Archive for the ‘History’ Category.

Boarding Houses

During America’s century-long ascent from sleepy colonial backwater to great industrial giant, the urbanization of the country was funneled through a consistent apparatus: the boarding house.

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Cities should move to relax their rules against boarding and SROs, so that the transient might again have grounding stepping stones, and the insolvent might once more be able to obtain footholds. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood was once, not coincidentally, home to both the lowest homeless population and highest SRO concentration in the area.

The Boarding Houses that Built America

Nowadays, in the Northwest as across North America, most people live in houses or apartments that they own or rent. But not so long ago, other, less-expensive choices were just as common: renting space in a family’s home, for example, or living in a residential hotel.

Rooming houses, with small private bedrooms and shared bathrooms down the hall, were particularly numerous. This affordable, efficient form of basic housing is overdue for a revival, but legal barriers stand in the way. This article recounts the forgotten history of low-rent dwellings. Subsequent articles will detail how to re-legalize these forms of housing.

Rooming Houses: History’s Affordable Quarters: An in-city room of one’s own.

Today the notion of the boardinghouse—a “big house full of strangers,” as Jo [March, in “Little Women”] writes in a letter home, where a variety of people would rent rooms and eat at a common table—seems at best quaint, and at worst unsafe and unsavory, as 19th-century critics had it. In the grand narrative of American home life—farm, small town, suburb, apartment—the boardinghouse feels like a long-vanished footnote.

In places like Boston, however, they were anything but minor: They were a key part of how 19th-century cities grew, and left an imprint that survives even now. Whole neighborhoods teemed with them. Boardinghouses for black, Irish, Jewish, and immigrant Bostonians filled the lower slopes of Beacon Hill, while even genteel landladies on fashionable Beacon Street advertised “rooms with a private family.” As American cities turned into true modern metropolises in the 1830s, boarding became a way of life; social historians estimate that between a third and half of 19th-century urban resident were either boarders themselves, or took boarders into their homes.

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Boston and other urban centers are seeing the development of new and denser housing. Some “micro-apartment” developments echo boardinghouses closely, with small private quarters and common areas in which residents can eat and socialize together.

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Boarding not only saved money and time, but to writers or others who craved exposure to a world beyond small towns, they provided an opportunity for social mixing, privacy, storytelling, and intimacy with strangers. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe all lived occasionally as boarders.

Boardinghouses: where the city was born. How a vanished way of living shaped America — and what it might offer us today.

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“Lobbying”

What if you could bet on Wednesday’s NBA game between Golden State and Oklahoma City, and before the game or at least before the final buzzer, you could lobby the referees and the league to change the rules? Maybe you would bet on Oklahoma City and then lobby to abolish the three-point shot.

Hedge funds and other investment firms are playing that very game in Washington, D.C., these days. Recently, Capitol Hill has seen a blitz of lobbying on how Puerto Rico should handle its debt amid fiscal disaster, and how Treasury should deal with private investors in bailed out government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Behind the barrage of lobbying, op-eds and public relations is a handful of hedge funds who have gambled one way or another on GSE stock or Puerto Rican debt, in the hope that they could pull enough strings in Washington to make big bucks.

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Investors allocating capital according to which policy tweaks they think they can win doesn’t sound like the type of capitalism that maximizes economic efficiency. It’s just public-policy profiteering.

As government gets involved in more parts of the economy, hedge funds will increasingly engage in this public-policy profiteering. This will make lobbying on these arcane issues more common and more intense.

So maybe it’s a good time to be long on K Street.

Puerto Rico’s debt, Fannie Mae’s stock, and public-policy profiteering

Ozymandias

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Lord, have mercy on them. And on us.

What exactly has birthed the Pajama Boy aristocracy — our overclass of pretentious, inexperienced, and smug 30-something masters of the universe?

