Sunday, July 31, 2005

Paul Olsen: Pangloss of Hayes Valley

It's the best of all possible worlds according to Paul Olsen, president of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. In the July/August Hayes Valley Voice, Olsen rhapsodizes about his neighborhood:

Other exciting events[along with a meeting on public safety] are the completion of Octavia Blvd. and the upcoming opening of the freeway touchdown ramp and the boulevard in August. After years of efforts, the freeway that divided us is down and a beautiful boulevard has taken its place.

Even allowing for the subjectivity of aesthetic judgments, this is a Panglossian account of what's happening in Hayes Valley. Yes, the freeway is down, but Octavia Blvd. will soon have six lanes of traffic that used to be carried over the neighborhood by the freeway. And the worst is yet to come after the new freeway ramp opens up just across Market St. One can call Octavia Blvd. many things, but "beautiful" is not one of them.

Olsen also puts a positive spin on the recent HVNA-sponsored meetings on UC's proposal to put 450 new housing units on the old extension site:

Our series of meetings regarding the UC Extension has concluded, with great participation from the neighborhood and interesting ideas put forth. Based on the priorities assigned at the last meeting, the T and P committee will be urging UC and the developers to incorporate these priorities into their final plan. We look forward to a positive response from them soon.

Like others in the HVNA leadership, Olsen is pro-development. All UC has to do to satisfy him and his allies is make a few token gestures toward open space and affordable housing. The next phase of UC's campaign will be just that: They'll alter their original proposal by scaling back the number of units proposed and make a few other gestures. 

But UC's whole approach is based on a big lie and plain old greed. UC lies when it says it can't afford to maintain the old extension site, since the mega-institution is now paying more than $2 million a year to lease space downtown to operate the extension. They just want to cash in on the old extension property, which is zoned for Public Use, not for a massive for-profit housing development. 

In any event, one can safely predict that the excitable Mr. Olsen--- aka, Pangloss---will be happy with whatever UC proposes.

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Iraq: a question of motives

Jon Carroll opposes the war in Iraq, as do a lot of other people of good will---people of the left, center, and right. But, like a lot of those same people, he also questions the Bush Administration's motives:

The war in Iraq is being run by people who see war as an abstract idea, a token on a board, moves in a chess game. They are indifferent to the suffering on both sides, they believe that any harm is permissible in pursuit of an ideological goal. The ends justify the means, as Lenin was fond of saying (SF Chronicle, July 21, 2005).

Carroll doesn't offer any evidence for this claim (nor does he offer us a specific cite in Lenin's case, though the charge seems likelier in that instance than in Bush's.) And what's the ideology being advanced by the Bush Administration? Christianity? Capitalism? If Carroll is right about the people making foreign policy for the US, they are monsters, devoid of basic human emotion, not to mention ethics. I read a lot of material, including some by and about those high in the Bush Administration, and I think Carroll is wrong about these folks (see, for example, Mark Bowden's story on Paul Wolfowitz in the July/August Atlantic Monthly).

Why can't Carroll just say that he vehemently opposes the war in Iraq and strongly disagrees with the Bush Administration while telling us exactly why? It's a little shocking to see a meticulously fair-minded liberal like Carroll essentially dehumanizing those he disagrees with in a sweeping ad hominem argument, which is regarded as a logical fallacy in beginning philosophy.

My impression about the motives of people on the big issues of the day, nationally and internationally, is that they are almost always sincere. People are sincerely anti-abortion and pro-choice, sincerely for the war in Iraq and sincerely opposed to it, etc. Unless you have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, it's bad political hygiene to question an opponent's motives.

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