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I'm sorry if this seems a little (or more than a little) scatterbrained.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Jul 6th, 2008 at 06:18:53 PM EST
Are you saying that using a car for commuting purposes vs. some form of mass transit is an indicator of social status to Americans? If so, I would argue that it could be but within limits.  I think a lot has to do with commuting distance and the lack of inexpensive, efficient mass transit, a situation that you note before zeroing in on the social status cause.

I would also look at convenience of having a car at the work place as a reason.  When you live thirty miles from the work place (many do because of the high cost of housing closer in) and the mass transit lines only run during rush hour, early and late departures from the work place are eliminated, otherwise one is stranded at work.  The real mystery to me is why so many people endure the arduous commute here in Washington, forsaking the faster high occupancy vehicle lanes just to drive their cars to work alone.  I carpooled to work here for almost 30 years to half a dozen locations and only drove alone a few times at most.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Jul 6th, 2008 at 10:50:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's a status symbol for most people.  Most, I suspect, either don't have many options, or don't realize what options they do have.  And I suspect you're right about convenience.

If you live twenty or thirty miles out of DC, you don't really have much to choose from, unless you live near a VRE or MARC station.  And there are all of -- what, four or five between here and Richmond?  As you said, it's drive or go nowhere for most.  Even in the close suburbs, the train coverage can be pretty pitiful.  Building that Purple Line around the Beltway would help a great deal in grabbing some outer suburbs and cutting congestion downtown.  (I'll even get on-board with your dumb Dulles Line if we can do that. ;)

People will carpool when gas gets too expensive to drive individually.  Many in my office are starting to do it now.  Then they'll trade their SUVs for midsize cars or (gasp!) compacts.  We'll be a nation of Dirty Fucking Hippies before you know it.

And it's not places like DC that we really have to worry about right now.  DC's got too much money for its own good anyway.  It's out in the Provinces where people are getting hammered.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jul 6th, 2008 at 11:27:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're right above, and headed in the right direction with the Dulles Line.  We do have too much money in and around Washington.  That's why so many come here to begin with.  The economic opportunities are there and people just stay.  Most of the country does not have economy we have here, but we also put up with a lot.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 09:35:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think a lot has to do with commuting distance and the lack of inexpensive, efficient mass transit, a situation that you note before zeroing in on the social status cause.

Why is there a lack of mass transit?

I would argue that much of the resistance to mass transit on the part of the wealthy is a belief that it is below their station in life.  

Put simply, poor people ride the bus. And to ride the bus indicates that you are poor, and therefore have less status.

And in the end, what you are buying when you spend that money on car commuting is not the utility of having the vehicle, but the status it conveys.  And after all.  

And if it were utility alone that people were seeking, why do they drive a large vehicle that has an oversized engine instead of something that got them from point a to point b?  Looking at choices within the mode of transportation, why is it that the obvious choices to achieve the same purpose, independent transportation, at less cost are overlooked in order to drive a larger, fancier vehicle that conveys status?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 01:34:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Remember Maggie Thatcher's little thing about mass transit?

"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."

Evidence of Anglo-saxon disease, among many other evidence.


The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 01:39:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yet another facet of the Anglo Disease.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 01:45:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm reminded of this Andy Singer cartoon:

by Magnifico on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course he can. Should be biking or taking the train instead :-P

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 09:58:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Forget the wealthy.  

I know middle class Americans who, quite seriously, assert that they've not worked so hard their whole lives so that they should sit next to some foul-smelling stranger.  Someone just told me this!  Seriously, they were complaining about the cost of gas to drive to Texas.  I said: take the train.  They said: I'd rather be broke than have to spend a day sitting next to someone else's ... "body odors."  Now we can pretend mass transport smells nice, or we can be honest and admit it smells icky often and that secretly we believe ourselves too accomplished and civilized to have to tolerate it.  The very same people who want their President to be a down to earth guy you can have a beer with are elitist pigs who are afraid of cooties.  The same people who don't support the theory of evolution are confident they have evolved because they don't stink like the savages they are trying to save.  Our DL considers the pinnacle of civilization a hot shower.  DL also prefers to take a cab than a train.  I am guilty too.  I don't care if people think I'm poor.  But I don't want your weird smells all over me.  

