Monday, May 30, 2011

Doing Things the Hard Way

I really don't know why. But I did it.It took forever. But everything seems to have worked out. I'm tempted to carve this into a lino block and print out copies, but that would be way too much work. The bizarreness of the technologies involved would be pretty cool, though.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

So, Yeah, Still Not Much of a Blogger

But, I've got a fancy new phone with a nice little app for Blogger, so the technology end of things is all set. Still working on the motivation part. And this phone also has Angry Birds, so that's not going to help...

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm Looking To Bump Up The Font Size

Seriously, if I can figure out how to make things a bit more readable, life would be awesome. Or something...

New York Marriage Equality: Where Are They Now?

I promised several posts ago to get further into what the situation currently is in New York for the hopes of marriage equality. New York state politics is bizarre in a highly dysfunctional way, so it's not always easy to keep track of what's going on. Luckily, we can skip right past the Governor, a staunch supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples, and the Assembly, which has passed similar legislation in the past with large majorities and would do so again. One “feature” of the New York legislature seems to be that as unpopular as it is, incumbents overwhelmingly get reelected.

The Senate is where the difficulty is. While the Assembly has historically been Democrat-dominated, the Senate was in Republican control from 1965–2008. In 2008, the Democrats took control with 32 out of 62 members. Now, the way the New York legislature works is that the leaders of each chamber pretty much control everything. And, in June 2009, a couple of the Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, backed the election of a Republican to the presidency of the Senate. After a month or so of weirdness, the original Senate President, Malcolm Smith, was back in the job.

All this was going on at the same time as the debate over a marriage equality bill, which ended up getting pushed back to December. For whatever reason, this bill was something that got a vote that went like the way normal legislatures work, rather than the Senate President just getting his way, in the New York style. Although it seemed unlikely to pass, advocates including then-Governor David Paterson pushed to get a vote on the record. The result was 24 Senators in favor of marriage equality and 38 opposed. Which was a bit worse than expected, but at least we knew where everyone stood.

Looking at that result, all 30 Republicans opposed the bill. Not really any surprises there, although supposedly there were a few who would have signed on had the vote been close. Whoever they are, they're still keeping quiet about it, at least publicly. There were eight Democrats that also voted against the bill. These are the ones I'd like to focus on here. Let's take a look:
  1. Joe Addabo of the 15th District in Queens is still in office. There are reports, or at least hints, that he may currently be undecided on the issue, so if you're a constituent, contact him here and let him know what you think.
  2. Darrel Aubertine of the 48th District including Oswego and Watertown was defeated by Republican Patty Ritchie in November, 2010. She doesn't seem to be a supporter of marriage equality, but the Tea Party types seem to think she's too moderate, so maybe there's hope. She can be reached here.
  3. Ruben Diaz, Sr. of the 32nd District in the Bronx is probably the fiercest opponent of marriage equality in the Senate. A Pentecostal minister, whose son is currently the Bronx Borough President, I'm figuring we can write off any chance of him changing his mind or being voted out.
  4. Shirley Huntley of the 10th District in Queens easily won her primary against pro-equality challenger Lynn Nunes. Not too much to hope for here, although her opposition seems to have mellowed. If you're a constituent, get in touch with her here.
  5. Carl Kruger of the 27th District in Brooklyn is the one inspiring me to write this all. He's still in office, but just the other day turned himself in to federal authorities over charges that he's accepted over $1 million in bribes. Money that was apparently then laundered by Kruger's boyfriend, who's family he lived with in a mansion (which looks exactly like something a Mafia boss would own, because that's what it was originally) outside his district. So, his seat's probably up for grabs pretty soon, as all his colleagues are shocked, shocked at corruption in the New York Legislature.
  6. Hiram Monserrate of the 13th District in Queens managed to get himself kicked out of the Senate a while ago. Perhaps the Democrats were just looking for an excuse after the leadership struggle I talked about above, but his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges for an incident where he slashed his girlfriend's face and dragged her through a building lobby (complete with video) pretty much sealed his fate. His seat was won by marriage equality supporter José Peralta.
  7. George Onorato of the 12th District in Queens retired, and his seat was won by marriage equality supporter Michael Gianaris.
  8. Bill Stachowski of the 58th District in Buffalo and to the south was defeated in the primary by marriage equality supporter Timothy Kennedy.
So, that puts the eight equality opponents in the Democratic party at one expulsion, one primary loss, one retirement, one general election loss, and one facing federal charges, with three remaining.

