and since guns aren't going anywhere...

...maybe we should just plant some tomatoes.

The idea that planting vegetable gardens in abandoned lots can help reduce violence in blighted urban neighborhoods sounds ridiculously utopian...except that it might actually work:

In 2000, Philadelphia had 54,000 vacant lots, and so the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reclaimed 4,400 of them, mowing lands, providing upkeep, planting trees and gardens, and erecting three-foot-high fences that served no purpose other than as a kind of statement that this land now belonged to someone. The greening of these parcels (just 8 percent of the vacant land in the city) had an unexpected effect: Over the course of 10 years, it reduced shootings in the areas surrounding these renewed lots. Part of it was practical: The vacant lots had previously been hiding places for guns. But as Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania who released a study on the project late last year, says, "People just became more in touch with their neighbors. People felt more connected to each other." Calls from neighbors complaining of nuisance crimes—acts like loitering or public urination or excessive noise—went up significantly in the immediate vicinity of the newly greened land. At first, Branas worried the land had attracted ne'er-do-wells, but what he came to realize is that it had emboldened neighbors to call the police for minor disturbances, something they hadn't done in the past.
Who knows if shootings decreased because of the gardens, because of the increasing feeling of community that they fostered, or for reasons completely unrelated and coincidental? More to the point...who cares? The beauty of something like this is that there is essentially zero downside. The worst outcome is that you have vegetables growing where previously there were only weeds and garbage, and nothing else. 

Cities should get (or simply stay) out of the way, and just let this sort of thing happen.


in which i do a bad impersonation of cathy young*

The two most common arguments I've heard in response to the Aurora shootings (and for that matter, every other high-profile incident of gun violence in my lifetime):

"Bad people will always do bad things, and there is only so much you can do to stop them. Holmes was determined to kill many people indiscriminately, as evidenced by his booby-trapping of his apartment. If anything, someone carrying that night might have been able to stop him.  More restrictive gun laws would not have stopped this."

"It is absurd to assert that there is no connection between easy access to high-powered weaponry and its use in killing large numbers of people. Sure, people determined to kill other people may likely find other means to do so, but that doesn't mean that we have to make it easier for them. We need more restrictive gun laws." 

Other than their conclusions (which are mutually exclusive), I really don't see why both arguments are not largely correct. Bad people will always be around to do bad things. Criminals do not follow the law by definition. And the horrific scale of the worst of these sorts of crimes is an utterly predictable consequence of a culture in which owning an AR-15 is a god-given right.

It is naive in the extreme to think that trigger locks or registries will deter a determined killer. And it is borderline psychotic to think that two (or three, or four) guns firing in the theater in Aurora would have improved the situation, unless one of the additional gunmen was well-trained in close-quarters combat. A CCP does not make you Bruce Willis. (For that matter, neither does being Bruce Willis.)

Maybe, one of these days, when we aren't reacting in the heat of the moment, when we aren't digging in, when we aren't trying to score points in the debasing game of politics, we can have an adult conversation about gun policy. I think it would be really, really important to cut through all the rhetorical bullshit and make an honest and dispassionate attempt to answer three questions:

1. What is the relationship between private ownership of firearms and the use of firearms in violence?

2. Does restricting private ownership of firearms lead to positive returns to public safety, or not?

3. How do you craft policy that reflects the best answers to questions 1 and 2 within the legal framework created the second amendment to the US constitution?

Unless and until we can do that, we're going to hear the same inane arguments every time something like this happens. And it happens a lot.**

I am not holding my breath.

*Cathy Young is a long-time contributor to reason (among other publications) whose columns have the predictable cadence of an episode of Law and Order, in which she presents both sides of an argument as more or less equally meritorious, pointing out where each fails to take seriously the best points of the other. If you can find a single column of hers that does not follow this formula, I will be amazed. While I think this is a good exercise, generally, sometimes one side really does have a stronger argument. You would not know this from reading Ms. Young. She is the epitome of a mind so open that things start to fall out.

