How the Flood Insurance Morality Tale Misunderstands America’s Historic Fabric

NFIP flood zones in Fredericksburg’s historic district (courtesy FredGIS).

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey (and in anticipation of Hurricane Irma), the topic of the National Flood Insurance Program has popped up on pundits’ radar once again.  As usual, the question of public subsidy for flood risk is told as a morality tale, one in which greedy developers and overprivileged second home owners disregard the moral hazard of their decisions and pass the buck to the public purse.  But reality of flood insurance is considerably more complex than this parable of greed and shortsightedness.  The NFIP not only covers a vast number of ordinary everyday homeowners, it also covers a vast number of historic properties.  Defunding the NFIP would be a direct attack on the project of preserving the historic building fabric of the United States. Read more

Monuments and Artifacts Are Not the Same Thing; Or, Why Fredericksburg Shouldn’t Remove its “Slave Auction Block.”

A postcard of Fredericksburg’s “Slave Auction Block” from 1920s; on the back it reads: “In the days before the Civil War it was used for the sale and annual hire of slaves. Albert Crutchfield, shown in the picture, was sold from the block about 1859, at which time he was a boy about fifteen years old.”

Recently, a petition has been circulating in Fredericksburg to remove the “Slave Auction Block” from the corner of William and Charles Streets.  I get why.  We’re in a moment, as my friend James Dator put it, of “anti-racist iconoclasm.”  While we’re sweeping away confederate monuments, why not sweep away all pedestal-shaped artifacts of Virginia’s explicitly white supremacist past.  But this movement confuses monuments with artifacts, and seeks to remove an object that reveals historical truth rather than one that produces historical myth.

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An Apocalypse of Narcissists

Alone Together

John McCain’s triumphal return to DC and impassioned Senatorial plea for mature legislating is being played as a study of contrasts in Trump’s Washington.  Most coverage has treated it as a clash between two poles of the Republican party: the craven, heartless dealmaking and win-seeking of Trump and McConnell, vs. the impassioned heroism of McCain.  Except it’s not a study in contrasts at all.  John McCain and Donald Trump are the same basic person and the same basic politician, except one has a slightly better developed dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and also does a better job of listening to his lawyers and his PR handlers.  It’s not a clash of extremes, it’s an apocalypse of narcissists.

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History is Rhyming

Also not a crook.

Recently, I stumbled across Hunter S. Thompson’s obituary for Richard Nixon, originally published in Rolling Stone on June 16, 1994.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I just have to pull out and share some of my favorite parts of it.  It is also speaks hauntingly to the moment we find ourselves in today.  Trump’s not Nixon, but oh man, does Trump ever rhyme with Nixon.

Thompson had a way with words.  His journalistic ethics, which eschewed the standards of “Objective Journalism” (he liked to capitalize it for Maximum Impact) as false and misleading and embraced the use of the first person as critical to truth-telling, freed him up to say what he really thought about public figures like Nixon.  But his approach to journalism wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without his unbelievable skill at invective. Read more

Enough Already, Blue State Friends

Don’t let this map fool you. It’s as medium-geranium-red as they come.

Today was a day of almost comic-book level evil, and do you want to know what didn’t make it any easier to take?  All of my blue-state friends using their social media feeds to exhort anyone that they know who might happen to have a Republican representative in Congress to please please please be sure to call their representative.  As someone who lives in a sort of medium-geranium-red Congressional district, with a representative that switched his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ as the bill got worse, they were talking to me.  I get that on a day like today you probably feel a little bit helpless since your representative understands the basic human value of healthcare already, but do you want to know why this was unhelpful and also kind of annoying? Read more

Mackintosh’s Law

Nothing to see here, folks.

After news broke today of the latest Sean Spicer “gaffe” regarding Hitler supposedly not having used chemical weapons, I am ready to call it.  I hereby declare Mackintosh’s Law*:

Any time a member of the Trump Administration opens their mouth on the subject of the Holocaust … really, any time he or she (mostly he) even thinks about the Holocaust … they are about the step into the middle of a self-created ahistorical and antisemitic political shitstorm.

