AN ACTUAL SLIPPERY SLOPE

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2016 by Ed

Not all consequentialist arguments – slippery slopes, where one event is predicted to lead to a chain of subsequent and presumably worse events – are logical fallacies. I can assert, for example, that an individual making a terrorist threat to O'Hare Airport would begin a chain of events that would disrupt air travel throughout the United States. It would likely cause delays, cancellations, or even closure of an airport through which thousands of flights connect for passenger transfers every day, so O'Hare is infamous for creating "butterfly effects" in air travel. The slightest hiccup there is felt everywhere. I can't predict with any certainty what specific effects will follow the initial action, but I can construct a solid, evidence based argument that there will inevitably be consequences.

I point this out to underscore that when the facts are taken into account, banning Muslim immigration into the U.S., as Trump and many of his fellow travelers advocate, will be only the first step in a chain of escalating actions against Muslims. No one can predict with anything other than pure speculation as a guide exactly what those next steps will be, but there is zero doubt that there will be "next steps." We can conclude this with confidence because it is so simple to demonstrate that the first step – selectively banning Muslim immigration – will not accomplish its goal of eliminating terrorist attacks and making Americans "feel safer."

Only the most superficial understanding of the evolution of terrorism over the past four decades is necessary to understand that the age of Terror as Spectacle or terrorism to achieve political ends is over as far as the United States is concerned. Past terrorist groups either committed acts of terror to accomplish a specific goal – i.e., hijacking a plane to secure the release of prisoners – or to create a grand, publicity-seeking spectacle – Black September, the Dawson's Field hijackings, the Japanese Embassy hijacking in Lima, and so on. Al-Qaeda took the idea of spectacle but redirected the goal toward mass killing. They were drawn to the symbolism of attacking icons while also racking up a large body count. ISIS and ISIS-inspired terror, though, is the next step in that evolution. They've done away with the big, expensive, complicated (and therefore less certain of succeeding) spectacle in favor of the low tech, high body count approach. Why concoct some intricate plot to teach people to fly planes into buildings when you can have someone rent a truck and drive it into a crowd? Why not just grab a gun or strap on an explosive vest and head down to the mall? Why recruit expert bomb makers when any yahoo in the world can buy a Walmart crock pot and download a simple bomb schematic from the internet and construct it out of supplies you can buy at any hardware store?

The tradeoff is in glamour and efficiency. Each individual attack will result in fewer deaths than a single grand terror attack, and certainly there's none of the prestige and feeling of superiority that comes from crafting a complicated plot to "defeat" the intelligence communities in western nations. Cumulatively, though, the body count evens out and the attacks make up for what they lack in efficiency with low cost, ease of planning, and quantity. Most importantly, they are virtually impossible if not literally impossible to stop. One person, perhaps having read some ideas off an internet message board, perhaps inspired by an individual who contacted him online, or perhaps just acting on his own limited but sufficient imagination, can easily concoct a plan to kill a bunch of people. Anybody who is of the mindset to do so can rent a truck and drive it into a crowd, go to a crowded public place and start shooting, or construct a crude homemade explosive device. A plot like the 9-11 attack took years to plan and execute and had enough people and moving parts involved that the opportunity for law enforcement to intercede was always there. If a guy or a small group of people decide they're going to go shoot up the mall or the soccer stadium, nobody can really stop them from doing that provided they have enough discipline not to give themselves away beforehand.

So, accepting the reality that the new terrorism is low-tech, crude, cheap, and therefore unstoppable, what is likely to happen after we ban Muslim immigration and find that it has not made us Feel Safe? When the terrorist attacks that require little to no imagination, preparation, or ability to carry out continue, are the same political forces that demanded the "No Muslims" policy likely to throw up their hands and say, Oh well, we tried? Or are they more likely to ratchet up their rhetoric and their proposed solutions as they chase the dragon of Feeling Safe in a world in which complete security is a goal that can never be achieved? We can't predict what will come next, but we can predict that something will indeed come next once we have tried an immigration ban and discovered – to the surprise only of people oblivious to the world around them and unable to understand modern terrorism for what it is – that it did not end terrorism. What happens when we're five steps down the slope – say, having rounded up and interred every vaguely Middle Eastern looking person – and we find that even that hasn't stopped this kind of terrorist attack that can't be stopped? I have no clear idea where the imaginations of people like Trump go, but I have a clear sense that I do not want to learn by experience.

