Kennicott's essay, in reaction to this week's mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, begins with a reflection on a photograph by Joel Angel Juarez of police in paramilitary gear outside a Hooter’s restaurant in El Paso.
This convergence of our commercial landscape with violence is what the 21st century, slow-motion but persistent American war looks like. It also looks like the underside of a child’s school desk, people hiding in closets and wailing into cellphones, SWAT teams in parking lots, nightclubs with overturned bar stools and tables, piles of shoes abandoned outside a bar, and movie theaters soaked in gore. If we have the courage to do what we must do and look at the facts, we will also see that in one essential way, the American war looks like every other war everywhere on the planet, full of bodies riddled with bullets, bloodied, broken and dead.
Some wars are over in a day, or a week, and others go on for years. If there are opportunists and profiteers and cynical actors who are willing to fuel the mayhem for a tiny bit of personal or political advantage, then they can go on for decades. If war takes root in a society slowly, or by stealth, it can come to seem the ordinary state of affairs.
The question is, what sort of place?
And this is the immediate problem with Hudson Yards.”
It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.
A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid. […]
[T]he whole site lacks any semblance of human scale…as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism.
It gives physical form to a crisis of city leadership, asleep at the wheel through two administrations, and to a pernicious theory of civic welfare that presumes private development is New York’s primary goal, the truest measure of urban vitality and health, with money the city’s only real currency.
I have come to see the moral clarity and conviction of young people and the wisdom and pragmatism of the old not as adversarial forces but as two elements in a dynamic system that need to be designed for as parts of a whole.
Here are two reactions to Frank Bruni’s column In Defense of the Gerontocracy: Maybe older is better. Just look at Nancy Pelosi, about US Senator Dianne Feinstein [age 85] apparently scolding of a group of young constituents who pressed her for action on the Green New Deal. The two comments below, from Micah and Paul B., are not directly responding to each other’s posts, but the effect is the same.
From Micah in NYC,
From Paul B. in New Jersey,
While I do see these two views as connected parts of a whole I will place my bets with Micah — with the the young and the young at heart. At this moment in history, with the ticking bomb of climate change, there is simply not enough time to rely on the slow, wise processes of the past.
In the article If Americans Can Find North Korea on a Map, They’re More Likely to Prefer Diplomacy (New York Times, 5 July 2017) Kevin Quealy unpacks several studies that show that when people know more about the geographic location of geopolitical hotspots — when they know where North Korea and the Ukraine are, for example — they tend to favor diplomacy over military engagement.
The people who had the most geographical knowledge were, by-and-large, highly educated, but the next most knowledgeable group was…older people.
“Nearly half of respondents 65 and older found North Korea. The Korean War, which ended in 1953, may be in the memory of today’s older seniors,” wrote Quealy.
From these studies it might be fair to conclude that the lived experience of older people may give them quantifiably different starting points for decision making than the young — which seems uncontroversial when I put it that way, but given Americans’ general state of ignorance regarding geography and history I would want more people in the proverbial “room where decisions are made” who had a living, working knowledge of where things are and what happened there in the past, than not.
A member of congress doing a ‘Donkey Kong 64’ benefit twitch stream fundraiser for transgender kids is about the most now thing I’ve ever heard, with the possible exception of the difficult-to-describe scenario of the difficult-to-describe pop group Marshmello doing a difficult-to-describe virtual concert inside of Fortnite’s battle royale (see A live concert inside a video game feels like the future by Nick Statt in The Verge).
About the @AOC Donkey Kong twitch stream, @RaygunBrown observed,
Researcher and investor Marty Madrid quipped, about the Marshmello/Fortnite concert, “The future of events ... is confusing. I’m getting too old and potentially out of touch to help lead the charge?” The comment applies to both events equally I think.
UPDATE —This is a better, more thorough article about the Marshmello/Fortnite concert: Fortnite's Marshmello Concert Is The Future Of The Metaverse by Peter Rubin, Wired, 5 February 2019.
I love this article, The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, But It's Not What We Expected by Craig Mod (Wired, 20 December 2018), for how it opens up a new way of thinking about, and looking for, change.
Mod looks at the case of the venerable printed book and argues that while we’ve all been waiting for the physical platform of the book to change — and wondering why it hasn’t — everything else in the stack around, under, and on top of funding, writing, printing, distributing, and promoting books has changed dramatically.
Mod’s observations seem to me to be a kind of ninja move for understanding the ways in which the most obvious and highly scrutinized components an ecosystem or piece of infrastructure can seem to remain stubbornly stagnant while in fact all of the unconsidered enabling elements around them are being transformed.
We tend to look at the surface of things, the indicator species, show stoppers, and divas, at the expense of the rest of the ecosystem — and those ecosystems can be fascinating.
The article continues,
We may be missing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s real message when he wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Maybe he wasn’t saying that we can never recover from early failures.
In a 2010 column in The Atlantic, writer Hampton Stevens pointed out that Fitzgerald wrote for the theater at Princeton and later Broadway (and Hollywood). “With ‘no second acts,’ he was almost certainly referring to a traditional, three-act drama, in which Act I establishes the major conflict, Act II introduces complications, and Act III is for the climax and resolution.”
Fitzgerald may have been saying that, as Americans, we grasp for premature resolutions, impatient with complications along the way. During the second act, the protagonist is unable to resolve the complications because they don’t have the right tools yet. Our lead character must grapple against the odds—often paying a big price along the way. But Americans? Usually, we just want a shortcut.
Most everybody else seemed content to sit around.
When the group reconvened after breakfast, they immediately became stuck on a sentence in their prefatory paragraph declaring that climatic changes were “likely to occur.”
“Will occur,” proposed Laurmann, the Stanford engineer.
“What about the words: highly likely to occur?” Scoville asked.
“Almost sure,” said David Rose, the nuclear engineer from M.I.T.
“Almost surely,” another said.
“Changes of an undetermined — ”
“Changes as yet of a little-understood nature?”
“Highly or extremely likely to occur,” Pomerance said.
“Almost surely to occur?”
“No,” Pomerance said.
“I would like to make one statement,” said Annemarie Crocetti, a public-health scholar who sat on the National Commission on Air Quality and had barely spoken all week. “I have noticed that very often when we as scientists are cautious in our statements, everybody else misses the point, because they don’t understand our qualifications.”
These two dozen experts, who agreed on the major points and had made a commitment to Congress, could not draft a single paragraph. Hours passed in a hell of fruitless negotiation, self-defeating proposals and impulsive speechifying. Pomerance and Scoville pushed to include a statement calling for the United States to “sharply accelerate international dialogue,” but they were sunk by objections and caveats.
They never got to policy proposals. They never got to the second paragraph. The final statement was signed by only the moderator, who phrased it more weakly than the declaration calling for the workshop in the first place.
The year was 1979. Rafe Pomerance, trained as a historian, was the deputy legislative director of Friends of the Earth, and this moment marked the beginning of a political and scientific effort that tragically, almost, saved the world.
The quote continues,
Pomerance paused, startled, over the orphaned paragraph. It seemed to have come out of nowhere. He reread it. It made no sense to him.
He proceeded as a historian might: cautiously, scrutinizing the source material, reading between the lines. When that failed, he made phone calls, often to the authors of the reports, who tended to be surprised to hear from him. Scientists, he had found, were not in the habit of fielding questions from political lobbyists. They were not in the habit of thinking about politics.