Last full day in Massachusetts

I was up and out early this morning because I plan to leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow and laundry would be due tomorrow, so I was heading for a place to deal with that.

Note for future reference: Happy Cow has incorrect hours for Garden of Eat’n, which was a block away from where I took my laundry and closed when they were alleged to be open. No hours were posted so I couldn’t correct them.

One of the things I noticed this morning, driving around during rush hour was that traffic really didn’t suck. Yes, there were slowdowns, but nothing like what I could take for granted that I would encounter in the San Francisco Bay Area at a comparable hour.

The most notable slowdown was at the exit from Interstate 91 for University of Massachusetts in Amherst. This had backed up on the freeway and, I guess my bad, I was a little slow getting onto the shoulder—I’m usually slow changing lanes—to avoid obstructing traffic on the freeway travel lanes while waiting for a traffic signal at the botton of the ramp. The traffic was all headed in one direction, likely towards the university and I was headed in another, so once I actually made it to the exit and figured out what was going on, I was able to get through relatively quickly.

I don’t know if there’s a connection but one of the other characteristics of driving in this area is that navigation is challenging. There’s nothing like a grid system in most, if not all, of the streets and roads I’ve driven here. The roads are strung together, frequently at odd angles, clearly the result of improvisation upon improvisation upon improvisation, I’m guessing as a development over the centuries of European occupation here. There’s no sense to be made of any of it; it simply is what it is, and even more than I would expect in a new area, I am heavily dependent on Google Maps for navigation.

So of course I occasionally miss a turn. On Friday, when I was upset about failing to find a place to live here, I missed a bunch of them. That really wasn’t a problem; there was always another way and it usually wasn’t too horribly out of the way.

My hypothesis is that as crazy as it surely is, this network serves to dilute rather than concentrate traffic, ameliorating it. If true, this is certainly something for urban planners to think about.

The way I think this works is that an organic network better reflects the paths that people historically needed to follow, given natural and human-made barriers. A grid system actually often increases travel distance because it forces you to follow the sides of a right triangle rather than the hypotenuse and the variations that occur even in a planned system serve to concentrate traffic onto a few streets.[1] In places like San Francisco, the grid system actually fails in places (I’m thinking of Russian and Telegraph Hills in particular) where some streets can’t connect through because there’s literally a cliff between the segments.

I may not be able to figure it out but I suspect an organic road network, such as western Massachusetts has, works better.

There’s more to my thinking on organic systems and irregularity and the matter of what gives a place character but it has yet to develop. What I am very clear about is that this is the sort of thing that traditionalist conservatives would latch on to. It’s one place where I think they may very well have a point.


Reporters Sans Frontieres (I pray I got that spelling right) has put up the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Check it out. Seriously, check it out.


I do believe I might actually have gotten caught up.


Tomorrow

Well, something like this, anyway. . . .
FireShot Capture 050 - 42.3342979, -72.6679810 to Pittsburgh, PA - Google Maps - www.google.com


Moral Panics

Lucia Graves, “A topless photo ruined this teacher’s career. Now she’s speaking out,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/19/lauren-miranda-teacher-topless-photo-speaks-out


James Comey

Jonathan Freedland has done some of the work I wish I had done:

Why, then, does Mueller not come out with it and charge Trump with obstruction? Part of the answer is that Mueller was swayed by the doctrine that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. Given that, “we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes”. This is breathtaking logic, which amounts to: “Because we knew we couldn’t indict Trump for crimes, we made sure not to find any.”

Time after time, Mueller made judgment calls that helped the president. Sure, Trump wanted to obstruct justice – but he was blocked by aides who didn’t “accede to his requests”, so, for Mueller it didn’t count (as if obstruction has to be successful to be a crime). To allege obstruction, one has to know the intention of the alleged obstructor and that requires an interview with the accused: but when Trump refused to speak to Mueller in person, the special counsel decided not to use his legal right to subpoena the president, because that would have caused a “substantial delay” and the pressure was on to wind up the investigation. But who exactly was demanding Mueller wrap up? Why, it was Trump and his cheerleaders of course. Mueller emerges as a ref who allowed himself to be bullied by an especially belligerent star player.

But this is about more than a mere difference of personalities, with gangster Trump running rings around his boy-scout pursuers. It’s about a difference in political culture. For the Trump presidency, exposed in all its ugliness in the Mueller report, is predicated on a willingness to shred the rules and norms that sustain liberal democracy – and it relies for its success on the unwillingness of liberal democracy’s guardians to do the same.[2]

Freedland draws on an old paradox, and of general importance, widens it to show a greater danger than I had seen in the old paradox. That paradox, as I remember it, was of free speech permitting bad actors to denigrate the existing order, facilitating its replacement with something even worse that ironically would suppress free speech, while a prohibition on censorship prevents limits on such speech. Simultaneously, while unconstrained free speech allows bad actors to appeal to people’s worst impulses, the “good” are constrained by “facts” and “reason” and, more dubiously, “law” in response. Substitute action for speech in this paradox, and you have Freedland’s very correct argument. Moreover, the very substitution reveals a greater danger than even that paradox exposes. This is seriously good work.