Prolonged adolescence? Affluence? The disappearance of physical chores and muscular labor? The collapse of traditional liberal education and the triumph of the therapeutic mindset? Disdain for or ignorance of life outside the Boston–New York–Washington corridor? Political correctness as a sort of careerist indemnity that allows one to live a sheltered and apartheid existence? The shift in collective values and status from production, agriculture, and manufacturing to government, law, finance, and media? The reinvention of the university as a social-awareness retreat rather than a place to learn?

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Ben Rhodes gloats over misleading the American people about the conditions that led to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and how the Obama administration sold the “We drove them crazy” deal as a non-treaty that could be rerouted around Senate approval. But after Rhodes follows other 30-something Obama speechwriters to Hollywood, who cleans up the mess of an Iran blackmailing the Middle East with nuclear-tipped missiles?

The Pajama Boy White House

Moral preening. Narcissism. Ozymandias. Enough Caesaropapism!

Continue reading ‘Lord, have mercy on them. And on us.’ »

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Statolatry, Ancient and Modern

Ancient regimes were intellectually and morally self contained. They themselves were their own frame of reference for good and evil, better and worse. Their gods were the gods of the city or of the empire. When they worshiped those gods, they essentially worshiped themselves. There was no difference between politics, religion, and society. Hence, there was no basis for individual freedom. The closest to ancient polities in our time, prior to, say, the last forth years or so, was Japan—the world’s largest tribe.

Christianity, which gave medieval regimes their character, which character endured in the Western world up until recent decades, revolutionized life by recognizing each individual’s direct relationship to God—the creator of the universe, the essence of goodness, and hence the one and only standard of right and wrong. This, including Jesus’s mandate to separate duties to God and to Caesar, made it possible for life in the West to be lived on several independent levels. This is (or was) our charter of freedom. As Luther put it: “Be on you knees before God, that you may stand on your feet before men.”

Modern regimes, by denying the existence of God and his laws have, once again, placed their own human authority beyond any challenge but by power. Collapsing the distinction between freedom and power quite simply destroys the autonomy of individuals and of society—hence of freedom.

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In today’s America, right and wrong, better and worse, have become mere appurtenances of partisanship and power.

Politics, Religion, and the Ruling Class

A culture of death. Ozymandias

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Things that can’t go on forever, won’t.

How do bureaucracies get so big they can’t pay themselves? Assertions that it “can’t possible happen” are refuted by history in instances ranging from Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, which turned thousands of clergy starving into the streets to recent examples like the collapse of Soviet pensions or the debasement of the Greek pension system.

In each of these cases the impossible happened, just as it’s happening in Venezuela, where Joel Hirst describes the collapse of a whole system. “I never expected to witness the slow suicide of a country, a civilization. I suppose nobody does.”

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Unsustainable bureaucratic behemoths turn out to be what Churchill described: “a cut flower in a vase, fair to see yet bound to die.” They are not invincible, but quite the contrary have the distressing propensity to die. The irony is that the gigantism voters often associate with safety is in itself a risk factor. The bloat isn’t protection, but a heart attack waiting to happen. Economists have long known that being “too big to fail” is actually a source of moral hazard.

The Surprising Weakness of Invincible Institutions

Ozymandias

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Men of action!

These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

The New Dark Ages, by G.K. Chesterton

Continue reading ‘Men of action!’ »

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Stories to Live By

Besides having the narrative of our own lives to deal with, other narratives are constantly being urged upon us, begging for our notice – often with all kinds of tricks to demand our attention. Buy this new car, shown driving up a mountain (which few of us will ever do). Then there’s the Star Wars saga, sucking us into multiple sequels and prequels, and littering the house with “memorabilia” of things that never happened, that many, even so, reorganize their lives around. And there is Disney’s monetizing of childhood; the hours spent binge-watching Breaking Bad. Or buying something guaranteed to “change your whole life.” We add such things to our own life story sometimes reasonably, often enough not so much.

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Followers of this story are the real heroes, not the fictional ones who in our jaded culture have to be upgraded to “superheroes” in order to make any impression. They are actual women, men and children, clergy and religious, who follow Christ.

