Saturday, April 29, 2006

Gore and Bush

[updated below]

David Remnick in The New Yorker:
If you are inclined to think that the unjustly awarded election of 2000 led to one of the worst Presidencies of this or any other era, it is not easy to look at Al Gore. He is the living reminder of all that might not have happened in the past six years (and of what might still happen in the coming two). Contrary to Ralph Nader’s credo that there was no real difference between the major parties, it is close to inconceivable that the country and the world would not be in far better shape had Gore been allowed to assume the office that a plurality of voters wished him to have. One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult. Imagining that alternative history is hard to bear, which is why Gore always has the courtesy, in his many speeches, and at the start of "An Inconvenient Truth," to deflect that discomfort with a joke: "Hello, I’m Al Gore and I used to be the next President of the United States."

It is to cry.

I'm one of those who hold Al Gore in some part responsible for the debacle of the 2000 election, for the misteps which allowed the election to be close enough for Bush to steal it (but I also hold Nader in complete contempt for the important role he played), but certainly Remnick is entirely correct here, that one of the things that makes the fiasco of the Bush years such a tragedy for America is that the path we might have gone down is so clearly and distinctly better than the one which was forced on us. It's practically impossible to think of ways in which a Gore Presidency could have been worse for the country, or the world, than the Bush Presidency we've been suffering under.

That Bush has failed, and so completely, and is apparently unable to undo his failure even as it becomes apparent even to some of his staunchest supporters, is his personal tragedy, which in the future some very talented writer might be able to bring to life on the stage or the screen in a way that moves audiences who have no clear recollection of the damage done in the Bush Years. But for those of us who have suffered through that time, and continue to do so, it's going to be difficult to find it in ourselves to feel any sympathy, or indeed, empathy, for this man who has hurt us in so many ways.

And Gore? He's plugging his new film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth:

a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide.

Gore seems to have taken it upon himself to be our conscience, in much the same way that Jimmy Carter did after he left office:

There is no substitute for Presidential power, but Gore is now playing a unique role in public life. He is a symbol of what might have been, who insists that we focus on what likely will be an uninhabitable planet if we fail to pay attention to the folly we are committing, and take the steps necessary to end it.

The irony is that when all things are considered, Gore, the man who seemed to have lost the most in 2000, may come out ahead of Bush in the end on all counts.

Update: Krugman:

The United States will regain effective government if and when it gets a president who cares more about serving the nation than about rewarding his friends and scoring political points. That's at least a thousand days away.

That's what's got me in a near-constant state of depression: a least a thousand more days.

Update (5/1): In American Politics Journal, Bernie Weiner discusses Bush's tragic flaws. [Thanks to JoAnne]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/29/2006 04:15:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We can't afford to go on like this

It's no secret that I'm reading Barbara Tuchman's 1984 book The March of Folly, since I've quoted from it now in three different posts. I'll continue to do so as I come across material I think is appropriate for our current dire circumstances.

Here, Tuchman is discussing the American Founding Fathers (the added emphasis is mine):
For all their flaws and quarrels, the Founding Fathers have rightfully been called by Arthur M. Schlesigner, Sr., "the most remarkable generation of public men in the history of the United States or perhaps of any other nation." It is worth noting the qualities this historian ascribes to them: they were fearless, high-principled, deeply verses in ancient and modern political thought, astute and pragmatic, unafraid of experiment, and -- this is significant -- "convinced of man's power to improve his condition through the use of intelligence." That was the mark of the Age of Reason that formed them, and although the 18th century had a tendency to regard men as more rational than in fact they were, it evoked the best in government from these men.


Not before or since has so much careful and reasonable thinking been invested in the formation of a governmental system. In the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, too much class hatred and bloodshed were involved to allow for fair results or permanent constitutions. For two centuries, the American arrangement has always managed to right itself under pressure without discarding the system and trying another after every crisis, as have Italy and Germany, France and Spain. Under accelerating incompetence in America, this may change. Social systems can survive a good deal of folly when circumstances are historically favorable, or when bungling is cushioned by large resources or absorbed by sheer size as in the United States during its period of expansion. Today, when there are no more cushions, folly is less affordable.

We're certainly well past the point where there is any amount of cushion in regard to our energy policies, and reactionary petro-politicians like Bush and Cheney no longer have the freedom to fart around willy-nilly with the intention of maximizing oil company profits at the expense of national self-interest. That point is (perhaps) just beginning to become evident to the general population, which has begun to hear more frequently that dreaded expression "peak oil", and maybe even to begin to understand what that means for their preference for SUVs over smaller fuel-efficient cars and roads over mass transit.

