You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Blogging Will Be Slow For a Few Days

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on January 31, 2007

While I deal with an overflow of school and work. In the meantime, much like John Edwards’ “two Americas”, there seem to be two John Travoltas. (emphasis added)

a)

In the movie “Be Cool” John Travolta’s Caddy is blown up and he is given a Honda Hybrid as a courtesy car. How he deals with this:
Martin (Danny Devito) Hey Chili, that your car?
Chili: Yes, Its the Caddilac of Hybrids.
Martin: A bit tight for a guy like you?
Chili: a small price to pay for the environment.
Martin: But what about speed? (its parked between Ferarris)
Chili: Martin, when you’re important, People will wait.

and, b)

John Travolta is qualified in several types of single and multi-engine aircraft, and has the highest pilot medical certification possible. His house is located immediately off the main airstrip, and is designed so his jets can taxi right up to two outbuildings connected to the main structure, which is shaped like a squat air-control tower. “He uses the 707 as the family van,” says Jumbolair developer Terri Jones. “The Gulfstream is his sports car.

John Travolta in his personal Boeing 707

Hey, it’s a small price to pay for the environment! I mean, we might never get the message about global warming if celebrities didn’t have their jets to fly around to press conferences!

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Car Sharing Running Strong in San Francisco

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Mass Transit, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on January 29, 2007

Awhile back, I posted on the surprising news that car sharing was gaining traction in the market. It seems that it’s continuing to prove the concept that for some urban denizens it makes sense to occasionally rent a car instead of owning one–providing it’s convenient enough.

Several Zipcar sites are within easy walking distance of her home and work, Hunt said, and getting a car hasn’t been a problem.

“I can’t always get exactly the car I want — I like Priuses, and they’re popular,” she said. “But I can always get a car when I want.”

[…]

Johnson and her husband, who live in a small Mission District apartment, drive to the grocery store, to pick up friends at the airport and to go hiking. They spend between $30 and $75 a month — less than insurance used to cost when she owned a car.

Owning a car becomes vastly more economical the more it gets used, so it’s not surprising that time-share ownership makes sense for people who don’t drive everyday. Traditional car rentals aren’t expensive either, but they’re geared toward travelers and generally located well out of the way of local residents (think of the Avis “we’ll pick you up!” commercials) That will probably change, and quickly, if car sharing companies keep doing well.

I Want My MTV!

Posted in Entertainment, Snark by Stacy McMahon on January 29, 2007

Especially when they show “My Super Sweet 16”. Yes, my guilty pleasure is pointing and laughing at assholes.

Pigs Fly, Film at 11!

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on January 29, 2007

Mickey Kaus makes a good point about the trouble with reading someone’s interpretation of a video–the actual video often doesn’t support the argument. This is selection bias, where you cherry-pick the evidence that supports your viewpoint. It’s part of human nature and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. I suspect it gets worse when you’re trying to run a blog and feel the pressure to post on current topics several times a day, as Andrew Sullivan does. In real life people just don’t usually pull the kind of blatant crap that makes a great gotcha. There are exceptions, of course, but the more common situation is something like George Allen’s “macaca” flap. Allen said the word “macaca”, but the actual video wipes out most of the other conventional wisdom on that incident (I don’t have access to youtube right now, but you can easily find it)

Of course that doesn’t stop people from linking such videos and adding their sensational and accuracy-challenged commentary. I try to avoid just linking and saying “uh huh, what’d I tell ya!” here. “Nuance” jokes aside, most issues are a little more complicated than first meets the eye, and to me it’s more interesting to get into that complexity as opposed to stuffing every newsbite into an ill-fitting pigeonhole.

A Myth Inside The Myth

Posted in Economics, Four Wheels, Politics, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on January 28, 2007

Glenn Reynolds links an article in today’s WaPo entitled “5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture“. It cites statistics and does some basic math to show that cars aren’t destroying the ozone layer as some alarmists would have it, that Europeans drive almost as much as Americans, and that (as I’ve mentioned previously) we are in no danger of paving over the last green acre in North America . All of which is true, but it leads the authors to the following stretch:

Many officials say we should reconfigure the landscape — pack people in more tightly — to make it fit better with a transit-oriented lifestyle. But that would mean increasing density in existing developments by bulldozing the low-density neighborhoods that countless families call home. Single-family houses, malls and shops would have to make way for a stacked-up style of living that most don’t want. And even then the best-case scenario would be replicating New York, where only one in four commuters uses mass transit.

You hear this a lot from folks who don’t like the sound of the term “urban planning”, but the critical point they always miss is that the supersized suburbia they’re defending is absolutely not an outcome of the free market. The choice of land to build on, how much of a lot can be covered by a house, what kind of house it can be, whether houses and businesses can be in the same neighborhood, even (I’ve seen this) the length of shadow a house can cast on the neighbor’s yard, all make land development one of the most regulated and constrained industries in the United States. And every urban area in the country has that kind of zoning ordinance and building code. You can’t say “most don’t want” a different kind of landscape, because the building industry can’t legally offer them the choice!

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on January 28, 2007

That’s the scary sound my $15 coffeemaker makes, causing me to keep walking into the kitchen and see if the carafe is cracking from heat (especially when I hear the crackling followed by hissing steam) Yes, I bought it at the fell-off-a-truck discount store, but it’s a major brand name so I thought it was a safe bet.

