September 2009


Best three minutes of the day.

I found it here.

Oh, man. In a stopped-clock-is-right-twice-day sort of way, I give you the Moustache of Understanding:

China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.

In October, Applied will be opening the world’s largest solar research center — in Xian, China. Gotta go where the customers are. So, if you like importing oil from Saudi Arabia, you’re going to love importing solar panels from China.

Maybe when our dimmer bulbs are spouting the bullfrog-obvious, it’s a sign of some sort of back-handed momentum that, while not the same as regular momentum, is also not the same thing your usual kind of hope. Wow. That… doesn’t sound so great either.

We have a non-trivial history of building up potential threats, while downplaying others, in the service of multiple agendas that deem to profit, in one sense or another, in remaining hyped, unseen, or partially obscured from view, as the case may be. The entire specter of the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet menace, for example, leavened with a more sensible appraisal of the threat plus the opportunity costs inherent in our responses to it, might have rendered a less-militaristic national posture while at the same time producing basically the same result. That’s painful, in many ways, but nonetheless a product of what we know now. Kubrick tried to burst it open with ridicule near the beginning; but we laughed even as we were having none of it.

To stay with that example, as it is handy, living with this threat of annihilation did wonders for introducing us to a kind of Somatic malaise that would have been otherwise unimaginable. It didn’t make us leaner, stronger and more resilient. The spirited, forty-year advocacy of capitalism as though it was on the verge of being overtaken did make us fatter, more depressed and more willing not only to poison mind, body and soul but also to defend the need to do so in the name of progress and the power of the market. You see where this is going; we need look no further than to the current public advocacy on behalf of private insurance companies to witness the absurd whirlpool of self-perpetuating conviction that urges action where none is necessary and punishes any intention in the face of great urgency. Kubrick would have had a field day.

But this brings into question: what are actual existential threats? Little seen, hardly heard. Have we so discredited the notion that such things exist so as to permanently disarm the concept of its primary potency? Measures to address climate change slip back over the horizon until we can afford them. What a mindless pity. But if it is one born of a particular kind of savv, a mere advocacy on behalf of interests and as such imminently shiftable and correctable, can’t we just brand ourselves into a transition?

About 1989 or thereabouts, I was in college and kinda-sorta trying to help out some friends with their band in a ‘using my car and our apartment for whatever’ kind of way when they got the chance to open for Jim Carroll when he came to town to give a reading. Friggin’ Jim Carroll. We already loved him. I had read/recited A Day at the Races to my sophomore English class that same year, and was reading Forced Entries in tandem/sprinkled with Bukowski, biographies of Dylan Thomas and Kerouac in a way that made a sort of Beat stew out of almost everything that I was coming into contact with at that time, mostly in a good way.

So, of course we were completely psyched when they got the gig to open for him – a weird honor none of us were in any way accustomed to. Even though my friends had been playing shows for years by then, this seemed different, like they were on their way, stepping up into a league with people that we admired – not that our town wasn’t full similar types. But Carroll was older and cooler in a made-it-through-the-drugs way that I, at least, thought of on a different level than, say, talking to the Butthole Surfers’ guitar player at the T- stand. That kind of thing happened, it was Athens in the direct glare of late-prime REM, after all. But Jim Carroll. Man. Cool. Plus, ____ was just getting started and this seemed, in its way, hopeful about things we were just beginning to hope for.

So the date rolls around and we’re in the club that night early; they do a sound check. The sound man who wasn’t working had gone to airport to fetch Carroll and after a while, they roll in. JC seems cool from a distance and no one is crowding him – not the place or the time, though I’m sure we all wanted to. But one of the friends in the opening band that night happened to be near the back of the club where Carroll was hanging out. He introduced himself as a part of the warm-up act, but before he could leave it at that, JC let him have it.

He took what was extended of the youthful, if not tender, enthusiasm which had been cautiously if at all displayed, bent it into a balloon poodle and handed it back. He excoriated my friend about how completely %^*$ed the music business was then and for all time, how he had never encountered a more depraved, sick, twisted and retarded monstrosity even in his swampiest heroin fevers. He just went off. He said he had a band waiting for him in a recording studio in New York, all paid for a ready to go, and he would never, ever, enter that hellhole of business again. No matter what.

