Pornte Vecchio: A portrait of old urbanism.

Over at my Ape Man blog, I have discussed New Urbanism on occasion (largely because I read Architecture + Morality and I sometimes desire to contribute to the discussion). I am generally sympathetic to the aesthetics of New Urbanism, but I doubt current American values will ever enable it to work.

I am not happy about that. If cities conformed more to the ideals that inform New Urbanism, I might not mind visiting them as much as I do now. I say that not because there is any currently built example of New Urbanism that really impresses me. Rather, I have sympathy with New Urbanism because there are many examples of Old Urbanism that I admire.

One such example of Old Urbanism that I admire would be Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence.

Picture of the Pornte Vecchio Bridge

The picture above really isn’t big enough for you to really appreciate it. So I recommend that you go to G|o®g|O’s Flickr page and look at the picture in its original size.

One of the first things that you will notice about the bridge is that it has houses built on it (actually they are shops, but we will get to that in a bit). The second thing you will notice is that there is a causeway that runs across the top of the bridge. If you are observant, you will also pick up on the fact that bridge is old. Very old in fact.

According to Wikipedia,

Believed to have been first built in Roman times,[2] it was originally made of wood. After being destroyed by a flood in 1333[2] (save two of its central piers, as noted by Giovanni Villani)[3] it was rebuilt in 1345,[4] this time in stone. Most of the design is attributed to Taddeo Gaddi.[5] The bridge consists of three segmental arches, the main arch has a span of 30 meters (98 feet) the two side arches each span 27 meters (88 feet). The rise of the arches is between 3.5 and 4.4 meters (11½ to 14½ feet), and the span-to-rise ratio 5:1.[6]

It has always hosted shops and merchants (legend says this was originally due to a tax exemption), which displayed their goods on tables after authorization of the Bargello (a sort of a lord mayor, a magistrate and a police authority).

Although the Wikipedia article would lead you to believe that people set up shops on the bridge for tax reasons, I strongly suspect that there were more practical reasons. The earliest shopkeepers on the bridge seem to have been primarily butchers up until the time the Cosimo I de’ Medici drove them off. I suspect that butchers found it handy to be able to throw their waste products in the water. The government of Florence may have originally felt that this was desirable from the standpoint of public health and hence the tax breaks.

Regardless of the reasons for why it was built the way it was built, I find it impressive that a structure in heavy use has lasted so long. To me, this is the ultimate testimony to a good design.

Close up of bridge

In the picture above, you can see some of the design details a little better. Although, again, I would recommend that you go to mandydale’s flicker site and see the picture in its original size.

I wonder if those square holes that you see at the bridge were put there to accommodate the original scaffolding. I also wonder if the wood supports for the shops are original or if they have been replaced over the years. If they are original it is pretty impressive. I wonder what type of wood they could have used that would last so long in the moist environment above a river?

One thing that surprises me is the state of disrepair that some of the shops are in. You can’t see the disrepair so well in the picture above (although if you look at the original it is a little more obvious). But take a look at the one below….

Details of the bridge

You would think that a famous tourist site would be kept up a little better. Though I grant you that it would be a trick to repair the plaster on a shop hanging off the side of a bridge. Maybe they are waiting for more shops to get to the same state so they can do a bunch of them at once?

Again, if you want to see a better picture go to kandyjaxx’s Flickr page and look at the original.

On top of bridge

As you can see from the picture above, they certainly keep the front of the shops on the bridge spiffy enough. You can go here to look at a better quality version of the picture above at tbee’s flicker site. The original on tbee’s site is so large that you can really see some of the construction details.

The picture below is also taken from the top of the bridge. Except this time you are looking down the bridge instead of across it.

On top of bridge 2

Again, looking at the original picture at MenuMarco’s Flickr site will give you a better sense of the construction details.

Joke's on them. Or is it us?

So you all heard about this right? If you have’t you have been living under a rock. But seeing as we cater to all sorts (including those who live under rocks) I will give you the back story. From the Wall Street Journal…..

In one of the banking world’s most unsettling recent disclosures, France’s Société Générale SA said Mr. Kerviel had cost the bank €4.9 billion, equal to $7.2 billion, by making huge unauthorized trades that he hid for months by hacking into computers. The combined trading positions he built up over recent months, say people close to the situation, totaled some €50 billion, or $73 billion.

