Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Christmas 2022: Handbuilt City’s Naughty or Nice List

It’s time for the annual tradition of pointing out the winners and losers of the year in terms of who’s going to get what in their Christmas stocking. Especially in my new career track of utility world, we can now break down “coal in the stocking” into multiple categories. Did you do well enough to get anthracite coal in your stocking? Bituminous? Sub-bituminous? Or straight up lignite? Anyway.

Let the countdown begin!

10. Finicky, Incompatible LED Controllers.

I’ve written about this a bit recently and plan to write some more about it. The floor of one corner of my bedroom is currently littered with LED strips and parts– COBs and SMDs, connectors, wire cutters, needlenose pliers- and I’m slowly but surely figuring it out as part of a household lighting project. There will be photos! But in the meantime, there’s a lot of headscratching and phone calls with tech support.

9. Sam Bankman-Fried.

If you remember last year’s list, I actually had put crypto bros on that, too. It’s looking like I was vindicated. SBF, as he is known, may have bilked investors out of billions of dollars owing to an inability to understand really, really basic accounting. Or maybe he’s just a criminal. I don’t know and I don’t particularly care. Anyway, have fun in prison (really more like house arrest since he’s rich and white).

8. Inept Corporate Management.

I honestly had high hopes for my time in DC for that job that I had for five minutes (more like a year and a half but who’s counting). It didn’t work out. It’s mostly because I had a culturally incompetent manager who was more interested in getting promoted than in managing her team (she got promoted, as did pretty much everyone else on my team, except me), and a director who was a minor dickhead and was more interested in fealty of his fiefdom than product. My last six months, I am frankly truly appalled at how little work I did and still got paid to do it. In terms of the amount of work I put in vs. how much money I was paid, I feel as though there should be a Congressional investigation, or something. Maybe I’ll get another fancy job one day. No hard feelings, people. I had a good time.

While we’re on inept corporate management, though, let’s think about what else is going on in that realm! Tech stocks, anyone?

7. Michigan’s Chief Car Salesman.

Hey, I mean, Trevor Pawl was on this list last year! Let’s make sure he stays on it next year, too. You know my feelings on cars, right? Well, things haven’t gotten much better under his leadership, nor under the leadership of the new Chief Infrastructure Officer, who was, bafflingly, quoted as talking about how he used to have a car in New York City. (What?) The Office of Future Mobility and Electrification is on the move– in an F150 Electric, perhaps, but, more likely than not, in an F150 Acoustic. That’s where the automakers make their money, after all, and we must subsidize the auto industry at all costs. I am gonna take his name off the list as soon as his office makes some actual moves in terms of facilitating the development of real infrastructure.

6. The Whole State of Florida.

What a place. Ron DeSantis. 24-hour traffic jams. Rick Scott. Sprawl in floodplains. I spent a week in Southwest Florida in the fall. It was a learning experience.

5. Right-Wing Extremists and Terrorists.

Remember when terrorists blew up critical infrastructure and then we never talked about it again? How about the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado? How about Kyle Rittenhouse? Or the right-wing media pundits that not only give these people a platform but also cheer them on? How about the white supremacists that the Oakland County GOP enlisted to fight transit ballot measures? All of the above. And more.

4. Elizabeth Holmes & Sunny Bilwani.

The pseudo-entrepreneurs-cum-snake oil salespeople behind the spectacular failure of the healthcare startup Theranos promised to revolutionize blood testing. This is old news. What’s relatively new news is that they were both convicted in highly publicized trials– and sentenced to pretty long prison terms. I guess it goes to show that crime, kids, doesn’t pay! I read (and wrote) about this in 2019, too.

3. The United States Supreme Court.

I’m not sure if I’m more concerned by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, or the fact that all manner of other creepy stuff is going on with the court, whose legitimacy has been undermined by right-wing extremists successfully lobbying to install Their Own People. We do have a bright light in the form of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who seems pretty darn smart. But we need to maybe get rid of some of the other folks.