It was a great reading – he even whipped out A Day at the Races, amazingly. But none of the three or four of us who had been within earshot could compare it to his earlier, extemporaneous rant. It had been such a crazy burst of negativity that it could but only have been genuine. Priceless in a way that those kinds of things usually only turn out to be only kinda free. We mostly all stopped repeating it after a while, and it did nothing to deter any of those present from pursuing the desperately impossible monster of which we had been properly warned, and by a qualified elder. Nothing at all. D & E have even had successful music careers, and though the heart of the beast has changed in ways, it’s not because it has gotten softer. Those things JC warned us about probably only grew stronger in the ferocity of their truth. Actually he probably knew they would. Maybe that’s what he was saying.

And now he’s one of those friends. Rest in Peace, Jim Carroll. You tried to warn us.

That title was supposed to go with a long excerpt from a Thomas Mann essay on Goethe, to help you fight the creeping endarkenment, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere on line – an excellent reason to head over to the library. All the best stuff is there, for free, if you ever need any of it.

Instead, here is the beginning of chapter four of my novel, No More Real Fires. As always, interested female vocalists and/or literary agents, inquire within.

Karl Michael von Fohrness had been brought to Manitoba as a young boy of four years and little experience living in the ‘wild’ conditions of the turn-of-the-century Canadian frontier.   His father, Reichmarshall Hans Richter von Fohrness, had been a general in the Prussian Army under Bismarck and later the Kaiser and had emigrated from Germany to the youngish city of Toronto in 1890 with his new wife.  Flush with his borderless pension and young bride, the elder Fohrness indulged his lifelong love of big game hunting in the easily accessible outback of central Canada, and slowly intrigued himself with primitive safaris into more remote reaches of the territories.  Remarkably, in between these excursions he found time to father a son in whom he delighted in the visions and vast possibilities of sharing his fascination with sport and the outdoors.  He continued to venture into the wilds with regular occasion and growing extravagance, until being struck with the frontier beauty of the primitive frontier town of Winnipeg.  On a strict schedule which included the building of one of the new town’s grandest houses, von Fohrness moved his wife and young son out to the town, which by most accounts would have been generously regarded as an outpost.  To be sure, the younger, perhaps more feminine Fohrness wanted nothing at all to do with safaris or the wilds of the Canadian frontier and rather preferred to at least remain in the ‘city’ at the side of his mother.  Not to be denied, Fohrness the elder insisted on bringing his son out into the interior with him for weeks at a time, sure that time and experience would polish the boy in the ways of the Great Woods.

To the extent that the plan worked, the boy eventually did learn to trap and kill a great variety of animals; to the depth that it did not, he learned to hate his father and loathe his thirst for blood contrasted against the lush drama of the landscape.  But it was the landscape and it’s drama that would override even a boy’s hatred of his father, as Fohrness intermingled his forced safaris with art lessons from the leading drawing teachers in the province.  His access to the hinterlands unmatched by any similarly talented painters of the day, he slowly weaned himself from the rifle while continuing on as a member of his father’s hunting parties.  The elder Fohrness’ reluctant acceptance of this bone had to have been peppered by what he had at least partially passed on of himself in the boy.  It was a greater love of the outdoors that would produce Canada’s single greatest landscape painter, one in whom no rivals would exist, though his contemporaries would dismiss his style and subject matter as hopelessly nostalgic and antiquated.

Karl Michael von Fohrness’ success as a painter carried him and his work to the exhibition halls of Toronto and Montreal on a yearly basis, where a nascent flame of national pride would be fanned by the young man’s renderings of the unspoiled Canadian wilderness.  But he continued to return to Winnipeg to live near his mother and sew his wild oats until the autumn he returned from an exhibition in Quebec City with a fiancée.   In the years that followed, the married Karl Michael would become more and more of what his father treasured as an outdoorsman while continuing to accumulate one of the country’s most overlooked fortunes as a landscape portraitist.  Nearing mid-life after believing themselves to be barren after many years of marriage, he and his French-Canadian wife, Marthe, quickly had two children, Martin and Celeste, just before the Depression began to reach the outer reaches of North America.