Of the 24 Democrats that supported marriage equality, five are no longer around. Two of those resulted in no change: Pedro Espada, who was primaried out by the Democratic establishment and replaced with equality supporter Gustavo Rivera, and Eric Schneiderman, who's now the Attorney General, and was replaced by Adriano Espaillat. Then there are the three who lost to Republicans (2010 was a good year for Republicans): a couple Long Islanders, Brian Foley and Craig Johnson lost to Lee Zeldin and Jack Martins, respectively, while in Buffalo Antoine Thompson managed to be too much of a corrupt hack even for the New York Senate and was replaced by Mark Grisanti. Of the three newcomers, Zeldin is definitely opposed to marriage equality, Martins probably is, but I can't find anything on the record to say so (maybe a constituent could contact him and ask), and Mark Grisanti has met with LGBT activists since Lady Gaga called him out, but seems to be unwilling to go farther than civil unions (or maybe he needs more convincing).

Lastly, there are the Republicans who lost. I'm just going to not concern myself with the three that were replaced with other Republicans aside from noting that I can't find any statement from Buffalo-area newcomer Pat Gallivan on the record. He can be contacted here. On the plus side, Tom Morahan of the 38th District in Rockland and Orange Counties was replaced by equality supporter David Carlucci, and Frank Padavan of the 11th District in Queens was replaced by equality supporter Tony Avella.

This is getting pretty long, so I'll try to sum it all up quickly. To pass the Senate, we need 32 votes. Of the 24 votes we got last time, all Democrats, 21 are still there or have been replaced with supporters (there are four Democrats who have split off as Independents recently, but that shouldn't affect anything here). Of the eight Democrats who voted against us last time, three have been replaced with supporters, and one is facing federal charges that could see him replaced before his term is up (not to mention that we all know he's gay now, so supporting anti-gay causes isn't going to help him hide that any longer). And of the 30 Republicans that voted against us, two have been replaced with supporters. That still leaves us at 26–36, meaning we've got to get six opponents to flip.

This is a tough task, but not impossible. Republican Jim Alesi, of the 55th District in Rochester, is now saying that he was “backed into a corner” the last time (I suppose he'd have voted yes if nobody ever called for a vote) and that “you never know where you can find votes in this town.” If you're a Rochester area person, let him know that you want one of those votes to be him. As he hints, and as I've read in several places, there are expected to be a few votes that might come out of the woodwork if the gap gets sufficiently small. In any event, even after the Republican wave of 2010, we are at least two votes closer, and the Democratic caucus (including the four Independents, who were elected as Democrats) has gone from 24–8 to 26–4, increasing pressure on the holdouts there.

Another advantage this time around is having a governor who's actually able to help out some. David Paterson's commitment to the cause can't be faulted, but by the time this came to a vote he was pretty much an ineffective laughingstock. This time, we've got Andrew Cuomo, who recently won decisively over crazy person Carl Paladino, and has a good bit of personal popularity. Cuomo recently met with several of the leading gay rights organizations in New York, as well as legislative leaders on the issue, to work out a strategy. And, while personally an opponent, Senate President Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, has promised the Log Cabin Republicans that he will bring the measure to a vote (remember, in New York, the Senate President pretty much determines what gets voted on all by himself). He can be contacted here to encourage him to keep that promise.

Remember, we can get nowhere without the help of wonderful organizations like the following:
Empire State Pride Agenda
Marriage Equality New York
Equality Matters
HRC New York

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Write a Dumb Article About Bike Lanes, and the Internet Will Mock You

Over on the New Yorker's website, John Cassidy wrote a blog post about New York City's bike lanes. Oddly for the New Yorker, he paints the cycling advocates as a cabal of humorless Jacobins in league with the Mayor and his transportation secretary, crushing the freedom of those like himself who drive huge cars. And oddly for an economist, he seems unable to recognize any congestion-related externalities of automobile traffic. So, a number of other bloggers have pointed out various flaws in his piece. And rather than link to the piece in question, I'll just run down the most notable comments (I'm pretty sure you can find a link to Cassidy's post in any of the following).
First up, to provide a rather sarcastic bullet-point summary is Aaron Naparstek's “The New York City Bike Lane Backlash is Completely Irrational.” The meat of Cassidy's argument, such as it is, is probably the part summed up here:
  • Now that the city has striped 200 miles of bike lanes on its 15,000+ miles of roadway, we have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns for bikes and bike lanes. As for cars and car lanes — sky’s the limit. As an economist, I see no end to the number of cars and car lanes we can cram in to New York City.
  • Every New Yorker should be able to drive his Jaguar into Greenwich Village for dinner, as is my pastime, and find convenient, free parking on a public street near the restaurant.
In similar style, the New York Times Magazine's Adam Sternbergh runs through the “requisite rhetorical tactics” should one wish to write one's own anti-bike lane article, including:
Oddly self-contradictory declaration of support: “Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with this movement; indeed, I support it.”

