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16 March 2010


Matins: As mains deteriorate, the American habit of regarding water as a free resource makes repairs politically difficult.

“This rate hike is outrageous,” said Jim Graham, a member of the city council. “Subway systems need repairs, and so do roads, but you don’t see fares or tolls skyrocketing. Providing inexpensive, reliable water is a fundamental obligation of government. If they can’t do that, they need to reform themselves, instead of just charging more.”

There's something sublime about a city councillor's calling for government "to reform themselves."

The root of the problem, in our view, is the Nineteenth-Century earnest devotion to the idea of Building to Last. Building to Update makes for steadier work. (NYT)

Lauds: Jason Clark compares and contrasts two distantly similar shows On and Off Broadway, Geoffrey Naufft's Next Fall and Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride. Of the latter, he writes:

Playing two different sets of male lovers 50 years apart (but both named Philip and Oliver), Hugh Dancy and Ben Whishaw find magnificent reserves of repression and desire in characters that could have been dreary and unsympathetic. Dancy, who never seems more at home than on a stage, is especially thrilling as the pent-up Philip of the '50s, a steely coil of fear and anxiety always threatening to drive him to the brink. And for all those who secretly lament never seeing Whishaw's Hamlet (which many believe is the greatest modern interpretation), he finally gets to rivet stateside as a sort of promiscuous, trouble-seeking gay version of the great Dane, at least in his modern Oliver; his marvelous, all-limbs physicality seemingly stretches the entirety of the Lucille Lortel stage.

(The House Next Door)

Prime: "What Happens if America's Credit Rating Is Downgraded?" Good things, perhaps. Perhaps just things that won't happen otherwise. (NYT)

Credit ratings can have a similar effect on countries. In other words, it is likely the bond market, and not yet another powerless Washington commission that huffs and puffs about fiscal responsibility, would force legislators to finally make unpopular decisions about the nation’s spending commitments and tax system.

“I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter,” James Carville said over a decade ago. “But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”

Tierce: While we raise our eyebrows at a few of Sara Firisen's implications about early education at home and abroad — she skirts the fact that kids elsewhere must work much harder in order to shine (and live in cultures that value slogging) — we think that she's quite right to dismiss the claim that the pursuit of excellence is "elitist." (3 Quarks Daily)

Of all the criticisms that have been leveled at me since I started writing about innovation and education, one that really depressed me, was when I was accused of being an elitist. The actual criticism was “There is something very elitist about this whole article. We can't even motivate a large percentage of children to finish high school, and now we are supposed to prepare the (obviously elite) students to work toward better life goals.” This galled me because it so totally missed the point I was making: I’m very lucky, I can afford to send my children to a wonderful independent school where they are privileged enough to get the kind of progressive education that I believe will make them better prepared for the challenges of the truly global workplace that will confront them in 10 to 15 years. My question is, why doesn’t every child in the US get the same educational opportunities that I am lucky enough to be able to give my children?

Why not, indeed.

Sext: Speakeasy wants to know: does the Best Actress award doom the winner's marriage?

Consider that four of the last seven Oscar winners for Best Actress split from their long-time partners after winning: Charlize Theron (Stuart Townsend), Hilary Swank (Chad Lowe), Reese Witherspoon (Ryan Phillippe) and now Winslet, last year’s winner for “The Reader.” Toss in Halle Berry, who won an Oscar in 2001 for “Monster’s Ball” and soon after divorced husband Eric Benet, and you’ve got five of the last nine winners.

On the flip side, going back to 2001, only one Best Actor winner, Sean Penn, has separated from his spouse (granted, several were unmarried).

Nones: Andrew Sullivan seems surprised by the familiar mode of the Vatican response to the latest outcrop of sexual abuse, this one in the current pope's former archidiocese.

But what staggers me is once again the immediate, visceral circling of the wagons - when what is being revealed - again! - is a pattern of criminal abuse, aided and abetted by a powerful elite, led by the Pope himself. If this were a secular institution, the police would move in and shut it down.

We need a statement from the Pope explaining what he knew and didn't know about the abuse of children - and the protection of child-abusing priests - under his direct authority in Regensburg and Munich. His position does not render him above the law - or above taking personal responsibility for the crimes he was duty-bound to discover and prosecute and for the priests he did not remove from their positions of power.

Surely, the Roman Catholic Church has seen itself as a victim since the days of Nero and Diocletian. (It's what comes of being married to a crucified saviour.)

Not that there hasn't been some progress. Mr Sullivan won't be burned alive, or forced to beg papal forgiveness by standing barefoot in the snows of Canossa. (Daily Dish)

Vespers: Luke Epplin, who has lived in Santiago but slept through minor tremors, writes about the Chilean earthquake in literature. (The Millions)

Despite the considerable seismic activity in Chile throughout the past centuries, it can be argued that the earthquake is under-explored in the country’s literature. At least, that’s the argument made by Alberto Fuguet, the enfant terrible of the Chilean literary scene, whose provocative novels mix urban realism, U.S. pop culture, and youthful malaise. In an interview with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, Fuguet opined that “in Chile, neither our literature nor our people take earthquakes seriously.” Fuguet, who spent part of his childhood in Los Angeles, remarked that he was always aware of living in one of the most fault-ridden cities in the United States. But once he returned to Santiago, he was surprised that “nobody talked about the fact that the country was extremely seismic. Seismology as a science and as a concern ranked very low.”

Compline: Hendrik Hertzberg brings us up to date on current bien-pensant thinking about nuclear power. (The New Yorker)

The nuclear industry is one whose record for safety and transparency is very far from spotless, and reviving it will require, besides big spending, nanny-state levels of government regulation. Republicans love it anyway—perhaps because it annoys environmentalists, perhaps on its merits. But they don’t love it as much as they hate taxes, which is how they view cap-and-trade. Obama’s willingness to give nukes a chance won’t win him many of their votes. “It won’t cause Republicans to support the national energy tax,” a spokesman for Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said. But it might win over a few of those among them who don’t hate taxes (and science) enough to dismiss global warming as an elaborate hoax. Carl Pope, the executive chairman of the Sierra Club, has said that Obama’s nods to nuclear “may ease the politics around comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation, but we do not believe that they are the best policy.” But the best, as often happens in our sclerotic political system, may not be among the available choices. As we stumble our way toward an acceptable approach to energy and climate change, the merely good might be the best that we can get. 

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