Karl Michael’s fortunes selling expensive pictures seemed to dry up with the financial crisis, so he moved his family to where he believed rich people were socked away in abundance: Long Island, New York.  The transplants settled in East Hampton for a while, but moved to two or three other temporary locations before buying a modest beach house near Southampton that looked out onto the expansive might of the Atlantic.  Karl Michael believed the ocean had begun to speak to him and, transferring his sense of drama from the deep woods to the deeper sea, began a series of seascapes that would take him on into the last years of his painting life.  The supposed cachet of buyers never materialized and Karl Michael sold hardly any new paintings over the next ten years, though he enjoyed his life in the Hamptons and exhibited his seascapes in a small Massapequa gallery.

Not to say that his success ended with the move or the Great Depression.  It could be true that it would have mattered little what he had painted after those events, because coincidentally or not the reach of the landscape painter was shortened considerably and dramatically by other, terribly unforeseen developments in the art world.  With the onset of serial ‘isms’ creating the subtext for the abstractions to come, the world of painting no longer hinged on, much less swooned over, an artist’s ability to corroborate and transpose the beauty of natural scenes from nature.  These painters, and perhaps many were their number, were unceremoniously relegated to third tier importance as mannerists at best, and dinosaurs at worst.

Yet as was possibly the case for many of the others who happened to be at that improper moment in history reduced by events beyond their control, things were not so bad for Karl Michael.  By the 1950’s he was deeply revered in his native country and especially the province of Manitoba, where the devotion bordered on celebrity – actual celebrity, as denoted by the status of a Hollywood actress or American curer of disease in that era.  His paintings of the great Canadian wilds hung in every provincial and regional capital west of Lake Champlain.  Truthfully, there were not many other artists, Canadian or otherwise, who could speak of such a great body of native landscape work as Karl Michael von Fohrness and it spoke to the heritage and glory of Canada’s frontier past.  Thus Karl Michael was feted on an annual basis by the Canadian government and its aristocratic class of nation-guilty art patrons.  His landscapes became rare; newly ‘discovered’ ones were immediately but with great pomp, carted off to museums in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and his hometown of Winnipeg.  Even his seascapes of the American coastline enjoyed the occasional run as somewhat of a sensation among collectors and galleries in Montreal and Ottawa.  While it was true that von Fohrness himself no longer enjoyed the tidy sums he once commanded as a so-called naturalist in between-wars Canada, this was padded by something even a bit more astonishingly rare.  He was able to vaguely live a part of the ripening of his own legacy.  And while this is usually one of the few things denied the truly famous and actually celebrated, von Fohrness padded his fall into old age and from artistic grace, both of which he surely noticed, with the knowledge that in the places he himself had celebrated with a patch of eternity here and there, he would live on as well.  And surely as his business acumen had failed him once, the older version of the man no doubt took stock in the glow of his own foresight and examined from time to time thirty of his own landscapes that had traveled over the years with him without ever leaving his possession.  They would be among what he left his two children, prizes to sell or not, to live with or without, but his gift to them of what he had once been and seen, and a spyglass even to the dreams of his own father.

So it was with considerable insistence that Celeste von Fohrness demanded a meeting with Sandy Eliot to clear up the matter of her “lunatic” brother setting fire to fifteen of her father’s masterpieces.  “It’s not a matter I can discuss with you… I’m not in charge of the investigation,” Eliot politely explained as a smile of just desserts crept across his face.

Death_of_Marat_by_David

The cloth covering Marat’s bath tub in J-L David’s painting above… how does the color portray nature, luck, money and/or envy? The and/or is important as we must, and I think we do, hold out suspicion that green renders its power in some combination of these, not excluding the possibility of all at once. It’s a particular kind of power that connects our greed with our inclination to nurture and save things, including ourselves. Bear in mind, Dr. Marat apparently suffered from a kind of skin disease from which he sought the comfort of cold baths. This alone may invoke a necessary desire to set forth an updated version of prohibitions, to identify a set of New Sins, such as they are.

But speaking of necessary desire, consider the party missing from the David composition. Charlotte Corday, his murderer:

… struck by the Government’s exactions against the Girondins… Charlotte no longer believed that a Republic would be possible. She felt that Jean-Paul Marat, who daily demanded more and more heads, was in large part responsible for the misfortunes that the French people were undergoing. She resolved to rid the country of him.On July 9, 1793, Charlotte left her cousin’s apartment and took the mail coach for Paris. She stayed at the Hotel de Providence. There she wrote a long text titled Speech to the French who are Friends of Law and Peace, which explained the act she was about to commit.In Paris, on July 13, 1793, Charlotte requested an appointment with Marat at his home at 30, rue des Cordeliers. Marat agreed; by stating that she had “information to give him” and that he could even “render a great service to France”, she managed to obtain a meeting with him. The meeting took place in his bathroom; he was in his bathtub. It was there that Charlotte killed him, using a table knife “with a dark wooden handle and a silver ferrule, bought for a few sols at the Palais-Royal”.

