From “Alfred Bester”:
When Campbell fell under L. Ron’s spellMore on Making Light.
Alfred said, “Man, you can fucking go to Hell”
Erik Klinenberg, in Slate, surveys heat-wave deaths in large cities over the last few decades. He remarks on the stunning inattention given to the deaths of, sometimes, hundreds of people at a time:
This summer, Chicago had recorded 27 heat-related deaths by July 22. That’s small by current standards. In one week of July 1995, 739 Chicago residents97the majority of them home alone97died in one of the greatest and least-known American disasters in modern history.Of course, old people dying alone in little apartments don’t tend to produce the kind of media images that compel outpourings of assistance. Thus, as Klinenberg points out, the bodies of Chicago’s 1995 heat victims hadn’t even all been claimed before the House was voting to cut funding for the cheap and effective Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It’s not as if these people were important like, say, homeowners who build on barrier beaches.
To place the 1995 heat wave in context, think of the great Chicago fire of 1871. It killed less than half as many people. Other recent catastrophes, such as the Northridge, Calif. earthquake of 1994 or Hurricane Andrew of 1992, killed one-tenth and one-twentieth the number of people, respectively. Yet several lists of the most fatal American weather events of the 1990s fail to include the heat wave. In the words of the New England Journal of Medicine, the Chicago disaster “was forgotten as soon as the temperatures fell.”
That’s generous. From the moment the local medical examiner began to report heat-related mortality figures, political leaders, journalists, and in turn the Chicago public have actively denied the disaster’s significance and questioned whether the deaths were97to use the popular local phrase97”really real.” Although so many city residents died that the coroner had to call in nine refrigerated trucks to store the bodies, skepticism about the trauma continues today. In Chicago, people still debate whether the medical examiner exaggerated the numbers and wonder if the crisis was a “media event” that the press had “propped up somehow.” The American Journal of Public Health definitively established that the medical examiner’s numbers actually undercounted the mortality by about 250 since hundreds of bodies were buried before they could be autopsied. But how many people read the American Journal of Public Health? For now, the heat wave stands as a nonevent97perhaps a footnote97in the grand narrative of affluence and revitalization that dominates accounts of urban life in the 1990s.
If 739 middle-class Americans with families had died in some kind of urban environmental catastrophe in 1995, it would have been one of the biggest news stories of the decade. There would have been saturation media coverage, benefit concerts, magazine cover stories, lapel ribbons, weepy commemorative songs by Nashville recording artists, a special CNN logo, the whole apparatus of American public sympathy. But a bunch of old people dying alone is no big deal and probably didn’t happen anyway, you know how those bureaucrats exaggerate everything after all. And you’ll never be old person living in an SRO.
Once slavery was removed, the most undemocratic remaining provision of the Constitution was, and is, the composition of the Senate97its so-called equality of representation, whereby each state gets two senators regardless of population. This is often referred to as a “concession” to the small states, but in truth it was more like surrender to blackmail. The small states saw it as a deal-breaker, and they would brook no compromise. Dahl notes that Gunning Bedford, Jr., of Delaware, told his fellow-delegates to the Constitutional Convention that, unless the big states yielded, “the small ones will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” The Senate was formed less by rational argument than by threats of treason and war. […]Hertzberg has more to say, all of it interesting, about the several perversities of the American system. He notes just how few of the world’s other electoral democracies have adopted our federal system; and he notes, as well, that the Bill of Rights—the one part of the constitution that Dahl doesn’t criticize—has done a better-than-average job, by world standards, of protecting individual liberty.
Even if it were true that the condition of being a citizen of a state with a small population entails such grievous disadvantages that, to correct for them, the very votes of such citizens must be assigned a greater weight than the votes of other Americans, how much is enough? Are the special needs of people who live in small states97people who can, after all, escape their condition by moving somewhere else97greater than the special needs of people who are short, or people who are disabled, or (more to the point of American history) people who are black? Here’s a little thought experiment, inspired by Dahl’s reflections. Imagine, if you can, that African-Americans were represented “fairly” in the Senate. They would then have twelve senators instead of, at present, zero, since black folk make up twelve per cent of the population. Now imagine that the descendants of slaves were afforded the compensatory treatment to which the Constitution entitles the residents of small states. Suppose, in other words, that African-Americans had as many senators to represent them as the Constitution allots to the twelve per cent of Americans who live in the least populous states. There would be forty-four black senators. How’s that for affirmative action?
Hertzberg’s main point isn’t that the Constitution is irredeemably flawed, or that we should be ashamed of it, but rather that we could stand to think more clearly and less cultishly about it:
If we worshipped the framers a little less, we might respect ourselves a little more. If we kept in mind the ways in which our constitutional arrangements distort our democracy and hobble our politics, we might gain a deeper, more useful understanding of the sources of our various national discontents. If we didn’t assume that the system was perfect, we wouldn’t assume that everything we don’t like is the fault of bad people. We’d judge our politicians more shrewdly, and more charitably, if we reminded ourselves regularly of the constraints that the system imposes on them. We’d be less tempted by lazy moralism.UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has some reasonable arguments with Hertzberg and Dahl—the Constitution isn’t an expression of unbridled majoritarianism, and rightly so—but it seems to me that Hertzberg isn’t calling for a reformist uprising against (for instance) the current arrangements for the election of Senators, so much as he’s observing that—like any product of compromise and logrolling—the Constitution has its strengths and weaknesses and we’d delude ourselves less about contemporary politics if we could avoid the mental model in which the impossibly-wise framers gifted us with a system of near-perfection, which later and lesser men and women have brought to ruin. Americans of all political stripes indulge themselves way too much in this sort of thing. Cue very small violin.
The Framers were really smart guys. The Constitution deserves respect and study. But the way we talk about it is often fuel for the worst sort of pejorism. That’s the point I found most interesting in Hertzberg’s piece.
Artemis Records has agreed to issue licenses to internet radio for one year for the master use of songs by all Artemis recording artists. This announcement was made today by Danny Goldberg, Chairman and CEO, Artemis Records and Daniel Glass, President, Artemis Records. During this period, beginning August 1, 2002, Artemis will waive the royalty payments that would otherwise be due them.Artemis artists include Warren Zevon, Rickie Lee Jones, Boston, the Reverend Horton Heat, and (blogger red-meat alert) Steve Earle.
(In fact Jeff Jarvis looks more than a little bit like Bill Bowers. But we already knew that there are actually only 15,000 people in the world.)
Down below the reactor vessel, nine metres underground, there’s a big cork gasket. I mean big. I’m running out of adjectives for scale here, but it’s not every day you see a cork heatproof mat sized to sit underneath a forty-five metre tall nuclear reactor. Below that, there’s a concrete plinth and the other end of the cable bundles; the entire mess of reactors and turbines and steam pipes are suspended in a cats’ cradle of cables that are designed to damp out or absorb the forces of an earthquake or a major impact.
Oh, and Clarion is terrific, but very absorbing, as I expected: twenty students, three or four new stories per day, one-on-one meetings with each of them, and so forth. This being 2002, some of the students are also writing weblogs. As foreseen, I myself haven’t been on line much. More later, of course.
Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July
Whatever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and, baby, walk outside
It’s the Fourth of July
This probably won’t take Electrolite off the air entirely, but posting is likely to continue to be intermittent at best. Still, as I’ve observed before, announcements of this sort are followed by spasms of caffeine-fueled blog loquacity as often as, well, not.