"I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me." —Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), on whether New Orleans should be rebuilt in the wakWhy not a fifth star?
"I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me." —Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), on whether New Orleans should be rebuilt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Sept. 2, 2005
Because as important and well written as this book is, it is pervaded by a few theoretical flaws in its rhetorical portion. The factual reporting and research are impeccable and at this point, this book is famous in its own right and it deserves that. But:
(1) The Naturalistic Fallacy. If humans do not belong in California or Arizona, where do they belong? In Reisner's native Minnesota where there's many lakes? Of course, this is absurd. Very few people could survive in Minnesota without the energy that is produced there from fuel brought from elsewhere without rapidly deforesting it and belching the pollution of numerous wood fires. So what about further south? Just about everywhere you go, humans are out of their "natural" element—which is some place in Africa. Even where they are in their element, they are there in numbers that are unsustainable based on using only very local resources. (Unless we allow trains, trucks, ships, and planes into our "natural" world.) Indeed, most human habitations make little sense in some way, just as Speaker Hastert said of New Orleans. But, yet, there they are. Hastert's remark was just one comment made in the wake of terrible suffering, and was probably driven by his human sympathy, not wanting to see this go on again. But it was insensitive on another level and he was criticized for it. Reisner's whole book is basically saying the same thing about the entire Southwestern United States.
The irony is that this book was largely written at a time when it was abundantly clear than energy, not water, was the common denominator in resource policy. A few short years after the oil shocks, the Iranian revolution, during the Iran-Iraq War, and revised months after the First Gulf War, Resiner and other water conservationists must realize they are the junior varsity. This is before all of this activity unleashed the events of the Bush era.
(2) A sort of Malthusian bias. Policymakers often don't have the luxury of seeing things from lightyears high. If population growth really is the problem, it's difficult if not impossible for water policymakers alone to do anything about it, and, probably, in a democracy, we don't want them to. The people go where they do and the water must follow.
(3) Los Angeles and the San Joaquin valley get slammed with plenty of heat in this book and it's well deserved. But what about San Francisco? Not only does San Francisco take water from hundreds of miles away, it takes it from a dam located in Yosemite National Park, the construction of which reportedly caused John Muir to die of a "broken heart." The existence of San Francisco and the rapid urbanization of San Jose and the sustainability of the very high property values in these areas thanks to the development in areas more inland (not just farms) are all thanks to diverted water. The San Francisco Chronicle can bleat all it wants against Los Angeles's water supply, but, as it almost found out the hard way in 2012, people have a funny way of believing the principles their editorialist overlords tell them in cases beyond those they were intended for. Is Hetch Hetchy a greater sin against the environment than Mono Lake? I can't make that judgment for everyone, but it's of the same kind and Los Angeles has mitigated the damage to Mono Lake. San Francisco, for all of its radical leftist politics, has done nothing but go apoplectic every time a plan to restore Hetch Hetchy is presented.
The most compelling part of Reisner's critique is what you might call the "corporate welfare" element. Does it make sense for the government to pay large farming corporations in the form of cheap water while it pays other farmers in the east not to grow certain things? Well, no, especially not for someone dedicated to the free market. But are we? Is Reisner? It seems strange to argue for conservation while arguing against government intervention in the markets. Sure, you can argue that when externalities are factored in, the market can operate. But that's kind of bullshit, because you have to use the government make those things factored in. There was graft and bureaucratic manipulation in the Apollo project too.
Meanwhile, the focus on water: Resiner's critiques are valid to the extent he critiques water policy. But, when he extends his critique to the issue of the entire settlement of the west, he goes too far afield. As the title of the book implies, this is a central theme of the book. But, just like the natural gas pipelines that bring heat to the bone chilling cold of Resiner's native Minnesota, or the levies that are supposed to keep New Orleans dry, or the gasoline that makes homes affordable to the urban sprawl not just in Los Angeles, but in the DC metro, the New York area, Atlanta, Houston, etc., etc. ad nauseam, there is man-made manipulation of things other than water everywhere you turn. Even the Native Americans used massive fires to manipulate the landscape for their purposes. We all live in glass houses, not just Southern Californians and Arizonans.
