The Rise Of The New New New New New New New New York

•September 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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I’ve read “The Rise Of The New New Left”, that Peter Beinart essay that’s been going around. It’s fascinating, and I do believe Millennials have definitely moved leftward, but I think Beinart’s analysis is a bit flawed, especially after reading it in the context of Charles Stross’ own generational analysis. For one, I think he uses the term “political generation” to refer to what I’d think of as “political realignment” in the context of U.S. electoral politics. Usually this refers to geopolitics but it can mean demography as well (these things interrelate). This isn’t to say that there isn’t a generation gap – 30+% shifts in opinion about Occupy are quite something, and this does a lot to explain the Gen-X resentment of Millennials, which often seems asymmetrical – but it probably means a larger systemic rebalancing act is in the works.

The article partly focuses on the New York mayoral election as a bellwether: as Koch was contemporary to Thatcher and presaged Reagan, so it apparently is with Bill DeBlasio. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but DeBlasio was the only mayoral candidate I’m aware of that was both Not Quinn (i.e. by extension Not Bloomberg) and also was not threatening to rip up transportation infrastructure to pander to a nebulous anti-hipster vote. But the presumption on the part of, say, Anthony Wiener that every bicycle rider in New York is a white, young, affluent and able-bodied hobbyist is another issue; DeBlasio also ran on the platform of generally being less racist and more class-conscious, which drove Bloomberg insane and made him more electable in the end than Quinn.

(Speaking of New York mayors, tho: “Ed Koch [was] liberal on many cultural issues” except for that part where he let tens of thousands of New Yorkers die horribly of a treatable and debilitating plague so no one would think he was gay. And this amidst a protracted debate about New York’s AIDS history. I honestly have no idea how to respond to this; it’s like a money quote of myopia. LOL unto death.)

I do think Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul are setting up the eventual political future. I’ve often felt the Democrats, once the DNC finally collapses, should brand themselves more explicitly as social-democrats (like we see in Minnesota, as the Democratic Farm and Labor party in their case). And a lot of young voters are willing to put up with neoliberal economics and even incidental racism from the GOP as long as they’re serious about reducing the military- and prison-industrial complex, which I think the very youngest Republicans are. (Like Charles Stross, I think Millennials and post-Millennials have very complicated opinions about the surveillance state.)

I think Beinart misunderstands, at the very least, my opinion as a Millennial about Social Security: I don’t want it privatized, necessarily, I just want it now. As it stands I’m pretty resigned about it not existing in any fashion when I’m “retired”, which I’m not expecting to be able to actually do. I hope someone will have the balls to try to reform it into a guaranteed minimum income, which would give us a lot of, well, social security and the kind of economic flexibility we need in the face of the “sharing economy” and its ongoing casualization of work – but I don’t think they’d be able to talk about it on the campaign trail. Boomers love two things most of all: maintaining the status quo in the Social Security system and pulling up the ladder behind them to access it.

Where Food Slows To A Stop

•August 27, 2013 • 1 Comment

A friend of a friend on Facebook showed me this Twitter, uh, narrative “explaining” poverty and food insecurity to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of “pink slime” fame, amid other “things [he] will never understand”:

1. When you’re poor, you’re often poor of time/energy. It’s hard to cook when you’re working 3 jobs.

2. When you’re poor, shopping is restricted by transport. you shop where you can get to by bus or on foot. You can only buy what you can carry.

3. When you’re poor, the local shops in the poor neighborhood are often poor as well – poor in choice and price and balance. (Google “food deserts”.)

4. When you’re poor, you can’t invest £10 in buying bulk supplies, staples, spices… because you only have £20 to eat for whole the week.

5. When you’re poor, you live in a constant state of food insecurity, and there is a biological brain imperative for calories. Your body doesn’t know where its next meal is coming from – it wants crisps/chocolate/cheap *calories*, and overrides apples.

6. When you’re poor, and you have to choose between £1 on mince or £1 on a microwave pizza, which is the most economic re: calories/time/energy?

7. When you’re poor, your cooking facilities are often very restricted. Slow cookers? Freezer space? Electric mixer? HOB???

8. When you’re poor and you’ve been eating pasta every day for a week and you find £1 in your pocket, fuck yeah you’re gonna buy a Coke.

