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« DVD Journal: Renoir on the Cheap | Main | Pittsburgh: Yay or Nay? »

May 03, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Scott Chaffin installs some compact flourescents and suspects that someone's funnin' him.

* Mike Snider thinks that traditional poetic forms are an invitation to the poet to get up and dance, while free verse encourages passivity.

* The lenses in my new eyeglasses just popped out ...

* Claire is enjoying Stephen King's book "On Writing."

* Ronald Brak sees "300" and is amused. Funny passage:

The screen is filled with so much beefcake it almost made me wish I could take a pill to turn me gay for a couple of hours so I'd enjoy the movie more. There is a scene which shows King Leonidas having sex with his wife, which I guess is some pathetic attempt to establish that he's not gay. Let's just say it's not successful.

* Jewcy's Neille Elel visits India and fails to find enlightenment.

* Musician, entertainer, and crankily exuberant guy Shouting Thomas gets off a great passage about the live music world:

I remember that this conversation was repeated a thousand times in the 70s:

"Wouldn't it be great if we could go out to hear music in a smoke-free, alcohol-free environment where the men weren't hitting on the women?"

Well, no. This is not such a great thing. People go out to hear music to let their hair down and raise a ruckus. The search for the great hippie, pacifist venue led to the complete collapse of the live music business.

* Economist Thomas Sowell talks a lot of sense here and here. Sowell's quite a giant, isn't he? My own favorite Sowell book is "The Vision of the Anointed," an enlightening look at why our elites think and behave the way they do.

* If she were still with us, Barbara Stanwyck would be turning 100. Anne Thompson praises Stanwyck, and links to some lovely writing about the star.

* Chris Dillow thinks that being raised rich can have its disadvantages.

* Are girls with girly names less likely to pursue math and science?

* Randall Parker takes a look at the cost of the Iraq war.

* Roger Scruton denounces Jean-Paul Sartre. Great line: "Sartre was a kind of athlete of negation, able to wrestle Nothing out of Something whatever the subject or the cause."

* James Kunstler sets aside Peak Oil and lets rip on (to my mind) his best subject: how ugly and tacky so much of America has become. Now that's some vivid writing. The visitors' comments on his posting are well worth a read too.

* Gregory Cochran is convinced that the Bushies inhabit an alternate reality.

* Kevin Carson asks a good question: What to do when the free-market alternative just isn't available?

* Ilkka gets on the treadmill and picks up a copy of Oprah's magazine.



posted by Michael at May 3, 2007


The same Thomas Sowell who is ">wishing for a military coup:

"When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup."

He's like Newt Gingrich: lots of sense inoculated with idiocy

Posted by: joel on May 3, 2007 9:34 PM

Joel -- We read that passage very differently!

Posted by:
MIchael Blowhard on May 3, 2007 10:30 PM

A military coup is inevitable. It's how all republican governments evolve (or devolve). There are no exceptions. Republican forms of government move to empiricism, then to military dictatorship. If the dictator is clever enough (like Augustus), he convinces everyone that the republic is still going strong. But it all ends the same way. It's just a matter of time and circumstance.

Posted by: Eagle on May 3, 2007 11:06 PM

I am familiar with James Howard Kunstler from my investigations into the topic of Peak Oil. I find his blah-g a ridiculous compliation of incessant whining and derision of middle class americans, whom he hates. It may come as a shock to JHK that most americans don't choose to live in suburbs for the architecture and culture, but for the relative freedom from crime and good schools for their kids which are sadly lacking in his beloved cities. Of course, since both parents have to work very hard now, they tend to have little time for exercise, and get fat, setting off the alarm for another of his pet peeves, that everyone should exist to aesthetically please him. How I glory in the comfort that, to him, the world is one giant, perpetual irritant which he cannot escape! Of course, he has latched onto the idea of Peak Oil because it promises to ruin the lives of the people he hates. What a sweetheart!

Obviously, strip malls are anathema to JHK. They mean that your typical suburban dweller could drop off their dry cleaning and go to the drugstore or grocery store without having to make an extra trip. Big box stores and malls are simply larger versions of this horror. What engines of waste! Best to go back to the good old days, when stores were all located downtown, no matter how far it was from where they lived, with no parking lots, only street parking. People had to hunt for parking spaces, if they could even find one, and then rush back in and out of the weather, no matter what it was, from store to store, even if the stores were many blocks apart! Yes, the good old days!

