Thursday, August 25, 2016

happy 20th birthday to welfare reform

(Bill) Clinton was easily a better president than the disasters and dumpster fires of Bush II and Obama. That said, it seems that circumstances helped him a ton (e.g., the end of the Cold War; relatively light partisanship; and a smart, cooperative GOP House), since he now recants on many of his best policies.

With the 1996 welfare reforms, policy was moved much moreso to the States, which has been a mixed bag. And necessarily so: there is no way to give people resources while they're in an undesirable state, without encouraging them to remain in that state and encouraging others to join them.

Still, the States have been a vast improvement over what the Feds were doing. On big complex social policies, let's allow flexibility and try 50 different experiments instead of insisting on one, grand, federal approach (as ObamaCare). On welfare, the states have done a far better job, en masse, than the feds did.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

welfare reform turns 20 as the War on Poverty turns 50

The Clinton / Congress welfare reform of 1996 is 20 years old now. (Here's a useful article on it.) It was...
 
-driven by dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisle with an inherently-flawed and hopelessly-simple, money-vomiting approach to a complex social problem...
 
-informed by Marvin Olasky's terrific book, The Tragedy of American Compassion (the House leadership was motivated by the book's historical and economic arguments)
 
-an under-rated point: we were just coming out of 40 years of Democratic dominance in Congress, esp. the House (often at a 2:1 ratio!). With Congress turning into a battleground, things got far more political. With govt's inherent limits, the pursuit of power over policy, ignorance and a willingness to demagogue, things have been ugly since then.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hayes on distrust of the elites

For those trying to understand the Trump and Sanders phenomenon: “We now operate in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from authorities, and the consequences of this simple devastating realization is the defining feature of American life at the end of this low dishonest decade. Elite failure and the distrust it has spawned is the most powerful and least understood aspect of current politics and society…. It connects the Iraq War and the financial crisis, the Tea Party and MoveOn, the despair of laid-off autoworkers in Detroit to the foreclosed homeowners in Las Vegas and the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: nothing seems to work."

--Christopher Hayes, "Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy", 2012

on David Bentley Hart's "Mammon Ascendant"

Others like Acton's Samuel Gregg have written longer and more-sustained critiques of Hart's FT article (or more broadly, his claims in this area), so I don't want to re-create that wheel, but I do have a few thoughts/comments.

For one thing, Hart only does a decent job of explaining the title of his article (Mammon Ascendant) and does little or nothing on his subtitle (Why global capitalism is inimical to Christianity). But I want to focus on a few passages...


As late modern persons, we live in a society whose highest values—in every sphere: moral, religious, economic, domestic, cultural, and so on—can loosely be described as “libertarian.” We understand freedom principally as an ­individual’s sovereign liberty of deliberative and acquisitive choice, and we understand individual desires (so long as they fall within certain minimal legal constraints) either as rights or at least as protected by rights. And we are increasingly disposed to see almost every restriction placed upon the pursuit of those desires as an unreasonable imposition. Our natural economic philosophy, then, is of course “neoliberal” (or, as it is also called in America, “neoconservative”) while our natural moral philosophy is voluntarist, individualist, and hedonist (in a not necessarily opprobrious sense). Not only is there no contradiction here; there is an essential unity.  
 
This may be correct-- first, a broadbrush description of our approach to our own lives, but second, assuming that we're talking about life outside of political beliefs and actions. 

On the first: it's not clear how much this has changed over time. (I think there's been a significant change in this regard, but Hart does not make the case here-- and in any case, it's more complicated than he allows.) As a decision-maker, I see my actions as they impact me, which includes how it impacts those in my circles. (The extent to which the community fits into "my utility function" may have changed over time, but that's complicated too.) As such, Hart is correct in a manner that is relatively uninteresting: we are (and have been) voluntarist, individualist, and "hedonistic". (Following Hart, I'm using this latter term in its non-pejorative sense; see: Piper's "Desiring God" and a more favorable interpretation of Joel Osteen's outlook on life.)

In terms of politics, his summary does not hold. Americans generally hold political views that want freedom for themselves, but not so much for others. Some of this is paternalism-- not trusting others' decisions and wanting the government's assistance in these matters. (We never want the govt to paternalistic toward ourselves!) Or we want the government to do something that "the market" won't do well enough for our tastes-- e.g., redistribution to the poor/needy. Some of this is envy: wealth should be redistributed from "the wealthy" (people who have more than me) to me and people like me-- either "the [more truly] needy" or at least, "the relatively needy" (various schemes to redistribute to the middle class). But a lot of it is "rational ignorance and apathy"-- that government does all kinds of stuff and we're not paying much attention, so we go along for the ride. All of this runs counter to Hart's claim, if he intends the claim to extend to our (decidedly non-libertarian) political lives.