Oliver has some seriously bourgeois food politics, and a lot of my contempt for the implicit class presumptions of “slow food” is rooted in the relatively recent personal experience of having to painstakingly develop poor-skills after a year on food stamps, working part-time, never having really been poor before – where I learned how easily and cheaply Mexican leftovers can be tricked up into two more meals, but where I also learned that spending $3 and change on a McGangbang or three McDoubles will give me 70g of protein (along with a day’s worth of fat). Sustainability is one thing; making blithe presumptions about the amount of time and labor that every person should or could spend on sustaining themselves and their families is an entirely different animal.

It implies that he doesn’t understand the opportunity costs associated with food because he doesn’t really have to pay them, in the same way that he doesn’t quite seem to understand that kids will feel emotionally betrayed when you take their comfort foods away, nevermind why; and that taking a cabbage and just pickling it doesn’t make kraut into “kimchi” any more than “beet gazpacho” is anything other than borscht. (Both of these unlikely euphemisms, the latter barely two years old, indicate some class anxiety about “peasant” foods with Slavic/Jewish origins – but what is Jamie Oliver if not a basket of class anxiety about food?)

More to my own point: this is ultimately the fundamental irony of the Walmart living wage bill fight in DC. The company will not legally commit to paying the prevailing local wage, and has reneged on previous agreements to do so. This will exacerbate poverty in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia already in thrall to the business and logistics cycles of food deserts, patched only occasionally there by high-markup, low-quality corner resellers, liquor stores, and Chinese-etcetera takeouts.

Yet those neighborhoods desperately need grocery stores of some kind – any kind – where there are none within walking distance, and the only locations Walmart is threatening to cancel over the bill are the ones east of the River (plus one on New York Ave NE) that fill these voids. Walmart will continue with their traditional category-killer model in more affluent Northwest neighborhoods, potentially crushing many existing and beloved local businesses.

As local activists and unions rally tonight, I still wonder if there’s any solution to these problems, legal or otherwise, that simultaneously satisfies the growing spatial stratification of poverty and also works at the underlying logistical problems of food production and distribution. Or are all of the currently available solutions short of open revolt ultimately symptomatic or, worse, non-solutions indicative of larger feedback loops? What can we do now, or at least soon?

BaseTIDE Meetings: Fly, My Monkeys!

•August 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Hampton Roads Transit’s terrible website is making it exasperatingly difficult to get information about public meetings on BaseTIDE (and impossible in the case of BeachTIDE), to the point that I’m wondering if it’s intentional.

But they’re sending this via email:

All of the September workshops will take place between 6-7:30 p.m. at the following dates and places:

Go! Go go go! If you care about making transit useful and abundant in Hampton Roads and are within driving distance of any of these meetings, you really need to be there. TIDE won’t work without a line connecting downtown Norfolk to the Naval Base, west side and Oceanfront, filling it with commuters, tourists, and revelers (each one of which is one less car and/or drunk driver on the street).

I Could Have Parked A Thousand More If They Only Knew They Were Cars

•August 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The M Street bike lane is falling apart. I realize that a lot of people think people on non-motorized transportation are an irrelevant minority anyway – but much like Hasidim in Brooklyn obliterating bicycle approaches to the Williamsburg Bridge, suburban Maryland churchgoers who happen to worship in the middle of Farragut have created the amazing precedent of being able to eradicate a bike lane from their block, despite being fewer in number than the estimated bicyclists that would use that lane as a vital westbound route thru downtown Washington over the course of the week. In addition to religious tension, the ethnic tension is palpable.

The root of Washington’s traditional power base is the black church, even after many affluent worshippers decamped to Prince George’s. The spatial dynamics of this influence on any given Sunday are apparent, when so many thoroughfares become narrow seas of wide parking at 45-degree angles, thronged with Maryland plates. Normally, traffic on Sundays are low enough that this doesn’t necessarily conflict with other planning outcomes designed to improve throughput. But the District is interested in improving non-motorized access to downtown with a westbound bike lane to complement the existing eastbound L Street bike lane, which would run in front of the Metropolitan AME Church between 15th and 16th.

