Bridges to nowhere

I’m beginning to feel some trepidation regarding the bailout, which now seems certain to pass in some form.  What little of it is destined to be spent on anything useful, i.e., infrastructure, is going to be dedicated, in large part, to  ”shovel-ready” projects, which might be more accurately called deferred maintenance, when something much more revolutionary is clearly in order.  State highway engineers throughout the country employ traffic statistics, demographic trends, and other mysterious witchcraft to determine which dreamed-of interchange, bridge, or bypass will supposedly reduce daily hours of congestion, and thereby explain that the economic miracle thus produced will justify another astounding waste of money and land and inevitable spillover into neighboring areas.  They are trained to use very large shovels, and a big pot of federal money can only encourage their worst instincts; it’s kind of like giving Larry Craig directions to the men’s room.

A fine example would be the genius idea being bandied about up here for replacing the only lift-span bridges in the interstate system, the I-5 bridges over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver, with a $4.5 billion, 12-lane monstrosity that would, among other things, introduce hefty tolls,  extend capacity to the point that a dozen miles of the freeway through central Portland would immediately be rendered hopelessly inadequate, and further encourage sprawl and overdevelopment in Clark County, Washington.  Now, I know you’re thinking that, heck, four billion bucks was a lot of money, back in the old days (last summer, let’s say…) and given the current economic collapse, how many more subdivisions do you really expect to pop up in Ridgefield?  These days, it almost seems cheap to think of slapping the pavement equivalent of LAX over the Columbia; all those sales-tax avoiding Vancouverites will pay their tolls and zip on over.  And think of the jobs.

Of course, a few practicalities have kept this retarded idea from moving beyond the drawing boards thus far, one being that transit-friendly Portland thinks ten lanes would be plenty (up from the current six), and the light rail we thoughtfully extended nearly to the bridgehead should be included.  Vancouver, on the other hand, not coincidentally now home to Tonya Harding, has never much cared for commie things like mass transit, its voters having resoundingly rejected light rail to Portland twice, and is holding out for the full twelve lanes.  Fortunately, we have principled, forward-thinking leaders in Portland like Mayor Sam Adams, whose other claim to fame was starring in “High School Musical: The Porno Version,” who have come firmly down for the proposition that, if a 12-laner is to be built, it will  need to have some pretty decorations on it.  A nearby airport restricts the overall height to the point where such decorations may be not much larger than streetlamps, but get this..  they’ll put little windmills on them and make the whole thing “green.”  I know you’re probably thinking I’ve been passing the bong with Michael Phelps or something, but that proposal was on the front page of the Oregonian, with drawings, just a couple of weeks ago.

Time was, such dreadfully ill-conceived and outdated white elephants, particularly here, would die slow deaths, as neighborhood uproar, ballooning cost estimates, and changing traffic patterns would render the ballyhooed “improvement” exposed as the joke it was from the beginning, and a less car-oriented solution to the problem would win by default.  In this case, the default choice would be an upgrade of the downriver railroad bridge with light rail, at a tenth of the cost.  Now, with the looming prospect of a bunch of money lying around, colossal wastes like this one start to look feasible, and their champions may have finally hit paydirt.  Money spent this way is worse than money not spent at all.

Adding further road capacity at enormous expense, in a time of global warming, peak oil, and a continuing collapse of auto-oriented sprawl, is just plain idiocy, and should be outside consideration in the bailout.  With or without little windmills.

51 Comments

  1. Jim White says:

    It will never happen, but why not use the giant pots of money to set up US versions of Yunis’ microlending model? Make it possible for many people to go into business for themselves with low overhead costs and maybe begin to get some leverage against the national brands on a lot of stuff. Maybe extend the model a bit and build some facilities in which the entrepreneurs lease time by the hour in facilities that are kitchens, machine shops, electronics shops, etc. Take things back to the local level as much as possible and kill the “big guys” who have to pay for all the transportation and logistics costs of being huge. These could be coupled with local markets that are expanded versions of farmer’s markets. The bonus is that it would rekindle a spirit of community, as well. The final added value is that the Yunis model is entirely sustainable because the repayment likelihood is very high. The “commerce centers” also should be self-sustaining if the lease rates are set appropriately.

