Posted on 25 August 2013 | No responses
The day after Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to three decades’ incarceration for leaking classified material to Wikileaks, his attorney stepped forward to announce that the Leavenworth-bound, dishonorably discharged Manning decided he identifies as a female and heretofore wants to be known as “Chelsea Manning.” The lawyer further noted that Manning requests hormone treatments but not — as yet — surgery.
Predictably, the left-leaning blogosphere acted as if Manning’s statement were a done deal, to be celebrated as a act of liberation not unlike the end of Apartheid or the inauguration of the female vote. With the flip of a switch, the progressive commentariat now refers to Manning as “she” or “Chelsea.” The rapidity and totality of the terminology shift boggles the mind.
So let’s propose a thought experiment. Let’s say I get caught sneaking into a women’s washroom. The police say: “Bad, Jason.” I say, “No, I actually identify as a woman, and please call me Jennifer. Now get out while I powder my nose.”
What will happen? You betcha: A CSC or disorderly conduct charge, or something similar.
Manning is different because he’s a cause célèbre of the Left. In the real world, people don’t have lawyers assert denials of reality, and then expect the world to follow suit.
Let’s put this point in a different frame. Every person in the United States has a legal name. This name — indicated on birth records, associated on tax records — provides a permanent identifier of a specific person to our benevolent overlords in government. Sometimes, we can change this name: Doing so requires the consent of a judge, and typically follows marriage, divorce or adoption. Sometimes, too, we can use aliases; in private transactions, there’s no law that says we have to supply our legal name, provided that there’s no intent to defraud. Which is why many actors work under stage names. Manning isn’t trying to defraud, but he’s a public person whose notoriety is associated with his legal name.
A legal name is a legal name. Manning — or anyone else, for that matter — is free to use any alias he likes. But the world isn’t bound to honor his request. Nor is the world required to start calling him a “she” merely because he prefers it. Indeed, from the perspective of journalism ethics, it’s an intriguing question whether the public good that reporters are duty-bound to uphold is best served by denying the normative use of the “Chelsea” alias. The record is clear: There’s a guy named Bradley Manning who was convicted of sharing secret information. Is bifurcating the record between a pre-sentencing “Bradley” and a post-sentencing “Chelsea” in the public interest? Is honoring one person’s non-binding preference more important than preserving the narrative flow on a story of significant public import?
I’m weakly acquainted with two people who began the male-t0-female sex-change process, one of whom has had surgery and now successfully lives as a woman. I have no doubt that some people are genuinely conflicted about their sexual identity — feeling like you’re a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa, isn’t just a fantasy or a delusion; it’s a real problem that requires remediation.
Reasonable people can disagree, given the relative paucity of meaningful medical research, whether various gender-identity disorders should be treated as a psychological problem that requires therapy/counseling — i.e., a first-world mental condition — or a genuine biomedical problem that can be successfully treated with hormones or surgery. I, personally, take no position on the matter, other than to recognize that people caught in positions like Manning’s deserve the benefit of civility.
That said, there’s something distressingly opportunistic about the way the left-leaning press seizes every opportunity to deny that sex matters. People are born male or female. They have specific chromosomal patterns, certain hormonal patterns, certain biophysical markers. These markers affect psychology in deep and real ways. Denying this, is to deny that the sun rises in the East. Sexual identity isn’t a matter of assertion — people aren’t free to just utter declarative statements that trump biology. Moving from “he” to “she” surely requires more than a press release.
The press, by hopping without question aboard the “she is now Chelsea” bandwagon, puts its own ideological interests ahead of the public good. The situation serves as a bit of a tell in the culture wars: You can infer quite a bit about a publication based on how it handles the Bradley/Chelsea question — whether the point’s ignored, accepted without comment or handled as an alias.
If Pfc. Manning gets a military judge to issue a name-change order, fine. “Chelsea” is normative for everyone. If Pfc. Manning obtains gender-reassignment surgery, fine. “Chelsea” is now sufficiently mixed (female hormones, male chromosomes, ambiguous genitals) that a “she” pronoun ought to be unremarkable.
But changing names and pronouns, overnight, based on a press release? Honoring that, says more about the press than it does about Leavenworth’s newest long-term resident.