And, I just noticed what’s making the hissing noise. Water sometimes drips over the top of the splash screen and down the side of the carafe. That still doesn’t explain the crackling noise, but at least the steaming water isn’t coming from cracked glass.

More Globalization

Posted in Economics, Politics, Travel by Stacy McMahon on January 27, 2007

Here’s a good alternative and non-technical take on globalization from Micheal Totten, wanderer extraordinaire and definitely not rich, republican, or conservative. Money quote:

Globalization isn’t all about America. It’s not about making every restaurant, coffee shop, and retail outlet the same. It’s about exchanging goods and ideas. That exchange goes both ways. Countries that trade may grow more alike over time, but they also become more internally varied.

I do wish Starbucks made it to Chile before I did. It’s not like every café would have been a part of the franchise. Plenty of locals are now discovering what they’ve been missing. Some of them will never tolerate instant coffee again. Starbucks is almost sure to inspire local competitors. They’ll take a North American idea (which actually first came from Europe) and then they will make it Chilean. Local cafés won’t be displaced. They will be born.

What the Hell Are You Talking About ..?

Posted in Politics, Snark by Stacy McMahon on January 27, 2007

Just flipped past 9 News and they were talking about the British royal family visiting Philadelphia. Apparantly Prince Charles was in town to accept an award for his environmental work. The news anchor reader went through that part, then started babbling about how the royals could have skipped the flight on that big nasty polluting airplane and attended the ceremony by video link instead.

Umm, ok then. If you need me I guess I’ll be outside Pledge-ing my horse cart.

I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have Time For That

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on January 26, 2007

I’m not going to bother linking it, but some idiot politician in the Carolinas is proposing that the government review the script of any film that’s planning to shoot in the state to make sure it doesn’t have something like the rape scene in Hounddog. How does the government come to be involved with filmmaking in the first place? Of course, it’s because they offer subsidies in order to draw filmmakers.

The awesome stupidity of not only subsidizing an industry that makes plenty of profit on its own, but then using that subsidy to take a (small but symbolic) bite out of free expression, inspired me to think of the following way in which a politician committed to small government might sell the notion–in individual cases–even to people who favor a large public sector: “I’m sorry, your federal/state government has far more important priorities than to worry about [pointless-but-sensational headline of the day]. There are still wars, famine and diseases ravaging the world. Thanks, next question!”

Reagan could have pulled it off…

UGBs Coming to Virginia?

Posted in Politics, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on January 25, 2007

Vicky sent me this article on the new Transportation Reform Plan being proposed in Richmond. The bill is sponsored by Clay Athey, former mayor of working-class Front Royal and now Republican Delegate representing the town. Having seen it from both sides, Athey should know the ins and outs of transportation and land use better than most elected officials. Athey explained the plan in the Fauquier Times-Democrat yesterday; it primarily addresses transportation infrastructure (basically, roads) by moving some funding and decisionmaking from VDOT to the counties, but it also includes new land use regulating powers intended to encourage more compact development patterns. Chief among them is what Athey calls “urban development areas” or UDAs.

If that sounds familiar to urban planners, it’s because Oregon used a similar scheme–they called it Urban Growth Boundaries or UGBs-to contain sprawl beginning in the 1970s. The concept is simple. The county identifies the optimal place for most human settlement to go, and writes its comprehensive plan accordingly. Thereafter, development proposals can be approved inside the boundary, rejected outside it. UDAs have several major theoretical benefits for both government and citizens, with the main one being a much better ability to predict future transportation needs since you know where the houses and people will be.

The approach isn’t entirely new in Virginia–both Stafford and Fauquier Counties have long had “urban service boundaries”, outside of which no public water or sewer service is available. Driving from Warrenton to Manassas or western Loudoun County is an ample demonstration that the USB can be successful in containing sprawl, but there are at least two things that should be on everyone’s mind as they consider this legislation. First, as Stafford County’s planning staff made clear to Virginia Tech when we worked with them in 2005, “density” is a red flag to local residents when any new development proposal comes up. Most of these people moved from the crowded city and don’t want it to follow them into the countryside. It works like this:

What’s more, [development consultant Daniel K. Slone] says, getting projects approved with the densities needed to make New Urbanist projects work is difficult without public support. Oftentimes local residents raise concerns about the impact such projects have on roads and schools. “Whether legitimate or not, [those concerns] often drive down the densities so that the projects do not achieve the desired effect.”

Whether legitimate or not. That’s an important phrase in transportation and land use, because emotions and innacurate conventional wisdom are almost always the order of the day in this realm. Which brings me (sort of) to the other shadow hanging over the UDA idea–the fact that a A ballot initiative (Measure 37) stopped Oregon’s UGB program dead in its tracks last year. Landowners whose property lay outside the UGB argued that the state had deprived them of a part of their property by making it impossible to subdivide their land. They could only sell into the lower-priced agriculture market. Measure 37 specifies that land use regulations must come with financial compensation for landowners whose options are limited by the regulation. I’m not aware of any such movement in Virginia, but there are Measure 37-like initiatives coming down the pike in several western states. UDAs could draw similar fire if they are seen as too constricting for landowners outside the line.