Invocation of meddling government apparatchiks: “A classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddish minority.”

Invocation of America’s long, sun-dappled love affair with cars: “Since 1989, when I nervously edged out of the Ford showroom on 11th Avenue and 57th Street, the proud leaser of a sporty Thunderbird coupe, I have owned and driven six cars in the city.”
Moving towards more serious criticism, we get to Felix Salmon, a prominent blogger on economics for Reuters starting to explain where Cassidy really gets the basics wrong (emphasis mine):
And you surely know, even if you’re loathe to admit it, that traffic expands to fill the roads available: if you build more road space, you don’t reduce congestion, you just increase the number of cars. And similarly, if you reduce the amount of road space, you don’t increase congestion so much as you reduce the number of private cars. Which is a feature, not a bug.

Cassidy is convinced that the addition of bike lanes has increased the time he spends stuck in traffic, or looking for his beloved free on-street parking.
And that's actually a rather subtle point to grasp in actual practice. If the people laying out our roadways had realized many years ago that adding lanes does very little to relieve congestion in urban areas, we could have done things a lot better. The fact is, when Cassidy is sitting in traffic on Third Ave. in Brooklyn looking at a bike lane that could carry some traffic if it were given to cars, he's wrong about the limiting factor involved. There's apparently no shortage of people willing to endure that traffic for whatever reason, and an extra lane would just get filled with more of them, until everyone was stuck in the same traffic.

Incidentally, this principle is why the Big Dig hasn't relieved as much congestion as was promised originally, and has probably increased congestion on some of the surface streets. Make it easier to get to the North End, you end up with more cars on its little crowded streets. Not that it hasn't been at all successful, by any means. But that's a whole other subject (and, really, one I'm not at all qualified to speak of).

Moving along, I'll note that Paul Krugman over at the New York Times echoes Felix Salmon's opinion of Cassidy's “awesomely self-centered rant.”

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein takes a slightly different approach to pointing out the same thing:
There’s no further room for roads in Manhattan or its environs, but given the city’s comfort with tall buildings, there is room for more people. If each and every one of them decides to buy a car, as Cassidy has, the streets will become essentially impassable. The question, for drivers, is one of survival: How do you persuade the maximum number of New Yorkers not to drive?

The answer seems obvious: You give them other options.
And that's pretty hard to argue with. You simply can't build enough roads for New Yorkers (and everyone else who might be in New York) to drive everywhere they want to go. This is one of the issues that is going to be very important in urban areas all over the US over the next several decades. We are still growing as a country (I think by at least another 40 million in the next fifty years) and becoming more urbanized. Solutions for managing this are going to be hard to come by, and will require work, and trade-offs. Squeezing a couple hundred miles of bike lane into New York City is part of that.

Lastly, we come to Ryan Avent writing for The Economist's “Free Exchange” blog (which is mostly about economics and finance; he has his own blog at “The Bellows” where he mostly covers urban issues, and which I highly recommend). Looking at things “from an economic perspective” he finds that Cassidy's article “really is a doozy of a misstep” for failing to consider negative externalities in a number of areas:
When Mr Cassidy drives, he imposes a small congestion cost on those around him, drivers and cyclists included. Because he and others do not consider this cost, they overuse the roads, creating traffic…

Cars also release several harmful pollutants… It would be possible to account for these pollution externalities, to some extent at least, by taxing them. But at the moment, fuel taxes are too low to cover road maintenance, to say nothing of the costs of automobile pollution…

To give away valuable parking spaces for free is hugely inefficient. It encourages too many people to drive, and it encourages people to stay in free spots longer than the welfare-maximising amount of time…

[I]f drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them.
I don't really have much to add at this point that hasn't been covered in all the above links. There's all sorts of issues that touch on various aspects of what I've said here, and I'd like to get a little bit more in depth on them at some point. Non-automobile transportation in major urban areas is a subject near to my heart, after all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Been a While, But Here's A New Self Portrait

Why do I only have the motivation for this sort of thing after 2:00 AM. I haven't been doing much, since my flash has been broken for about a year now. The part that connects it to the camera broke off. But it can still flash if you push the little button on it. It takes some experimenting to work it out, and you have to leave the shutter open long enough that you can hear it click and push the button before it closes. I used a half second, I think.
From Will the World End in the Night Time?

