This is far more intimidating
Via the Indiana Law Blog, Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller has filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court asking for review of the 7th Circuit’s blistering opinion holding that Indiana’s “marriage protection” law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The respondent same sex couples seem to have filed their response almost at once. They agree that the U.S. Supreme Court should consider the case. They state the question as:
Whether a statute violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying and by refusing to recognize their lawful, out-of-state marriages.
versus the State’s characterization of the issue presented:
1. Whether the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment permit States to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
2. Whether the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses permit States to treat as void same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
The State’s characterization of the issue is slightly disingenuous. Nobody is saying that the State can’t define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman; only that the definition violates the Equal Protection Clause if it also excludes same sex couples from inclusion in the definition.
As to the timing, I suspect there was collaboration between the Plaintiffs and the State to get their filings into the Supreme Court by the deadline for the Supreme Court to consider the case during this session. The Attorney General’s press release notes that:
Today was the deadline for Indiana to file its cert petition in order to be considered along with the Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia petitions during the Supreme Court’s first conference Sept. 29 where justices will to decide which cases to hear early in their next term, which begins in October and lasts through June 2015.
In fact, that was probably one reason for the 7th Circuit panel’s rapid turn around time between hearing oral argument and issuing its opinion.
Just browsing, I see that the State cites a 1997 law review article from Judge Posner entitled, “Should there be homosexual marriage and, if so, who should decide?” 95 Mich. L. Rev. 1578 (1997). However, one of the citations to this piece by the State, at least, is misleading. They quote a bit by Posner where he says that there is formal equality inasmuch as gays are allowed to marry opposite sex partners just like heterosexual couples but somehow manage to miss the next sentence where he says that the practical effect is to “exclude homosexuals from a fundamental social institution.”
Posner’s 1997 article is a review of a piece by Prof. William Eskridge entitled “The Case for Same Sex Marriage.” Posner is generally respectful of Prof. Eskridge’s work but takes issue with Eskridge’s historical accounts of gay couples. Posner offers speculation that the rise of intolerance against gays in the West corresponds with the rise of “companionate marriage” — marriage where the couples are supposed to be companions instead of the woman being chiefly a breeder for the man. (My unstudied notion was that marriage was more of an evolution from a property-centered arrangement to romantic relationships, emulating such relationships as they became fashionable in the royal courts.) In any event, Posner suggested that companionate relationships had the effect of outing the gay people who didn’t share such companionship and thereby provoking increased hostility against them.
In the law review article, Posner observes that public opinion in favor of same sex marriages had shifted from unthinkable to slight. (The last 17 years has, of course, seen a quantum leap in that public support.) And public support seems to be at the crux of his disagreement with Eskridge about whether the Supreme Court should recognize a constitutional right being violated if same sex marriage is illegal. He says that Eskridge’s arguments were fine legal arguments but, based on the lack of public support, such arguments would be “usurpative” if adopted by the Supreme Court. It’s an interesting question whether public support ever had a legally had a role to play (as a practical matter, it often does — see for example, the Supreme Court’s internment of Japanese during World War II). But, if it does, public support is now on the side of same sex marriage along with those technical legal arguments. And, in 1997, Posner said that before the Supreme Court found a right to same sex marriage in the Constitution, public opinion would have to shift, a state court or state legislature should adopt same sex marriage as a policy, and the rest of the nation should learn from exercise.
This post has been a little unstructured, but that’s all I have time for at the moment, so here you go.
Football season is nearly here, which for many of us means that weekend productivity is about to hit an annual low. Every so often teams will put on contests for tickets or merchandise, but one NFL team is engaging fans in a different way this year. The Indianapolis Colts are offering half a million dollars to whoever can accurately predict the outdoor kickoff temperature for the team’s 20 games, from the preseason through the end of the regular season.
Entries are due Thursday at 12:01 p.m. EDT. On top of submitting temperatures, you also need to correctly predict whether the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be open for each home game. And if one of the Colts’ late-season Sunday games is “flexed” to a different time slot, the forecasted temperature you submit needs to reflect that changed kickoff time. Get a single temperature or roof position wrong, and you’re eliminated from contention.
My initial reaction to this contest was similar to Carl Reiner’s character’s expression of overwhelming doubt about a plan to rob a casino in “Ocean’s Eleven.” The best public example of a foray into long-range weather forecasting has been done by AccuWeather, which provides 45-day forecasts. However, according to more than one accuracy test, these forecasts have struggled and certainly wouldn’t win AccuWeather $500,000 from the Colts.
So is it even possible for anyone to do this perfectly? And if so, just how lucky would that person have to be?
One of the best ways to forecast weather far into the future is to use climatology as a guide. Unfortunately, in a contest where you need to be perfect, not just close, climatology can only help so much. But you can at least narrow down the possibilities. Using the weather data archive on Weather Underground, as well as from the Midwest Regional Climate Center, I collected the temperatures at kickoff time from 1984 to 2013 for the dates and sites of the 20 Colts games this season.74
Let’s start by addressing temperatures: How much volatility and variability are we dealing with?