Officially, this is a conflict about disabled access and funeral processions – the latter of which, certainly, would permit the temporary barriers separating the bike lane from traffic to be removed. Also, officially, there will be a bicycle facility of some sort on the street in that block, albeit integrated with traffic. However, Metropolitan AME is using “the narrowness of the street” (M Street being already one of the widest non-avenue thoroughfares downtown) to insist DDOT eliminate this as well. The language is largely really about a conflict between bicycles and parking.

Having already pressured DDOT to provide ample parking (despite two or three adjacent parking garages) on a four-lane street they nonetheless insist on describing as “narrow”, now comes hyperbole to suggest that providing any kind of facilities for bicycle riders at their expense is not only somehow racist (with the reference to “the slaves who built our church” who “didn’t have bicycles in mind”, but apparently spent as much time intimating the preposterous idea of horseless carriages as they did, say, their own oppression and salvation) but is also “hostile to churches” and “older people”, privileging hobbyists who can “just take Rock Creek” – as if every bike rider were white, young, secular, affluent, able-bodied and had no need to be on a bicycle other than for their own recreation, or as if numerous black-owned establishments were not tolerating the presence of this lane – presumptions that might be considered racist even by the narrowest definitions given the power dynamics that are enabling this NIMBY-FUD.

All this while most bicyclists in the District live in the District and pay more taxes to the District than the Seat Pleasant and Oxon Hill church ladies who feel literally entitled to drive into the city, take up valuable parking space, do nothing for hours and subsequently decamp for a cheap suburban restaurant where they’re outraged at the notion of having to leave a livable tip. If you can say “I don’t think slaves had bicycles in mind when they built this church” as a rationale to shut down a bike lane in favor of shit-tonnes of barely-legal parking, you can also say “I don’t think classy ladies had bicycles in mind when they decided to bare it all” and it would follow just as logically.

Which is not at all, really, but hey, precedent!

Sometimes Stupid Things Get Less Stupid

•August 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

There’s been a lot of conflict, locally, with getting Fairfax Connector to provide data across the board with Google and other non-governmental route planning services. This has resulted in some frustration and odd outcomes for casual trip planning within Fairfax County and across jurisdictions.

For example, this is how Google Transit, which lacks FFC route information, tells me to get home from Tysons Corner:
Google_planner

And this is WMATA’s trip plan using Fairfax County services, taking barely more than half as long.

WMATA_planner

This risible state of affairs would be less irritating if WMATA’s route planning interface were more visual or intuitive, but I’m not holding my breath for that. Google et al., conversely, provide a relatively seamless and routinely updated visual route planning experience, but neither Veolia (which manages Fairfax Connector) nor the county would provide this data freely.

Apparently one of the possible reasons for this has been ongoing litigation. A “patent troll” for a similar service called ArrivalStar has sued dozens of transit agencies nationally; these suits were estopped following a countersuit by APTA and a settlement stopping the suits as a class-action is pending.

So now I have some faint hope I might be able to get a map of how to get myself to or from Reston (if I must) from wherever I am on a bus by the time the Silver Line opens.

Brace Yourselves, Hyperactive Albedo Is Coming

•August 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A lot of worldbuilders who watch Game of Thrones or read the Song of Ice and Fire novels (and I fall into the first two pastimes) have pet theories about why the weather in Westeros, or moreover its climate, is so insanely erratic. The easiest reason is “because magic”, and that’s perfectly acceptable in its way – it is, after all, a work of fiction, written by an author whose worldbuilding is occasionally spotty insofar as, say, language or culture is concerned (“Crap, of the two songs in Westeros, that’s the more murderous one”).

Fantasy readers arguably shouldn’t hold George R.R. Martin up to the standards of Tolkien, whose interest in worldbuilding was more of a fixation – verging on the pathological, given his somewhat muted concern for characterization and plot. But I’m basically like Tolkien in this way, and I fixate on these things on Martin’s behalf, as do others. So, climate and geomorphology wank ahead.

