Wanted: foreign affairs journalist to cover events in Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Cleveland.

Sometimes I think journalists don’t even read their own articles — or internalize their own hot air.  In this Sunday’s New York Times, Ellen Barry writes about a murder case in India in which caste affiliation gets in the way of justice.  Early in the piece, she grills the local constable, gets pushback, and examines her navel a bit:

Over the past decade, in Russia and then India, I have been asked versions of this question hundreds of times: Who are you to come here and tell us what is wrong with our system? And it’s true, the whole enterprise of foreign correspondence has a whiff of colonialism. During the years I have worked abroad, Americans’ interest in promoting their values in the world has receded, slowly and then precipitously. I doubted the regional hegemons filling the vacuum would do better, but still, I wasn’t sure it was such a bad thing.

(Emphasis, as the law nerds say, added.)  So, cool, I think, she’s just a little bit self-aware about her privileged position and first-world filter.  But after reporting that the local justice system refused to recognize a murder as a murder — based on caste loyalty — she sheds her self-awareness like a gossamer scarf:*

Sometimes it seemed that the European legal system, with its liberal emphasis on individual rights, had settled only lightly on a country fixated on the rights of groups. Political leaders have driven this deeper into the culture: Equality, in India, is equality among groups. Justice is group justice.

Perhaps her next colonial assignment should be Ferguson.  Or Minneapolis.  Or Baltimore.  Or Cleveland.  Or New York.  I’d be interested in the promotion of American values in those far flung locales.


*I’m picturing a blonde woman — perhaps in a perfume ad — running in slow mo as the scarf of self awareness floats gracefully up and away from her.**

**Note the latest in accessible images:  the image-free image description.

More on bicycle totalitarianism (& my first guest post!)

by Sproule Love (in response to my last post about this WSJ video editorial).

I don’t know what’s worse – the giggling sycophantic interviewer opening with a gleeful update about a citibike user getting hit by an SUV, or how out of touch Rabinowitz is with New York. How is this woman in a position of power at a major news outlet, even the Journal? These gems from the video are at the top of my list:

  • “the bike lobby is all-powerful”
  • “every citizen knows, who is in any way sentient, the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs, it is the bicyclists”

Is that why the current golden era of cycling infrastructure in NYC took 30+ years of tireless advocacy and has resulted in a 20% decrease in traffic fatalities over the last 10 years? Is that why of the 136 pedestrians killed in NYC in 2012, NONE were reportedly killed by cyclists, but all of the 155 pedestrians and cyclists killed in NYC traffic in the same year (15,465 were injured) were killed by motorists, half of whom got no citation whatsoever, and only one of whom was charged with a serious crime?

To the citibike naysayers, I say don’t knock it ’till you try it, and I much prefer looking at the citiBike rack in my neighborhood over a line of parked cars. NYC is slowly restoring the balance of street use away from just cars, and the change is dramatic. I hope our next mayor doesn’t drop the ball.

Totalitarian bicyclists

New York City recently started a bike-share program.  It’s my understanding that the program is sponsored by Citibank — a capitalist institution last time I checked — and that participation is voluntary, that is, no one is being forced by brownshirts to ride borrowed bicycles.

According to Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, I may have this all wrong.*

As helpfully transcribed by Talking Points Memo:

“Do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government of the city,” Rabinowitz said when asked what she thought was the motivation behind the program.

“Look, I represent the majority of citizens. . . .The majority of citizens of this city are appalled by what has happened and I would like to say to people who don’t live in New York that this means something much more than the specifics of this dreadful program. It means: envision what happens when you get a government that is run by an autocratic mayor or other leader and a government before which you are helpless. We now look at a city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely begrimed, is the word, by these blazing blue Citi Bank bikes — all of the finest, most picturesque parts of the city. It is shocking to walk around the city to see how much of this they have sneaked under the radar in the interest of the environment.”


“Begrimed”? Is that even a word? And here is the scene that Ms. Rabinowitz finds begrimy:


There are plenty of things in NYC that might properly be called grimy — though it’s possible that Ms. Rabinowitz does not encounter any of them between the limo and the doorman — but this does not seem to satisfy any common language definition of the term.

What this is, of course, is another example of Conservative Linguistic Debasement:  “totalitarian” simply means “something a conservative does not like.”  It doesn’t have to relate to “a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures.”  It just has to piss off a conservative.


* Having sat through most of the video editorial, I agree with James Fallows: “Henceforth when you read the Journal‘s editorials, I invite you to hear this voice, expression, and tone. . . . Onion writers, watch and weep.”