This is not to say that water shouldn't be conserved, that nature shouldn't be a top consideration in water projects, but rather that it's not the only thing, or even the main limiting factor. Indeed, if energy literally were not a concern, the aqueducts wouldn't flow from the Sierra to Southern California, they would flow from the coast, where one would find numerous desalination plants, inland to the deserts. But since even as of today, it is still far cheaper to build a massive project like the State Water Project than it is to desalinate that much water due to the energy costs (much less do so without fossil fuels), it isn't done.
The history of the last 30 years is different than the 30 years before it. In the more recent period, we have seen a major American city destroyed by a failure of adequate public works and we have seen the fallout. It's the poor and the elderly—and people of color—who suffer disproportionately. Speaker Hastert wasn't wrong that New Orleans doesn't "make sense." Maybe Phoenix and Los Angeles don't make sense, either. But the people who will suffer from such a degree on high aren't the corporate farmers. If the taps run dry in the Southwest, somehow I don't think it will be the rich who suffer. In that same period we have seen resource wars where tens of thousands die—for energy. All in all, the western water works seem far less absurd in retrospect. Would all of these people running their fossil fuel furnaces in the east be better for the world?
In the 30 years before Cadillac Desert was written, disasters like Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the Cuyahoga River, LA's air, and numerous others showed many people the wisdom and need for strong environmental protection. Thank god. Books like it helped move things in a much more sensical direction. We can do that without wiping the west off the map, and we've been proving it for a while now....more
The history and explanatory parts of this book are excellent and anyone would do well to read it. Where it falls a bit short, in my opinion, is on theThe history and explanatory parts of this book are excellent and anyone would do well to read it. Where it falls a bit short, in my opinion, is on the policy prescriptions, which seem to have a bit of a geekish exuberance for things that may never come to pass. As someone with a background in energy law and policy, I've heard a lot of the same type of advice before: we have to do more conserving; distributed generation (the way it was in the good old days before Insull), or, in this case, water treatment will save us; and a recitation of the failings of utilities when confronted with an uninformed public.
For better or worse, it simply doesn't matter if the public is uninformed. With energy, they want to put gas in their tank (or make their car go, however it needs to go) and not go broke, they want the lights on in their house and, likewise, with water, they want it to be affordable and available. California deposed a governor over his perceived failure to keep the lights on. I can only imagine how we might react if the same thing happened with water.
As much as policy/wonk/engineer types disdain public ignorance and as much as they want to explain things, they themselves are utterly, totally, awful as a group both at politics and persuasion. We see this almost daily when it comes to global warming. Scientists, who are usually quite good at saying how things are instead of how they should be, don't understand why persuasion, including horrible things like marketing, have to be used to get lots of people to part with lots of money in a democracy.
This isn't to say that they're wrong—and Sedlak isn't wrong. He just may need to be right in a different way....more
This book needed an editor—one who could, for one thing, talk the author out of her obvious delight at the title of her book. It's cute, but it doesn'This book needed an editor—one who could, for one thing, talk the author out of her obvious delight at the title of her book. It's cute, but it doesn't need to be repeated on every page. Normally, I don't mention things like this unless they get in the way of the message. Here, it almost seems like the author picked the title and then presents the history in a way that makes it fit. What was the "perfect storm?" The recall election? The bankruptcy? The halting of the TriW project? All of them? ...more
[Note: I have notes from the book to add later; this is a draft]
This is a great introduction to race issues in theGreat diagnosis, terrible treatment.
[Note: I have notes from the book to add later; this is a draft]
This is a great introduction to race issues in the United States and it clarifies a very murky issue for a lot of people. This part is great. The only thing I would here is that the use of codes like this need not actually have a real reference. Here, the coded racial appeals are to classic tropes like "the welfare queen." Such a person need not exist. This kind of racism is easy to keep separate in the mind for those who hold it because in their every day experience the black folks they meet may not fill it at all. What ends up happening is that real people get harmed by punishment of imagined bogeymen. Anyway, I digress.