Most non-magical theories about Westeros’ climate focus on astronomical factors. The most popular is probably orbital and axial eccentricity, which seems to make sense, but even most of its proponents admit this would probably stunt water and life from settling on Westeros at all. Also, this doesn’t normally account for why there seems to be an established period for a year in Westeros and Essos, which doesn’t correlate (at least not in Westeros) to the length of seasons, which so often last longer than a year. The axial theory gets a little closer, but that would seem to make seasons more or less extreme while not really adequately explaining why they might be longer without getting into tidal locking, which would make this place about as hospitable as the Moon.

But there’s some lower-hanging fruit that Occam would suggest we pick. Most fans of the series and show are familiar at least somewhat with the map of Westeros, trailing into the frigid, dangerous North:

Notice that we never actually see the North Pole on this map. Given the climate and various other threats, it’s probably unreasonable to assume that the humans of this universe that we know of, even wildlings the Free First Men Beyond The Wall, would have the inclination or ability to reach it. We don’t even know how large the planet is on which Westeros is situated. But we do know of parts of the North are frozen and glaciated even in summer.

It’s possible that the continent of Westeros extends much further north than this. If it extended to and beyond the North Pole, these regions would be a permanent, landlocked ice cap. Landlocked ice caps tend to stay much colder than our present Arctic; we know on account of this that the Antarctic Peninsula would otherwise be a lot more like Norway or Iceland or Sweden than it currently is. Imagining this circumstance on Westeros would be as if Antarctica extended its peninsula halfway up what would otherwise be South America; assuming your normal west-coast climate regime, the Dornish mediterranean climate zone would be roughly where Santiago is and the maritime-oceanic Reach and (possibly) humid-subtropical Kings Landing would be situated roughly where we would expect Buenos Aires to be.

The bigger question, then, is not why Westeros’ winters are so long but why they ever end at all. This, I think, would need to have a partly astronomical explanation, but it’s not too difficult to imagine that a sun with only slightly more erratic cycles (in addition to volcanism, which we know is powerful enough on Essos to rip subcontinents apart) would cause enough insolation variance to send glaciation cycles all over the map regardless of actual seasonality. My theory is that their axial tilt is basically nil, and they don’t really experience seasons at all, but extremely short ice ages and warm periods, in much shorter bursts than their medieval equivalents.

To add a little grist to this conjecture, you often hear and read a lot about light and darkness, but not of actual days getting longer and shorter; but I’m more familiar with the TV show than the novels anyway, so take that with a grain of salt. This is all, of course, trivial bullshit anyway, but it’s fun for me to think about.

Home Farms With Hip New Orientations!

•August 20, 2013 • 2 Comments

I’ve become a bit deadened to the Orwellian noise behind the word “minutes” in real-estate marketing (to Largo Town Center by car, or to Auckland by suborbital rocket!), but the subdivisions developers are describing as “transit-oriented” are getting ridiculous. Clearly sprawl is having a mid-life crisis.

The Villages at Dakota Crossing is embarassing itself with nonsense copy about being a “walkable” development, kind of close to a Costco or something, eliding over the nonexistent presence of a metro station or even a grocery store and its minimal bus service. No one who is actually looking for transit connectivity is going to want to live there. At least there’s always parking at Cheverly, the closest Metro station, over 3 miles away by car and infamously surrounded by vacant lots:

But you can also get to Brookland after a half-hour bus ride, so I guess there’s that:

At least it’s possible for them! This “transit-oriented” subdivision at an interchange in Loudoun County is two or three miles away from two hypothetical Metro stations that might open in five years’ time:

And I should hope that the transit service to either, if and when they open, would be better than this:

And I imagine the curlicued path of a neighborhood resident, office worker, or medical center patient trying to get to any conceivable bus service, to which this “transit-oriented” exclave is not impossibly remote but not really on the way to anything, would be more than a little bit circuitous:

I thought TOD planners were past this! I could understand this nonsense from Seaside in the 1980s, or a nascent TOD developer in the 1990s just starting to figure this stuff out with a Calthorpe diagram and a wing and a prayer. But we’ve had decades of research and experimentation about how far people will go out of their way to go somewhere, and the ways they travel, and why.

In a way, I’m happy that transit connectivity and an abundance of transportation alternatives have become so important to real-estate consumers that developers will basically lie about their existence to entice them, but I haven’t seen this degree of casual, self-flattering dishonesty about having an interesting “orientation” since the last time I read OKCupid.