Mind you, part of the difficulty of convincing American Christians of this lies in the generous vagueness with which we have come to use the word “capitalism” in recent decades. For many, the term means nothing more than a free market in goods, or the right to produce and trade, or buying and selling as such.

Agreed. But this is not simply a problem for Christians. The term is used to mean all sorts of things!

Hart moves to define capitalism and place it within the 19th century: "...we can say it is the set of economic conventions that succeeded those of the “mercantilism” of the previous era, with its tariff regimes and nationalist policies of trade regulation, and that took shape in the age of industrialization."

A few thoughts here: The extent to which mercantilism was dispatched is exaggerated here. And mercantilism (or close cousins of it) are still one of the dominant players in our political economy, combined with its connections to cronyism and interest group activity. Moreover, if there's been a reduction in our penchant for mercantilism, it's far safer to put that at the feet of the necessities of global competition, rather than some philosophical change about political economy. 

Hart then says of capitalism: "It generates immense returns for the few, which sometimes redound to the benefit of the many, but which often do not..."

This is Trumperian balderdash, misunderstanding an opening principle of Econ 101: mutually beneficial trade. 


Toward the end, Hart moves into biblical support for his position, making a common set of exegetical mistakes and confusing "biblical socialism" with socialism as a system of political economy.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Semmelweis and the reflex


Wow...

with big applications to the "reflex" named after him, the practice of science vs. Science, Kuhnian paradigms, etc.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

our trip to the great Northwest (summer 2016)



We had a great vacation this summer—our largest trip ever. (Second-longest: driving to SD and eastern CO in 2012. Third-longest: NY state in 2011. We took shorter trips to northern MI in 2015 and southern MI in 2014; to NC in 2010; and to SC and more of NC in 2013.) We flew into SF on June 28th (the first flight for all of the kids except Zach) and back home July 14th. In between, we drove a loop up to Glacier (in NW Montana) and back. We rented a Kia van from Alamo and drove it 3,800 miles. We stayed in 13 hotels over 16 nights. The kids got along well (enough). In a nutshell, the trip was enjoying two cities and 20 kinds of landscape beauty in God’s Creation. (Here are the pics we posted on FB.)

It was a big, pricey trip for us: $2,330 in airfare; $1040 for a rental car; and $1,940 hotel (all including tax). But it was also our last guaranteed op to vacation with the entire family. With Zach moving on to college and beyond, jobs and other things may prevent a big trip like this again!

We flew with Frontier, non-stop out of Cincy. Frontier has cheaper rates, but you’ll want to keep track of the add-on charges for baggage and seat choice. I knew we wanted to see the NW and do a loop, so we could have flown into SF, Portland, Seattle, or Salt Lake City. SLC was the best choice in the earlier window (mid-May to early-June), but SF was the best in our travel window and besides, a great place to visit. (Unfortunately, Denver was too far east to start because those fares were much cheaper.) 

From the airport, we took BART. In SF, from Tuesday evening through Thursday afternoon, we walked and used Uber twice (first time for us; inexpensive and very easy!) Then, we rented a van and started out of the city. In SF, lodging was expensive but I got a relatively good deal at a Travelodge on Market. 

SAN FRANCISCO

On Tues PM, we were aiming for a Mexican restaurant, but ended up at one of our best meals on the trip—Pete’s BBQ on Mission and 20th —about $50 for the whole family and the best ribs I can remember. From there, we walked east on 20th to Vermont St., which is curvier from 20th-22nd—in a more-organic way than the far-more-popular Lombard St. It’s out of the way, compared to other tourist attractions (thus, its limited popularity), but if you have a car, it’s easily worth the trip.

On Wednesday, we did a huge batch of the touristy stuff. We ubered to the CableCar museum—very cool to see how it works and to see it working before your eyes. From there, we walked to and through Chinatown. (Grant is the touristy street; Stockton, Kearney, and the cross streets are far more authentic.) Then, we walked to Coit Tower—with its nice views of the city—and then down Lombard to its famous curvy section. We headed toward the bay, going past the Keane(Big Eyes) painting/gallery (you could see a lot from the sidewalk, but it was closed) and hung out at Ghiradelli Square for ice cream and chocolate. Next up: Musee Mecanique at Fisherman’s Wharf with its old arcade games and antique turn-key machines. After meeting Tonia’s brother’s family and having dinner with them, we ubered back to our hotel. In total, we walked three miles, but SF’s hills made it seem a lot longer than that!

