(I am going to keep this post at the top for a while. If you have suggestions as to other worhwhile charities, please add them in Comments.)
Eligible, not registered, or
did not vote for whatever reason..........79,279,000
Does anyone else find the format at Becker-Posner -- in which most recent comments are at the top -- to be maddeningly awkward and annoying? In fact it stops me from bothering with what looks like some fascinating reading.
Archinect notes that Susan Sontag, Leading Intellectual, Dies at 71. And I wondered why that built-world blog does so. She's famous, sure. But what's the connection to architecture? (Writ large.)
With all due respect to the dead, to Sontag, (and with due consideration that a blogger can write about anything he/she pleases) did Sontag ever say much of anything about the built (or natural, for that matter) environment? Just curious. My impression is no. I've browsed through her works over the years. I could never connect with anything she wrote. My superficial impression was that she was remote from the concrete, oblivious to the physical world, concerned only with abstractions. I could not relate. So it seemed particularly curious that a blog focussing on the tangible should pay attention to her.
Am I wrong about her?
"And that brings me to the Barnes Foundation." That's Francis Morrone's understated punch-line. He notes that
[o]ne can well imagine that Lincoln will seek to house the collection on the Parkway in a trendy museum building by a chi-chi architect. The publicity value of combining this world-famous collection with a piece of starchitecture could be overwhelming, not only to Lincoln but to Philadelphia.
But the plot thickens. Don't miss Alvin Holm's striking proposal (quoted in Morrone's post) for the new Barnes Museum.
Is Social Security privatization anything more than a way to provide a floor for stock prices? It seems to me that, for any investor, the very first question to ask about privatization is how does it impact the stock market?
One possible scenario involves a huge borrowing by the Social Security Trust Fund to fund current entitlements. The Trust Fund then turns around and invests this money in a variety of total market index funds. Or such "set-aside" borrowing frees up part of every future paycheck to be invested in equities. It doesn't matter; in any case there will be huge flows going into stocks.
In the short run, it seems obvious that the result will be for stocks and thus their PE ratios to move sharply upwards. There will be a huge amount of cash looking to be "placed" somewhere and with a limited number of investment grade equities -- maybe six thousand in the USA? -- there is only a limited number of places to go.
Just as growth management provides a floor for real estate prices (and thus diminishes the danger of a housing bubble) the huge amount of money available to invest will drive up equity prices and drive down yields. So privatization is good if you own stocks now, bad if you would be buying in later because you would be buying into a market with a very frothy PE ratio.
Slightly longer term there's likely to be a sharp correction as people who have seen significant profits decide to sell their holdings outside SS and take those profits. (Of course this ignores the likelihood that privatization would be phased-in. And it ignores the perennial issue faced by investors closing out a position of where to put the money?)
But bottom line, I can't see -- and this does not suggest any conspiracy but it is just obvious micro-economics -- how privatization isn't very good for the stock market. So it seems to me that if one thinks that Bush will pull this one off, it's obvious that converting cash to equities makes sense.
Whether it is good for the economy is another matter.
(This musing shouldn't be read as some change of mind; I think that privatization as it is bandied about misconstrues the purpose of Social Security as a universal program and so I am against it. If you could persuade me that the purposes of Social Security would be furthered by privatization, I'd be for it. Nonetheless, we should be thinking about the possible consequences as Bush, once again, might get lucky.)
Oh it's certainly a good question -- How much should governments influence norms? -- and raised by one of the most single-minded bloggers. And it just happens to be one the central questions of political science and practical politics for the last several hundred years i.e. it's not a new question. So why does this question come up (it is after all a legitimate question) sneering & mocking (that's how it seemed to me) in reference to an article on (I gather) a liberal's leadership of a South American city? Why not with reference to an article about preventing abortion or marijuana use or government programs which encourage sprawl or government involvement in "marriage?" The degree to which government should intervene in our lives is a fair one; why bring it up with reference to a liberal Mayor?
But go read the whole story Academic turns city into a social experiment. Certainly this Mayor's city -- Bogota, Colombia -- is in dire need. So I thought Tyler Cowen's presentation rather peculiar and seemingly misdirected when the Mayor is trying to change what sounds like an urban hell-hole. The question first of all might be "Does it work?" and then, perhaps "Is it a good model? Should it be repeated elsewhere?" I have no answer on either count.