Posted on 18 August 2013 | No responses
To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I’ve been repeating that slogan to my new boss over the last few weeks.
Although I appreciate the value of a specialized education — this whole reflection is prompted by research into pursuing either an M.S. Biostats or a Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Evaluation degree — I think that in the wrong hands, deep knowledge in one domain of knowledge but a superficial grasp of other, cognate domains seems risky.
The real value of a philosophy education is that we understand the difference between hammers and toolboxes, such that we can look at problems from a 50,000-foot level to see what’s really going on. We might not have the best tools to fix the problem, but we’re better equipped to understand the problem in its totality.
A real-life case in point occurred recently in a workplace setting. Having been given a somewhat complex project that didn’t have a lot of antecedent wisdom to inform execution, I asked a few co-workers for suggestions on how to proceed. The results were really quite useful, but they also put my larger point into elegant context. Colleagues who had deep knowledge of database administration and SQL querying framed the project in terms of a data pull. Clinicians focused on variation in performance by licensed providers. Statisticians distilled the whole thing into an experiment-design question, looking for ways to shape the data to support specific statistical procedures.
You know what’s missing? Integration of all these useful domains of expertise.
A philosopher is trained in logic, taxonomy and metaphysics. We seek the assumption behind the question, and we try to both distill individual points into autonomous data points, and then reintegrate them into a coherent whole. We understand which conclusions are valid and which aren’t by virtue of experience in both formal and informal logic. In short: A philosopher knows how to think. We’re the masters of conceptual strategy, even if we lack the in-depth expertise of a specialist who operates on a more tactical level.
Almost no employer advertises for jobs that require a philosophy degree. What a shame. A philosopher is probably better equipped to handle certain kinds of work — information analysis, project management, etc. — than people who may have special training that acts, in some ways, like a worldview blinder. Unfortunately, for the higher-paying jobs, a philosophy degree is counterproductive; employers simply don’t value them, especially at the postgrad level.
For my part, I’m glad I studied philosophy. Makes me a generalist capable of integrating domain-level wisdom into a rich narrative tapestry. Couple a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a master’s degree in a specialized field, though — and you might just find yourself with real advantage.
Posted on 11 August 2013 | No responses
A recent conversation with a friend got me to thinking: How odd and sad it is, to see so many people who dream big but act small. Consider the folks who aspire to travel — they make bold plans, but never act on them. Or they content themselves with reading travel websites and lifestyle magazines, but always find ways to sabotage their ability to hop aboard a plane.
I suspect, for a lot of people, the real problem lies in living for a hope of a brighter tomorrow while avoiding those tasks for today that would transform that hope into a reality. It’s the “I’ll make time next week” syndrome. Yet it’s not until one’s twilight years that we realize that there aren’t many more next weeks left on the calendar, and the only thing that remains is grief about the things not done.
Some of that sadness revealed itself when I performed pastoral care visits at the hospital. The elderly who knew their time grew short would sometimes share their regrets. Their reflections were almost always the same: “I didn’t live the dream.” Some were stoic about it, others … not so much.
Although some people get lost trying to immanentize the eschaton through myriad harebrained schemes, more frequently, we succumb to senescence like lambs to the slaughter, because we expect the fight for meaning to occur in some ill-defined future. We don’t live in the now. Rather, we delight in comfortable somnolence. Without a sense of presence — rooted in “the fierce urgency of now” — we become our own worst saboteurs.
We need to fight against the absence of presence in our everyday thinking.
A few other quick hits:
- Had a cigar and cocktail with Jared yesterday. Enjoyed both on the roof of his condo building. Got burned so bad I can’t even touch the back of my neck. Which is regrettable, since yesterday I had my hair tied back — rather than draping loosely across my shoulders — so the one time the longer hair would have been useful, I pulled it back and exposed my delicate skin to the inferno.
- A big chunk of this weekend was spent at my mom’s. Not only is it her birthday weekend, but my brother and I (mostly him) are helping to re-side the back of her house.
