"The last chance for progressive politics for an awfully long time"

“It is time to stop listening to the voices who plead for calm moderation and for a cotton-candy centrism that melts at the first sign of resistance. It is time for politicians on the other side to be as fervent in their calls for economic justice as Newt Gingrich is in his calls for kiddie janitors and adolescent wage-slavery. It is time for someone — anyone — to step to a very big microphone and say that the problem with Americans is not that they are lazy, or coddled, or anesthetized by 70 years of the welfare state, or morally unmoored (Thanks, David Brooks!), but that the problem with Americans is that a bunch of expensive suits stole all their money, looted their pensions, made a mockery of their hard work, and labored for decades to develop dozens of ways to swindle them, all the while fashioning a politics that told them that the ultimate freedom was the freedom to have your pockets picked.”

Charles P. Pierce, on esquire.com

"If there have been two seemingly immutable trends for the American consumer, they're that he's eaten more every year and driven more every year."

Writing this month in Esquire, stats-man extraordinaire Nate Silver writes about The End Of Car Culture:

In January, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a collective 222 billion miles. That’s a lot of time spent behind the wheel — enough to make roughly eight hundred round-trips to Mars. It translates to about 727 miles traveled for every man, woman, and child in the country. But that figure was down about 4 percent from January 2008, when Americans averaged 757 miles of car travel per person. And this was no aberration: January 2009 was the fifteenth consecutive month in which the average American drove less than he had a year earlier.

Could it be that there’s been some sort of paradigm shift in Americans’ attitudes toward their cars? Perhaps, given the exorbitant gas prices of last summer, Americans realized that they weren’t quite as dependent on their vehicles as they once thought they were.

For all the talk we hear about economic green shoots, I think this may be one. Or, at the very least, may lead to one. The hope, and typical result, of an economic downturn is the innovation and investment stemming from the realization than the previous way of doing things — an unswerving reliance on driving, in this case — is unsustainable, or at least uneconomical. Maybe that innovation will be in alternative energy; maybe that investment will extend the reach of mass transit.

The real question becomes whether this shift is only a temporary blip. Silver himself writes in the article that the falloff in miles driven is probably a trailing indicator of extremely high gas prices last year. Since prices fell so drastically almost immediately after, will attitudes revert to “normal” and suburban growth resume? Hard to say, but Silver does throw in a couple of interesting wrinkles at the end:

The exceptionally sluggish pace of new-vehicle sales, moreover, in the face of extremely attractive incentives being offered by the automakers might imply that Americans are considering making more-permanent adjustments to their lifestyles. And the denigration of the brand of the Big Three automakers in light of their financial difficulties — about one third of Americans have generally told pollsters they will buy only an American-made car — might reduce some of the patriotic associations with the activity of driving. Building a light-rail system might not persuade Bubba to get rid of his vehicle — but forcing him to buy foreign might.

That last sentence is a portent of marketing to come. Jingoistic patriotism is already a favourite tactic of car makers in the war against imports; how long before automakers cede that part of the market and swing their attention to another of Porter’s forces: substitutes? That is, if there is a recognizable shift from driving to public transit, then how long before the latter is cast as unAmerican?

"I'm no monkey!"

Esquire has a new column called “What the hell is wrong with people.” Based on the first entry (that I’ve seen, anyway) I think I’m going to like it. A lot.

.:.

Via OpenCulture I found this site called BigThink. Looks like lots of interesting podcasts.

Speaking of podcasts, I feel like I should be taking advantage of more. I spend 15 or 20 minutes each day listening to random music on my Zen on my way to work, and I could be using that time to, I don’t know, learn French or investigate Utilitarianism or something.

.:.

I upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.5 last night. While it doesn’t change the appearance to you, Joe Internet, the admin looks awfully spiffy. One little problem though: a lot of stuff doesn’t work. I can’t add URLs, for example; none of the pop-ups work. Good thing I know HTML, otherwise it’d be a little tricky to post.

[tags]esquire, evolution, open culture, bigthink, podcasts, wordpress 2.5[/tags]

An hour early

I stopped at A Taste Above on the way home tonight. It’s a take-away ready-to-go meal place just up the street. Pricey, but good food and I felt like some quick pasta for dinner. I got there around 6:15…closed. Wha? You’re catering to the busy after-work crowd and you close at 6 PM? Brilliant. Dear A Taste Above: a little advice…send whoever’s in charge of your company on an introductory business course. You’re welcome.

.:.

Esquire breaks down Jerry Bruckheimer’s Laws of Science. Example:

The Law of Inverse Emotional Importance

Oftentimes an event may appear significant when in reality it’s not. When confused, remember this simple rule: The significance of any event is inversely related to the speed of its motion.

Proof: Pearl Harbor, about the devastating attack that pushed the U.S. into World War II, features more slow motion than Samba Night at the hospice center.

.:.

Must…finish…assignment. But don’t…want…to.

Inside/friend voice says: suck it up, princess. It’s due Friday, and after that I’ve got a couple of weeks off before going away on course again. It’s just that everything else seems to be SO much more enjoyable right now…watching hockey, thinking about big problems (opportunities?) at work, spending time with Nellie, going to movies, drinking beer, even running at 6AM…I’m loving all of it right now. The last thing I want to do is more school work.

Good thing my wife is a) supportive of me disappearing into a book for several hours a night, and b) fond of television.

[tags]a taste above, esquire, jerry bruckheimer[/tags]