**I know, I know...a link to the Brady Campaign in a piece where I'm arguing for serious, data-based consideration without grinding axes. Fair enough. But that document I'm linking to is pretty much just raw data. Really, see for yourself.

man, i picked a good weekend to skip the internet

I should probably do that more often.


my brain is there already

I am pulling all the plugs and driving with Dr. Mrs. Dr. B to Waterton Lakes Park, AB, tomorrow to go mountain biking, revel in some fresh air, and not look at a screen for a few days. Oh, and see some friends get married. The next couple of hours in the office are pretty much a wash.

kids these days

This might be my new favorite of the "supercut" genre:

How one responds to this is a pretty good generational Rorschach test. If you actually think Mr. Wizard was being a dick, you were almost certainly born after 1980.


missing the point

I think that both the Obama and Romney camps have missed the point entirely on the controversy over Mr. Romney's statements to the SEC regarding his CEO tenure at Bain and his subsequent disavowals of responsibility for what the company did while he remained its titular (and therefore legal) head. One of Jim Fallows' correspondents gets right to the heart of it:

I haven't heard anyone in the media make the point why Romney's poor response to the Bain capital issue is so damning:  In effect, Romney is saying that he should get a pass for what Bain did in his "absence" because he wasn't running the company at the time (even though he was technically still its CEO), and/or that he should get a pass for telling the SEC that he was CEO of the company for three years while he had passed off those duties to others because he didn't actually exercise control.

The Obama campaign mistakenly focused on whether that makes him a liar or a criminal.  In my opinion, the more damning conclusion comes from accepting Romney's story at face value. If he can't deal with two big issues at the same time, and [won't] take responsibility for what is done on his behalf (by those he chose to act on his behalf--because he was the sole owner of the company), how can he possibly be competent to be President of the United States?
Arguably, the most important job of the presidency is staffing the upper echelons of the executive branch, and managing it. To take only a very recent example, the presidency of George W. Bush was so catastrophic in large part because he hired terrible people to do very important jobs, and took very little responsibility for the results. (Obama shouldn't get a pass on this sort of thing either...the fact that Eric Holder remains Attorney General is mind-boggling to me.)

I don't think that we've seen any evidence of criminal intent on Mr. Romney's part. (I leave it to the lawyers to judge whether there was criminal action, though I suspect that Romney and Bain are rather adroit at remaining within the letter of the law, even as they test its boundaries.) I think it is entirely possible--probable, even--that Romney honestly did intend for his leave from Bain to be temporary, and that the demands of running the Olympics changed those plans.

I think what we're seeing here is the result of a tactical decision made by the campaign to distance Romney from whatever it is Bain did during the years in question (outsourcing, or whatever). That was clearly a short-sighted call, and they've been handling it abysmally ever since. Ta-Nahisi Coates adds:

But for most people in this country, if your name is on something, you are responsible for it. I may well consent to let my son open a credit card in my name. But I will be ultimately responsible for what happens to that bill. I may well sublet an apartment I own to someone else who pays the bills, and manages the place. But my name is still on the paper, and I will be responsible if something goes wrong.

This has shades of the Ron Paul newsletter controversy, in that summons up this separate bizarro universe where people are not responsible to the document to which they attach their names. In the world of most people $100,000 a year is a lot of money. If you collect that kind of paycheck and your name is on the company as an executive, by what standard are you then not, in any way, responsible for that company's actions? 

The Romney Standard, holding that you are not responsible for signature, is contrary to the basic standard to which we hold young school children. If you can't adhere to that, how will you adhere to the standard of Leader of The Free World?

I recently queried one of my conservative friends at Mr. D's place as to how he would interpret Mr. Obama's reelection (an event that he is at this point confident is highly unlikely). I found several of his answers thoughtful and fair, even though I would not subscribe to them myself. But I would like to suggest another that merits serious consideration, should Mr. Obama find himself deferring retirement until 2017:

That Mitt Romney is simply a terrible candidate, nominated by a party that is cynical to the point of nihilism.

"if you don't like criticism, stop googling yourself every ten seconds"

Words to live by, indeed.


well this explains a lot

I'm not surprised by the order of candidates (though I've never heard of the second guy), but the numerical disparity of Romney (and the GOP) versus everyone else is genuinely surprising, even to me. Looking at that, it's hard to believe I ever voted for a Republican.

The quiz is here, and I encourage you to check it out. Be sure to check out the options under "choose another stance"...they are much more nuanced.


metal in 2012

I've been lucky enough to get to two great metal shows in the last couple of months. More on that in a minute.

Here's the wonderful thing about being into metal in 2012, especially in a city like Seattle with an active music scene: no one goes to metal shows because it's cool. At too many shows I've been to in the last couple of years (off the top of my head: Bon Iver, Caribou, and Wild Flag* are great examples), there are just too damn many people there because they think that it's cool to be there. They are there because Pitchfork** said so-and-so was "important", because they want to have a certain cultural cache in saying they were there. They do not care about the music.

How do I know this, you ask?