Kunstler is just a worthless asshat, in my opinion, and by the comments on his blah-g, he seems to attract many other whiny asshats to his regular vinegar-fest. Middle class suburban life is the american dream, and by the looks of it, the world dream, as so many people envy it, try to emulate it, and try to come here to get it. I just wish there were some kind of foreign exchange program where we could ship out the Kunstlers of the United States for an undisclosed amount of natural fertilizer. An even trade, in my book. At least something good would come out of the fertilizer.

Posted by: BIOH on May 3, 2007 11:58 PM

The only thing I'd add to BIOH's comment is: I love my car! Take that, Kunstler.

Posted by: ricpic on May 4, 2007 8:34 AM

BIOH - I wish I could change your mind on Kunstler. I have read (I think) every one of your posts here at 2Blowhards and I am a big fan. And even though I don't care much for Kunstler's "Peak Oil" stuff, I think that he makes a lot of good points about Urban Design.

Also, he published a great article in the American Conservative a few months ago that I think really showed what he thinks of the Middle class. If I could speak for him it would be something like this: "The Middle Class of Old is not the Middle Class of today".

Anyway, none of that matters.

Let me leave you with this question: "Imagine that the United States had never invested one dime in Highways and Freeways and Interstates. And that all spending on roads and streets were from local sources (i.e. Developers, Town and City Councils, etc.), what would America look like? How would we act and react within that environment?"

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 4, 2007 10:36 AM

Goddam it Michael the Brits always were the best at taking apart the French eh? Shows the dinosaurs at Fox News how to REALLY dismember a foe.

Posted by: adrian on May 4, 2007 10:57 AM

Yeah, I remember reading Sowell's op-eds a while back. The military coup thing doesn't surprise me a bit. A total right-wing loon.

Posted by: Steves on May 4, 2007 11:05 AM

BIOH -- That's certainly vividly-put! Eager to see how you respond to a couple of things, though.

1) Kunstler is both perfectly serious about the case he makes and a provocateur (and even a bit of a standup comedian). He wants people to get riled. He thinks it's a good thing. So I don't think he'd see the strength of your objections to him as bad. He'd be glad you've gotten worked up. He wants people noticing and talking about this stuff.

2) You seem to be saying that people have chosen the strip-mall/sprawl life freely. I'm not sure I agree. I don't think you're taking into account such factors as American postwar road-building (one of the biggest engineering projects in all history up to that point), the home mortgage deduction, urban renewal (which devastated many cities and towns), some of the bad effects of the Civil Rights act (busing, etc), crazy '60s attittudes towards law enforcement, our gung-ho attitude towards the oil-based economy, and the power of various public-works unions and interests. Traffic engineers have done a lot more "urban planning" than planners have.

It's one highly-rigged market, in other words.

Given all this, it seems to me that people have pretty much been shoehorned into car-centric sprawl life almost whether they wanted it or not. To my mind, saying that people freely prefer it is like saying that people who are only given a choice between Triscuits, Spaghetti-Os, and Hearty Man Soups *really and freely* prefer the one they choose. I think they can be said at best to have chosen freely from the alternatives they've been offered. But why have their alternatives been limited to this? And who steered them into this narrow gulch?

No doubt safety and passable schools are valuable things. But many polls have also shown that many people inhabiting sprawlsville are unhappy being fat, feel alienated, and would like more opportunities to casually walk, be close to shops, and casually encounter more people. They'd like to be living in a safe town rather than in sprawlsville, in other words.

3) And then there's aesthetics. Many of our landscapes (urban, sprawl, otherwise) do look like hell, and many Americans do behave (and look like) slobs. We're too often trashing up ourselves, and we're too often trashing up our lives and environments. Why tsk at someone who notices this, or who says that he thinks it's a bad or unfortunate thing? If we're in the kind of shape we're in because we always opt for safety and convenience over pleasure and beauty, well, maybe that's interesting, and maybe that's one of our characteristics. But maybe it's also not such a great thing. Disagree with this or not, but why not admit it's an issue at least worth discussing?

Ricpic -- Sigh: I'd love to have a car ... Been living in Manhattan for so long ... Haven't had a car of my own in more than 25 years ... The joy of just getting in a car and going ...

