Plumb Lines

October 22, 2009

The Flip Side of Congestion Pricing

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 9:47 am

This is a good idea:

A new computerized, scannable fare card would allow New York City Transit to charge passengers different prices depending on the time of day

Charging passengers more to ride the subway when it’s crowded and less when it’s not makes sense, just like it makes sense to charge drivers to use crowded roads. In both cases there are some transaction costs that have to be accounted for, of course — establishing a tolling system for roads and creating a variable-fare system that isn’t too complex for transit — but in both cases, price should be regulating peak demand, not the opportunity cost of time lost in traffic or the unpleasantness of jamming yourself into a thicket of strangers.

Sadly, it looks as though the MTA has ruled out charging more for peak rides, which would help relieve the overcrowding at rush hour. Even so, charging less at off-peak hours will be a net gain for the system’s riders. But why not go all the way and make the subway free when it’s not being heavily used?

Update: Charles Komanoff at Streetsblog does some great analysis of one possible variable-fare structure.

David Schaengold


October 21, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 9:15 am

It’s great to see one of my all-time favorite redevelopment projects discussed online.  I like Nouvel’s contribution (Gasometer A) the best, predictably.

David Schaengold

October 19, 2009

Fuzzy Moral Absolutism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 1:56 pm

David, you say that:

“no one has taken what seems to me the correct position: loss of innovation be damned, we have a positive obligation to provide some level of basic health care to everyone in our society, since we can afford to do so.”

Isn’t almost the exact opposite the case? Nearly everyone, left or right, would agree with that rather elastic statement, and I daresay everyone at both First Things and Commonweal would. Does the principle simply require that we provide emergency-room care and a few other basic services? Or do we need cradle-to-grave provision for every medical need and more than a few medical whims?

There are good rhetorical and political reasons to not talk about the sacrifices required under any settlement. It’s fine if some people do, it may even be helpful, but it makes little sense  to attack people for not setting flame to their own political causes.

I don’t know where the correct course on healthcare lies, but almost everyone already has a claim on the principle you just put up for adoption.

-Matthew Schmitz

Where are the Fussy Moral Absolutists in the Health Care Debate?

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 1:07 pm

The Plumbliners have mostly refrained from adding yet more amateur opinions to the health-care debate. I hope our readers have noted and appreciated this display of intellectual virtue. A strange feature of the debate I do feel qualified to comment upon has been the relative absence of moral philosophizing in the discussion. Leftists seem to be suggesting that we can have our cake and eat it: universal coverage at reduced individual and national expense, with minimal loss of innovation. Conservatives have a different analysis, suggesting that federal obligations will balloon and innovation will collapse. Which side has it right is not at all apparent to me. I’m surprised, however, that no one has taken what seems to me the correct position: loss of innovation be damned, we have a positive obligation to provide some level of basic health care to everyone in our society, since we can afford to do so. Even if this means that we use the same treatments in 2050 as today, accepting the obviously huge opportunity cost to general welfare. Clearly the utilitarians would tear their hair out about how immoral it would be to privilege the poor we have with us now over against the citizens of 2050, but that no utilitarians have yet torn their hair out in the debate is a symptom of how degraded our political discourse has become.

It’s not surprising that this position hasn’t been articulated, though it’s disappointing, since something like it is very close to obligatory for Catholics. Suggesting that the right thing to do might also be costly is anathema in American politics these days, the Left gains nothing by allowing for the possibility that health care reform might be a disaster for general welfare, and the Right effectively does not recognize collective moral responsibility for the poor. Still, it might  be a nice thing to hear from First Things or Commonweal, instead of arguments about exactly to what extent one may ignore what is written in social encyclicals.

David Schaengold

Tear Down This Blog!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 10:57 am

Stefan McDaniel lodges some serious objections to sites like this one:

Reading Postman for the first time last month gave me clearer language to explain my rage against the rise of blogging. For what he says about media can be said about literary forms—they are biased toward certain kinds of content. The blogpost is biased toward speed, brevity, and cleverness. It thus hands the public square over to bullies, sophists, and clowns.

