Posts tagged ‘london’

Punitive Bombing

I grew up in the 1970's, a time when a lot of Americans post-Vietnam were questioning the value, even the sanity, of war.  Opinions were certainly split on the subject, but one thing I remember is that the concept of "punitive bombing" was widely mocked and disdained.  Which is why I find it amazing to see bipartisan, multi-country support for exactly this tired old idea as applied to Syria.  Has bombing ever done anything but radicalize the bombed civilian population against the bombers?  The reaction to the London Blitz was not to have the English suddenly decide that they had been wrong in supporting Poland.  Nor did Germans or Japanese generally reprimand their leaders for the past policies as as result of our firebombing Tokyo or Dresden.  Or look at drone strikes in Afghanistan -- do you get the sense anyone there is saying, "Boy, have we ever been taught a lesson."

In the comments, readers are welcome to contribute examples of countries who "learned their lesson" from punitive air strikes and changed their behavior.

PS-  Apparently the reason we "must" have at least air strikes is that we have established a policy that we will "do something" if countries use chemical weapons.  And if we don't have air strikes, the world will think we are weak, right?  But the problem is that this logic never ends.  If the country then ignores our air strikes and behaves as before, or perhaps performs an FU of their own by using chemical weapons openly, then what?  Aren't we obligated to do something more drastic, else the world will think we are weak?

Corporate State and the Olympics

Wow.

The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called anAdvertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world's biggest McDonald's will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.

This brand apartheid is designed to prevent "ambush marketing", the gaining exposure of an brand through unofficial means. One of the best known examples of this was in the World Cup in 2010, where a bevy of 36 Dutch beauties in orange dresses provided by Bavaria beer gained considerable media attention, to the chagrin of the official World Cup beer, Budweiser. At London 2012, branding 'police' will be on hand to ensure that nothing like this happens, with potential criminal prosecutions against those responsible. Organising committee LOCOG will also take steps to ensure that no unofficial business tries to associate itself with the Olympics by using phrases like 'London 2012', even on such innocuous things such as a cafe menu offering an 'Olympic breakfast'....And it's not just London. All the venues for the 2012 Olympics will be on brand lockdown. In Coventry, even the roadsigns will be changed so that there is no reference to the Ricoh Arena, which is hosting matches in the football tournament. Even logos on hand dryers in the toilets are being covered up. The Sports Direct Arena in Newcastle will have to revert back to St. James Park for the duration of the Olympics.

 

Phil Jones Hoping for Warming

I feel the need to reproduce this email in its entirety.  Here is Phil Jones actively hoping the world will warm (an outcome he has publicly stated would be catastrophic).  The tribalism has gotten so intense that it is more important for his alarmist tribe to count coup on the skeptics than to hope for a good outcome for the Earth.

>From: Phil Jones [mailto:p.jones@uea.ac.uk]
>Sent: 05 January 2009 16:18
>To: Johns, Tim; Folland, Chris
>Cc: Smith, Doug; Johns, Tim
>Subject: Re: FW: Temperatures in 2009
>
>
>   Tim, Chris,
>     I hope you're not right about the lack of warming lasting
>   till about 2020. I'd rather hoped to see the earlier Met Office
>   press release with Doug's paper that said something like -
>   half the years to 2014 would exceed the warmest year currently on
> record, 1998!
>     Still a way to go before 2014.
>
>     I seem to be getting an email a week from skeptics saying
>   where's the warming gone. I know the warming is on the decadal
>   scale, but it would be nice to wear their smug grins away.
>
>     Chris - I presume the Met Office
> continually monitor the weather forecasts.
>    Maybe because I'm in my 50s, but the language used in the forecasts seems
>    a bit over the top re the cold. Where I've been for the last 20
> days (in Norfolk)
>    it doesn't seem to have been as cold as the forecasts.
>
>     I've just submitted a paper on the UHI for London - it is 1.6 deg
> C for the LWC.
>   It comes out to 2.6 deg C for night-time minimums. The BBC forecasts has
>   the countryside 5-6 deg C cooler than city centres on recent nights.
> The paper
>   shows the UHI hasn't got any worse since 1901 (based on St James Park
>   and Rothamsted).
>
>   Cheers
>   Phil

Is this better or worse than rooting for a bad economy to get your favorite politicians elected?  Anthony Watt has more in this same tone, showing how climate scientists were working to shift messages and invent new science to protect the warming hypothesis.

The last part about the UHI (urban heat island) study is interesting.  I don't remember this study.  But it is interesting that he accepts a UHI of as high as 1.6C (my son and I found evening UHI in Phoenix around 4-6C, about in line with his London results).    It looks like he is trying to say that UHI should not matter to temperature measurement, since it has not changed in London since 1900  (a bias in temperature measurement that does not change does not affect the temperature anomaly, which is what tends to be important).  But the point is that many other temperature stations in the Hadley CRUT data base are in cities that are now large today but were much smaller than London in 1900 (Tucson is a great example).  In these cases, there is a changing measurement bias that can affect the anomaly, so I am not sure what Jones was trying to get at.