Ian -- Kunstler's books about landscape and urbanism are real eye-openers, aren't they? Fun reads too. I've never seen him speak, but I hear he's a firebrand. Probably loves controversy and doesn't mind disagreement either. I don't quite understand why some people who read him don't quite get that underneath the Jeremiah-thang he's a jolly soul. Have they never met his type? (I've known some guys with Kunstler's basic personality type -- eloquent preachers of doom 'n' gloom -- and they've all been jolly, expansive souls.) Why do you suppose some people don't get that about him? Are they so startled by the forcefulness of his prose that they can't see the humor and generosity behind it?

Adrian -- Scruton's pretty impressive, isn't he? I love the way he makes ideas and philosophy so ... graspable, or tactile, or something. It leaps out in three dimensions when he talks about it.

Steve -- I don't see where Sowell is expressing any enthusiasm for the idea of a military coup. I think he's saying, "Hmmm, when things get to this point what tends to happen is blah blah." Kind of like a weatherman saying, "Hmm, when you get a week of unseasonable heat and weird barometric ups and downs, what tends to break it is a tornado." I don't think this weatherman is expressing enthusiasm for tornados ... Anyway, he can certainly be fairly combative as an op-ed writer (that's what op-ed writers are expected to be). But his books are pretty impressive and substantial. I'd love to see more lefties have a wrestle with his serious work.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 4, 2007 11:46 AM

I think you're ignoring that little word "save" in there Michael.

Posted by: Steve on May 4, 2007 12:46 PM

The New Yorker also has an excellence article about Barbara Stanwyck:

Posted by: beloml on May 4, 2007 12:52 PM

Steve -- Here's the passage: "When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup."

He's looking ("when I see") at certain conditions ("degeneracy") ... He's wondering ("I can't help wondering") if, given certain tendencies ("worsening"), these developments might result in ("the day may yet come") ...

He may or may not be seeing conditions accurately. It may or may not be a daffy question to wonder about. But tell me again how you interpret this passage to mean that he's endorsing a military coup?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 4, 2007 1:21 PM

Again Michael, interesting of you to carefully tip-toe around the word "save" i.e., to rescue i.e., a thing to be wished for, not an impartial development.

Sorry, but the idea that a military coup might be needed to save us from degeneracy is, pretty much by definition, fascist.

Posted by: Steve on May 4, 2007 1:46 PM

What a boring way to visit India! Of course, I last went back to visit relatives in the early nineties, traveled with my uncle and his family (who was then a colonel, I think, in the Indian Army). I visited lots of beautiful old architectural sites (the Taj, of course, and the glorious Fatehpur Sikri), shopped, ate, talked, drank chai and tried funny cakes people would buy for me that they thought were what an Indian-American girl would like! Oh, and sometimes I got bored, myself, and spent hot, dusty afternoons reading Mills and Boons romances that I bought in books stalls. What silly people hippies are. Enlightenment!

Posted by: MD on May 4, 2007 1:51 PM

Steve -- The positivity of "can save" operates not on "a military coup" but on "this country." Anything beyond that is you reading in. Sowell might as well have written "a military coup, which would be something I approve of" as "a military coup, which of course would be too darned bad." It's interesting that you're assuming the worst about him .... fixating on one word in order to back that up ... ignoring Sowell's considerable written work (30 volumes), where he gives no indication of advocating military coups (!!!) ... and resorting at the drop of a hat to using the word "fascism."

MD -- Sounds like a most delightful trip! Sipping chai, enjoying weather, time, people and scenery ... Sounds downright enlightened. I wonder how big the Indian enlightenment industry is ... Didn't Gita Mehta write a book about it? "Karma Cola," or something like that? I wonder if the great novel has been written yet about an ambitious young Indian who decides to make his/her way in the world by peddling enlightenment to sucker Westerners ... Well, probably dozens have been written. All that said, Vedanta rocks and yoga feels awfully good. And I even kind of enjoyed that romantic comedy "The Guru." Did you catch it? Struck me as not all that good but likably giddy anyway. Tomorrow night, I'm off to an evening of sitar-and-tabla music. I'll be Om'ing the evening away. Pass the hashish!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 4, 2007 3:10 PM

Michael, I think that ambitious Indian is Deepak Chopra....

Actually, I have nothing against the enlightenment crowd, especially as a free-marketer. I *like* yoga. I mean, people want to spend their money on karma trips, good for them! It's bound to be a let down, though, because it doesn't work like that. Gaining peace, I mean. It's more tied up to our mundane, daily existence and how we live each moment. That's what I think, anyway. Enjoy the sitar evening, it sounds fun.