We can look at each week to see what the spread in observed temperatures has been since 1984. Then, assuming we want to avoid forecasting extreme temperatures as a way to improve our odds, we can also look at the 25th, 50th (or median) and 75th percentiles to narrow down our choices to a more realistic range:
A few things stand out: Both the ranges and the boxes tend to get larger as you go deeper into the football season. Temperatures in the summer tend to be a bit more stable than in the fall and winter. Because the jet stream has retreated far enough north in the warm season, you have fewer cold fronts to contend with, and there’s more moisture in the atmosphere. All of this can generally reduce the range of temperatures in the summertime. As the season progresses, the spread in observed temperatures expands. The games on Sept. 21 in Jacksonville, Florida, and Oct. 9 in Houston are the most notable exceptions. Thanks to their southern latitude, those cities still tend to be in a summer-type pattern in early fall, keeping local temperatures a little more stable.
Dallas, the site of the Dec. 21 game, has the most volatility at kickoff time of any place where the Colts will play this season. The High Plains tend to see some incredible temperature swings in the fall and winter.
So what are the odds of a perfect temperature forecast? The best approach is to guess that this year’s temperature will match the historical average from our 30-year sample. By looking at the standard deviation in the historical sample, we can estimate how likely this year’s temperature is to exactly match the historical average, rounded to the nearest whole number.
Getting even one day’s temperature exactly right is quite challenging. Even for the Sept. 21 game in Jacksonville, Florida, which historically has a relatively narrow temperature range, your chances are only about 10 percent. And for the Dec. 21 game in Dallas, which has volatile temperatures that time of year, the chances are just 3 percent. And, of course, it’s even more difficult to get the kickoff temperatures right for all 20 games. The chances are just 1 in 248 septillion.75
By comparison, you have a much greater chance — 1 in 9.2 quintillion — of predicting a perfect bracket for the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and that’s before you improve your odds with the statistics and knowledge of each matchup.
Oh, wait. You also have to forecast the Lucas Oil Stadium roof position for each Colts home game. The basic rules are that the roof is closed when precipitation is in the area, wind gusts exceed 40 mph, or the temperature drops below 40 degrees.76 This, of course, is all subject to weather forecasts and a human element. In other words, even if the forecast is wrong, it may be enough to justify keeping the roof closed.
And if you haven’t had enough by now, let’s answer this question about flex scheduling. Is it worth it to even bother trying to figure that out? The NFL can “flex” a Sunday game into a different time slot, starting at week five.
Since the Dallas Cowboys have already punched their playoff ticket, let’s look at both flexing scenarios for their game with the Colts on Dec. 21. While it’s unlikely the 3:25 p.m. start time will be flexed to 12:00 p.m., the chart at left shows the possibilities.
Because the variation in temperature is so small, it probably doesn’t benefit you much to worry about the flex scheduling aspect. At best, you’ll improve your odds a minute fraction.
Given the immense number of options that exist in this contest, Colts fans will need more than Andrew Luck on their side if they wish to win. Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar NCAA bracket challenge looks easy by comparison, and offers a much better payoff!
My entry in the Colts’ Half A Million Dollar Weather Challenge is below:77
America es un gran burrito, a giant tortilla stuffed with dreams. Or so it seems to me, now that I’ve eaten my way across it.
Early this year, FiveThirtyEight evaluated 67,391 burrito-selling establishments, huddled with food experts and selected 64 of the nation’s finest burritos to compete in the search for America’s best burrito. Since then, this burrito correspondent has traveled more than 20,000 miles around the United States and eaten 84 burritos in two rounds (to say nothing of the dozens of extracurricular burritos I polished off).
I journeyed from Key West to Hawaii in search of gastronomic nirvana. I snarfed breakfast burritos, burritos with french fries, and an avant-garde burrito stuffed with Cap’n Crunch-encrusted tilapia. I gobbled burritos from trucks, stands and brick-and-mortar establishments (not to mention a couple of vending machines). I bought a six pack of burritos in New Mexico for $11 and a haute burrito in Phoenix for $18.50.
Unlike the many burritophiles who claim allegiance to one particular style, I have come to love all the varieties as if they were my own children. I’m sorry to be so Pollyanna, but it’s true. I had no idea how difficult it would be to choose winners, to eliminate burritos that are so delicious they occupy my dreams and dinner table conversations.
But alas, a competition this is. And there can be just one winner.
To up the ante in this third and final round, I brought along El Padrino, Nate Silver, to relive his glory days as a burrito blogger and give him a taste of the nation’s four best burritos. Our four-day, coast-to-coast burrito boondoggle would lead us through a range of flavors and restaurant personalities. Somewhere along the way, we’d find our winner.
In the dark hours of a Monday morning, Nate and I took off from our respective locales, joining forces at midday in El Paso. We were tired but hungry as we drove through radiating Texas heat to our first stop: Delicious Mexican Eatery on Fort Boulevard. Located at the nexus of Fort Bliss, Franklin Mountain State Park and the U.S.-Mexico border, the restaurant has been churning out rolled, petite Paso del Norte-style burritos for 36 years.