Okay, here is the joke (from Market Watch)….

The Federal Reserve was not aware that Societe Generale was unwinding trades in Europe on Monday that had been amassed by a rogue trader at the French bank, a Fed source said Thursday.

The bank’s scramble to get out of those trades is now presumed to be a factor behind the panic sell-offs that roiled overseas markets on Monday. And those sharp declines in Europe and Asia were cited by Fed watchers as a central concern that moved the Fed to engineer an unprecedented emergency rate cut only one week before their formal meeting.

In case this needs to be spelled out for you here is Felix Salmon to explain how one little trader at one little bank struck terror into the heart of the Fed……

Firstly, they decided to liquidate as quickly as possible, dumping the overwhelming proportion of their huge long position in one day. And secondly, the day they picked was Martin Luther King Day: a public holiday in the US, which meant that Chicago was closed.

As a result, futures traders across Europe had to scramble to find a huge amount of liquidity in a very short time, and prices predictably plunged.

As Macro Man puts it….

Macro Man also assumes that he’s not alone in scratching his head and thinking “what now?” Next week’s Fed meeting is set up to be an extraordinarily interesting one. It has emerged that despite the Banque de France knowing about SocGen’s travails over the weekend, the Fed had no clue when they hit the panic button on Tuesday.

Grep Ip seems to suggest that the SocGen revelation won’t impact the Fed’s decision next week, but come on! If, before the equity market meltdown, the Fed was planning on doing 50…..why should they cut any more next week, thereby at least doubling the amount of their originally intended easing?

Yet to the market, it’s not a question of whether the Fed eases, but by how much. The OIS market is currently pricing in 40 bps of easing. Of course, if the Fed doesn’t ease, markets could then puke, delivering the kind of price action that prompted the emergency cut in the first place. The problem with allowing the market to lead you, Mr. Bernanke, is that it inevitably leads you into an uncomfortable corner.

What seems evident is that volatility is set to remain pretty high. If the Fed doesn’t cut next week, equities should tank and bonds soar. If they do cut….well, let’s just say that the dollar will be (French) toast.

North Korea is reported to be near an impolsion

From Jane’s…..

Kim Jong-Il’s regime could collapse within six months, bringing chaos to North Korea, observers and intelligence sources in Asia have told Jane’s.

A joint United States report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the US Institute for Peace has also revealed that China has “contingency plans” in the event of North Korea’s implosion. The report, entitled ‘Keeping an Eye on an Unruly Neighbor’, said that China was prepared to “take the initiative” and had a military strategy for securing North Korea’s “loose nukes” should Kim Jong-Il’s rule fail.

Any apocalyptic scenario has to be taken with a grain of salt; in 1997 the Central Intelligence Agency predicted the collapse of North Korea within five years. However, there are reasons for the heightened levels of concern; in particular, the recent actions of Kim Jong-Il and other North Korean officials are being interpreted as signs that the regime is nearing its end.

Tellingly, the ‘Dear Leader’ is in the process of moving financial resources to ensure that his assets are portable should he have to go into exile, according to some sources.

H/T The Belmount Club. I hope it happens. Somtimes chaos is perferble to order.

I doubt that it will happen in the next 6 months. You have to make allowaces for China and South Korea intervening to prop North Korea up. But I think the odds are pretty close to 100% that it will happen in the next 6 years. The condtions in North Kora are so bad that if the regime does not collapse with in that time period, just about every one in the country will be dead by then anyway.

Enjoy your bananas while you can

This is a bit of history I never knew before…..

A wild scenario? Not when you consider that there’s already been one banana apocalypse. Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel, a banana that was larger and, by all accounts, tastier than the fruit we now eat. Like the Cavendish, the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” accounted for nearly all the sales of sweet bananas in the Americas and Europe. But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest. The malady, which attacks the leaves, is in the same category as Dutch Elm disease. It appeared first in Suriname, then plowed through the Car- ibbean, finally reaching Honduras in the 1920s. (The country was then the world’s largest banana producer; today it ranks third, behind Ecuador and Costa Rica.)

Growers adopted a frenzied strategy of shifting crops to unused land, maintaining the supply of bananas to the public but at great financial and environmental expense—the tactic destroyed millions of acres of rainforest. By 1960, the major importers were nearly bankrupt, and the future of the fruit was in jeopardy. (Some of the shortages during that time entered the fabric of popular culture; the 1923 musical hit “Yes! We Have No Bananas” is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer.) U.S. banana executives were hesitant to recognize the crisis facing the Gros Michel, according to John Soluri, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Banana Cultures, an upcoming book on the fruit. “Many of them waited until the last minute.”