2. Democrats Who Spent Billions In Campaigns That Were Never Going To Win.

What a bizarre use of money! I would have loved to see victories from folks like Val Demings ($48 million, lost to whiny teenager Marco Rubio) or Marcus Flowers ($10 million, lost in a landslide against MTG). None of them were ever going to win anything. Of course, it pales in comparison to how much money was spent trying to unseat Mitch McConnell a couple of years ago ($90 million— also lost in a landslide). But it’s more concerning when you look at the races that were so close. Democrat Carl Marlinga, in Michigan, lost to proud fascist John James, in a squeaker– and a race in which he received little to no national support. Shame!

1. Elon Musk

This dude spent around a third of his total net worth to buy Twitter so he could oust the executives, fire the accountability, trust, and compliance people, and just say mean things to everyone who made fun of him. This included, but was not limited to, banning journalists who published critical coverage of Tesla, reinstating the banned account of a Florida psychopath who fomented a violent insurrection against the seat of American government, and mocking trans people while demanding a criminal investigation of the nation’s top healthcare expert (with regard to COVID-19).

To borrow “the New Yorker Cartoon Caption That Works For Everything”: Christ, what an asshole.

But enough of the naughty. Shockingly, even perhaps to my longtime fans, I actually have just as many people and things to praise as I do to criticize.

A former iteration of the Zorach-Kolano Christmas Tree in Southwest Detroit.

So, now, for the “nice” list!

10. The New And Improved DOE GSL Lighting Standards.

I’m going to be writing more about this in the next few weeks. The 2007 Bush Administration standards ushered in a new era for lighting energy efficiency, around the same time LEDs were becoming commercially viable (and affordable for consumers). Trump, in his infinite wisdom, suspended the standard, because freedom means you should have the right to waste as much energy as you want! But it’s happening. I remember an era when a recessed lighting kit cost a whopping $50. Now, they’re a few bucks. Menards, in the meantime, still sells incandescent lighting! We will see if they are still in stock on January 2nd.

9. Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

He’s remained cool, diplomatic, and collected, in spite of the fact that his country has faced the threat of nuclear annihilation by its erstwhile parent state (by way of either nuclear weapons or the casual destruction of the 5.7GW Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant), which need not even receive mention here by name. Thousands are dead, including civilians, members of the defending army, and an extremely poorly trained and ill-equipped invasion force. Meanwhile, across the pond? Tucker Carlson called him an “uppity foreigner” because Tucker Carlson is a turd of the highest order. Meanwhile, in the United States, the right wing in their perpetually cavalier approach, is saying all manner of stuff like, “what about the southern border?” in response to a Congressional authorization for additional funding to support Ukraine.

8. The National Museum of the Great Lakes.

It’s just, suffice it to say, a very cool spot. You should go. It’s also situated in a bizarre, peri-urban, quasi-residential, not-really-sure-what corner of Toledo. Which is already a weird city to visit, as it merges all of the Rust Belt typologies in a singular way. Steel mill? Check. Oil refinery? Definitely. Disinvested historic neighborhood that is majority Black but used to be majority Hungarian? Half-revitalized downtown? Beautiful, well-maintained old homes? Beautiful but crumbling old homes? Minor league sportsball team? Scenic view of industry from the bridge crossing the river? All of the above!

7. The Michigan Public Service Commission, For Once.

DTE got their behinds handed to them in their recent petition to hike rates by approximately one hundred trillion percent. The MPSC said, “not so fast!” A rate hike was approved, but it’s infinitesimal compared to what the company was asking for. I’ll be writing more about this in 2023 as far as companies going big on fossil fuels and leaving the ratepayers holding the bag.