There are two issues with global warming/climate change:
1. Is it happening?
2. If it is happening, what should we do?
I can sympathize with debate on the second point. The so-called "precautionary principle" seems to me to be an invitation -- no, an imperative -- to do all sorts of things because there might be a problem. Massive social change should require a slightly higher threshold determination.
So I was surprised and even a bit heartened-- if one can be heartened by such a concession -- by statements on the The Becker-Posner Blog. (And, btw, these guys can hardly be considered wildass liberals -- quite the contrary if anything.) Both heavyweights concede that yes there is a troubling climate problem :
Professor Becker notes
...considerable skepticism about whether man-made activities explain much of the temperature build-up in recent decades, although Posner is right that consensus on this has grown considerably during the past 15 years.
So I agree with him that it is prudent to take actions to reduce the build-up of carbon gases in the atmosphere, but which ones?
Judge Posner states:
I agree there is room for doubt about whether industrial and other human activities are causing significant warming. But I have become more convinced than I was 15 years ago that it is a risk worth some effort to protect against, just as we insure against other risks that may never happen. I would oppose draconian cut backs in energy emissions, but not a modest and sensible program of the type set out in my commentary.
Fair enough and enormous progress, I think, when you compare such concession to a die-hard denier like Michael Crichton. Apparently, he seems to be saying that the problem is a political device. (I haven't read the book, I probably won't as a review from a friend who eats up thrillers says it's tedious and it doesn't matter if I read it ot not -- the book stands as a political broadside that climate change is nothing to worry about.)
To what degree the concession noted above is a significant change for Posner or Becker, I don't know. Nor do I know whether other right-wing intellectuals are also shifting. But as a general rule it is extremely rare for people (especially famous big-names) to admit in public that they have changed their mind at all, so I wonder if this is some sort of indicator of a shift in the establishment psychosphere. If nothing else, the conservatism of Posner & Becker should give pause to those who sneer and smirk that climate change is a globalist plot to, I kid you not, impoverish America.
It's loose accusations such as this one which diminish a blogger's credibility:
Self-esteem that is earned by hard work or good deeds is likely to be more valuable to the individual and far more likely to induce good behavior than are these modern educational programs that try to build self-esteem without requiring either hard work or good deeds. (italics added.)
Now there's a political thought and one with which I couldn't possibly disagree; of course I couldn't possibly agree either -- I have no idea to what The Professor refers. Would he let one of his students get away with such a vague assertion in class? I doubt it.
...modern educational programs that try to build self-esteem without requiring either hard work or good deeds.
Huh? What? Please, some specifics rather than these broad-brush claims without substance. Maybe such programs exist; maybe they don't. As a person outside the educational world I wonder whether he is simply blowing hot air or does he have something specific in mind? You know I might very well agree with him if he got down to details, if he actually has any details. I know that judges like the parties before them to offer facts. So too for law students in class. Why should not a Law Professor also be required to present his case with specifics? Why not indeed.
And he appears proud of this as a Christmas thought, specifically relating it to the holiday. We have all said such similarly thoughtless and stupid things in our youth; I know I have; (and if you told me that you hadn't I would try to smile politely.)
I hope Carr can find some graceful way to climb down from such an adolescent sentiment.
It may take a little "cross-disciplinary" thinking to get it -- seemingly ignored here and here and here in posts on the "housing bubble" -- but one key thing about hot housing markets is that most of them exist in areas with intense growth management, areas in which it is difficult to build more housing.
So discussions of the "housing bubble" can't ignore the de facto price support provided by growth management. The converse of a discussion of the supposed "housing bubble" is the discussion of "affordable housing." Download my article on affordable housing. I offer my thinking on why "affordable housing" has never gained much political traction and why there is no likelihood that we will eliminate or even lessen the growth management systems which provides price supports for housing. The gist of my article is that no one (who already owns a dwelling) really wants prices to go down or even stabilize. That's the genius of "the ownership society." Discussing ratios between renting versus buying is pleasant but not meaning ful unless factors in the psychological impact of growth management.