Blogging has broadened the public discussion, but being more “democratic” does not somehow make it a neutral or indifferent forum. The medium, unsurprisingly, has its biases, and certain people are better suited to blogospherics than others. While vicious habits of mind are often the best recipe for drawing traffic, good blogging — blogging that is likely to gain the approval of “young fogeys” like McDaniel — requires intellectual virtue. Daniel Larison‘s long, thoughtful posts are a good example of using the form to cultivate good mental habits. This model — call it anti-blogging — deserves more imitators.

Update: I should also say what our readers hopefully already know: the League has some of the best “anti-blogging” around.

-Matthew Schmitz

October 17, 2009

Werner Herzog’s Film School

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 3:54 pm

A few of the subjects covered:

7. …How is space created and understood by an audience? How do you produce and edit a film? How do you create illumination and an ecstasy of truth?

8. Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance.

9. Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth.

Sign me up.

(via Kottke)

-Matthew Schmitz

October 16, 2009

Censorship Remixed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 11:58 pm

Carson Holloway suggests that it’s not violent or graphic lyrics, but the rhythms and melody that should cause concern for those worried about the effect of music on morals:

As I argued in the first installment of this article, however, it is time this limited debate reckons with the voices of Plato and Aristotle, who claimed that people generally and the young especially are influenced most powerfully not by the words of a song but by the music itself—the rhythm, harmony and tune.

So that means it’s okay to listen to feel-good, if not exactly PG-rated, hits like this one?

-Matthew Schmitz

October 15, 2009

Cheese Stands Alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 3:58 pm

Patrick, I like the bills pictured in your post. They contain no symbols of our national government, no references to our religious traditions, and no winks at Masonic hokum. This intentionally post-everything design would put Robert Langdon out of work.

Most significantly, this tossing off of the older values and their symbols does leave one symbol in place: the dollar sign. Ah, triumph of capitalism. Who needs “In God We Trust” (let alone cyclopic pyramids) when we have the one symbol that really matters?

-Matthew Schmitz

How to Not Die

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 11:36 am

Joe Carter presents some tips on how not to die:

1. Drive the biggest vehicle you can afford to drive.
2. Never get on a 4-wheeler ATV [quad bike].
3. Do not road cycle or jog on public roads/roadsides.

I’ll just point out that while driving a huge car and not walking may well be a good ideas on the individual level, both create all kinds of hazards when widely practiced. This is why we need to do things to make it so that people can take a stroll without putting their lives at risk. This will require collective action, but such action is more likely to be successful if it is done on a local level as close to the people as possible.

-Matthew Schmitz

October 9, 2009

The Fierce Urgency of Doing Absolutely Nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 2:17 pm

The members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee gave their award to President Obama not for what he did, but for what he didn’t do, not because of who he was, but because he wasn’t George Bush. As a conservative, I applaud their decision. If the disastrous missteps of the past eight years taught us anything, it’s that good leadership requires restraint as much as it does readiness. In a busybody world, inaction is often the hardest and most necessary policy.

We often make the mistake of believing the greatest presidents are the ones who did the most, even when their choices were disastrous. Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he also involved the country in a war that it probably didn’t need to fight. How does this make Wilson greater—and especially more peaceful—than, say, Calvin Coolidge?

How many of the major initiatives of the last eight years, like the Iraq War or No Child Left Behind, would gain majority support if we considered them today?

Conservatives who voted for a limited government, one that valued continuity over change, found themselves with an activist president whose forays into Medicare prescription drug benefits and, most disastrously, into Iraq, enlarged the federal bureaucracy and led to a host of unintended consequences. Bush’s creation of new entitlements at home and engagements abroad weakened America’s financial stability and global influence.

