Politics

This Year’s Model

It’s been interesting seeing stories pop up about projects funded by the 2009 Recovery Act, the so-called “stimulus package.” It’s funded such an odd assortment of things, as I suppose it was designed to do. I was pleasantly surprised to come across this article, detailing a plan to renovate Sausalito, California’s Bay Model, a hydraulic scale model of the San Francisco Bay Area that allows you to see how the tides and currents work from the Sacramento River Delta to the Golden Gate. I used to love visiting this when I was a child, and though the renovation will cost $13.2 million, it strikes me as a better use of government money than the bank bailouts.

Economics
Education
Politics

Comments (0)

Permalink

You’re Fit And You Know It

If The Wall Street Journal keeps printing articles like this, a speculation on whether Barack Obama is too skinny to appeal to an increasingly corpulent American electorate, it could really eat into the circulation of . . .  The Onion. (Even the infographic looks suspiciously Onion-esque.)

Comedy
Design
Politics
Press

Comments (0)

Permalink

The Urge to Surge

I’ll admit that I haven’t found the U.S. presidential race as compelling since Hillary Clinton (finally) dropped out. I almost miss her. (But not quite.) However, John McCain has been running such a surprisingly incompetent campaign that I’m beginning to regain my sense of wonder at the stupid things politicians say. For instance, McCain apparently told the Urban League today that the successful methods used by American troops in Iraq during the recent “surge” might fruitfully be applied in our own country’s high-crime neighborhoods:

“You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement.”

I try not to be too much of an alarmist, but talk of a military-style “clamp down” in American neighborhoods is certainly on the short list of things I’d rather not hear from a possible future president.

(Via Reason Hit & Run.)

Cities
Politics

Comments (0)

Permalink

For Make Benefit Glorious Foundation of Clinton

Here’s a sordid story from the New York Times about Bill Clinton peddling his influence in Kazakhstan for a large donation to his foundation (allegedly, of course). It’s beginning to look as though Clinton is becoming the Billy Carter of his wife’s presidential campaign. 

Politics

Comments (0)

Permalink

Both Sides of the Story

Here’s a depressing report on the forced resignation of Christine Comer, former director of curriculum for science at the Texas Education Agency. Comer was forced to resign after forwarding an e-mail about a lecture by Barbara Forrest, author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Her ouster is apparently part of a plan on the part of Gov. Rick Perry and his cretinous minions to introduce, yet again, the intelligent design “debate” into public school curricula. The State Board of Education will be reviewing the science curriculum in January, Flying Spaghetti Monster help us all.

Education
Politics
Religion
Science

Comments (0)

Permalink

Radical Cheek

I’ve just been reading Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century, and marvelling at his descriptions of intelligent people cozying up to and making apologies for Stalinism in the 1930s and beyond. The impulses that drive that sort of thing aren’t dead, even if nowadays they lead to vastly more ridiculous results, such as in Anne Applebaum’s Slate article about recent trips by “super” model Naomi Campbell and actor Sean Penn to chum around with Venezuelan nuevo-caudillo Hugo Chávez.

It’s yet another story of frivolous celebrities in search of “radical chic,” but it’s an especially disgusting one in light of recent student demonstrations protesting Chávez’s attempts to alter the constitution to allow him to be elected president indefinitely and to increase government control over universities, the media and other institutions. The changes are all part of implementing what Chávez calls “participatory democracy” (as opposed to “representative democracy”). I’m not sure quite what participatory democracy is, but it probably works along the lines suggested by the famous graffito of May 1968 Paris: “Je participe, tu participes, nous participons, ils décident.” (“I participate, you participate, we participate, they decide”).

Wouldn’t it be much more “radical” for a celebrity to go demonstrate in the streets with students than have a photo op with an authoritarian mountebank? Yes, but it would be considerably more dangerous. Recently, a student was shot and killed by unknown gunmen during a demonstration at an anti-Chávez demonstration at a university in Western Venezuela. Chávez’s reaction was to threaten to revoke permits for future demonstrations and to order immediate investigations . . . into the protests’ leaders! As Jeff Spicoli said to Mr. Hand, “You dick!”

I wonder if Penn is even aware of the protests. Campbell seems not to have learned anything about the country other than that it has stunning waterfalls. Applebaum is undoubtedly right:

As for Venezuelan politics, or the Venezuelan people, they don’t matter at all [to Campbell and Penn]. The country is simply playing a role filled in the past by Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua—a role to which it is, at the moment, uniquely suited. Clearly, Venezuela is easier to idealize than Iran and North Korea, the former’s attitude to women being not conducive to fashion models, the latter being downright hostile to Hollywood. Venezuela is also warm, relatively close, and a country of beautiful waterfalls.

Update (Nov. 7): Gunmen have attacked another student demonstration, this time in Caracas, killing at least two students.

Culture
Politics

Comments (0)

Permalink

Supply-side Theology

The Wall Street Journal has an article about a possible uptick in religious observance in Europe as governments reduce their support of established churches. The idea is that “deregulating” churches, like deregulating any other industry, will boost competition, in this case for souls:

“The enemy of faith, say the supply-siders, is not modernity but state-regulated markets that shield big, established churches from competition. In America, where church and state stand apart, more than 50% of the population worships at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported—but also controlled—the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less.”

