About the changing identities of Democrats and Republicans, over the past century and a half; about the logic of abortion, from a philosopher; about the dismal history of infrastructure (and how this relates to conspiracy theories); and two items about car design. And an endpiece.
Salon, Matthew Rozsa, 21 Nov 2021: Are Democrats the “real racists”? Well, they used to be: Here’s the history, subtitled, “It’s a right-wing talking point meant to distract us from the obvious. As with many lies, there’s a grain of truth.”
Republicans have an obvious race problem — one they prefer not to admit, even to themselves. The party’s voter base is overwhelmingly white, and Republicans are now actively trying to suppress Black voters (and other voters of color) through a range of Jim Crow tactics. They reflexively support police even in the most egregious cases of racist violence (such as the murder of George Floyd last year) and have consistently depicted Black Lives Matter as a subversive, anti-American movement. But they can’t win elections without moderate and independent voters who are uncomfortable with overt and blatant manifestations of racism, so they claim that Democrats and liberals are the “real racists.”
It seems that everyone on the right, from crackpot filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza to The Federalist, enjoys pointing out that the Democratic Party used to be the main political vehicle for white supremacy in the United States. They assume their readers will pretend not to notice that decades ago Democrats and Republicans “switched sides” (at least on the issue of race), since that would cancel out this attempted “gotcha.” In fact, the Democratic and Republican parties did not assume their current identities as “liberal” and “conservative,” respectively — and as we understand those terms today — until partway through the 20th century, and neither party stands for what it once did, especially but not exclusively on racial issues.
I’ve read about this in a couple books recently; one blogged here is Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized. I’ll mention my first take-away point from the book in that review:
The two political parties used to be far less distinct than they are now. The split began in the 1950s when the southern Democratic party, the so-called Dixiecrats, lost the battle for civil rights, and so split from the national Democratic party and became Republicans. The two parties diverged along psychological grounds (e.g. about how dangerous you think the world is, familiar from Haidt).
This invalidates modern claims of Abraham Lincoln for the Republican party. The parties meant something entirely different in his day.
And the ’60s, when the South lost the civil rights battle, was about the same time that abortion became so important to conservatives; they needed a new battle cry. It had previously been a non-issue, even to Catholics. With Biblical rationale, of course.
On a related note, a meme when around the internet a few days ago from actor and Trump-supporter Kevin Sorbo that there are no Democratic Presidents on Mount Rushmore. As if that meant anything.
Short answer: the four on Mt. Rushmore weren’t Republicans, either, in the modern sense. Some astute Googling will turn up sites with information about the background of the four, e.g. here at NY Daily News.
Salon, Nathan Nobis, 4 December 2021: I’m a philosophy professor. The argument for making abortion illegal is illogical, subtitled, “Philosopher Nathan Nobis unpacks the logical (and illogical) arc of the debate over abortion rights”
To apply true logic to support conclusions like, for example, abortion should be illegal, *all* the premises to the argument need to be true. And not all of them are.
NYT, 28 Nov 2021: Years of Delays, Billions in Overruns: The Dismal History of Big Infrastructure, subtitled, “The nation’s most ambitious engineering projects are mired in postponements and skyrocketing costs. Delivering $1.2 trillion in new infrastructure will be tough.”
As the world grows increasingly complex, this is increasingly true. And this is the standard argument against conspiracy theories: the behind-the-scenes effort to stage Apollo 11, demolish the World Trade Centers, or create a deadly virus and release it nearly simultaneously all around the world, would involve levels of coordination that are beyond the realms of plausibility. Not to mention that in these cases, no one ever “comes out” to the media to reveal their part in the dastardly plot. Thousands of people in each case have managed to keep everything a secret.
Jalopnik, 3 December 2021: This May Be The Secret To Why We Find Some Cars Weird-Looking, subtitled, “Has the secret to why some cars seem ugly finally been unlocked?”
The article here specifically addresses a car or truck’s front turn signals. Are they below, or above, the headlights? People seem to prefer the former and find the latter “ugly.” With illustrations and examples.
This strikes me as a very specific case of the kind of thing Don Norman (Wikipedia), whose work focused on user-centered design, wrote about in several books. His first was The Design of Everyday Things (1990, revised 2013), and one of his later books was, in fact, Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles (1992).
The latter book made the basic point that the aesthetics of car designs were analogous to those of the human face. The headlights were the eyes. The grill in between, the mouth; the center upright grill, as in Pontiacs of the 1960s and most BMWs for decades, was perhaps the nose. The windshield, the forehead. And in many 1950s cars there were two enormous bullets projecting from the front bumper — Wikipedia says these are called Dagmar bumpers — which inevitably evoked a woman’s breasts.
I remember Norman’s first book especially, which discussed how everyday design should reflect functionality. Two examples I remember: how the knobs for a stove’s burners should be laid out in the same orientation as the burners. Otherwise you’re always guessing. Another: how doors to public buildings sometimes use horizontal bars, or upright handles, on both the inside and outside. Do you push or pull? The design of the handles should make it obvious.
On a related note:
NYT, Farhad Manjoo, 1 Dec 2021: The Look of Cars Is Driving Me Out of My Mind (appeared in the print edition today)
Manjoo admires auto technology, but at the LA Auto Show, “Everywhere I turned at the show, I saw the same basic vehicle, a selection as bland and monotonous as a supermarket’s TV dinner aisle.”
The S.U.V.s, and crossovers, meanwhile, come in two basic shapes: boxes and bubbles. The boxes are the S.U.V.s, which range from huge (Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer) to really huge (Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition). The bubbles are the crossovers, whose sales have shot up over the past couple of decades.
I note that in TV commercials where the aim is to show only some generic cars, a car with the badges removed, I have no idea what the car they show actually is.
So I sympathize with the article, though I think even in recent decades there have been some notable exceptions. I’ve always admired the Dodges for their aggressive, distinctive stance, even though they’re not really to my taste; and the Cadillacs, for a couple decades, with their crystalline designs. And BMWs have always had that distinctive vertical pair of grilles. And for what it’s worth, BMW’s new design with the exaggerated vertical front grille (photo of one here) manages to maintain a very distinctive look. It’s not bland.
Relaxed day today. I stayed home while Y went to Costco. We did a 1/2 walk in the afternoon. I read some more of the new Richard Powers novel. And my internet connection has been unusually slow yesterday and today.
I’ve always been highly attracted to car design. Not cars per se, and certainly not racing them, but the shape and design of them. When I was 8 or 10, in the mid 1960s, I would sit in the back seat as we drove down the highway, and I would identify oncoming cars. Buick. Ford. Dodge. Chevrolet. Cadillac (very rare in those days). There weren’t that many different automakers in those days; nothing Japanese or German yet. When I didn’t know, I just said “car.”
From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s at least, the Big Three auto manufacturers changed the designs of their leading models every year! Not just the trim, but the very sheet-metal. The difference between a ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59, etc. thru ’65 Chevrolet was obvious.
And by age 12 and 13 when I started building model cars (always AMT models), I was interested in their aesthetics — most kits offered a “custom” option, based on actual customized cars by Hollywood designer George Barris, and others — to transform the base vehicles into something unique and often a little unworldly. But I never painted my models (my father found this odd). I wasn’t trying to create miniatures of real cars; I was creating new shapes, new aesthetic visions, unlike anything I had seen driving down the road. …It was almost analogous to my blooming interest in science fiction, a thought that occurs to me just now, after all these years.
These days such customized cars are long gone; there are many expensive imports for the wealthy to show off their money.