Riding the Tiger

The London riots, following on frequent Greek, French, and other European riots, would be immediately recognizable to even a Roman emperor.  For decades, politicians have ridden a populist wave to office, fueled by promises of more free government stuff to favored constituencies.  The mob serves whoever bids higher for its services, but always its expectations are that the each year's bid will be higher than the last.  But eventually the money runs out, and the bids can't be increased, or even maintained.  And the mob (or the army, or whatever group whose services are required to stay in power) then turns on those who thought they controlled it.  And politicians have no one to blame but themselves, for they were the ones who trained the populace in the first place that their power in a democratic government should be used to extract goodies from the minority.

Dust Storm

We get dust storms from time to time here (though not as often as, say, in Eastern Washington, at least from the short experience I had there).  Last night we had a big one, and as usual every surface is covered in dirt.  While it was going on, it looked like a London fog, but with dirt instead of water.

What made this one different for me is that I got to see it roll in from the south.  It was an amazing sight.  It looked like a scene from Steven King's the Mist, or perhaps from the bottom of a volcano slope watching a pyroclastic flow coming at you.  It reminded me of standing in the streets of Manhattan on 9/11 and watching the cloud of debris coming at us after the first tower fell.  Here is a picture from the AZ Republic of the storm rolling in from the south like a giant tsunami.

Here is a video of it rolling in, which is really cool, if you can ignore the end-is-near typical style of local reporting that has to blow up every odd event into a catastrophe demanding that one tune in at eleven.

Peak Poop Theory

Donna Laframboise discusses 18th century transportation issues, and particularly the horse manure problem:

The Superfreakonomics authors draw heavily on the work of Eric Morris, whose urban planning Masters thesis explored the reality of horse-based transportation in 19th-century cities. A user-friendly encapsulation of his research appears in an 8-page article here. (It was published in Access, a U of California transportation publication. The entire issue is available here.)

Morris points out that, by the late 1800s, large urban centers were “drowning in horse manure.” Not only were there no solutions in sight, people were making dire predictions:

In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows.

The automobile helped solve this growing ecological problem.  Back in 2006, I had considered the same thing with a hypothetical blog post from 1870 which is pretty close to the Times of London article quoted above (which I had never seen):

As the US Population reaches toward the astronomical total of 40 million persons, we are reaching the limits of the number of people this earth can support.    If one were to extrapolate current population growth rates, this country in a hundred years could have over 250 million people in it!  Now of course, that figure is impossible – the farmland of this country couldn’t possibly support even half this number.  But it is interesting to consider the environmental consequences.

Take the issue of transportation.  Currently there are over 11 million horses in this country, the feeding and care of which constitute a significant part of our economy.  A population of 250 million would imply the need for nearly 70 million horses in this country, and this is even before one considers the fact that "horse intensity", or the average number of horses per family, has been increasing steadily over the last several decades.  It is not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that so many people might need 100 million horses to fulfill all their transportation needs.  There is just no way this admittedly bountiful nation could support 100 million horses.  The disposal of their manure alone would create an environmental problem of unprecedented magnitude.

Or, take the case of illuminant.  As the population grows, the demand for illuminant should grow at least as quickly.  However, whale catches and therefore whale oil supply has leveled off of late, such that many are talking about the "peak whale" phenomena, which refers to the theory that whale oil production may have already passed its peak.  250 million people would use up the entire supply of the world’s whales four or five times over, leaving none for poorer nations of the world

To the last point, my article on how John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil saved the whales is here.

Fiat Garbage

Radley Balko has a fascinating discussion about a switch in government policy in Fountain Hills, AZ  (a suburb of Phoenix and a town I visit for various reasons all the time).  Apparently, residents of the town got to actually select from competing trash vendors (lucky folks!) until recently when the town selected and enforced a monopoly trash provider.  Balko has a fascinating discussion of why progressives seem to universally support this decision and oppose the previous choice-based approach.

It may be odd at first to see a self-styled progressive mocking someone for criticizing a corporation for exercising too much power.  John Cole writes sarcastically:

My GAWD. I feel so violated. I'm going through my bills before the Steelers game and I just realized that Allied Waste is contracted to pick up my trash, so my personal liberties have been impinged by the creeping totalitarianism of nanny-statism. To show solidarity with the oppressed Fountain Hills trash protesters, I am going to dress up in my "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt, stand at the edge of my driveway at dawn during trash pick-up on Thursday, and throw pocket constitutions at the sanitation workers. We shall overcome, patriots!