But I found the parts where he goes after Clinton and Obama to be gratuitous. The author even develops his own theory for why Obama is not more direct about race, but this doesn't prevent him from implicating Obama in dog-whistling. You see, "both sides do it." This isn't just a trope used by journalists trying to look fair, but by critics seeking to rule one group (here, conservatives) out of the question while shaming the other group (here, liberals) into behaving more as the author suggests. Do you really want to Monday morning quarterback the first black president on race*?
Before you recite the authors arguments on that, let me just say that too many arguments and too many complexities are exactly what you can't have when you're trying to power up a political movement. The author is right to be frustrated that racial justice is so far off the table these days but wrong to decry liberals for replacing them with "universal solutions."
And after demanding that people talk more about a subject (I believe the term "bully pulpit" was used) the political limits of this are acknowledged. So what, really, was anyone supposed to do better? This is what happens when you ignore one half of the political universe and think that anything can be achieved if you just make principled arguments to liberals. It just doesn't work that way.
I tend to believe that people will be more open to racial justice when they're economically secure which is the exact opposite of what the author states, which was that Obama's failure in 2009 to launch some sort of liberal revolution was a missed opportunity. This again.
* I don't know how many frank conversations the author has had with white people with their guards down at holiday dinners, at the Rotary club, at the golf course, or wherever. Almost as striking as the things people will say in those conversations is how ignorant of them so many people who spend all their time in blue areas or in blue circles all the time are. I had friends who literally did not believe that the election of a black president would be seen by many whites as a reason why affirmative action is bogus. As lame as that is, these people still vote. You can't ignore them or pretend they don't exist. Not unless you want to lose....more
This book starts strong and ends weak. In a nutshell, Kimmel's thesis is that some of the more extreme right-wing politics comprised of white men stemThis book starts strong and ends weak. In a nutshell, Kimmel's thesis is that some of the more extreme right-wing politics comprised of white men stem from their sense of entitlement. They feel not just downtrodden, but ripped off. The direction of the anger is at minorities, feminists, sometimes Jews, nd gays. Kimmel points out that this rage is misdirected at these groups when it should properly be aimed at the economic system that has caused skyrocketing inequality since the late 70s.
That's true but hardly revealing and in a broad sense this work is highly duplicative of Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas except that it attempts to apply gender-studies models to the issues and examines, for the most part, groups that are further to the right on the political fringe. Frank's book was written before the Great Recession and reached largely the same conclusion.
It's a decently written, if repetitive work. (You will know the lyrics to many Springsteen songs well by the end.) Some of the sampling of Internet comments might be taken too seriously for some groups, but not used at all for others. For example, while I have no doubt that the "Men's Rights Advocates" spew such filth in their ranks, comparing them to the polished statements of feminist academics is hardly a fair comparison. Kimmel might point his browser to Reddit to see angry white women doing similar things. This is not to say that "both sides do it" and that feminists are equally wrong. It's simply to say that when pointing out that that is not the case, it is helpful to enter evidence from parallel sources.
In the Epilogue, Kimmel's solution seems to be simply to let demographic destiny take control. That may be a fine answer for a sociologist, but for someone interested in politics or even in citizenship, it seems like no solution at all. I've thought for a long time that a new kind of voting-based labor movement that took no positions on social issues and that was unconnected to any unions would be a great idea, if the college boys among us would be willing to go organize in deep red areas and stfu about cultural issues for a while. (They won't, so it's not really a solution, is it?)
Too much fluff about their meetings and their settings and too little about the results themselves which are interesting. I like this topic, experimenToo much fluff about their meetings and their settings and too little about the results themselves which are interesting. I like this topic, experimental economics. Sometimes a popular book like this gets so many people doing what the books suggest that the techniques lose their efficacy....more
I wasn't expecting to like this book. There are too many incoherent time-travel stories with incoherent endings. (Lost anyone?) I haven't read a StephI wasn't expecting to like this book. There are too many incoherent time-travel stories with incoherent endings. (Lost anyone?) I haven't read a Stephen King book in maybe 20 years. (I read enough to catch some of the references. There is no Arnette, Texas is there?—I mean, other than in the beginning of The Stand. And the clown from It… I wonder how many I missed.)
