Thursday, March 30, 2017

Woodward Ave., Detroit, circa 1917:

"When streetcars and private automobiles moved slowly, everyone shared the street. Speed--and a concerted effort by automobile clubs and manufacturers over the next decade--changed the dynamic forever."

"Drivers joined with automobile dealers and manufacturers to launch a war of ideas that would redefine the urban street. They wanted the right to go faster. They wanted more space. And they wanted pedestrians, cyclists, and streetcar users to get out of their way. They called this new movement Motordom....

"Motordom faced an uphill battle. It did not take an engineer to see that the most efficient way to move lots of people in and out of dense, crowded downtowns was by streetcar or bus. In the Chicago Loop, streetcars used 2 percent of the road space but still carried three-quarters of road users. The more cars you added the slower the going would be for everyone. So Motordom's soldiers waged their psychological war under the cover of two ideals: safety and freedom.

"First they had to convince people that the problem with safety lay in controlling pedestrians, not cars. In the 1920s auto clubs began to compete directly with urban safety councils, campaigning to redirect the blame for accidents from car drivers to pedestrians. Crossing a street freely got a pejorative name--jaywalking--and became a crime.

"Most people came to accept that the street was not such a free place anymore--which was ironic, because freedom was Motordom's rallying cry."
-- Charles Montgomery, Happy City, 70-71

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ALL Our Brands are Crisis...

...If you're a US President with any popularity. In the movie I'm alluding to in the title (Our Brand is Crisis), we watch as the campaign team for Pedro Castillo, a fictional contender for the presidency of Bolivia, realizes that their candidate will only be perceived as electable if the public perceives the country to be in crisis: so they set out to sell that fiction, and shortly after the election, it becomes a reality. A more chilling example of the same plot is the closing episodes of the fourth season of House of Cards as the Underwoods become aware of the same reality: their only path to re-election is if the US believes itself to be in crisis, and so they refrain from intervening in an ISIS-style hostage beheading--and choose not to prevent the event from being broadcast live--in order to ensure the country falls in line behind them as the strongest power to provide protection in chaos.

What is more chilling is Russ Robert's recent interview with Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, in which de Mesquita discusses his book, The Spoils of War, which demonstrates how US presidents who have chosen to take the country to war--even when better alternatives were available--consistently win re-election, while presidents who preside over peace and economic prosperity tend to be discounted, disliked, and not re-elected (for example, Warren Harding, widely regarded as one of the worst Presidents in United States history, saw 0 war deaths under his presidency and also saw the average income rise by 8%, contra Abraham Lincoln who presided over 750,000 war deaths, and saw average income rise by only 2%).

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How Immigration Beats Government Aid

We saw Meet the Patels recently--a great movie by the way--and an observation a character made got me thinking: she immigrated to the US in 1972 and was commenting to her children that there was not an Indian community to be part of. Indian immigration picked up in the '80s and '90s. This made me think of Slumdog Millionaire, a story about a boy growing up the horrific life of an orphan in Bombay in the '80s, who then competes in the titular game show in the 2000s. You get to see a surprising shift in the nature of poverty between the boyhood scenes and the adult scenes: while there is still injustice and in the interplay of poverty and power in the 2000s portion, the pervasive, grinding, dehumanizing poverty of his youth