If I *beg* you to stop saying “LA has no transit” will you stop saying it? Please? Pretty Please?

Pretty please with sugar on top? Would rainbow sprinkles do it for you?

A general overview of why: People not engaged with transit as an important part of their awareness wind up crediting it, while everybody who lives and works in LA transit knows perfectly damn well we need to improve it. Thus there is no audience for the statement. LA does not need smartest boys and girls talking shit about our transit and putting more dust in the air, whether it is ever-so-clever NY writers trading in cliches or transit nerds who want to demonstrate how smart they are about operations. Go bother Orange County, would you? They deserve it.

Actually let’s get real. Just like there is endless money for the NYT to pay twats like David Brooks, there is endless money for them to pay journalists to grind out the same dipshit stuff about Los Angeles they have since forever. Who am I to disrupt this grand mill of dumb writing about LA?

But I expect my transit brothers and sisters to do better by our system here in LA.

Here are some individual reasons why saying “LA has no transit” is counterproductive.

  1. It misleads people unfamiliar with the region into thinking that no matter what, transit is not an option, so they make dumb residential choice and car purchase decisions when they come here, thereby reinforcing one of the tricky things about transit in LA.

My life in LA as a transit expert is governed by nontransit scholars moving here from other places, plunking themselves in some westside neighborhood (because, grabs pearls, the gangs!) which has had bad transit *on purpose* for decades, and then lecturing me on how bad LA transit is and how great it was in San Francisco. This is analogous to me plunking my big fat arse in Marin and then bitching that I need a car in San Francisco when I didn’t need one in LA.

A second, common scenario in my life: student/faculty moves to DTLA from outside the region and then says to me “I bought a car because everybody said I would need one, but I don’t!” No, you don’t. BECAUSE THERE IS TRANSIT IN LA. But you got stuck with the expense and difficulty of a car because people promulgated a lazy myth instead of really talking about which locations in LA are accessible to where and which are not.

It is possible to make stupid residential location decisions in any region with regard to transit; there are inaccessible parts of the NY, Chicago, Boston, Philly, and DC regions. It is easier to luck into a good transit neighborhood in places like those where service spans, frequencies, and OD pairs are better than LA, but if you do some research you will find that some areas of LA have entirely satisfactory, 20-minute commute transit trips. We are working on making that better, but EXACTLY HOW ARE YOU HELPING BY ACTING LIKE THAT DOESN’T EXIST AT ALL, ANYWHERE ? HOWWW is this helping? How?

Feel free to say things like “LA has spotty transit, so be careful where you pick your hotel/apartment.” But saying “there is no transit” just contributes bad information, and don’t we have enough of that in the world already?

2. The “There is no transit in LA” narrative excuses people in LA who are perfectly well-served by transit from not taking it because it’s just not “there.” Or it’s supposedly “no good.”

Look, every year except this year in PPD 245, I give students an extra credit assignment to ride the train from USC to downtown LA. These are undergrad students, most of them are around 18 to 20 years old, most are from the region, and most of them HAVE NEVER SET ONE FOOT ON TRANSIT in their entire lives.

This would be a different story if I worked at one of the Cal States.

Many of them tell me their parents “are worried about them doing the assignment because transit in LA is so bad/unsafe.” (Risking fiery death by crashing and burning up on the freeways between LA and Orange County is apparently safer.)

The students are floored–utterly floored–by how nice and easy this little trip is. We spent $900 million dollars on that damn train, the campus has three–COUNT ‘EM, three!–stops, THEY GET A DISCOUNTED PASS EVERY SEMESTER….and without my class, most do not set a foot on that train even though it goes to a vital downtown with tons of things of to do in one direction and in the other direction to ONE OF THE NICEST GODDAMN BEACHES ON THE PLANET…and they STILL haven’t gotten on it.

Of course, these are my white students, usually. My Latinx and Black students are mostly like “I’ve ridden the bus with my mom since I was a little kid and now I get credit for taking a ride…thass good.”

Which is another point:

3. Saying “there is no transit in LA” erases the fact that LA Metro and the many service providers in the region are supplying an essential service—millions of rides every single day for riders, many of whom use LA transit as an important part of their economic survival.

