April 28, 2006

Why Gas costs (whatever it costs where you live)

Yeah, its quite simple. Its not because Bush is colluding with the Saudis to make piles of money. Its not because Greenpeace won't let us drill some massive deposit of untapped oil somewhere. I don't think its Congress's fault, either. Its simply, as Charles K. points out in the Post, that supply is down and demand is up. Yes, you can quible about whether there should be drilling in ANWR or a reduction of the ethanol tariffs (probably yes in both cases even though I'm a fan of mating caribou), but the basic facts are: 1. Oil is a limited commodity ("fossil fuel" is the term of choice), 2. It's expensive to produce it, ship it, refine it, make it available, especially since most of it happens to be in the least stable places in the world, 3. Demand is going up, up and up, no matter how much we reduce consumption in the first world (although that's no reason not to work at replacing it sooner or later).

(As a side note, I think Andrew S. also has it right:
"A conservative government would simply say: we have no control over global oil prices; consumers reap what they sow; companies should be left alone; and if your wallet is empty because of all that gas in your SUV, you've learned a useful lesson in self-government.")

April 26, 2006

It probably took someone from outside to point out the obvious

Perhaps you were listening to NPR yesterday and you noticed that Jane Jacobs died. The Times has a nice obituary, which is fitting, because New York City perhaps owes more than any other city (except possibly Toronto) to her personal efforts. If you're not familiar with her, Ms. Jacobs was almost certainly the most controversial figure in urban planning in the 20th century. She challenged many of the sacred cows which had developed in the first half of the century, such as the ideal of the Garden City (i.e. Le Corbusier) and the importance of zoning (she demonstrated rather effectively, I think, that zoning is simply the wrong way to go about urban planning; too bad even urban planners who know her work backwards and forwards all too frequently ignore that advice).

Her four part formula for a successful and diverse city block is so simple, but so nearly impossible to pull off (1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition, use and rentals. 4. Population must be dense.). Numbers 1 and 3 seem to be the hardest ones to fulfill these days, although I'd say we're getting better with number 1, at least in some municipalities (the Rosslyn-Clarendon-Ballston corridor in Arlington, for example). Number 3, though, is virtually impossible to fulfill in today's building world, where developers tear down entire city blocks to erect new buildings. The problem, of course, is that its just not efficient to slowly renovate blocks building by building on a city wide scale. I definitely think the importance of #3 is what the new urbanists have missed (although it probably isn't so much that they missed it as that they couldn't think of a way to convince any sane [read: money-loving] developer to implement it).

As a side note, I find it funny that she was considered so liberal (she certainly considered herself liberal), as many of her ideas were simply negations of previous liberal ideas.

April 24, 2006

Attention Computer geniuses and or star nfl quarterbacks

So the laptop is frazzled and I'm looking at purchasing a new computer. This computer will exist mainly to run three programs: AutoCAD, Photoshop, and SketchUp (although it will probably also connect to the internet; SketchUp is a 3d design program used for architecture etc). I am open to suggestions from all you dual career computer graphics geniuses and star NFL quarterbacks out there (those of you who were not raised properly will probably not get that reference, but I suggest looking up a copy of the Blunder Years). Actually I'm open to suggestions from anyone, qualified or not. Unfortunately, I cannot look at Mac's, because AutoDesk has not seen fit to publish a Mac version of AutoCAD (unless I'm totally inept at navigating their website and have missed something, which is conceivable).

Perhaps if the level of tension is palpable I will notify the internet of my successes or failures once the choice is made.

April 21, 2006

Sad to see

that Jairus is leaving us... I always thought they were pretty nifty, and I was sort of fond of them due to a story which goes something like this: where as I was awkwardly tossing an American football with the strangers from my hall on my freshman orientation week, when this funny looking hippie dude (who turned out to be Jade, friend of my future wife) swayed up to me (Jade never walked, he swayed) and started quizzing me about my degree of involvement with indie rock, which was funny to me at the time because clearly neither (1) I nor (2) Jade were at all involved in the indie rock, so it wasn't clear to me at the time why we were discussing it. Only later did I discover thru my wife (who had apparently been discussing my arrival on campus with her tiny group of indie rocking friends which included Mr. Ammons) that Jade's question was sparked by Chris' attempt to learn if the new kid was really into indie rock or not (answer at the time being not). (As a side note, among the "______ kid" nicknames that I was tagged with (without my permission) at Covenant, I definitely prefered the Chris-Jess groups Indie rock kid to the JosiahQ Emo kid. Aspiring punkers hate nothing more than being called emo, even if it might be accurate).

Well anyways Jairus is a nifty band and if I were in Chattanooga still you can be sure I'd find time to see their final show. I think you can pick up their stuff on iTunes and I'd do that if I were you and I weren't familiar.

April 20, 2006

On Rebuilding New Orleans

A series of worthwhile articles on Slate ("An economist visits New Orleans"). Probably the best of the articles is Wednesday's entry on migrant workers (illegal and legal, or I would have no compunction about calling them illegal migrants, despite my rather moderate views on what to do about illegal immigration). The author gets major points for slamming Mayor Ray Nagin ("In October, Mayor Ray Nagin asked, 'How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?' The answer: Do not rebuild."). I wanted to punch Ray in the face when suggested last fall that New Orleans didn't have a place for Latinos; it was quite possibly the most ignorant statement I'd heard in a long time (and as someone who frequently listens to News and Notes on NPR, I hear a lot of ignorant opinions).