She was guillotined four days later; within four months, David presented the painting of his friend, arguably his best work, to the National Convention. I’ll ask this again but… green as conceptual regression, can it disallow a muted nature in a way that permits our love for wealth? Is it, in a manner, a way for us to eat our cake – and have it, too?

No, not that one.

I’m not sure if we even realize how bizarre this is:

The upshot is fewer new medicines available to ailing patients and more financial woes for the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry. Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn’s disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an “unusually high” response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

Okay, once again.

drug – any substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in humans or other animals.

placebo – a substance or procedure … that is objectively without specific activity for the condition being treated. It’s what the control group is given to judge results against what happens if you… do nothing.

So, apparently placebo potency (!) has grown sufficiently strong enough to knock off a few highly-touted new pharma cures, such that big pharma is now commissioning studies of the new placebo potency? What if they find out that it was all in our head? Can these results be kept secret and used as a new cudgel in the struggle against other things we don’t need… to take anything to correct?

What? And, how do we score one for the power of the mind when the same minds were so severely impacted in the production of this result? And is the lesson repeatable?

Answers, people. I want answers.

Not that we can sneak up on it, but getting used to dealing with the implications of its scarcity. Even if not directly, though every region will have its bouts with drought and flirtations with conservation, fallout from water shortages range far and wide, as the situations in Kenya and Mexico attest. And voila, it’s not just a shortage of rainfall but a dynamic mixture of poor planning and short-sightedness that builds in non-trivial amounts of waste into our concepts of ‘use’:

Mexico’s hurricane season has been mild, with no major hits so far this summer, though a weak Hurricane Jimena dropped plenty of rain on parts of Baja California and the northwestern state of Sonora last week. The sparse rainfall nationwide has made 2009 the driest in 69 years of government record-keeping, Arreguin said.


Even before the drought, managing water was one of the most vexing issues for Mexico City, which 500 years ago was a big lake. Now paved in asphalt and concrete, the city pipes in much of its water (then, through separate plumbing, expels wastewater to prevent flooding during rainy times).

Since most rainwater pours down storm drains into the sewer network, it is not absorbed into the underground aquifers that are the city’s main source of water. Decades of over-pumping is emptying those deposits and causing Mexico City to sink, in some places by more than a foot a year.

So… just so you know, there’s no sitting back and feeling bad for those poor people in a “but for the Grace of God… ” kind of way. Sorry, all out of isolated, unconnected events. Come back next… time? To recap, we are subject to not just immediate, local effects but larger pressures on surrounding ecosystems and political systems which emerge, gain strength and ripple outward. How do we study, learn about and prepare for how these things work together? Do we? Perhaps a better question would be how can we understand these kinds of long-term phenomena when we’re more concerned with fanning debates about evolution, gay marriage, presidential birth certificates and other ‘issues’ I largely ignore on this site in favor of more problematic, actual problems? Alas, there’s a short answer.

Update: as I wanted or needed further evidence.

A lot of my favorite writing comes from the twenty-five years on either side of the turn of the twentieth century. Even so, it’s a bit of an abyss to make sense of – i.e. easier for me to understand what was ‘going on’ during other periods. But it was a time of acutely high tumult, with the zenith of the machine age, at least from the perspective of the all of the hope for humanity it represented, which then turned to bitterness and remorse when WWI saw us turn all of this wonderful technology into killing machines.

But so much was stirring in visual art and literature during this period that there are thousands of points in which to delve, even among the better known ones. Anatole France was the pseudonym for a French journalist/novelist/critic who perfectly overlapped that period (1844-1924). A very healthy skeptic, he was a successful novelist and was awarded the Nobel prize in 1921. Here is a little bit of part I ofThaïs (1890),The Lotus, translated by Robert B. Douglas.