I drafted the talk in 1997 and it still makes sense to me. In fact I like it so much I will post it here entirely next week.
...about Charismatic Carnivores:
My favorite advice for hiking in grizzly bear habitat goes like this: Avoid surprising bears, especially sows with cubs, by carrying a whistle to blow when moving through brush where visibility is poor. Also, tie bells to your pack. Finally, be alert for signs of bears – like large turd piles with whistles and bells in them.
Don't folks have anything better to do than kick people who are down-and-out and obviously outside the mainstream? Even liberals there refer to it as Bezerkely.
UPDATE: See comments below. Yes. I was hasty. While people I respect who live there have a sense-of-humor about liberal over-enthusiasms, and poke fun at Berkeley, they still live there and like it. And last time I was there Berkeley looked pretty good, actually and quite busy with commercial activity, terrific residential neighborhoods etc etc. Does it have problems? Of course. So does Muncie. Are there idiots on campus in Berkeley? Sure. Are there idiots at Ball State in Muncie? I would imagine so. (Though I would note that there is at least one professor at Ball State who uses City Comforts in his course and to my knowledge no one at U.Cal Berkeley...so...) But seriously, if you are human you have problems and to characterize an entire city as reactionary without any evidence seems a bit thin. I am a little disappointed that Michael Totten descended to the cheap shot on this one.
And I wouldn't want to have depend on GW Bush for my legal fees if I were in the shoes of the Forest Service folks.
And I suspect it won't work here and that Bush will break his pick on the rock of Sociual Security.
I guess I am not the only one who, finally waking from sleep, is just a little bit suspicious that tthere is a Social Security Slam-Dunk:
Why do I think that the Social Security crisis -- "the crisis is now," President Bush said recently -- is the domestic version of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Could it be that I am hearing the same sense of false urgency? Could it be that the predicted insolvency of the Social Security system is something other than -- yes -- "a slam-dunk"? I wonder.
This morning, I recommended this evocative post by Terry Teachout to a friend who had never read a blog. I commend it to you, as well.
To the solitary stranger, the highways of Missouri are flat and harsh-looking in wintertime. Only the traveler for whom they point toward home can find anything like beauty in mile upon mile of leafless trees and drab brown fields. To me they are as lovely as a Corot—but only when the sun lights up the vast blue dome of sky. At night you can see nothing but the thin ribbon of road and the cold silver stars hanging above the plains, and you switch on the radio half from boredom and half from fear of the dark...
I hadn't really paid much attention to the Barnes and its issues of trusts and estates. But now that those (admittedly very interesting) are resolved on paper, I am getting hooked on how they will be resolved for real. The intriguing issue to me -- and I pass no judgment one way or another -- is that the Trustees desire to re-establish the Collection at a new location but in rooms identical to what exists now. More on the Barnes Museum and its interesting design issues: Perfect copy may not be perfect.
"The Professor" is at it again and this one takes the cake. He's correct -- nobody denies it -- that there were/are problems with the vote tallying in the Washington State Governor's race but then he concludes that these mistakes "all of which somehow managed to favor the Democratic candidate. Hmm..."
Duh. If the Democrats who control King County government had really been up to no good don't you think they would have done it before the absentee votes were counted? The race is/was obviously a close one; everyone knew it and if the Dems had been up to mischief they would have acted during the first count.
Let's review. The critical issue is that approximately 735 absentee ballots were rejected -- before they were counted -- by the elections clerks of King County because it did not appear to the staff that there was a valid signature on file associated with each ballot. (They check every absentee ballot.) But they were wrong.
The Seattle Times explains:
In this November's general election, the county's absentee-ballot staff still didn't make the effort to find matching signatures. But instead of counting the ballots automatically, they rejected them.
This error was revealed during the recount process when a King County Councilember learned that his own absentee vote had not been counted. The immediate issue is whether his ballot (and others) should now be counted as part of the recount process. The ultimate issue is that King County -- heavily Democratic -- would probably yield enough votes for the Democratic candidate to swing the election. So of course the Republicans are against it.