The same is true for our global security policies, where Iraq may (one can only hope) be bringing home the idea that it's not possible, no matter how strong we are militarily in relation to the rest of the world, for us to police the world by ourselves, without the assistance and cooperation of multi-national coalitions and established international institutions, nor is willing reality into existence a substitute for careful and rational planning of all parts of a military/diplomatic operation, including the inevitable aftermath.

The classic political cop-out after the fact is "Mistake were made," and that's certainly true, but this time the mistakes -- military, diplomatic, economic and social -- have been gargantuan ones, and they've all been made deliberately, and, in many cases with malice aforethought for their political value to the continuance of the ruling regime. The scope of the damage that's been done is immense -- there is literally nowhere you can look, no aspect of American society or the international situation which hasn't been adversely affected or grossly perverted by the Bush/Cheney administration's concerted efforts to roll back the clock and undo the gains we'd made and the national and international infrastructure that were laboriously put in place since the Great Depression.

Will we ultimately be able to absorb and undo the damages caused by Bush and Cheney's Folly? From as deep in the hole as we currently are, it's hard to see the answer to that. Certainly, the recovery won't come with the next Democratic administration, or even two -- I've long felt that it will take decades of concerted effort to bring us back (and putting us into a deep enough hole that it will be extremely hard to get out has certainly been one of the aims of the New Reactionary Establishment behind the Bush/Cheney regime) -- and during that period when we're attempting the Reconstitution of the American Republic as ideally conceived, we'll still be battling against the entrenched power of the Republican Party, unless we're lucky enough to have it collapse catastrophically in the meantime, which seems not impossible but highly improbable given its corporate backing.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2006 08:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



In the movie, All the President's Men, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, playing Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, are diligently working at uncovering the details of the Watergate scandal*, and they publish a piece which appears to get a major fact wrong. Their editor, Ben Bradlee (played by Jason Robards), admonishes them for screwing up, because even though they've so far been correct about the big picture they're slowly building up, by getting one of the details wrong they provide affordances for those who want to lay into the story to destroy its credibility, and that of the reporters.

I was reminded of this when I read Publius' analysis of the howls of outrage which periodically emanate from the denizens of the cold, stark and lonely right side of the blogosphere. He puts it down to a reaction against cognitive dissonance.

I see value in that analysis, except to the extent that it's predicated on the wingnut bloggers having at least a limited capacity for recognizing reality when they see it, which could be problematic.

* For those readers too young to remember the era personally, this was a period of time when the Washington Post was concerned about publishing actual facts about government scandals, and was neither a manufacturer of false Democratic scandals nor a shill for the Republican administration in power.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2006 04:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Jane Jacobs, dead at 89

Jane Jacobs is dead at 89:
Jane Jacobs, the writer and thinker who brought penetrating eyes and ingenious insight to the sidewalk ballet of her own Greenwich Village street and came up with a book that challenged and changed the way people view cities, died today in Toronto, where she lived. She was 89.

She died at a Toronto hospital, said a distant cousin, Lucia Jacobs, who gave no specific cause of death.

In her book "Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities. At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.


The battles she ignited are still being fought, and the criticism was perhaps inevitable, given that such an ambitious work was produced by somebody who had not finished college, much less become an established professional in the field. Indisputably, the book was as radically challenging to conventional thinking as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which helped engender the environmental movement, would be the next year, and Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," which deeply affected perceptions of relations between the sexes, would be in 1963.

Like these two writers, Ms. Jacobs was able to summon a freshness of perspective. Some dismissed it as amateurism, but to many others it was a point of view that made new ideas not only thinkable but suddenly and eminently reasonable.

"When an entire field is headed in the wrong direction, when the routine application of mainstream thinking has produced disastrous results as I think was true of planning and urban policy in the 1950's, then it probably took someone from outside to point out the obvious," Alan Ehrenhalt wrote in 2001 in Planning, the magazine of the American Planning Association .

"That is what Jane Jacobs did 40 years ago" he said.

Ms. Jacob's critique of the nation's cities is often grouped with the work of other writers who in the 1960's shook the foundations of American society: Paul Goodman's attack on schooling; Ralph Nader's barrage against the auto industry, and Malcolm X's grim tour of America's racial divide, among others.

Ms. Jacobs did not limit her impact to words. In 1961, she and other screaming protesters were removed by the police from a City Planning Commission hearing after they had leapt from their seats and rushed the podium. In 1968, she was arrested on charges of second-degree riot and criminal mischief in disrupting a public meeting on the construction of an expressway, which would have sliced across Lower Manhattan and displaced hundreds of families and businesses. The police said she had tried to tear up the stenographer's transcript tape.


William H. Whyte, editor of Fortune and author of books about urban life as well as his celebrated "The Organization Man" in 1956, asked Ms. Jacobs to write an article for Fortune on urban downtowns in 1958. Her essay, which was reprinted in "The Exploding Metropolis" (Doubleday, 1958), turned out to be a trial run for her book.