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Think Someone Was Lying To William Whyte

Since I haven't had a chance to check out Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City yet, I've been satisfying my urge for urbanist reading with William H. Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center. This book basically takes the opposite perspective on how cities work: whereas Glaeser looks at the macroeconomic situation of cities in general, Whyte has gone out and filmed countless hours of how people in cities do the simplest things like converse on a sidewalk. Being a bike messenger, I am often in a position to see these things as well, so I find it all rather fascinating, yet familiar. For example, people apparently are more likely to stop have a conversation in the busiest part of the walkway, rather than off to the side. It always seemed that way to me, but I figured that was just when I noticed it the most.

I had to laugh at this passage from page 62, though. Keep in mind that this was written in 1988:
“A new danger for pedestrians is the rise of the messenger cyclists. Up until about five years ago most of the cyclists one encountered were people on their way to work. The messenger cyclists, however, are animated by money. They get paid for the number of deliveries they can make in a day, and true speed will net them an additional $100 additional a day, for a total take of $250–$300. So they go fast, very fast—thirty to thirty-five miles per hour when possible; they go against traffic and they run red lights. They seem to hate pedestrians; they scowl and curse at them and yell and blow whistles at them to get them out of the way.”
Really? $250–$300 a day, in 1988? $150, if you don't go fast? Thirty-five miles per hour? Sounds to me like he's listening to people telling stories. Sure, such things are possible, but certainly not on anything approaching a regular basis.

Other than that, though, it's a great book. It's amazing how much getting the little details right or wrong can make a difference in how things work. It's especially poignant for me, because I see so many things all the time that are just done the wrong way. Just little things like a building directory organized by floor number, so you can only find what you're looking for if you already know what floor it's on (77 Franklin St. is a particularly egregious example). It's nice to see someone try to shine light on these sorts of issues. Not that they've gone away in the 22 years since the book came out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Think I Mentioned That Edward Glaeser Was Everywhere These Days

And here he is on the Daily Show:

Not long after his Atlantic article “How Skyscrapers Can Save The City.” I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of as many buildings as tall as he's advocating, but it would be nice to move further in that direction.

And an interview with Grist a couple weeks ago, where he fesses up to actually living in the suburbs himself. Kids, private school tuition, the usual excuses. And another interview, this time with the Atlantic.

I'll definitely be trying to get my hands on a copy of his new book from the library ASAP (having no money sucks). I keep checking online, but there's never a copy available. Guess I'll just have to keep following the promotional appearances.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sal Mineo, Murdered 35 Years Ago Today

Sal Mineo
Such a tragic life, a poor kid in the Bronx who couldn't stay out of trouble, a quick rise to fame, then a has-been in his mid-twenties, broke and trying to get back into the game, and pointlessly murdered at 37. It was his question, in Rebel Without a Cause, asking James Dean if the world would end in the nighttime or daytime, that inspired the title of this blog (the exact wording was from The Smiths' “Stretch Out And Wait”, Morrissey being a James Dean fan, naturally). Really one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen on film, at the young age of 16. He could have been one of the greats, but things just wouldn't work out that way. Also, not at all bad looking:

The Scourge of Pointless, Knee-Jerk Contrarianism

OK, so a while ago I promised an update on where the fight for marriage equality might suffer setbacks this year. Then I kept waiting to get a handle on what's going on in Wyoming, where they looked to be working towards any combination of: a law banning recognition of out-of-state marriages, a version that would also ban recognition of civil unions, a constitutional amendment doing either, or a law providing for civil unions. It was confusing. I'll try to sort it out at some point.

The other places to watch out for are New Hampshire, where the Republicans have a veto-proof majority now, the District of Columbia, where Republicans in Congress might be able to undo what the DC City Council has done, and Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal, but still rather unpopular. New Hampshire and DC don't seem to be getting much enthusiasm from opponents, but in Iowa, there is a real push to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage. Luckily, this isn't easy to do, and the Democrats hold the state Senate, where the majority leader, Michael Gronstal, has vowed not to bring the issue to a vote. The Iowa House of Representatives is still trying to do something, though.

