New article on the Olympics

My latest article for FEE is “Cities Can’t Win the Olympics — They Can Only Lose.” I don’t get to pick the titles for my articles, but this one isn’t bad. The piece is about how disastrous the Olympic Games are for the people they displace; public landmarks are shut away, the city is militarized, and the locals are left paying for the cost overruns. Most people in Boston don’t want the 2024 bid, and they’re fighting back and winning.

As with all my articles for FEE, I’m grateful if people share the link and get it more readers.

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Boston’s anti-free speech mayors

It’s very rare for Donald Trump to be right, but he’s absolutely correct that Boston’s Mayor Walsh owes him an apology.

Walsh suggested that he’ll try to block Trump’s construction projects because of Trump’s views on immigration. Walsh said, “I just don’t agree with him at all. I think his comments are inappropriate. And if he wanted to build a hotel here, he’d have to make some apologies to people in this country.”

Certainly Trump is wrong on immigration. His painting of immigrants as especially prone to crime is factually inaccurate; see, for example, this Cato Institute article on immigration and crime. It’s an embarrassment that a crowd cheered him at the allegedly libertarian FreedomFest. But even jerks have the right of free speech, and mayors in the US can’t withhold construction permits because they “don’t agree” with the applicants.
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Killing Tsarnaev would be too lenient

I think that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should get the severest penalty possible: being locked up and the key thrown away. Death would be too easy.

He wants to die, so that he’ll collect his payoff from the god Holy Murder quicker. Or at least he wanted to when he was running from the police, according to a note that he wrote:

I’m jealous of my brother who has received the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. Allah Akbar!

If I believed in Hell, I might have a different opinion, but letting him die thinking he’s going to collect a huge reward and then suffering no further consequences is just too easy.

Note from Tsarnaev, with bullet holesWhat about the deterrent value of killing him? Islamic terrorists aren’t deterred by death. They welcome it. They kill themselves along with their victims so that Holy Murder will give them their virgins right away. I find it strange how many conservatives haven’t grasped this. Here’s a piece from Fox News:

If we don’t send Islamic terrorists to death row here in the United States, to me, that sends a message to the outside world — and to any terrorist — that we’re weak. …

If we don’t send Islamic terrorists to death have we really won?

Gretchen Carlson really seems to think that Islamic terrorists are deterred by the fear of death. I just don’t see how anyone who’s followed the news this century can think that. If anything, his death might encourage some other killer to “avenge” his “martyrdom” on more innocent people. But there’s at least some reason to think they’d be deterred by the prospect of a miserable existence where they can’t do any harm or imagine they’re collecting any reward. The prison he’s likely to go to is Hell enough for anyone.

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The libertarian case against a Boston Olympics

It’s heartening to see the growing grassroots opposition to the proposed Boston 2024 Olympics. People are recognizing the games for the cronyist scheme they’ve become, a way to make money not by offering what people want, but by having government connections. I’d like to focus here, though, on the effect a Boston Olympics would have on personal liberties.

We can look at a couple of past Boston events for an idea of what can happen. The 2004 Democratic Convention was a disaster that turned Boston into a ghost town for a week. Commuter rail service from North Station was completely shut down. Southbound access to Boston by I-93 was closed. Military police questioned people carrying shopping bags in T stations. An ugly, small “free speech zone” was set up to restrict protest. Meanwhile, convention delegates got their own special subway cars. Economic activity ground to a halt as people just gave up on going to Boston.

Even the Boston Marathon has become an occasion for stepping on people’s ordinary activities. The police conducted warrantless bag searches on public streets.

On March 30 Obama visited UMass Boston, and the entire campus was shut down for a day to Make Way for His Majesty.

Aside from the general tendency of Boston officials to turn any big event into a chance to flex their muscles, we know what previous Olympics have been like and what’s planned should they be inflicted on Boston.

Mayor Walsh agreed in writing to ban criticism of the Olympics by city employees, though he later reversed this position after public outrage. Over 55 kilometers of roadway lanes, both primary and secondary, will be handed over to the Olympics’ exclusive use.

More clues come from past Olympic games. In 2012 the UK’s Ministry of Defence turned residential buildings into missile bases near the Olympic site. Outrageous restrictions were placed on the words advertisers with no connection to the Olympics could use. Prohibitions on words like “games,” “2012,” “gold,” or “London” were enforced not by the normal legal process but by Olympic security personnel.

The Guardian described the condition of London:

In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.

During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.

In Rio de Janeiro, the city government has broken its promise not to use eminent domain for next year’s Olympics. Boston’s government has made a similar promise and is facing opposition by people who don’t want to relocate; how much would you want to bet that Boston politicians will stand by their word?