Now that Anthony, who was more than a hundred years old, had retired
to Mount Colzin with his well-beloved disciples, Macarius and Amathas,
there was no monk in the Thebaid more renowned for good works than
Paphnutius, the Abbot of Antinoe. Ephrem and Serapion had a greater
number of followers, and in the spiritual and temporal management of
their monasteries surpassed him. But Paphnutius observed the most
rigorous fasts, and often went for three entire days without taking
food. He wore a very rough hair shirt, he flogged himself night and
morning, and lay for hours with his face to the earth.

His twenty-four disciples had built their huts near his, and imitated
his austerities. He loved them all dearly in Jesus Christ, and
unceasingly exhorted them to good works. Amongst his spiritual
children were men who had been robbers for many years, and had been
persuaded by the exhortations of the holy abbot to embrace the
monastic life, and who now edified their companions by the purity of
their lives. One, who had been cook to the Queen of Abyssinia, and was
converted by the Abbot of Antinoe, never ceased to weep. There was
also Flavian, the deacon, who knew the Scriptures, and spoke well; but
the disciple of Paphnutius who surpassed all the others in holiness
was a young peasant named Paul, and surnamed the Fool, because of his
extreme simplicity. Men laughed at his childishness, but God favoured
him with visions, and by bestowing upon him the gift of prophecy.

Paphnutius passed his life in teaching his disciples, and in ascetic
practices. Often did he meditate upon the Holy Scriptures in order to
find allegories in them. Therefore he abounded in good works, though
still young. The devils, who so rudely assailed the good hermits, did
not dare to approach him. At night, seven little jackals sat in the
moonlight in front of his cell, silent and motionless, and with their
ears pricked up. It was believed that they were seven devils, who,
owing to his sanctity, could not cross his threshold.

Paphnutius was born at Alexandria of noble parents, who had instructed
him in all profane learning. He had even been allured by the
falsehoods of the poets, and in his early youth had been misguided
enough to believe that the human race had all been drowned by a deluge
in the days of Deucalion, and had argued with his fellow-scholars
concerning the nature, the attributes, and even the existence of God.
He then led a life of dissipation, after the manner of the Gentiles,
and he recalled the memory of those days with shame and horror.

“At that time,” he used to say to the brethren, “I seethed in the
cauldron of false delights.”

He meant by that that he had eaten food properly dressed, and
frequented the public baths. In fact, until his twentieth year he had
continued to lead the ordinary existence of those times, which now
seemed to him rather death than life; but, owing to the lessons of the
priest Macrinus, he then became a new man.

The truth penetrated him through and through, and–as he used to say–
entered his soul like a sword. He embraced the faith of Calvary, and
worshipped Christ crucified. After his baptism he remained yet a year
amongst the Gentiles, unable to cast off the bonds of old habits. But
one day he entered a church, and heard a deacon read from the Bible,
the verse, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and
give to the poor.” Thereupon he sold all that he had, gave away the
money in alms, and embraced the monastic life.

During the ten years that he had lived remote from men, he no longer
seethed in the cauldron of false delights, but more profitably
macerated his flesh in the balms of penitence.

One day when, according to his pious custom, he was recalling to mind
the hours he had lived apart from God, and examining his sins one by
one, that he might the better ponder on their enormity, he remembered
that he had seen at the theatre at Alexandria a very beautiful actress
named Thais. This woman showed herself in the public games, and did
not scruple to perform dances, the movements of which, arranged only
too cleverly, brought to mind the most horrible passions. Sometimes
she imitated the horrible deeds which the Pagan fables ascribe to
Venus, Leda, or Pasiphae. Thus she fired all the spectators with lust,
and when handsome young men, or rich old ones, came, inspired with
love, to hang wreaths of flowers round her door, she welcomed them,
and gave herself up to them. So that, whilst she lost her own soul,
she also ruined the souls of many others.

She had almost led Paphnutius himself into the sins of the flesh. She
had awakened desire in him, and he had once approached the house of
Thais. But he stopped on the threshold of the courtesan’s house,
partly restrained by the natural timidity of extreme youth–he was
then but fifteen years old–and partly by the fear of being refused on
account of his want of money, for his parents took care that he should
commit no great extravagances.