Posted by: MD on May 4, 2007 3:28 PM

Yeah, Scruton's philosophy is oddly beautiful, and very readable, the antithesis of the continental philosophers. You can link to a couple'a his speeches on the AEI website and he has some fascinating and very long articles archived at City Journal. Haven't read any of his books though.

Sartre never really bridged the gap between his hyper-individualist choice-is-everything philosophy and his soul destroying we're all the same Marxist politics. He lived like a spoiled brat of course, but as Steve Sailer likes to say; being a communist means you don't have to act ethically or say you're sorry, it's all bourgeois societies fault.

Posted by: adrian on May 4, 2007 4:11 PM

Young Manhattanite tried fluorescents and found them downright Melvillian.

I've got one in my bedroom. It buzzes continuously and cloaks the room in a bile-green hue. At this point I don't consider its long life to be much of a boon, frankly.

Posted by: Brian on May 4, 2007 4:53 PM

You're doing some mighty strenuous tap-dancing around the plain meaning of Sowell's words there, Michael. Yes, I realize that the object of "save" is "this country," as in "a military coup may be necessary to save this country from degeneracy."

Degeneracy = a bad thing. Military overthrow of the government = a comparative good thing. Whatever he may have said in his other thousands of words (you've read them all?), that's what he's saying here. I get it. The question is, do you?

Oh, and "fascist" is *not* a word that I resort to at the drop of a hat. Neither is "degenerate."

Posted by: Steve on May 4, 2007 4:55 PM

Thanks for the link, Michael.

Posted by: claire on May 4, 2007 5:19 PM

Brian -- "Bile green" ... "Buzzing" ... It doesn't sound like makers of fluourescents have made much progress at all in the last several centuries. I remember my mom having some fluourescents installed (she loved anything that reminded her of an insurance office, for some reason). And bile-green and buzzing they were. That was back in, like, 1600.

Steve -- I'm glad you reassured me that you don't use the words "degeneracy" or "fascism" casually. For a minute there it looked like you A) were using them at the drop of a hat, and B) were doing so based on your interpretation of just one word. Silly me, my mistake! BTW, I've read at least a half a dozen of Sowell's books. Whatever quibbles I've had with them, they were all reasonable, substantial, and impressive.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 4, 2007 5:19 PM

Hm, yes, I guess if I didn't "interpret" the word "save" to mean "to rescue" (a radical interpretation to be sure), or tried to pretend that he didn't say what he said at all but was merely talking about the weather, as you initially seemed content to do, the statement would be a lot less objectionable.

Though it would still raise the question of what he meant by degeneracy and why he thought a military coup, of all things, would take care of it.

Note that I'm not passing judgment on Sowell's books. I followed your interview links and he comes across as quite sane in them. Just not in this column.

(Regarding the coup comment, a commenter over at Drum's site offered the following: "Shorter Thomas Sowell: 'Kids these days, with their crazy clothes and loud music! And get off my lawn!'" I guess that's a charitable way to take it.)

Posted by: Steve on May 4, 2007 6:17 PM

It doesn't sound like makers of fluourescents have made much progress at all in the last several centuries
Or, rather - it doesn't sound like Brian changed his bedroom light in the last several centuries. Compact fluorescents now have various markings - cool white, neutral, warm white (depending on color rendering index).
See thread @Scott.

Incidentally, who would put a fluorescent into one's bedroom? It's one room in a house where longevity is not an issue, since the light is on for very short tome daily.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 4, 2007 6:26 PM

Steve -- I'd be happy to pass along some lessons in basic reading comprehension. (First one: try to avoid mistaking what's in your head for what's on the page.) But why don't we drop it this time and move on to the next topic?

Tatyana -- I really need to remember how to spell fluorescent. Fluorescent. Fluorescent ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 4, 2007 6:54 PM

On fluorescents, I too was dubious, but there was a sale at a nearby home center in which a four-pack was actually *cheaper* than incandescents (something ridiculous like $4 for a four-pack of 100-watt equivalents, plus they were dimmable!), and being a cheapskate I took the plunge with every light in the house.

So far so good. The soft-white light from the new generation compacts seems pretty decent. No buzzing or greenish-blue. And 100 watts of lumens for 20-odd watts makes them a deal even if they don't last 5 years.

