Monthly Archives: March 2012

MISS Representation at the Price School

Last night, a group of my advisees, the Women’s Leadership in Public Policy Screened Miss Representation, a documentary film on media images of women as leaders. I went largely to support my students because I really thought there wasn’t anything new I could learn about the terrible way the media treats women–I’ve been watching this nonsense for a long time now. I was wrong. The film is very good, and it has a tremendous amount of new information about the way the media has treated female political leaders and the subsequent effects on policy (and planning, btw).

There are more opportunities to attend:

Thursday, March 29 7 to 8:30
Saturday, March 31, 2 to 1:30 pm
Sunday, April 1 from 7-to 8:30

All screenings I believe are in Taper Hall.

Here is the trailer:

The WLPPD is partnering with Trojans for Equality, the Undergraduate Student Government, and Graduate Student Government.

Everybody became more aware of this problem when Rush Limbaugh badmouthed Sandra Fluke a few weeks ago. Like the public discussion that occurred after that event, it’s becoming more and more clear that women on both sides of the political spectrum are demonized, ridiculed, or otherwise diminished simply for wanting to serve as their community as leaders. From condescension toward Sarah Palin to racism directed at Condi Rice and Michelle Malkin to the deplorable treatment of both Madeline Albrecht and Hilary Clinton, women who have the guts to try to influence policy are the subject of simple abuse. There is no other way to put it. You don’t have to be a feminist* or anything else to be appalled.

It’s also taking a toll. Fewer women are running this year for Congress; women like Olympia Snowe–a highly effective Republican politico–is stepping down because of the political environment in DC has become so toxic, in multiple ways.

The backlash towards women we are seeing played out at a national level has consequences for men as well. If there is one thing that contemporary politics should be teaching us, it’s that we need to be partners and allies to each other, approaching our differences with a deep-seated and *radical* respect for our shared humanity. We can’t keep pretending that the lack of civility in politics, particularly that shown to our women leaders, doesn’t matter.

I know it’s a busy time of year, but I highly encourage you to go, think about what you are seeing, and support your Price School School colleagues and your peers around the university who brought this opportunity to campus.

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USC’s College of Architecture’s New Publication Series

See it here.

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The best reviewer comment ever (kids don’t try this at home)

I got my reviews back on a manuscript. Some backstory: MS Word’s supposedly good new equation editor was giving me grief on a multiline equation. I had in disgust cut out the equation and just typed in all caps: MS WORD BLOWS.

Apparently, I forgot to put those equations back before submitting the manuscript. Because all the reviewers complained about the “lack of a final proofread” (I SWEAR I DID!! HOW COULD I MISS THAT?? This is what happens when I don’t have fabulous proofreader Dima Galkin read it before it goes out.)

Reviewer #3 said:

“MS Word does indeed blow, but I want to see those equations anyway.”

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Imma gonna do me—an Objectivist childhood

One of my major disappointments in life is that there is no Objectivist character on the Simpsons. Don’t you think that would be a riot?

There is a lot of whinging in this piece-I’m not sure what she describes is a “ruined childhood”—from Alyssa Bereznak entitled “How Ayn Rand Ruined My Childhood”. But there is a lot of wisdom, too, as she discusses how Objectivism affected her relationships, when she dabbled with it:

I hoarded my accomplishments at school, convinced I’d earned them all on my own. Meanwhile, my mother quietly packed my lunch every day.

It’s insidious how such radical individualism shut down her own gratitude, IOW, and she’s smart enough to see it now. Although, in reality, gratitude towards mothers isn’t something teenagers excel at, objectivism or not.

Nonetheless, that sentence is a good contrasting point about the difference between Ayn Rand’s dreck and more mainstream libertarians. Libertarians as a general rule–except for the one that fell under this kind of bizarre influence-argue not that you don’t owe anything to anybody else. They generally argue that, granted freedom, people will care for each other through the negotiated mores of civil society, and in this case, family attachment. Don’t tax me and take my money for the needy; let me give. (There’s not much about the course of the history of philanthropy that makes me actually believe that, but certainly that’s an argument now).

Reading the piece through the end, it becomes clear that her father is a simple narcissist who ruins his relationships with other people because he is unable to give to anybody else, and he uses a twisted form of philosophy to justify it. I wonder how he’ll feel reading about this? The writing becomes tentative as she discusses what surely must have a deeply painful episode:


Hardcore objectivists often criticize liberals for basing decisions on emotion, rather than reason. My father saw our family politics no differently. In his mind, it was reasonable to ask that I emancipate myself and work for a living. To me, it felt like he was asking me to sacrifice my childhood so he didn’t have to pay child support. To me, it felt like abandonment.