On Thursday, we walked up Market to City Hall (at least in that time frame, there were many more Gay Pride flags than U.S. flags) and the British Motor Sports dealership (where Daniel and Joseph were geeked to see so many expensive sports cars). We went shopping at a huge, six-story mall. We saw the Shaking ManSculpture at the Yerta Buena Center and had amazing kimchee/Korean burritos at the HRD Coffee Shop. We spent the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art—great stuff and a lot better than the kids anticipated.

Things we noticed in SF (at least downtown): 1.) The hills in the city—whether walking, riding, or driving—are amazing. 2.) As expected, it was cold (60 degrees) and windy. 3.) Women were dress far more conservatively than in our area—in particular, showing a lot less cleavage. Part of that was probably temperature, but it all looked a whole lot classier. (Or maybe that’s the new trend and they’re ahead of us by a few years!) The men were much better dressed than in our area. Both relied on more muted tones. 4.) Very few people were obese or even much overweight.

There was quite a bit of homelessness and we were warned about some aggressive folks, but it wasn’t too bad. Then again, we avoided Tenderloin, which is supposed to be the worst. We were also told to avoid food at Fisherman’s Wharf, but we ate with Tonia’s brother’s family there out of convenience. (Small world that they were there at the same time!) We missed Twin Peaks (which is supposed to be cool, especially at sunset, if there’s no fog) and Alcatraz. The latter is pricey but worth it (from what people say and my memories), but in the summer, I learned that you have to buy tix at least a month in advance!

Driving in SF (at the end of the trip) was like any other big city—or what I experienced in Puerto Rico. You just get in there and mix it up—far more aggressive than usual, but “civilized” in its own way. Leaving SF at 6:00 PM, there was a ton of traffic, for a long time (really, all the way to Sacramento). And even, outside of the city, few people knew how to handle the fast lane. Also, throughout CA, there was far less signage inside and outside of cities—less visual pollution, but tougher to get around. 

LEAVING THE CITY

I wanted us to see Lake Tahoe, but I knew that our time of arrival there was likely to be after dark. I had been told that the drive on US50 from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe was beautiful, but we mostly saw shadows of what looked picturesque. (If you go with the interstate from Sacramento to Reno, consider checking out Emerald Pools in Nevada, CA.) The next morning, Lake Tahoe itself was gorgeous and the drive to Carson City was nice. So, I’m glad we stayed there before moving on to Reno and our long drive to Idaho that day.

Friday featured the National Auto Museum in Reno. It’s Bill Harrah’s collection and rated one of the top five car museums in the nation. We had a guide who made it far more interesting. On the way out of town we caught a VW bug that had been turned into a huge spider (630 Victorian Ave) and then drove 400+ miles to Twin Falls, ID.

Saturday AM started in Twin Falls with great views of the Snake River canyon, Shoshone Falls (really nice; Niagara-Falls-lite), and Perrine Memorial Bridge. We got to see three people parachute off the bridge—apparently the only bridge you can do that without a permit. There are plans to create a memorial to Evel Knievel’s Snake River Jump, but for now you can only imagine it without assistance.

Next up: Craters of the Moon NP. (You have other options coming out of Twin Falls: City of Rocks National Reserve and Bruneau Sand Dunes both looked good.) Volcanic activity is a key and obvious feature on our trip—from Yellowstone’s geysers to Lava Cast Forest in OR. At Craters, from a distance, the terrain looks like rich soil that has been plowed by a Paul-Bunyan-sized till. A closer look reveals huge lava rocks. With little moisture there and little ability for these rocks to hold moisture, nothing grows there (or has grown there for hundreds of years). The result is a stark, beautiful landscape. We also hiked up a spatter cone—what is now a lava sand mountain—one of many places on the trip where the terrain allowed for a very windy setting.

We finished the day’s events with Don Aslett’s “Museum of Clean” in Pocatello. We had gotten off to a late start and Craters took more time than I had expected, so we only had a half-hour at the museum. The bad news: it probably requires 1.5 hours to do it right. The good news: Don met us at the door; let us in free; and gave us a personal tour of his historic collection of vacuums, disinfectants, washing machines, art from cleaning instruments, etc. Sounds dorky, I’m sure, but it was great fun and informative, especially if Don will give you a tour.

Saturday was also our formal introduction to 20 kinds of beauty in Creation on this trip. Every hour or so, we’d get a different topography—and a lot of it was somewhere between pretty and breath-taking.

The next geographic target was Jackson (Hole), as the entry to the Grand Tetons. At this point, we were into the July 4th weekend in a rural area with big national parks in range, so it was tough to find lodging. I had initially planned to go east and stay at Lava Hot Springs’ hot pools, seeing Soda Springs’ man-tamed geyser the next AM, and heading north to Jackson. But we couldn’t find lodging, so we went northeast, stayed at the Sleepy J Cabins in Swan Valley, and came into Jackson from the west. 

