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Venice, the theme park?

June 18, 2019

An art admirer might visit New York City just for its museums. An architect student might visit Savannah just for its historical layers of construction. Neither really caring much about the city visited.

For some, a large attraction to visiting a city is to get a sense for it as a city. The different character of its neighborhoods. The various kinds of business it hosts. How it manages its schools, and how that shapes its children. How its denizens get around. What kind of of parks and entertainment they patronize. Those aren’t easy things to see, and a short-time visitor only gets a peak at them. It still makes visiting a city potentially a larger experience than just visiting a set of museums and structures.

What happens, though, when a city becomes so popular, that tourism becomes its major industry? When you walk the sidewalks of New York or Paris, you are surrounded by New Yorkers or Parisians, going about their business and daily lives. As they would do, with a few tourists around or not. (Photo is Madrid.) When you walk the sidewalks of the inner part of Bruges, you are surrounded mostly by other tourists. This picturesque Belgian town of 100,000 — most of whom live outside the inner part — gets eight million visitors annually. Well, it still has a working port and a university. Not that most visitors will see either.

Venice, which I have not yet visited, may be more extreme. It is an island town with a permanent population of 53,000. During high season, cruise ships daily release 32,000 visitors. And they are only a small fraction of its tourist load. The city is working hard to limit the effects of that. But the simple truth is that once a city starts to charge an entry fee to day visitors, it looks even more like a theme park.

There have been many towns that were built on tourism. Bransom is an obvious example. Some Colorado ski towns. It just seems a bit curious when historic cities then evolve into that. There is a sense to it. And when a city becomes one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, with most of its workers then tied to that, they nonetheless form a community. No less than a town whose industry is mining or photocopiers. It’s just a different experience visiting, when most around you also are tourists, or working in tourist related industry.


Generational politics in Europe

June 17, 2019

I do not subscribe to cyclical theories of history. Yes, it’s easy to see some resemblance between the rise of right-wing, ultranationalist, patriarchal parties today and the rise of fascist parties during the 1920s and 1930s. Those similarities don’t constitute an explanation, and that doesn’t mean the early 22nd century will see something similar.

Still, it is interesting that support for Brexit does not monotonically increase with age. See the graph, right. As Kieran Devine at the London School of Economics points out:

[The] ‘war generation’ that experienced the majority of their formative period during the Second World War .. is revealed as displaying significantly more positive views towards European integration than the immediate post-war generations. In fact, the size of this generational effect between the war and post-war generations is approximately equivalent to the same change in attitude that would be expected from a two-year reduction in education levels, a factor well known to increase Euroscepticism.

I don’t know if there is a similar data for Americans. It’s easy to view the baby boomers as the generation most at fault, because they are the generation that most form the Trumpistas. Does that mean their parents are less likely? Don’t know. That generation largely is gone. Most statistical data I see doesn’t separate it from those slightly younger. If the data on that is not already collected, it may be too late to suss out any difference between the baby boom and the generation previous.

The Swiss youth behind Operation Libero are tackling right-wing populism not head on, but from the side. Good on them.


June 14, 2019

Cambridge University claims that a team of its scientists, and some from King’s College London:

..have identified the mechanism behind hardening of the arteries, and shown in animal studies that a generic medication normally used to treat acne could be an effective treatment for the condition.

(Cite.) To which the only possible response is: wow.

As with many such promising results, only the future will tell. Let’s hope this one pans out. Or at least that the research into the claimed mechanism is fruitful.

The NRA grift

June 13, 2019

I posted on the key role that grift plays in right-wing politics a day before Amanda Marcotte wrote on the NRA and the right-wing marketing of guns:

Guns, it turns out, are no different than the survivalist kits or gold bars being sold in fringe conservative publications, or the supplements and cancer “cures” being hawked by Alex Jones and other right-wing pundits, or the fake super PACs that claim to support Republican candidates but mostly just line the pockets of their leaders. There’s a long and ugly history of right-wing grifters exploiting the paranoid, reactionary impulses of their followers to bamboozle them out of their hard-earned money.

I have watched in amazement the last decade at how guns have been marketed as a form of political bling. Their sales skyrocketed. But there was no increase in hunting. I haven’t noticed a lot of new gun ranges. And guns may have the longest useful lifespan of all consumer products. Non-growth in actual use and slow need for product replacement would make guns a fairly staid market. Were it not for a booming population of marks creating ever larger personal stockpiles for the zombie apocalypse. That boom now is turning into a bust.


June 12, 2019

I am not that surprised that anticipation involves the cerebellum. Too much coordinated activity, such as basketball, would be impossibly slow otherwise.

I don’t anticipate much coming from the Templeton Foundation’s endeavor to test different theories of consciousness.