The flaw in the things xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and nationalist elements in our society propose to protect us from terrorism – moral, ethical, and legal problems aside – is that they will not actually protect us from terrorism. The process of watching them increase their dosage in pursuit of a high they can never achieve is not something we can describe in any detail until it happens, but we can predict safely that it will be unpleasant.

SCREAMING AT A WALL

Posted in Rants on September 19th, 2016 by Ed

On a day on which police managed to take into custody alive a suspected terrorist who fired off dozens of rounds at officers, hitting two, we have another video of a unarmed black man with his hands in the air being killed by police. On cue we have America's millions of poorly educated white cop apologists rushing to excuse it by weaving a narrative around the (idiotic on its face) assumption that the police version of events represents the truth, and the whole truth.

I don't argue with people about these incidents anymore because I've found that if "He was walking away" is all the justification an individual needs for the police to kill an unarmed person, then my time would be better spent doing something more productive like talking to walls or excavating the lint from my navel. If that is your threshold for when you think the state should feel justified in killing someone, your worldview is skewed beyond repair and there's nothing for the rest of us in society to do except wait patiently for you to die and begin rebuilding whatever you haven't managed to destroy of our national fabric.

God knows we have ample opportunity to reflect on the matter since we average about one of these incidents per week at this point. And I've simply given up on trying to make people who feel no empathy whatsoever toward people of different races – see how long it takes before terms like "animals" and "savages" make an appearance – feel what is supposed to be an innate emotion in mammals. Rats have empathy, yet somehow our modal Trump enthusiast does not.

We have to give them one thing, though: They're not smart, but they have decent intuition. They know, you see. They know intuitively that the reason they owe blind fealty to law enforcement is that they are drawn from the same lot. Your average small town cop isn't much different from your average small town white working poor / laid off / disabled or "disabled" person. Neither had the ambition to move more than 10 miles from the high school from which they struggled to graduate or the hospital in which they were born and look forward to someday dying. They share the mutual cultural understanding that white teens make Mistakes while black ones are Thugs, that a white guy walking around armed to the teeth is expressin' his freedums while even an unarmed black man is reason to fear for one's life, that white people don't work because of The Government while blacks and Hispanics are just lazy, that white people can take of social welfare to their hearts' content while minorities are scheming to live off their hard earned tax dollars, that an individual can cook meth and beat his kids and get into weekly fights at the one bar in town that will have him and still be "a good person" – i.e., a white one – at heart.

They know. They know that "justice" for them is a wink and a nudge and an understanding guy they went to high school with. So they can demand and condone the most ludicrous excesses of violence from law enforcement, a Judge Dredd dystopia in which the slightest indiscretion is punished with death and the absolute confidence that this policy will only apply to the Others. It's a very logical quid pro quo – unconditional support for law enforcement in exchange for the different treatment they conceive of as their birthright. White people must be as forgiving with one another as they must be unforgiving with the people to whom they consider themselves superior.

UNDISCIPLINED RETREAT

Posted in Rants on September 18th, 2016 by Ed

This Washington Post story about a sad, broken down white guy of middle age who won't go anywhere without open carrying got a lot of well-deserved attention this weekend. You can tell it's written well when you end up feeling pangs of sympathy for someone who clearly represents a threat to society, not to mention himself and his (apparently very patient) wife.

We hear the story of a man who grew up in a world in which guns were never seen and – somehow, improbably – this man of no discernibly useful skills achieved a decent working class existence without making guns the sole focus of his every waking moment. But then…

But then it began unraveling, starting when he was fired from a trucking job days after telling Maria, who was pregnant with their first child, to quit her job and focus on the baby, that he could support them both. Their first bankruptcy filing wasn’t far behind, then the second, and the third, and then they were moving to Florida, where Maria had family and where Jim got a job with a grocery chain. It transferred him to Winder, and he moved the family into a middle-class neighborhood struggling with crime and drugs…

(In) late 2008 he emerged from that hospital with three stents in his heart, debts worth $41,052.51 and a dawning realization he was now disabled, broke and would never work again. After the heart attack, he lost most of the circulation in his legs, received three more stents and started using an electric scooter whenever he had to walk long distances.

He told Maria he was all used up, a drag on the family. She should think about leaving him. But she wouldn’t, even after the hospital sued him for unpaid medical bills, even after he was arrested when he carried his .380 outside a school board meeting, even after he came home one day with an AR-15. He shot it at a nearby firing range and, feeling a sense of control that had gone missing in his life, told Maria he could now keep the family safe.