This from a progressive bunch who runs to the government for legislation when their Big Mac has one too few pickles on it.  If you can understand why progressives attack any corporation that they voluntarily do business with for having too much power, but defend any corporation backed by government authority, you will start to figure out exactly what progressives are really after.  Just remember that progressives have a deep distrust of individual choice related to any activities that don't touch on sex.  And they are much more comfortable with lines of accountability that run through government officials (elected or not) rather than accountability enforced by competition and individual choice  (more on progressives here).

I will just add this to the story -- Fountain Hills is a suburb to which the verbs tony, wealthy, and exclusive could all apply.  Given its position in the foothills around Phoenix, it is perhaps one of the most attractive suburbs in the metropolitan area.  It is the last place one would point to as having some sort of problem with unkept houses and rotting garbage.  This is entirely a power play by the city -- it has nothing to do with the quality of the area.

Brad Warbiany has even more on the story here.

Mostly unrelated facts about Fountain Hills

  1. Fountain Hills was a development of the McCulloch family (of chain saw fame) as was parts of Lake Havasu City.  Both developments had a centerpiece attraction.  Fountain Hills has a spectacular fountain (one of the five highest in the world) while Lake Havasu City has the transplanted London Bridge.  As to the latter, the story goes that McCulloch thought he was buying the much more dramatic Tower Bridge, which American tourists often confuse with London Bridge.  As a further aside, I met the guy once who did the gunnite on the bottom of the transplanted London Bridge.  He was a pool guy and applying it over his head rather than under his feet was fairly new to him.  He said he never allowed his little kids to sing "London Bridge is Falling Down" in his presence, it made him too nervous.
  2. Our egregious Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives in Fountain Hills.  On a recent crime sweep of his home town, which he claimed had nothing to do with immigration, he arrested (or at least detained) almost all people of Mexican decent, in fact more Mexicans than I thought one could find in Fountain Hills, even on a bet.

Copenhagen as Income Redistribution

I am slammed here at work, but I will give you a couple of nice articles on this topic.  First from IBD:

The United Nations' Copenhagen Climate Conference is going fast into meltdown. It may be because it's not about climate anymore, but fitting a noose on the world's productive economies and extracting wealth transfers.

Poor countries have gone from defending their right to economic development as a reason for exemptions to emissions cuts to claiming a "legitimate" right to vast wealth transfers from the West to prevent emissions. They call it "climate justice."

Monday, the Group of 77, led by African states, shut down the conference for the second time, saying they would pick up their marbles and go home if the West didn't agree to their formula for emissions cutbacks and send them more than the $10 billion promised by the West....

Having manipulated the foreign aid racket for decades, the African officials knew just what buttons to push with Western Europeans. Not surprisingly, they won concessions. No doubt they'll do it again to get more, and the Danes and other one-worlders will give them what they want.

The second is from Charles Krauthammer

The idea of essentially taxing hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques....

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

Update:

Leaders of fifty African nations came to Copenhagen asking $400 billion for the next three years to "offset" carbon credit "damages" which they claim to suffer. Inexplicably, two days ago, that demand was increased to an eye-goggling 5% of GDP (gross domestic product), estimated at $722 billion from the United States alone. There never was a response from the industrialized world.

The London Guardian reports today that the disgruntled Africans may boycott the rest of the climate summit. The conference's own web page quotes the Ethiopian prime minister as saying he will "scuttle" talks unless there is discussion of "real money" and "not an illusion."

What Global Warming Alarmism is All About

From a press release from the Environmental News Network that landed in my inbox:

It's Time to Re-think Economic Growth for Advanced Nations

LONDON - In Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, published by Earthscan this week, Professor Tim Jackson raises fundamental questions about the economics needed to tackle climate change. Jackson argues that, faced with the limits imposed by carbon sinks and the scale of "˜de-carbonization' of the world's economy required to stay within them, continued economic growth in the already affluent world does not offer the solution; it represents the problem....

there is a strong case for the developed nations to make room for growth in poorer countries. It is in these poorer countries that growth really does make a difference. In richer countries the returns on further growth appear much more limited; for example subjective well-being diminishes rapidly at higher income levels."

Assuming that such thinking is not just a crass excuse for totalitarian control, it represents an enormous failure of imagination.  The author cannot imagine what benefits increased wealth would provide, so he assumes those benefits to be zero.  There is absolutely no reason that this same exact thinking could not have been applied in 1300 or 1750 or 1900.    Fortunately it was not.

Wonder where the communists went when their philosophy was shown to be bankrupt?  Wonder where the anti-globalization folks went after they looted in Seattle.  Look no further than the global warming movement.  The author suggests, among other things:

  • support for "˜ecological' enterprise "“ resource efficient, community-based activities that offer meaningful employment and deliver low-carbon goods and services
  • clear restraints on unbridled consumerism
  • the protection of public spaces and a renewed vision of social goods
  • investment in the capabilities for people have to participate in society in less materialistic ways

Just say no to ecological Marxism.