So, they held hearings on the matter, the only real effect of which was to give a 19 year old Iowan named Zach Wahls a platform for his eloquent speech about being raised by a lesbian couple, the video of which has become a Youtube hit (1.5 million views right now):
This seems to have gotten a very positive response from the various news sites and blogs that I pay attention too. Yeah, I'm sure there's all sorts of stuff out on the “family values” crowd's websites, but that's not anything I give a shit about. Those who disagree with marriage equality, but have much more important concerns aren't going to chime up to talk shit about Zach Wahls. That'd be stupid.

But then again, there always seems to be that one guy who just has to disagree to prove how above-it-all he is. In this case, University of Rochester economist Steven Landsburg decided to fill the role:
“In a video that’s begun to go viral, University of Iowa engineering student Zach Wahls attempts to refute this notion without offering a shred of evidence beyond a single cherry-picked case (his own) to prove that children of gay parents sometimes turn out just fine… What’s particularly disturbing to me is all the chatter about how eloquent this kid is, as if eloquence in the service of intellectual misdirection were somehow something to be admired.”
Not being a reader of Prof. Landsburg's, I only found out about this from Will Wilkinson at the Economist's “Democracy in America” blog, where he neatly eviscerated Prof. Landsburg's argument. I highly recommend Will Wilkinson (the Economist only identifies its bloggers by initials, but it's not too hard to figure out from other places who W.W. is); he's enough of a libertarian to frustrate me at times, and enough of a liberal to get tossed out of the Cato Institute, which seems to be politically where my blog is focusing its commentary. Expect to see me quote him from time to time.

At the end, he sums up a frustration of mine:
“So what gives? My guess is that, like a number of right-leaning economists, Mr Landsburg has a regrettable tendency toward tone-deaf, context-dropping, contrarian provocation based on an unexamined assumption that this is what it means to be bravely rational. It is not. In any case, I think we can all agree that, other things equal, intellectual misdirection is not ‘something to be admired’.”
This does seem to be something of an annoying strain that I've noticed especially in otherwise top-notch right-of-center economics writing. The guys behind Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner, seem to have made their whole career off of examples of “counterintuitive” economic phenomena, even when it requires being sloppy to get there. I think there's definitely something to conservative or libertarian criticisms of the side-effects of government policy, but one can go too far in that line of thinking as well. Kudos to Will Wilkinson for calling that sort of thing out.

As for the rest of us, I suppose we can just enjoy seeing Zach Wahls speak passionately about his experiences without trying to judge him on whether his speech was a complete logical refutation of all arguments that same-sex parents are inferior. Certainly, the data exist to refute those arguments as well, and I'm sure various legislatures weighing the issue have considered expert testimony on the matter. But those videos aren't going to have the same appeal as this one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reason Magazine Cheers On Jerry Brown

“There can be no doubt that a good many, at least, of the problems with which the modern town planner is concerned are genuine problems with which governments or local authorities are bound to concern themselves. Unless we can provide some guidance in fields like this about what are legitimate or necessary government activities and what are its limits, we must not complain if our views are not taken seriously when we oppose other kinds of less justified ‘planning.’”
–F. A. Hayek

Apparently, I seem to like posting stuff with a basic theme of libertarian critiques of urban planning issues. I'm decidedly more of a liberal than a libertarian, myself, but I think that the history of failed “urban renewal” schemes in the US provides many lessons about the limits of central planning to solve the problems of large cities. And any focus on the issues affecting our great metropolises coming from a libertarian direction is a pleasant surprise to hear. So often, it seems that libertarian ideas are created around some ideal world where people live in freedom and self-sufficiency by themselves with their guns and SUVs. The article by Tim Lee that I grabbed the Hayek quote above from offers a more cogent critique of modern libertarianism along those lines. But that's not what I want to focus on here.

This article on, cheering on California governor Jerry Brown in his quest to take on the state's bloated redevelopment agencies is the sort of thing I like to see. I don't know much about California, but I've been known to try to keep up on what the Boston Redevelopment Authority does. And much of it is the sort of necessary upgrades to the city's infrastructure that are always going to happen. (Also, their Boston Atlas is amazing if you love maps as much as I do, and the receptionist is always nice when I deliver stuff there.) But I've never liked the basic setup of the city basically putting its planning and development functions in the hands of a semi-autonomous, barely accountable agency. The whole way it's structured seems to invite collusion between the Authority and large developers, and hooking up those with the right connections with sweetheart deals on whatever property the city can grab via eminent domain (all given Supreme Court blessing in Kelo v. City of New London).