Also, as card-carrying Gen-Xer, I'm a bit tired of the Reagan generation telling me how different things would be if Kennedy had lived. As you can see from my booklist, I hardly ever read fiction. Maybe it was that all of my expectations were confounded; maybe it's because I'm so ready for a story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending that this book strikes me as so damn good. I read it in 2 days and if hadn't been for my son having a fever, it would have been more like 36 hours.
Bravo, Stephen King, bravo.
Edit: You can see from my list of books, it might not be unfair to call me a book snob. But I don't read authors like Mario Vargas Llosa just to say I did. I read them because they are something to enjoy in this life. So is a story like this. In other reviews, I've seen criticisms of cliche attributes of the school teacher, of it being too long, etc. Well, as is noted in the book, everyone has an opinion. But the difference for me is whether these alleged imperfections suit a purpose or are just the best you can do. Since the length of the book is almost fractally contained in the beginning, there is a reason. You don't have to like it. As for the cliche, if it's that, it's so we can understand where he's coming from without thinking on it too hard.
If you can't bring yourself to like a book that you can't write a thesis about, fine. But if you're tired of complex characters and geek-bait plots that spin off into nothing, this is a refreshing change....more
This book traces the history of "swearing" in English, explaining how the words or expressions we use that are the most coarse change over time betweeThis book traces the history of "swearing" in English, explaining how the words or expressions we use that are the most coarse change over time between references to holy things (the "holy" in the title) and references to bodily features and functions (the "shit" in the title—perhaps Holy F*cking Sh*t should have been the title).
The book was interesting from start to finish. Consistent with the author's background, however, it was literary in its approach. In other words, its explanation of history and change is set in the context of literature, almost entirely. Because it's my field, I had to cringe from time to time at some of the explanations of the Bible, but there are no show stopping errors there. Together with the literary analysis, there is a lack of some deeper psychological or social explanation for this phenomenon. Also, while there is enough neurological information to learn that swearing, for example, helps us endure pain and triggers different areas of the brain (for what that's worth, it's an overused headline in brain research that is often meaningless) than normal speech, there's no explanation of how the words get there or why. Maybe that's unknown; it doesn't say.
One last quibble (and my complaints are just that) is that while it is disclaimed as such, being limited to English (though there are a few Romance language examples here and there) is that it's difficult to know exactly what, if anything, all of this means, again, in a broader social/psychological way.
These are nitpicks. It's an interesting read, well written, even entertaining most of the time. ...more
Like many, I was a big fan of Schlosser's Fast Food Nation but seriously began to wonder if he was a one-hit wonder after the disorganized and irrelevLike many, I was a big fan of Schlosser's Fast Food Nation but seriously began to wonder if he was a one-hit wonder after the disorganized and irrelevant Reefer Madness. This book is proof he is no one-hit wonder. At it's best Command and Control is a more subtle Doctor Strangelove, farcically portraying the absurdities of nuclear strategy in the Cold War while using Curtis LeMay as a protagonist.
An interesting tangent that is not fully explored is the decision to use limited conventional warfare in response to some events instead of full-blown nuclear war. While this does not justify the length, scope, and escalation of the Vietnam War, it at least explains what was happening there in the first place, something mostly lost today. This deserves a book all on its own. But nuclear war is a key gap in between Generation X and the younger generation that only survives in the "mushroom cloud" rhetoric of the War on Terrorism. To the younger generation, a disaster worth compromising our democracy for is a nuclear bomb exploding one city—not something I'm dismissing. But, by comparison with a nuclear war even at 10% scale is, literally, mere noise.
