Oh, K

I moved last year from Amsterdam, arguably the world’s most permissive city, to Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is tucked into the hills in the western part of the state. I knew it was just a wee bit Appalachia, and for the most part that’s just fine. But yesterday the newspaper told us there would be a Ku Klux Klan rally downtown. A joke? No, apparently.

But then again, yes: a joke. The dreaded KKK registered with the Cumberland police its intention to hold a public demonstration to rally support for their Christian-racist ideology. So naturally I went. And I have to report, it was a gratifying display. The turnout on the K side was: six or seven hombres who looked like they’ve been living in a cave, wearing what I guess they took to be intimidating costumes. (No pillowcases, though.) Meanwhile, across the street from their display were at least 300 townspeople, of all races and skin colors, brandishing signs and hollering like hell at the silly creatures. The cops did their job: protected the freedom of speech thing.

All in all, gratifying. Humanity does evolve, apparently.




Where’s Italy?

Everyone knows that Italy is a mess. But how much of a mess? An op-ed in today’s New York Times by Corriere della Sera journalist Beppe Severgnini focuses on tourism, but one might see the state of the tourism industry as Italy in miniature:

“The Italian Tourist Board spends an astounding 98 percent of its budget on salaries, with basically nothing left for its actual job of tourism promotion.”

“Until recently the Campania regional authority had a palatial New York residence on Fifth Avenue.”

“Metaponto, in the Basilicata region east of Naples, has a five-track, marble-clad rail station, paid for by $25 million in European Union funds. But the last train out is an 8:21 a.m. express to Rome. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to take a bus.”

“Since World War II, the government has poured $550 billion into the Mezzogiorno, to no avail. By almost every measure, it is actually worse off relative to the rest of the country than it was 60 years ago.”

How to Think Like the Dutch

In December 2012, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on vacation in Berlin when he decided to detour to the Netherlands. He wanted to get a firsthand sense of the famed Dutch approach to water management. Hurricane Sandy struck six weeks before, and in the aftermath, President Obama asked him to lead a task force, whose objective was not just to rebuild but also to radically rethink the region’s infrastructure in light of climate change.

In the Netherlands, a man named Henk Ovink offered to be Donovan’s guide. Ovink was the director of the office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, meaning, essentially, that it was his job to keep the famously waterlogged country dry.

Go to my story on Henk Ovink in the New York Times Magazine…