One can justly accuse the King County elections adminstraton of being sloppy but that is a far cry from corruption. It's irresponsible that a "Professor" in California should accept the judgment of a shill in Washington DC about something in Washington State about which both are ignorant and imply corruption.
Of course he does admit that he is "predisposed" to find corruption; I just wonder if he'd be so likely to cry foul if it was likely that the additional ballots would change the outcome if the situation were reversed (and it was the Republican behind by some 42 votes out of several millions.)
And its work: Managing Stone Walls
Economic Principals says:
Bush has grossly misrepresented the extent of the difficulty with Social Security by describing it as a "crisis."...With no changes at all, the system will remain solvent until around 2050.
Like many (most?) of us, I had somehow come to accept as fact that Social Security was in "crisis" and that unless we did "something" there would be nothing in the kitty in coming decades.
But it appears that there is no crisis, except if you want an excuse to change the nature of Social Security from a public guarantee to a private possibility. The intent of Social Security is fascinating in itself; but the techniques by which the myth of crisis has been spread is perhaps even more so.
Evolution, not revolution, is the proper path especially when there is no compulsion to change quickly. The only "crisis" in Social Security seems to be that George Bush wants to eliminate it.
(I have always been curious; I mean anyone can claim to be a "Professor." So I assume that Bainbridge means it in a self-mocking tongue-in-cheek I-don't-take-myself-too-seriously-and-neither-should-you manner. Cute.)
At any rate, the quick answer to his predictable question What the heck goes on in King County? is "The same thing as everywhere else." If you had an election this close, anywhere, you'd get the same result.
The only reason that it looks odd is that most elections are not as close as ours -- 42 votes difference out of several millions, so the inevitable mistakes which creep in to any human process involving huge amounts of tedious work (and a process which happens only once a year) become noticeable.
And "predictable" because I suspect that the only reason so-called conservatives give a rip about this election is because their guy might lose. Hey, wasn't Vince Lombardi a Republican?
Professor Zywicki has another and more sympathetic (to me) post about the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) and the Bar's attempt to assert exclusive rights to advise on as wide a variety of human matters as possible. He writes
Lawyers always have a narrow and parochial interest in expanding the domain of human activity subject to their cartel. This is especially dangerous in a situation such as UPL rules, where the rules are usually set by the state supreme court, rather than by a legislature....lawyers have been quite successful at this and the result has been a substantial wealth transfer from consumers to lawyers.
Real estate "closings" are a classic example.
But I have been curious if lawyers will ever take on the architects and insist that architectural (and maybe engineering) work be drafted under supervision of an attorney.
How could that even be? Well consider what an architect does.
In the vast majority of jurisdictions, the first and perhaps most essential task in designing a building is for the architect to read the zoning and building codes and to determine how these laws (and that's what codes are -- law) effect the rights and duties of property owners. These rights and duties (which is what law is all about) go from determining setbacks (from the property line) to (possibly) framing and arguing for a "variance" from those same setback rules because of the special conditions of a site. It sounds like "law" to me. No?
So why don't lawyers want in? Buildings -- even simple ones -- are complex and a few extra dollars for legal supervision shouldn't really add very much. And it does effect your rights etc etc. So why are the lawyers silent? Why do they ignore this honey pot of fees sitting there?
The only thing, so far as I can tell, which saves us from the nightmare of an attorney having to stamp a set of drawings is the possibility that they can't read them. Few lawyers are visual and even fewer could read a set of architectural drawings with any effectiveness. So they really wouldn't want to open themselves up to liability by getting involved in the process of giving advice on whether a particular design meets the codes. So all of you people who knock the legal system and crave "tort reform" -- thank god for liability in tort as otherwise I have no doubt that lawyers would want in on the business of architecture.
In fact quite the opposite. In Praise of Limits applies the concept to graphic design.
Unlimited choices can lead to weak concepts, schizophrenic typography, and barriers to readability. Too many choices can also become overwhelming when starting a new project.
Limitations often help designers produce their finest work. ....Inside the box thinking? What a great way to think about limitations in design. Thinking "outside" of the box has become such a tiresome cliche that it diminishes whatever is associated with it. .....Inside the box thinking enables us to boil down an idea to its basic components...Take a close look at your limitations. Instead of seeing them as obstacles, discover how they can become assets that help you develop into a more effective communicator.