It doesn't take a professional psychologist to figure out what need the twin obsessions of guns and ultra-right wing politics are serving for the angry white males who are now such a prominent and dangerous part of our society.

Maria sat at a laptop in a bedroom cluttered with stacks of documents, some of which detailed foreclosure proceedings against the house, and saw the browser had 35 tabs open. One was a YouTube video of something called “Police State 101.” Another showed the dictionary definition of the word “law.” Another was a fringe website her husband classifies as “underground,” the sort he started visiting more frequently after he joined a Georgia militia in late 2014 and decided it was up to him to protect his family from foreign and government threats.

She messaged the deputy, then looked at Jim’s Facebook page. It bore pictures of her husband carrying guns and posts about a country dissolving into chaos and videos about people stopping intruders with guns, people killing burglars with guns, people shooting big guns, small guns, all kinds of guns, that he watches late into the night.

I realize how closely earning power is connected to masculinity in the United States. It must be very difficult to face life when not only can you not earn enough to get above the poverty line, but you're incapable of earning anything at all. The mental retreat into this violent fantasy world in which white males with guns are the sole remaining virtuous members of humanity does not follow quite so easily. On his own it's unlikely this man would have chosen that particular mental escape route. But he doesn't live in a vacuum. He lives in a world in which tens of thousands of other angry, minimally educated and economically marginalized white men have already created a support structure (of sorts) into which he can be welcomed.

White supremacist groups have recruited for decades by targeting the socially maladjusted, the friendless loners most likely to be filled with anger and looking for a feeling of belonging. Now there are so many disillusioned, angry, and pliable people wandering around aimlessly that the movement seeking to recruit them might as well just set up shop in strip malls next to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and the payday loan place.

I'm not naive enough to think that a better economy would make these people disappear. I do think it's no coincidence that the obsession with guns and the militia / conspiracy worldview often follows the collapse of financial stability and earning power.

AND I SWEAR

Posted in Rants on September 14th, 2016 by Ed

People who know me in Real Life ask me two questions about Gin and Tacos fairly regularly. I'll get to the other one when I'm feeling more introspective. First, though, let's tackle "Why do you swear so much?" It's a more interesting question, at least to me, than it appears to be on the surface.

The shortest answer is that it's the internet (which permits swearing, I believe) and this format allows one to write whatever words one chooses. That's not very satisfying.

Another totally valid but unsatisfying reason is that I swear a lot when I'm talking, so why not while writing.

The more interesting answer is that in print there are few things more idiotic and puritan than writing "f**k!" and thinking that it is somehow better, more acceptable, or different than "fuck!" If everyone who sees it knows exactly which word "f**k" refers to and says it inside their head when they read that bowdlerized version, then what constructive purpose is served by replacing letters with asterisks or their equivalent?

subtle

We see things like the title of this book more and more often. What is the point? If you've made the creative and editorial decision to put the word "fuck" in the title of the book, then put it in the title of the book. And contrary to whatever silly delicacy you think you're accomplishing by writing "F*ck" instead, I have surprising news for you: the title still has "fuck" in it.

The less obvious part of the issue, though, is why words considered profanity are necessary from a stylistic or rhetorical perspective. Strictly speaking they aren't, of course. The only words that could be called "necessary" are those with no synonyms, so there are always alternatives. I suppose I pick those words when they seem like the most appropriate means of communicating not just the idea but the tone that I want to communicate. What's wrong with that? We're adults here.

I often think back to this interview exchange:

Q: "Why all the infamous language, then?"

A: "Infamous language, are you joking? I speak nothing but the fucking English language. That’s the only thing I’ve been brought up with, and if that’s infamous, then tough shit."

Back in 1977 there was an obvious component of shock value to the choice to say Dirty Words on radio and TV. I think we can agree that there is very little shock value to be gleaned from swearing in 2016; no one but a small child or the most uptight prude bats an eye at an Infamous Four Letter Word anymore. The former will soon get used to it, and the latter have minds and worldviews so small that we really can't concern ourselves with their thought processes.

So, seeing nothing wrong with talking the way normal people talk, it all boils down to using the words that best convey what I feel. It isn't easy to convey feeling in cold text, and anything that advances that goal is worth considering. I can tell you something is ridiculous but goddamn ridiculous paints a better picture, does it not? Calling something nonsense or describing it as an empty or evasive statement is sometimes going to be the best strategy; in others the optimal choice is to call it bullshit. So be it.