In the first round of our competition, Delicious was part of a motley group, facing off against burritos in Seattle, Idaho and Hawaii. The last of these was surprisingly awesome, stuffed with kalua pig and a perfectly sweet and salty guava barbecue sauce. Although I can close my eyes and almost taste that burrito (I ate three of them in the 36 hours I was on the island), there was no way it could beat out this border-city classic.
In the next round, Delicious faced off against one of the best contestants in the burrito-fueled Bay Area (and my personal go-to whenever I’m in San Francisco), Taqueria Cancún. Cancún made a few missteps, serving a dry and oily bundle, while Delicious ramped up the flavor for Round 2, earning the small Texas eatery a place in the final four.
El Paso is every bit as much a burrito city as San Francisco, more so in many ways, but it is far less discussed in national burrito circles. I’ve spent time there because I have family nearby, so I’d never thought of El Paso as particularly obscure. But the bracket has taught me how little most people know about this pocket of the country. El Paso and its conjoined twin, Juarez (I like to think of burritos as their shared lifeblood), are isolated geographically, far from the Texan hubs of Houston and Dallas, and have a culture all their own. That extends to the El Paso burrito’s construction, which is far less understood than that of its portly San Francisco cousin, so let’s recap.
As I’ve mentioned before, these burritos are simple and elegant, relying on fresh, tasty tortillas, and just a few ingredients in the form of a guisado — a stew or casserole-type filling. After the tortilla is made and griddled to a perfect golden brown, it is laid flat on the counter and guisado is ladled in the middle (the tortilla is often slathered with refried beans as well). Either side of the tortilla is then folded over the top, creating what looks like a rolled up tortilla rather than a stuffed envelope.
Nate and I ordered an array of burritos, then watched the action around us from a perch by the window. Our order came up, and he went to fill his salsa bowl from the bar (I prefer this one without the extra sauce). After his first bite Nate, smiling with delight, said, “It’s like it isn’t even a burrito!” When I reminded him this is one of the styles closest to the burrito’s origins, he qualified his statement, expressing that it was unlike any burrito he’d ever eaten. He could finally understand how this seemingly simple task of selecting a favorite burrito among four was made incredibly difficult by the dish’s wide-ranging iterations.
Delicious burritos are comfort food at its finest; I’m certain this chile verde is what I’ll crave from here on out whenever I’m feeling low. The tortilla is soft, brown, golden and white on the outside, fresh off the grill. The little bundles are satisfying, but never leave you stuffed. You can eat two (or three or four) to have a meal, or eat one just because. This is the spiciest burrito in the finals; it leaves the taste buds intact, but provides enough heat to make you glad you ordered a house-made lemonade. The array of textures is superb: a slightly chewy tortilla, pulpy chiles, tomatoes and onions, small chunky potato pieces and tender beef morsels. It’s not much to look at after the logo-emblazoned wax paper has been removed, but this burrito doesn’t need smoke and mirrors to create magic.
Fully charmed, we headed back toward the airport and hopped on a plane headed west for the City of Angels.
After an afternoon exploring the spectrum of Mexican culinary options in Los Angeles, Nate and I made our way toward Al &5Bea’s, just as the sun was beginning to fall behind the 5 and 10. East First Street was clean and quiet, but the small hut and patio were crowded with patrons. We placed our order and sat at a table near the window, listening as a steady stream of customers placed órdenes. Even with that small a sample size, it seemed clear the bean and cheese burrito with green sauce ($3.50) is el preferido.
Al & Bea’s draw in Round 1 placed it in the grupo de la muerte, up against two other Boyle Heights classics — La Azteca Tortilleria and Manuel’s El Tepeyac Café — as well as the award-winning breakfast burrito from Athenian III in Orange County. With a different seeding, all four restaurants could have easily advanced to Round 2. But Al & Bea’s bean and cheese stole the win with the perfection of each ingredient, particularly the refried beans.
In Round 2, it came up against another old-school burrito (the red machaca from Carolina’s Mexican Food in Phoenix) and a surprise corn tortilla-wrapped contender from Atlantic City (Pancho’s Mexican Taqueria), but Al & Bea’s breezed through to Round 3 with relative ease.
And so I was back. The same man was at the prep counter. He pulled a tortilla from the stack, spooned in beans, sprinkled on cheese, flicked a spray of green chile sauce in the middle and wrapped it all up into a perfect little package. On a typical visit, the delicate yet powerful tortillas strongarm the stewy ingredients into a squat torpedo shape, holding them in until the last few bites, when some finger licking is to be expected.
(I’d say this isn’t a good place for a first date, but oddly I’ve seen a few couples get their start here; the gift of bringing Al & Bea’s into someone’s life for the first time trumps any stains or mess that would normally make for an awkward first encounter.)
On this occasion, a lingering turn of the wrist at green sauce stage left the collective innards thinner than usual, and the burrito was impossible to eat in its expected form. With beans and sauce dripping down my hand, I turned to watch an older gentlemen behind me who had cut his burrito down the middle and was forking out the liquidy insides. Although I had warned Nate about the proper eating technique of this burrito before our visit, he did not heed my advice, and set the burrito down when it was only half eaten. With more beans on his paper tray than inside the tortilla, El Padrino asked for his own fork.
