Circumventing the NRA via the world court

Neil Peirce asks whether mayors from around the world might create a united urban voice around issues that affect cities. One such issue: the US’s lax control over guns: » Could Mayors’ Fervor For Gun Curbs Trigger Global Legal Action?

A clip:

The “extremely violent” Mexican drug gangs, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon reported, are getting 85 percent of their weaponry from transfers across the U.S. border. (The method’s simple — the gangs simply recruit straw buyers who can flash a U.S. driver’s license at a gun shop, walk out with scores of firearms, many of them assault weapons, and then transport the lethal cargo into Mexico).

This is an interesting idea. Ten years ago, I would have said “no chance.” But recent inroads in global environmental enforcement of things such as environmental assessment suggest otherwise.

Social Inclusion with (Bad) Design, Angering the Gods

I really do love to read academic blogs, and one of my favorite’s is a Don’s Life by Cambridge classicist, Mary Beard, written for the Times Online.

Recently, Mary got fired up by the doors to their building–a very fancy dancy building extension from the sounds of it–and the doors that are meant to accommodate wheelchairs: Door rage (and wedding bells). It seems that the doors open very slowly, causing people to pile up outside and inside waiting to leave, particularly during the times of day that no sane academic leaves their office (unless it is to join the throng and go teach): between classes. Trust me, all my coffee-seeking occurs between those frenzied leitmotifs of the academic day. The rationale is that the doors are too heavy to open and must be handled electronically.

Another, somewhat more embarrassing problem for the classicists: The Telegraph reports a misspelling on the doorway. The doorway in sports a quote from Aristotle’s Metaphysics: “All men by nature desiring to know”–a more literal translation than we usually get in our modern English nomenclature–“All men desire to know.”

But anyhow, the etching uses an s instead of a sigma in the word pronounced “Phusei”–the “by nature” or “by essence” bit. D’oh! Could it be that the etching company didn’t have a stencil for sigma? But they had a stencil for phi! And a sigma stencil would have been easy enough to make.

The Telegraph seems to cast this as a problem with inclusionary design for disabilities. Nice try, but the problem is bad design, period, not inclusionary design. Any outside door that requires, rather than offers as an option, electricity is a major problem in my opinion, let alone an outside door that faces a peaking problem.

Mary Beard suggests, in her usually humorous way, that the misspelling on the clogged doors is sign: ‘Even the gods have shown their disapproval in their own inimitable way.”

The Athenians believed that perfection pleased the gods, so perhaps she’s right. If nothing else, it got us some beautiful sculpture, like this sculpture of Athena attributed to Phidias.

In which I ask: Does the French President not have enough to do?

Let’s get two things out of the way:

1) Chinatown is fabulous movie. Rosemary’s Baby is a very good movie, too.
2) Both are weird and creepy, however.

Now, I honestly don’t know what justice is in the case. The facts, as they are discussed, seem pretty bad to me, and if true, the “let bygones be bygones” sentiment seems pretty expedient rather than just. However, I don’t know what happened for sure.

What I do know for sure is that it takes a pretty big ego ask the French President to carry a letter from you to the American president. Polanski had President Sarkozy deliver a letter to Obama where Polanski states his case and why he should be allowed a pardon: La lettre de Polanski à Obama – (In French).

Yeah, sure, these two world leaders could squander their time talking about the crumbling world economy or the looming catastrophe of global warming, or the oil that is spreading across the ocean, or a whole host of things that might be, well, important to the running of the world. Or they can spend their time on you and your problem. Hmmm.

Then, there’s the fact that Barack Obama is not Santa Claus. Do they not have lawyers in whatever countries Roman has his various and sundry villas? Did nobody explain before he did this that not only is Barack Obama not Santa Claus, a pardon from him is not relevant here? Do I just misunderstand constitutional law? Did the letter contain instructions to Obama “Pssst…tell Schwartzenegger that he’s not getting any more HSR money unless he pardons Polanski.”?

But what really annoys me here is that Sarkovsky did it. If I wanted a pardon for anybody in my family, I would have no such means to grab the attention of my own governors or presidents–even though they are more accountable to me than Obama is to Polanski. But because Polanski is a celebrity, he has a president acting as a mailman to my president. Blech.

Celebrity culture: I generally don’t spend much time thinking about it, and I have a suspicions of people who tear their hair and say we are going to hell in a hand basket. But these types of stories do strike me as a sign that priorities are screwed up.