The headline writer[s] for this column write that “[t]he Mueller report shows that bad guys who play dirty, like Trump, always win.”[3] This is the great fear that accompanies the paradox and the problem on speech is two-fold: First, any censorship inhibits a proper analysis and exposure of fallacious logic that, in theory, should refute that logic. This is the argument for academic freedom and in part, the claim here is that we don’t really know what ideas are bad without such scrutiny. Unpopular or disruptive ideas aren’t necessarily evil, but they would be the first to be censored. But second, we also know, especially with conservatives, that emotional appeals to fear and hatred often short-circuit rationality—a striking thing about moral panics is that, as best as I can think of at the moment, they always incline in a conservative, authoritarian direction.[4] Nor can we treat such panics as an aberration. Authoritarian populism, the likely larger part of Donald Trump’s base, has been not all, but significantly, about this for up to a thousand years.[5]

But unfortunately, there are also pragmatic considerations. Nestor Ramos points to those.[6] Lots of people point out that impeachment is moot if the Republican-controlled Senate won’t vote for it[7] and it’s important to remember that a sense that Congress must do something is not fulfilled unless Congress actually does something. An impeachment move that goes nowhere is grandstanding, not action.

That said, progress is impossible when it is constrained by the limits of what is currently possible. Trump’s opponents must not simply settle for what is “safe.” They must demand what will be effective.

My suggestion would concede Nancy Pelosi’s earlier point that impeachment would divide the country for nothing,[8] but have Democrats commit to restoring checks and balances on the executive branch. Not only should current investigations be pursued, but Congress must reclaim its power to declare war, and properly limit executive privilege. Notions of an imperial or unitary presidency must come to an end. Perhaps, if the presidency is not so powerful, fewer scumbags will be interested in winning it. But mainstream Democrats will object: They still want that power for themselves when (and if, ever again) they win the presidency.

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Paranoia, lies and fear: Trump’s presidency laid bare by Mueller report,” Washington Post, April 18, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/paranoia-lies-and-fear-trumps-presidency-laid-bare-by-mueller-report/2019/04/18/3379c49a-571b-11e9-814f-e2f46684196e_story.html

Jonathan Freedland, “The Mueller report shows that bad guys who play dirty, like Trump, always win,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/19/mueller-report-bad-guys-play-dirty-trump-democrats-duty

Brian MacQuarrie and Laura Crimaldi, “In Massachusetts, outrage is a matter of geography,” Boston Globe, April 19, 2019, https://www2.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/04/19/massachusetts-outrage-matter-geography/6AGryHO7osgx3UOmMtnYmI/story.html

Nestor Ramos, “Democrats have a strong hand, but to win they may need to fold,” Boston Globe, April 19, 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/04/19/democrats-have-strong-hand-but-win-they-may-need-fold/oN7kmsnvb6xj8HW8Ys3IvJ/story.html

Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian, and Jacqueline Alemany, “House Democratic leaders say no immediate plans to open impeachment proceedings against Trump,” Washington Post, April 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pelosi-says-democrats-can-hold-trump-accountable-without-impeachment-hearings/2019/04/22/68fce0c8-6514-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html


Anti-Semitism

Vanessa Gera, “Warsaw’s Great Synagogue ‘reappears’ on anniversary of 1943 ghetto revolt,” Times of Israel, April 19, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/warsaws-great-synagogue-reappears-on-anniversary-of-1943-ghetto-revolt/

Ruth Ellen Gruber, “Notre Dame will be rebuilt – but most European Jewish sites never will be,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 18, 2019, https://www.jta.org/2019/04/18/global/notre-dame-will-be-rebuilt-but-most-european-jewish-sites-never-will-be


Donald Trump

“You can never say never because courts change and there are new judges, but this is way over the top,” said Kerry W. Kircher, who served as House counsel for the Republican majority from 2011 to 2016, referring to the suit [filed by the Trump organization to quash a congressional subpoena for financial records]. “I’m as confident as I can be that there’s no chance of success here on the merits.”[9]

David A. Fahrenthold, Rachael Bade, and John Wagner, “Trump sues in bid to block congressional subpoena of financial records,” Washington Post, April 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-sues-in-bid-to-block-congressional-subpoena-of-financial-records/2019/04/22/a98de3d0-6500-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html


Sleep

Christopher Ingraham, “How living on the wrong side of a time zone can be hazardous to your health,” Washington Post, April 19, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/04/19/how-living-wrong-side-time-zone-can-be-hazardous-your-health/


Climate Change

The commonest current excuse is this: “I bet those protesters have phones/go on holiday/wear leather shoes.” In other words, we won’t listen to anyone who is not living naked in a barrel, subsisting only on murky water. Of course, if you are living naked in a barrel, we will dismiss you too, because you’re a hippie weirdo. Every messenger, and every message they bear, is disqualified, on the grounds of either impurity or purity.[10]