    • Jim White says:

      Okay, I got worked up over this and expanded on the thoughts here:http://oxdown.firedoglake.com/diary/3383

      • cocktailhag says:

        I liked your Oxdown piece, and your idea. I’ve always been quite suspicious of the Globaloney business model, with its over-reliance on marketing and moving even the cheapest goods all over the planet, to take advantage of a few cents per unit saved through what is essentially a form of slavery. The goal of these flat-worlders, it seems, is giantism for its own sake; keep out competitors, and have enough clout to buy government policy.
        Nice work if you can get it…

  2. Dirigo says:

    It is troubling to think that “infrastructure” may be defined – for the sake of the 2009 stimulus package – in old economy, industrial era terms.

    I would hope the new, Blackberry-toting, holding-jacketless-Oval-Office-meetings (stuff it, Andy Card!) president has an expanded view of renovating the guts of the nation.

    But the countervailing forces – the calcified special interests – no doubt want a slower look at the package, for the benefit of all the people out there who have dusted off their “shovel-ready” projects, like state transportation agencies, the thousands of contractors who pour over public bidding announcements in the paper at the crack of dawn, and the National Bucket Loaders Association of America.

    Is it possible improving infrastructure will also mean linking up all the rural communities to broadband; computerizing the national hospital system (as the Veterans Administration did over ten years ago); and getting public schools firmly planted in the 21st century with appropriate tech upgrades?

    One absurd example of the myriad “shovel-ready” projects I read about the other day is a proposal for zoo upgrades, or even, new zoos. A zoo non-profit (how many are there of those?) had a rep quoted in an article on the possibilities for stimulus spending, saying it would be just swell if the nation could look proudly on newly renovated zoos, or more new zoos. It follows then that there would be a need for new, publicly funded expeditions to find wild beasts to stock the new zoos, like that for King Kong or Noah’s Ark.

    Well miraculous public infrastructure project can yield benefits, after a while.

    One example is the relatively successful attempt to bury the main elevated highway (I-93) that for about fifty years ran through downtown Boston, as a connector to the North and South Shore communities, and Logan Airport.

    The work, begun sometime in the ’90s, became known as (and is still fondly, if drolly, called) “The Big Dig” – “the most expensive highway project in the United States” (Wiki). Federal money paid for most of it, but the full cost is a mind-blower, when you account for damages, overruns, and interest.

    In 1985, the construction estimate was put at $2.8 billion (figured in 1982 dollars) which shortly afterward prompted “The Great Bay State Wag”, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, to ask: “Rather than lower the expressway, wouldn’t it be cheaper to raise the city?”

    By 2006, the cost of the project was pegged at $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 money).

    In July last year, the Boston Globe said: “In all, the project will cost an additional $7 billion in interest, bringing the total to a staggering $22 billion.” The Globe said the whole thing will not be paid off until 2028.

    Today, the entire “central artery” serving Boston area commuters runs ” ‘neath the streets of Boston” – where Charlie famously got lost riding the MTA subway just after the war (“Did he ever return? – No, he never returned; and his fate is still unlearned.”).

    Along the way, the old Boston Garden was replaced with a new, more sterile hockey and basketball arena. A new bridge was built, linking downtown with roads to New Hampshire and Maine. The Massachusetts Turnpike runs from Springfield to downtown, right into the tunneled artery. And, for commuters coming from southerly roads and Cape Cod, there’s nother tunnel running under the harbor to Logan Airport, named after Boston sports legend, Ted Williams. On top of the now buried highway (the old elevated was named for JFK) is a park, named for Rose Kennedy.

    Twenty-two billion. All for cars.

    • Dirigo says:

      Any estimates for a comprehensive, national, publicly financed pot hole project, to get this problem solved, once and for all?

      Could be some micro lending possibilities there, Jim?

      We must protect our cars and their suspension systems regardless.

      • rmp says:

        The only way to break down the car cycle is to tax gas as highly as the rest of the world does. That is a lot of money that could be used for good purposes such as long-term gain and the debt. However that would mean that all the present congress critters and the POTUS would be out of jobs.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Ah, yes… the real third rail of American politics. The gas tax. What’s sad about the situation is that often those least able to afford it are the most car-dependent, unable to afford housing closer to work. For these people, the gas tax does end up being regressive. Lots of cities, especially in the South and West, barely have mass transit at all, leaving most people no options, and there sprawling structure works against cost-effective transit. It’s a mess that took 50 years to create.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, at least the 22 billion did improve central Boston somewhat, and certainly freed up blighted land, but obviously did nothing to reduce auto dependence, and scared off other cities who might have wanted to follow suit. Seattle’s dangerous and dreadful Alaska Way Viaduct, which blights miles of Elliott Bay waterfront, has been mired in controversy for years, as a similar Big Dig has been proposed. (Just what you want in a subduction zone…) It seems Seattle residents dislike the freeway, but love the shortcut; result? Nothing.
      I love that song… Kingston Trio, right?