People who care about the music that is being played live in front of them do not: 1) talk the entire fucking show with their friends, 2) hold up their dinky camera phones the entire show so that they can post shitty-sounding videos to Facebook and/or YouTube that no one will ever watch, including them,or 3) get falling down drunk before the show even starts, to the point that they spend the entire set bumping into other people, spilling beer, and likely forming no permanent memory of the show that they paid to see whatsoever. 

It would be easy to write this off as a "kids these days" phenomenon. Too easy, I think. I also think it happens to be wrong. Which brings me back to being a metal fan in 2012.

Metal was arguably never cool. Perhaps if you count the era bracketed roughly by the release of Motley Crue's Girls Girls Girls on one end and Nirvana's Nevermind on the other, metal--at least the subset that involved lots of makeup and spandex--had its moment in the sun. At a minimum, it shared the spotlight prominently with the rest of pop music and the explosion of hip-hop. But that's pretty much the extent of metal's coolness in the wider culture.

20 years after that, metal survives and thrives. The fan base is small, but dedicated. And (at least in Seattle) metal shows probably draw the most age-diverse crowd of anything I go to. At 34, I'm firmly in the middle of the age distribution of most shows. I'm used to being one of the old farts.

But what makes it great--if not, strictly speaking, cool--is that everyone at a metal show is there to hear the band that is playing. People don't talk through sets. They don't dance around drunkenly. In fact, for many modern subgenres of metal (black, ambient, shoegaze, folk, etc.) the accepted behavior at a concert these days is to stand there stoically and take it all in. And that suits me just fine.

It's not for everyone, I know. But that's always been the point.

Still, if you're still reading this far along maybe you want to check these guys out.

On the more melodic side, we have Alcest, from Paris. They played here a few weeks back and blew my mind. I lose myself in this stuff pretty regularly.

Next up is Agalloch, from Portland, OR. They killed it at the Crocodile last night. Here's their latest, an EP consisting of one, 22-minute(!) track:

*All of which were very fine performances by very talented bands, their shitty "fans" notwithstanding. Especially Wild Flag.

**Is Pitchfork still a thing? I don't know, I'm getting old, in case the general tone of this thing doesn't give it away.

happy birthday, mr. stewart

"The three things that I am most proud of doing in my life is firstly, Extras" (2005); secondly, my appearance on "The Simpsons" (1989) and thirdly, appearing on "Sesame Street" (1969)."

--Patrick Stewart, one of the coolest humans alive, who turns 72 years young today. 


I was reading an essay in Chuck Klosterman's collection Eating the Dinosaur last night, and one point that stuck out (I don't have it in front of me, so pardon the paraphrase) was that criticizing that which is obviously stupid is the lowest form of writing. Though I'm not sure I've ever thought about it in such clear terms, that is certainly a practice I endeavor to avoid, here. (It's also one of the reasons I happily sent the entirety of my first blog, c. 2003-05, down the memory hole a long time ago. Lots of rookie mistakes, there.)

And in particular, I really hate it when the chattering classes  perseverate on a particular turn of phrase that, given the opportunity, its utterer would certainly re-state or avoid mentioning at all, because they obviously didn't mean it in the way their detractors have tried to make it seem. 

Recent examples of what I'm talking about:

"The private sector is doing fine."

"I'm not concerned about the very poor." 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

So...it is with some (but not much) trepidation that I approach the following from Mr. Romney's speech to the NAACP:

"I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families, you would vote for me for president."
I think it is fair to put this up for a bit more scrutiny, simply because this is not an off-the-cuff remark (as both examples above were). This is from the prepared text of the speech--in fact, I copied and pasted it from a blogger that got the text before the speech was even given--which, one assumes, had a bit of thought put into it. This isn't a gaffe, is what I'm saying. It is what Mr. Romney meant to say.

Look, I don't envy Romney his position vis a vis black Americans. He's a rich white guy, a prominent member of a faith with some pretty serious (and recent, as in within his adult life) baggage on the racial front, and oh yes he's running against the First Black President. I give the man credit for even showing up at the NAACP. (Really, I do.)

But...man, can't he do any better than that?

When you say something like "if you understood who I truly am in my heart," the implication is either that 1) you have not fully revealed who you are "in [your] heart", or 2) the other person is not capable of knowing this. More bluntly: either I'm something less than an open book, or you're illiterate.

Similarly, "if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African American families," begs the very straightforward question: why the hell can't you communicate that? Again, either the speaker lacks substance, or the audience lacks comprehension. Romney either cannot articulate what it is he believes is in the "real, enduring best interest of African American families" because he does not, in fact, believe anything in particular on this front, or African Americans are not capable or not willing to grasp his transcendent beliefs regarding their own well-being.