So I can heartily join in with Reason in hoping Jerry Brown is successful in taking on the redevelopment agencies. And, in the broader scheme of things, I hope that perhaps there's a way to find some common ground between liberals and libertarians interested in urban issues to dislodge the entrenched interests from the positions of power they command within our institutions of civic governance.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's in Store for Marriage Equality in 2011, Part 1

As I'm sure everyone noticed, the 2010 elections were a massive disaster for the Democratic Party, and something of a victory for the far-right wing of the Republican Party. With the Republicans in the majority in the House of Representatives, there's very little chance for any movement on even the most incremental advances in gay rights before the 2012 elections. At the state level, however, the picture actually looks surprisingly good for supporters of marriage equality. While the elections went badly in general for the more supportive candidates, there were a few important victories that should make a real difference over the coming year or two.

The map above shows where we stand right now as far as marriage laws go. The dark blue states already have full equality, lighter blues are for civil unions and domestic partnerships. Reds are for same-sex marriage prohibitions. Some states have banned marriage yet allow for lesser options. Let's see if we can get an idea of what the map will look like a year from now.

Probably the most positive news is that Rhode Island is very likely to pass a marriage equality bill this year. Former Governor Donald Carcieri, an opponent of gay rights, has been replaced by the Independent (former Republican) Lincoln Chafee. Chafee called on the state legislature to pass a marriage equality bill in his inaugural address this year, and it seems to be likely to pass. While not a sure predictor of support for gay rights, the Democrats have a 65–10 majority in the House and a 29–8 (and 1 Independent) majority in the Senate, which ought to be a decent sized cushion against the possibility of anti-equality Democrats.

The next likeliest state to move forward on marriage equality is Maryland. Already, the state recognizes out-of-state marriages, as well as providing for domestic partnerships itself. It isn't certain whether the votes exist for full equality, although it seems likely, with a supermajority of Democrats in both houses of the legislature. The two seats the Democrats picked up in the Senate are thought to seal the deal. If the votes aren't there, the Republican Minority Leader has also proposed a civil unions bill (which doesn't have the support of his caucus, and he stepped down as Minority Leader afterwards), so at least one of the two is very likely to pass. Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is a supporter of marriage equality and would sign a bill if it were to pass the legislature.

New York is an interesting and complicated case, as the Republicans have regained control of the state Senate, but at the same time the situation for marriage equality has likely improved somewhat. Back in 2009, the Senate rejected a bill to allow same-sex marriage in New York, by a vote of 38–24. At the time, the Democrats held a small majority of seats, but 8 Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing the bill. After the 2010 elections, the Republicans hold a small majority, but, by my count, supporters have gained two votes. Andrew Cuomo has replaced David Patterson as governor, and while both are strong supporters of marriage equality, Cuomo enjoys high favorability ratings and would be much more effective champion of a bill. New York state politics is weird (and mostly not in a good way), but I think I've got a decent grasp of the situation, and will try to write it up in its own post where I can cover the details a bit better.

On the civil unions front, Hawaii seems in as good a situation legislatively now as it did last year when the legislature passed a civil unions bill. This time around, however, the governor is Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, who has promised to sign such a bill, rather than Laura Lingle, a Republican, who vetoed it last time. As far as I know there aren't any plans to try for full marriage equality.

Even ahead of Hawaii is Illinois. Acting Governor Pat Quinn, who took over after Rod Blagojevich was impeached, narrowly won reelection in November. He will sign a sign a bill providing for civil unions in a ceremony in Chicago on January 31st. Quinn is a supporter of full equality, but a bill to that effect has never made it out of committee. The Democrats have majorities of 64–54 in the House of Representatives and 35–24 in the Senate currently, although it's entirely unclear (to me, at least) where they stand on marriage equality.

That's all I can really think of for good news that's likely to happen this year from state legislatures. Given the Republican gains in the last election, and especially given the gains made by far-right extremists in this country, I think it's impressive that we can still gain ground on this issue this year. Seriously, the Republican Party of 2010 had re-criminalization of sodomy as part of its platform in at least Texas and Montana, and lost all three openly gay state legislators out of the 4,000 it has countrywide, the first time in years it's been down to zero. Yet progress manages to push on despite them. I'll get to where our current gains may be in danger in Part 2, and maybe get a Part 3 where I can discuss what's currently working through the court system, and what we might see this year.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Richard Daley, Sun King Mayor of Chicago

Looks like I've got a streak of posts on urban issues going here. I do have other interests that I intend to get to as well. In any event, this article on the Urbanophile blog was rather fascinating to me:

It's a look at how the power to get things done in Chicago is concentrated in a ‘nexus’ of entrenched interests, and the ramifications that this has for the city. Often referred to as the ‘Chicago Way,’ the city has established itself during the administration Mayor Daley (the son, Richard M. Daley, who has been mayor since 1989, not his father Richard J. Daley, mayor from 1955–1976) as a city that Gets Things Done. On the other hand, its economic growth has been stagnant for years, even as the city's prestige has increased.