      • Dirigo says:

        Yup. The Kingston Trio, from an eon ago.

        You should see the I-95 run from New York City to New Haven.

        Keep in mind, this was the first leg of the entire national interstate system, built during Eisenhower’s presidency.

        There are always – ALWAYS, day or night – road crews working somewhere along this track, which comes out of the Bronx and goes through New York metro suburbs, through the tony reaches of Fairfield County, then Bridgeport, and on to New Haven. At night, whether for road crews, accidents, snow or rain, bottlenecks can suddenly appear and stretch for miles (during the day too, any old time). All truck traffic running into New York from New Haven, Hartford (mostly), or Providence, Rhode Island shares this road with cars. As a result, some accidents can be over-the-top spectacular.

        It’s all above ground. Every exit ramp (built to 1950s standards) is a tight, hair turn. You can imagine people in old Packards and Oldsmobiles years ago, veering off or coming on, carrying families home or men to work. These old, obsolete exits have been patched over and added on to with extra ramps and curlicues, which make for a bewildering pattern of curves and rotaries in just about every town along the way.

        The highway (check an I-95 map for this region) splits the cities of Bridgeport and New Haven, cutting each off from their natural harbors, and, arguably choking off growth which, years ago, might otherwise have utilized the harbors in more effective ways. And, further north, this same road also splits through New London and Groton, Connecticut, and Providence, in the same way.

        On top of that (or through it) the Connecticut Metro-North commuter railroad runs from Grand Central terminal up into Connecticut, parallel to I-95 all the way, all above the surface, to New Haven.

        You could do a big dig, Boston-style project (bury the road) in Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, and Providence. A project to redesign the I-95/I-91 crossroads in New Haven was begun and halted sometime back, leaving huge, weed-infested mounds of dirt – set for new surfaces, and reinforced with big metal grids – sitting, waiting. Providence has been ripping up the old I-95 road pattern through the city and jiggering a new one – all above ground – for a couple of years.

        It’s virtually impossible, under these circumstances, for any more roads to be built in Southwestern Connecticut. There has been talk of exploiting several Connecticut rivers that run north/south to get some barge service going, but that sounds like a pipe dream. Maybe a lifestyle gondola proposal will push that sucker along. As for the commuter railroad, a conductor told me one day, Connecticut has placed an order for 400 new cars (New York State is already putting new cars into service on its lines).

        But the train is appealing, when you consider $30 parking rates in New York City.

        As Metro-North always says: “Going Your Way.”

        • cocktailhag says:

          I’ve ridden the Metro North; not as fun since they got rid of the bar car. I must say, the New York area freeways are some of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. Sad to think that the Romans had their aqueducts and New York has the Cross-Bronx expressway and the BQE… toss in a little garbage and grafitti, with an Ailanthus or two for greenery, and the image is complete. Here and there glimpse a river with some tires floating in it. For a west coaster like myself, it was a bit of a shock, and reminded me of that old commercial where the Indian sheds a tear at the end.
          Still, I think running around burying freeways is probably a big waste. I think that a lot of them could be converted to grade-level boulevards, and as many elevated structures should be removed as possible, to allow surrounding area to recover.

          • Dirigo says:

            They still run the bar cars, though actual bar service is sporadic. When there is an attendant, you can get beer and soft drinks. No more Fifties-style cocktails though.

            Sometimes, they have specials, with snacks and drinks offered during in-city holidays or events (like the next time the Yankees win the Series).

            But the bar cars are still in service as rolling stock. They kind of look like rail versions of cocktailhags actually.

            They may go the way of the dodo once new cars come on line.

          • cocktailhag says:

            Back in the late 80′s the bar cars were still a rolling party, though, and that seems to have changed. The are kind of dowdy and haggish now. We have a new Amtrak service out here, financed by Oregon and Washington States, called Cascades, running from Eugene to Vancouver, BC, which I frequently take to Seattle. It has a nice bar car; where I of course sit, and the trains are sleek and new, made in Spain by a company called Talgo. Bum tracks prevent the trains from running at their designed speed, naturally enough, but it still takes the same amount of time as driving, and the trip is lovely.

