Thursday, January 12, 2023

Make Portland Normal

Portlanders are very much fans of the slogan "keep Portland weird!" For the most part, I agree -- I'm generally a fan of Portland's various quirks and idiosyncrasies. I definitely count myself as a Portland booster!

Nonetheless, there are a few areas where it'd be nice for Portland to act like a normal American city. I'll give two examples:

1) Fluoridate our damn water, like a normal city!

Finding out Portland is the largest U.S. city to not fluoridate its water is I gather a rite of passage for new Portlanders. I always thought of anti-fluoridation activists as falling in the same category as anti-vaxxers and chemtrailers, and on reflection, I still do. There is absolutely no reason why Portland needs to have unfluoridated water.

73% of Americans have fluoridated water. It's clearly fine. Don't be weird about it.

2) Maintain your streets, like a normal city!

Before I talk about this, I need to briefly rant about Portland's street grid, which (particularly in the west part of the city where I live) is by far the most confusing of any city I've ever driven in. I hate driving in Portland, which is full of absurd seven way intersections and freeway entrances that look like alley ways and poorly signed lanes which inexorably force you to cross a bridge.

Still, all that, I can forgive -- in part because I respect that Portland's hilly geography probably makes a straight grid functionally impossible, in part because it's too late to fix now without digging the entire city up.

But what I can't fathom is why, throughout the city, random, seemingly normal streets are unmaintained by the city.

To be clear: I don't mean "the city has fallen behind in providing maintenance." What I mean is that there are many regular streets that get normal, local through traffic, that the city intentionally disclaims responsibility for maintaining.

This is the best explainer I've seen for the phenomenon, and it doesn't explain much. And it means that you could be driving to a friend's house only to discover that the route suddenly becomes a pot-hole ridden cart track. Check out this interactive map -- the random red portions? Those aren't maintained by the city. They're listed as "private" roads, even though for every relevant purpose they are just as public as any other road. They're not some isolated track that only connects a few houses over private property. They're part of the normal street grid! And this is encoded into statute somehow!

Here's an example from my own neighborhood. The subdivision I live in is 14 city blocks long, west to east. On the west side, most streets outlet onto the "main" road, but on the east side only one street does (Coronado). The only way out of my neighborhood going east is via Coronado. And wouldn't you know it if Coronado is unmaintained for its last four eastbound blocks, leading to giant gaping potholes on my unavoidable route to work each day. Coronado isn't all unmaintained -- from west to east it's (a) unmaintained for two blocks, (b) maintained by the city for six blocks, (d) non-existent for two blocks (it doesn't go through all the way), and (e) unmaintained again for the last four blocks.

Don't be weird Portland -- just take responsibility for your own street grid.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Who's Defending Hamline?

By now, you've probably heard of the flare-up at Hamline University in Minnesota, where an adjunct professor of art history was dismissed following student complaints after she showed a historic painting that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Every account I've seen suggests that the professor presented the painting (which was created in Persia by a Muslim artist in the 14th century) in a respectful and sensitive fashion, including notifying students that it would be depicted in her syllabus and again before the start of the relevant class (and told students they were free to opt out of attending that session). Nonetheless, the college not only declined to renew her contract, they expressly accused her of "Islamophobia" and indicated that "academic freedom" should not have protected her ability to "harm" her student.

The decision to terminate the professor has been met with a firestorm of criticism (e.g.: FIRE, PEN America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Academic Freedom Alliance). I personally found this post by Jill Filipovic to be especially thoughtful. So far, though, the college has been emphatic in defending its decision.

On that note, however, one thing I've yet to see is any prominent figure defending Hamline. The closest I've seen is a local CAIR official who (at a university-sponsored forum) said that the lesson had "absolutely no benefit" and compared alternative Muslim perspectives on portraying Muhammad as akin to the existence of people who think "Hitler was good." I've also heard hearsay that some academic professional organizations have privately declined to speak out because many officers and/or members feel uncomfortable. But as far as public discourse goes, I've seen essentially nothing but wall-to-wall condemnation.

Indeed, the universality of the "Hamline got it wrong" position in some ways renders it impressive the degree to which the Hamline administration is sticking to its guns here. It is one thing to abandon principles of academic freedom under intense external pressure demanding censorship; it's another thing to abandon principles of academic freedom in the face of intense external pressure to abide by them. It does make me wonder if there are any unknown cross-currents of pressure that the college is responding to. It's not out of character for a university to make terrible, craven decisions, of course -- but it's a little out of character for a university to make terrible, brave decisions, which makes me think that there must be some point of leverage on the administration that they are succumbing to. Again, the prospect that these cross-currents exist doesn't at all excuse the college's actions here. If, for example, the decision to terminate the professor was widely popular amongst Hamline students (or groups that Hamline hopes to recruit students from), it would still be the case that the college had an obligation to stand up for the right principles. But at least that would be a normal, explicable failing.

But maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe the Hamline administrators are that ideologically committed to being thoughtlessly censorial. Or maybe there's a line of Hamline defenders I haven't seen. But as far as I can tell, virtually everyone (left right and center) is onboard with the view that Hamline fouled up. The last people to agree, it turns out, are the Hamline administrators.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LXII: Women Attending College

You might have heard the (latest) terrible news from Afghanistan, where the Taliban has enacted a ban on women attending college.

Now, I say "terrible news". But if you're Tyler Russell -- a White supremacist sporting an "America First" cap (ironic, given that he's Canadian!) -- you call it a "step in the right direction." Why? Since women only attend college because they're being "tricked by Jews".

Female education: a Jewish plot! Once again, our enemies sometimes seem to say far nicer things about us than our friends do!

(Dear readers: not only did my wife go to college, that's where I met her! Does that make me an apex trickster?)