Much of the article describes the totality with which the Chicago Way permeates every aspect of doing business of any sort in the city: “I believe the Nexus resulted from the culture of clout combined with the fact that, with the exception of the interregnum between Daley pere and fils, power has been centralized on the 5th floor of city hall for decades. The Nexus may have come into being around the mayor, but now it has become a feature of civic life, one that practically longs for what Greg Hinz has labeled a ‘Big Daddy’ style leader to sustain the system.”

This stands in contrast to many of the problems New York City has had over its history, which often involved a mayor unable to deal with with competing entrenched interests. For many years, for example, Robert Moses built his own empire of sorts through controlling various city and state agencies, accumulating more power than most of the mayors he theoretically served under. (Robert Caro's book The Power Broker is a highly recommended read on all of this.) It would be a fascinating study to see how power is accumulated and used differently in different major cities.

The one quote in the Urbanophile article that struck me was in this comparison: “The ultimate dream of the clout seeker is a centralized unitary state like Louis XIV’s France. In Chicago, we’ve come amazingly close to achieving it. It’s not that there’s no conflict, but it is all of the palace intrigue variety, not true conflicts between rival power centers.” In a way, I think Louis XIV is the right example here. While much is made of the opulence of Versailles and the excesses of the nobility, what gets rather less attention is the fact that Louis XIV managed to set everything up that way to consolidate his own power.

I'm far from an expert on France during the 72 year reign of the Sun King, but it was a similar story of putting himself in the center, and slowly working to keep all conflict between others for his approval. The French nobility were kept in perpetual competition with each other, spending vast sums just to maintain the lifestyle expected of them at the palace. And Versailles itself was designed to literally put Louis at the center, with the nobility arranged outward from him, vying against each other for the attention of the king. Mayor Daley might not have that sort of absolute power, but it does seem the model.

And like modern day Chicago, France in the early 18th Century, has been able to accomplish things that would have been impossible without the ability of its leader to keep everyone in line. On the other hand, France's great rival at the time, Great Britain, where during the long reign of Louis XIV, one king was beheaded and another fled the country, was able to innovate much better, despite a much smaller supply of people and natural resources. So, whoever wins the upcoming election, now that Daley's retiring, has his or her work cut out. I'm ever the optimist about such things.

And, in case you're wondering, I'm not going to say anything right now about our own mayor-for-life situation here in Boston.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Trailer for Upcoming Documentary on Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project

The Pruitt-Igoe was a notorious housing project built in the mid-50s in St. Louis that came to represent everything wrong with mid-20 Century urban renewal, and even everything wrong with the modern architecture of the time. It was demolished by the federal government in the mid-70s (the demolition is featured in the movie Koyaanisqatsi). In any event, this documentary looks really interesting. I'm not sure what the "myth" they're referring to is, though. Probably the tendency among some critics to blame Pruitt-Igoe's problems solely on the architecture of the place, if I had to guess. That part does get overstated a lot.

Trailer – The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

Amazing Fact of the Day

All those bike lanes they've added all over the place in New York City (and if you aren't familiar, they've popped up everywhere)? Apparently, the total cost has been only $8.8 million, of which the city itself only paid for about $2 million. (via Streetsblog):
“One question about the cost of building bike lanes yielded an answer that will be of particular interest to Streetsblog readers. All of the current DOT’s bike projects combined have cost a total of $8.8 million, including analysis, design, outreach, and construction, Sadik-Khan said. When you factor in the 80 percent federal match, the city has spent less than $2 million from its own coffers on the major expansions to the bike network we’ve seen the last few years."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Our Cities Are The Engines That Will Propel Recovery

Harvard economics professor and author Edward Glaeser had an article in the Boston Globe last week about the economic importance of cities. This has long been a topic that's interested me. Last year, I finally got around to reading Jane Jacobs' Cities and the Wealth of Nations, which makes similar arguments to Glaeser's article. The main thrust of the book is that cities are the places where new ideas are made, and where the sustained economic growth of a nation occurs. It suffers for Jacobs never having been a trained economist, and generally seems overly pessimistic to me. Still, a worthwhile read for the ideas it brings up.