THE GREAT PARKS

Sunday started with Grand Teton NP. We drove the inner road and took a four-mile hike to Taggart Lake. I heard recommendations to do Jenny Lake (early-AM is apparently best), but construction and crowds scared us away from that. We also had recommendations to hike at Phelps Lake and Two Oceans—and to drive Signal Mountain Road—but we didn’t do any of those.

From there, it’s a quick jaunt north to Yellowstone NP. The main roads in the park are set up like a figure-8. On Sunday, we covered the west side of the southern loop, including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and other geysers / overlooks. Old Faithful is the supposed to be the must-see, but GSP is awesome. (Fountain Paint Pots are supposed to be good too, but we missed those and caught Artists Paintpots the next day—excellent.)

We stayed overnight in West Yellowstone and headed back into the park on Monday, July 4th—for Artists Paintpots and the middle of the figure-8. (Norris Geyser Basin, including Steamboat and Echinus Geysers, is supposed to be great, but the traffic was brutal. Likewise, we wanted to do a slight detour north on the upper-half of the figure-8 to see Roaring Mountain, but construction and traffic made that seem unwise.) We took a slight detour, continuing on the lower-half of the figure-8 to the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”, including Lower and Upper Falls, the hope to see wild game in Hayden Valley, and the stinky but cool Mud Volcanoes. Moving to the upper half of the figure-8, we saw Tower Fall and Calcite Springs (both good), before exiting Yellowstone at Tower Junction.

We could have gone to Mammoth Hot Springs, but it would’ve been a detour, given that we wanted to drive out of Yellowstone through Lamar Valley (hoping to see game, esp. wolves—didn’t see much) and especially to drive Beartooth Pass. It has been rated the top drive in America, but it was going to add 140 miles and 2:15 to our drive, so I was reluctant to take the detour. I asked FB friends for counsel and they insisted that it was worth the drive. Starting into it, you can imagine me trying to see what they wanted me to see, wondering if it would be worth it. For the first half-hour or so, it was solid/good but not worth the time. Then, it got awesome! I agree that it’s a must-see—a winding road, snow-capped mountains and ridiculous views.

We spent the night in Bozeman, since that was the start of my plan to spend a day going from Yellowstone to Glacier. And I planned for us to devote a day to Glacier before moving on. In Bozeman on Tuesday AM, we saw Ted Koterwas’ “Yard Art” (403 W. Alderson) before visiting the American Computer Museum (tons of detail on the history of computers and what led to their development).

(You could make the drive from Yellowstone to Glacier without stopping for any length of time. Since the park is out-of-the-way and closed much of the year, there is not much development, especially on the rural eastern side. So, it’s difficult to stay near Glacier on the east side; we stayed an hour away. You can get close to Glacier on the west side, but then what do you do once you traveled through Glacier? Re-trace your steps through Glacier or reverse our trip on the east side!) As another aside, I’ve heard that Canadian Glacier is even better, but we didn’t have passports for the kids and I didn’t want to add even more miles and cost to our trip.)

From Bozeman, we drove to Butte where we saw four things:

1.) Evel (not Evil!) Knievel’s grave (3910 Harrison Ave). Knievel was a Christ-follower who has a great gravestone. And it was made in 1974, just before his Snake River jump, when he thought he might die. (Or was that part of the publicity?)

2.) The Berkeley Pit (of Death) Overlook. It was a mine where they turned off the water pumps and things got nasty and poisonous. The story of how it got there and how they plan to address it is interesting. And it’s a non-beautiful lake of note!

3.) The Piccadilly Museum which was good overall and really good for the boys (lots of car stuff).

4.) On their recommendation, we saw the moving and historically-interesting Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial at the top of the hill off of Main Street.

5.) I’m thinking that we should have visited the World Museum of Mining, but maybe not (any input?).

From there, we drove to Great Falls where we had planned to visit the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. (It was well worth it, including a permanent collection of Lee Steen’s “Tree People”. Steen was born in Horse Cave, KY!) Lewis and Clark are a big deal here, since the Missouri River comes through this area. So, we went by the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center there (although too late to see much). We also dropped by Giant Springs and the Roe River—acclaimed as the shortest river in the world at 201 feet. Seeing its beautiful, crystal-clear spring-fed waters flow into the Missouri, the longest river in the U.S., was really cool.

On the road between Butte and Great Falls, we saw the Missouri River strolling through the countryside. In particular, there’s a beautiful canyon area called Gates of the Mountains. I hadn’t heard anything about it until we got there. I wish we had taken the two-hour boat cruise down the river in that area. But that makes for more than a full day to get from Yellowstone to Glacier, so what should one sacrifice?!