        • Bill says:

          Please don’t knock I-98 as it runs through central Connecticut. My uncle sold a small part of his dairy farm (the part on top of the mountain covered with moss on granite which made for very difficult eating for the cows) and was able to retire early. It’s amazing how much the Feds will pay for land when it’s for a RoW for an Interstate.

          Oh, Hag, you seem to have a lover over at Glenn’s.

          Plus…the Wog has been updated.

          Ok, I’m done now.

          • cocktailhag says:

            Thanks, Jebbie, for pointing that out. I hadn’t intended to check back in on that thread, but you persuaded me. Unfortunately, this suitor failed to offer any jewels or furs, so I’m taking a wait-and see approach.

  3. rmp says:

    This will be at the end of my Blast tonight and is germane to how much our experts know what they are doing.

    (Thoughts from a good friend who knows a lot more about money/business than I do in regard to this article in my email yesterday,
    Political Economy: Fixing a Hole http://news.yahoo.com/s/cq/20090131/pl_cq_politics/politics3022219
    The ending line of the article asks a question which pretty much sums up the problem, the answer to the question is: “The public does not understand, and does not want to know the truth.”
    The old model if not broken is badly bent probably irreparably. Consumer spending based on ever increasing debt financed by a wide variety of structured financial instruments, sold by a lot of very, very well paid brokers and bankers is the model we have been following for about the past 30 years. I hate to tell the folks there inside the Beltway, its gone baby and it ain’t gonna come back.
    I have no real idea what the new model will look like, nor does anyone else at this point in time. I do feel fairly certain that it will not be created via central planning and centralized control of the economy. That model no longer works even in Japan where it was perfected (but not invented). The days of wine and roses is long gone, the days of living on smoke and mirrors is grinding to an end, and you are a better man than I am Charlie Brown if you even think you know what the next phase will be. But with a pretty high degree of confidence I can say it will be at least 25 years before the next really big bubble, it takes a generation to forget the lessons we learned. It’s a shame that I may not be here to ride it up.

    • cocktailhag says:

      The shameful part of the whole thing, rmp, is what little we have to show for the party we’ve been having. Hummers, flat screens, and McMansions are no substitute for the things which create growth over the long haul, like investments in education, technology, transportation, and increasingly importantly, water systems. Would that the great minds of this generation had dedicated themselves to creating something of worth rather than play money.

  4. rmp says:

    We really do need our leaders to think outside the box and there are all kinds of good ideas on the blogs and even some in the M$M. The problem is for psychological reasons the money has to be spent right now and right now means those same critters that brought us this mess are still in charge. Obama knows he needs short and long term solutions and he knows that the kind of money available now won’t be available again for quite some time, if ever.

    We have to prioritize our time (global warming, world food crisis, world population growth etc.) with the critters who not only don’t know how to do that, they don’t know how to compromise and work together. At some point POTUS has to take charge and roll the dice. He can’t rely much on the critters.

    • Dirigo says:

      RMP, leaving aside my drollness about Boston road projects (and Barney Frank’s observations about life in the fast lane), how would transportation be improved in Chicago these days?

      Does the city and its surrounding communities need new roads and bridges, new rail, new subway lines? A tunnel to somewhere in Lake Michigan?

      What kind of project (s) there would help the most as a definitively “public” expenditure?

      • rmp says:

        Chicago has not been able to get enough money from Chicagoland citizens or the state to upgrade as needed. There has been some major renovation to CTA stations and elevated tracks so that the slow down portions, where the cars had to crawl for fear of shaking the structure too much, can now “zip” along at 30-40mph. Mayor Daily has done better on buses and all are air conditioned and more fuel efficient.

        Daily started a project where visitors could travel from the Loop to O’Hare on a non-stop express rail run, but that project is all but dead. The problem is that because people change jobs so frequently now, there is as much traffic moving out as moving into the city on week days. People are having to drive a lot more to get to work not less.

        There is no meaningful way to move from suburb to suburb via mass transit save for some bus runs to major coporate work sites. Sad to say, our mass transit is still ahead of many other major cities.

