Thursday, March 13, 2003

LITTLE RED HOOK The Stones censored in Bejing. If this has the same effect for them as "banning" did for Darryl Worley, it's undoubtedly the best thing to happen to them in years.
WHAT IS THIS, A WAR FOR ANTS!?! As hypnotic as his forehead may be, Bill Kristol is really no match for Ad-Rock, or for Darryl Worley, for that matter. Media bias, schmedia bias, one has to admit that until very, very recently (today?), the pro-invasion forces were winning the Soundscan battle. When Jon Pareles wrote last week that the "unstoppable mainstream anti-war hit has not yet been unveiled," Worley's execrable "Have You Forgotten" (which contains a couplet rhyming "bin Ladin" and "forgotten") had already reached No. 9 on Billboard's country tracks chart. On the other side of the propaganda machine? George Michael's cover of Don McLean's "The Grave." Worley's pedantic "new country" schtick sounds like Johnny Cash by comparison.

But the new Beastie Boys song absolutely rocks. Yes, we will be subjected to inevitable carping by the pro-war punditocracy (I predict arguments along these lines: "What, it's okay to fight for your right to party, but not for the lives of Kurdish women and children?!"). On the plus side, it fills me with hope to hear lefty types make their argument with the same measure of humor and pop culture savvy that in the wrong hands gets hacks like Jonah Goldberg a free intellectual ride. "In a World Gone Mad" may (or may not) be the first time that references to the Ben Stiller masterpiece Zoolander have been used in the service of any political objective, but it's surely the most effective.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

BILL KRISTOL, SHINY-HEADED GOD OF LOVE More fodder for media conspiracy theorists appeared in the New York Times yesterday: a loving profile of The Weekly Standard and its quietly charismatic editor, William Kristol. The attention is deserved, no doubt, and not just because Dick Cheney sends someone down to pick up 30 fresh copies every Monday. (One does have to wonder why he isn't comped the "special delivery" edition, which arrives at the Antic Household every Saturday--is someone still smarting about the McCain fight?)

The Weekly Standard is simply the best political magazine in America. What's more, it is the best political magazine in America even though David Brooks is on staff. It has great reporting, sassy commentary, and--this is the part that seems hard for many publications--it seems to come to its editorial stances out of sincere moral reasoning. They're not the product of ideological throat-clearing, defensive knee-jerking, or desperate political glad-handing.

They were one of the first conservative outlets to argue for Trent Lott's dismissal, and they bravely called out Andrew Sullivan for defending the infamous "Harvard Penis Snow Sculpture." We, the editors wrote of the hotly debated member, "would rather be clumsily decent. . . than elegantly decadent," which pretty much sum up the magazine, even when it's in its bomb-throwing unilateralist mode.

I just wish I could agree with more of what they wrote.

Friends and acquaintances who work at the Weekly say that the decency of the magazine--which, truth be told, can also be elegant--stems directly from Kristol, who is inevitably described as "hands-on" and a "great boss." In political journalism, it is quite common to find a boss who is the former, rare to find one who is the latter, and almost impossible to one who is both. So I sort of have trouble believing this, except, well, I have seen a lot of Kristol on TV. . . He's always so, so, reasonable sounding. He has a great smile. He's very self-deprecating. In response to Nightline's assertion that he was, basically, the architect of the Bush Doctrine he all but blushed, saying all he did was "set the terms of kind of a way to think about the world."

This demeanor, combined with his obvious sense of humor and intelligence, make going to war sound great. Whenever I hear him on the radio or see him on TV, I find myself thinking, "Yeah, 'The cost of doing nothing is higher.' Right. 'Our freedom and security turn out to be inextricably linked to the character of regimes elsewhere in the world.' Of course."

It's as though I have been hypnotized by his large, luminous forehead, because as soon as I turn the TV off, I come up with doubts. Like, "Why is it that Republicans don't say anything about 'the cost of doing nothing is higher' when we talk about domestic policy?" or, "'If our security is linked to the character of regimes elsewhere,' doesn't that mean it's reasonable for, say, the European populace to be concerned about the character of our regime?" Stuff like that.

Perhaps this gullibility is just a side effect of watching TV, not Kristol in particular. That would certainly explain the popularity of other dubious ideas put forth by television, like, say, "Arranged marriages are fun!"

I return to Kristol, though. He seduces me with his big words, his toothy grin, his calm assurance. Oh, Bill, you make it so easy to believe.

Monday, March 10, 2003

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE WHO NEEDS N.I.M.B.Y'S? A pamphlet I picked up at an anti-anti-sprawl conference a couple of weeks ago nicely illustrates just how the "smart growth" movement got off track. Entitled "Smart Growth, Smart Choices." it features lush color spreads of neo-traditionalist communities filled with homey porches, meandering sidewalks, and smiling 2.5-children families. It appears to embody the smart growth movement. It was put out, however, by the National Association of Home Builders--not exactly your neighborhood Greens.

For those honestly committed to environmentalist goals--reducing pollution, preserving wildlife habitats, limiting consumption--the problem with supporting smart growth is two-fold. One: Though the term has gained currency in recent years as an environmentalist buzzword, "smart growth" was itself a compromise goal, an alternative to no growth. Two: As the NAHB pamphlet attests, pretty much anyone can say they're for smart growth. It's not like affirmative action or school choice, terms associated with fairly specific policies. There are no real tenets of smart growth, just preferences and a whole smorgasbord policy options: Low density rural areas are smart growth, but high density corridors are as well. "Mixed use" hubs are smart growth, but so are "walkable communities." The smart growth "movement" becomes even less cohesive when you consider the different public and private mechanisms that can be used to enact smart growth policies: They can be imposed by local city councils, they can be "incentivized" through tax breaks to developers, they can be supported by EPA grants, or, as the NAHB pamphlet suggests, local governments can allow "consumer choices [to] shape communities" for a "market-based vision of smart growth." In fact, about the only thing that consistently characterizes smart growth arguments are those images of neo-traditional houses with nice front porches.

This explains how it is that that the Washington Post was able to run a front page story on Sunday arguing that "anti-sprawl measures have accelerated the consumption of woods and fields and pushed developers outward in their search for home sites." The reader reaction to this, I imagine, is supposed to be a dumbstruck, "Wha-ah?" And indeed, the nut graf's thesis makes for a snappy counterintuitive gotcha: Smart growth policies cause sprawl.

But what, exactly, is being characterized smart growth here? It turns out these "anti-sprawl measures" enacted by Beltway communities are almost entirely low-density zoning regulations. You don't have to be Jane Jacobs to realize that if communities pass laws to keep density low without also ensuring that new housing will go up in high density centers, then you get ever-expanding outward growth as builders look for property to develop. You get sprawl.

You also get high housing prices, gridlock, chain stores, and David Brooks pseudo-anthropological twaddle. But to say these things derived from smart growth policies is disingenuous and bad for those who back what I suppose I must call "real smart growth." These suburban blights derived from policies designed not to inhibit growth, but to inhibit a certain, shall we say, class of growth. Think about it: What kind of houses get built on 3-acre lots? Nothing that I could afford, that's for sure. Very little that any average American could afford, actually. But in Loudoun county, for instance, that hardly matters. There, an area which has some of the tightest restrictions on growth in the area, average income is now six figures. (The county website lists "Equestrian Events" as a quality of life amenity.) and housing prices run from the astronomical to the insane.

This is probably the kind of "smarth growth" the NAHB had in mind.