6. Midjourney AI. Kinda.

This platform launched its public beta over the summer, and it has upended the world with debates over whether AI art is “real.” Can an artist attribute an AI work to themselves? Who knows? All’s we know is that we’re really enjoying some of the specific content that is coming out of this, like a mock-up of a horror version of the Wizard of Oz, which is sort of like Tim Burton meets Dune but directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. One page on Facebook, Abandoned Films, imagines this plus all manner of bizarre mash-ups. Lord of the Rings plus Star Wars (elves with lightsabers? A hobbit house in the Dagobah system?). Don’t look too closely at the hands and it’s actually believable. Avoiding discussion of whether this is “real” art– we do not have time for that conversation. It’s certainly entertaining and inarguably transformative for thinking about the future of visual art.

Of course, a lot of these platforms are creating beaucoup problems for thinking about this question of authenticity– or even displacing the work of “real” artists. This is a separate conversation, but it’s a valuable one to have.

5. The Tech Crash.

I erroneously predicted in February-March 2020 that the stock market wouldn’t recover from COVID quite as easily as it did. One thing I did correctly point out, though, was that tech stocks in particular were still egregiously overvalued, and the fundamentals would indeed catch up with them at some point. They did in late 2022. Why does this make the “nice” list? Well, for one, it was about time. For two, there’s a direct correlation between tech overvaluation and the wholesale disruption of housing markets in which tech companies are located. $6,000 a month for an apartment? No problem, you’re getting paid $235,000 a year! I’m hoping that this translates to a slightly less slanted economic picture for the rest of us down here on planet earth.

4. Michigan Democrats*.

I am hesitant to ever praise a group of Democrats for anything, because they are so much more concerned with nebulous principles than with winning that they often end up both losing and sacrificing their principles in the process. We see this at the national level in a most major way. In Michigan, however, it’s

* To be totally clear, these folks have only one, and exactly one, opportunity to remain on this list next year. It involves making moves on infrastructure. In the New Year, Handbuilt will be announcing a new advocacy initiative to lobby the newly-elected Democratic majority on this topic.

3. Metro Detroit Transit Advocates.

We got it done with the SMART millage. And we’ll keep getting it done. More to come. But many thanks to the likes of Transportation Riders United and the Motor City Freedom Riders, who hit these streets and stroads every single day to get out the vote, to tell the stories about transportation and infrastructure, and to make the advocacy happen.

2. Dogs, Again.

In particular, I’d like to give a shoutout to Jackie, 12, a mutt of a minor degree who has outlived the worst-case lifespan estimate by the MSU veterinarian by 600% (suffering from heart problems but, miraculously, not the heart problems typical of his breed!). We adopted him when he was 9. I told my then-not-wife that I was skeptical, since she had just lost her main man, a 9-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But she was adamant, and it turned out being the best decision. Adopt dogs, people! And adopt old dogs. And love them. And forget your designer-ass dogs. There is some pitbull boxer lab mix in Detroit that is up for adoption and will love you forever and ever.

1. Rekindling Old Friendships.

I had the opportunity to think about this a lot at the wedding. There were people I hadn’t seen in a decade. There were other people I don’t see nearly enough, but definitely was able to make time to hang out with. I’m generally pretty good at forming and maintaining relationships, but the most valuable ones are usually the ones that involve the most intellectual and emotional exchange, and this can occasionally make for super intense relationships that experience a lot of strain.

Sometimes friendship can be a frustratingly one-way street, and, in these cases, it’s not usually a long-lived friendship, especially if that imbalance is consistent. In the past few years, I’ve lost a few friends who either decided they were too good for me, or simply moved on to other things in their lives, and this has been at times really, really rough. But in spite of it being one of the hardest things you ever have to do in your whole life, it’s worth so much to maintain the connections you can– and to rekindle friendships that might have dropped off, whether inadvertently or through a more overt falling out. I did some of this in the past year, and I feel that much better about the prospects of 2023. I’m thinking about this and beyond as a source for inspiration as we approach the new year.

In case you were thinking something to the contrary, nothing I write is ever reflective of the views of my employer, since why would they ever take a vocal and/or public position on anything?

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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