Paul Revere and what I don’t get

I am feeling rather sorry for Sarah Palin these days; it’s easy to make a bunch of dumb mistakes when the world is watching you all the time. I can’t stand to look at photos of myself or listen to myself talking, so I can’t imagine what kind of hell people like her live in.

I mean, it’s not like she’s really represented herself as a particularly educated woman. She hasn’t. She spent her young adulthood popping in and out of community colleges and competing in pageants. This is a woman who has always wanted to be in front of cameras, and not in competitions where knowing your history or being able to discuss it–whatever the issue is–matters much.

I’ve heard various defenses, but perhaps most disturbing is the “who cares” argument. History is fiction, anyway, right? There are no facts, everything is subjective, everything is interpreted, etc etc.

Honestly, is that where we are?

Here’s the problem with that: it’s not a matter of interpretation how many people died in Auschwitz. Or in Siberia. Or during the cultural revolution. Or the French revolution.

History is hard. It’s a search for truth. But it’s really worth trying to get it right. Why wouldn’t you want to know about Paul Revere enough to have read about him?

Can you imagine what Revere was thinking that night all those years ago? In the dark, spring night, horse straining beneath him on the rough roads of colonial Massachusetts, as he roused others out of their houses and watched as they, too, dispatched on horseback into the night to warn their comrades that the hour had come. Time to make their commitments to revolution–or, depending on who wins, treason–real?

Really good fiction tells us stuff that is, really, true at an emotional level. And, as they say, art is a lie that tells us the truth.

But art. Not entertainment. And art, too, is often difficult.

So to bring this ramble to an end, the Endeavor is thus: to want the truth, and to pursue it, knowing you never get really get there. Honor the chase, and don’t cheat yourself by refusing to learn the graceful approximation of truth that can emerge from real study.

Peter McFerrin on private suburban transit in the New Republic

One of my favorite people, Peter McFerrin*, has a nice entry in the New Republic blogs about private transit services as a possible means for serving suburb-to-suburb commutes, a trip that municipal transit services, with their orientation downtown, have struggled to serve.

Peter argues that fiscal crisis in recent years has caused agencies to cut back routes that are likely to serve these commutes, and that private jitney services could step in:

Outside of the West, where geographic constraints have resulted in higher suburban development densities than in Midwestern, Northeastern, or Southern metros, transit agencies have had great difficulty making suburb-to-suburb service financially sustainable even in good times. Poor pedestrian connectivity depresses ridership, while high mileage per passenger increases costs, especially for fuel. As a result, many suburb-to-suburb bus routes recover barely more than ten percent of their operating costs from fares. In times of fiscal retrenchment, such unproductive routes represent a serious drain on transit agencies’ precarious finances, arguably preventing resources from being shifted to routes that might benefit more riders.

The problem, described in this way, becomes apparent: how do jitney services make their money if this is the service environment they are working in?

McFerrin is less explicit here (blog entries in real blogs, unlike this one, are usually short), but the experience in other parts of the world suggests:

1) jitney services use primarily nonunionized labor, unlike all the major regional transit agencies in the US, and thus have much lower operating costs for every vehicle that is on the road;

2) they can pursue a flexible pricing structure, unlike transit agencies that have to set fares by policy and thus, must respond to multiple public objectives—most of which mean that fares are kept low; and

3) they can pursue flexible routing, cutting service times, because they are not required to cover the geography as comprehensively as municipal or regional transit companies.

*Because he is one of my favorite people, I am both a) very proud and happy for him and b) hideously jealous. I love TNR!