Presuming there aren't many underage children reading anything I write, I don't have any problem using words that normal adults understand and use regularly. I see nothing "unprofessional" about it, and some people will disagree with that. To me, insulting the reader's intelligence with asterisks or subjecting them to bland, stilted, colorless writing is unprofessional. "Appropriate" is a nebulous and moving target, and the core of what I believe is that if the world can be full of hateful, poorly written, and / or totally illogical rhetoric considered acceptable and appropriate for mass consumption then a few salty nouns and adjectives should be the least of anyone's concern.

LAST CHANCE FOR A SLOW DANCE

Posted in Quick Hits on September 13th, 2016 by Ed

The election is almost here, take the opportunity to show everyone that you are morally superior and refuse to condone the two-party system.

sticker





GRADING ON A CURVE

Posted in Quick Hits on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

Charles Pierce is usually On, although like all of us I've gotten the feeling that he's struggling to think of what to say at this point about this election. I know he's taken a look at this site at least a few times, and I'd like to think that my post from Saturday was his inspiration to use the term "fee fees" (although I'm sure it's just two stellar minds thinking alike) in his latest missive. But his description of the media treatment of Trump (and conservatives in general) cannot be improved upon.

There is an accomplished woman saying something everybody knows is true and there is a vulgar talking yam who apparently could set his own dick on fire and not pay much of a price for it on television. That is grading on the curve, but it's nothing new. Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution. We graded him on a curve during Iran Contra on the grounds that he was too dim to know what was going on around him. We graded W on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid, when they played footsie with the militias out west and with the heirs to the White Citizens Councils in the South. We graded them on a curve every time they won a campaign behind Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or the late Terry Dolan back in the 1970s. We talked about how they were "reaching out" to disillusioned white voters who'd suffered in the changing economy, as though African-American workers didn't get slugged harder than anyone else by deindustrialization. We pretended not to notice how racial animus was the accelerant for the fire of discontent in the "Reagan Democrats." That was, and is, grading on a moral curve.

I'd be grumpy that I was working on something along these lines and now it's irrelevant, but the "grading curve" is so much better a metaphor than anything I was coming up with that I can't even be mad. Sometimes you just take a bow.

THE CONTEST THAT CAN'T BE WON

Posted in Rants on September 12th, 2016 by Ed

This election, stretching all the way back to the summer of 2015 when the invisible primary began, has been hard for me. Lord knows I haven't had to do any of the work on the campaigns and I have the manifest luxury of being able to ignore it for a day or two here and there. But it has been a profoundly depressing experience and grows more so every day. Were it possible to sleep through the next nine weeks and awaken with the whole thing over, I would do it and accept the loss of gainful employment as a steep but necessary price to pay.

Late last week, for reasons that are not worth explaining, it hit me why this has been such a singularly depressing experience. It seemed profound at the time, although in hindsight (and at first sight to many of you) it seems obvious. This election is horrible in new ways that elections have not been in the United States in living memory. It is horrible because there is no outcome that can erase how awful the election itself has been. It is doing damage that can't and won't be undone. We've seen a part of who we are as a nation and as a society that is so viscerally ugly that no amount of time, reflection, or half-hearted exhortations toward national unity will make us forget what we saw. Have you ever seen anything so gory and shocking that it's with you forever? Maybe seeing somebody get shot, or seeing a victim of a car accident. It's like that. Now that we've seen that a good portion of white America's real beliefs, noble-sounding crap about small government conservative principles aside, boil down to "Keep the Mexicans and Muslims out, and put the Darkies back in their place," well…there's no way to un-see that.

An ordinary election is two boxers alternating between attempts at strategy and the exchange of blind, wild punches. Some of those even slip and land below the belt. At the end of the bout there is, if not mutual respect, at least nothing that happened in the ring that either side will be unable to let go. This election is one boxer in the middle of the ring and the other standing in the corner screaming racial slurs and calling her a bitch. My opinion will not be shared universally, but I believe this election has exposed a divide that no platitudes or soothing language can overcome. That's the funny thing about, you know, mainstreaming and attempting to normalize white nationalism. Turns out that it leaves hard feelings all around.