While the tortilla was soft and powdery, the ingredients were just too thin to stay inside on this visit. It was a disappointing showing. Several dozen napkins later, Nate and I were once again headed to the airport, ready for a visit with San Pancho.
We headed for Mission Street at midday, when sunbeams stream through La Taqueria’s skylights, bathing patrons in heavenly light. We ordered a long list of burritos and hovered over other customers, ready to pounce when a seat finally opened up in the packed restaurant.
The bombardment of liquid and flavor from a La Taqueria burrito are enough to stop any woman in her tracks, even one who’d been eating burritos daily for two months straight. And so, it breezed past its Round 1 competition with a high score of 98 (though Rosa Maria’s in San Bernardino, California, put up a good fight).
It had a tougher go in Round 2, when it encountered another of my favorite burritos of the tournament, Taqueria y Tortilleria Ramirez in Lexington, Kentucky. Even with chunks of carnitas cut far too large, bringing La Taqueria’s second-round score down to 95, it advanced to the finals, winning by a single point.
During the Burrito Selection Committee meeting in the spring, both celebrity chef David Chang and Mexican food expert Gustavo Arellano named La Taqueria as the favorite to win the whole tournament. This burrito’s construction sets it apart. Like many Mission Street burritos, it’s prepared assembly line-style; the sour cream is added liberally from a squirt bottle, guacamole comes by the spoonful from an enormous metal bowl, pico de gallo and all its juices are added at the end. But unlike at other taquerias, each ingredient keeps its juices, making this burrito saucy in form and personality (the absence of rice also makes it noteworthy among its neighbors).
After my first visit, I received emails from several kind readers who, having noted my preference for griddled burritos, alerted me that La Taqueria has a menu secreto. It includes burritos “dorados,” La Taqueria’s signature torpedo-like bundles thrown on the griddle until they’re brown and bubbly all the way around. For this final visit I decided to order two carnitas burritos, one super, one super dorado. My conclusion? No need to choose a favorite — always get one of each. Nate ordered a super chorizo dorado and a super carnitas.
I watched Nate take his first bite, and I swear he achieved nirvana before my eyes. I got to work eating myself, and we munched in silence (except when I asked to borrow his second burrito because I’d dived into both of mine before I remembered to photograph them) until we’d each finished a burrito. You see, data-loving Nate had dined at top-ranking El Farolito, but this was his first time at La Taqueria. “I don’t want to bias you,” he said, “but this is really, really good,” pointing to two baskets left with nothing but foil and wax paper.
We caught a redeye back to New York, just one more burrito to go.
The success of Taqueria Tlaxcalli’s burrito is impressive when you think of its origins: The restaurant is owned by a Mexico City native who was desperate for traditional Mexican food, and though he sees burritos as Mexican-American cuisine, he decided to put them on the menu. For his creations, he stuffs a tortilla with meat, rice, black beans and a few vegetables, and then tops the plated bundle with four glorious sauces in red, white, purple and green. Knife and fork required.
Round 1 saw Tlaxcalli up against two other New York City restaurants as well as a young Chicago locale. New York’s contenders were all surprisingly strong given the city’s long, burrito-less history (if we’re confining the conversation to good burritos). Both Mission Cantina and Tres Carnes serve thoughtful burritos that are the pinnacle of their menus. Tlaxcalli came out on top with beautifully cooked steak and the inspired combination of sauces that provided a range of flavors to an otherwise simple dish.
In Round 2, Tlaxcalli squared off with a San Diego favorite (Lolita’s) and a personal favorite from Santa Fe (The Pantry). A poor showing from the other contenders and the depth and breadth of its chile, crema, spicy black bean and avocado sauces allowed Tlaxcalli to cruise through to the finals, part bracket buster, part beneficiary of the seeding process.
Nate and I arrived at 10 a.m. The restaurant’s Yelp page says it opens at that hour, but the workers were still mopping the floors when we arrived. We had invited a handful of people to join us in this far corner of the Bronx, so delaying the visit wasn’t an option, but with the grill still warming up, it was clear this wouldn’t be Tlaxcalli’s peak performance. Indeed, the meat was a little gristlier (perhaps the previous day’s leftovers) and there was a lot more rice than usual.
The experience was disappointing, but then, we hadn’t showed up at any of the other places while the grills were still cold. So I went back a couple of days later, to give Tlaxcalli a fair chance. The burrito was exactly what I’d eaten on the first two visits, a swirl of creamy sauces coating finely chopped pieces of carne asada and flavorful Mexican rice. This food is an East Coast godsend, but it isn’t in the same league with the other finalists.
And so, we have a winner. La Taqueria takes the title of America’s Best Burrito.
It’s not necessarily the burrito you’ll want to eat every day, and may not even be my personal favorite (I’ll leave you guessing on that), but it’s a technical marvel with a monumental first bite worthy of a national title.