Once a little-known species, the Cavendish was eventually accepted as Big Mike’s replacement after billions of dollars in infrastructure changes were made to accommodate different growing and ripening needs. Its advantage was its resistance to Panama disease. But in 1992, a new strain of the fungus—one that can affect the Cavendish—was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4 has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia. It has yet to hit Africa or Latin America, but most experts agree that it is coming. “Given today’s modes of travel, there’s almost no doubt that it will hit the major Cavendish crops,” says Randy Ploetz, the University of Florida plant pathologist who identified the first Sumatran samples of the fungus.

Also, see this. (h/t Marginal Revolution for both links)

Why they are worried about liquids on planes

The question is, is this real or fake? I don’t hear much about this type of explosive being used. And if it was this easy to make and this effective I would think it would be more common. I have also read a lot from people saying the threat from binary explosives is way overstated.

On the other hand, the Government seems to be honestly worried (not always the best argument I know). More importantly, Derek did a couple of posts (here and here) a while back that seemed to indicate that there was stuff out there we should be worried about. I imagine that someone with Phd in chemistry would know.

The markets are moving today

Lots of markets are crashing to day. From Marco Man….

Later in life, Mr. Eliot repudiated the ending to “The Hollow Men”, quoted above. One would have to presume that if he were alive today and a practitioner of financial poetry, he would be equally averse to claiming that the world would end with a whimper.

Or so we’d have to judge by price action today, wherein all things risky are tracing out an Icarus-like descent, and the only thing preventing a Black Monday-style crash in the US today is that the market is closed. This month has already been a testing one, and on the basis of today’s gruesome start that trend appears set to continue.

He has a graph at his site that demonstrates what he means by “Icarus-like descent.” Naked Capitalism has charts showing the drop of Japan’s stock market.


A bad day for German banking: WestLB, the latest victim of the subprime credit crisis, has reported a 2007 loss of €1 billion. Meanwhile, stock prices are tanking amid fears of global recession. Banking stocks are among the worst hit.

From The Economist…..

IT APPEARS to be an old-fashioned case of risk aversion. Stockmarkets are plunging (the FTSE 100 was down more than 300 points, or 5% just after noon in London, on Monday January 21st), commodity prices are dropping and investors are flocking to the safety of government bonds and currencies like the Swiss franc and yen. Speculative bonds now yield seven percentage points more than US Treasuries, the highest spread since April 2003.

You have been warned

Islamic terrorism directed against US interests went on for decades before they managed to make the US sit up and take notice with the 9/11 attacks. I think a similar thing is going on with the cyber attacks from various national and criminal organizations. Right now they don’t amount to much. But eventually someone is going to pull off something that is going to make everyone sit up and pay attention.

From the Belmont Club….

America has been under foreign cyber attack before. But the Washington Post reports that recent attacks have become serious enough to issue a “rare public warning to the power and utility industry … a CIA analyst this week said cyber attackers have hacked into the computer systems of utility companies outside the United States and made demands, in at least one case causing a power outage that affected multiple cities.” Although at least some of the reported intrusions were by “computers belonging to foreign governments or militaries”, the targets this time were, significantly, commercial. “Cyber extortion is a growing threat in the United States, and attackers have radically increased their take from online gambling sites, e-commerce sites and banks, which pay the money to prevent sites from being shut down and to keep the public from knowing their sites have been penetrated, said Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute.”

New York City's police department is run by fascists

From The Village Voice…..

After 9/11, untold thousands of New Yorkers bought machines that detect traces of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. But a lot of these machines didn’t work right, and when they registered false alarms, the police had to spend millions of dollars chasing bad leads and throwing the public into a state of raw panic.

OK, none of that has actually happened. But Richard Falkenrath, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, knows that it’s just a matter of time. That’s why he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have asked the City Council to pass a law requiring anyone who wants to own such detectors to get a permit from the police first. And it’s not just devices to detect weaponized anthrax that they want the power to control, but those that detect everything from industrial pollutants to asbestos in shoddy apartments. Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission. Why? So you “will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety,” the first draft of the law states.