We spent the night in Cut Bank, the self-acclaimed coldest town in America. The next day, Wednesday, was Glacier NP—out-of-the-way, but spectacular. We drove the “Going to the Sun” Road through the middle of the park, hiking the Hidden Lake Overlook trail (3 miles through a path half-covered with snow!) and Avalanche Creek/Lake (about 5 miles). Throughout the day, we had a bit of rain and fog, but not enough to reduce our experience much. But that can happen: after we got to the Hidden Lake overlook, fog rolled in obscuring or obliterating the view. And after we finished the HL trail, a grizzly bear and her cub caused them to shut it down! (If you have time or other hiking preferences, you should also consider Highline Trail, Fishercap Lake / Redrock Falls, and St. Mary / Virginia Falls.)

This is probably a good time to talk about animals. We didn’t see much as much as expected in the Tetons and Yellowstone. But we saw a lot by the end of the trip: tons of bison (many, right next to the road); elk a few times; a fox; a handful of lizards; quite a few mule deer. On the way to Glacier, we had a moose run right in front of our car. (Tonia was VERY excited about moose.) And in Glacier, we were within 100 yards of the grizzlies. Later, we saw two eagles and a coyote.

From Glacier, we drove through Kalispell and the Flathead Lake region—another beautiful drive. This is probably a good time to mention that the kids did really well with all (well, most) of the driving and cramped hotel rooms. Electronic devices (and Pokemon Go for the older two) were certainly a good distraction. Stopping every few hours to do something was probably a help. And they’re ages 11-17 now, so all of this has gotten a lot easier—except fitting into our usual hotel room with two queen-sized beds! We were also surprised to hear so much Christian music on the trip. In the non-city areas, there were still multiple Christian radio stations. Often, it was country and Christian dominating the airwaves.

On Wednesday night, we stayed in Post Falls, ID and then started Thursday with Ray Kresek’s Fire Lookout Tower and Museum in Spokane, WA (123 W. Westview; call 509-466-9171) the next AM. As with these little “museums”, it’s a big plus to have the founder give you a tour. Ray was passionate about the topic and gracious. His wife was about to return from 30 days in the hospital and recovery, so we prayed with him and it meant a ton to him. I’m glad we had that God-appointed time to encourage him.

We drove to Palouse Falls SP which was another nice waterfall, a beautiful lagoon, and a tough hike. (I followed Zach, Brennan, and Joseph on a short-cut that was really tough.) From there, we drove to Sacajawea SP in Pasco—at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Not a great site, but it’s on the way to the Columbia River Gorge (CRG), a nice stop, and a quick look at a historically key moment for Lewis and Clark. We decided to parallel the Columbia along Rt 14 in Washington instead of I-84 in Oregon. It’s shorter; requires about the same amount of time; and allowed us to catch the Stonehenge Memorial at Maryhill, the first WWI memorial in the U.S. (The Museum of Art just west of there was recommended, but we got there after closing time.) We stayed in The Dalles, OR—a good access point to the CRG from the east.

On Friday, we covered the CRG, starting with Bridge of the Gods ($2 toll), back into WA. We drove seven miles west on Rt 14 to Beacon Rock Trail, a one-mile hike up a huge rock to a nice overlook. We returned east to Bonneville Lock/Damand its fish ladders—very interesting, including an underwater look at the fish and lamprey moving through the ladders. (We were also surprised to learn/see that many people are employed to count all of the fish that travel through. Hmm…) We crossed the Bridge again and headed down I-84 to Exit 35 at Dodson, where the Historic Columbia Parkway gets going. There, Daniel, Joseph and I hiked the Oneonta Gorge—a nice little adventure, but you will get wet in some chilly water. (It’s up to the ankles for the most part—knees at one point—and then chest-deep toward the end.) Four of us did the five-mile loop to see Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls. (Daniel and Zach did a short-cut. You can see both falls from near the roadway, but there was a lot of stuff, in between, on the longer hike.). And we only got to see Vista House at Crown Point after closing, but it looked neat.

PORTLAND

That evening, we rolled into Portland for two days and three nights. It was a vacation within a vacation—an easy pace, sleeping in and roaming around, rather than seeing a bunch of particular things. (We could have added Mt. St. Helens in WA, but it didn’t get rave reviews from my FB friends and didn’t seem worth the additional travel. We missed Kidd’s Toy Museum [1300 SE Grand], which looked excellent but is not open on weekends.)