Limitations equal simplicity, and simplicity is a clear path to effective communication. Let's close the lid on the box.
What's true for graphic design (can anyone think of a more unpleasant graphic presentation than Wired Magazine of a few years ago?) is also true for towns and music and literature e.g. the (traditional) urban streetscape ("The Three Rules"), the cantata, the sonnet, the haiku etc etc.
But I am not sure if I am delighted by the author 's example:
For instance, it can be difficult to visually explain a large complex idea such as universal healthcare clearly to readers. Look for ways to simplify large concepts so that readers can relate to it. It could be as simple as a graphic exploring the costs and benefits of government-provided care.
The principle of working-with-limits can easily become over-simplifying. The example offered is particularly odd because it expects a journalist (probably unfamiliar with the issue) to be able to explain "universal healthcare" by a "a graphic exploring the costs and benefits of government-provided care." I mean, I am in favor of some sort of univeral health care (I see enormous benefits to small business, of which I am part) but I wonder whether a "graphic" can do anything more than distort the issue. But, that example aside, the author is correct and her observation must be brought out...often and especially in relation to public buildings such as the new Barnes Museum where architects too-often seek "creative freedom."
So asks youthful, blissful (and so far away from ever needing Social Security that it must seem like a foible of whining oldsters) law professor Todd Zywicki at the The Volokh Conspiracy:
More fundamentally, if we assume that as part of the social security reform proposal, money market-type accounts are one of the available options for investing, then what's the problem? Workers won't be forced to take any substantial risk that they don't want to take and there seems to be nothing stopping them from taking the low-risk, low-reward path if they want to. Am I missing something here?
Indeed I believe that the Professor is missing a few things, such as purpose, human nature and the long run.
For the first he is missing the very purpose of Social Security, It is not now and was never meant to be 'private investment account.' A debate about whether Social Security should be a 'private investment account' is a legitimate matter; but the Republicans want to slip the issue onto the table in the guise of "saving" Social Security when it does not to be "saved." (Sound familiar?)
Second, the pressure to exceed minimal money-market rates by investing in "equities," human nature being as it is, will be practically irresistable especially when aided by wonderful glossy ads.
Third, since support for social security is ultimately based on our fastidious preference that public thoroughfares be free of aged beggars, we will inevitable in the long run simply reintroduce some sort of generalized and guaranteed support for old poor people after this silly experiment in privitization fails, if it actually comes to pass. That last if is a big one. I fail to see how the Republicans (Bush & the Republican Party are not coterminous) will risk their growing but essentially slim majority in favor of a reform plan for which there is little or no popular support. If Social Security was truly "failing" then some immediate action might be warranted. But it is not failing but is actually fine. (Of course perhaps the same quality of people who informed the President about the presence of WMDs in Iraq are the ones who are informing him of the status of Social Security.)
And if you believe that this view represents support for some degree of nanny state, or not having to pay twice for the same thing (i.e. social security) twice you got it right.
UPDATE: There has been an insightful, inciteful and interesting posts about Social Security at this blog.
...Or "I didn't agree with anything he argued in that book, but it was smart."? At a conference you might hear, "I want to go to that panel; she's quite smart." You've probably also heard the reverse: "How did he get that job? He's not very smart." Imagine how damning it would be to say "not especially smart, but competent" in a tenure evaluation. In my observation, "smart" is the highest form of praise one can now receive. While it has colloquial currency, smart carries a special status and value in contemporary academic culture.
I guess here's one more piece of evidence that I have nothing to do with academia even though I live not three miles from a very fine university. The most common use of "smart" I hear is in "smart but not wise."
Tyler Green asks:
So who for the Barnes? For the sake of argument, let's just assume that Renzo Piano is too busy with 23 other American museum projects, give or take a dozen. My worst fear: Robert A.M. Stern, who could do the post-Barnes, neo-somethingorother building that might appeal to someone. Archi-blogs... ideas?