I wish the activists hell-bent on making the U.S. government more “Christian” would read and absorb the lesson of this article. Trying to make the government more like Old Time Gospel Hour might be more likely to bring a little bit of the spirit of the Department of Motor Vehicles to the house of God. Conversely, really militant atheists might start supporting faith-based initiatives and vouchers for religious schools as a reliable way to reduce religiosity in the country.

Culture
Economics
Politics
Religion

Comments (0)

Permalink

A Nation of Millions

The L.A. Times has an interesting article on population projections for my native state, California. (Any shocked Texans reading this will be relieved to know that though I was born in San Francisco, shortly before my birth my grandmother sent my parents a jar of dirt from her backyard in Dallas to place under the delivery bed so I could be born over Texas soil.)

In the article, Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, refers to California as “a country masquerading as a state.” By 2050 the state is expected to have 60 million people, the majority of whom will be Latinos. I’m sure the xenophobes are already panicking about the incomprehensible idea of people of Hispanic descent forming a majority in cities like San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles.

When I was in high school in Northern California in the late 1980s, it was obvious that the infrastructure of highways and the education system in the state were crumbling. I haven’t lived there since then, though I visit fairly often, and I’ve seen some improvement, but the challenges the state will face in coping with that kind of growth are formidable. The Los Angeles area in particular will have to figure out a way to encourage greater density and redo the strip mall and parking lot model that prevails in most of the area. Perhaps they can learn something from San Francisco, which after New York is the most densely populated city in the country.

California has, at least since the mid-twentieth century, been the state to look to for the earliest manifestations of trends that eventually hit the rest of the country, and I bet the way the state addresses this population boom will not prove an exception. I hope I am still alive in 2050 to see what happens.

Culture
Politics

Comments (0)

Permalink

Back in Black and White

In an earlier post on a New York Times article on state oppression in Iran, I pointed out the oddity of the reporter Neil McFarquhar’s claim that a judicial decision not to carry out a public stoning of an adulterous couple makes Iran “a difficult country to separate into black and white.” As is often the case when the supposedly liberal-minded try not to sound too judgmental, the meaning of the assertion is not clear.

If the reporter (or copyeditor) meant that you can’t judge the Iranian people by the actions of its government, he is right, but the point is obvious. If he meant, though, that we shouldn’t be too emphatic in our condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran because it’s capricious and unpredictable in its use of state violence, well, I disagree, to say the least. That Iranians are sometimes able to prevent their government from carrying out unjust and barbaric practices does not change the fact that any state that punishes adultery as a crime with stoning deserves condemnation, not suspension of judgment.

The hedging and moral muddle of that paragraph have been rendered superfluous, anyway. According to Iranian feminist site Women’s Field, Jafar Kiani, the male half of the couple, was stoned to death July 5, while his fellow accused, Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, waits in prison with her children.

Norm rounds up some of the condemnations, from the United Nations High Commissioner and Amnesty International and elsewhere, of this barbaric criminal act, carried out by an institution, the state, whose primary role in a just world would be to protect the rights of its citizens.

Politics
Press
Religion

Comments (0)

Permalink

What’s Left

David Thompson recently linked to a video site where you can view Vanessa Engle’s BBC documentary series, “Lefties.” The series profiles three radical projects in Margaret Thatcher-era Britain: the attempt to start a socialist newspaper, revolutionary feminists who declared that political commitment required women to become lesbians, and middle-class university graduates heralding “the revolution” by living as squatters in South London. It’s a fascinating documentary, and it’s hard not to feel a mirthful derision and contempt for many of the ideologues profiled—all the most unpleasant aspects of the self-righteously indignant and sanctimonious lefty are presented in vivid fashion.

Nevertheless, I found myself feeling something close to sympathy for a few of the folks in the series. Most of us want to change the world in certain ways and to be part of a community that shares that desire. We all face moments when our vision of the way the world is—often built up over long periods of time and through considerable effort of thought and debate—is eroded by the indifferent reality of the world as it actually is. When this happens, it can be very painful to do the right thing: to alter our even abandon our theory in the light of the facts.

In the battle between belief and reality, the lefties in “Lefties” almost all choose to preserve the purity of their vision no matter the complications, and even to goose themselves into ever greater heights of absurdity and dissonance with the world they live in. It’s an act of defiance, and somewhat admirable in the way bizarre feats of will power, like eating sixty-six hot dogs in twelve minutes, can sometimes be, but it’s also indistinguishable from the homesteaders in the loonier precincts of religious millennarianism. The squatters who insist on the imminent arrival of the revolution are not much different from the Seventh-Day Adventists that confidently predicted the exact date of the second coming only to push the day ahead just as confidently every time the Nazarene failed to return.

I wonder if there’s some retrospectively obvious turning point where each of these people could have chosen to alter their theory rather than wall themselves off from criticism or common sense. The difficulty lies in the fact that they may have started out trying to realize worthwhile things—sexual equality, poverty relief, a new newspaper. But they’ve convinced themselves that altering their mental edifice of political “certainties” would be to abandon those earlier idealistic commitments, which of course is not true.

Listening to them makes you realize how easily we deceive ourselves. Self-deception is the well-spring of both great tragedy and comedy, which is why this film is so funny and so mortifying at the same time.

It also has a great soundtrack, culled from the era: Joy Division, the Smiths, Magazine, and more.

Culture
Film
Politics
Press
Television

Comments (0)

Permalink