Friday, August 10, 2007

projecting better nature vs. projecting power

Tim Burke has started an excellent debate on the intellectual origins of the war in Iraq. It begins with a focus on a piece by a liberal defender of the US attack and continues with a set of comments unusual for its seriousness and lack of shrill. The piece is Ignatieff.

Do read the comments through to the very bottom. Here's a tease from two of them: (1) From an American left-liberal:
There was no justification for this fiasco, this debacle, this destruction, this mass murder. If we cannot project our better nature, we cannot 'win' in any sense. If we rely on the projection of power, then Viet Nam and Iraq will be our epitaph, as well as epithet.
(2) From an American war supporter:
We knew and know perfectly well that Ba’athism is a secular, fascist ideology. Also that it is perfectly easy for fascists to cooperate with Islamists when it suits their interests. Also that the entire Mideast is rife with support for terrorism, but the prudential choice was not to invade everywhere at once. And that to say that Iraq was not directly involved with 9-11 is a very different thing from saying it had no connection with terror, or would not in the future. And a thousand other things, all of which lead me to have no regrets about the decision to invade Iraq, and lead me to resolve to support the post-invasion struggle with all my might.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

summertime blues

Forty years ago, the city of Detroit exploded in violence and the US had its first long hot summer. That same summer I became a counselor at a work camp run by the Hull House Association for kids from housing projects in Chicago's South Side. The neighborhoods in which these kids lived had also blown up. They were glad to be out of the ghetto heat, not unhappy to be put to work. And, for me, they were simply fun to be around. They called me wolf man for the longish hair I wore (though short by later standards). We traded stuff, talked about our lives, did some work together. I wasn't so naive as to think this was the start of a new page in race relations or the beginning of an end to the urban nighmare from which they had emerged and into which they would soon be reinserted. But I'm sure I and they did well by each other; learned and grew up a bit as a result of our encounter.

On this 40th anniversary of the summer riots, it's hard not to think back on that time without also thinking how much worse things have become since then. Despite programs aimed at desegregation, fair employment practices, improved schooling; despite the War on Poverty and a fairly long period of nationwide economic prosperity, our quality of life stinks. I say "our" not because mine is objectively bad in any way, but because I find I can't feel good about my good fortune without also feeling bad about the generations that have succeeded the kids from South Chicago whom I got to know 40 years ago. Not their kids, grand-kids, great-grand-kids, specifically, but (a) the totally alienated kids whom -- as killers and victims -- we read about in the papers and (b) those who are caught up in this violence without being themselves totally alienated. I say our quality of life stinks not because we don't have lots of good things. We do have lots of good things. But rather because I perceive we've lost a sense of life's meaning. We're more callous than I remember us being in the old days. There's not so much confidence in the future and in our ability to shape it.

I won't prolong this meditation. But do take a look at the articles in the following links. The first describes shootings in an apartment complex in northeast Washington DC. The victims -- some say -- just happened to be present when the kids with the guns felt like shooting someone.

'Brazen' NE Shootings Stun District Officials, More Police Were Out; 2 of 7 Victims Still Hospitalized, by Mary Beth Sheridan and Donna St. George
Excepts: One or two gunmen on foot had opened fire on a group of chatting adults and game-playing children outside the four-story building, part of the sprawling Edgewood Terrace complex. Four adults and three children were hit, including Harris's youngest, Jemila. ... When the gunmen didn't see their intended victims, [one witness] said, they began "just shooting everywhere." ... The Edgewood shootings occurred a day after law enforcement officers helped throw a peaceful community event -- a block party -- at the site as part of the surge in police presence.
Here is a link to an opinion piece that riffs on this incident. Note the quote from Joyce Ladner about kids who have nothing to live for, no fear of death, absence of any empathy; by my standards, this is anomie personified.

At the Root of the Violence, by Colbert I. King
Excerpts: Mayor Adrian Fenty, who while campaigning touted the wondrousness of "community policing" as a curative to crime, has been forced to acknowledge reality. After last Saturday night's shootings, which occurred smack in the middle of Police Chief Cathy Lanier's "All Hands on Deck" summer crime-fighting program, Fenty said that "there's no way in the world we're going to eliminate all crime, especially when people are this brazen."

On his way out in 1992, dispirited D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood warned that "it has become abundantly clear law enforcement alone could not cure the scourge of drugs and violence."

Now hear the words spoken 15 years ago by author Joyce Ladner, a former Howard University interim president, a sociologist and a former member of the D.C. financial control board. She could have been speaking today.

Ladner talked with The Post's Ruben Castenada about a generation of youths raised in economic and emotional deprivation who were becoming adults and having their own children. These young people, she said, are not equipped to live according to the rules that most people abide by, much less to teach those parameters to their children.

Referring to youths growing up alienated in unstable families, Ladner said that "many of these kids don't value their own lives. How can you kill without feeling? Often, that comes from not having made the proper attachments in early life. Then you're left with a lack of empathy, of feeling for the value of the lives of other human beings because you don't value your own life."
The author knows there's no easy solution to this problem. He says,
This city is no longer horrified. We have become, it seems, inured to violence. We've grown accustomed to accepting what should be unacceptable.

We act as if crime is a problem for the police. It's not; it's ours. And it's the kind problem that can't be arrested, wished or prayed away.

Police, Ladner said, can do only so much. "Police can't raise your children."

Neither can the school system.

And so, we arrive once again at a familiar place and on the same soapbox.

It's easy to say and hard to do but must be tried if we want future D.C. youths instilled with values, self-discipline and respect for themselves and others: The broad spectrum of the community must come together and fix what's badly broken in our city -- the family.
Do you suppose it means anything that back in '67 the war in Vietnam was on everyones' minds as the war in Iraq is today? That it seems now impossible to recapture the optimism of the period following World War II when it seemed like the nation's and the world's problems -- given time, resources, good will, intelligent policies -- could be diminished, in some instances maybe actually solved?


There's an OpEd piece in today's WaPo by the head of the trauma unit at the U of Penn Hospital in Philadelphia. It's an interesting first-person narrative of the bloody chaos in city emergency rooms. He says: "More young men are killed each day on the streets of America than on the worst days of carnage and loss in Iraq. There is a war at home raging every day, filling our trauma centers with so many wounded children that it sometimes makes Baghdad seem like a quiet city in Iowa." Here's the link: The War in West Philadelphia, by John P. Pryor

Friday, August 03, 2007

strong start for Paris bike program

The blog, Ma ville à vélo, is reporting that the Vélib' bike program in Paris had its millionth rental. That's a million uses in 18 days. Phenomenal! An article in the site in Australia says each of the 10,000 bikes is being used on average 16 times per day.
{Photo source: News24}

Here's the post from Ma ville à vélo:
Vélib' : un million de locations en 18 jours

In Communiqués de presse - Généralités

Paris, le 2 août 2007 - La Mairie de Paris et JCDecaux SA (Euronext Paris: DEC), numéro un de la communication extérieure en Europe et en Asie-Pacifique, numéro deux mondial, numéro un mondial du vélo en libre service, annoncent que Vélib', mis en place et géré par SOMUPI (filiale de JCDecaux à 66 % et de Médias et Régies Europe - groupe Publicis - à 34 %) a enregistré, jeudi 2 août à 16h56, soit 18 jours seulement après son lancement, sa millionième location. Inauguré le 15 juillet, Vélib' rencontre un très grand succès et séduit de nombreux Parisiens, franciliens et touristes avec 50 à 70 000 locations chaque jour.