Far more important than the architect is what the architect is asked to do...the program. After all, what need a museum be? A series of well-lit walls with safe circulation on which to hang paintings; all else is epilogue. But too often the epilogue trumps the main text and becomes far more important than the paintings themselves. That's a result of the program. And that's where the client comes in and most clients are too timid to even know how important they are. So I wouldn't expect anything particularly urbane from the Barnes. I hope I am wrong but I mean...can you think of any major museums or other such "cultural" centers designed by starchitects which have a good street presence? I don't doubt that there are some but they also seem rare. Starchitects never (rarely) see the street. No? Zaha Hadid's design in Cinncinatti is the only one (which I can dredge up from short-term memory) which would not be out-of-place in an edge city or a better suburban business park. (I have not seen the Bilbao live and the pictures I have seen are not very informative so I put that one aside.)
So if you are interested in the new Barnes, start with the program and see what directions are given to the architect. That's far more important than who the architect is. Even Rem Koolhaas could have done a good urbane library in Seattle if our Library Board and Administration had told him to do so.
UPDATE: And don't miss Pledge made to duplicate Barnes' space
Although there may still be some sentiment in favor of re-creating the exterior Cret designed in 1923, it appears likely that a contemporary architect will be asked to create a new envelope for the period rooms.
Could be very cool.
A question is raised about why small residential real estate holders don't always do what appears to be in their self-interest -- i.e. sell after the property has appreciated and there is an imbalance between its rate of return as income property and what it would fetch on the market for an owner-user -- and take their profit. It's true; people who own real estate do not always appear to act like rational economic actors. Here's one theory:
The only reason my landlady would want to not take advantage of the decline in the rent/buy ratio (i.e., the fact that demand for home purchasing in the neighborhood is increasing faster than the demand for home rentals) is that she anticipates the ratio will fall further in the future, thus making a 2004 sale a bad deal in light of the fact that she can continue to obtain rental income in the interim.
Well that's possible; and there are a variety of reasons why people do not sell even when the market has risen dramatically and it is "rational" to sell. But a prime answer is "What would they do with the cash?"
Real estate is a very much a mom-and-pop business. Real estate is not a fungible commodity. Once sold, real estate investments are hard to replace and there are very high transaction costs, as well. So in fact it is entirely rational for small-holders to resist selling even in the face of huge gains because they have thought long and hard and have faced the question: "What would I do with the cash?" How, after taxes and commissions and escrow etc etc and etc, would they reinvest? Could they do better than what they already have, even recognizing that they have a low rate of return compared to their untapped equity. Not being professional investors -- or even if they are -- they often decide to just hold on and accept what is now actually a very good return based on their initial investment rather than sell and be faced with reinvesting a wad of cash.
I have dealt with this question at somewhat great length in It's a mom-and-pop market.
Urban Cartography writes about Sucher's City Comforts.
David Sucher's excellent City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village was revised and dramatically improved last year. Often described as the bible - or one of the bibles - of urban redevelopment, Sucher's book is my favorite all-around primer on urban design. It is especially useful for those of us who have tremendous interest in urban planning but little in the way of technical training; the revised edition introduces quite a bit more easy-to-digest information for those of us without backgrounds in the field. As the reviews on Amazon suggest, it is absolutely a must-have for policy makers who don't have a formal education in planning.
It's unfortunate that Arts & Letters Daily gives great prominence to Michael Crichton's new fantasy about climate change and yet offers no links to debunkings by people who actually study the subject like Real Climate which offers an update: State of Confusion II.
A&LD could become a far more meaningful venue if it offered follow-up links to its own links.
Credit Times Online
Well, yes, it is a bridge so it might not appear to fit the standard definition of a building.
But in contemporary terms I'd suggest that it qualifies as architecture, maybe even top-notch architecture: it's a Very Large Scale Object created by human beings and which in this instance appears from the photos -- (and that's how most contemporary architecture is actually experienced—I wish I had a dollar for every person who raves about, say, Gehry's Disney Hall but who has never been to it in person) -- to be magnificent mysterious spectacular sparkling eye-candy of the first rank.
Nevertheless, as with other pieces of architecture about which people justly or unjustly rave -- Koolhaas' Seattle Public Library for another -- part of the judgment about its worth should be whether it accommodates the human outside a car or truck.