        The solution to being dependent on cars is dependent on having work relatively close to home. That is why many people have moved back into the city and we had a huge increase in condo rehabbing/building. Of course that drove the economically disadvantage out of any favorable housing and now we have way to many empty condos. We don’t plan, we react.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I do think you’re onto the ultimate solution, rmp; over time, car commuting will continue to be more intolerable, and people and businesses will move closer together. Portland has done a lot of this already; but seems to make a lot of the same mistakes. We now have three lines of light rail, and soon a fourth, all crossing the Willamette on a 19th century railroad bridge, owned by Union Pacific, which is so dainty the trains must also slow to a crawl. And since the trains share the road with buses and cars, they get stuck in traffic, too.
          The train from the airport, which is a delight and a bargain at$2.30, zips along the freeway for the first several miles, but once it hits the surface streets I wonder if I could beat it walking. (I race the streetcar to Powell’s all the time, and beat it more often than not…)
          Clearly, the structure of cities makes it difficult to retrofit new mass transit without enormous expense, but when you think about the land wasted, an adjacent areas blighted, with freeways it can pencil out in the long term.
          I wonder if anyone’s thought about what effect freeways have in land valuation and property taxes….

    • cocktailhag says:

      Of course, no one is talking about my pet project, high-speed intercity rail, which has the potential of reducing the strain on both highways and airports. In Europe, several countries have built new rail tunnels and improved tracks, with the goal of not just reducing travel times, but also removing freight from the roads. Seems wiser and lest costly than continuing to build LA-size freeways, but maybe that’s just me.

      • Jim White says:

        The problem is that it is just too sensible to move forward. That, and the getting people out of their cars part, that is.

      • rmp says:

        How little we have really progressed. I rode on the first Bullet train in Japan on its first 18km test run in 1964. As our ears popped when we zipped into a tunnel, I thought how marvelous a future we have especially since I had watched only steam engines running all rail traffic in my childhood. Do we have a bullet train in the US? Did the oiler lobbyists keep us from having one? Yes we should go big time into rail to move people and cargo right into the heart of our cities. Yes we should invest heavy on mass transit.

        Mass transit became more popular here when gas was $4 a gallon. We still had some railroad ties on the CTA that were placed there in the 19th century when I arrived in Chicago. Those oil laced ties started on fire from the sun on the elevated Red Line on one of my rides into downtown and the driver couldn’t put it out and we had to wait for fire trucks. We don’t have a clue how to do long term planning or investing.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Flying over LA, which I do frequently, you get a vivid picture of what too many cars does to a place…. Literally, the city sparkles in the sun because about half of what is below are shiny car roofs. 16, 18, even 20 lane freeways, packed to the gills in both directions. A closer look reveals many abandoned and interrupted rail corridors; once dedicated rights of way now lost forever.
          Worse is the effect of all the pavement.. In a city that even paved its rivers, the stunning lack of tree canopy and parkland is sad and disturbing; all that nice weather, and so few places to enjoy it.

          • Dirigo says:

            There’s a great story, ala “Chinatown”, about how, maybe in the forties, certain interests in Los Angeles rigged things to destroy existing trolley service to “pave the way” for diesel bus service.

          • rmp says:

            When I lived in Riverside 1968-70, I got a real taste of what cars can do. Riverside was at the apex of the freeways and smog. March AFB was above Riverside and when I would head home at night, I would see a brown cloud obliterating the city and my home. I was reminded daily that I had to drive into that pollution and lived and ran in it. That is why I only stayed two years. Fortunately, southern Californians pretty much solved that problem because everyone could clearly see, smell and even feel it.

          • rmp says:

            I forgot to mention, when we went to LA, we drove by the San Bernardino mountains only 600 feet from the freeway and never knew they were there for eight months.

          • cocktailhag says:

            I love your mountain story, rmp, because the same thing happened to me when I lived in LA… We were in Laurel Canyon, and I naturally avoided going to the valley whenever possible, but, driving over Mulholland one day, lo and behold, was a huge mountain range, straight ahead. (The tehachapis) I had no idea they were there, and for a second I even thought they might be a big piece of cardboard scenery for a movie.

          • Jim White says:

            When we moved to Pasadena in 1979, the window of our second floor apartment looked out toward Mt. Wilson, only a mile or two away. The only way we knew it was there is that it was on fire at the time and we could see the flames when the sun went down. Boy were we surprised when we still couldn’t see the mountain most days even after the fire was out…

          • cocktailhag says:

            Well, Pasadena, for all its charms, is part of that hot interior, sort of an EZ Bake oven for smog and ozone. I’m amazed when I look at the weather page in the LATimes, and they literally never have air quality above “moderate,” which seems to mean, “the air looks like a fart would in a cartoon.”