CORRECTION (Sept. 10, 12:23 p.m.): An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the highway that passes near Al & Bea’s Mexican Food. It is the 5, and in that segment also the 10, not the 405.
As a reminder, this is #7 in a series on the most ambitious and consequential infrastructure project now under consideration in our infrastructure-degraded land. It is the plan for a north-south California High-Speed Rail system, which had its genesis before Jerry Brown’s second coming as California’s governor but is now his signature project as he runs for re-election to an unprecedented fourth term. For previous installments see No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6
The big HSR news of this past week was a ruling from a three-judge panel of California's 3rd district court of appeals. Late on Thursday, the judges unanimously overturned a lower-court ruling that had prevented the HSR authority from selling bonds to begin construction of the system.
The issues in the case are, well, legalistic. For more about them you can check the thorough accounts from the LA Times, the San Jose Mercury News, KQED, and the Fresno Bee. The Bee's and KQED reports have embedded versions of the full text of the ruling.
As all the stories make clear, the ruling does not end the legal problems for the high-speed rail program, nor the political controversy about it. But the appeals court decision was widely reported as a significant step forward for the project and a win for Governor Brown. E.g. this headline from the Mercury News:
And this summing up from the Fresno Bee:
The ruling represents the second legal victory in a week for the rail program at the appellate level. On July 24, a different three-judge panel from the 3rd District ruled in the rail authority's favor and upheld [lower court judge] Kenny's approval of an environmental impact report that selected the Pacheco Pass between Gilroy and Los Banos as the preferred corridor for high-speed trains between the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley. The San Francisco Peninsula communities of Atherton and Palo Alto had challenged Kenny's approval of environmental work for the Bay Area-to-Central Valley section of the rail line.
For now, that is enough of the legalities. On to further reader discussion of the merits of the plan. First, from a reader in Southern California:
One of the arguments I keep running across is the idea that the High Speed train should run non-stop along the I-5 corridor instead of along the 99, which was only included to get legislators on board.
No, it runs along the 99 corridor to get passengers on board. There are a million people in the Fresno metro area, plus all the people in Bakersfield and a major seaport city in Stockton. Depending on how you count the borders, the San Joaquin Valley is home to nearly 4 million potential customers.
[JF note: see the Federal Highway Administration map of I-5 and Highway 99, at right. I-5 is in red and bypasses, to the west, most of the major cities of the San Joaquin Valley. Highway 99, shown in yellow, goes from city to city through the valley.]
And the San Joaquin Valley is in a natural cul-de-sac, cut off from the south by mountains and mired in a 19th century agricultural economy. One of the biggest benefits of the HSR project is reconnecting the Central Valley with SoCal to allow a modern economy to develop.
While limiting the number of stops helps keep the average speed high, providing more connections helps keep revenues high. The train has to at least serve the big five; Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, Modesto and Stockton; plus possibly Merced.
Asking the people of the Central Valley to drive to their destination to board the train is not going to improve the transportation options for the people who could be the key to profitable ridership.
And now, from a reader who was traveling in Europe as he sent the message. He responded a comment from a previous reader, who had said: "The difference of HSR in Europe and Asia to the US is the access to the stations: European cities were built around train stations: see Frankfurt, Hannover, London, Amsterdam." This latest reader, Robert Mahnke, replies:
I don’t know why this sentence really bugged me, but perhaps it’s because it reflects a mistaken belief that we are doomed to live in poorly designed cities because it’s our birthright, rather than a choice we have made.
I am in Brussels, and arrived here by the Eurostar last night after spending several days at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London, located on top of St Pancras station, so right now I am very much appreciating the planning decisions made around rail in Europe.
Of course, most European cities were *not* built around train stations. Londinium was the capital of Roman Britannia. Frankfurt, Hannover and Amsterdam all date from medieval times. Steam trains were a nineteenth- century innovation. To build train stations in these cities surely involved expensive, disruptive engineering projects. (Conversely, American cities like Denver, Phoenix and Tulsa *did* grow up around railroads.)
Amsterdam is an example. Amsterdam Centraal station was built in 1889. In his history of the city, the Dutch journalist Geert Mak laments the decision to build it essentially in the city’s harbor, blocking the city’s waterfront on the IJ. [JF note: I was in Amsterdam last week when I received this message; the IJ, pronounced roughly "eye," is the lake/bay to the city's north.] Since then, reclamation projects have filled in much of the IJ around the city, so modern maps make it hard to see what he means, but here is a 16th-century view of the city:
The perspective is from over the IJ — reflecting that Amsterdam’s trade was with the sea (and the Amstel River), not over the swampy land. If you look at a modern map (the IJ is to the north and west), you’ll see that the train station was built in the harbor, cutting off the city from the IJ:
So as Mak writes, it was a large and hard choice to put Amsterdam’s train station where it is.
Amsterdam Centraal is not at the center of downtown, surely because it would have been so disruptive to site it there. Typically, one doesn’t find train stations at the very center of cities. For older cities, it’s surely because the demolitions that would have been necessary didn’t make sense. So you find multiple rail stations at somewhat more peripheral locations, e.g., in London:
Which is to say that European planners confronted the same problem of building railroads into a built environment that HSR rail now faces. US cities that predate the railroad are similar. I grew up in Boston, where you go to North Station for a train to Portland and South Station for a train to New York.