FYI, my 40-watt compact fluorescent in the porch light has been going strong for 3 years.

Posted by: Steve on May 4, 2007 6:57 PM

MB: and I need to learn to preview. [time, not tome]

Posted by: Tatyana on May 4, 2007 7:27 PM

What? No comments on the belly dancing link? You people are way too serious.

I mean, Gawd Damn!

The Holzbachian

Posted by: Holzbachian on May 4, 2007 10:31 PM

No comments on the belly dancing link? You people are way too serious.

To be honest, it didn't really do it for me. I know I can't see her facial expression while she does the bellyroll, but you can just tell from her movement that she's a more introverted narcissist -- the extraverted ones are who make the greatest exhibitionists. As a result, I wasn't really drawn into her video.

The extraverts show off to get a rise out of the viewer, thriving on validation from others. That is, they ignite energy in the audience and then feed off of the audience's energy. The introverted ones show off just to stroke their own ego, not caring much about the viewer's reactions.

As an example of engaging belly dancing, here's just one (of a Turkish girl):

YouTube has lots of good videos. Just search "belly dancing" and "Turkish," "Lebanese," "Greek," etc.

Posted by: Agnostic on May 5, 2007 1:51 AM

Thanks a lot for the link.

On Kunstler, it's been a long time since I read Geography of Nowhere, but I believe he touched on an issue mentioned by others here: the role of government intervention in creating sprawl. Consider zoning laws that prohibit mixed-use development, subsidized freeway systems, FHA redlining, subsidized utilities for new subdivisions at the expense of those in old neighborhoods, school districts shutting down old neighborhood schools just to open new, more expensive ones next to the politically connected developer's new projects... and on, and on, and on.

The car-based society was a massive social engineering project, a top-down revolution created by government over a sixty year period. It's about as far from a free market choice as you can get.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on May 5, 2007 3:24 AM

Lots to cover...

Ian Lewis--Thanks for the good words. I thought that I had pretty much voiced myself into the wilderness. Nice to have a fan. We may have to agree to disagree on Kunstler though.

Michael B and Kevin Carson--Not so fast!

I know a thing or two about transportation and highways because that's what I do for a living (please don't put me in the boat of "you advocate it because you do it"--I could and can do a lot of other things too). So here goes...

1) The Interstate Highways System has caused sprawl and suburbanization.

Wrong! It only seems that way if you live in a large to mid-size city. But the suburbanization phenomenon occurs everywhere, along many existing routes, be they county highways, state highways, US routes, etc., as well as the Interstate Highway System. Our country now has double the number of people it had in the 1950's. In addtition, families are smaller, and more people live alone due to old age, divorce, singledom, etc. The need for housing units has probably tripled, if not more. That's a hell of a lot of additional housing, don't you think? Where's it all supposed to go? In aging cites? In small towns? What the hell is Kunstler thinking?

2) Government subsidizes this development.

Yeah it does. So what? Of course new schools are built in the suburbs--that's where the kids are! Utilities are allowed to run their utilities rent free along highway right-of-way as long as they adjust them for free when the highway is widened or reconstructed. That's a good deal for the utilites, and helps to keep energy prices lower. Horrible! Zoning laws encourage "sprawl" (growth)--yes they do. I'm glad people can buy their own green acre and do with it as they like most often.

3) Our transportation system is inefficient.

Depends on how you look at it. Its inefficient in terms of energy usage, but very efficient in terms of allowing people to go where they want to go, when they want to go, and how they want to go--it is designed to give people the most FREEDOM as possible. And the fact that the vast majority has embraced it means that they have embraced that freedom over the increased costs and inefficiency. Its their money, time, and choice to make. And they keep on choosing it. To me that settles the issue. We as transportation engineers are constantly FOLLOWING the development, not steering it. We cant keep up either. This will all change soon with Peak Oil, but not for the better, I can assure you.

4) People's housing could be nicer designed, and developments could be better laid-out.

Sure they could. I could also be taller, stronger, younger, and have better hair, too. But the world is not a perfect place. Believe it or not, to most people, the architectural design of their house is not paramount--they jut want a nice house to live in, or any decent house to live in that they can afford. Housing for the general population now is actually better than it has ever been. Those nice victorian houses in Kuntsler's imaginary Lake Woebegone are the exception--most houses in the past were very basic, small, and not much to look at either. Most have been torn down for better housing. People buy new houses because they are new, are laid out how they want them to be laid out, have new wiring, heating and AC, etc. Ever try fixing up and old house? Most people who do only do so once--then they buy new! That should tell you a lot. Kunstler rents his house. I wonder why?