“The Right’s Grifter Problem”

June 11, 2019

The title of this post is in quotation marks, because I copied it. Ponder for a moment what an article by that title might be about.

Trump is the obvious first example. His university was sued and shut down for fraud. His charitable foundation was closed by New York. He brags about negotiating in bad faith. He is infamous for cheating contractors. He lies incessantly. He is so dishonest that he thinks it is suspicious when a lawyer takes notes in a meeting with him.

If the topic were not the conman who currently heads the GOP, perhaps it is about the long-time symbiosis between the GOP and the industries that walk the legal line of fraud: the payday loan industry, the private colleges burdening students with debt and worthless certificates, the direct marketing industry, and all the other businesses whose customers look a lot like marks. Which marks include many of the GOP’s most faithful. Those marketers work hand-in-hand with mass media preachers, with pretend cognoscenti selling everything from investment advice to diet aides and cures for erectile dysfunction, and with right-wing celebrities who will be happy to chat up those who pay good money for a touted seminar or cruise. In many of these industries, the line between con and mark gets quite blurred. That blurred line is how MLMs work. The links above go to posts on those topics from years past, before Trump had come on the political scene.

The National Review article, whose title I quote, discusses none of that. Its sole complaint, its narrow focus, is that conservative PACs are run mostly to skim money from their donors, sometimes with completely bogus claimed purpose. The author, Jim Geraghty, displays all the self-awareness of a chronic alcoholic dying from liver cancer thinking that his real health problem is a lack of vitamins. To give him some credit, he does recognize the sleazy ways its PACs are run is a distinctively a right-wing problem:

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, every PAC does this.” Nope. In that RightWingNews study, Club for Growth Action PAC had 88 percent actually went into independent expenditures and direct contributions. Republican Main Street Partnership had 78 percent, and American Crossroads was at 72 percent. That allegedly corrupt “establishment” is way more efficient at using donors’ money than all of these self-proclaimed grassroots conservative groups. Over on the liberal or Democratic side, ActBlue charges a 3.95 percent processing fee when passing along donations to campaigns.

He just seems completely oblivious to why that might be so, from the GOP’s long-time ties to the grift industry, to the grifter nature of its pundits and preachers and leaders, to the current grifter in chief.

For those who don’t want to read through the Mueller report, Anne Landman summarizes the instances of obstruction described in the Mueller report.

Warmer, still

June 10, 2019

I don’t much follow the legal wrangles stemming from global warming politics. Greg Laden writes that the Frontier Centre now apologizes for slurring Michael Mann a decade back, falsely accusing him of faking or altering data. No one should draw straight connections between the legal and scientific results, though in this instance, they are aligned. I’m linking to that mostly because I like how Laden lays out the events on the graph of global temperature increase. The nature of the discussion hasn’t much changed over the years. The graph makes it clear that it should, as decade after decade we get ever warmer. See if you can spot in that curve the various “pauses” that the denialists ever use to disprove the trend. We are almost always in one, since to their use, every new peak defines the beginning of the next “pause.”

Given any topic broadly discussed, there are bad explanations, bad arguments, silly projections, etc. on all sides. A popular belief about global warming is that it will make hurricanes worse or more frequent. Right after Harvey blew though my neighborhood — we were a fortnight without city power — I blogged on how there still is little evidence that global warming is changing hurricanes. Perhaps that evidence will emerge in coming decades. Right now, such claims are speculative.

Now, there is a badly conceived report that global warming will cause civilization to collapse mid-century. The responsible writers on global warming, including Michael Mann, are rightly debunking it. It will, alas, give fodder to those who will pretend that it represents climate science.

I have every expectation that in fifty years those in the developed world still will have plenty to eat in their air conditioned houses. What is at risk is the natural world. We are causing one of the great extinctions in the earth’s history. The fundamental cause is habitat loss. Global warming is one mechanism of that. It is not the only one. Bolsonaro’s eagerness to sell the Amazon rain forest as lumber and turn it into cow pasture may be the largest step backwards today. A friend of mine recently claimed the larger problem are kinds of pollution other than rising CO2. Despite the growth of ocean dead zones from fertilizer run-off, I doubt it.

But here is the thing. There is no battle between environmentalists who want to cut greenhouse gas emissions, those who want to preserve remaining natural areas, those who want to address the explosion of plastic trash, and those who want to regulate other kinds of pollution also. The political battle has on one side the industries that want the “freedom” to cause whatever harm they want in the pursuit of their own profit, together with their political defenders, think tanks, and other shills. Their popular tune is to pretend to stand for capitalism, despite the fact that they don’t seem much to understand the way it works. If they did, they would know that regulating externalities is not an attack on it. That battle has on the other side those who want those harms recognized, studied, monitored, and regulated. It comes as no surprise that Bolsonaro is targeting science research, also.