Much of the reason that it feels like some of these cities were built around the train stations is that later public transit serves them so well. When I go to Amsterdam, I can take HSR from Brussels or Cologne and get onto a tram, and if I then fly out of Schiphol, there’s a fast and convenient train from Amsterdam Centraal right into the airport terminal. When I landed at London Heathrow the other day, I got right on the Underground’s Piccadilly line and got off at St Pancras / Kings Cross station, and my hotel was next door. (And not every European city does it right. When I fly to Berlin, I have to take a cab from the airport. But getting it right is not a uniquely European phenomenon. You can take the El in Chicago right to an O’Hare terminal.)
It is possible to “retrofit” cities to make this work. The Silver Line didn’t exist when I last lived in Boston. I flew back and forth from SFO to Logan on a recent weekend to bring my kids to their grandparents. I got on a Silver Line bus a curbside, and it took me via dedicated lanes to South Station, where I got right on the Red Line to Cambridge. When I went back, it worked just as seamlessly.
California’s struggles with HSR make me wonder if our political system gives too much power to those who would block public-works projects. That said, I will also say that I have been in both Singapore and Beijing recently, and in both cities it seemed to me that the political system makes bad redevelopment too easy. Two cities apparently at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both downtowns were full of massive projects which made no sense to a pedestrian at street level but might have looked great to someone arriving in a limousine.
Still to come in the series: some reader mail critical of the project, some other international and historical comparisons, and my own "this I believe!" explanation of why on balance I think this is an investment worth making and a risk worth taking for the state.
Painting our kitchen cabinets: 2015 goal.
Hi, guys! It's Mandi here—so excited to share this first peek into our newly remodeled kitchen! When we were house hunting three years ago, it was difficult to find a home in our price range that had a large kitchen and dining room, but that was number one on my shopping list. We ended up finding just the home—a small, mid-century ranch with a good portion of its square footage dedicated to making food and eating it. Perfect for our modern family! Of course, I didn't really like anything about the kitchen besides its layout, and for a while it was really difficult for me to enjoy being in there without wishing it was different. We didn't have the money for a renovation, but that didn't stop me from dreaming about it with every pancake I flipped!
Quite frankly, it wasn't until I faced an unexpected battle with cancer that my priorities completely shifted, and I learned to develop blind spots towards the areas in my home I had wanted to change and simply focus on enjoying the people in our home instead. Now that we finally have a chance to make changes in our home, we've been able to think long and hard about each decision and go into the project with a healthy attitude, understanding that this renovation is a fun thing we get to do to make our home prettier, but it's the food and fellowship that really makes our kitchen a wonderful place to be.
The biggest change our kitchen underwent was the refinishing of the cabinets. I can't believe how different this space feels and the amount of light that bounces around in there now! It's like a whole new kitchen!
If you've been itching for a change in your own kitchen, I'd wager that painting your cabinets could give you that fresh face you want, without the hefty cost of all new fixtures. It was a little scary, in the throws of the renovation, when the cabinets had been ripped off the wall, the countertop was missing, and the walls needed patched. Maybe it was just living with a busy husband, active toddler, and no sink or stove. But I think a little part of the scary factor was the fact that this was such a BIG job, and I was having commitment issues. Did I choose the right colors? Would I miss the wood cabinets? Should we have just sprung for new cabinets after all?
Now that I'm looking at these before and after photos, I can't believe I even questioned refinishing our cabinets! We saved so much money by keeping our current cabinetry, but the refinishing definitely breathed new life into our entire kitchen. Check out our process below, and I'll share some tips too!
Our simple plywood cabinets were presumably constructed by the previous owner, judging by the not-so-amazing quality of the construction. As we began taking off the sticky doors, I wondered if we were making a mistake in putting time and money into these chipped and crooked cabinets. But working on a tight budget, and not wanting to over-improve our home for the neighborhood, I decided to stick with the plan of painting them. It would just require quite a bit of attention and wood filler. Did I mention lots of wood filler? Yeah. We used two tubs of wood filler for this whole job. More than I've ever used in my entire life.
Selecting a Paint Finish
I knew that I wanted a darker color on the bottom and white on the top of my cabinets, because I liked the interest that the difference in color adds to a space and was really itching to bring more light into our dreary kitchen. But I wasn't sure what kind of paint to get. I was worried about getting a high-gloss paint because of brush strokes showing more easily with the reflected light, but I liked the idea of the cabinets being really easy to wipe clean with a semi-gloss finish. Plus, I'll take all the reflected light I can get.
In the end, I decided to get Benjamin Moore's ADVANCE paint because it's so thick and settles nicely after brushing, so that brush strokes become less noticeable than they would be with a lower quality paint. Because we were spray painting the doors, and there would be no brush or roller texture to be seen on them, I had no qualms about getting a semi-gloss paint finish. I can attest to the fact that they're very easy to wipe clean, though I'll warn you that fingerprints show up so easily, so we're cautious about closing the doors using the knobs instead of our hands.