- I replaced my HTC 8X — a flagship Windows Phone — with the Nokia Lumia 925. I was a huge fan of the 8X, but I (twice) cracked the screen by accidentally dripping it from a high place onto concrete. I figured the Lumia would be the same thing, different vendor, but nope. This flagship Nokia device is truly a thing of wonder, mostly from Nokia’s special additional apps. The camera, navigation and music apps are first-rate contenders. Plus, the phone allows for custom block lists, a “peek” function to display the time on the screen if you wave your hand over the camera, etc. I’m pleased with this device, and I’m satisfied with the way T-Mobile has handled my account over these last eight months since I ditched Sprint. I’m especially geeked at how T-Mo offers a subscription display-name Caller ID function.
- Had cigars with Rob last week and sushi with Jen. Plus Tony had visited for another recording session.
- I’ve been parking my GMC Jimmy in the garage since the smash-and-grab. I have two inches of clearance for either side mirror (the “garage” was actually, a century ago, a carriage house), plus I have to angle it to avoid the irregular lines of the house beneath the bay windows. I’m getting much better at backing out with limited visibility and an odd angle … the last few times, I even managed it on the first try. Woohoo.
Posted on 4 August 2013 | No responses
Every year, at my annual Christmas vacation, I undertake a vast array of projects and tasks. One of those has been “check annual credit reports.” The cycle usually ends with me going to annualcreditreport.com, filling out the forms, obtaining my three reports — from Experian, Transunion and Equifax — and then filing the PDFs away without a second thought.
This year, I didn’t get to the task in December, so I kicked the can down the road until July. On the Independence Day break, I grabbed my credit reports. This time, I looked at them in detail. And, frankly, was horrified at the stuff I saw: Errors, weird entries, unusual hard hits.
So, I went through each report, line by line, and identified what was fair and what was foul. I then filed challenges against erroneous information (like addresses I’ve never lived at, phone numbers I haven’t used since the 1990s) and collections accounts on things that I’ve never heard of.
A month later, the results from two agencies are back. And I pretty much had all my challenges upheld. Spurious debt — collections from creditors I’ve never heard of, for amounts that make no sense — have been removed without difficulty.
Amazing how much incorrect info gets added to credit reports. A little bit of knowledge, and a little bit of time spent correcting errors, can go a long way.
Posted on 29 July 2013 | No responses
Next Tuesday, residents of the Third Ward of Grand Rapids — a large chunk of the central city, covering everything south of Wealthy and east of Jefferson (east of Eastern, after you hit Fuller) — vote in a city commission primary.
As one lonely member of the slim remnant of Republicans in the Third Ward, the primary race intrigues me because I have no real skin in the game. Neither Lenear nor Tuffelmire sit in my ideological cohort, so neither one will represent me on policy. At all. The question, then, is whether either might do a decent job of nevertheless being a non-ideological, service-driven leader who puts constituents first. Herewith some thoughts about each.
- Served ably on the G.R. School Board (pro).
- Endorsed by former Mayor John Logie and former school-board member Jane Gietzen (pro).
- Vague, aspirational platform with no details (con).
- Former UAW steward/negotiator (con).
- Left personal message on campaign material left in my mailbox (pro).
- Endorsed by Wealthy Street business leaders (pro).
- Endorsed by MI National Organization for Women (con).
- Leader of DecriminalizeGR (con).
I’d love to say that either Lenear or Tuffelmire would represent me despite our ideological differences, but I’m skeptical. I get a sense that Lenear is probably more low-key and savvy, but I have no clue what sort of platform she supports apart from a drumbeat about education. Tuffelmire seems more personable, more gung-ho, but he doesn’t disguise his left-wing activism.
Were I to guess, Lenear would probably be less accessible but also do less violence to my belief system. Tuffelmire would probably be easy to engage but he’d be an activist in government for policies that I oppose.
For me, it’s a coin toss.
The real sadness is that the Kent County Republicans couldn’t muster a viable candidate to compete in the Third Ward. Given the demographics, a solid message of empowerment and renewal could resonate here. The local GOP seems content to write us off — but they do so at their own long-term peril.
UPDATE: Within four hours of this post’s original publication, Michael Tuffelmire contacted me by email to respond to my points in a positive, substantive way. I appreciate his engagement; the scale is tilting in his direction.
Posted on 28 July 2013 | No responses
Been a while since I’ve done an omnibus update.
- The new job is going well. I like my new boss and my new co-workers, and I’m being mentally challenged in exciting new ways. Plus, I’m off the hamster wheel of mundane report requests.
