of his, though they’re not quite as bad, and are pretty typical for a political campaign. The others, though, are just attempts to discredit the dissenter as someone to who people shouldn’t listen. Maybe that’s okay to do as a private citizen, but never okay to do as president.

Who is Trump going to go after next? Will a President Trump go after a general who disagrees with him, even privately, or doesn’t quite get the job done? Maybe a rank-and-file member of the military? A member of a police force? A foreign diplomat or head of state or government. The point is that we really don’t know, but do we really want to give someone the presidency who so frequently goes on tantrums against people he doesn’t like?

That’s what we as a nation have to decide this November.

Globalization

I see a lot of commentary these days from liberals regarding the “globalism” boogeyman. I don’t get what’s so bad about countries competing to attract business to themselves. This even happens within a country. For example, in the U.S. Texas or Florida might attract businesses from Connecticut. There have actually been some high-profile wooing from both states toward CT businesses in the past several years. I’ve seen some snark and some grumbling about it, but never the same level of concern that “globalism” brings out.

Perhaps what is most concerning to these folks is that it’s easier for businesses to move than it is for people to move. This is even true within the U.S., though the obstacles for it are fewer. To move countries requires a lot more time, documentation, and money. It’s one thing to take a vacation in Europe for a while – an activity for which U.S. citizens have arguably the easiest of times – but it’s much more difficult to move countries on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

Maybe the next step in creating a global society is in ensuring freedom of movement as well as freedom of trade. We’ve seen what something like the Schengen Area in Europe can do, though it’s not without its problems since the common border controls increasingly seem not so common, as the emigration of refugees from Syria has shown. If it were easier for people to move in order to work, perhaps this would lessen fears about “globalism.” That said, I imagine that some locals would have a problem with this, such as how in the U.S. some people have a problem with increased emigration from countries like India and Mexico. While there are some legitimate issues brought up with this (since the more liberal emigration policies are too often one-sided), I think it too often leads to xenophobia, such as we’ve seen with comments from Donald Trump supporters and even from the man himself.

However, people generally just want to be part of whatever community they’re in and will do whatever it takes to ensure they can work, play, and live their lives with as little wave making as possible. Just as competition in business generally leads to better products and services, I think competition among people leads to better people. This may sound like a bit of cold analysis but I mean it in the best of ways. I simply think we have nothing to fear from new people moving in, whether it be people from India coming to America or people from America coming to India.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a Schengen-type scheme for North America, including the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, so that’s it’s easier for people to work and live among our three countries but I think it’ll take some time to achieve this.

Not long after getting to Union Station, we boarded the final train trip of this vacation, the Southwest Chief. As its name implies, it goes through Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, in the Southwest particularly, then up into a sliver of Colorado, into Missouri, a sliver of Iowa, and into Illinois.

I have to say that I think I liked the California Zephyr better. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good mountain range, but there was definitely greater range of landscape to see, including desert, mountains, rivers, plateaus, and yes, grassland. The Chief mostly goes through miles of desert then miles of grassland. Also, I slept through the one trip through high elevation we had.

There were some highlights, though. The people, for one. I had dinner on the first night with an elderly man, a Korean War veteran with loads of stories of his time in the Navy. There was also a guy starting his first semester of college in Arizona. His stop was during the early morning and his classes started just a few hours later. I wished him luck with that! There was also a breakfast with a guy going to play a gig in Kansas City but who felt flight too much of of hassle these days. And the couple taking the Chief to Chicago connecting to the northerly Empire Builder en route to Glacier National Park.

The second highlight was stars. Didn’t get a chance to see any the first night, but the second night was clear skies. It wasn’t perhaps the best view, given that we were moving, and we were often still pretty close to some light source, but it was the kind of star display we just don’t get in Connecticut.

The last highlight was my sleeper car’s attendant, Tom. Before taking this trip, I’d read that the car attendant could make or break a trip. I never had a bad one the three train rides, but Tom was definitely the best. He seemed to be a veteran of Amtrak, but was still quite personable, willing to get to know his passengers, and had a wealth of knowledge about the route.

At one point, during the mountain climb I missed, he was sure to point out that there might be animals to see and a ghost town from years ago. His second bit of knowledge was during the trip across Missouri, pointing out an old bridge and fort used during the Civil War. He showed an enthusiasm for these things and made the journey that much better.

I opted for the larger bedroom during this trip, and though I didn’t mind the roomette, the bedroom was better in many ways. I didn’t have to decide which thing to do first in the morning – medicine or brush my teeth – and having a shower and larger bed was very nice.

There wasn’t anything really new to report about food here, since I mostly had the same meals as last time, though I did try their salmon dinner, which was excellent.

That is it. The last entry will cover my couple days in Chicago.

I decided to get to the next cross-country train by way of Los Angeles by taking the Coast Starlight, a train that goes from Seattle to LA. I only took the Southern portion of the route.

After Billy Joel the previous night, my intention was to get some sleep on this train, but that didn’t really happen. Oh well. This ride did give me some insight into the extent of the drought. We passed by hundreds of miles of grass that had a dull yellow color to it, other than on the top of some hills and mountains.

The most exciting part of this trip was being next to water for a good extent of the length of it. On the train itself, the best part was the Pacific Parlour Car, a 1940s/1950s-ish style car with couches, armchairs, and a full bar. It even had wi-fi enabled when we were in an area with reception.

We got into LA’s Union Station about an hour early. I found my hotel pretty quickly – nothjng special – but it was near the hotel and good for a night. I’d had dinner on the train, so desperate for some sleep, I headed to bed.

The next day I got up early to take a trip to Santa Monica to visit Ed, one of my cousins. I got to see his recording studio (he does recording and the Santa Monica pier. We also had breakfast at this great Mexican place that also serves a traditional breakfast. They had like four full pieces of toast and a few pieces of bacon for about $7.00. That’s a lot of food! The pier was busy but not unmanageable, and I was able to see the Pacific Ocean and the promenade.

After that, I thought I should get back to downtown LA so I could get my luggage, which I left at the hotel and head back to Union Station. By the way, they need better signage for the subway. The sign says Red Line, but is the entrance for all the lines served out of Union Station.

I was able to spend a little time in the station’s Metropolitan Lounge, which was pretty swanky. After about half an hour wait, I boarded the Southwest Chief back to Chicago.