It wouldn’t be fair to put too much emphasis on Sochi; that’s Putin’s Russia, after all. The Olympics belongs there. But David Zirin writes in The Nation:

I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states. At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens. The 2004 games in Greece brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and arrived at 200 percent over budget, the precursor to a debt crisis that plagues the country today.

It’s been harder than I expected to research this piece. People have gotten so used to being shoved around by the government that it’s not even news. I probably would never have heard of the UMB closing if it weren’t for Twitter. Search results show just how heavy the propaganda efforts for the Olympics have been. This makes it all the more impressive that so many people are having none of it.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

For years I’ve listened to the concert podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but yesterday was the first time I’ve gone there to hear a concert in person. CardnerConcertHall The concert hall is unique. Literally everyone has a first or second-row seat, on the performance floor or in balconies which tower far above it. The piano’s lid was completely removed so its sound would project upward. From where I sat in the top balcony, I had a perfect view of Benjamin Grosvenor’s hands on the keyboard. My favorite piece in the performance was Busoni’s setting of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. Several composers have written piano arrangments of that piece, originally written for unaccompanied violin; I love both the Brahms and the Busoni versions.

That has to be an intimidating place to perform, like being in an arena. You’re surrounded on all sides by spectators, some of them high above you; if they got upset enough to throw things at you, it could be deadly. Grosvenor didn’t speak to the audience at all, even to tell us what his encore was; it can’t be easy to speak to an audience that’s arrayed above you like that. The performance was excellent anyway.

After the concert I went through a glass tunnel to the museum’s other building, which was a complete contrast. The concert hall is extremely modern, but the museum proper is one of the most medieval-feeling places I’ve been in west of the Atlantic. Except for the courtyard, everything is dimly lit for preservation reasons and photography is forbidden. Courtyard The museum has an amazing collection of old tapestries.

The museum is well worth visiting when a concert is scheduled. If you aren’t near Boston, you can still listen to its concert podcasts.

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Cultural separatism and fandom

Arisia and Boskone both released their schedules recently, and I noticed a disturbing item on each of them. Arisia has this:

We all know bullying is wrong, but what about other behavior that might fall under the radar? This includes things like fannish gatekeeping, and tagging your hate and cultural appropriation under the guise of fandom.

On Boskone’s schedule we see this:

Writing diverse characters necessarily requires writing people who are not like you. When these characters come from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented or targets of discrimination, it is necessary to approach this task with care — but the need to be careful sometimes scares off well-intentioned authors. What techniques can be used to understand and communicate their perspectives? Where is the line between writing inclusively and co-opting a story that is not yours to tell?

“Cultural appropriation,” according to Wikipedia, is “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group.” It’s something which has happened ever since cultures have met. Stories from The Arabian Nights found their way to Grimm, and “Cinderella” is said to have descended from a medieval Chinese story. Cultural appropriation is a wonderful thing, creating ties and understanding between cultures. For some people, though, it threatens the purity of their culture.

Musicians like Benny Goodman and Elvis Presley used stylistic elements that came from black American culture. In doing so they paid tribute to it and made mainstream music more exciting. This outraged some people. Bono (whom I still despise for dumping his trash on my iPod, but never mind) put Elvis’s contribution this way:

I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock & roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers.

Today, some people want to bring “cultural apartheid” back. They presumably want mainstream American music to be purely European, and I chuckle to imagine their sputtering rage when they encounter filk music, which gleefully grabs songs from everywhere. It’s not surprising that people want to build walls against people who are different, but what is this trend doing in fandom, which is supposed to be about welcoming differences?

Update: It gets worse. An Arisia 2015 panel description on “Writing and Racial Identity” reads: “What does your race have to do with what you write? Depending on your race, are certain topics forbidden to you? Obligatory? None of the above? If your race matters, how do you know what it is? By what people see when they look at you, or by what you know of your genetic background? By your cultural upbringing? By what you write?” Seriously. A science fiction convention is opening the question of whether some topics should be forbidden to writers of some races. On Martin Luther King Day, no less.

Vandalism and fear

Someone committed a remarkably disgusting act of vandalism this week in the Bradford section of Haverhill, Massachusetts. This person stole a statue of the infant Jesus from the Sacred Hearts Church and replaced it with a freshly severed pig’s head. I’m often in Haverhill and have driven past that church hundreds of times. The thought is revolting. (I’m an atheist, if that matters.)