- Snowball has been pleasant. My “pet” feral cat stops by once or twice a week for food. Now that her kittens have dispersed, she has been downright domestic with me. On Friday, for example, she ate her fill then came down the attic stairs to get pet. She didn’t need food, she just wanted some attention.
- The Detroit trip was a success. Yesterday I embarked upon a whirlwind tour of the three Detroit casinos. Tony, Degenerate Johnny, Alaric and I drove to the Churchill’s in Southfield for a tasty cigar — I enjoyed the Fuente Fuente Opus X double corona with a dram of Glenfiddich 15-year single-malt Scotch — then we made our way into
BeirutDetroit. The city’s reputation didn’t disappoint: We passed a fully involved car fire on the shoulder of I-696. Our casino trip started at Greektown (mediocre) then moved to Motor City (better, with a surprisingly decent buffet) then MGM Grand Detroit (lovely). We had to route through some of the more unpleasant parts of the Arsenal of Democracy — something chilling in the vacant, burned-out homes and buildings, something ominous in 10-story buildings covered ground-to-roof in graffiti. George Will is right: Detroit’s decline isn’t primarily financial, it’s cultural.
- I’m still crabby about the broken window. See last post.
- Been busy on the social front. I missed today’s writer’s potluck in Grand Haven on account of the damage to my vehicle. This past week, I had drinks with Jared, and last week I had dinner with Alaric. Tony and I have done a bit of show recording, too.
Posted on 28 July 2013 | No responses
So I was the victim of a property crime last night:
It appears that some local ne’er-do-well decided that smashing my driver’s-side window and stealing my CD player sounded like a great way to spend the early morning hours of a cool, rainy Sunday.
Nothing else appears missing — just the radio.
On the bright side, though, no one cares, so it’s not like the serenity of any else’s Sunday has been ruffled. The Grand Rapids Police just want me to fill out an online form that may or may not be acted on by an officer (because, of course the perpetrator (a) didn’t leave prints, and (b) even if he did, he’s not in the system, so (c) performing a basic crime-scene investigation is a waste of time). My insurance company, Progressive Direct – the same people I’ve paid more than $3,000 in premiums to over the last few years — decided that my policy doesn’t cover vandalism of a stationary vehicle.
Detroit is just the canary in the coal mine: Institutions aren’t what they used to be, regardless of their ZIP code.
Posted on 20 July 2013 | No responses
Want a non-chunky salsa with a pleasantly fiery finish? Try my special four-alarm salsa:
- 1 can (28 oz.) stewed tomatoes
- 4 whole habanero peppers, stems removed
- 2 heaping tbsp. diced jalapenos (from a jar)
- 3 tbsp. jalapeno brine
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 0.5 tbsp. Lawry’s seasoned salt
- 0.5 tbsp. garlic powder
- 0.5 tbsp. powdered cayenne pepper
Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend on medium-high for 30 seconds or until all the peppers and tomatoes have been smoothed into the salsa.
Refrigerate for one hour. Serve with the tortilla chips of your choice.
Posted on 14 July 2013 | No responses
It’s increasingly obvious that the George Heartwell regime has embraced the New Urbanism and has slowly but surely set into motion a secret, grand plot to turn Grand Rapids into the Portland, Ore., of the Midwest.
OK, so maybe I exaggerate. But recent trends in my fair city do offer grounds for concern. Consider:
- Revision Division. One of the most singularly idiotic changes I’ve witnessed downtown is the “Revision Division” project. Picture it: Division Avenue — the primary north/south surface-street corridor on the east side of the river, and the only one that extends uninterrupted from the southern to the northern suburbs — has been a four- or five-lane road for many years. Much of the street runs parallel to US-131 (in fact, Division is the 131 business loop). Over the last two years, Division has been consolidated from two lanes in each direction, to one lane in each direction, between Wealthy Street and Oakes Street. In other words, the major north-south surface artery is reduced to one lane precisely in the downtown area where two lanes prove most useful. The rationale for this change? To add bike lanes. You know how many cyclists I see on Division? For locals, the question answers itself — in that stretch of road, you’re more likely to see homeless panhandlers than cyclists — but unasked is this: Why, if dedicated bike lanes are so damned important, didn’t the city redevelop less-trafficked nearby streets, thus decreasing the relative risk to cyclists while minimizing the effect on drivers? The first time US-131 completely shuts down at the S-curve because of a major accident, I think we’ll see just how short-sighted it is to give the only realistic alternate route a “road diet.” But hey, bikes y’all.