No, these riders aren’t getting the service they ideally should get in a better world, but goddamnit they exist, they have been loyal customers for years, and it’s not like LA Metro, Foothill Transit, etc etc staff spend their days watching tv and huffing glue. There are a lot of operators driving buses right now risking the worst contagion threat we have seen in 100 years to provide service, only to have knuckleheads dismiss it all for a clever turn of phrase.

That is deeply uncool, brothers and sisters. It erases how some groups in LA have, through their daily practices, kept our system going (yes, with subsidies, but so what?) and done the right thing vis-a-vis climate change without all the bells and whistles and conveniences y’all think we’re supposed to have in order for you to acknowledge transit’s existence in LA.

(The above is a roundabout, white lady, perhaps even Karen-esque way of saying that erasing transit in LA is a l’il racist, so knock it off, or I want to talk to your manager.)

4. Promulgating the notion that there is no transit in LA means developers who are not dialed in/sympathetic likely overlook opportunities, unchecked. I can’t be everywhere, all the time, people.

Some even do dumb things like, say, build an entire big, giant LA Live complex without improving the transit walking environment one little jot. Or….

I was once dragooned into one of the infinite planning meetings conducted by developers of one of the many, varied and myriad stadium proposals that LA had floating around for years. The site had access to an Amtrak branch that had been left unused.

I asked who owned it. Well, Amtrak, jovial developer said.

Have you thought about asking whether Amtrak might be willing to make the line available to provide some special service on game days?

Developer looked at me like I was the dumbest dumb girl in the entire world of dumb girls.

“Errrrr, nobody wants to take a train to the stadium.” he said and moved on to other, smarter people.

EVERYBODY WANTS TO TAKE THE TRAIN TO THE STATION. Moreover, everybody ELSE wants EVERYBODY AT THE STADIUM to take the train. Even more moreover, you can sell more concession-stand beer to people who aren’t going to drive away from your stadium.

Erasing what is erases what can be, too. I very much doubt that running special service would have penciled out for anybody, especially because he wanted to bank on parking fees, but it wasn’t like I suggested he go plant potatoes on the moon. (The margin on beer has GOT to be better than trying to get what you pay to provide parking in a place with land prices like LA. Think of the shoppes you could put on that land instead.)

(This site was not chosen but the issue remains.)

5. Reasons 1 through 4 make you sound like either a clueless outsider, a sheltered suburban child, or a hater who doesn’t actually *want* LA transit to make it onto anybody’s radar because that would ruin your dunks.

One of my (beloved) friends in the physics department once said (IN A PUBLIC FORUM NO LESS) that people who claim they can’t take transit in LA are “stupid or lazy or both.” Now, I am a gentler soul than he, and having studied mode choice for a long time I understand that there are many, many sound reasons why transit may not be a great option for you or any, one individual.

But please bear in mind that not everybody is as kindly as your dear Auntie Lisa and every time you say “there is no ….blah blah blah”…my friend and others like him are probably judging you in the very harshest of terms.

So let’s come up with a new shorthand for characterizing LA, okay?

Densit(ies) and the virus in the room

I am going to preface this post with my belief that virtually all coronavirus hot-takes are terrible.  I am a little conflicted by my own attitude here because I think that it’s important for people to discuss what is going on to help others make sense and meaning out of it. But I am a slow thinker (ha hah hah aha yeah, enjoy that one, smartest boys, but I am too tired and too depressed to refine my own phrasing), and I am uncomfortable with the idea that we can conclude much about anything in the middle of something like the pandemic. Maybe that’s just me.

I’ve been squirming a lot lately because the pandemic and its spread hits at the heart of a cherished urban value—population density—to which YIMBYs and other urban fans have attached a lot of normative force. Inevitably, density comes up as a factor in the spread of the virus, and inevitably there is petulance— and sometimes (ick) even denial— in response. Density can’t be factor! Or if it is a factor, it’s a good one! Our wonderful social cohesion in San Francisco means we’ll do better than those sprawled yoinks in Los Angeles! We all just know this. Cars made us overweight and sick and that’s why we are struggling with the virus now! It can’t be density’s fault. The virus can be spread with cars! Etc.