In the case of a bridge: the question is whether it was designed so that one can walk and/or bike across it in comfort and safety?
It's hard to tell from this photo whether the experience of it walking/biking across it would be pleasant:
UPDATE: Even ACD agrees.
Credit Times Online
She was a Sunni Muslim, an attractive, thirty-something writer, one of the few women I met who eschewed a scarf in public. And she was overjoyed at the demise of Saddam. "I am so happy! Freedom at last! The world is open to me now!" she exclaimed during a small social function at an art gallery in Karada. "Can you recommend some American magazines I might send my writing to?"
I promised I'd draw up a list of suitable periodicals, then added — carelessly, for this was my first trip to Iraq — "You must not mind seeing American soldiers on the streets."
The woman's smile vanished. Her brow darkened and she shook her head. "Oh, no. I hate the soldiers. I hate them so much I fantasize about taking a gun and shooting one dead."
The quickest way to make an enemy is to do someone a favor they can never repay.
John Massengale offers an interesting post. It prompted a provocative comment (which is itself probably the key indicator of an interesting post).
One person commented:
I'm saying that New Urbanism is invariably used as a moniker for urban design/spatial layout, and not as a philosophical or build-quality moniker. When a real estate writer from the New York Times writes about New Urbanism, I'll bet you he's not talking about how well built houses are, but how well planned the community is.
That may very well be so. And it makes a lot of sense in terms of priorities if you consider that subdivision & site plan is a 100-200 year (or more) decision. Quality of construction -- and even arguendo accepting your premise of poor quality construction (which actually I do not) -- is something which can be remedied and improved with each owner on an (almost) daily basis.
So the emphasis on the larger scale -- neighborhood platting -- makes sense as the basic layout of streets, sidewalks and lots is extremely difficult to adjust and persists for centuries.
Kevin Kelly offers an astute assessment:
Costco has become my personal shopper.
I do some research, then I buy what they sell. Like all discount chains they have professionals working full time looking for deals/quality. But what I like about Costco is their niche -- which is my niche. They consistently find a bargain in the "highest common denominator" bracket. What they seem to aim for, and what I am happy with, is the highest quality common quality. Not the very best, not the cheapest, and not mediocre either, but a good brand-name bargain in the high middle. They consistently deliver a great price on a very popular and competent item. It's neither optimization (the top model with the most features), nor is it minimization (cheapest per feature) nor plain thriftiness. Rather Costco aims for some sort of consumer satisficing, to use Herb Simon's term: a high quality that is just good enough, but at a low-end price.
Those of you not from Costco Country ought to visit one; they are not at all similar to, say, a Wal-Mart (except from, sadly, an "architectural" perspective.)
If I was to take foreign visitors on a tour of Seattle, I would show them the first Microsoft HQ, the first Starbucks and the first Costco, all of which are in Seattle. Each in its own way explains a great deal about America.
UPDATE: Company for the People
Koolhaas, and the Obsolete Book. January 15 1:00-3:00 PM. Seattle Central Public Library, Conference Room 2. Speaker: Meredith Clausen, Professor of Architecture.
Does Rem Koolhaas' new Seattle Central Library predict the future? What does it tell us about the relationship between architecture, books, and society in the 21st century? Meredith Clausen, Professor of Architecture and Art History, will give a fascinating lecture on the meaning of Koolhaas' new building, comparing it to other great library structures around the world. She will also situate Koolhaas' work in the context of contemporary architectural trends in Europe and questions about the future of the library itself. Open to the public, no tickets necessary. Sponsored by the Center for West European Studies. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-543-1675. (italics added)
Kyoto is not an issue I follow much. It's too discouraging, I don't know the science so it's hard for me to decipher the claims/counter-claims and any social response seems to be predicated on such massive change that it seems unlikely until the very last moment. But I thought that opponents' argument against Kyoto is that it is "too expensive" and "bad for the economy" and etc etc. Such make-weights have been used against so many things which now seem obvious -- seatbelts and racial integration, for one smallish and one huge example -- that I no longer take those arguments seriously.