  5. rmp says:

    Hag,
    Flying over a city does give perspective. I remember flying over Phoenix late at night laying in the bay of a KC-135 refueling tanker in a flight in 1999 and looking down at low altitude and seeing nothing but lighted tennis courts, swimming pools and ball fields. I knew that here was a city that played at night, had a lot of money and could care less about saving energy or people short of money.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I think there’s a kind of “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” mentality that comes with living in a desert. It’s why there are also so many fake lakes, fountains, and golf courses. I was shocked to find that the patio of my hotel room, as well as the terraces of most restaurants in Palm Springs have AC ducts blasting cold air outside. That’s pretty decadent, even for a Cocktailhag.

      • rmp says:

        Oh I did forget the lighted golf courses. Thanks for reminding me. Live in the dark because its too hot in the sun and you can also more easily blot out real life. WT must know a lot of hags in Arizona even though he is clearly not one.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Man, rmp, just spend a little time at Sky Harbor Airport, and you’ll begin to wonder if everyone on earth isn’t a Cocktailhag. I still haven’t figured out why this is…. In a few years, will some little voice tell me I must go live in the desert with my kind?

        • Dirigo says:

          Now there’s an indulgence for you: playing golf at night.

          Old Tom Morris would turn over in his grave if he knew.

  6. rmp says:

    Jim White alert
    Glenn just quoted Jim and taking showers in his Update II. I took some jabs at adnoto and Che and the Piss and Moan Boys. adnoto was ego-driven enough to claim he knew the absolute truths.

    • Jim White says:

      Yeah, I saw that. The real info in that update though is a real blood-boiler.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Dang. I’m still going up the down escalator on the thread and haven’t got that far. Thanks for the heads up… Did see your anti P & M piece, RMP….

      • rmp says:

        adnoto must be thinking with his emotions or a lower part. I’m going to stop. He makes it too easy. He actually said, Hoping never accomplished a thing and asked me to give him some examples. I gave him a few. The conversation, such as it was, is over.

  7. Meremark says:

    Wonderful, a thrill, and wonderfully thrilling to find active, insightful, smart youngsters here with their heads screwed on right — talking policy over personalities of ‘politics of the possible.’ Or else, also wonderfully thrilling to be fooled by misreading good writing, imagining things not really said — giving everyone credit.

    When I glower despondent some times, such as now between a solar eclipse New Moon (1/26) and a lunar eclipse Full Moon (2/9), the most refreshing tonic (non-alcoholic) is the prospects and prognoses among talented follow-on generations, next leaders. Moreso when most shown are slackers or something … alien.

    The title is so especially appropriate: ‘Bridges to Nowhere.’ It’s epidemic. But maybe, just maybe, workable and worthwhile low- or no-cost ideas, or organization, or participation, can do more powerful good, than the bygone wastrels can do bad throwing all-too-much of the same old money at the same old earmarked boondoggles.

    My sky blue nomination: TransFARM the White House Lawn, by Amanda Fuller and Justin Mog, YES! Magazine.

    Two Peace Corps volunteers decided to write a letter to Obama and suggest that he establish an organic “Hope Garden” at the White House, and of course hire them to manage it.

    They are part of a growing movement of advocates for a White House vegetable garden, and why not? The Obama family will have a bigger lawn than most of us, they like vegetables, and we all should be planting a little bit to eat local and eat healthy.

    That, and then Mr. & Mrs. Obama – ‘scuse me, the Prez and Lady the 1 – and the darling daughters, and some of their classmates, and some young with-it staffers: get out there some time each week and work in the garden. Touch soil.

    Oh, what an example to show. Maybe NO TVs ALLOWED; any and all White House Vegetable Garden press and promotion by NEWSPAPERS ONLY, with photos.

    Sharecrop the White House South Lawn. Yes, yes, yes … yessssss! We can.


    My own idea looks to recruit to the local, sustainable, community Political Movement — NOT Democrat, NOT Republican: lose the Party nametags — and go solicit everyone in each mass layoff announced, 10,000 … 20,000 … 50,000 recruits at a time. All against Washington. Politics get out of the way.


    Whatever. Blue sky daydreams is the antidote I know, visible above a despondency sinkhole.