- Roundabouts. I live downtown, just south of Wealthy Street. To get to my home from Division Avenue, you cross through two roundabouts. The first one, at Jefferson, consolidates two eastbound lanes into one, on the mistaken assumption that drivers on the inside lane intend to head north on Jefferson. Instead, the eighth-mile stretch between Division and Jefferson becomes a game of speed-up-and-cut-off between vehicles on the two eastbound lanes. Inasmuch as the traffic professionals profess that roundabouts make roads safer, the truth for this particular roundabout is that you see riskier driving from people who want to leapfrog slower-moving traffic in the outside lane. I’ve seen more near-collisions at the Wealthy/Jefferson roundabout than any other intersection in Grand Rapids, and last summer I personally forced one aggressive driver into the flower-covered “median” because I refused to let him cut me off. Just yesterday, in fact, I had to wave through a driver who stopped in the roundabout to yield because she didn’t realize that a traffic circle isn’t an intersection. On the bright side, though … the city’s adding even more roundabouts on our downtown thoroughfares, on the apparent theory that if you put in enough of them, drivers will eventually learn how to use them.
- The Silver Line. I’m happy to admit that over the years I’ve made heavy use of The Rapid. Personally, I like the local bus system — it’s clean and reasonably efficient and cost-effective on a per-rider level. That said, I am utterly perplexed as to the value proposition of the Silver Line. This “bus rapid transit” system starts in Wyoming, runs along Division Avenue toward downtown, then meanders to the Michigan Street medical mile. Proponents argue that it’ll cut bus commute times — you buy fares at the stop instead of on the bus, and the buses will have signal preference at traffic lights — and that’s cool. But there are two problems with this scenario: First, there’s no obvious benefit to overlapping the Silver Line with Route 1, at least south of Wealthy. Second, the real problem with the buses downtown is that The Rapid has doubled down on a hub-and-spoke model (instead of a grid system) so pretty much everything has to connect through Central Station. Yes, the Silver Line will make it faster for people who live along Division Avenue to get to Michigan Street. But it’d have been much less expensive to simply expand and reroute the DASH bus system downtown. For that matter, you’d think The Rapid would first plug the holes in its current route map before moving to BRT (can you say, “why the hell isn’t there at least a connector shuttle along Wilson Avenue between Standale Meijer and the Grandville library, so Walker residents and GVSU students don’t have to spend two hours connecting through downtown just to go three miles to the south?”). I suspect a not-insubstantial part of the reason we have the Silver Line — despite having been defeated at the ballot box on its first go-around — is for regional or national cachet. It’s a “look at how sophisticated G.R. is — we’ve got a BRT system!” shtick for city leaders to crow about at national conferences.
- Parking as a Weapon. Rates are going up. Spots are going away, being converted to bike racks that almost never get used. The city and the 61st District Court are doing a shakedown this summer; I recently was notified, for the first time ever, that I have a ticket from 2007 and the city wants its cash, but if I pay now and don’t contest the ticket the city/court will waive late fees. Convenient, that. Moral of the story: The city doesn’t want you to drive downtown. If you do drive downtown, be prepared to pay through the nose to fund the conversion of parking spaces into empty bike racks. [Side note: I'm not being sarcastic about empty bike racks. Bike racks are like bike helmets: A great idea in principle, but rarely used in practice. I frequent a coffee shop that has a generous bike rack just two storefronts down. Patrons elect, instead, to chain their bikes to the tree in front of the coffee shop. So the tree usually has at least one bike chained to it while the rack typically sits empty. Rinse and repeat across the city.]