Also, you'd be surprised how even pedestrian houses look nicer with 40-50 foot tall trees and mature vegetation. Given time and plenty of plantings, a lot of the "ugly vinyl-sided monstrosities" would look a lot nicer.

5) There ain't no sidwalks in our suburbia, and there ain't no stores neither!

There's sidwalks EVERYWHERE in suburbia--and they are hardly ever used! People don't want to walk. People also don't want stores and store traffic running through their neighborhoods. When developers try to do that, they find out real quick what people really want. What people want is convenience--ergo the mall, and big box stores, with lots of merchandise available with a minimum of stops.

6) All this driving makes people fat, isolated, and unhappy. This lifestyle generates a lot of trash and waste too.

Yep, it does. Mostly what you eat is what makes you fat. People should eat a lot better. TV and the computer are also to blame for a lot of alienation. Unhappiness is a part of life. There are tons of alienated people in cites too, lots of fatness (although not in the younger, single set). I don't think this is a necessary part of suburban living though.

7) We would have been far better off if we had planned for this, and had invested in light rail, heavy transport rail, waterways, and assorted other transportation solutions.

To a point. You know, even as little as ten years ago, nobody at all saw this Peak Oil issue. Almost nobody I work with now says anything about it. I know about it because I am a curious contrarian-type guy. Ten years in the field of transportation engineering is not that much--two life cycles of a project (from planning to construction). Hardly anything. Our vast infrastructure has been built up over the last one hundred years on cheap energy. For all the know-it-alls who say that we could/should have been planning on this, and can convert quickly, you have NO IDEA how much work is involved--decades and trillions of dollars. When it goes down it'll be good for a guy like me--I'll be in very high demand, probably for the rest of my career. But it will be absolute hell on this country, and there realistically is little we could have done to avoid it. Sometimes life is just tragic. And this is one of those times.

I also find it highly ironic that the people who criticize the Interstate Highway System, and its supposed failure, now advocate vastly MORE centralized planning as the solution to all this! If you only knew how corrupt and inefficient transportation agencies are, larded with political and affirmative action hacks, under the direction of stupid politicians, you wouldn't be so quick to see them as the solution! I can't imagine how much money will be wasted by these clowns when the SHTF, but it will be massive. On the positive side, all the environmental radicals and NIMBY types will get their hats handed to them when it all goes down. A well-deserved hook off of the stage if there ever was one, in my opinion. They make the whole process aggravating and ridiculous, to the point where many times necessary projects can't even be done because of protests and lawsuits. Good riddance.

8) And last, not least, that suburban dwellers are "lumpenproles" in the words of Kunstler. You know what Jim, if I have any sympathies in this world, they will go to the people who make the country work, who pay lots of the taxes, and who raise families under a great deal of stress and difficulty. Not that making a living and raising a family was ever easy, but it seems to be getting harder and harder all the time. It won't go to elder, bachelor, vinegar-tongued critics who, with all of the dysfunctional, derelict groups in America today, choose to attack the one group that is the most responsible, is raising the next productive generation, and is doing the most good. Even if he has to be controversial to make a living and promote himself, he doesn't have to attack people as being stupid, superficial, and ugly. He does it because he is a leftist who believes in Government, and the middle class doesn't; he does it because he wants to appear morally and intellectually superior to them, and he is largely not; and he does it because he can get way with it because they are mostly white, and it is fashionable for leftists to insult white america, since they cannot insult minorities and get away wtih it. I think he's a jerk, and his acidic commentary adds nothing to his arguments about our coming energy (and social) problems and the end of the modern suburban lifestlyle.

I hope that anwers some questions.

Posted by: BIOH on May 5, 2007 7:21 PM

In 1991 there was a state referendum here in Maine that dealt with widening the turnpike south of Portland. The voters rejected the widening. For the next couple of years all the overpasses south of Portland had maintenance work done, which resulted in lane closures and attendant traffic congestion. The effect on tourism became a regular topic in the press. It appeared to many that there was a concerted effort to "prove" how much we needed to widen the turnpike by making that section doubly hard to navigate.

