Thursday, June 3, 2010

Engineering Degrees


I was reading something in the last couple of days about how this administration is going to support more transportation funding for things like mass transit, biking and walking. Whatever it is I was reading included a derisive quote from George Will about how Obama is practicing social engineering and trying to take away Americans' freedom to drive wherever they want.

I can't remember where I saw this and an internet search didn't turn up the exact quotes I read. I did find a George Will article from last year that basically says the same thing, where he calls Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the "Secretary of Behavior Modification." (There is a fairly decent rebuttal to this article here)

This yet another one of those silly conservative talking points to try to disparage a progressive policy by giving some creepy-scary sounding label. Usually these labels aren't really anything bad, but conservatives use them in bad ways enough to give them a negative connotation whenever people hear them. They've done this, with much success unfortunately, a lot in the past; creating vocabulary bogeymen out of liberal, secular humanism, progressive, Socialism..... The list goes on and on.

And of course you can easily make social engineering sound bad, it is something the Nazis did! (Gasp!)

Of course it is social engineering. That doesn't make it a bad thing. Conservatives don't have a problem with other forms of social engineering, just progressive versions of it. Playing the Stars and Stripes before baseball games is some serious social engineering. And when the right-wing religious types accuse us of social engineering..... really? Can you even think of anything in the history of mankind that is a better example than religion.

Desegregating the schools was a heck of a job in social engineering and behavior modification. Does any non-crazy conservative argue that was a bad thing?

Fact is, social engineering has been a part of civilization since there has been civilization. It has certainly always been a part of any government that has ever existed, both good and bad.

Will doesn't seem to have a problem with the social engineering that resulted from the highway and freeway systems built by our government. And that is the kind that conservatives are supposed to hate - a big, bloated government program comes in, gives direct and fully subsidized competition to private industry (passenger railroads) and drives them out of business. That was OK?

Take away Americans' freedom to drive? Are you fucking kidding me? Nothing that has been proposed comes even close to that, much as I personally would love to see that. What we are looking for is some equality in how the money is divided up among transportation modes. 'Cause you know what? 90% going to roads and only 10% going to all other options (rail, bike, walk, etc) combined just isn't very fair. What's more, polls show that this is exactly the kind of thing that a vast majority the Americans that George Will professes his love for say they want. Isn't choice a freedom?

And what about our freedoms, those of us that live in the urban areas that are the most affected by congestion? Don't our rights to clean air, bikable and walkable cities, open space and the ability to get around without a car matter? I assume that George Will lives in the suburbs, because there is no way that guy can be a city dweller. A lot of us who live in the city feel like we have a right to not have our homes invaded by bumper to bumper cars from the suburbs every day, ruining both our air quality and the general livability of our neighborhoods. We should also have the right to have sidewalks that are wide enough for the amount of people that use them instead of the narrow slivers of concrete next to 4-6 lanes of traffic whizzing by that we so commonly have to deal with.

The American people also have the right to have the freedom to move about the country without being tied to car ownership. People unable to drive, the blind for example, should also have the freedom to get around. Like I said, the American people overwhelmingly support these ideas. It's why when they build a new mass transit system that people flock to use it, even in cities where critics claim that no one will ever take it. Light rail systems in Charlotte and Dallas (yes, Dallas!) are years ahead of their ridership predictions for a reason. Yes, there are going to be people, like George Will, that will cling to their love of the car and pooh-pooh public transit. I call them assholes. But they might best be described by one of the accusations that gets thrown at us on the left all the time. Elitists.

I believe we also have the right, and responsibility, to not leave our children and grandchildren a country that is completely paved over. The is the ultimate result if the automobile continues to be the main transportation option. There needs to be a place to put all those cars as the population grows and grows.

The article that George Will wrote last year included taking potshots at Portland, OR for their anti-sprawl regulations and pro-biking and mass transit policies.

That just goes to show what a different planet George Will lives on from me.

All other things being equal (basically meaning you could have your job wherever you wanted) would you really make the case that Houston, L.A., or Phoenix would preferable to Portland?

If Portland is an example of social engineering and those other cities an example of whatever the opposite of that is, I'll take social engineering policies every time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Love Story - La Fin


It popped up on the "news" yesterday that Al and Tipper "turn that potty-mouthed music down" Gore have split up after 40 years of marriage.

On behalf of all of us here at SEI, let me extend a heartfelt "Who gives a fuck?" to the Gores.

I would also like to know why this "story" is at the top of the Google News page and why I have to keep seeing this headline every time I open my Yahoo mail.

Real shit is happening in the world, that a legitimate news organization would have even one goddamn reporter or even an unpaid intern devoting any time at all to this nonsense is just ridiculous.

That is all.

For now.

Monday, May 31, 2010

BP = Big Phuck-UP


I've kept quiet about the role of the White House in this calamity some still insist on calling a "spill." But on the heels of the failure of "Top Kill" this past Saturday, I feel I should chime in.

I think, unfortunately, this situation, coupled with a slow economic recovery, a severely watered down healthcare bill, and incessant Congressional spending on Afghanistan while constantly slashing education, infrastructure, arts, and science budgets will make Barack Obama a one-term president. The frustrating thing is that his successor will step in and do nothing more, or nothing better. I am thoroughly convinced that with our Congress operating in the way it has, nothing of substance can get done. So all the perturbed proclamations from either side (Tea Baggers/Partiers whatever they're called) don't send waves of panic in me anymore. The Elephants' trunks will be just as gridlocked and tied as the Donkeys' tails have been. Until we get rid of the entrenched nepotism and corruption in Congress, we shall expect nothing to be passed.

Watching the millions of gallons being let loose into the Gulf has enraged me beyond belief. I dream about this catastrophe almost every night. I am obsessed with it. Like millions of citizens, I want to hold the White House responsible or--rather--yell at it for seemingly not doing anything. But then the more rational side takes over and I realize that the White House doesn't know what to do.

If BP has no idea, how can the White House? And even if it did, we are flat broke. There is no money to do anything...other than allocate borrowed Chinese funds to the perpetual disaster that is Afghanistan. And so, while I'd love to shake my fist and yell obscenities at the gates of the West Wing (and believe me, I have done that before, at the risk of looking like a fool or being arrested), realistically there is nothing they can do about this but stand by like all of us suckers and wait for August when both relief wells will have been completed and the gusher finally tamed.

The repercussions of this atrocity will be felt for generations. I literally foresee two to three decades of environmental affect from this unimaginable catastrophe. What no one seems to be underscoring is that, as of tomorrow, we're into "hurricane season." And so the drilling of the relief wells that is scheduled to be completed by August can be potentially shut down a few times. This, coupled with NOAA's forecast of an active storm season, is a recipe for...I've run out of synonyms for "disaster."

No one knows what to do in the short term. While the administration will be forever tainted with this as "Obama's Katrina," in reality it is as clueless as BP. Besides, it's not quite fair to invoke Katrina here--the White House did not have a 5-day warning on this catastrophic explosion. Mark my words (which don't really carry any gravitas, but still): we will all be standing by, holding our bollocks for the next 6 weeks, if we're lucky, while everything in and around the Gulf of Mexico begins to die off.

The oil geyser catastrophe is a horrendous crime upon both humanity and environment, assigned to be solved by its perpetrators.