I should do a diary on how our desire to smell civilized contributes to climate crisis (fuel, water, etc...)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 01:53:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
haha!

or, you could just do like me and not wash before using public transport.

if you can't beat them, join them....

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:07:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or you could do like me and strategically plot your apartment hunting near the station that serves the uber-wealthy commuter line.  

Everyone smells good on my train.  It's the rich people's train.  See, they don't have a complex abuot taking the train to work, these lawyers and ... lawyers, so far as I can see.  Because it has ac and everyone's freshly done up and the conductors are charming and it's very clean and everyone is well behaved.

Good smelling train-->filthy rich people takin' it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:35:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are "Express Freeway Fliers" in LA that leave from a lot by an off ramp of the Ventura Freeway in Encino and go directly to downtown.  From there you have access to Metro-Rail, the Blue and Gold lines and what ever else they have added in the last two years.  Almost everyone getting on these buses wear suits and carry briefcases.  As late as 1999 it was a good value.  There are several other similar lines.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 09:25:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All that you say can be true.

And yet, to what extent are the preferences that we assume to be our own derived from our social experiences and the context in which we grew up?

Economists want us to believe that our preferences are our's alone, chosen by us, so that making them clear we are expressing something of ourselves.

Any good marketing executive will tell you why this is ridiculous.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:24:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Our DL considers the pinnacle of civilization a hot shower.

Wait, are you claiming it might be, you heretic?

I've mentioned this before: from the point of view of the middle class, busses are dirty and for the poor, but trains are acceptable for the middle class.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:20:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that we'd be amazed at the good that a campaign that showed a few celebrities taking the bus, and getting local notables to take the bus in cities would do to change that.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:29:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it would do anything, other than give Faux News an opportunity to use the term "Hollywood liberal" a few times before going back to blaming speculators or Mexicans or whatever new bogeyman the assholes have come up with this week.

Nothing's going to change in any significant way with fluffy pitches from Madison Ave.  It might give a few people a warm, fuzzy feeling to have the knowledge that they're "doing their part" or something, but it's meaningless without a fundamental shift in people's understanding of the possible and necessary with an eye toward the future.  The only way people are going to swallow their pride and take the damned bus is by making the cars too expensive.

Which is why we should be raising gas taxes to push people that way, and using the money for subsidies and projects out in places where there's no alternative.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:54:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Confucius Lives Next Door  journalist T.R. Reid tells the story of living in Tokyo and being constantly surprised by the signs encouraging socially beneficial behavior.  He asked himself, "Does this mean that the Japanese have to constantly be minded to make them do right?"  

In the end he concluded the opposite, in "Western" cultures we focus more on punishing bad behavior through social sanction giving people the idea that everyone is cheating and only idiots don't do so.  By reinforcing good behavior the Japanese get better outcomes that we in the West do by punishing bad behavior.  Because everyone always hears about what was done right.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 05:43:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And that's fine, but I seem to recall Asian nations using such positive reinforcement mechanisms as thousand-dollar fines for littering, bans on chewing gum, and use of forced labor to shame those guilty of antisocial behavior.  Which isn't to say that actual positive reinforcement doesn't play a role, but Reid strikes me as being simply infatuated with Confucianism more than anything.

Nothing against Confucianism, but I suspect it is, in typical journamalist fashion, a shallow, Tom-Friedman-goes-to-Infosys take.

It also sounds a bit similar to the old line from the 1980s about magical Japanese business techniques that would leave the rest of the world in the dust.  But, while the Japanese do a lot of things really well (you'll find I'm a big cheerleader for their automotive work), it didn't quite work out that way.

And, in any event, I'm willing to bet that making the gas too expensive will do a lot more to move people in the right direction than a Lindsey Lohan poster.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Jul 8th, 2008 at 07:01:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
in "Western" cultures we focus more on punishing bad behavior through social sanction giving people the idea that everyone is cheating and only idiots don't do so.

I don't know about that. Do you remember the campaigns against roadside littering and the use of seat belts and child seats. Sure there are sanctions, but I believe it was conscience and constant reminders that created the changes in behavior. (I know that these days littering has returned, but is it because of punishment,the lack of enforcement or just because there are no more ads?)  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jul 9th, 2008 at 03:56:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... train system, including extending the line to newly established suburbs that it had not originally serviced before it was closed, they integrated local bus routes with the train ... and found that people would take a short bus "to catch the train".