God, in His mercy, had used these two means to prevent him from
committing a great sin. But Paphnutius had not been grateful to Him
for that, because at that time he was blind to his own interests, and
did not know that he was lusting after false delights. Now, kneeling
in his cell, before the image of that holy cross on which hung, as in
a balance, the ransom of the world, Paphnutius began to think of
Thais, because Thais was a sin to him, and he meditated long,
according to ascetic rules, on the fearful hideousness of the carnal
delights with which this woman had inspired him in the days of his sin
and ignorance. After some hours of meditation the image of Thais
appeared to him clearly and distinctly. He saw her again, as he had
seen her when she tempted him, in all the beauty of the flesh. At
first she showed herself like a Leda, softly lying upon a bed of
hyacinths, her head bowed, her eyes humid and filled with a strange
light, her nostrils quivering, her mouth half open, her breasts like
two flowers, and her arms smooth and fresh as two brooks. At this
sight Paphnutius struck his breast and said–

“I call Thee to witness, my God, that I have considered how heinous
has been my sin.”

Gradually the face of the image changed its expression. Little by
little the lips of Thais, by lowering at the corners of the mouth,
expressed a mysterious suffering. Her large eyes were filled with
tears and lights; her breast heaved with sighs, like the sighing of a
wind that precedes a tempest. At this sight Paphnutius was troubled to
the bottom of his soul. Prostrating himself on the floor, he uttered
this prayer–

“Thou who hast put pity in our hearts, like the morning dew upon the
fields, O just and merciful God, be Thou blessed! Praise! praise be
unto Thee! Put away from Thy servant that false tenderness which
tempts to concupiscence, and grant that I may only love Thy creatures
in Thee, for they pass away, but Thou endurest for ever. If I care for
this woman, it is only because she is Thy handiwork. The angels
themselves feel pity for her. Is she not, O Lord, the breath of Thy
mouth? Let her not continue to sin with many citizens and strangers.
There is great pity for her in my heart. Her wickednesses are
abominable, and but to think of them makes my flesh creep. But the
more wicked she is, the more do I lament for her. I weep when I think
that the devils will torment her to all eternity.”

As he was meditating in this way, he saw a little jackal lying at his
feet. He felt much surprised, for the door of his cell had been closed
since the morning. The animal seemed to read the Abbot’s thoughts, and
wagged its tail like a dog. Paphnutius made the sign of the cross and
the beast vanished. He knew then that, for the first time, the devil
had entered his cell, and he uttered a short prayer; then he thought
again about Thais.

“With God’s help,” he said to himself, “I must save her.” And he
slept.

The next morning, when he had said his prayers, he went to see the
sainted Palemon, a holy hermit who lived some distance away. He found
him smiling quietly as he dug the ground, as was his custom. Palemon
was an old man, and cultivated a little garden; the wild beasts came
and licked his hands, and the devils never tormented him.

“May God be praised, brother Paphnutius,” he said, as he leaned upon
his spade.

“God be praised!” replied Paphnutius. “And peace be unto my brother.”

“The like peace be unto thee, brother Paphnutius,” said Palemon; and
he wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve.

“Brother Palemon, all our discourse ought to be solely the praise of
Him who has promised to be wheresoever two or three are gathered
together in His Name. That is why I come to you concerning a design I
have formed to glorify the Lord.”

And I’m not talking about News Of the World glued B side up on your turntable. This is more of a …And you’ll know us by the trail of dead kind of thing, only crappier.

Land use. Really good s.f.streetsblog piece on this Transportation Research Board report on Driving and the Built Environment. Among the nuggets:

Finding No. 2 is: “The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses, and other supportive demand management measures.”

They note that were you to move the residents of Atlanta to an area built like Boston, you’d lower the Atlantans’ VMT per household by perhaps 25 percent.

Better land use results in reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, the authors report, from both direct and indirect causes. (Direct causes would be a reduction in VMT; indirect include things like longer vehicle lifetimes from reduced use and the greater efficiency of smaller or multi-family housing units.)

Not only that, but were you to move the residents of ATL to a Massachusetts-like locale, you’d have one hell of a lot of pissed off, not to mention cold, white people. Which could do wonders to re-invigorate the hypothetical Boston-like area punk scene. But really, these are the kinds of shake-ups that people (researchers) can actually quantify with models that make sense of the implications of changing things like where we build the new houses, in-fill vs exurbia, that will create the density that will in turn make mass transit a more realistic necessity – rather than the mere wish for better transportation options. There’s also the side benefit of helping us decouple the concepts of person liberty and freedom that have become so defined by isolation, three-car garages and the God-given right to front and back patches of personal lawn of minimum dimensions.

&%$#!… that’s not at all where I was going with this. Oh well.

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