We started with the “Saturday Market” on the riverfront. We went to the Rose Garden and then skipped the Japanese Garden (too expensive with uninterested kiddos). We went to the Freaky But True Peculiarium (ok for the boys; can’t recommend in general). The store at the “museum” included a highly-blasphemous depiction of Christ on the cross with the ability to dress him in various clothes. It was sad to see the blasphemy but encouraging to know this underlines the reality of Jesus and his work, since the same thing wouldn’t be done to Buddha, Muhammad, or MLK Jr.

We went to the Adidas headquarters, saw the shoe sculpture out front, and watched some employees play soccer on a small turf field behind the building. Downtown, among other stores, we visited Powell Books (world’s largest), Doc Marten USA (shoes), and Ground Kontrol (arcade). Then, we hit some food trucks for dinner—an entire city block’s worth at that location. Finally, we went to Blue Star Donuts and got three of their last donuts of the day: a passion fruit with cayenne pepper and cocoa that made our heads explode; a very good Blueberry-Bourbon-Basil; and a Lemon-crumb something they gave us for free. The donuts averaged $3 apiece, but they were worth it—a dessert, really. Briochefor the donut and craziness for the toppings.

The highlight was our time with Bill and Jenny Hunter on Sunday. We met them at Voodoo Donuts (compared to Blue Star: longer lines, crazier and cheaper donuts, and really good, but not as good). Then we worshipped with them at the SE/Ankeny campus of Imago Dei. (Small world: I sent their discipleship guy an email and that evening, unsolicited, Kurt told me that he plans to call him to talk about their similar stories. They’re both trained by Dann Spader and had a spouse who died young!) We made plans to meet Bill and Jenny for an early dinner at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. In the meantime, our family toured the Alberta Street Art District, including lunch at Little Big Burger (excellent) and a snack of the two “walking” waffle options at the Waffle Window. Then, we drove to Mt. Tabor for a look. On the way, we stopped at Mike’s Museum of MotionPictures (4320 SE Belmont), a cool little museum of film artifacts within a huge video store.

Back with the Hunters, after dinner, we dropped in on Chinese Gardens and walked the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. (We had hoped to take the tram from the bridge to the hospital on top of hill, but it was closed for the day.) We finished the evening at Salt and Straw Ice Cream, where they have a range of exotic flavors. My choice was Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero—excellent!

We did everything we wanted to do in Portland. But if Tonia and I were there without kids, we would have tried some nicer restaurants. Among many recommendations, I had these on my list as possibilities, even with the kids: Ken’s Bakery; Nong’s Khao Man Gai (esp. chicken and rice); Pok Pok Noi (Thai); Tasty n Alder for Sunday brunch; and sets of “micro-restaurants” at The Ocean (2329 Glisan) and Portland Mercado (7238 SE Foster). 

WRAPPING UP

Heading out of Portland on Monday AM, we went to Silver Falls SP—with a number of waterfalls on a nice, five-mile hike. (If you’re heading south or west out of Portland, consider the Evergreen Aviation/Space Museum in McMinnville and the apparently-excellent Oregon coast, including Seaside, Ecola SP, Newport; Sweet Creek’s beautiful one-mile hike; and Seal Rock. In Central Oregon, also consider Mt. Hood and Deschutes Canyon.)

Moving toward Bend, we enjoyed some short hikes and the very different topography of SmithRock SP. It reminded us of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. It’s not famous, but I’d put it on your list. In Bend, we enjoyed the lovely park and walking trail along the Deschutes River Trail. There is supposed to be a Whitewater Park there, where you can watch water experts do their thing in kayaks, etc., but we didn’t get there.

On Tuesday, we started with a long drive on a dirt road, going the wrong direction through some wonderful territory. Then, we got back on US-87 and went to LavaCast Forest. It’s similar to Craters of the Moon, but more rainfall has allowed a different outcome with slowly-emerging vegetation. The “Cast Forest” is an area where the volcanic flow had lost some pop, surrounding and killing trees, but not destroying them. The result: the dying trees rot away and the cooled lava forms a “cast forest”—hardened lava holes where trees had once been. Very cool!

Next up: Paulina Falls, another nice waterfall. But given the others we saw, it’s not worth the trip—except in tandem with the Big Obsidian Flow a little further back in the park. That was amazing. Pumice and obsidian are two fruits of volcanic activity and this allowed us to another beautiful and cool moment in volcanic history.

Then, we had probably the biggest wow of the trip: Crater Lake NP. One of the placards noted the many times that people had “discovered” it—and a sense, we were discovering it that day. The response every time must be a jaw-dropping wow. Like Glacier, given the snowfall, it’s only open a few months a year. (In fact, the eastern loop still wasn’t fully open when we were there on July 12.) But oh my! Snow, amazing blue water, one of the world’s deepest lakes, and a number of beautiful views from the rim of the volcanic crater. (You can take a tough hike down to the bottom—and even get a boat ride to the larger island. It’s also a place where you can fish without a license, since there are no native fish!)