What An Astounding Waste

Via Cato:

The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.

But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."

More Kelo coverage here.

That'll Teach 'Em

More evidence the British police forces seem to be losing their minds at least as fast as American police:

To teach motorists who leave their cars unlocked a lesson, police in Richmond upon Thames, a borough of London, have begun taking their stuff. The victims beneficiaries of these thefts educational efforts return to their cars and find that expensive items such as cameras, laptops, and leather jackets have been replaced by notes instructing them to retrieve their valuables at the police station. Not to worry, though: "If items are needed urgently," the London Times reports, "police will return the goods immediately." Which suggests that if you can't show an urgent need for, say, your computer, they'll take their own sweet time. The justification offered by Superintendent Jim Davis: "People would be far more upset if their property really was stolen."

Woe be to people who actually trust that the police are doing their job reducing crime and fail to secure all of their belongings from petty theft.   One hopes that the police of Richmond on Thames never start to percieve a problem with rapes in their fair city.

Putting the "Mass" in Mass Transit

Every traveller to London loves the tube.  There is no better way to get around this great city than with a multi-day Underground pass.

But as a tourist, I have always tended to ride the underground during the day, or late at night after a show.  For the first time, for a couple of days in a row, I have had to brave the tube and Victoria Station at around 6PM.

As a result of this experience, I have a message for "smart growth" urban density-seeking urban planners: please don't do this to me.  Never have I been so uncomfortable, so claustraphobic, and so ready to go Postal than I was in those tremendous moving crowds.  It is a system designed to move a maximum amount of people efficiently, but it does so by forcing human beings to conform to the requirements of the system, rather than the other way around.

Unfortunately, it is exactly this dehumanizing vision that so enraptures modern planners.   It is their mindset that people must adjust to their plans, not the other way around.   It is ironic that most of these people, who would claim to be children of the sixties devoted to individualism, are in fact the architects of the ultimate Tayloristic forced conformity.   I understand that such transit solutions may be necessary in a city as high of a population density as London, but please don't force that kind of density on the rest of us.   If you enjoy it, power to you, you are welcome to live in such an environment.  But leave the rest of us alone who want a car and 2.2 acres.

In particular, the whole notion of "congestion" really struck me.  City planners always talk about fighting congestion, but they always mean traffic on roads (though ironically much of what they do actually increases congestion on roads).  But what about pure human to human congestion?  I would far rather be stuck on a freeway in my air conditioned car listening to the radio than packed in a moving mass of humanity in Victoria Station, packed into a platform waiting for a train, and then packed for half an hour standing in a train straining not to topple over on the person next to me.

Greetings From London

Despite the fact that there is plenty to blog about right now (I think I have 551 unread articles in my feed reader) I will have to ignore much of it as I spend this week in London.  My son is going to summer school at Cambridge and he and I are spending this week together in London.

img00016-20090630-1753

As is typical of flights to London, we arrived at about 8AM.  I tried to share with my son the virtues of my long experience travelling (telling him to gut it out and not sleep on arrival day) but you know how teenagers are about listening to parental wisdom.  So while he napped, I wandered around some areas of Westminster I had never seen before, including Westminster Cathedral:

img00010-20090630-1725

I found this to be an odd church.  Byzantine on the outside, the inside is much more reflective of its Victorian heritage, with monolithic brick vaults.  It could have been quite beautiful inside, but the upper reaches of the church, including its domes, are entirely unfinished brick - not even a plaster coating.  The sign said that it was left unfinished for future generations to add murals, but given that about 5 generations have passed since its construction, it is probably time for a bit of decoration.  Right now the ceiling looks like the interior of a coke oven.  I did, however, walk into a mass in progress (which is why I have no interior pictures) and the organ and choir were magnificent.

Kelo Update

The AntiPlanner has an update on the New London, CT development that spawned the notorious Kelo case.  In short, they tore Ms. Kelo's house down against her will, and then the whole development deal fell through.  The city now has a nice vacant lot.

The homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors have all been torn down or removed. But, except for the remodeling of one government building into another government building, virtually no new development had taken place in the Fort Trumbull district by May, 2008.

Having spent at least $78 million on the Fort Trumbull project, the city had awarded development rights to a company named Corcoran Jennison, which planned to build a hotel, an office complex, and more than 100 upscale housing units. The developer had until November, 2007, to obtain financing.

When that deadline lapsed, it received an extension to May 29, 2008. In desperation, the developer sought an FHA loan of $11.5 million. When that didn't work and May 29 came and went, New London revoked the agreement.

