Wandering Eye: Robert Putnam's final crusade, energy companies fight renewables, and more

Robert Putnam (of "Bowling Alone" fame) is gearing up for a final crusade. As Emily Badger of The Washington Post reports, the 74-year-old Harvard professor wants to reverse the atomization of society so that children have equal access to social capital. That's the kind of thing—mentors, after-school activities, internships, job opportunites (to say nothing of, uh, parents, trustworthy neighbors, and safe streets)—that rich kids take for granted. Poor kids don't even know these things exist, Putnam says. And he is right. Raised in a factory town called Port Clinton, Ohio, Putnam made it to Harvard back when a working-class kid could do that. "Some of his classmates from Port Clinton in the 1950s, meanwhile, stayed for manufacturing jobs that later disappeared," The Post notes. "Their children faced rising unemployment and stagnating wages. A third generation was born poor, often without two parents." This is the same phenomenon (stripped of its horrifying racial facet) that Karl Alexander and his Baltimore collaborators found last year in their seminal work "The Long Shadow," which followed kids from the early 1980s until the late 2000s. Right now, in America, neighborhood—that is, social, economic, and racial status—is destiny. We no longer have a society that's equipped to nurture successful citizens generally. Putnam's latest, "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," will be published tomorrow. He has reportedly sent it to politicians, liberal and conservative, to try to get them to pay attention to what they're supposed to be doing. "I'm basically calculating that it's harder to be dismissive of poor kids than poor adults," Putnam tells The Post's Badger. "But maybe that's not true." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

Utility companies have not just idly stood by as their future darkened under the gathering clouds of "distributed renewables," such as solar panels and other forms of clean, cheap energy produced near where it's used. No, WaPo reports, they've fought back, trying to undermine solar's success by making it more expensive than it would be without help from allied state lawmakers. Still, solar keeps growing, and in Maryland, a bill supporting "community solar" is in the works, aiming to grow it further.  (Van Smith)

 

As students of criticism, always hoping to do better, we were excited to see Dave Itzkoff's review of seminal rock critic Robert Christagau's memoir "Going into the City" in the Times this Sunday. We were thinking, if it is anything like fellow Voice alum (and a Baltimorean to boot) James Wolcott's "Lucking Out," then we're the lucky ones. Alas, according to Itzkoff, Christagau isn't much for the memoir game and doesn't offer a lot of reflection on the development of his singular voice—and Itzkoff's review is itself no singular or exemplary work of criticism, though it does offer a rather winning explanation of Christagau's famous system for grading records. (Baynard Woods)

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