See, that's a good excuse, because it saves the hassle of parking at the train station.

... but actually taking the bus all the way somewhere ... that's for losers.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 10:47:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wait, are you claiming it might be, you heretic?

Almost.  I prefer a hot bath...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:44:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gah, that should have been "might not be."

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 05:00:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The hot shower featured prominently in Nomad's writings about sustainability and civilisation:
It's remarkable how little one really needs for hiking in the bush. Good shoes and a proper backpack are half the enjoyment. A good bed-bunk and a hot meal at the end of the day: also important. Practical tools: a hat, a pocketknife, a compass. But the one thing everyone, bar none, craves for after 2 days of hiking: a hot shower. I can only conclude that showering (or bathing) has become part of who we are. We can no longer go without.
After diverse other accidents, he was sitting freezing in a bus stop in a town a day's ride from Paris, when a hippie came by, and told him: "Why don't you come with me & stay at the farm of my uncle for the night? There is hot shower!" (My friend: "In those days, I didn't dream of girls or something, I dreamt of a hot shower!" -- Nomad's rule of Civilised Luxury No. 1 seems to hold.)
what are the bare bones in today's society? So I drew up a shopping list. It is not that different than DeAnander's list, and I used my South African experience to re-evaluate and Africanise my nomadic wish-list from Sweden.

...

Heating:

Hot water - for my shower and my shave

I favour the approach of smart and sexy solutions with the corporation of certain western commodities and privileges. Clean water, a warm house, a hot shower with the push of a button - why should we not be trying to preserve those at first? Once we fail to do that, perhaps DeAnander's return-to-innocence scenario might play out. But I'm unwilling to move straigh there as long as there is the chance to opt for the first scenario.


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 8th, 2008 at 06:25:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hot showers are no so much about getting clean and fresh as being nakedly sensual and feeling happy. I guess most people feel happy in a hot shower - that's why some of us sing.

I read of a judge who retired to chambers for a shower before any difficult summing up. It was not ritualized cleansing - he said that free-roaming shower meditation brought him perspective.

In Finland, the sauna has a very special role. The shower (or swim in the lake, sea or pool) after sauna is part of the ritual, but  the main event is sitting naked with others in 80 deg C semi-darkness and staring at a few hot stones on top of the stove.

Being naked with your friends is an affirmation of closeness and openness. In business saunas (quite frequent occurences) the hierarchy is reversed or levelled - the older guys higher up the ladder are tubby and out of shape, the younger guys trimmer. Stripped of the badges and trappings of status, the conversations are open, friendly, listening and cooperative. IMO the business sauna plays quite a big role in the comparative equitability of Finnish business people.

BTW mixed business saunas are rare, but I've hear the women's versions are even more levelling across the age spread.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 06:30:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I never really understood the issue of mass transit smelling badly.  And I don't live in a rich area.  Middle-class might even be a bit generous.  But I never found the trains unpleasant (the occasional ranting crackhead aside), let alone unbearable.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 05:08:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would argue that much of the resistance to mass transit on the part of the wealthy is a belief that it is below their station in life.

I don't think you can blame the attitudes of the wealthy here. My impression is that their attitudes on this are  no different than those of the rest of Americans. In most of America they don't want to ride mass transit. In NYC,  the greatest single concentration of wealthy people in the US, they do.  Like the rest of New Yorkers they're acting rationally - the mass transit system is good, driving sucks. In areas where mass transit sucks only those who have to will use it. The only difference is that they use cabs  more often outside of rush hour (regardless of whether the cost matters, spending far more time to get where you want to is generally not appealing) and tend to shell out for the luxury of owning a car for out of town trips rather than relying on rentals.

by MarekNYC on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 01:58:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that if you take Veblen as correct, the wealthy establish the rules of "decent" behavior in a society, so that everyone has to conform to them.

