Smile Politely

Olympian: Piercing the quiet place

Only Olympian Drive can save Mankind. To drink from Olympian Drive bestows eternal life. If we build Olympian Drive, They will Come.

The worst argument for Olympian Drive is its magical powers as an economic stimulant. If anyone believed that rationale, they stopped believing it when Marci Dodds lost her religion:

Economic development is also the worst reason to not build Olympian Drive. The best reason to not build it? Loss.

To properly consider what we’d lose, I refer you to the work of Gordon Hempton. Hempton’s One Square Inch is a lifelong project. The goal is to maintain an unsullied patch of nature in Washington’s Hoh National Forest.

One Square Inch of Silence is also the title of Hempton’s book about the 26 remaining places in the United States where birds, bison and beetles can Get Away From Us.

People visit quiet places, too. But of course it’s people who disrupt the quiet. One Square Inch chronicles, with the aid of a sound meter, the myriad noises penetrating the once quiet, the formerly pastoral, the ex-bucolic places in America.

What’s the Big Deal?

Traffic noise is annoying, yeah? When an 18-wheeler passes you on I-57, you miss the punchline to the entire 14 minute story on This American Life, yeah?

Well, no. In fact, it’s much worse than that. As Garret Keizer points out in The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want:

“A 2001 German study estimated that as many as 3,900 myocardial infarction cases in that country could be attributed to road traffic noise. A 2009 study led by Goran Pershagen of Stockholm concluded that people exposed to traffic noise exceeding 50 decibels-that is, 5 decibels lower than the recommended EU day-night average-have a 40 percent increase in heart attack risk.”

It’s nice to have the data, but you don’t need them. Just ask yourself which you’d rather have:

  1. an idyll where effete elitists eat overpriced locavoria among earthen goatshit
  2. more concrete jungle

Our Government: What the Fuck Do They Do All Day, and Why Does it Cost So Goddamned Much Money?*

What about the empty storefronts on Philo Road’s “business” district? University Avenue is a graveyard for never-occupied commercial spaces. The “infill” crowd disappeared fast when everyone realized The Party ‘s goal. You see, it’s not about the business that will come. It’s only about the business of building. $30 million of your money will go into somebody’s pocket.

Business logos would fill the blank white spaces if there were businesses.

Yes indeedy, step right up and YOU sir — for the one-time price of only $30 million — you can finally get that wonderful prize you’ve always wanted… a six-mile slab of concrete.

With deftest spin, Olympian’s Champion never refers to your tax dollars. Laurel Prussing speaks unabashedly of “federal dollars.” We pilfer our pork from the pockets of strangers. Prussing seeks to build Urbana with money from a family in Maine, a dentist in Arizona, a guy who drives a city bus in Seattle.

Bitch about defense spending if you like. Complain about Social Security if you wear the other stripe. But it’s this mentality — that “federal dollars” aren’t real — that continually busts the budget.

A better pro-Olympian argument comes from my Trial Advocacy professor J. Steven Beckett. He says Urbana ought not renege on promises made to those who’ve invested in this project. It’s a noble idea.

But think about the contractors who prey on stupid, uninformed citizens like us. Insert the name “Blackwater” or “Haliburton” in place of anyone who thought he’d make money from your tax dollars … oops, there I go again … from “federal” dollars.

Do you feel like you owe your money to them?

You should be wary of people who may or may not be given $30 million. They have incentives. They will not go quietly.

Their opponents have nothing. It’s literally an empty space. That’s why it’s so important for you to pay really close attention to a question that might seem stupid: What’s so great about an empty space?

And that’s where One Square Inch of Silence is instructive. Whether it’s a highway built through a pasture, a multi-megawatt coal-fired power plant built on the remote badlands where native Shoshone once guided western travelers, a natural gas pipeline pump in Alberta’s outback, or a touristy helicopter shattering the serenity of a National Wildlife Refuge — you can’t get away from the jackhammering, rattling, throbbing. Neither can the songbirds, nor the elk, nor the owls.

One Square Inch reads like Road Trip epiphanies from Gordon Hempton’s youth. It’s not Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and that’s good. It’s not The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, either. Some of the same characters peek in from time to time.

It’s the same ‘round here. For lobbyists in suits, our zany folksy neighbors make easy targets.

Face it, land-use activists are nutty. These people choose to leave city jobs, to stand knee-deep in dung. They spend months growing food, and hours preparing it; when they could just drive to McDonald’s and buy it for a dollar.

Gordon Hempton drives around the country in a 1967 VW van to capture audio recordings of silence. That’s weird!

The Olympian Champion knows all about characterization. If you want to lessen the power of an argument, diminish the person. Hence “the Goat Lady.”

And that’s where we stand today. It’s either overpriced meals or overpriced roads. You don’t really need either one, so you might want to consider this distinction: The Goat Lady merely offers you the opportunity to buy. If you assent, she feeds you.

The other makes the choice for you. The money disappears. In return you get …

… ?

*P.J. O’Rourke posed this first.

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