Monday, June 05, 2017

Terrorism and "Cliches and Platitudes"


From Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal:

After an atrocity, public figures are faced with a dilemma. To say nothing would look like heartlessness or indifference, but whatever they do say is almost certain to seem inadequate, shallow, and clichéd. They always manage somehow to say something that is either pusillanimous or does not need saying.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, found words that contrived to combine banality with error to describe the city’s latest terrorist atrocity. He said that the attacks were deliberate, as if anyone might otherwise have thought them accidental, or performed in a fit of absence of mind. 

He also said that they were cowardly, which is the one thing that decidedly they were not. True enough, the people that the perpetrators attack were defenseless, but they, the perpetrators, could hardly have been under any illusion about their own probable fate. Even with the prospect of 72 virgins as a reward, it must have taken courage to do what they did.

This is important, because it demonstrates that courage or bravery is not in itself a virtue: it becomes a virtue only in pursuit of a virtuous aim. A man who is evil need not thereby be a coward, and frequently in fact is not. A timidly evil man is probably preferable to a bravely evil one, unless his timidity leads him to superior cunning.

Khan further said that the victims were innocents. In what sense were they innocents? It was unlikely that they, of all humanity, were born without Original Sin. It could only be that they were innocents by comparison with the guilty. But who, in the context of being mown down by a driver or attacked by men with long knives, are the guilty? 

In other words, there exist in Khan’s mind—if his words mean anything, which they should, since he is a lawyer by training—a group of people whom it would have been less heinous for the terrorists to kill, whom it would not have been cowardly for them to have killed. Can he tell us who they are?

Theresa May, the prime minister, did somewhat better, but even she referred to the innocence of the victims, as though there were guilty victims lurking somewhere who deserved to be mowed down or have their throats cut. 

And in post-Diana Britain, no tragedy or wickedness occurs without the police and other officials saying (as did May on this occasion) “our thoughts and prayers are with the families,” when this is most unlikely to be true and is an unctuous platitude that brings no solace. 

May said on this occasion that “enough is enough”—meaning what, exactly? That a little terrorism is acceptable, as if the perpetrators were boisterous children finally being called to order after having been given leeway by the grown-ups?

Things will have to change, she said, without specifying which things. To specify would have been to invite criticism, opposition, opprobrium—and just before an election, no less. Best keep to clichés.

Rob's comment:
As he did so often, the late Christopher Hitchens summed up our situation best:

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims...The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don't get the point prefer to whine about "endless war"...(emphasis added)

Europe has a bigger problem than we do, though we too will continue to suffer an occasional attack by homicidal/suicidal Muslim maniac. "Enough is enough" is hot air from a political leader facing an election. In reality there's not much government can do about this, except increase surveillance and put the squeeze on our privacy and civil liberties because War is the Health of the State

Trump's proposed travel ban on Muslims is not only unconstitutional but surely counter-productive. War is not only the health of the state; it's also good for the demagogue business.

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Jane Jacobs predicted what's happening to SF

From yesterday's SF Chronicle (‘How to Kill a City,’ by Peter Moskowitz):

Midway through “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” one of the most influential books on urban ecology, Jane Jacobs sounded an alarm. Writing from the West Village, the book was in part a love letter to her neighborhood, which worked, she argued, because it was quirky and diverse, a swirl of tight-knit humanity that looked out for each other.

But that could all change. “First, we must understand that self-destruction of diversity is caused by success, not failure,” she wrote. People would gravitate to a neighborhood like the West Village, causing rents to rise. Soon the area would be filled with the “winners of the competition” who “form a narrow segment of population of users.” The quirk disappears. “Both visually and functionally,” she predicted, “the place becomes more monotonous.”

The book was published in 1961, amid white flight and disinvestment from urban cores; some readers might have wondered what Jacobs was so worried about. Now, of course, we know. Today, the West Village is 90 percent white, with a typical one-bedroom apartment fetching $4,000 a month. It is safe and sparkling and dreadful. The small townhouse where Jacobs wrote her defining work is now a real estate office...

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Megaprojects: Over budget and under performance


From the Antiplanner:

The Iron Law[of megaprojects] is, simply “Over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again.” He says that 90 percent of megaprojects go over budget and most end up under performing...

Although Flyvbjerg defines megaprojects as projects whose costs are in billions of dollars, many of these rules also apply to much smaller projects if they are undertaken by agencies or entities that are not used to such projects. 

For example, neither the Norfolk light rail nor the Austin commuter rail lines would qualify as megaprojects, but both were beyond the skills and capabilities of the agencies that undertook them, and as a result the agencies nearly went bankrupt, the general managers lost their jobs, and the cities that rely on their transit services ended up getting poorer service.

Truly, you really only need to know one thing about megaprojects, and that is: Don’t do them. This is especially true for governments, but also for the private sector. It is much better to do things incrementally or to undertake projects that can yield rewards immediately without having to wait for the investment of billions of dollars. 

Of course, if Apple or Google want to spend some of their surplus billions on megaprojects, that’s up to them. It’s quite a different story when politicians use other people’s money.

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