Wow

What are the London Olympic organizers thinking right now?  In the immortal words of Bill Paxton,"That's it man, game over man, game over." 

I was amazed by the opening ceremonies last night.  I am not sure how that will ever be topped, particularly since most democracies cannot reasonably pour several billion dollars into a single three or four hour show.  I guess one could make some Triumph of the Will allusions, but it was really the most amazing meld of technology and showmanship I have ever seen.

Update from Hollywood

Unfortunately, despite several appeals, I have not taken any photos around the hotel.  One reader asked if I have seen anyone famous.  The answer is, I don't know.  Let me explain.

Some years ago (maybe 8-10) my wife and I were driving through Malibu on vacation, when we stopped at a little coffee shop for breakfast.  After we were done eating, my wife went to the bathroom while I sat outside on a bench to wait for her.  Sitting there was another husband who was clearly also waiting for his wife to come out.  We chatted for about 5 minutes, with this British gent telling me he had just gotten back from London on business.

Well, my wife came out and I met her at the car.  The first thing she said to me was "Oh my god, you were talking to Pierce Brosnan."  I said "??"  Sure enough, on reflection, it did seem to be he, particularly since my wife also recognized his wife from People magazine.  In my defense, one does not expect to encounter James Bond in a psuedo-Denny's wearing sweats and a week-old beard.  But since then, I have not really trusted by celebrity-identification skills.

Problems With London Congestion Charge

The idea of a congestion charge is a good one.  London, however, is struggling with the implementation.  Apparently, while the number of cars in the congestion zone has gone down, the rush hour congestion has gone up.  Why?  Because the congestion charge does not change by time of day, it is more than high enough to drive out off-hour users, but is not high enough to change the behavior of rush hour drivers.  Basically, they have made the center of London quieter at night.

This is actually not surprising. Economic theory would say that the
demand for travel at rush hour is more inelastic (i.e., less
susceptible to fees) than travel at other times of the day. (If it were
not inelastic, people would be willing to drive in such congestion.) If
fees don't change during the course of the day, they will have the
greatest effect during the hours that are more elastic. A properly
designed fee should temper peak-period demand; a fixed fee instead
tempers off-peak demand.

And, as I can attest from my last visit to London, where I was actually dumb enough to drive a car into town, the way they have implemented the system is not very amenable to time of day pricing. 

Aerogels look cool

Q&O links a cool article from the London Times on aerogels, apparently the least dense substance manufactured by man.  They are apparently great insulators and can be apparently be tweaked to be selectively permeable or absorbent of various substances, making them useful for filtering applications.  And they are being used in tennis rackets  (I have a theory that tennis and golf equipment manufacturers are to new materials what pornography is to new digital distribution mechanisms -- they seem to always be early adopters). 

Postscript: Of course we get this same article about material X every five years ago in the press, so it is OK to be skeptical.  But the picture is still wicked cool.

Health Care -- The Trojan Horse for Fascism

Every time I write that government funded health care and health nannyism are becoming a Trojan horse for fascism, I get several emails telling me I am being a paranoid flake.  So I will have to just keep posting this kind of thing (from England), via Overlawyered:

SOCIAL workers are placing obese children on the child protection
register alongside victims thought to be at risk of sexual or physical
abuse.

In extreme cases children have been placed in foster care because
their parents have contributed to the health problems of their
offspring by failing to respond to medical advice.

The
intervention of social services in what was previously regarded as a
private matter is likely to raise concerns about the emergence of the
"fat police".

Some doctors even advocate taking legal action against parents for
illtreating their children by feeding them so much that they develop
health problems.

Dr Russell Viner, a consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street
and University College London hospitals, said: "In my practice, I can
think of about 10 or 15 cases in which child protection action has been
taken because of obesity. We now constantly get letters from social
workers about child protection due to childhood obesity."

More on My Light Rail Bet

Thanks to Tom Kirkendall for the link to my light rail post.  For quite a while, he has been "railing" against Houston's light rail proposals (where I was born and raised).  By the way, he is right that Phoenix is even less amenable to a rail-based system than Houston.  Houston has low population density and its downtown area is small compared to metro-friendly cities like New York, making rail an iffy proposition.  But Phoenix is even less dense and its downtown is tiny compared even to Houston.

A previous post of Tom's also gives me data to feel even more confident about my proposed bet, which was this:

If we take the entire cost of the system's construction, plus its
annual operating losses/subsides, I will bet that we could have bought
every regular rider of the rail system a nice car instead and gas for
life cheaper than the cost of the rail system.

Obviously we don't have Phoenix numbers yet, but he links an LA Times story with Los Angeles numbers:

Three light-rail lines have been added to L.A. county's transit system
in the last 20 years. Together, these cost $2.5 billion in capital
costs, they serve about 125,000 passengers per day and account for a
fiscal loss of approximately $252 million per year -- if one
acknowledges that capital costs are real, something that transit
operators and boosters often neglect.

Note that LA's system is actually a more desirable system from a rider standpoint than the one in Phoenix, since in some areas the trains avoid traffic lights, making them closer to heavy rail, and thus have a faster speed.  So lets run my bet against LA's numbers.  We don't really know what the core ridership numbers are.  Certainly its less than the 125,000.  And we don't know if an out in the morning and back at night commute counts in these numbers as one passenger or two (From here, it looks like 125,000 passengers making 2 trips each).

If the core ridership number is 125,000, the highest possible choice, then the total capital cost of the system per rider is $20,000 per rider.  This means I was right, that we could have instead bought ever rider a car for the same money.  Since the real ridership is probably less than that number, this means we could have bought ever rider a car and had money left over.  Concerned about the environment?  Then make every car a Prius, which the money would just about cover even without the volume purchasing discount they would likely get.

But what about gas?  Well, they say they have a $252 million per year operating loss.  This subsidy, which is above and beyond ticket sales, equates to $2,106 (!) per daily rider, even using the higher 125,000 figure.  At $2.50 per gallon, this equates to 15.5 gallons of gas per rider per week. 

So you can see with the LA numbers, even using the largest possible interpretation of their ridership numbers, the money used for the train could have instead bought every passenger a new car and filled the tank up with gas once a week for life.

Yes, I know, the argument is that the train reduces congestion.  Supposedly.  I have two responses:

  • Rail has never reduced congestion in any city.  Go see London and Manhattan.  In fact, rail seems to encourage urban density that increases congestion. 
  • In Phoenix, where rail will often replace existing lanes of roads, the train will likely carry fewer people than the lanes of traffic used to, so congestion will increase.

I Don't Get Light Rail

Phoenix is in the process of tearing up half the city to put in its first light rail line.  There seems to be a hard core of people out there who get a huge hard-on for light rail, and I just don't get it.  Some random observations:

  • We are building light rail that is essentially a "trolley."  This means it runs at street levels, often down the median strips of roads, and has to stop at stoplights just like cars and buses.  My question is, in this configuration, how is light rail any different than a bus?  Except for the fact, of course, that it is far more expensive and far less operationally flexible. 
  • The system is not up and running yet, so I have not seen ridership numbers, but I will make a bet:  If we take the entire cost of the system's construction, plus its annual operating losses/subsides, I will bet that we could have bought every regular rider of the rail system a nice car instead and gas for life cheaper than the cost of the rail system.
  • It looks to me like the rail system will actually increase congestion.  For most of its route, it is removing lanes from busy roads, and by running down the middle it will make left turns more difficult and complex. 
  • Supporters of these systems point to NY or London as examples of what we can achieve.  Bullshit.  No city that has embarked on this light rail stuff has had the success or the political will or the money to build out a network with the critical mass that these larger cities have.  Most end up with orphaned routes (see LA, for example) that don't tie into anything. 
  • Phoenix is the last city on the planet that a rail based system should work for.  I don't have the book in front of me, I will have to get it from home, but I remember a book on urban development that showed Phoenix had the flattest population density distribution of any city studied.  What this means is that we don't have a city center and suburbs - it means that we are basically all one big suburb.  So there are no single routes (for example in Chicago from the northern suburbs into downtown) that have any critical mass of traffic.  People are driving from everywhere to everywhere.  In fact, my suspicion has been that there are a group of politicians and business people who want to try to create a downtown area, and are using massive public funds in the form of light rail lines converging on the city center to try to jump-start such development.
  • The Commons Blog has a link-rich post on the failure of the Portland light rail system, supposedly the model all light-rail promoters point to.

Update:  Jackalope Pursuivant has more on Phoenix light rail

World's Largest Banana Republic

Unfortunately, it is behind the WSJ paid firewall and not on their opinion journal site, but Gary Kasparov has a very interesting editorial that confirms my fears about Russia:

Russia may not have much industry or democracy left, but we do have
massive amounts of oil and gas plus other natural resources. When
combined with our nuclear weapons, these resources are sufficient to
buy entry into the G-8 despite Mr. Putin's transformation of Russia
back into a one-party dictatorship. This newfound international sway is
also having serious repercussions inside my country. Many here would
like to believe that Mr. Putin is ushering in a return to our Soviet
superpower glory

He tells some pretty amazing tales of self-dealing by government officials on a massive scale. 

In perhaps the best example, the giant energy company Yukos was
dismembered and its chairman jailed. Next, Yukos assets were put up for
auction and the crown jewel, oil unit Yuganskneftegaz, was purchased at
a bargain price by the state-owned company Rosneft, which received
billions in mysterious loans. On July 14, Rosneft had an IPO in London
to sell these stolen assets and, of course, the money didn't go into
the treasury. This isn't nationalization, it's simple robbery. In
Russia the expenses are nationalized and the revenues are privatized.

That last line is a great one.  I for one have scratched my head at why Bush as consistently given Putin a pass.  My only guess is that he has prioritized his war with Muslim fundamentalism so high that he needs Putin as a potential ally in the area, though Kasparov presents evidence that Putin is likely exactly the opposite.  He concludes:

The West is making a terrible mistake by mixing realpolitik with a
battle of values. Drawing and defending moral lines is the first and
most essential step in combating extremism and there is no room for
double standards. If the West is keeping track of its friends, it's
time to take Mr. Putin off the list.

Photography Bleg

I am only a novice photographer, but am trying to get better results than I used to with just a compact digital camera.  I am using a Nikon D50, in this case with a 18-55 zoom lens and a UV filter.  I am shooting at maximum res. and quality because I have a big memory card so what the heck.

This is the kind of shot that is frustrating the heck out of me.  This was taken in the afternoon down the beach from the Torry Pines glider port.  The problem is that the subject on this day looked gorgeous through the viewfinder, but the pictures are coming out looking much hazier than I remember it being.  Is this a filter issue, a settings issue?  Or is it just normal under certain light conditions?  And is there anything in post-processing (e.g. photoshop) that I can do to get rid of some of the haziness?  On the latter note, I played around with contrast and color saturation but couldn't get anything that looked natural.  [click on thumbnail below to see larger version]

Torrypines

Update:  I played around with this link in the comments, and got this, which is OK but I introduced some noise, but with some practice I got better.

Test_beach

After practicing, I tried it with my photos out the window of the London Eye and saw a great improvement, with before and after below:

BeforeAfter

Nothing substitutes, of course, for taking the right picture with the right initial settings at the right time of day, something I need a lot of practice on.

On the upside, I took some closeups of flowers that just looked gorgeous:

Flower

London Recommendations

I love London and spent weeks there as a teenager enjoying all the museums.  I took my kids there for the first time (they are 9 and 12) and after a week of touring around, here are some impressions:

Worth It
London Eye - Awesome!  Stunning views from what is essentially a 400 foot Ferris wheel with enclosed cars.  Make sure to make a reservation in advance to save time
Science Museum - Great interactive area for kids in the basement.  Fabulous exhibits - I liked Babbage's difference engine in particular.  And its free
Somerset House - The best museum you never heard of -- fabulous collection of Impressionist paintings that I thought was better than the national gallery, and, in another area, a wonderful collection of the most amazing stone mosaic work you will ever see
Theater - my kids love Broadway shows.  We saw the musicals Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia and the play Mousetrap and all three were great, though expensive.  There is a TKTS office in Leicester Square that sells same day discounted tickets.
Imperial War Museum - Tanks and Missiles, what more could you want?  The collection is huge, and most kids will tire of the uniforms and such, but its free and worth a quick visit.
St. Pauls:  Just spectacular.  The downside is that the admission is expensive, but I found it worth it just to stand under the dome in awe.
Cabinet war rooms: The underground chamber used as a senior command post in WWII, it sits (with papers, maps and all) just as it was in the final days of WWII.
Tower of London: Great, even before you see the jewels.  However, take the beefeater tour.  It is free and you will miss 90% of the experience without it.
Harrods:  My kids loved seeing this unique store, particularly the food courts
Hamlys:  6 floors of toys.  Say no more.
Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court. Day trips to the latter two are recommended, particularly to Windsor Castle.  Buckingham Palace is only open for tours a few months of the year, so we missed it, but I toured it a few years ago when they opened it after the Windsor Castle fire and it is beyond amazing.

Maybe / Maybe Not
British Museum - I love it.  This may be the greatest museum of archaeological finds in the world.  However kids, after some initial enthusiasm for the mummies, tire quickly.  Its just so big
Museum of London.  Again, I loved it.  My wife and kids were bored.  If you are the type that likes to read all the little cards in museums, this one is a great history lesson.  If you like to breeze through and look at the cool stuff, there is not as much here for you.
Westminster Abby - If you go, take the tour.  Its expensive, but it is not as architecturally interesting as St. Paul's.  The interesting stuff is in the history of the tombs and who is buried there, and there are very few signs explaining what you are seeing, so you will miss most of it without a tour.
Tate Modern - We did not go to this relatively new museum but friends of ours took their young kids and said it was great
Double Decker Bus Tour:  There are two major companies that operate these, and you get a day pass so that you can get on and off the bus all day.  The tour was pretty good, but we found by the end of the week it mostly covered ground we retraced later in the week on our own.
Royal Mews: The Queen's  stables and  carriages.  This was OK, but not great.