Six years later another vote took place that approved the widening, but with the proviso that it should be done as a part of a more comprehensive intermodal approach. Since then, the turnpike has been widened, but little has changed in the way of light rail, expanded bus service, building bike and walking paths, etc. The few places where there have been improvements have been small-scale (mostly local) efforts. They've proven very popular. Overall, the feeling among many has been that the clear desires of the people for better public transportation options has been all but totally ignored in favor of business as usual.

Anecdotal case in point; when we lived in a town adjacent to Portland with a bus system that connected to Portland's, I used it daily. One day I went to Boston entirely by bus. It took longer to travel the less than five miles from my home to the Portland bus terminal than it then took to get from there to Boston. The South Portland bus got me to downtown Portland where I had to walk a half dozen blocks to connect with a bus that would take me close to (but not TO) the interstate bus terminal. There was nearly a forty-five minute gap between arriving downtown and that bus to a stop three blocks away from the terminal. For my future trips I "chose" to drive to the bus terminal. There may now be a Metro bus to the terminal itself, but ...

Living, as I now do, about 12 miles from Portland's downtown, if I had a safe bike/pedestrian corridor I might use it at least for half the year. But there's no sidewalks, no bike corridors, and I'm still five miles from the nearest bus stop. In short, from bond issues votes to opinion surveys, there has been clear support for transportation alternatives to the status quo, but systemic inertia and the biases of the vested interests keep people "choosing" the private auto.

Posted by: Chris White on May 6, 2007 11:01 AM


Let's see....

First, I was referring to urban freeway systems, not to the Interstate. But I'd like to see both funded entirely with tolls.

Second, by subsidized utilities I meant passing costs of expansion onto existing users, instead of fully internalizing the cost through hookup fees.

Third, it seems rather dubious that laws coercively *restricting* mixed use development translate into "allowing" individuals to use their green acre as they see fit. And if people really do prefer "monoculture" bedroom communities without shopping and work within walking distance, then the free market ought to provide sufficient incentive for that kind of development without mandating it through zoning regulations. At any rate, the availability of subsidized transportation and artificially cheap fuel makes single-use development artificially affordable. If costs were fully internalized in a market price system, without sprawl subsidized on the taxpayer teat, people might feel differently.

Fifth, while many critics of subsidized Interstate system are liberal social engineer types, many of us are not. I would simply like to deregulate and subsidize that entire sphere of policy and allow people to do what they want--but on their own nickel. And BTW, there's an equal inconsistency among those who vociferously champion the virtues of "free markets" while advocating for suburban sprawl--and there are probably at least as many guilty of that particular form of inconsistency as are guilty of the form of inconsistency you point to.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on May 6, 2007 2:00 PM


1) Why? Gas taxes are user fees. Why put up expensive (and sometimes hazardous) toll collection systems when you can collect at the pump? Toll roads are quite a bit more expensive than non-toll roads because of this. They are better maintained because the politicians can't steal the toll money and use it for other spending. But they aren't cheaper. I don't think you understand that most toll roads are built to keep people OFF of them! Tolls are supposed to be high enough to reduce demand so that these highways serve as lower volume/higher speed expressways. Not exactly democratic and fair either! But if the tolls are high enough, it works.

2) Utility companies can fund their own expansion as they please. Regular businesses plow profits from their current customers into building more stores, so what's the difference?

3) Dude, people don't want to live next to office parks and shoppping malls! They want to live in nice houses near parks with little traffic running down their local streets. What did you look for when you bought a house and had to imagine your kids playing in the front yard, or riding their bikes down the street? People will often say they want conflicting things, but I guarantee you, if push comes to shove, that they will block non-centralized development of the type you are describing to keep their quiet suburban streets. Don't you think the developers know what kind of developments people want? They build on spec--they aren't going to go out on a limb and risk not selling. So they know what people want. The way it is is what people want. One of the reasons that you can't do the local development thing is that people change jobs so often. What do you think people are going to do if they take a job farther away from their local live/work development? Sell their house? What if they like their neighborhood? Or maybe just drive to the new job? What would you do?

4) ALL Public Transportation is subsidized! That $2 train or bus ride really costs about twice that, and that isn't even including the costs of maintaining or building the street or rail line. Most of these costs, when it comes time for reconstruction or rebuilding, are paid for through the acquisition of additional monies from the federal government. So add another $1 at least to that cheap ($4) public transportation ride!