This truth should lead you to ask yourself: Who are you surrounding yourself with? What are you reading today? What movies are you watching?

Stories to Live By

A good way to cultivate popularity, in politics or religion, is to preach constantly against the sins to which we are not tempted.

Amoris Laetitia

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Free Speech

The Founders knew that liberty is never really popular, and that it cannot be entrusted to elected officials who must answer in the end to the demos, which is why they put the first liberties first, right there in the First Amendment. If we are willing to let a low-rent carny like Harry Reid take those liberties away from us, or a sanctimonious old crook like Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Elizabeth Warren, the most wooden Indian of them all, then maybe we didn’t deserve those first liberties in the first place.

From Classroom to Courtroom

First Amendment, Liberty, Free Speech

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Statolatry and Eugenics

By the end of this morbid session, I thought I was in a eugenics court. Then it dawned on me, I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the modern Progressive movement has been dominated by a self-anointed elite, like several of the justices, who had contempt for the common people. In the early 20th century, they even promoted social and economic policies driven by anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic impulses.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Read the excellent new book by Princeton’s Thomas Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Under the banner of a “New Nationalism,” progressives called for a centralized administrative state manned by expert managers and planners, who would use “scientific methods” to enhance human welfare.

Believing that social progress “required the individual to be controlled, liberated and expanded by collective actions,” progressive intellectuals perceived human persons as “lumps of human dough” to be formed on the “social kneading board.”

That molding, Leonard points out, was to be done “by the best and the brightest, those who, uniquely, ignored profit and power to serve the common good – which is to say, the progressives themselves.”

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Today, however, the new “progressives” in the White House and on the presidential campaign trail are promoting an agenda, similar to their forbears, that includes ideological conformity, suppression of free speech and religious liberty, unlimited abortion, and euthanasia.

Progressivism’s Dark Side, by George J. Marlin

Statolatry and Eugenics, Ozymandias

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Tenderness, Compassion, And The End of History

Liberal pieties embrace the new age, fixate on a final transformative era of history at the hands of messiahs who promise hope and change, who will uplift us and inspire us to make the world into a better place. But history never ends. That is the lesson of the Holocaust, of Purim and of countless other horrifying intrusions of the old into the new. The shining new era that begins with grand public spectacles and displays of the power and might of an empire, ends with corpses and men and women fighting and running for their lives.

The Endless Ages of Purim

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.”

Whaat?

Here’s what she’s getting at: People who have left the Christian faith wish to retain the remnants of the Christian faith. They want beauty without truth. They want spirituality without religion. They want forgiveness without sacrifice and they want a life that has tenderness without toughness. They want Christianity without a cross, compassion without control and charity without discipline.

The liberal West has been driving on the fumes of Christianity for about a century now and the car won’t go much further.

How Tenderness Leads to the Gas Chamber

Think about the greatest crimes against human life today. Aren’t they cloaked in the language of compassion? “Every child has a right to be loved.” “A woman has a right to control her own body.” “The terminally ill should be able to die with dignity.” And yet, where does all of this compassion lead? To an unborn child being ripped limb from limb in a suction machine. To a disabled baby being neglected and left to die. To an elderly, depressed person who feels obligated to die before medical expenses eat through the family inheritance.

There’s compassion for you.

Compassion Leads to the Gas Chamber?

Dr. More is the one who exposes Comeaux and eventually works to dismantle these projects. But the prophet who goads him to see the wider implications on the insidious activities is the eccentric Father Renaldo Smith, who lives as an ascetic, a modern-day Simeon the Stylite, high in a forestry watch tower. When he was a young man, he tells More, he traveled to Nazi Germany where he encountered physicians and scientists, cultured men dedicated to the betterment of humanity. It was these same men, he reflects, who gave medical sanction to the Holocaust.

The Thanatos Syndrome, by Walker Percy

We are after all, human, and when the State attempts to substitute artificial “tenderness” and “fairness” for humanity, well, “that way lie the tumbrels and the guillotine.”

What Spock didn’t understand

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