Sprawl

Eduardo M. Peñalver argues in the Wa-Po that the bursting of the housing bubble combined with high gas taxes might mean the end of sprawl. I’m not that optimistic, but it’s an argument we need to hear more often. With all the cockamamie ideas out there for reducing global warming (“huge mirrors in space!”) the relatively simple, straightforward idea of building slightly denser communities has gotten depressingly little attention.

Afghanistan

Talking about Charlie Wilson’s War and America’s involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Will writes:

Ultimately, I have to disagree with both parties, and with both non-interventionist Democrats and neo-conservative Republicans. America’s involvement in the world should be based on America’s national interest. All other considerations are less important. Was the covert war propagated by Wilson in America’s best interest? Yes. Was America’s neglect of the post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan in our best interest? Hell no.

I think this is right. However, I would quibble with Wilson’s idea that U.S. support for the mujahadeen was “glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.” It’s not that we fucked it up — it’s that we never had it in mind. Giving the Soviets a black eye in Afghanistan was the end game. If the goal was to rebuild Afghan society, we’d have supported the rebels who were interested in such things. But those rebels sometimes thought it was wise to cut deals with the Soviets if the result was a better life for their people, and so they lost our (read: Wilson’s) support. Instead the U.S. (with the Pakistanis and the Saudis) chose to support the most brutal, nihilistic mujahedeen and, as a result, the Taliban flourished.

The only way to do it right would have been to make the mission explicitly about helping Afghans. But if the mission was about helping Afghans, Congress would have never funded it. This is the paradox of American foreign policy.

All of this is well-documented in Ghost Wars, if you’re interested.

Huckabee vs. Tom Frank

The key insight of Tom Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? was that rural, conservative voters were inexplicably voting for a party — the Republicans — who went against their economic interest. Frank thought it absurd that these poor people would vote for a party that, when you really looked at their record, was mostly about environmental deregulation and tax cuts for billionaires.

Well, it’s not that surprising, that, in relatively little time, a candidate has come along to untie that gordian knot:

But as Huckabee now mounts his closing argument for the Iowa caucuses, he has moved full bore into the rhetoric of economic populism. “I am out to change the Republican Party. It needs changing. It needs to be inclusive of all those people across America for whom this party should stand,” he said Sunday, on CBS’s Face The Nation. On the trail, he speaks regularly of challenging the “Washington to Wall Street power axis.” He frankly acknowledges the suffering of the stagnating middle class, and even offers up government as a part of the solution. “The President ought to be aware that the people struggle,” he said in Muscatine on Friday morning. “He ought to be aware every time a decision is made — whether [or not] it’s to raise taxes — how it’s going to hurt the family out there, who can barely pay the grocery bill as it is.”

What’s really interesting is how the press plays Huckabee’s populism as natural and proper, but Edwards’ version of the same thing is somehow considered phony.

Housing

Thanks to the Contrarian, as always, for holding down the fort while the rest of us are on Christmas vacation.

Right now I’m in California, where I can see several new housing developments that were supposed to have been built by now have been put on hold. The market here, a couple hours northeast of the SF bay, is tanking.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, I see that home prices increased by only 3.3% over the last year. Of course, when you factor in inflation, that’s actually a decrease, but you have to make it all the way to the 9th paragraph to find that out. Yay, journamalism!

Gilmore Girls Meets Little Miss Sunshine (Dude, Just Get The Abortion Already)

I have to say that I didn’t tear up or choke back anything in the final scenes of Juno, like A.O. Scott says he did; the film was too glib and slick to be believable — not to mention unfunny (not that it was unfunny, but it wasn’t consistently humorous, just grating like someone who makes a lot of quips can sound “funny” but not really be all that funny because their onslaught of quips is too annoying).

I recognized Juno’s punk rock-esque ideology — a sort of “take responsibility” kind of thing espoused by young men and women who are too young to unpack what taking responsibility really means. I distinctly remember someone long ago saying something along the lines (it could have been in real life, it could have been in a documentary — I don’t remember at this point) of if she is willing to spread her legs (this person’s words, not mine), she’s willing to have the baby (you can see an extreme example of this thinking here). I feel pretty sure that the screenwriter knew/heard/maybe even believed something similar (and Gilmore Girls is a lite version of this ideology).

The thing is, have you ever seen pregnant 16-year-olds? It’s not all K-records and Moe Tucker (oh, and that soundtrack was so cloying . . .)! Which is why I think Juno kind of sets a bad example . . . the thing I took away from it? Dude, don’t be a martyr — get an abortion . . .

And This Holiday Season, Remember Always To Comment In Moderation

Does the Daily News need help moderating the comments on their website? From a story about a horrific spate of murders Christmas Eve, these beauties:

BLACK ON BLACK CRIMES. 80% OF THE CRIMES COMITTED AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE IS CAUSED BY BLACK PEOPLE. MEANWHILE, WHILE THE DUMB BLACK OR LATINO ARE KILLING THEMSELVES, THE WHITE MAN IS LAUGHING HIS TAIL OFF.

. . .

Darkies can’t even celebrate Christmas without f-ing it up. Stupid savages.

Both of those comments are on the page 12 hours after being posted. That’s basically inexcusable.

But it’s not just the Daily News. Check out the comments in that much-emailed story about Hillary’s assistant:

She’s Hillary’s lover. Duh.

. . .

i knew hill was a rugmuncher all along, now reading how this ho is her ladyfriend all over the internet.

. . .

So what happens again when Huma sits on Hillary’s face, er head that is?

The dates on these comments are (respectively) August 16, October 21 and November 7. That means that for months, these comments — right underneath the text — have been circulating through the internet. The story was coy and didn’t mention anything about rumors or innuendo regarding Hillary’s relationship with her aide. Take the story together with the comments, however, and it becomes awfully inflammatory. And doesn’t the Observer have some obligation to police the comments beyond just allowing users to flag them? And if the Observer doesn’t take them down, doesn’t the combined effect sort of amount to libel?

Seriously — news organizations need to watch this more . . . do you need help or something (I work for cheap!)?