5) Roads are natural monopolies. You don't go out and put three or four roads side by side, and then let people "choose" which one is cheaper that day. Also, there is a vested public interest in allowing streets running through different localities and states to be public and not private. If you think they should be turned over to private companies to be run with government oversight, that I would agree with. But they should, and will, remain public.

Besides, most of the sprawl is due to the vastly increased numbers of people and housing demand here--its not some evil plot by business or government.

Hell, the Interstate Highway System is what enabled americans to see the rest of America! How could that be bad?

The point that I'm trying to make (probably not clearly) is that we built a VAST infrastructure over a one hundred year period when energy was cheap, and it has served us very well! Its not perfect, but you have to admit, that if energy were to remain cheap, it does give us a maximum amount of freedom, which is what it was designed to do, and the public at large has taken advantage of it. They took the opportunity to escape the crime, bad schools, pollution, congestion, and high taxes in the cities to build a family life far from the problems, and engaged in a sort of cost-of-living arbitrage where the higher salaries paid in the cities
bought a higher standard of living in the suburbs and exurbs. This has happened all over america, not just in big cities, but in mid-size and even small cities.

But now we are going to enter a time of very expensive energy, which was not seen until recently, and this will turn our system topsy-turvy. This is not an easy, quick, or inexpensive fix at all. And it is going to cause a lot of PAIN for most people. This is not funny. This is a very big deal. Much, much bigger than tacky houses! Yeah, it would have been great if we all could have recognized the problem 30 years in advance (a realistic idea of how long a true transition would take). But we didn't and I don't think this could have been avoided. Sometimes life is just tragic.

FWIW, I live about 2-3 miles from where I work. I can take the bus or train, and do, in the morning, and many times walk home at night. I live close to a grocery store. Bicycles on streets are dangerous, and I know it, but I ride on bike paths sometimes. I am all for not wasting a lot of time commuting. But my choice is somewhat rare. I am not against trains or buses. I lived in a big city without a car for 6 years and took public transportation all the time. It is time-consuming and inflexible, not to mention kind of dirty, and bums were tolerated instead of bounced. Public transit is no panacea. Its really low-grade transit. You must understand that highways ARE a form of public transit. Just the most expensive one.

Posted by: BIOH on May 6, 2007 6:32 PM

Interestingly, or not, the Young Manhattanite link on florescent bulbs was written by me, last year, before the new ones came out. Thankfully, the technology has improved and now our house is almost solely lit be the squiggly things.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 7, 2007 3:22 PM


"Gas taxes are user fees.... Toll roads are quite a bit more expensive than non-toll roads.... They are better maintained because the politicians can't steal the toll money and use it for other spending. But they aren't cheaper. I don't think you understand that most toll roads are built to keep people OFF of them! Tolls are supposed to be high enough to reduce demand so that these highways serve as lower volume/higher speed expressways."

I do understand that. But I think you prove my point. Gas taxes, unlike tolls, are not targeted to the upkeep of a particular route. The fact that tolls are high enough to pay for the cost of providing them means that they're used less. That's the way externalities of all kinds work: you use a lot more of something when you're not paying the full price.

"Dude, people don't want to live next to office parks and shoppping malls! They want to live in nice houses near parks with little traffic running down their local streets.... Don't you think the developers know what kind of developments people want? They build on spec--they aren't going to go out on a limb and risk not selling."

Maybe, but the fact that building developments on any other pattern is ILLEGAL might also have something to do with it. I'll stipulate for the sake of argument that a majority of people might want to live in monoculture suburbs with golf course-sized front lawns. A majority of people may like vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream, but that doesn't mean there isn't a large market for other flavors--unless the government outlaws peach and pistachio. Zoning laws essentially outlaw the "long tail."

"One of the reasons that you can't do the local development thing is that people change jobs so often."

The causes of this state of affairs fall outside the realm of urban policy, but I would argue that geographical mobility and the uncertainty of the job market are themselves dependent variables influenced heavily by government intervention in the market. The government subsidizes R&D and technical education, as well as capital investment and corporate debt, so that the economy is skewed to more high-tech and capital-intensive forms of production than would otherwise be the case. Without subsidies to capital-intensiveness and centralization, we'd probably have a much more decentralized economy of smaller-scale production for local markets, as well as a lot more job security.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on May 9, 2007 11:50 AM

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