"Designing a dream city is easy," she concluded. "Rebuilding a living one takes imagination."

The Fortune article caught the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation, which offered a grant in 1958 to write about cities. Two grants and three years later, she produced her manuscript on the Remington typewriter that she used until her death.

"Death and Life" made four recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals. 4. Population must be dense.

These seemingly simple notions represented a major rethinking of modern planning. They were coupled with fierce condemnations of the writings of the planners Sir Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, as well as those of the architect Le Corbusier and Lewis Mumford, who championed their ideal of graceful towers rising over exquisite open spaces.

I've seen areas of urban redevelopment built to Mumford's and Corbusier's ideals, and they are soulless and stultifying, especially when combined with the culture of the automobile. Workers arrive by car and park under the towers they work in, which have no street-level retail outlets to attract street traffic (if there was anyone walking on the wide and empty sidewalks, which there isn't). They eat inside the building, shop in the malls attached to them by tunnels and walkways, and never have to go outside until they get into their cars and drive home.

I'm definitely of the Jacobs/Whyte school of urban thinking. I know for certain that where I live, midtown Manhattan, would be vastly different now if Jacobs hadn't spearheaded the counter-attack against Robert Moses' cross-Manhattan expressways here and down in what is now Soho. The city would have become easier for cars to pass across, on their way from somewhere to somewhere else, but much less interesting and exciting for those of us who live here, ride the subways and our bikes to get around and, most of all, who walk in Manhattan. Jacobs and Whyte wanted cities to be for the people who live there, and only secondarily for the workers who come there to work, and the businesses they work for. That she was able to put that across here, the Headquarters of Mammon, is astounding, one of those facts of existence which are practically impossible to predict in advance.

[via The Green Knight]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2006 02:40:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Head of state, head of wood

Historian Barbara W. Tuchman:
A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?


Wooden-headedness, the course of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. [It is is also the refusal to benefit from experience.] It is epitomized in an historian's statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wood-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."
The March of Folly (1984)

Tuchman was writing over 20 years ago -- I'm willing to bet that future historians will have a newer example of quintessential wooden-headedness in a head of state: George W. Bush.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/25/2006 08:45:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sullivan's travails

Just in case anyone needs a reminder that nothing Andrew Sullivan writes should be paid the slightest bit of attention, whether you agree with him on a specific issue or not, read here where he calls the invasion of Iraq a "noble, important and necessary war."

Sure, he's joined the "Blame Rumsfeld" brigade, but as with gay rights, Sullivan seems completely incapable of recognizing that the things the Bush Administration does that are bad aren't outliers, they're part and parcel of their philosophy. Sullivan's essentially a true believer who keeps getting punched in the stomach until he acknowledges that something's wrong, but can't bring himself to admit that it's not just this one thing and that one thing, it's the whole damn thing.

I really hate it when intelligent people who can write well show themselves to be so completely blind to reality.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/25/2006 04:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Finding the right solution

Here's the kind of thing that really pisses me off. A piece in the NY Times last week (reprinted here) tells the story of a long-established softball field in Texas. A developer buys property next to the field, puts up houses with a lot of windows, and then complains because the ballpayers hit softballs into his property, breaking his windows!

The solutions:
  1. Increase the size of the 20 foot fence by adding a 10 foot net, later increased with another 20 foot net, for a total of a fifty foot fence-and-net barrier

  2. Change the rules so that home runs are outs

  3. Remove batters who hit home runs from the batting order.

I have a suggestion for a solution they seemed to have overlooked:

Tell the asshole who built glass houses next to a softball field to go to hell and get over it.

I mean, I see no reason in this situation why "private property rights" should override the long-standing community use of the field for a legitimate recreational purpose. I suggest that the use of eminent domain to buy those damn house and destroy them -- or perhaps make one of them over into a club house for the players -- would be perfectly justified.

The needs of the many...

Addenda: According to the article, other home-owners near the field have a laudably laissez-faire attitude to the occasional influx of softballs onto their property, and sometimes through their windows -- but they live there and aren't property developers.

Postscript: Hey, maybe I've got the facts wrong, that's possible, especially since the article I'm basing this screed on was so poorly written, and badly organized, by Ralph Blumenthal of the Times.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/23/2006 08:10:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



About those red/blue county-level maps:
At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median population of the 3,066 U.S. counties was 24,544 inhabitants... [and] only 16.1% of U.S. counties had more than 100,000 inhabitants, while 83.9% of U.S. counties had less than 100,000 inhabitants. This reflects the essentially rural nature of U.S. counties, whose grid was designed in the 19th century, in a country still largely rural and only marginally affected by urbanization. Today, the vast majority of people in the United States are concentrated in a relatively small number of counties.


Ed Fitzgerald | 4/23/2006 06:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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