Glaeser brings these ideas to bear on our current situation:
“DURING ECONOMIC downturns, we begin to fear that we are entering a permanent period of decline. But we can avoid that depressing prospect if we recognize that a revival will not come from federal spending or another building boom. Reinvention requires a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, which can emerge from our dense metropolitan areas and their skilled residents. America must stop treating its cities as ugly stepchildren, and should instead cherish them as the engines that power our economy.

America’s 12 largest metropolitan areas collectively produced 37 percent of the country’s output in 2008, the last year with available data. Per capita productivity was particularly high in large, skilled areas such as Boston, where output per person was 39 percent higher than the nation’s metropolitan average. New York and San Francisco enjoy similar per capita productivity advantages. Boston also seems to be moving past the current recession, with an unemployment rate well below the national average of 9.8 percent.”
Interestingly, though, these cities where productivity per capita is highest are losing people relative to the Sunbelt area, where per capita productivity is much lower. In a post on the New York Times' Economix blog, Edward Glaeser (who apparently likes to spread his ideas around*) blames this on housing regulations. I'm not sure I'd single it out as the primary cause, but it would be nice to see cities like Boston take a more laissez-faire attitude toward building and zoning regulations. Which was the primary lesson I took from Jane Jacobs' masterwork, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, whereas the "New Urbanist" movement seems to have decided to ignore the process and create regulations to achieve a result that looks the same. But that's a rant for another day.

*Actually, I'm guessing it's because he's got a book, The Triumph of the City, coming out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Things I Didn't Realize Existed: A Tory Anarchist

Over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, whose bloggers seem to be all be libertarians of some sort or another, E.D. Kain has a fascinating interview with Daniel McCarthy, who has a blog at The American Conservative magazine's webpage called Tory Anarchist. He tries to explain what this label means in terms of what it's not:
“It’s very contradictory, but they’re two dispositions that aren’t liberalism…

Tory anarchism isn’t really an idea at all, just a intuition, but it’s meant to hint that tradition and authority are different from state power, and being right-wing doesn’t have to mean — and shouldn’t mean — being pious and meddlesome. It’s liberalism that’s damn near synonymous with the worst kind of piety and meddling.
Now, certainly, this is not exactly a philosophy that particularly appeals to me, but the whole discussion is very interesting. There's a bit of discussion of Edmund Burke, often described as the father of conservatism. I've been meaning to get around to reading up on Burke's ideas. I've got a late nineteenth century copy of Letter to a Noble Lord lying around here somewhere. In the interview, Kain and McCarthy mostly discuss Vindication, though, which I am thoroughly unfamiliar with.

They gloss over a number of different political philosophers in the discussion, which does get a good bit beyond my understanding of such things. I can't really even figure out whether they're praising or criticizing Murray Rothbard, who I understand to be an anarcho-capitalist. So I can't quite make out what differences there might be between anarcho-capitalism (which I was into for a bit many years ago) and Tory anarchism.

I'll give Daniel McCarthy the last word here. As much as I doubt Tory anarchism is a great idea, I do like to see ideas presented this honestly and intelligently.
“[T]he way to bring about economic decentralization is through political decentralization; otherwise you’re just going to have some D.C. or Wall Street mastermind’s grand plan for what economic pluralism should look like. Politics and economics are tangential categories, and each can have a destructive influence on the other. I suppose what I would argue for as a big picture is to reduce the influence of concentrated economic and political power and thereby increase the relative sway of cultural, non-utilitarian, and non-coercive institutions. Ultimately, I’m enough of a free marketeer that I think much freer markets are compatible with a much richer culture, but even apart from the way I’d like things to work out, simply getting some variety back into America’s political economy — or political economies — would be a great thing.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Resolutions, They Seem To Be The Same Every Year

It seems like it's always the same list. This is the year I'll get a better job. Or at least take some sort of vacation. How hard could it be to get my beautiful Serotta back in rideable condition given a twelve month timeframe? Etc.

Well, actually posting stuff on this here blog thing I've got is one of them. Activity seems to peak in early January, then I get distracted with other stuff. What can I say, I'm lazy. Anyways, I figure I can use the space to resurrect something along the lines of the "Link of the Day" thing I had going on Facebook. And to show off pictures I take.

Taking pictures more is another perpetual New Year's resolution of mine.