- Hipster Developments. An interesting byproduct of living in the downtown area is a more intimate familiarity with local businesses. Two years ago, there was some minor scandal as local “anarchists” — presumably, bored teenagers with delusions of grandeur — damaged businesses along the Wealthy Street corridor and decried the gentrification of the inner city. To be sure, I appreciate the many different options at my disposal for locally roasted coffee, tasty microbrews, local-sourced vegan dining and such. It’s interesting, too, to see a giant veggie market sprout up amidst the warehouses and homeless shelters near the river. But you know what I don’t see? Supermarkets that don’t require bars on the windows. Even the downtown housing market is off-balance. Lots of buildings are getting rehabbed into varying kinds of residential properties. Some subsidized, others at market. The theme is “early 20s creative professional with a bankroll” mixed with “people with Section 8 benefits.” Allegedly this blend will create a harmonious, diverse community — a veritable United Colors of Benetton. Yet for all the development that’s already taken place, and for all the time I spend downtown, I see no evidence of this hoped-for explosion of multi-culti happiness outside of the places (like Rosa Parks Circle or The BOB) you’d expect to see it. Whether I sit in the window seat at a coffee shop along West Fulton or the front table at the cigar lounge in the Heartside neighborhood or take a walk along Wealthy Street, I see typical urbanism: Pockets of gentrification amidst a sea of neighborhoods that white people avoid after sundown. I also see lots of homeless people and increasingly aggressive panhandlers, with no apparent intervention by city officials to address this very real barrier to inner-city revitalization.
- Bridge Shutdowns. Although I live on the southern periphery of downtown, I grew up on the Upper West Side. I frequently return there for shopping, family visits and related errands. Such a journey requires crossing the Grand River. The local crossings are, from south to north: Wilson Avenue (Grandville), Wealthy Street, Fulton Street, Pearl Street, Bridge Street, Sixth Street, Leonard Street, Ann Street and North Park Street. To get to the Upper West Side from the central city, Ann and North Park won’t work; they take you too far northeast. Wilson is the long-way-around; you’d have to take Market Avenue to Indian Mound Drive and go roughly six miles SW to get to the bridge. Realistically, Wealthy/Fulton/Pearl are the best bets, with Bridge/Sixth/Leonard workable but taking you a few miles north. Imagine my dismay, then, when every couple of months we have unexpected, unannounced and un-signed shut-downs of the Wealthy/Fulton/Pearl bridges because of … wait for it … bike rides and marathons. And, of course, downtown is rerouted for the events, too, so good luck making it to Bridge or Leonard without swinging way east to thwart the hordes. Look, I’m as much a fan of bike rides, marathons and whatnot as the next fellow — but the city shouldn’t cut off access to the West Side from downtown without leaving some reasonably accessible means of crossing the river. At the least, every bridge crossing that’s shut down should be accompanied by a sign announcing the first open bridge to the north and to the south, so drivers don’t have to snake through closed streets, gaggles of spectator and other distractions just to make it to the other side of town. And some advance warning would be nice.
- Development Meetings. Should anyone have concerns about the city’s new direction, feel free to attend meetings. The last meeting notice I saw was for 2 p.m. on a Thursday. Which means that people who work the day shift, or people with school-aged children, are effectively excluded from participation. You know who’s not excluded by this schedule? Hipsters and community organizers. The mind boggles.
So. Seven gripes. My chief take-away is that after years of fairly conservative leadership under Mayor John Logie and former city manager Kurt Kimball, Grand Rapids is changing. Drip by drip, increasingly progressive policies, subsumed under the New Urbanism and transit-oriented development banners in spirit if not in name, begin to take hold under the leadership of Mayor George Heartwell and city manager Greg Sundstrom. We see drivers getting the shaft with increasing frequency. We see more emphasis on mass-transit infrastructure and alternative energy. We see a relaxation of marijuana laws and a surge in gentrification. We see a county land bank deciding who wins and who loses.
More than anything, we see the real-world effects of municipal leaders using Richard Thaler’s nudge theory to quietly narrow the scope of options available to ordinary people, to encourage an “approved” choice. Bit by bit, project by project, we’re being nudged into living less like Grand Rapidians and more like Portlanders.
But here’s the kicker: Grand Rapids isn’t Portland or Boston or Ann Arbor or any other city on the map. It’s Grand Rapids. It’s a great town, filled with great people. We have our own culture and traditions. What a shame that instead of embracing our history and our culture, we’re left with leaders who’d prefer to transform us to something that we’re not, to slowly penalize free-market choice and automobile traffic while promoting the latest community-development fads.
