Monthly Archives: February 2011

Climatopolis – Matthew Kahn (2010)

Climatopolis is a recent book by Matthew Kahn, an economist and ‘green’ thinker, focusing on the effects of climate change on cities (subtitle = How our cities will thrive in the hotter future).  It’s a fairly short and easy read, and has some interesting findings and ideas, taking some level of climate change as a given and suggesting that market forces will provide mechanisms of adaptation as city amenities (like weather and flood risk) change over time – leading people to move around as they see fit.

I find various passages in the book to be annoyingly glib however.  Too often Kahn simply parrots free-market ideas without much consideration or subtlety.  Here are a couple examples.  Page 27, he says that high taxes “encourages people to work less and take more leisure” – well, perhaps, for some portion of the ‘people’ who find that the marginal work effort is not worth the marginal gain, but most people have pretty fixed expenses and will probably work just as much if not more.  Page 45, at the end of a chapter on a variety of responses to city disasters, he writes “One theme that emerges from this chapter is that government policies can significantly increase the degree of climate -related risks that a population faces” – yet one of the sections in the chapter talks about the use of better building codes to increase the quality of buildings and reduce potential damages…  so obviously bad policies can make things worse and good policies can make things better – it’s not a one way street!

As noted on Matthew Yglesias’s blog, there is also a rather casual treatment of past instances of mass violence and death, citing statistics that show that both the A-bombed cities of Japan and Vietnam got back fairly quickly to their longer-term growth rates.  Not much comfort for those in the midst of the onslaught.  And likewise for those caught in climate-change disasters, it’s not going to make the going any easier to realize that probably all will be back to normal in 15-20 years (assuming that’s true).

Kahn includes in the book some closer looks at issue that Los Angeles, New York and the new Chinese cities will be facing, and it is worth a read just to stir one’s thoughts on the future (with a critical eye open).

Here’s Matthew Kahn’s blog on Environmental and Urban Economics.

Christgau’s List

For many years now I’ve perused the Pazz and Jop best music poll results, but these days I find I get the most out of Robert Christgau’s yearly ballot, regardless of where it appears.

Today I picked up a few CDs from the list that I hadn’t heard about during the year, and so far they’re all good.  He’s got wide-ranging tastes – from contemporary country like Elizabeth Cook to Afro-pop, hip-hop and beyond.  Personally I think he’s got a very good ear and can distinguish between the merely good and the stuff that will stand up over the years.

30 Century Man – Scott Walker doc

I found this DVD ’30 Century Man’ at the library, and was interested to learn a bit more about the mysterious cult doom-crooner Scott Walker.  I knew he’d been in the Walker Brothers, but not much more.  This documentary is pretty good – a few too many celebrity cameos of people reacting to Scott Walker songs – and a solid review of his career.  Born Scott Engel in Ohio, he was busy recording as a teenager (there’s a pretty funny segment with a Walker Brothers memorabilia collector showing off all his very rare items, including very early acetates by Scott Engel).  Around 1964 he joined two other guys in the Walker Brothers (none brothers, none named Walker), and they were big in Hollywood in the day.  Then they moved over to London in late 1965.

There is quite a bit of interview footage with Scott filmed in 2004 as he was making his album ‘Drift’, and he talks about liking the dreary quality of most of England when they arrived, and finding that the people there seemed to be just what he expected from the black and white English films he had seen.  They were big pop sensations for another year or two, then Scott started his solo work, inspired at least in part by Jacques Brel.  He made 4 solo records in the period 1967-1970, and the first three charted well, then the fourth sort of dropped without a trace for no clear reason.  But it seemed to push him into a career of obscurity.  He refuses to allow re-release of albums he made in the early seventies, which did not feature any of his own songs apparently.

In 1975 the Walker Bros. reunited and made three albums.  Perhaps the most interesting was 1978’s  “Nite Flights” which started laying down the sounds that Walker’s been exploring ever since.  He works very slowly, allowing the ‘songs’ to take their time percolating, thus he’s done about one album per decade since.  In the interview he says that he has long had frequent nightmares, and the music seems to be the soundtrack.

A Deepness in the Sky – Vernor Vinge (1999)

I normally don’t read too much science fiction, but found out about this one from Brad DeLong’s blog and decided to give it a go.  A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge is quite a space saga (774 pages paperback), with two competing human cultures encountering an alien race out in the depths of space.  There was a lot that I liked about it; many interesting characters, compelling situation and plot, interesting ideas about technology and psychology.  The only real drawback was that I found things a little meandering for perhaps the 2nd quarter of the book.  But the finish is pretty rip-roaring.

Here’s a page on the publisher’s site discussing more aspects of the book – there are spoilers so don’t read too far if you want surprises.