There are children in Ayn Rand’s novels–in Atlas Shrugged, for example, there is a meditation about how children raised away from the shackles of society and treated with individual respect behave as “adventurous kittens.” Crazy as Rand was in some ways, I doubt she would have condoned this father’s ludicrously petty behavior. Perhaps the piece should be called “How My Dad’s Narcissism Caused Him to Be A Crap Parent.”

Related posts: Atlas Shrugged trailer and Trains that Go Zoom!

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Some Schoolhouse Rock for the Senate’s passage of the America Fast Forward Bill

Bill got his happy ending! :)

Unfortunately, I don’t see the same outcome for Boxer’s bill. I think we’ll have another extension. And when we finally do get a deal, it’s going to be the Republican’s deal. Unless something really amazing happens in November.

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Teju Cole on Kony; Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trayvon Martin

Well, I just read 40 essays that basically concluded that Black people should get over racism, as that slavery thing happened a long time ago. Alternatively, one might advance another theory: white people could also take the opportunity to remove their heads from their butts every now and again. Just a thought.

Teju Cole wrote one of the most-buzzed-about books of the year, Open City, which has been sitting here waiting for me to read it for a couple months. Based on this beautifully reasoned and written piece in the The Atlantic on Kony, I’d say it’s time to crack that book open.

Also on the Atlantic is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Two Thoughts on Trayvon Martin.

I have nothing profound or deep or contrary to add, really. I’m pretty jazzed at how much more interesting The Atlantic has become in the last six months.

My only quibble with Teju Cole’s point is that whenever the self-determination argument comes up, it gives Americans an excuse to indulge their predilection towards isolationism. So, you didn’t treat we great white saviors with the love we deserved for caring, then fine. Manage on your own then. That’s not, most emphatically, what Cole is saying; he’s saying you have to spend more than 5 minutes trying to understand a place before you get to decide how to fix it. He’s not saying that we’re under no obligation. He’s saying the obligations are much, much greater than spending five minutes on something and moving on to the next news cycle, where Uganda will not be mentioned for another 20 years.

Get off your fanny and learn, really learn, about foreign policy, and try to influence it for the good of mankind, and not just your own national interest. Cosmopolitanism, indeed.

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The shifting cost figures on California’s High Speed Rail and what it should teach people about project development

Many, many folks have sent me this press statement from the new California HSR chief, Dan Richards, discussing how a new plan will lower the costs from the estimated $100 billion released last year. Some have sent it to me with a “hah ha you’re wrong! The train is totes affordable” kind of way, while others have sent it in a “This dude is blowing smoke–I can’t wait to see the rationales” kind of way.

The shifting cost estimates. Ho boy. Where to start? There’s every possibility that the train will cost more or less than $100 billion. There’s a reason why, when I had my students estimate the costs in 2008, that their quick estimates ranged from $80 to $110 billion–there are a lot of assumptions that go into any given cost calculation.

I was relieved to see the $100 billion from the CALHSR folks last fall not because I want the project to die, per se, but because I think it’s important for the public to really grapple with the costs, which are going to be significant. It’s a great, big, complicated project with a lot of moving parts. So everybody who does this kind of work in California saw the $32 to $43 billion originally shown to voters–particularly as the proposition these figures accompanied practically promised a full HSR system–as deeply, deeply problematic to the democratic process and the project’s accountability to voters. It’s entirely possible that a project that costs $100 billion has far and away enough benefits to justify the costs. But in my rulebook, you can’t go voters with a ridiculously low cost estimate. Perhaps I am naive, but I think voters would have approved a nickel increase in the gas tax for the HSR, which would have solved a lot of the financial problems plaguing the project—and prevented the cloud that the HSR agency now operates under. Why should anybody believe any of their cost figures given the vast shifts?

Richards sounds like a much better leader for this project than California has ever had before:


“I don’t think we’ll be able to look (the Legislature) or the public in the eye and tell them that we have any greater clarity about the funding today,” Richard said. He did, however, defend estimates that enough passengers will ride the train to turn a profit.

It’s entirely possible for HSR to turn a profit once taxpayers have eaten all the capital costs. He’s right about that. If HSR around the world (and a lot of airports) have proved anything, it’s that.

As it is, Richards could be right: there are two key changes in the plan that could very well shave quite a bit off project cost. The first has been the little-discussed but very important–plan to seek more funding from cities rather than expecting more money from the Feds. By putting localities on the hook for funding, the impulse to demand a station when it makes no sense diminishes, and some of these places that expected to get aboard the Federal gravy train will have to make very hard choices about whether they can pony up funds for stations. That is all to the good for the project, even if the localities themselves stand to lose out. Also, it’s a lot less fun for neighbors to scream for every mitigation under the sun if they know that they are paying for those side-payments, along with their neighbors, rather than Uncle Sam/Sugar Daddy paying for the sprinkle-covered sound walls and underground links.**

The second change concerns the subtle shifts in some of the ground work in southern California–some promised double-tracking for existing services. Doing that could mean pretty big, fast benefits to those regions.