From there, we had a long drive to stay the night at Crescent City. Like our evening drive to Lake Tahoe, the landscape seemed pretty, some of the best parts were probably invisible for our drive to the coast. At the end, we went through Jedediah SP on US101—and even at night, you could tell that the redwoods were awesome! (My favorite part was when they obviously built the road to barely miss a mammoth tree or two.)

Crescent City apparently has some nice stuff (Pebble Beach Drive and Point St. George), but we kept moving on Wednesday. (Another option is to stay east—to drive past Mt. Shasta and go to Redding for the Sundial Glass Bridge and Sculpture Park.) The next morning, we saw more of the Redwoods in the daylight, with a drive down Howland Hill Road (not in my research for the trip, but apparently, the no-brainer way to see the great trees—driving, a short hike, and/or a longer hike). Ideally, we would have gone all the way down HHR and loop back on US101, but they were doing construction on HHR’s bridge.

Heading south, the rest of the day was a mix of beach views (with two stops at beaches), canyon drives, a herd of elk near Orick, Redwood Creek (where the creek goes into the ocean and the beach has dead redwoods), and two scenic drives through redwoods (Redwood SP and the more-touristy Avenue of the Giants. If you want more time on the beach and on Route 1, you can head SW at Leggett. But we stayed on the main road to our hotel in Healdsburg (about 50 miles north of SF): America’s Best Value Inn. This was our only bad hotel experience: no A/C and no ability for management to get us to a different room (fine, stuff happens, right?), but no discount and the implication that we deserved it since we signed up through Priceline (unacceptable).

On Thursday, our last day, we had a short drive to Sebastopol, to see dozens of excellent “junk art” pieces on Florence Street between Wilton and Healdsburg. (The artist, Patrick Amiot, lives in that neighborhood and refers to it as "junk art" and “urban folk art”.) Aside from Reno’s 95 degrees, this was our only (brief) time above 80 degrees. Even so, there was little humidity—all in all, gorgeous weather. (And we’re glad we missed the usual summer fun in Louisville for two and a half weeks!) Then, 25 miles later, it was back into the 60s—and another 25 miles later, we were back to 60 degrees and windy along the beach.

We looked at Pt. Reyes SP briefly, but time was short and the lighthouse was closed. If that’s your cup of tea, I could see spending a half-day there. I had Muir Woods on my list, but didn’t know why. And there were huge crowds. But it was just to see more redwoods. Well, of course, most people haven’t been further north in CA to see redwoods, so Muir is the place near SF to do that! We walked the Golden Gate Bridge (very cold) and wrapped up with a drive around Golden Gate Park and through the city.

Two public policy items to close: First, Oregon was funny since it had legalized marijuana but is one of two states (along with NJ) where you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. One is tempted to imagine that the policy is driven by paternalism (and safety concerns). But the more likely explanation is the standard bad-economic thinking that leads one to imagine that such government efforts create net jobs.

Speaking of government creating net jobs: we’ve seen this on most (every?) trip, but our time in national parks concentrated the observations. Placards tell us that X was the result of funding from the WPA in the 1930s and often mention the job destruction from that spending. Of course, when you take money from some people and give it to others, you’ll create jobs, but you’re not likely to create net jobs. Of course, the creation is obvious and the destruction is subtle, so it’s easy to get fooled. The WPA was one of many interventions that lengthened and deepened the Great Depression. Although it’s cool that we can enjoy such things today, it was on the backs of those who were forced to sacrifice by the lousy economic policies of FDR and his “New Deal”. (I will turn this into something this Fall, but the project could range from op-ed to major research piece. Stay tuned!)

It was a lot of work, but it was a great trip. If you have the resources, make it a priority to get out west!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Greif on the Kardashians

A provocative and otherwise-excellent essay, starting with our reality TV culture (even into our presidential race) and focusing on the Kardashians.

I haven't followed them at all (well, of course, more than one must observe such things if you're in the culture at all). But Greif argues that the K's...
-reflect the culture's emphasis on "being seen"
-are "inert and mostly indolent" (Greif doesn't say this, but their show seems like an extension of Seinfeld's "show about nothing" idea)

-claim to have emotions continually but never show any
-are "altogether in control of their physical forms"

-are "post-racial" ("the family's most attractive feature") and neutered Bruce ("though at first, only symbolically"), resulting in "the blurring of racial difference and the eradication of gender difference"
-are, ironically, a cast of "supposedly distinct individuals" who are difficult to tell apart

Greif's comments about men in the K world-- and in particular, Bruce/Caitlyn-- were rough (but presumably correct): They "condescend to a variable roster of useless males who are periodically expelled." Bruce, "the one ostensibly stable male presence...exiled to the garage, the butt of jokes for most of the show's run...Bruce Jenner played his trump card by becoming the only sort of figure who could wield power in a Kardashian world: a woman...this 'Cait' surely does start with a k."