We fall into these all-or-nothing “density good” and “density bad” discussions, and I just can’t with them. People who don’t like urban densities latch on to any downside of density, like the virus, to say “density bad” and this proves it. And people who like urbanity ignore or discount the downsides of density and act like anybody bothered or concerned about those things are opportunistic scaremongers rather than people who weight the downsides and upsides differently than them.

I’d really like to see density reframed significantly in the way we think about it.

I asked the question on Twitter: what if density isn’t a regional phenomenon and in two seconds I got: “well what it is then?” and I didn’t answer then because whatever remains of my life is insufficient to spend any of it arguing with randos on Twitter anymore.

Density is densities

Here’s the answer: In cities, density is; densities are. That’s all, but quite a bit, because as Louis Wirth noted, relative density is a defining factor of cities. Whether densities are good or bad depends on how people adapt in and manage them, and what spatiality they manifest depends on the boundary you place around them. That boundary is a subjective choice. (I don’t have any baggage with the subjective, but you may. I suggest therapy. ) Cities contain multitudes of densities even if we tend to measure only one, quite static component of it.

Take a peek into the very cool material coming from spatial theory, (Environment and Planning D is a fertile ground for this thought) and you will see that regional, static measures of density miss a lot. At its most basic, density in cities and human settlements is fluid; it changes even throughout the day, it moves. Remember all those animations about movement into and out of Manhattan? That’s watching density morph and change. If you laid a 1-km grid over New York at 1 pm and counted you would get a much different cell count than if you did that at 1 am. More complicated is thinking about the ways in which individual factors of wealth, perhaps, or other personal markers interact with context to make “people per square mile” into a much richer concept (billionaires per square mile). Yes, with lots of urban models you have to pick a spatial boundary and take an average measure, but the information you are missing is consequential, including exactly how a person came into contact with a virus.

Density even poorly measured has a been significant factor in just about every regression model of behavior and choice that social scientists have published for the last 40 years, and that is a big, honking boatload of studies. So, of course, density is likely a factor in the spread of the virus. It was a factor in the spread of the plague that decided the Peloponnesian War. It was a factor with the Black Death. Epidemiologists and urban health specialists have this covered. Density is likely a factor, and likely an important one, and sadly not one that by itself favors human life in the context of coronavirus spread. Density is life-supporting in myriad other ways, but with disease spread, it’s likely not a help.

Lost in all this is that density/densities was never unambiguously good in terms of its consequences on human life. It’s just that the spread of deadly virus is current and terrifying, but density doesn’t help with myriad other things like terrorism. Population density doesn’t help with congestion; imagine Manhattan with straight Euclidean zoning. It would be godawful. Instead, mixed land uses helps manage the congestion from population density.

Cities are where we manage densities

Density doesn’t do our work for us beyond delivering the things, like customers or transit patrons (same thing) that density has always been good at delivering. I wrote a paper about this for JAPA: yep, emissions per person are lower with density, but the total number of people exposed to things if you do have an air quality problem goes up with density. Somebody from the EPA called me about that study told me that they were going to cite it by including the first finding but not the second. I responded that of course they could do what they wanted to, it was their report, but it was irresponsible to act like the first happens and the second doesn’t.

My point with that study and my argument here is simply that the downsides of density do not mean we flush it (like we could if we tried). It means that when we build new infill housing to densify, we don’t put the new housing by existing freeways, for frack’s sake. Of course people who don’t want to give up living in a single-family house in a suburb aren’t going to sign on, but their preference weighting of consequences isn’t the issue. The issue is that density and its downsides require urban innovation, and in truth people innovate around density’s downsides all the time.

Let’s take examples that may seem trivial vis-a-vis the virus; sometimes it helps to go simpler. Nobody is born into the world knowing that if you want to stand on the subway escalator you stand to right so that people who want to use the escalators like stairs can move freely on the left. That’s a cultural innovation that developed because of density and crowding. When the owner of a noodle shop in Tokyo notices they can’t fit as many customers in the place as they could because the shop is getting crowded, they change things up so they offer more standing areas. Etc etc.

In the case of viruses, residents in Asian cities seem to me to already have adapted to these problems, at least in part. As soon as the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan hit the news, I began seeing some of my international students on campus with masks right away. That’s a cultural innovation that US residents didn’t twig to properly because of misinformation. I bet we don’t do that again.