I will never say that I don't care who wins. That is a statement of pure privilege, the ability to declare that as a white male of middle income I'll probably be fine either way so who cares. I care who wins inasmuch as there are plenty of other people who stand to lose a great deal in this election, and inasmuch as I am not 14 or a total narcissist, other people are important to me. But I'm convinced now that regardless of who wins, there is no outcome to this election that we will be able to define as Good, or even Okay. The best possible outcome is a mediocre, middling neoliberal president bickering unproductively with House wingnuts while Americans attempt to forget that something like a quarter of us appear to want a dictator.

How do you walk that back? How do we process all those "nice" but "misguided" or "uneducated" acquaintances and family members who openly advocate genocide in the same way that a normal person might suggest going to Ikea? How do we collectively ignore how easy it was for an uncharismatic asshole to get millions of people to follow him like slobbering dogs even while he was openly contemptuous of them?

Someone will bring up the Civil War and remind me that time heals all wounds. That's possible. Maybe this is catastrophic thinking caused by excessive exposure to what is going on right now. But a lot of our social problems now flow from the fact that we're having an increasingly difficult time ignoring problems, which has always been the preferred American technique for fostering unity. Racism? Hey just sweep it under the rug and let's hug it out over some Monday Night Football! Now, though…I dunno, man. We've seen things. I don't think there's any way to go back. And that, despite how many aspects of this election are horrible, is the worst part about all of this.

FISHY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 8th, 2016 by Ed

So I'm trying hard to collect more data on this, but I noticed an odd anomaly on the the "Poll of Polls" aggregator on Pollster.com (now part of Huffington Post). There are three blue dots (representing Clinton support in the respective polls) that are equal (at 37%) and clear outliers, showing much lower Clinton support than any other polls.

All three are conducted by the same agency, Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen is a well-known partisan hack outfit that makes its money by generating results that please potential conservative donors. It tells clients what they want to hear, which in this case would be that the presidential race is either close or even favorable for Trump. The rightward lean of RR has been well documented, most publicly by Nate Silver after the 2010 midterm election. The green arrows identify the three Rasmussen results that stand out, as you can verify for yourself on Pollster's interactive site.

rass

Two questions: What does the "poll of polls" look like without Rasmussen's data? Since they contribute only a few polls to a very large pool of data for a site like Pollster, I wouldn't expect a dramatic change. Their inclusion is, however small, exaggerating the competitiveness of the race in national polling. Second, why is data so clearly suspect not being looked at more closely, or perhaps withheld until its notable skew toward Trump relative to other polling can be explained? I tend to be suspicious of media efforts to depict the race as competitive, so although the explanation is probably innocent ("We need to be Fair and Balanced! Which means including intentionally skewed data as long as it's skewed to the right!") part of me feels like we're beginning a repeat of 2012 when all the networks insisted up until the last possible minute that Romney was OMGSOCLOSE to winning in order to prevent viewers from getting bored and wandering away.

FORESIGHT

Posted in Quick Hits on September 7th, 2016 by Ed

The travel/adventure writer Robert Young Pelton is not the first person that would come to most minds when asked to name an expert on global politics and international affairs. He is an entertaining writer with a large supply of war correspondent / stringer / freelance journalist "So there I was, in the middle of the chaos" anecdotes. His books are readable and fun, occasionally informative. That said, he really deserves some credit for writing as early as the mid to late 1990s that the South China Sea was going to be a key axis of international conflict in the early 21st Century. Seriously. This guy was writing about the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal back when the rest of the world was still in the mindset of the Cold War or sagely explaining that India and Pakistan seem not to like one another very much. Pelton has made me sound prescient more than once for being able to cite the conflict over rock and coral clumps in the South China Sea long before the international press started bandying about terms like "Great Wall of Sand" and The Nine-Dash Line over the past year or two. Simon Winchester was also ahead of the game on this one, as were (I'm sure) many Asian experts whose writing is not widely available in this hemisphere. Searching "South China Sea" on Amazon shows a dozen nonfiction books on the topic written in 2014, 2015 or 2016. It's pretty impressive that some people were 20 years ahead of the game on it.

The Japan Times has a good Scarborough Shoal piece today, and other than to give Pelton some props I don't think I can explain the conflict any better than I could inform you by sharing some useful writing on the subject. Long story short: China and a number of others in the region – Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others – assert historical ownership of a number of tiny, uninhabited rocks that were of no interest to anyone until modern times. They contain no resources, which one might expect, but they are outposts for establishing Exclusive Economic Zones and national-military sovereignty in an economically and strategically vital area of the world. China's approach has been one of extreme belligerence, building artificial islands (hence "Great Wall of Sand", referring to landfill) around rocks barely big enough to stand upon and staging military personnel and equipment there. Shipping lanes, fishing areas, potential undersea oil resources, and the patrol lanes of international navies (particularly the US Navy) are all affected by the outcome of this strategic land-grab.