Water quality and the CDC

via Andrea Hricko

The Washington Post has the following story on the VTech professor Mark Edwards. Though the heroes’ journey tone of the article is a bit heavy, it is a good example of what research and scholarship is for, and the necessity for scientific accountability within agencies like the CDC. Here’s the full story:

Virginia Tech professor uncovered truth about lead in D.C. water

Eric Cantor: Tough Guy, Taking on the worst people: Graduate students

In a master stroke of entirely meaningless, chump-change budgetary politics, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor has instituted the YouCut program.

I’m not linking, and you can’t make me.

Representative Cantor has this idea in mind: using the entirely scientifical methodology of web polls, he will put the top-vote-getter up for cuts in the House budget.

What are these programs? Here’s one: the HUD Dissertation Fellowship Program. Here’s Cantor’s write-up:

HUD Program for Doctoral Dissertations ($1 million in savings)
Recently, taxpayers have financed research on media strategies for housing policy and the use of eminent domain for urban redevelopment. Why should families who are struggling to pay for their children’s college also being asked to fund stipends from the government for those who want to write their dissertation on certain government-preferred policies? At approximately $200,000 in grants per year, terminating this program would save $1 million over five years.

A million over 5 years!! That’ll clear up the deficit in no time. Swell! I don’t even know what he means by “government-preferred programs,” but I’m for cutting whatever the government prefers. You can have governments go around preferring things. Now you might think that if the government preferred that people study these things, the government would manage more than $225,000 a year to support it out of a $3.6 trillion budget, but that just goes to show you how ineffectual government is at the same time it’s evil.

The only problem: this write up doesn’t go far enough. He should have gone on to explain how these PhD students, having gotten their $15,000 cut of the big pork that is the HUD dissertation fellowship program, just fling that hard-working taxpayer money away on such fripperies as “food” and “rent.”

Keep up the good work, Chief Deficit Buster.

Note: this doesn’t mean the deficit doesn’t scare me. It does. That’s what makes this kind of rannygazoo all the more irritating.

The early technologies of globalization

Astrology, as practiced by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Hindus, which taught people about geography, direction, and navigation. No, it’s not about your sign. Pictured is Ptolemy.

The lateen sail, which improved over square sails used by Roman and other dominant navies. The lateen sail allowed us to manipulate sails according to wind direction, rather than having to wait for a wind going the way we wanted to and having to sit around if that fickle wind changed on us. It allowed for translatlantic crossing, int particular, because with a triangle sail you could slide from Europe down towards the equator, pick up the trade winds; return by sliding up the east coast of the new world (now peopled by a strange tribe of individuals in suits with magic devices they click all the time) and catch the western trade winds.

The compass, which is apparent enough.

Richard Green v. The Most Interesting Man in the World

I am very fond of and have great respect for my colleague Richard Green. He is witty, urbane, infinitely generous to young scholars (and old scholars, for that matter), interested in many things, and, though I am hardly one to judge, a first-rate economist. (Other first-rate economists tell me he is.)

Well, Paul Krugman linked to Richard’s blog post calling out bad thinking entitled, appropriately enough: Opinions without Data.

Do you know what this means? This means Richard officially tops the Most Interesting Man in the World in terms of being the Most Interesting Man in the World.

Here’s the Most Interesting Man in the World, according to Dos Equis:

– If he were to mail a letter without postage, it would still get there.

Here’s Richard:

-When he rants on his blog, Nobel Prize winners link to it.

Who’s more interesting? NO CONTEST.

A little more seriously, in Richard’s case, he does a nice job of laying out the problem except for one thing: his caveat that he tries to be respectful of other people’s viewpoints. Strictly stated, in pluralist society, he’s not required by principle to respect viewpoints. He’s required–if we’re thinking about Locke or any of his followers, to respect other people and their right to have different viewpoints. You don’t have to respect, like, or indulge other people’s views. You do have to respect other people and their entitlement to difference. But you don’t have to treat their opinions like they are made of glass, or something special, particularly if you have heard them out and made a genuine attempt to include, listen, or understand.

Freedom of speech means that yes, you can voice an opinion, no matter how ignorant or repellent. But freedom of speech also entitles the rest of us to point out how wrong, ignorant, or repellent that opinion is.

The Pan-American train, Nashville, and Country Music

Those of us who are old remember when country music wasn’t entirely a place peopled by whites. DeFord Bailey passed in 1982, when I was quite young, but I remember one of the country stations playing an hour-long set of his unfortunately few recordings.

What has he got to do with sustainable cities and transport? Well, he’s one of those people that captured train music. This is him doing the Pan American Blues:


The Pan-American ran between Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, and New Orleans from the mid-1920s until 1971. It had the full passenger train package: sleepers, dining cars, observation areas, etc.

The Delmore Brothers and Hank Williams, Sr also recorded a song about the Pan American: