Book Report 2019

My total book reading for 2019 was 39 books. Highlights include three “classics”:

The Abolition of Man and Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power are always highlights, and I re-read both regularly.

I just completed book 39, and it was another highlight: Charles L. Marohn, Jr., Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. It might even merit re-reading, though its “timeless” wisdom is of a different timelessness than Lewis or Pieper.

Some excerpts from Marohn:

Let me summarize: in exchange for 26 years of tax relief, the community was able to get an out-of-town franchise restaurant to abandon their old building and move three blocks up the street where they tore down a block of buildings and replaced them with a development that is 44% less valuable than the development pattern of what was removed. By any financial measure, this is a bad investment, yet cities everywhere routinely do this exact kind of transaction.

(Page 134)

Middle-class housing subsidies and transportation spending are the bread and circuses of modern America. Americans express a preference for single-family homes on large lots along cul-de-sacs because that’s the lifestyle we subsidize. We’ve been willing to bankrupt our cities and draw down the wealth prior generations built, in order to provide that subsidy. It can’t go on forever.

(Page 145)

Planners like to describe neighborhoods with both homes and neighborhood-friendly businesses as “mixed use.” Our ancestors would simply have called them “neighborhoods.”

(Page 163)

[After noting that local governments not infrequently mistake insolvency for a mere cash flow problem.] A local government must be obsessively intentional, organized and disciplined to discern it true financial status.

I gave a presentation to a group of bond analyst from one of the large ratings agencies. I showed them how public balance sheet didn’t reflect the extent of municipal liability, that cities had under-reported amounts of maintenance obligations totaling many times the reported pension shortfalls. The analysts were stunned, professed this was new to them, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they informed for me that it wouldn’t change anything about how they rated bonds because cities don’t default on their debt – they have not defaulted en masse since the Great Depression – and that track record superseded all other considerations.

(Page 190-91)

At the national level, I tend to be libertarian. Let’s do a few things and do them very competently.

At the state level, I tend to be a Minnesota version of conservative Republican. Let’s devolve power, use market and feedback where it drives good outcomes, and let’s do limited state interventions when we have a broad consensus that things would be better by doing it. Let’s measure outcomes and hold ourselves to a high standard.

At the regional level, I tend to favor a more progressive approach. Let’s cooperate in ways that improve everyone’s lives. Let’s work together to make the world more just.

At the city level, I’m fairly progressive. What do we need to do to make this place work for everyone? Let’s raise our taxes, and put sensible regulations in place, to make that a reality.

At the neighborhood level, I’m pretty much a socialist. If there’s something I have that you need, it’s yours. All that I ask is that you do the same in return for me and my family.

At the family level, I’m completely communal. Without hesitation, I’ll give everything I have so my family has lives that are secure, happy, and prosperous. I expect nothing in return.

(Page 210)

We’re all Detroit, just a couple of decades behind. Then we’re back to living humanly — that is, making small bets, winning or losing small, learning from both wins and losses, and in general building antifragility, like we (other than Detroit) had until the postwar suburban sprawl was thrust upon us.

Next year I hope actually to hit 52 books, my unattained goal for this year. I think the news in 2020 will be so distressing, dominated as it will be by Presidential politics, that ignoring it more, in favor of books that might make me wise, will be relatively easy.

To that end I’ve recently discovered a podcast and an alternate view of the digital New York Times that expedite getting the necessary news, the latter by letting me focus on the real news of the day without digging through NYT’s “most viewed” and otherwise boosted stories day after day after day.

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Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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New York adventures and thoughts

I’m visiting New York City for a few days, mostly to see Heroes of the Fourth Turning, but with other things thrown in for good measure.

I’m glad I allowed four full “ground days” (i.e., non-travel days) because I kept stumbling onto subway trains that took me further south when I needed to go north to get to the Met. Then I got off at 96th and Lexington because the Met is at 1000 5th Avenue, so I’d need to walk West to 5th Avenue, north 4 blocks to the Met.

5 blocks north, at 101st, no sign of the Met. Out come the phone and GPS.

Well, do tell! 1000 5th Avenue is roughly at 82nd Street, not 100th.

I think I’ll adopt a preferential option for busses, as I know north from south on the surface, but I don’t know what I need to do to realize that things like street addresses are not always logical here.

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The Met may be facing an encounter with Cancel Culture. It not only has a Sackler (Purdue Pharma opioids) Gallery of Egyptian art but (oh the horror!) a David H. Koch plaza.
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There is literally nonstop background noise in my hotel just west of 9th Avenue on 42nd Street. I’m 12 floors up but can’t escape it.

I used to think I’d like living here if money were no object. But I’m quickly relenting. It would have to be enough money to let me live above the noise, and that would be kind of artificial, no?

God loves us all. God loves the city(ies). There’s even a St. Raphael of Brooklyn, canonized after I became Orthodox.

And God knows that small(er) towns have their distinctive constellations of temptations. But I think that for the duration, something a bit less urban than Manhattan is my sweet spot.

UPDATE: “Above the noise” might mean “above 59th Street and away from the major avenues.” I walked from 10th Avenue over to Central Park (86th Street, I think) on Saturday morning, and it was acceptably quiet. Nice brownstones, too.

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Friday Politics 9/14/18

1

I’m sure that if Brett Kavanaugh had not “misled the Senate under oath,” he’d have had Patrick Leahy’s vote for confirmation, but gosh durn it, he just had to mislead ’em.

What a bunch of preening jackasses we’ve elected (and thus, by definition, deserve)!

Speaking of which:

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) offered to sacrifice his political career in a move obviously calculated to serve his political career — boldly releasing “confidential” committee documents that had already been released and that did nothing to prove Kavanaugh’s unfitness.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) hinted darkly at the malignant influence of the Federalist Society — though it turned out that every member of the current Supreme Court, and Whitehouse himself, had participated in Federalist Society events.
  • Was Kavanaugh somehow personally responsible for the birth-control views of a plaintiff because the nominee made reference to it? This last charge — summarized by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as a “dog whistle going after birth control” — earned “Four Pinocchios” from The Post’s Fact Checker.

Each political side has chosen to live in a post-truth world. In one case, deceit serves the president’s interests and ego. In the other case, deceit serves progressive ideology. But in both instances, loyalty is proved by lies.

And by viciousness ….

 

2

As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come. This long and well-informed Atlantic article has me rethinking some things.

 

3

[W]here American conservatism began to go wrong[:] The goal is not to stand athwart history and cry “Stop!”, as William F. Buckley put it. It’s to be part of the stream of history and say: slow it down a bit, will you?

Andrew Sullivan. There’s much more there. I even bought a book on his recommendation.

 

4

When cars were first introduced, no one had to buy one if they didn’t want one. Now that we have reordered our entire society around them, outside of a very small number of cities, the use of an automobile is really no longer an option.

Motor vehicles have changed our urban form to the point where very few people live within walking distance of their job, shopping, or other everyday activities. And for those who do, the walk to that place is likely to be unpleasant and unsafe, due to the way that cars have altered the design of our streets and neighborhoods.

We should think long and hard about the fact that, within several decades, we reordered our entire society, our built environment, and our way of life to serve this machine that we were told would serve us.

Jason Segedy

 

5

The Carolinas can take solace during hurricane Florence that FEMA will give them the stellar, “unsung-success” treatment it gave Puerto Rico under the watchful eye of Glorious Leader.

 

6

Whatever you may think about [John] Kerry, he emerges in these pages as a man who’s strong enough not to worry that in telling the truth about himself, he might look weak.

David Ignatius, reviewing Kerry’s memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

No comment, no contrast, no way.

 

7

One company last year reportedly sold “unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water” for $6 a gallon.

Henry I. Miller

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Urban dreams

New Urbanism has had its share of critics. Some … have criticized New Urbanism because many new developments built along its principles occupy higher price points in the real estate market. They tend to be exclusive and unaffordable. The high prices, however, reflect the level of demand for such places. They are indeed attractive. And rare. The solution to that problem is to build more of them, not less.

My interest in walkable city neighborhoods is not merely theoretical. It’s also part of my experience. I have lived in such a neighborhood in Grand Rapids for the past 30 years. It goes by the name of Eastown. It’s an old streetcar suburb that was largely built out in the 1910s, before car ownership was widespread. People, primarily professionals in that day, would take the streetcar downtown to work, return, and walk home. Home may have been a single-family detached house. Or it may have been a duplex or apartment. Eastown contains a variety of residential options. The neighborhood had its own retail section that supplied residents with their daily and weekly needs within a comfortable walking distance.

Much has changed since then. A good number of buildings have been lost to parking lots. Some of the retail has moved out to big box stores on the edge of the city. But the community still has good bone structure, a fine network of connected streets. And many walkable destinations. Within a five-minute walk of my house lies a farmer’s market, a supermarket, three churches, two elementary schools, a civic theater, two coffee shops, a pizza parlor, a donut shop, three restaurants, two bakeries, a brewery, a park, a college, a creek, two used-book stores, a shoe store, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, two beauty salons, a gift shop, a gym, a butcher shop, a delicatessen, a post office, a bike shop, and a bus stop. My wife and I make do with one car, since I can ride my bike or moped to work in fair weather and take the bus in foul.

(Lee Hardy) I’d encourage you to click that link if only to note the two photos of what a human-scaled built environment looks like.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.