One interesting thing I can add is that all of this has been made possible in part by a volcano. True story. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 in the Philippines – the largest eruption of the 20th Century, incidentally, which not many non-Asians realize – the US closed Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base. Both were heavily damaged and in the post-Cold War mindset of the 90s, once evacuated the decision was made not to return to either. The US withdrawal from the region left a power vacuum that the Chinese armed forces were more than eager to fill. In March of 2016 the Philippine government cordially invited the US military to place personnel and equipment at 5 bases in the region, a result of Obama's "Asian Pivot" strategy.

Thanks for helping me sound like I know what I'm talking about sometimes, RYP.

UNLOVABLE AT ANY SPEED

Posted in Rants on September 5th, 2016 by Ed

I write a lot, albeit intermittently, about architecture and related topics like urban planning and the built environment in general. And it is endlessly fascinating how so many Americans can create for themselves ghastly, fundamentally unlovable living spaces and then wonder why nobody – themselves included – loves them.

Try to love a McMansion, or even a smaller-scale new construction suburban Box o' Siding house. Try to love a subdivision. Try to love a strip mall, especially one surrounded by fifteen more. Try to love a six-lane divided street with no sidewalks and Fall of Saigon traffic. You won't. You won't because you can't. Tens of millions of Americans have moved to the suburbs since the end of the Second World War, and the design of new suburbs and the living spaces that fill them are not only a symptom of the malaise of "What's wrong with this country?" but also a cause of it. A Boomer who grew up in the 1950s in a 900 square foot brick home eight feet away from a similar home on either side and in 2016 lives in a 2500 square foot empty beige pastiche of gaudy anti-architecture on a big lot can ask without the slightest hint of self awareness or irony, "I wish things were more like they were in the good ol' days."

We complain that people don't know their neighbors anymore, which is a choice. When people move to the suburbs, the physical manifestation of the psychological impulse to withdraw and escape, it makes perfect sense that they don't know their neighbors. Their neighbors are probably just like them – misanthropes who want nothing more than to hole up in four cheaply built walls and shut out the scary world without. Add in an acre or two of lawn and a tall "privacy" fence and what do you expect? Of course you don't know your neighbors. That's the whole point of the lifestyle you chose for yourself.

I hear people make this complaint often and I never pass the opportunity to point out that I know my neighbors, which is pretty amazing considering 1) I have bad social skills, 2) They speak about 10 words of English and I speak about 10 of Polish, and 3) I'm kind of an asshole. But I know them because we live in the same building and arm's length from another building. We know each other because we have not chosen to live in an environment constructed to prevent us from having to know each other.

To live in the Midwest or New England is to be close at all times to urban decay and the depressing skeletons of places that obviously used to be very nice places; places people older than me are remembering fondly (and not without reason) when they pine for the way things used to be. The new, sterile, antisocial spaces they've built for themselves pale in comparison. They are by design shoddy replicas of a real urban setting, an authentic small town, or something resembling a community in which people interact with one another. But the places they once loved and are now depressing relics didn't get that way by accident. They fell apart because the people who now bemoan their loss chose to ran away rather than live near immigrants or black people. Maybe this is why they're so angry. What's the line? "That's what really hurts: you did it to yourself"?

There's a reason people under 40 want to live in urban areas and even those who can afford suburban living rarely choose it. We believe our parents when they say that life doesn't feel like it used to in this country, that something feels wrong, that something undefinable is missing. Unlike them, however, we haven't watched the Local News at Nine and Fox News to the point that we're terrified at the very thought of living in something other than self-imposed isolation, segregated from Scary Non-White People and without the lawns and parking lots and cathedral ceilings that they insist are going to make them happy someday.

It isn't rocket science. Create for yourself a home, a neighborhood, a town, a state, a country that is ugly, impersonal, cynical, and unlovable and you will not love it. To hear people who want to Make America Great Again bemoan everything wrong with the country as they experience it is to watch someone who has locked themselves in a closet for three decades complain that they're bored and lonely. When you construct a life for yourself behind a panoply of physical and psychological barriers it shouldn't come as a surprise that people seem different than they used to back when you had to talk to and interact with them.