The virtue of a truly conservative government is that it is content to do nothing. This kind of leadership might be best modeled in the novel War and Peace. Tolstoy takes for his model of wartime leadership a man named Kutuzov, who was widely criticized in his time for being indolent and neglectful in repelling the Russians. The genius of Kutuzov’s leadership was his realization that the most important thing was to simply kill bad ideas. When the enemy attacked, the main challenge was to not overreact. The brilliant innovation of Obama has been to adopt this approach while distracting the media from his real strategy with a flurry of ballyhooed addresses.

Obama has practiced strategic inaction for years. While a professor at the University of Chicago, he never published a single piece of scholarship, but still was offered tenure. In the Illinois State Legislature and the United States Congress he had no significant pieces of legislation. I’m glad for that, because if he had passed something, it would almost certainly have been a bad idea.

For years conservatives have derided the judicial activism of liberal courts and the overreach of liberal leaders. Activity is a virtue of private enterprise, but in public service it is often a vice.

Obama has made a few missteps that no doubt gave the committee pause. The bailouts were wildly unpopular and, in the case of Detroit’s big-three automakers, far from wise. Health-care reform is likely to arrive riddled with concessions to special interests and loaded with hidden costs. These dark spots should not totally obscure his otherwise impressive record of doing nothing. The fact that his few major initiatives are so likely to cause new fiscal nightmares suggests that to be more deserving of the Nobel Prize, Obama should not have done more, but less. Good for the Nobel Committee for recognizing that.

-Matthew Schmitz

October 7, 2009

If No One I Know Thinks This is a Good Idea, Why is it Happening?

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 2:25 pm

The Times reviews the proposed new home of the Barnes Foundation and strikes an appropriately gloomy tone about the move.  It’s hard not to see the change as a victory for the bureaucratic, throughput-oriented, chamber-of-commerce view of the world. The Barnes is one of the only museums in the United States that doesn’t make you feel like looking at art should be as joyless and forensic as a drunken hook-up.

David Schaengold

October 5, 2009

And Behold, It Was Just As I Said

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 11:36 am

I happened to be walking in a pleasant neighborhood near Johns Hopkins on Saturday, and some clever family had planted a pear tree in their front-yard and a peach tree in small patch of earth in the alley behind their house. Both trees were in excellent health, producing enormous quantities of delicious-looking fruit. Vast heaps of it, however, lay rotting on the ground. The bounty of these two trees was small enough that the rotting fruit did not make the block much less attractive. Had their neighbors imitated them, or had the city haplessly planted whole rows of productive fruit trees, the street would have been unpleasant indeed.

David Schaengold

October 2, 2009

Conservatives Become What They Loathe

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:03 am

It is sometimes noted that no one plays the race card as constantly and insistently as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their white, conservative confreres. They have adopted for their own the political evil they long suspected in their adversaries. Their original suspicion was undoubtedly not without justification. There really were some on the Left who accused all their opponents of racism in transparent bad faith, exploiting the guilty conscience of innumerable well-meaning Americans. There were probably many more who sometimes used the accusation of racism as a way of avoiding the discussion of actual arguments they felt sure were wrong anyway.

Somewhere along the way, conservative commentators decided that they could give as good as they got. The difference is this:  the leftists they accused of deploying the race card too casually actually sometimes believed their own rhetoric; most of them seem to have slipped into the habit unawares; they are guilty mostly of laziness and narrow-mindedness. When Glenn Beck calls Obama a racist, whether he means it is actually irrelevant. He is not lazily disengaging with Obama’s policy arguments, but actively attacking the possibility of engagement. The term is hardly more than a snarl of resentment, an ad hominem of the vilest kind. It is exactly what the proto-Becks have been somewhat hyperbolically accusing the Leftists of for decades.

The obsessive hunt for liberal “bias” is a kind of JV relativism, exactly of the kind long decried on the Right. There is a verbal gesture towards belief in objective truth, but no more than a gesture. Via Mark Shea, a document that, with its terms reversed, must be something like what the Right has always feared goes on in Comp Lit department faculty meetings.

David Schaengold

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