    And Host Hag: Thank you.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You’re welcome, Meremark. This subject, land use, development, and transportation, is one of my personal hobbies, and I’m pleased and delighted that others are interested. I was prepared to discuss it sparingly, to avoid eyes glassing over and a race for the exits, but now I think I’ll discuss it more often.
      I think a vegetable garden along with the return of the solar panels to the roof, would be excellent for the White House.

      • Dirigo says:

        How about a small, outdoor stage on White House grounds, to promote live performance?

        Limit programming to the space – chamber concerts, folk bands, readings, lectures, workshops, plays with casts of six or so, – with invited guests (not elite invited guests), families mostly. From middle class or poor neighborhoods. Start with Washington families.

        Programming would be oriented to kids – Children’s Theater – to let them see how theater works. It would be fun and welcoming, light but challenging and with great variety – with no political message, only an artistic one.

        “The President Presents … ”

        Doesn’t have to be a big deal. Space limitations on the grounds (and security needs) would limit seating to, say, 200, maybe 300. On the grass, put down and take up folding chairs. Seasonal obviously.

        But a small, permanent stage on the White House grounds? With a band shell?

        “All the world’s a stage” – And there’s one near the people’s house too!

        Come see! Come see!

        • cocktailhag says:

          Well, having spent several years in theatrical production, I think it’s also important to teach kids the technical parts, too. Building sets and costumes, and running shows, are great work experiences, applicable to many fields in which the jobs are unionized and pretty good.

          • Dirigo says:

            Oh yes, I would have kids attending a mythical White House theater see how all the wheels and pulleys work.

            See how the strings are pulled.

  8. Dirigo says:

    Barney Frank’s in the news today with word that he’s planning to call the heads of the major banks before his committee next month (call it the appearance of the bankheads, not the bank dicks) to explain what’s been happening with all that TARP money, approved last year.

    This is OT here I know, but since I referred earlier to Barney in my post on Boston’s Big Dig, it’s in the general spirit of good humor that I present Barney again, the only true stand-up comic in the Congress of the United States.

    In today’s story, it’s mentioned that the politics of TARP has made it hard to determine who gets credit, if there is any to hand out, for any success in the bailout plan.

    About that, Frank said this in October: “It’s like wearing dark pants and pissing down your leg. It gives you a warm feeling, but no one knows you did it.”

    I can’t tell you what it was like, years ago, when Boston and people who lived in the area were regaled, over and over again, by Barney’s humor. Sometimes it was, as in this case, a bit crude, and sometimes not so much. But he has always been able to get off a knee-slapper in the heat of political combat.

    Dick Armey couldn’t keep up with him some time back, which might explain his frustration, even today.

    That’s our Barney!

    • cocktailhag says:

      He was also good over the weekend when he said that the biggest waste of money was Iraq. We haven’t had a politician that witty since Tom McCall out here. Peter DeFazio is fiery, but not funny.
      I think that humor in politics died as political correctness and the rise of ritual pearl-clutching took hold. One man joke is some groups biggest outrage. Remember when Bush Sr. said he didn’t like broccoli, and now that he was President, he didn’t have to eat it? It was one of his only funny lines, and he got clobbered by the farmers, and probably a former “Miss Broccoli” or two.

      • Dirigo says:

        I’ve never been enamored of much of P.C., especially in how language is massaged. Suddenly, words are forbidden, or given new meanings they didn’t have before, based on some political tic. No. Not impressed by that.

        Again, Barney has always been entertaining in Boston, going back almost forty years.

        • cocktailhag says:

          It seems that Gov. McCall was being considered for a position in the Nixon Administration, but in the meantime he heard Vice President Agnew speak, and was asked what he thought. “It was a nasty, bigoted little speech,” was his reply.
          Later, he was contacted by someone in the administration who was horrified at such impudence, and demanded that he confirm what he said.
          “I’m not sure I said ‘little,’” McCall replied. No job offer was forthcoming, needless to say.

  9. Dirigo says:

    A footnote about bar cars on the Connecticut Metro-North commuter line.

    Turns out they do still offer mixed drinks on those creaky old things; but the atmosphere is more like a fraternity house mix than something out of a Cheever novel. Not so elegant these days.

    I know this because last night, on my way into the city for an event, the train I was on coughed up and died on the track just west of Rye. There was time to kill, so I killed part of it with a Foster’s from the bar car. It was amusing, with the way people reacted, and the rest. I missed my event, arriving at Grand Central at 8:30. So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and came right back home.

    As Kurt would say: and so it goes …

  10. jason says:

    had other thoughts though good post