Bowling abroad

The breakdown in American civic culture and community has been well documented. The definitive treatise on this, of course, is Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone, which painted a picture of an increasingly atomized America, in which we belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less well, and even get together with friends and family less often.

What happened to all that “social capital,” the umbrella term Putnam, a Harvard political scientist, uses to capture all the communal activities so much in decline? In the current Washington Monthly, John Gravois suggests it hasn’t disappeared, but rather, like manufacturing jobs and call centers, we’ve offshored it. Gravois outlines a surge in membership in the Rotary International, Toastmasters, and Boy Scouts in such far-flung locales as Abu Dhabi, Taiwan, India, Uganda, Egypt, and Bahrain.

Gravois offers no simple explanation for the phenomenon. The rapid urbanization taking place in these countries is offered as one possibility:

Like Russian immigrants newly arrived in Brooklyn from the shtetl, or Okies plopped down in San Francisco after the Dust Bowl, youth with narrow social networks are streaming into cities from the countryside in vast waves in nations like India. “It’s the proverbial yokel going to town,” said Anirudh Krishna, a professor at Duke University’s School of Public Policy who studies social capital in India. “His sleeves are too short, he knows his table manners are atrocious, his breath smells like garlic.” For educated newcomers with professional aspirations, groups like the Toastmasters or the Lions or Rotary might stand to offer “a school in which villagers can learn to conduct themselves with dignity in a city setting,” Krishna said.

One interesting observation Gravois makes is that these groups have been allowed to flourish under authoritarian regimes that would not tolerate more explicitly political groups. The groups’ focus on charity work and other non-threatening, apolitical activities is no doubt the explanation for this, he says. But “when democracies do in fact emerge” in these places, he writes, “it’s not outlandish to think that groups like Rotary and the Toastmasters may offer them strength going forward.”

                                                                                                                                                                         –MICHAEL JONAS 
    

BEACON HILL

The Cape Cod Times comes out against bottle bill reforms, arguing that they create more headaches for businesses.

Lawbreaking former House Speaker Sal DiMasi wants to keep his law license.

Another weekend, another Globe story on problems in the Big Dig tunnel.  

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The National Urban League opens its first convention in Boston since 1976. CommonWealth writes about the convention’s importance in its latest issue, and the Globe reports that the visit reflects a new Boston. WBUR, meanwhile, offers hints of what’s in a report called the 2011 State of Black Boston. NECN interviews Darnell Williams, CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

Lawrence City Councilor Marc Laplante suggests Mayor William Lantigua’s appointments have been second-rate, prompting a rebuke from one of those appointments, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Westport’s Board of Selectmen passed new purchasing rules to be implemented town-wide after the head of its highway department came under fire for ignoring bidding rules when awarding town contracts, the New Bedford Standard-Times reports.

A clerical error means big state grant losses for home repair and child care subsidies for nine towns on the Cape.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting looks at excise taxes for boats, and finds that they are low compared to the value of the boat and often go uncollected by municipalities.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Massachusetts congressional delegation is relying heavily on money from political action committees as a chaotic election season nears, the Lowell Sun reports via AP.

Same-sex couples exchange vows for the first time in New York, WBUR reports.

Congressional leaders, having failed to agree with each other on a plan to raise the debt ceiling, ready plans away from the nuisance of bipartisanship.

The honeymoon is over for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry stalk Iowa. Romney, the self-styled jobs candidate, faces heat for his employment record while on Beacon Hill. Meanwhile, meet the Mexican Romneys.

The Elizabeth Warren drumbeat continues, as the Harvard professor shows off her jar of rocks.

There are lots of things to criticize Michele Bachmann about, but her migraines and her husband’s less than manly mien should not be among them, writes Ben Adler in The Nation.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston City Council President Steve Murphy swipes at his Hyde Park neighbor, Tom Menino, over Wal-Mart.

Rents in Boston have hit a record high, the Globe reports.

EDUCATION

The Saugus School Committee sets high school athletic user fees at $350 and middle school fees at $250 for the coming school year, the Item reports.

Weymouth school officials are estimating that vandals did about $70,000 in damage to Chapman Middle School during last weekend’s break-in, the Patriot Ledger reports.

Federal officials invvestigate allegations of discrimination at Barbieri Elementary School in Framingham, which offers instruction in English and Spanish.

TRANSPORTATION

Residents surrounding an unused railroad bed in Fall River are upset over action by MassDOT, the railroad’s new owner, requiring them to move their property off of the land or pay for its use.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Some Williamstown residents are concerned that a local water supply may have been contaminated with a chemical used in fireworks set off years ago at the site of Mt. Greylock Regional High School, contributing to an increased incidence of cancer among former students and staff.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Newsweek interviews Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who alleges the managing director of the International Monetary Fund tried to rape her.

The Globe profiles US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who has had an action-packed and headline-filled first 18 months on the job.

MEDIA

Beat the Press discusses a local Latino group’s request that WBUR stop using the phrase “illegal immigrants.”

New York magazine examines the financial comeback of the New York Times.