Monday, July 18, 2016

on Trump (continued)

I'm not pro-Trump in terms of his style or his substance. 

That said, I'm not *as* anti-Trump, for a number of reasons

1a.) I think a lot of Trump's approach is rhetoric. To be sure, the rhetoric is not always helpful-- and often harmful-- and thus, regrettable. Since all they have is a vote and a few bucks to send to a candidate, most people pay little attention to politics and policy. As a result, they are easily swayed by rhetoric-- whether Bush, Obama, Clinton, Sanders, or Trump. But the point is that a lot of it is...rhetoric. So, I don't think Trump's rhetoric would translate into his policy actions to a very high degree. 

1b.) People forget about the nature of *political* rhetoric. The taxpayer-financed primary season encourages politicians to appeal to their party's voters-- and then to pivot, to some degree, in the general election. We usually describe this as "flip-flopping" and some politicians are more artful than others at hiding their flips. More broadly, politicians routinely say one thing when campaigning in the general election and do other things when governing. (See: Obama with Guantanamo Bay; Bush with "nation-building".) 

2.) People forget about the nature of a divided government. In particular, presidents don't get (nearly) everything they want, even when they "control" both Houses of Congress. If Trump is as inept at working with Congress as Obama, you'll mostly get stalemate and contention-- in other words, what we've seen the last 12 years. The same thing could be said of Senator Sanders. Although he believes in unicorns in terms of economics and public policy, he wouldn't have been able to govern based on those beliefs-- and thus, was not nearly as bad of a candidate as one would imagine from his policy beliefs.

3.) In comparison to the other, lousy, major-party alternative, Trump's policy positions are surprisingly similar to Clinton's. Trump's character is roughly equivalent to Clinton's or better. (What problem does he have that matches her struggles with the truth and her enabling of a sexual predator?) If you're into experience, it's apples and oranges: Trump has ample executive experience in business; Clinton has some executive experience in government as First Lady. (Neither Trump nor Clinton has the executive government experience of the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor.)

4.) Trump might well bring some positives to the office, at least for those who aren't fans of the political status quo. I like that Trump would be more likely to "shake things up". Of course, this presents a higher probability of danger as well. But the status quo is nasty-- both in terms of our politics and our policy-- so I'm ok with rolling the dice, especially given the three caveats above.

I'm more anti-anti-Trumpers than I am anti-Trump. In a word, I understand why Trumpers are supporting him-- or a candidate like him. And I think they deserve empathy if not respect. (See also: Bernie Sanders' surprising appeal.) Trumpers have been around for awhile. This political moment seems to be a replay of sorts of Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and perhaps 1968. Through a combination of style, substance, and political context, Ronald Reagan was able to attract and hold Trumpers within his amazing constituency. (As an aside, Trumpers were much of my support when I ran for Congress. They were dissatisfied with standard politics and happy to support a non-traditional candidate. I did worst in suburban counties and best in more-rural, "less-sophisticated" Trump country.) 

That said, the number of Trumpers has also increased in recent years, with fading idolatry of both major political parties and various economic changes that they presume can be fixed by trade and immigration policy. Those problems won't be fixed-- or even addressed much-- by public policy, at least in practice. As such, I think most Trump supporters are committing a different sort of political idolatry-- which is bound to disappoint those who put too much hope it him. But dynamic idolatry is probably better than its static forms, so I'm relatively happy that they're reflecting a new idolatry or trying out a different version.
One last thought: This may be provocative, but I think it is easy to support. Most Trump supporters are more "sophisticated" in their thinking than either Sanders or Clinton supporters. Bernie mostly has two types of fans: 1.) Those who don't support the status quo but want a different flavor than the one provided by Trump; 2.) Those who were attracted to his unicorn-like economic policies. The first thought process is equivalent to most Trump supporters; the second is naive and clearly not sophisticated. 

And why are people choosing Clinton? Three of the least sophisticated reasons I can imagine: 1.) sexism (their top priority is for a woman to be president); 2.) avid partisanship ("yellow dog democrats"); and 3.) opposition to Trump (rather than support for Clinton per se). 

Whatever you think of Trump, recognize the valid reasons for profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, empathize as much as possible with his supporters, and make sure that your reasons for supporting a candidate are principled.