*Actually, let’s called it First Mackintosh’s Law.  I reserve the right to declare more “laws” in the future.  Mike Godwin was really onto something.  Declaring “laws” is super fun.  Watch this space.

On Incompetence

I bet he even loses when he's playing this game with Barron.

I bet he even loses when he’s playing this game with Barron.

Donald Trump is many things, most of them terrible.  (Seriously, has there ever been a human being with fewer redeeming qualities?  And I’m someone who is usually pretty pollyannaish about seeing the best in people.)  One of his prominent characteristics is deep and profound incompetence.  The man has basically fucked up everything he has ever touched.  His business ventures are a mess, which have only ever been saved by lucky intervention.  He has no attention span, can’t see a project through to completion, and does not appear to learn from his mistakes.  His real estate empire is a cobbled-together mess, glued together with tax dodges, shady dealings, and multiple bankruptcies.  His branding business is small-time and absurd.  The one thing he has proved good at in the twenty-first century, bullying people on TV, has crumbled to dust as networks and sponsors have run screaming.  He has left a trail of failed marriages and hollow interpersonal relationships behind him, and his children (at least those who have taken a public role in the past few years) seem as empty and miserable as he is.  In his perpetually infantile self-involvement, he has developed a reverse Midas touch.  Everything he touches turns reliably to shit.  (The fact that he has gotten as far as he has, anyway, is a testament to the overwhelming power of dynastic, inherited wealth in the United States.) Read more

Lacrimosa; Or, What I’m Scared Of

Mournfully be that day On which from ashes shall arise The guilty man to be judged.

Mournfully be that day
On which from ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged.

Today is a tough day.  I am stunned, sad, and scared. Stunned because I didn’t see this coming; I thought we were better than this.  Sad because today is terrible and destructive and needs to be mourned (Mozart: Requiem is on heavy rotation today). And scared because I really don’t know what come next.  Thinking back to the 2000 election, I remember being stunned, sad, and scared, but it was a different kind of fear.  Back then I was scared because I knew exactly what George W. Bush would do as President, and it terrified me.  This is different, because I have no idea what Trump will do as President.  So I decided to write out my fears on the theory that naming the monster under the bed makes it less scary. Read more

Poor Dumb Dads; Or, When Clinton’s Supporters Can’t Avoid Sexism

He's bad at his one fundamental job, but for some reason we love him anyway?!?!??

He’s bad at his one fundamental job, but for some reason we love him anyway?!?!??

Lots and lots of friends and acquaintances have been sharing and celebrating Louis CK’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Conan last night.  While I agree with CK’s fundamental endorsement … Clinton should be president, and she should be president because of her own unique and exceptional qualification, not just because she isn’t Donald Trump.  On that front, CK and I could not agree more.  I just wish he could have made his endorsement without falling back on the old, tired, worn-out “bumbling-dad” cliche that has been a staple of commercial culture since the 1940s, and which has dominated pop cultural portrayals of fatherhood since the 1980s.  It’s so, so tiresome. Read more

Memorializing the Confederacy and the Misuses of History

It is undeniably a metaphor for my life that I have to pass under this sign every time I go to Wegmans.

It is undeniably a metaphor for my life that I have to pass under this sign every time I go to Wegmans.

This week, a weirdly fresh scab was ripped off an old wound by a class project undertaken by one of my colleagues in sociology.  In his political sociology course, Eric Bonds charged his students with undertaking “a community involvement project that would help them develop democracy skills and not simply vote in an election and then tune out.” The project that his class undertook was a petition and presentation to the Fredericksburg City Council arguing that they city should rename Jefferson Davis Highway (US Route 1) within the city limits.  At the Tuesday evening meeting, the class made its presentation to council.  Despite my irrational hope that somehow Fredericksburg wouldn’t be Fredericksburg on Tuesday evening, the proposal was roundly criticized and then summarily ignored.  Members of the public who rose to comment were critical of the proposal on the grounds that “chang[ing[ the highway’s name … would ‘erase’ a piece of the city’s history.”  Not only would City Council not entertain the petition, a motion to create a task force to study the issue couldn’t even get a second.  In other words, Fredericksburg is still Fredericksburg. Read more