The entry I found most interesting, though, was the entry on housing, regulation, and rebuilding, in which the author suggests that government should essentially step aside and permit the market to determine what sort of housing and what quality of housing would be built in New Orleans, with the expected effect being that the housing would be of a lower quality than codes typically allow. This particular type of deregulation in construction is not something that I've thought about (or am particularly qualified to consider), but I do think that I've generally been coming gradually around to the viewpoint that government regulation is largely responsible for the degradation of the quality of the built environment since the Second World War. The regulations I refer to are zoning codes in particular, which have essentially made it illegal to build the places that contain a vibrant mix of uses and values, which Jane Jacobs readers will know are the essential ingredients in a safe and desirable city, large or small (Old Town Alexandria, where I live, is one such place). (I suppose the other major problem has been the rise of the practice of developing massive tracts of land at once by one owner, but that's been going on since the turn of the century and I don't see any realistic way to prevent that; what I would like to make possible is the alternative, which is organic growth and development by invested land owners -- which I suppose brings up yet another problem, that the middle class is now so detached from the land that it occupies that it has little interest in building or maintaining anything that would be worth keeping for longer than the lifespan of a single job).

April 9, 2006

Voxtrot at Georgetown River Lounge

Well more live music for y'all: flavor of the month Voxtrot finally made it to DC (they've had a bit of trouble getting here in the past). Should you attempt to find information on the supposed venue, "Georgetown River Lounge", you will find not much at all, probably because its just a random room at Georgetown University that the school's radio station rented or reserved or something. Fortunately there were some handy paper signs taped to the sides of the dorms on Prospect St, or it would have been entirely impossible to find it all.

So Voxtrot: recommended if you like Belle and Sebastian, the Smiths, or that dance pop indie stuff that seems to be all the rage right now but I can't particularly get into (Bloc Party, Killers, etc). I suppose there's a healthy dose of sixties pop (Zombies etc) and eighties new wave in there as well. Generally eminently danceable, which is great for those who feel compelled to dance, but I haven't danced at a show since I noticed that I was no longer motivated to move at a Rocket from the Crypt show when I was a freshman, so that factor didn't do too much for me. Possibly the best part of the show was the lead guitar, both for his playing, which was pretty interesting on some of their newer songs, and because he pranced around in a really hilarious manner while doing his thing.

April 6, 2006

Silver Jews at Webster Hall

Its actually been quite a while now since I saw the Silver Jews, but I suppose I will report on it anyways. Pitchfork just put up their review, and that show was a couple days before the one I saw.


This was the first Silver Jews tour, so they weren't totally together -- DC Berman (the man who is the only permanent member of the band) read most of the lyrics off a bandstand and tripped over a couple of songs (Catpower style), but we forgave him mostly because the lyrics are so great the songs would be better than most bands even if he just read them out in a dead monotone. Come to think of it, a dead monotone is a pretty good description of Berman's singing voice (perhaps that's part of why I like the Silver Jews so much -- because I can sing along and not sound particularly worse than the original recording). But when you're listening to the man put together lines like: "I can tell you things about this wallpaper/that you'd never ever wanna know" and "In 27 years I've drunk fifty thousand beers/and they just wash against me like the sea into a pier", you don't really care if he can sing like Aretha Franklin. You just want him to get the words out. And sort of like being a Dylan fan, you eventually start to think that the singing's actually better because its not any good.

Either way, the Jews definitely rocked down Webster Hall with a setlist composed mostly of songs off their newest album (Tanglewood Numbers) and their best album (The Natural Bridge). Lots of folks prefer "American Water" to "Natural Bridge", probably because of the all the kicking riffs that Malkmus (of Pavement) lays down, but I'm a Joos purist and prefer my Berman without all the fixings, so needless to say, I was quite satisified with the setlist, which was as follows:

I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You
Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed
O Captain! My Captain!
How to Rent a Room
Animal Shapes
Trains Across the Sea
How Can I Love You (If You Won't Lie Down)
Slow Education
Smith and Jones Forever
Sleeping Is the Only Love
Horseleg Swastikas
Random Rules
The Poor the Fair and the Good
Pretty Eyes
Pet Politics
Punks in the Beerlight

I was about to point a couple of the songs which I particularly enjoyed, but realized I was basically going down the setlist typing out every song's title again, so I'll give up and point out that (a) more quality poets should form indie rock bands so we wouldn't have to listen to blathering lyrics such as those of The Strokes (yes, Berman is a poet and quite possibly better known for his poetry than his band) and (b) O Captain! My Captain! was probably the best song, if only because I didn't know exactly what would happen (and besides, who covers Walt Whitmann?).

Finally, links to videos from the Baltimore show for several songs which we also heard at Webster Hall, via Soi Disantra (scroll down a bit to the setlist to see the video links).