I grew up with nuclear nightmares that never really fully went away, but I don't dismiss the argument that the best way to prevent such a war is to make it unthinkable. The people who engineered this strategy weren't insane and did manage to keep a third world war from ever occurring. For those that grew up in the WWII generation, this is nothing to sneeze at. Furthermore, we'll see if emerging nuclear powers less invested in strategy can really keep a lid on it.
What is important and relevant today for this book is not so much that an intentional aggressive war was a risk, but that an accidental one was (and theoretically still is). The only nuclear war fiction that I'm aware of to explore this angle is the miserable HBO movie By Dawn's Early Light where Ivan auto-launches a missile strike on the US after some unspecified Muslim terrorists jack a missile from the USSR and then launch it at them from Turkey. The Mr. Rodgers sweater wearing President has to work out a deal to stop it from going further at that before the Secretary of the Interior and his adjutant (thinking they're the only survivor) go for full retaliation. Other classics of the genre almost always find some kind of pseudo-Reagan to blame. The movie is terribly acted with Powers Booth, Rip Torn, and Rebecca Demornay debasing themselves in the process (which isn't exactly easy).
What would happen if a weapon accidentally exploded? Well, in 2013, it's hard to believe that it wouldn't be seen as an accident right away and further launches stopped. But you can only imagine the permanent conspiracy industry going to town on this. Anyway, we obviously don't want these things under poor control, I don't think there is anything other than the SLBM fleet necessary on any level at this point in time and so forth.
But as the nuclear war generations get older and the memories get foggier, it's good to remember how closely run of a thing this was and try to do better.
The U.S. lost in the bronze medal game in the 2000 Olympics to Chile. Some of the players on that team, like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard would go onThe U.S. lost in the bronze medal game in the 2000 Olympics to Chile. Some of the players on that team, like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard would go on to be greats for the senior team and play at the highest levels in Europe. Yet according to Wangerin, the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2000 Olympics by losing to Guatemala.
In a book loaded with historical facts, it's easy to forgive a single mistake. But this fact is deeply ensconced in an argument about the ineffectiveness of one of MLS's youth development programs. Reading about Mexico's gold medal recently, you get the sense that this raised expectations for the Mexican senior team and Cameroon's 2000 gold medal itself sparked much talk of a rising African game.
So, one way to look at it is, ok a simple only minimally relevant mistake. Another is: uh oh. What else is wrong? What else was missed?
What always confounds me about people writing about soccer in the US, be they more on the skeptical side like Wangerin, or more on the messianic future positive side like others, is that they always seem to belabor comparisons to baseball, football, and basketball. Dangling right in front of their face is hockey, a sport that is quite regional, has experienced its growing pains, has the only thing even remotely like the international connection soccer has in American sports, and yet has, by many metrics, thrived within its niche. Today, MLS has better attendance than the NHL (which also always seems to be talking about a great TV deal that never materializes) if lower total dollars in ticket sales.
There are hints of this at the very end of the book where someone is quoted as saying that sports can be like Starbucks and microbrews. Great early 90s business sense, that! But there is a kernel of truth. Individuality isn't high on the list of things that cause people to like sports, to my mind. The communal sharing is. But, to be fair, there is a market for which community.
I don't know how to make the US a World Cup winning team or how to make MLS the best soccer league in the world. I'm not sure that I care. I enjoy soccer because it's a game I play and I appreciate the act in itself without my mind being entirely absorbed by the score, and I appreciate low scores because it makes goals precious, rare, and therefore all the more exciting—a simple rebuttal to the libels of low scoring I almost never hear, nor the simple analogy to the nail-biting pitchers' duels that everyone loves in playoff baseball.
I enjoy soccer because of the international fellowship, because there are so many moving parts and so much complexity, and so many different ways to appreciate the skill involved, whether it's the more pagan thrill of the goal scorer, the more intellectual merit of passing, or even the tough business of building a team as a manager. This complexity and unity is unmatched in anything else. It is the closing thing to be 11 dimensional chess.
Therefore, I don't care if the US wins the world cup or if MLS is the best league. I just expect that they keep improving, aren't corrupt or incompetent, and continue to develop the sport in the US. On all of those scores American soccer is successful....more