So far people seem to be avoiding a panicked reaction. In some times and places, people would have grabbed the nearest Jew and strung him up, or tried somebody as a witch. Today such incidents are apt to bring out screams of “Terrorism!”, riot police, Bearcats, and lockdown orders. In the “Satanic panic” of the eighties, people would have been claiming this was part of a Satanic conspiracy to bring about death and destruction.

My best guess is that this was the work of a lunatic with hallucinations of commands issued by Satan. It doesn’t seem like the act of any kind of organization. People want someone to blame, though, and demagogues live on spreading fear. I hope that doesn’t happen in this case.

A woman donated a replacement statue and said:

I can’t change the world, but I can change my city. I’m bringing this, and I’m asking everybody to do the same. Make a statement. You don’t have to come here and hold a sign to be destructive. Just come to let everybody who drives by know. Not here. Not my city.

“To be destructive” sounds like either a slip of the tongue or a mistake in reporting. Apart from that, she has it right.

In contrast, in Berlin, New Hampshire, a tiny city by courtesy in the White Mountains, police chief Peter Morency has issued a request for Bearcat armored vehicle; the document reads like the ravings of a fanatic. He claims an “urgent need” because of Berlin’s “critical infrastructures,” claims that “domestic terrorism” is a serious threat to the place, and asserts a need to be able to detect “Alpha, Bata [sic], and Gamma radiation.” He talks about “numerous high-risk warrant services performed by the BGERT [Berlin-Gorham Emergency Response Team] where the threat levels call for an armored vehicle of this type.” Yes, he wants to use an armored vehicle to serve warrants. In saner times, people would be urging him to get a nice long sabbatical in a restful place. It’s scary to think what Morency might have done if he were police chief in Haverhill.

People sometimes do horrible things. We have to respond to them firmly, but at the same time not exaggerate their significance. There are better things to do with life than live it in fear.

Update: There was another church vandalism incident in Haverhill, resulting in the arrest of a woman for scrawling “666” in several places on a church and attacking a detective with a crucifix. The two churches are less than a mile apart. It could be the same person or a copycat, or the cases might be unrelated.

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The Ballad of Market Basket

Here’s a new filk video on the Market Basket controversy. I don’t have any business connection with the supermarket except that I used to shop there regularly, but it’s important to me for personal reasons. Even if you don’t share those reasons, you might enjoy it as filk. There’s also a cat in it. Sorry about the low resolution; I did what I could with Apple’s free movie tools.

Thanks to Vixy for permission to use “Mal’s Song,” and I hope Joss Whedon’s lawyers don’t mind my use of the tune from the Firefly theme.

View the video on Vimeo.
Or buy Mal’s Song from Vixy and Tony. It’s much better sung than my version.

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Lying tweet from People magazine about Market Basket protests

People ragazine has sunk to outright lying. (It may have been doing that for a long time; I don’t pay much attention to it.) It tweeted:

Market Basket grocery chain workers are rioting – because they want their beloved fired boss back

There has been no rioting or violence. The worst that’s happened is one incident of possible reckless driving, which ended in a dismissal of charges, and some unnecessary rudeness to people applying for jobs. The new management says job applicants have feared for their safety, but as far as I can tell they haven’t substantiated this claim. I have been at two of the rallies and haven’t seen anything remotely resembling a riot.

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How the Globe rewrites the news

A few minutes ago, I saw an article on the Boston Globe’s site which began:

Arthur T. Demoulas’s offer to buy the Market Basket grocery chain is the only bid left on the table, and both sides of the family are furiously negotiating to complete a sale and end the daily losses crippling the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Market Basket controversy is one I’ve been following closely for personal reasons, and I tweeted a link to this story. Then I clicked the link in the tweet for verification, and discovered the story now began:

Negotiations to buy the Market Basket grocery chain continued Tuesday and the company’s board of directors said offers from several potential buyers were under consideration by stockholders.

Former president Arthur T. Demoulas made an offer last week to buy the 50.5 percent ownership stake owned by cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and his side of the bitterly divided family. But the board said other potential suitors had expressed an interest in the company.

This is an annoying habit of the Globe’s website; they completely change their stories in place. The revised article does mention that “earlier Tuesday, the Globe had reported that the board was negotiating exclusively with Arthur T. Demoulas”; but it doesn’t mention that it did so in the same article, which got overwritten. This can be frustrating to people who link to a story as I did, only to discover later that the story doesn’t remotely match what they thought it said, and can even make them look silly or dishonest.

Here are screen shots of the two versions of the story:

Screenshot of old Globe article
Rewritten version of Boston Globe story
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