It sickens me to frame the ungodly suffering and death we face with Covid-19 as a time for learning and innovation, but the facts are that all times, even bad ones like this, are times for learning to cope with the problems of living together. Cities pose this problem to us in the starkest terms, but if anything, the quarantine reminds us just how beneficial being together is. None of that goes away because of densities’ downsides.

I have recorded every single noise in this goddamn house except the sound of my voice narrating my Keynote slides

Seriously, lecture capture is a giant PITB and yes I know barely literate dudes have garnered themselves millions of YouTube followers by recording their rants while driving and wearing those supposedly edgy sunglasses, but I–I, who penned one of the most tech-intensive papers in recent planning (not that recent, but hey, cut me some slack)–can not get my recording situation under control for online teaching.

I gave the same presentation 11 times yesterday, hoping to get it to record with ScreenFlow, only to find, time after time, that I wasn’t recording. I finally had to zap my pvram to make my stupid microphone to work, internal or external. I gave up. I posted notes instead.

I FINALLY got my microphone to work today, settled down to record via ScreenFlow, gave a GREAT lecture, still enthusiastic despite going over it AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN the past two days. Go back to ScreenFlow. Not a thing recorded. Go Back. Get distracted, and come back two hours later to find that ScreenFlow has been recording the whole damn time I have been away, for reasons utterly beyond me, including the following noises:

  1. My dogs barking at passersby,
  2. Me telling them to STFU
  3. Us moving furniture around
  4. Andy and me having a conversation about whether elementary school kids still make fart noises with their armpits the way they did when we were kids, and how I tried to learn how to do that only to have one of my teachers tell me that girls can’t learn how to do that;
  5. My dogs barking at passersby;
  6. Me worrying that we have a beehive in the wall since Andy found some bees in his office;
  7. The sound of Andy opening windows so he can let bees out
  8. Us discussing some really tall weeds in the back yard.
  9. Us discussing how we really wish people treated horses better.
  10. Me complaining that I hate having to read books checked out from the library on the iPad since all I do is start at screens all day.
  11. The entire conversation of David, Aubrey, Olivia and me recording a podcast that Aubrey was already recording.

Things to do/watch/listen to divert yourself from all the sadness

Before anybody starts in on me, I am not assuming that everybody is a salaried employee who can work from home and who is childless and thus has hours and hours and hours to kill. I am assuming that everybody, including those who have to go out to work and who have to watch children, needs a break from the unrelenting terror of the virus news. I remember sitting there torturing myself in the days after the VT shootings with watching the news until Andy, who never tells anybody what to do, let alone me, finally intervened and got me to tune out for a few days.

The news will be there. Just give yourself a break from it when you can, a break that lets your mind unwind from the understandable anxiety. Everybody needs to detach, no matter who they are.

I am, I feel, an all-time distract-myself-from-anxiety champion. I am here to help. There are those lists going around, made undoubtedly by a humorless public health person, telling you to take this time to learn to meditate, start a new healthy lifetime eating plan, and a new healthy exercise habit. Good job. If you are the sort of person who can do those things when the world is going to shit, I’m the dead last person you should listen to, so stop reading now.

Here instead is an Aunty Lisa Approved of things to do get your mind off of things and generally muck around and pass the time:

The Green Bean Podcast:

In this podcast, Illustrator/Sewist/Knitter Kate Green talks about her projects, draws illustrations for us, and takes us for walks with her adorable little dog, Jack in the Devon countryside.

Learn Hieroglyphics

To me, learning dead languages is the epitome of a finger in the eye of all the captialism-on-steroids “if it doesn’t put a dollar in your pocket, why learn it” thinking that dominates the world. Hieroglyphics are cool and maybe I’ll find a way to write crochet patterns with them.

Watch Disney movies and then watch fashion historians discuss the historical accuracy of the outfits on Glamour’s YouTube channel

Forget Disney–you can watch costumer Bernadette Banner recreate historical gowns of all sorts, including gowns from famous portraits like the Portrati of a Young Woman in White of Jaques-Louis David. Besides that, she has a super-cute guinea pig friend named Ceasario.

Set up your own reading nook. Better yet, set up a reading nook for your kids.

Watch Dan and Linsey Cummins tell each other ghost stories on the Scared To Death podcast. (Note: Dan is entirely wrong about crystals. IF they do not possess magical properties, you at least get to have pretty rocks. And if you get tired of them just as pretty rocks, they are hard and sharp and may be thrown at one’s enemies. No downside to crystals, really.)

Play quidditch in your backyard

All of the Columbos are on AmazonPrime.

Shut your monkey: Danny Gregory is an artist and coach. Start a sketchbook by telling yourself you are going to make the shittiest, worst, sloppiest sketches possible. Stop judging yourself. Sketching is very freeing, and you only get better after a lot of rotten, discouraging sketches. Nobody cares what your sketchbook looks like, it’s time you stopped caring too so that you can gather the benefits of sketching without judgment.

What are your favorite distractions? I need them.

So it turns out, lying *constantly* in public office is actually, well, bad.

If the coronavirus turns out not to be the 21st century’s Spanish influenza, I think that outcome will occur because of simple, blind luck. That would be nice, if it falls out that way.

It’s clear that there is no real plan, Trump won’t listen to epidemiologists or anybody else he thinks wields expertise, and the doctors that actually DO fit within Trump’s inner circle (Rand Paul, Ben Carson) do not seem motivated to say “Hey, let’s send a coherent message about not panicking and taking measures you can: hand-washing, staying home if sick, etc., sending your employees home if sick,. etc. ”

We are in this moment with a guy whose supporters—supporters–say that what he says should be taken “figuratively, not literally.” Now that we are two years into locking up children, that was all BS, but people still say it. Now, what, exactly, do you do with figurative actions about a virus that a president blames on a conspiracy?

Donald Trump lies and brags incessantly. When he talks, nobody can judge anything for what it is. And he never shuts up, so that anything real he does say gets lost in the noise.   

That works to his benefit when he and his people want to further obscure the questionable conduct documented in the Mueller Report. But just as all that lying, bragging, and spinning hides the bad things Donald Trump has allegedly done, it also hides the real…..and the urgency of the real.

Donald Trump, according to himself, conducts “perfect conversations” and “the best deals.” He writes “beautiful letters, perfect letters.” Come on. Nobody writes perfect letters, and if they did, who cares?  Ronald Reagen wrote some damn good letters, and he didn’t expect us to give him a cookie for it.  

By contrast, Barack Obama could announce the death of Bin Laden to an American public that had been primed into justifying the terrorist’s death by two presidents capable of a) shutting up and b) talking about something other than themselves. After 9-11, Americans had had periodic news of Bin Laden’s activities, videos, and latest threats.  Americans could then understand what Bin Laden’s death meant in the larger history about our struggles with terrorism in the post 9-11 world.  Leadership means helping your people see what they need to see. 

In Trump’s presidency, there is no news about anybody other than Trump, and he does his level best to make sure of that, and to make sure nobody can see anything but him. 

Thus having not discussed anybody else for three years and bragging about minutiae, Donald Trump announces to the American public that our special forces trapped al-Baghdadi. Or he has a press conference to reassure us all that It felt, as the kids say, random, instead of part of a sustained effort in anti-terrorism. I’m betting most of us had to Google al-Baghdadi.  After that, I suspect most Americans just filed what was, in reality, a world-changing report about al-Baghdadi’s death with all the rest of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless cheap talk.  They put it in the blather file along with beautiful, perfect letters and raids on revolutionary war airports and buying Greenland and how Christy Teigen says naughty words. 

All politicians lie and self-promote. This statement is not an indictment of politicians’ character. It acknowledges that politicians are human and that human beings lie and present our best selves to the world. 

 Because politicians wield power, political lying is consequential, and as such, lying has preoccupied some of history’s most influential thinkers. Liars and cheats run amok in the Old Testament, doing all sorts of shady things for important political and social ends. Plato discussed the need to create peace-keeping fibs to keep society stable. Machiavelli, that grumpy realist, instructed his princes that they must employ both force and fraud in a cutthroat world. Kant discouraged lying as a legitimate means to specific ends. Public ethicists today debate lying in politics along all these facets.   

The president’s supporters have told me that Donald Trump has redefined politics so that all his chatter is merely a performance beloved by the masses of real Americans. I do not buy it. Always there must be a strategic reasons for lying, and always—always—a point where leaders keep things real, if not always factual.

 In the early days, President Trump’s supporters could view his bloviating as showmanship and project onto him whatever they wished for.  After all this time, however, we must now see a president who has run out his strategy. He can’t lie enough to cover his conduct with Ukraine or the embarrassingly dumb Doral mess. And he cannot clear away the confusion he has fostered for years when his genuine “al-Baghadi moment” finally arrived— a moment that could have delivered to him the respect he so obviously craves. 

We the people cannot be faulted for failing to recognize the diamond amongst all the cheap imitation glass that Donald Trump has tried to sell us for years. Nobody expects a political leader to be a saint, or if they do, they are likely to be deeply disappointed. But nobody wants to be doused in bull poop all the time, either. If Donald Trump wants the respect of the office, he has to start being real. He has to stop making things up during press conferences, tweeting nonsensically, and rocking the boat just to get attention with silly celebrity feuds. If he can’t be real—if this constant jibber jabber really is all he is– he shouldn’t be in office. 

Sometimes, the truth really is that simple.

I am an American scholar who studies American cities, and I am tired of publisher-based “making it relevant to a global audience” pressure

There, I said it. American cities are worth studying, So are Zambian cities. I personally do not study Zambian cities not because I think only American cities are worth studying, but because there are Zambians who can write perfectly well about their own cities without me getting in the way and cluttering things up.

They can also write perfectly well about American cities, from an interesting vantage point.

I happen to think that the obverse, e.g., American scholars writing about cities internationally is a well-established genre that I do not need to be a part of. I don’t claim that my study of whatever and whatever in Los Angeles generalizes to “cities internationally.” It is very unlikely that I am going to claim that my study of Los Angeles is going to generalize to San Diego. Much depends on the topic.

Nobody tells presidential historians that they must make their Lincoln biography “relevant to an international audience.” Lincoln is just interesting. It’s ok.

Twenty years ago, we could say “oh, it’s important to think about how things apply across cities because of lessons learned.” Now we know from scholars from the global south that much of urban theory from the global north just isn’t all that relevant to cities in the global south. They have me convinced, save for a few things that are definitional about cities.

Publishers do not pressure me to appeal to “an international audience” for the benefit of the international audience or necessarily the integrity of the actual thought I’m trying to publish. They are doing it because they want to broaden audiences for their financial gain and relevance during a time when they are struggling. I do empathize, but not everything should be applied to everywhere. Lots of comparative studies simply aren’t that valid, but they are still interesting because they contain insightful writing about each place rather than really sound conclusions from their comparison. You would never know this from the way publishers push things.

I am all for global scholarship is global via by inclusion of voices around the globe. I am just one of those, writing about where I live.

On the Astros, confirmation bias, and how people just KNEW how much Dodgers pitchers sucked at the time

I have been thinking a lot about Astros and how much they have done to debase themselves and a sport that I have loved since childhood. I am not a particularly competitive person with sports, but I was sad the years the Dodgers had fielded such an excellent team only to come up empty at the end—at the hands of the Astros. I saw the thing as unfortunate—something that happens in sports. There’s always next year.

I don’t really know what you do with the title. You can’t award it to the Dodgers, unlike the perpetually omniscient Bernie supporters about election 2016, we have no idea whether the Dodgers would have won or not. But I do think they should take the title away from the Astros and make them pay back their gains. Give it to charity, something.

Beyond that, those jerks ruined Bolsinger’s career for him. Yeah, he might have washed out on his own. But he won’t ever know now, either.

The reason why I am thinking about this is that I am reading Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum’s A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault Against Democracy. It’s a really useful book; I am a fan of Nancy Rosemblum’s work in general, and this book doesn’t let me down. She and Muirhead explain the difference between the conspiracy theories that have always been around in American politics—since the Revolution—to what the authors refer to as the “conspiracism” onthe Right today in the US. Conspiracy theory, they note, requires theory and most
evidence. Much of the evidence is wrongly interpreted, but people still
work to find evidence of the truth.

In conspiracism, truth is irrelevant. Conspiracism is a mindset that deals with anything event or evidence that is counter to what one wants to be truth by ascribing it to a conspiracy on the left. We dislike Hillary Clinton so she’s a criminal. Running a pedophilia ring from a pizza parlor. Clearly. Can’t find the evidence. It was hidden by Deep State Democrats. Also, even if there is no evidence, it could be true. It’s disturbing. What matters isn’t whether it is actually true, what matters is eyeballs and circulation and maintaining your in-group status by echoing it and liking it. Alex Jones gets rich doing this, Donald Trump gets elected.

It’s dangerous and tempting because it rides on cognitive biases, and in particular, confirmation bias. We want something to be true, and conspiracism gives us an excuse to believe it is true regardless of the evidence and facts presented to them. Contradicting evidence has been manufactured by a cabal of scientists or a media cabal,
or a cabal of FBI agents, those notorious deep-state liberals. Mike Bolton goes from being ever-present on FoxNews to suddenly being a liberal stooge. Any evidence that does verify what we want to be true gets pulled in and elevated to serve our confirmation bias. Ha! We were right!

Randy Crane was pretty clear when I was a PhD: the more you believe something is true, the more you work to disprove it. If the hypothesis is left standing, you migh have something. We try in research, or we should try, to discipline our cognitive biases to the degree we can.

At the time the Dodgers were losing, I was surrounded by Giants fans who
haaaaaaate the Dodgers. This behavior is hard for me to respect, but people do engage in these sports rivalrie,s and I have to chalk it up to a human social behavior my autistic mind doesn’t quite grasp—or potentially, it comes down to my fundamental laziness in getting worked up or becoming engaged in something where my efforts really have little to do with outcomes.

It also fails my cost-benefit criteria. Friendly rivalries with genial ribbing I suppose is fine, but I don’t see much of that these days. Anywhere. Instead, I see friendships getting strained. The number of times I have seen my gentle, pure-hearted husband flinch as some Giants fan is all “Dodgers SUCK” in his sweet face….sports just don’t seem worth that to me. It just makes us small instead of what it should do.

This chorus of individuals who hate the Dodgers and who surround me supplied all the reasoning we needed to understand why Dodger pitchers were doing so poorly. The pitchers simply “sucked” I was told, over and over. And over and over. I remember watching Bolsinger get lit up again and again. That guy, I was told dipositively, always sucked, and there he was, sucking. And, of course, it never occurred to me to think otherwise. The Dodgers pitchers, I was told, were overpaid, lousy, overhyped. I
believed the chorus. People were so confident in their assessments.

But it turns out, there was another explanation, one that would be discovered by an Astros fan whose chose to observe instead of opine, who noticed too much banging on trash cans and too many Astros hitters showing way more discernment than they normally did. They didn’t accept the easy answer the way I did, and I am so impressed and grateful.

.Question everything, within reason. That’s where discovery is.

The Dodgers pitchers may have choked all on their own. We don’t know. The problem was…way too many of us think we know when we do not.

Vacancy rates really don’t measure what either YIMBY or tenant advocate orgs want them to

We talked about SB50 in class a few days ago, my undergrad class, and I had a student come up to me later and say “How can you say that we need more housing when vacancy rates are so high?” I asked her where she got the impression that vacancy rates are high in Los Angeles, and she told me about a study from some well-intended people at Luskin who published a study that pretty much epitomized why vacancy rates are not a great measure of the many things that both YIMBY and tenant orgs cite them for.

I don’t link to the study because I don’t want the dunks to start again, and plenty of people criticized that exercise already, but I have since had (also well-intended) YIMBY folk quote vacancy rates at me, leaving me my normal, nonplussed self.

We can put vacancy rates in with average rents as being decidedly poor measures of where we are in terms of housing supply and demand information. Point-in-time rate measures are useful in engineering but descriptive in social sciences, and there are so many things about vacancy rates that are not likely to add up that it’s kinda hard to know where to begin.

First off, a 1 percent vacancy rate is low, but not if a week after the occupancy rates were reported, 100 new buildings with 11 million new units available come on the market. Just so, an 80 percent vacancy rate is high, but not if it describes the occupancy of the 50 available rental units and 11 million families are heading towards the city in Uhauls. These are silly, extreme examples, but you get the point: vacancy rates, like average rents, are only really illustrative when we have repeated measures over a relatively long period, and those measures stay relatively stable over that time. How long indicates a decent market-clearing supply rent profile? I don’t know. How stable? Don’t know that either.

A second problem is that we really don’t know for sure what the relationship, and the timing of that relationship, between rents and vacancy rates. WHOA NELLY. I know right at that point I have YIMBY advocates clearing their throats to yell at me that OF COURSE, WE KNOW THAT LOW VACANCY MEANS HIGH PRICES DUH ECON 101 LADY. Yes, but blunt theoretical knowledge of that relationship really doesn’t tell us when one moves the other or vice versa, and these very likely seems to be mutually reinforcing phenomena. At what vacancy rate, for how long, do landlords really get the message that they have to go lower/can’t go higher? And how much lower do they go when they do go lower? Ditto with renters: are they aware of vacancies such that they walk from bad deals? What about places with lots of recent migrants who are very unlikely to know the rental landscape and very likely take what they can get until they know the place well enough to shop around?

How good even are periodic vacancy reports? Data are scarce enough in housing, and much of it is proprietary, and call me old-fashioned, but I don’t trust business or business associations collecting and reporting data properly. The more information have about their competition, the better, and they all know that, so gaming data that you report to others strikes me as possible but likely, and it also seems to me that the bias here is likely in favor of over-reporting occupancy rather than under-reporting.

This is not me trying to do some “oh see your measure is wonky you can’t prove there is a housing shortage” nonsense. It’s very clear from the accumulated evidence that California cities are too expensive and supply lags are a major part of the problem. It’s just that vacancy rates do not give us much of a guidepost, and granted that they are one of the few data points available, it’s fairly easy for that one, wonky guidepost to be less helpful than we need it to be.

I love imperfect things

I love imperfect neighborhoods.

I love imperfectly clean rooms.

I love imperfect books.

I love imperfectly made clothing.

I love imperfect answers.

I love imperfect feelings.

I love imperfect students.

I love imperfect friends.

I try to love my own imperfect production the same way that I love all the imperfect things around me, and it’s so hard, because I have such a nattering mean voice in my head that points out every flaw in everything I do.

I got dear Captain Cookie out of the shelter 3 years ago today. He had one eye and three legs and he was the best dog ever.

Someday perhaps I shall love all my imperfects the way I love everybody else’s.

My wiggly daily word count

When I was coming up, I had two schools of thought with writing: outlining and free writing. Outlining is very difficult, and nobody really helps you with an outline. I found myself just filling in various levels, scrambling for a phrase or two, and not really relating the outline to the overall narrative structure of the writing.

So when the free writing school came along, I tried to embrace that. Freewriting, for those who do not know, is just writing down whatever is in your head as quickly as possible to get the ideas out an down. Then you go back later and carve the structure of the paper. This method, I thought, would be much, much better for me than rigid, un-fun old outlining.

Only it wasn’t. I just made a damn mess. Turns out, I am not the sort of writer who naturally relates topics and gets into a flow. I am the sort of writer who winds up writing about specious examples. And digressions that never actually get to the point. And, worse, all this clutter makes it very hard to see what there. I have written 30 pages of free writing and walked away with absolutely nothing usable.

I know many, many people who use freewriting successfully, but it turns out I just wasn’t one of them. My struggles with freewriting became even more frustrating and I wound up blocked every time I tried it.

Turns out, I am one of those people free writing advocates tell you not to be: a person who edits as I go. I can not move forward in the writing unless the structure of what is there is *right* to me. If it is not, this little writer monkey refuses to go to work.

It means that my writing is slow going, and it’s two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes three steps back. In addition to working the structure, I am always working on sentence quality. Edit, edit, edit.

One of my dearest mentors, Andrew Sabl, taught me to use a sentence outline. It was wonderful. Now my writing begins with a concept map that I work into a storyboard. The storyboard has each paragraph’s topic sentence in it. I work from the storyboard when I draft. I often have to rework the storyboard as I go.

I decided to track the word count throughout the course of some writing days. Some of these are sad days where I cut more than I created. I post it here in the hopes that other writers who might share my inability to just let the words flow take some solace from it.