The top cabinets have untinted white paint, and the lower cabinets have Benjamin Moore's Black Panther, which is like a dark charcoal gray, but not quite black. I decided having no color on the cabinets would age the best and work with any color scheme in the future. Sure, yellow was tempting, but I'm glad I kept it safe with the Black Panther! And the white—Oh, it's so bright and beautiful!
Something that I didn't do in our project, that I wish I would have, was to create a timeline. We had friends and family help out at times, and when they were contributing their own tools to the project, it was a little frustrating waiting days to pick up where we left off because of waiting for their availability. You know the old saying, beggars can't be choosers? It's so true! But I think that my own sanity would have benefited from creating a schedule for work days and what we had planned to accomplish. Our entire kitchen was ripped apart, so in between work days, it was hard to do anything in our home, much less eat anything. If we had consulted with helpers to see their availability and coordinated with them to create a schedule, I'm sure I would have had a much better time with the process, looking at a schedule and seeing an end in sight, and also knowing for sure that people knew which days they were going to be coming over to help, and I could count on it.
Here's how we ordered each aspect of the cabinet refinishing:
Day One: Empty cabinets and drawers and organize contents into boxes and onto folding tables throughout the house—This took one evening with two people.
Day Two: Take down upper cabinets (optional), remove cabinet doors and drawers, remove hardware, sand away the previous finish, fill holes and chips with wood filler, let wood filler dry, sand down again, do another coat of wood filler, then sand again until smooth—This took one long afternoon and late night with three people.
Day Three: Taping off the drawer sides and insides, spray painting with primer, wet sanding the primer, and adding another coat of primer to all doors and drawers—This took one morning and afternoon with two people.
Day Four: Taping off the inside of the lower cabinets, priming the cabinet faces with two coats of primer, and painting with two coats of paint—This took one evening and late into the night with two people, primarily waiting for paint to dry between coats.*
Day Five: Spray painting two coats of paint on all the doors and drawers and moving inside the garage to dry on wax paper—This took one morning and afternoon with two people.
Day Six: Hanging upper cabinets and adding new hardware to doors and drawers—This took one evening with three people.
Day Seven: Hanging doors with new hinges—This took one evening with two people. We also had old latches to add inside the cabinet doors.
*It's important to allow one week after painting before hanging doors and replacing drawers. If you use them before the paint has cured, I guarantee you will have something stick to the paint and then pull it away, ruining your fresh paint job!
-1 gallon tinted primer (to use under dark paint)
-1 gallon regular primer
-1 gallon untinted, white semi-gloss paint (Benjamin Moore's ADVANCE)
-1 gallon Benjamin Moore's ADVANCE Black Panther semi-gloss paint
-sandpaper—120 grit, 180 grit, and 400 grit wet/dry
-latex wood filler
-spray gun (borrowed from my dad)
-air compressor (borrowed from my father-in-law)
-power drill with drill bits
To prepare the cabinets for painting, we removed all of the doors, drawers, and hardware and sanded off the finish of the wood. I used 120 then 180 grit sandpaper for this, ending up with smooth, raw wood ready for priming.
Because I planned to replace the hardware, I filled in all of the door knob holes. To do this, I applied wood filler with my finger, shoving it deep into the holes on the front and back of the doors, then smoothed away the excess wood filler with a damp rag. When it dried completely, I sanded the area that was filled with 180 grit sandpaper. Most areas needed additional wood filler because of shrinkage into the holes, so I repeated the process until the surface was perfectly smooth and undimpled.
Although we were using new hinges with holes that matched the old ones, we also decided to fill in all of the hinge holes. We did this because we couldn't be sure that every door was drilled the same, and we were certain when rehanging the doors that it would be quite a struggle to get everything lined up evenly using the new holes. We decided that starting with fresh, undrilled doors would be best, and it worked out well in the end.
The drawers were using new hardware that matched the holes from the old hardware, so thankfully we didn't have to fill in any drawer holes! But we did use masking paper and masking tape to protect the area around the door face from paint. We figured, why waste paint on doing the whole drawer when you only see the face?
After all of the drawers and doors were prepared for painting, it was time for the fun to begin! We had two people working (my dad and me), with one spray painting and the other one setting up sawhorses and lumber to create a drying area. I moved drawers and doors that were ready to be painted or freshly painted while my dad sprayed them. We worked on a warm, sunny day, so the paint dried quickly.
After the primer had set up, I got to work on wet sanding them. Wet sanding is an important step in painting that is a bit tedious, but definitely worth it! When priming, the little hairs of the wood become raised, giving a bit of a rough and bumpy texture to the finish of the wood, even though it has been sanded prior to painting. Wet sanding knocks down that rough texture while simultaneously smoothing out that grainy texture that shows through when painting over wood. It leaves you with an unbelievably silky surface for the final coats of paint.
I used 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper in the sheets shown in the image below. I cut the sheets into quarters so they were more manageable. Then I would dunk the sandpaper into the water and rub the primed surface with plenty of water to go around. Then I would dunk the sandpaper back into the water to keep the paint from clogging up the sandpaper. One quarter sheet of sandpaper usually would last me through two doors or three drawers.