In New York, this is a bit different.  New York is like a different country to many Americans, and once you get out of the five Boroughs, I guarantee you that car use will go up.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would say that the wealthy have a disproportionate influence, rather than outright setting social preferences. But along those lines, what we've seen over the past decade is a shift away from the desirability of suburban life and towards that of urban neighbourhoods among the well off. The problem is that there simply isn't enough housing available for those who want to live in such areas, forcing middle class families to live in the suburbs whether they want to or not.
by MarekNYC on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:25:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is undoubedtly true in areas like New York, but in most of the United States, the trend hasn't be to build up, but build out. Spurred on by the belief that cheap gas will always be there.

And as for the necessity of the suburbs.  Americans have this inane plantation ideal that makes them believe that they need a patch of grass larger than an old peasant's farm plot in order to survive.

What's wrong with public greens and parks?  What's wrong with having a small back garden with just enough space instead of a small field that required constant maintenance even though its a monoculture?

I think that simple zoning laws, like relaxing setbacks, and mandating a 1-1 match for new commercial space with residential space (matching the neighborhood income spread) above the store.  Would do a lot to change things quickly.

I don't think that urban living has to involve gentrification.  What's needed is concerted government involvement to ensure that the demands of the community, not the market alone are met.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:36:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think that urban living has to involve gentrification.  What's needed is concerted government involvement to ensure that the demands of the community, not the market alone are met.

As long as there is less housing being built in existing upper income urban areas or new higher end housing in nearby ones than there is demand for such housing, gentrification is inevitable. The upper income people displace the upper middle class, the upper middle class create new upper middle class housing by displacing the middle class, the middle income folks displace the poor who are screwed. Nimbyism and knee-jerk anti-development feelings among upper middle class liberals help speed up the process. Go to San Francisco - the whole damn city is turning into one big gentrified area. New York is far bigger relative to its metro area so there are limits on how far this can go, but Manhattan - same thing.

Brownstones in my Brooklyn neighborhood went for $100K fifteen years ago, now it's $1.5M and that's not just the housing bubble but a fundamental shift in the economic class of those who live here. The new residents oppose building more housing, piously saying that it will gentrify the area even more. Somehow they don't see the irony. Not to mention the fact that the bad side of gentrification is not the fact that a neighbourhood gets upper middle class residents but that the poor are forced out. Not building new housing decreases the influx of better off people to a given neigbourhood while accelerating the displacement of the poor in both that area and in other ones (some of the would be residents of new housing go to other areas). Yeah, I'm ranting, but it pisses me off.

by MarekNYC on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:58:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with some of what you say regarding an aversion to mass transit, by the "wealthy" in particular.  I've known some people who would refuse to take mass transit.  However, I also believe that it's pretty much just those who consider themselves too wealthy or too good these days.

Another real issue (and I still maintain that a car can be a necessity when there are no real alternatives)is the cost of taking the bus or train. It's quite expensive around here (until recently) and the cost of the train is even higher during commuting hours.  One could drive a car for less than the cost of taking the train, especially if the non-commuting costs of car ownership were considered "sunk" costs (that is you had to have a car anyway.) I have long thought that mass transit should be more heavily subsidized at the expense of automobile ownership and highway construction.  That may be the only way to wean Americans off their cars but I don't give it much of a chance.

The reason people drive large gas guzzling vehicles has been the very affordable (OK cheap) price of gasoline in this country.  The recent dramatic rises in that price have caused many folks to reconsider their options, but if the price doesn't continue to rise they'll just buy new gas guzzlers after they get over the initial shock.  People like lots of room, plenty of zoom and a comfortable ride. A minority, like myself, don't care that much about such things but that's an anomaly.


I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 10:06:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One could drive a car for less than the cost of taking the train, especially if the non-commuting costs of car ownership were considered "sunk" costs (that is you had to have a car anyway.)

My dad did a back-of-the-envelope calculation once. I don't remember precisely what his input assumptions were, but the result was that good shoes cost about a Danish crown pr. km walked, public transport (in Scandinavia at least) cost about a crown pr. km if you commute every day and avail yourself of the bulk discounts, while a car costs about 2 crowns pr. km.

Of course, that's assuming that you ride all by yourself in the car, but it's still a thought-provoking little bit of arithmetic.

Say what you will about being able to drive a car being a privilege. I say that living in a country with an infrastructure that makes it cheaper and faster to go by train than by car is a greater privilege.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 16th, 2008 at 11:03:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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