Finally, they could shave a lot of money (yes, billions) off that project cost by simply aiming for getting to the SFO Bart station rather than trying to get into downtown San Francisco. People are going to transfer to BART anyway, and it’s a simple BART trip to downtown from SFO. It’s a worthy amendment even if property owners downtown don’t want it.

**This question about underground links is the biggest wildcard in the cost equation, and anybody who has worked in California for awhile has to know it. I mean, hell, in Los Angeles, we’re grappling with communities that are outright demanding we put FREAKING LIGHT RAIL underground. Do you know how much that costs? And who can blame these communities? Why not demand that? But what that concession does to project costs is substantial.And it’s only a matter of time before the HSR also becomes subject to that demand. And then we’ll see costs absolutely spiral upwards, if we do get there. But I think we will get there if current construction politics are any indicator.

(My apologies for typos, I’m really sleepy today.)

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Gabriel Rossman on intellectual property and piracy

There are a bunch of recent events I haven’t written about here. One is the birth control and abortion controversies. Here’s why:

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via Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured.

The second thing I haven’t commented on was SOPA. I didn’t comment because I knew I was going to have an unpopular position and I’m not an expert. However, Gabriel Rossman, who is much closer to this field than I am has two really good blog posts that capture what I’m thinking about the IP rules.

Sympathy for the IP Industry…my favorite quote pretty much hits all I had to say about the controversy:

In the arguments over SOPA, I’ve seen a few arguments from people I respect that piracy basically doesn’t matter. These arguments strike me as somewhat plausible but probably wrong and grounded in wishful thinking that a solution being unpleasant means that the problem it addresses is nonexistent. This is not to say that I support SOPA, for I do not. My main intuition on this is that an industry that sponsored the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act has forfeited its claim to our sympathies….Nonetheless I think it’s important to clarify just how complicated estimating the effects of piracy are.

This was cross-posted on the National Review’s blog.

The second: Fewer Movies or Smaller Mansions appears here.

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The Senate Transportation Bills passes, and people are happy for reasons that somewhat mystify me

So Boxer’s version of the transport bill passed in the Senate, but I can’t imagine it passing the House, unless all the whackadoodles in the House suddenly come down with a sudden case of reasonableness. Sorry, this is supposed to be a scholarly blog with measured language, but I am at the point of calling ‘em like I see ‘em, and the Boxer’s bill rather rigorously ignores all the issues that the House Repbulicans are hoping to force into policy for the next five years, but with one notable exception: earmarks.

We got it, already. Everybody hates everybody else’s pork. However, it’s hard for me to understand why, exactly, the big donor states like California, Texas, Ohio, and New York would ever support another federal tax increase if earmarks are off the table.

This is not to say that earmarks shouldn’t be taken off the table. It’s just that, without earmarks, the donor states have even more reason to join anti-tax coalitions at the Federal level. Failure to update the federal gas tax is one of the reasons why we are dealing with a $12 billion gap between revenues and what people want to spend.

Anyhoodily, I’m assuming people have been paying attention long enough to understand why the Senate Bill use earmarking as a sacrificial lamb: they are widely perceived to be wasteful, and in so doing, appear to be a bit of an olive branch to the House Republicans who might be tempted to back off of their hard line position on a number of other issues to take the political victory surrounding earmarks.

To be clear, the Senate Bill is a hot mess even while Democrats are rejoicing in its passage in the senate. By scooping more money out of the general fund to cover the deficit in spending, it doesn’t solve the major problems dividing the parties, nor does it address the long-term sustainability of the fund. It’s an 18-month bill, which amounts to another damn extension for all practical purposes.

I don’t see this bill passing in the House except as an extension, which everybody wants. Both sides are holding out hope that they will capture control of Congress, and then there will be real leverage.

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The Last Famine – By Paul Salopek | Foreign Policy

Urbanization may be helping to alleviate famine–but the process is slow, and the human toll is large.

The Last Famine – By Paul Salopek | Foreign Policy:

Aid workers employ a highly mathematical definition for the word “famine”: It means that at least 20 percent of families in a region face extreme food shortages and acute malnutrition affects more than 30 percent of the population; there must be two starvation-related deaths per 10,000 people every day. Richard Leakey says these numbers toll, like a distant bell, for all of us. For a certain Dr. Francis Kuria of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, who published a well-reasoned column in the Daily Nation of Nairobi that quoted both the Roman poet Virgil and his country’s bleak ranking on theHuman Development Index, they ring the end, at last, for a venerable way of life and a 10,000-year-old economy. Of the nomads he wrote: “It’s time for the Turkana to leave their wastelands and settle down.” The optimists are few. Mostly, they are the desert wanderers themselves.

(Via www.foreignpolicy.com)

Go read the entire piece. Foreign Affairs is by far my favorite periodical, and this is a rare free bit–beautifully written and observed.

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