But this article -- Save the world, ignore global warming -- by Bjorn Lomborg claims a more telling argument. Kyoto doesn't do the job:
Even if everyone (including the United States) did Kyoto and stuck to it throughout the century, the change would be almost immeasurable, postponing warming by just six years in 2100.
Lomborg readily admits that climate change is indeed for real and a problem but simply that Kyoto doesn't do enough. Any basis to such a statement?
UPDATE: Unless I am missing something, Lomborg's critique is far more sophisticated than the simple snering denial you hear from Rush Limbaugh and his followers. Lomborg agrees that there is a problem but that Kyoto is simply not a good solution. No?
Via Crooked Timber.
Robert Frost opines on the issue:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Last night I read the first 120 pages of Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford U Press, 1989), which is the best cultural history of the US I've ever come across.
Fischer traces four British migrations to the US and their enduring influence on American character: the Puritans to New England (later influencing areas well to the west), the Quakers to the Delaware Valley, the Cavaliers to Virginia, and the English-Scottish border inhabitants to the Appalachian backcountry. If you want to know how patterns in American attitudes and behavior were established, this is probably the best single book on the subject.
I picked it up out of curiosity as to how such a large percentage of the population (influenced in part by the border people) could have voted for a man like George W. Bush, a truly appalling human being, in my view. I think it's hard for those of us who feel at home in New England, with its emphasis on education, community, self-restraint, and social responsibility, to understand the appeal of someone so reckless and self-indulgent.
There's a lot of astute judgment as well as historical detail in this 900-page book.
By the way, despite the sterotype, it was only the Puritan leaders such as ministers who tended to wear black. The rest avoided black (too portentous for people who were not supposed to draw unnecessary attention to themselves) and they tended instead toward "sadd colors" such as clothing the color of dead leaves. Tbey also had nothing against a little beer-drinking. A favorite beverage with dinner was dark English beer. As I sit here in my browns and off-browns, awaiting a mug of black & tan later on, with the thermostat set not too high, I see why I feel so at home.
Note: please do not send me any "pease porridge" (beans, which the Puritans thought was fine to consume cold). Granted, it was healthy stuff and helped the Puritans live a long time, thus enabling the 21,000 people who arrived in the New England colonies between 1629 to 1640 to multiply and populate a large part of the country. But they did need some Mediterranean people to introduce them to better cooking.
Yours from the somber New Haven Colony,
Matthew Yglesias calls "Bullshit" on David Brooks. Of course that's too-often easy so maybe I shouldn't even take notice. But someone, for the record, has to do it and it's Yglesias turn.
What really galls me is Brooks' statement: "People who instinctively trust the markets support the Bush reform ideas, and people who are suspicious oppose them." It strikes me as pretty nervy that a guy that a guy who (I assume) has been an intellectual (sorta) all his life and who has, I'd wager, never risked any of his own money in a business enterprise of his own, can repeat this weird cant about "trusting the market." I have lived by the market for most of my adult life and I can tell you that markets are fine and accurate in many respects but they are not perfect. Markets are a tool of communication (per Hayek) and to trust a tool, per se, is silly. Remember that old saw about "Guns don't kill; mudererers do." Well just like a gun, the market is a tool to do things and it can be both misused and/or not adequate to the task. Moreover, it is assinine to dismiss criticism of a specific plan to use the market by saying that the critics simply don't like markets. Has it ever ocurred to guys like Brooks that differences of opinion are fundamental to markets? The whole expression "that's what makes markets" is about differences of opinion.
My own epiphany about markets came to me -- not out of theory as it does to so many arm-chair entrepreneurs -- but by actually taking place in a market: the real estate market. After one project in which I had helped into existence a bakery -- a bakery which became renowned as a community center, no less -- I realized that what we had done (the bakers and I) could not possibly in a thousand years have been done by any sort of "community group" or governmental body. It took the skill, capital and nerve of individuals to see the opportunity and to organize the enterprise. By the same token, we benefited from a regulated (i.e. by zoning) real estate market which allowed us to make an investment with reasonable expectations that our situation would be stable.
So Brooks' presumption that criticism of a specific approach to using the market is seen as "distrust" of markets in general annoys me no end. I say "Poppycock."