After wet sanding, the primer on the corners and edges of the wood had been sanded off, so we gave the doors and drawers another coat of primer after they had been rinsed and dried.
As you can imagine, carefully priming, then wet sanding, then priming again took quite a bit of time! In fact, it took an entire morning and afternoon. We opted not to paint into the evening because that's when the bugs are more prevalent and apt to ruin a paint job.
Air compressors make me nervous (I always wear sound-cancelling headphones around them and any pneumatic tools), so in the past I preferred to buy cans of spray paint for my paint jobs that needed something smoother than a brush or roller. Or I would bring something large over to Dad's house, and he would kindly paint it for me with his spray can hooked up to an air compressor.
But this kitchen project was my baby, and I decided it was time to put my big girl pants on and learn how to use a spray gun! It's surprisingly easy, folks. I will say, though, there are a lot of parts and pieces that need cleaning, and when you're painting all day, the paint will dry on the can and require lots of elbow grease, and sometimes paint thinner, to remove later on. It's also confusing reassembling the parts if you're not familiar with how they go together. But the actual painting part is easy. The worst part is how physically tiring it can be lifting your arm while holding a paint can to paint. It's a good isometric exercise, for sure!
For our setup, we had a pneumatic spray gun that required an air hose and air compressor to spray the paint. The first day we were held up by waiting for the air compressor to power up after a while of painting, which was a bit of a time waster. So for the second day of painting, we used two air compressors! If you're renting equipment and trying to do this all in one day, keep that in mind when selecting an air compressor. You'll want one with a higher capacity in order to work quickly.
I was very interested in the hose-free sprayers that are on the market these days, but since my dad already owned a pneumatic setup, I decided to go that route because, hello, you can't beat free! But I've heard good things from my father-in-law and other bloggers about the spray guns that don't use hoses or air compressors, though they will be heavier and more difficult to lift.
When using a spray gun, you will need to dilute the paint. There is no set-in-stone formula for this, since every kind of paint is of a different consistency, but what you're aiming for is a runny consistency that doesn't cling to the paint stirrer when you lift it from the can. When working with oil-based paint, you need to dilute the paint with paint thinner. We were able to use water because we were using latex paint.
Something I noticed when diluting our semi-gloss paint was that the finish ended up being a little less shiny than it was when I rolled or brushed it onto the lower cabinets. Because of this, we tried to dilute the paint as little as possible, but we still had to add quite a bit of water. This apparently can be a problem when working with water-based paints, but isn't an issue when working with oil-based paints. I still think the easy clean-up and low odor of the water-based paint is worth it!
After painting all of the cabinets with two coats of paint, we brought them into our garage which had been cleared out to make room for sawhorses and lumber stretchers. We laid out strips of wax paper to rest the cabinet doors (the inside of the doors face down) for a few days while the paint cured. If you're in a high humidity area, though, you'll want to let the paint cure indoors where there is better temperature/humidity control.
Hardware is the jewelry of the kitchen, so it deserves the same attention at selecting an engagement ring. Think I'm kidding? I'm not. In the market to get engaged? Eh, you might want to disregard that statement. I'm afraid most women might not be as apathetic about ring bling as me and might not care as much about their kitchen hardware as I do! But the point is, new hardware will make a huge statement in a kitchen and sets the feel for the accessorizing to come later.
I love that brass is coming back into kitchen fashion, and it works well with the existing brass fixtures in my 1959 home. So I selected these brass bar drawer pulls which I had planned on installing on every door and drawer in the kitchen. Except when I added up the cost, it was way out of my budget! $660, folks! Yeah, I had to make some adjustments. I selected smaller bar pulls for all of the drawers, but from the same manufacturer, and then I went to the hardware store and found small brass door pulls that looked like they would coordinate with the drawer pulls. They don't match exactly, but for a savings of $452, I think I can deal with it. Now that we've been using them, I can say that I really like the variety and prefer this look of mixing knobs and bar pulls rather than having bars on all the doors and drawers.
For my drawers, I kept in mind the dimension of the existing holes when selected new hardware. To make less work for myself, I wanted to keep the same center dimension (the distance from hole to hole), which fortunately are set standards that are easy to match from manufacturer to manufacturer. That was a huge relief!
As far as hinges are concerned, I didn't want them to make a design statement, though I can appreciate that style in kitchens, like this one I linked on my kitchen Pinterest board. So I selected hinges in the same color as the paint—white for the upper cabinets and black for the lower cabinets. It's possible to do hidden hinges, but that would have been more work than we really wanted to get into, with routering holes and whatnot, so we just decided to stick with the style of hinges that were originally on the doors.
So that's where we're at! I'll also be sharing about how we reconfigured our cabinets to get a fresh look, installed our own butcher block countertop, and dealt with the brick wall on the other side of the room. I can't wait to show you the grand reveal! Let me know if you have any questions about refinishing our cabinets, and I'll be happy to answer in the comments below! -Mandi