George Monbiot, “No More Excuses,” April 20, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/04/20/no-more-excuses/


Neoliberalism

Greg Jaffe, “Capitalism in crisis: U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich,” Washington Post, April 20, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/capitalism-in-crisis-us-billionaires-worry-about-the-survival-of-the-system-that-made-them-rich/2019/04/20/3e06ef90-5ed8-11e9-bfad-36a7eb36cb60_story.html


Adjuncts

Aaron Hanlon, “The University Is a Ticking Time Bomb,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 16, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-University-Is-a-Ticking/246119


Automation

Laura Forman, “Will Zillow’s Flip … Flop?” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/will-zillows-flip-flop-11555844401


Samsung

Don’t read Joanna Stern’s “non-review”[11] because you care one way or another about Samsung. Read it for the sheer fury of a reviewer spurned. She is magnificent here, absolutely magnificent.

Note to journalism students: First, I’m not just talking about reviews here. Now, see what Stern does. This is how it’s done. (And yeah, I’ve seen it before, surely from other authors. That doesn’t make it any less delightful.) What you don’t want to do here is fall short. Notice her prose: It is absolutely crisp (at least until you get to her initial description of the phone); even as she expresses frustration with what is truly (between her lines) an “are you fucking kidding me” scream-worthy product, her readers will laugh because what she’s describing is truly so ludicrous.

But you do have to wonder how shit like this gets out, even to reviewers.

Joanna Stern, “Samsung Galaxy Fold Non-Review: We Are Not Your Beta Testers,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2019, Samsung Galaxy Fold Non-Review: We Are Not Your Beta Testers


  1. [1]Let’s by all means compare apples and oranges here: In San Francisco’s Richmond District, for examples, Geary Boulevard and Clement Street, retail zones, to more residential streets like California, Lake, Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, Fulton, and all of the avenues. Of course, the commercial streets have heavier traffic, but Geary is a wide street with two to three lanes in each direction that connects reasonably directly downtown; its only rival for getting from Arguello to Great Highway or Ocean Beach is Fulton, a street that also borders Golden Gate Park but, after traversing the Western Addition, runs smack dab into City Hall and reappears on the other side of City Hall (towards Market) as Civic Center and United Nations Plazas—both pedestrian spaces closed to cars. I’m talking about natural variations here; differences from whatever source can be important.
  2. [2]Jonathan Freedland, “The Mueller report shows that bad guys who play dirty, like Trump, always win,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/19/mueller-report-bad-guys-play-dirty-trump-democrats-duty
  3. [3]Jonathan Freedland, “The Mueller report shows that bad guys who play dirty, like Trump, always win,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/19/mueller-report-bad-guys-play-dirty-trump-democrats-duty
  4. [4]See, for example, Lucia Graves, “A topless photo ruined this teacher’s career. Now she’s speaking out,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/19/lauren-miranda-teacher-topless-photo-speaks-out. This is likely a matter of how we define moral panics.
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/
  6. [6]Nestor Ramos, “Democrats have a strong hand, but to win they may need to fold,” Boston Globe, April 19, 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/04/19/democrats-have-strong-hand-but-win-they-may-need-fold/oN7kmsnvb6xj8HW8Ys3IvJ/story.html
  7. [7]Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian, and Jacqueline Alemany, “House Democratic leaders say no immediate plans to open impeachment proceedings against Trump,” Washington Post, April 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pelosi-says-democrats-can-hold-trump-accountable-without-impeachment-hearings/2019/04/22/68fce0c8-6514-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html; Jonathan Freedland, “The Mueller report shows that bad guys who play dirty, like Trump, always win,” Guardian, April 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/19/mueller-report-bad-guys-play-dirty-trump-democrats-duty; Nestor Ramos, “Democrats have a strong hand, but to win they may need to fold,” Boston Globe, April 19, 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/04/19/democrats-have-strong-hand-but-win-they-may-need-fold/oN7kmsnvb6xj8HW8Ys3IvJ/story.html
  8. [8]Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian, and Jacqueline Alemany, “House Democratic leaders say no immediate plans to open impeachment proceedings against Trump,” Washington Post, April 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pelosi-says-democrats-can-hold-trump-accountable-without-impeachment-hearings/2019/04/22/68fce0c8-6514-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html
  9. [9]David A. Fahrenthold, Rachael Bade, and John Wagner, “Trump sues in bid to block congressional subpoena of financial records,” Washington Post, April 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-sues-in-bid-to-block-congressional-subpoena-of-financial-records/2019/04/22/a98de3d0-6500-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html
  10. [10]George Monbiot, “No More Excuses,” April 20, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/04/20/no-more-excuses/
  11. [11]Joanna Stern, “Samsung Galaxy Fold Non-Review: We Are Not Your Beta Testers,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2019, Samsung Galaxy Fold Non-Review: We Are Not Your Beta Testers

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