Not worth it
Madame Tussuad's:  Expensive, ridiculously crowded, and pretty short (we took our time and were done in about 30 minutes).  If you go, make a reservation in advance or you will be stuck in a very very long admission line.  My kids thought is was OK, if only to have a picture of themselves with James Bond and Saddam Hussein
Natural History Museum:  Despite its incredibly rich history, we found this museum disappointing.  The entry is beautiful, and the museum is free, so its worth just checking out briefly.  We, however, found the layout to be awkward and not very interesting.  The post-renovation natural history museum in New York I think is both more entertaining and laid out better to really teach you something about nature and evolution.
National Gallery: I have given this museum several chances, and I find it disappointing every time I go.  It doesn't stand up in my mind to galleries in other cities like Paris, NY or even Chicago.  Its free, but I don't think it will satisfy either art lover or non art lover.  Go to Somerset House instead.
The underground:  Wow, has the tube gotten expensive!  Three pounds per person one way.  This meant for our group, it was less expensive to take a taxi.  We tried to walk as much as possible, took taxis when we could go no further, and took the tube only once or twice.  The tube may work better financially if you buy a weekly pass - we did not look into this.
Hot Weather:  It was in the high 80's and low 90's when we were there.  Note that much of London is not air conditioned and the rest is inadequately air conditioned.  We roasted in the museums and in the theaters.  If it is hot, get used to hot, uncirculated air in crowded places.

We found a pretty good hotel for families called the Ascot-Mayfair.  It has a great location near Hyde Park Corner and has multi-room suites for decent rates (at least for London).  The one bedroom suite has a sofa bed in the living room that will sleep the kids and get them out of the parents room.  We splurged on the 2 bedroom suite, and got it for a rate less than the tiny one room place we had in Paris last summer.

I posted earlier about the strange bias against kids out in the English countryside.  We saw little of this in London.  A few hotels would not let us rent rooms if we had children, but otherwise no problems.  Restaurants were all very accommodating, many with children's menus (which is a big change over a decade ago).  Also, restaurants and shows are quite informal so that we had a lot of nice dinners without taking any really nice clothes.  For restaurants, we particularly liked Ping Pong (Trendy Chinese dim sum), Yauatcha (also trendy chinese dim sum) and Lucio (Italian).

Home Improvement in London

I write in this blog often on my frustrations with regulation, but last night I learned, if I did not know it already, that things could be much worse.  I had dinner with some friends in London who are in the middle of a home improvement and renovation project on their 1830's era townhouse.  Now, I just completed a renovation of my own (1980's era) home in Phoenix, and, while home improvement is always frustrating, I at least had few problems with the city.  Phoenix will let you do about anything you want to your home as long as you respect your setbacks and don't install a nuclear reactor.

My London friends were not so lucky.  Their home is rated a class 2 historic structure, which means it gets a bit less scrutiny than class 1 palaces and stuff, but it still comes in for a lot of regulation.  Their plans had to be approved in detail, and I mean in gory detail, with the local history Nazis.  And this is for a building that really has little historic or aesthetic value (the owners would be the first to admit this) in a neighborhood that was nearly blighted thirty years ago. 

My hosts pointed out the dining room lighting, which was really dim (you could not see your food very well) band told me that the authorities would not let them add lighting fixtures to the room.  No doorways, moldings, or walls could be changed.  The funniest example of this was a doorway cut in a wall 20 years ago.  The government inspector came through the house and said "well, that door is not historic but I like it so you can't change it."  They thought the inspector was joking, but, after a lot of effort to get approval to change the door, found out she was not kidding. 

The staircase to the top floor (originally the servant's quarters) was steep and unsafe for their children, but the inspector insisted it could not be changed because the "logic" of having the servant's quarters accessible by a difficult staircase needed to be maintained.  The homeowners rebuttal that they had no servants and were more concerned with safety than the history of class differences in Britain had no effect.  In several cases where the homeowners argued that the portions of their house they wanted to change was not original to the house (and therefore not covered by restrictions) it was made clear that the burden of proof was on them, the homeowners, and not on the government.

As one other funny sidebar, the basements and below grade areas of these homes apparently don't fall under this scrutiny or are exempted in some way.  As a result, everyone in his neighborhood seems to be tunneling out into their backyards to expand their house.  One homeowner bought three adjacent homes and tunneled out enough area for an indoor underground swimming pool.

Can you imagine if someday the US government decided that those 1970's homes were subject to such historic restrictions?  Suddenly, by government fiat, instead of being stuck forever with insufficient lighting and unsafe staircases, you might get stuck with orange shag carpet and gold-mirrored walls.  If you think this is ridiculous, read this.

Suffice it to say, I am tired of a relatively small group of people imposing their wishes on other people's property, a practice I call eminent domain without compensation.  If you want something specific done to a piece of property, then buy it and have at it.