I've long argued that black folks will have immensely more political power (particularly at the national level) when the Democrats can no longer take their votes for granted, and the Republicans consider them worth courting. But I really can't blame anyone for being utterly unmoved from the status quo on this cycle, if Mr. Romney is the standard-bearer for the latter.


when is corporate welfare, not?

Apparently when it is (proposed to be) happening in Seattle, and the corporation in question is the NBA:

When we rejected previous arena proposals, ultimately leading to the [Sonics'] departure, it was because we collectively determined that keeping the Sonics was not worth the price being asked. This deal is better. It's not perfect. It's not free. But it's a helluva lot less costly and less risky to taxpayers than anything we've seen before or anything we're likely to be offered in the future.

The fact that when it comes down to dollars and cents this deal is likely to be better for Chris Hansen and his partners than it is for taxpayers is beside the point. If we want the Sonics (and possibly an NHL franchise too) it's gonna cost us something. The decision council members have to make is whether this cultural amenity is worth the price of admission, or whether we're going to continue to hold out in the hope of an even better deal.
To be fair to Goldy, he opens his post by saying that he's "not yet taking a position" on the arena proposal. But I can't help but think the only reason he doesn't seem to see any deal that involves taxpayer financing as the massive public subsidy to private, for-profit business that it is, is that asserting so would put our resident cantankerous liberal on the same side of an issue as the editorial board of the Seattle Times.

I think his blind spot is made apparent earlier in his post:

That said, one could make the same claim about taxpayer investments in parks, libraries, museums, opera houses, zoos, and other public amenities. Yet all of these investments collectively improve our region's overall quality of life, even if most taxpayers don't avail themselves of all of them.
Parks and libraries are free and accessible to everyone. Transportation infrastructure benefits everyone, whether you use it directly or not. Ditto public education. I'm just going to quote myself from the comments section:  If you pay $50+ to make use of a facility, and the overwhelming majority of that money goes into the pockets of team owners, the league, and Ticketbastard...IT IS NOT A PUBLIC AMENITY.

Look, sports are great. I think it would be dandy if Seattle had an NBA and/or NHL team. I'm all for it. But let teams and leagues buy the land and build the palatial arenas they require themselves.



"No wonder I fit in so well when I was 13."

--Jonathan Krohn

the state of play

We're entering that blissful period when people not that interested in politics - the sane majority - look up and examine what's on offer. I suspect they are not as dumb as the Romney campaign seems to assume they are; and not as happy as the Obama campaign would like them to be. Candor and concrete proposals and character are the three things people are looking for. Romney has none of them. Obama has all three but a still-shitty economy obscuring all of it.

I think that's a pretty fair assessment all around. I have yet to hear a positive argument in favor of Mr. Romney that even approaches something worth considering. Apocalyptic rhetoric doesn't move me, because it invariably turns out to be overwrought horseshit. (If and when it ever turns out to be otherwise, will we be around to appreciate this fact? I think not.)

Neither can I point to a great deal on Mr. Obama's resume that gets me excited, though I can think of no small number of reasons to vote against Romney (my top 3: irrational belligerence towards Iran, perpetuation of the Bush-era fantasy that you can reduce the overall spending gap while increasing defense spending commitments, and the aforementioned vagaries in terms of solutions to...well, anything.)

Do I think a Romney presidency would be the "end of America"? Of course not, because that's a fucking stupid thing to say. But I do think it would be a step back into the policies and attitudes that made the Noughties one of the darker decades in modern history for this country.

You'll get no argument from me if you assert the Democrats are not exactly the model of good governance. But at least they seem to show an interest in actually governing.

It'd be a good year for a Gary Johnson to make waves. But I say that every four years around this time.


good times

("M" is my wife, currently in Canada with my sister-in-law. Who apparently just went into labor.)


south of the border...

The autocratic suits of the PRI are back in the saddle again—in part because the Mexican political structure is tired of chaotic drug-war mayhem and wants to give the stability of old-fashioned, genteel corruption another try.
So says Seattle-based journalist Brendan Kiley, in an interesting (if a bit off-the-cuff) analysis of what yesterday's election results mean for the drug war in Mexico. Worth a read if you are interested in such things.

My own interest stems largely from the fact that the wife and I have already booked tickets to Mexico City to celebrate (read: avoid celebrating) La Navidad y El Año Nuevo this year...