The real problem with New Urbanist thinking is that by trying to nudge the market through regulatory and infrastructure tweaks, we’re left with a generic cosmopolitanism that might be attractive in the abstract but proves utterly unworkable in the real world. Just look at the current Heartside neighborhood: Yea verily, we’ve rehabbed many buildings and added a mix of commercial properties and loft-style housing. We don’t have reputable supermarkets, though, which is a huge problem. And who wants to walk in Heartside when every 10 feet, you’re accosted by a panhandler? I’m down there often enough to see what life’s like on those streets. It’s not the great deal it’s cracked up to be, propaganda from the DDA notwithstanding. They can build a New Urbanist utopia, but I’m skeptical a critical mass will embrace it strongly enough to make it sustainable over the long haul. Hell, just look what M6 did to Kentwood and Wyoming: Their southern tiers decamped to Gaines Township and Caledonia, leaving economic devastation and cultural impoverishment between 36th and 52nd streets. As soon as The Next Hip Thing arrives, the young creatives so desperately courted for downtown living will flee, and the cycle of urban decay will begin anew.
The cultural norms that made Grand Rapids great are being sidelined in service to a faux-cosmopolitan ideology prevalent among our current batch of technocrats at City Hall. What a shame. I’d go for a drive to clear my thoughts, but who knows if I’ll find an open bridge — assuming I make it through the roundabouts.
Posted on 30 June 2013 | No responses
Last week witnessed a rainbow-colored celebration coupled with furrowed brows after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act mostly unconstitutional and kicked back California’s Proposition 8 case back because plaintiffs lacked standing.
- Perhaps the most fascinating part of the rulings wasn’t the substantive outcome, but the logic behind each holding and each dissent. The Prop 8 case, in particular, has knocked some progressives a bit off-keel, because the majority holding arguably emasculates the referendum process nationwide. It creates, de novo, a new implied power for state governments to simply decline to enforce referenda they prefer to ignore. Conservatives argue that the strategy in this case is part of a broader rightward movement by Chief Justice Roberts to narrow the outer parameters of legal standing — surely a good thing — but whether this good is worth the collateral damage to other areas of heretofore settled jurisprudence is a whole different question.
- It’s curious that Kennedy’s DOMA opinion relied as much as it did on the assumption that DOMA was based on anti-gay animus rather than the somewhat safer substantive-due-process grounds. There may well be implication to the majority’s rhetorical approach in Windsor that, in the future, will prove difficult for the high court to apply to other similarly situated cases.
- I’m not a fan of DOMA — it was never good law, and it made a farce of the very federalism it purported to defend – but the route of its demise is almost as unpalatable as its continuing existence. We’re now left with a patchwork of problems that surely will result in Full Faith & Credit suits (e.g., if same-sex spouses move to a state where same-sex marriage is illegal). It would have been preferable if DOMA were repealed by Congress instead of being weakly invalidated by SCOTUS; given a few more years, such a repeal may well have been enacted.
We’ve learned a few important things over the last decade. First, that there’s a lot of anti-gay animus still out there. Second, that the LGBT crowd is effective at mobilizing the political and legal systems to redress the animus. Third, that the net result of the public discussion will likely not be helpful in the long run as long as top influencers continue to gerrymander the political process.
I believe that in a perfect world, a person’s sexual identity should not be anyone else’s business, and the law should be blind to sexual orientation — no favoritism, no oppression.
I also believe that the key to progress is positive engagement. Much of the groundwork for recently improved attitudes towards gays and lesbians is, I think, afterglow from the Will & Grace phenomenon. As soon as people had “experience” (even if on TV) with a non-stereotypical, non-threatening gay person, attitudes began to soften, much like the Civil Rights movement absolutely depended on people having non-stereotypical, non-threatening experience with racial diversity during World War II. But instead of playing the long game and helping to soften attitudes over a generation, the leaders of the LGBT movement got impatient — they demanded “marriage equality now” and therefore inspired a backlash. I am convinced that the gay-rights movement will follow a similar trajectory as the abortion debate, because evolving attitudes were shocked into reaction by too-aggressive, too-impatient mobilization by activists. Activist greed has real-world consequences.