In the run-up to Thanksgiving, I was in the grocery store shopping for string oils, when I found the coconut oil. I had to choose, from memory, between the filtered and unfiltered oil. I chose the filtered, based on price. Filtered was $5, Unfiltered was $7.
“The Gray Tiger” is based on the parable of riding the tiger:
A man rode through town on a tiger.
Sleek, muscular, beautiful and fast, but also dangerous
Somebody asked him, as the tiger strode past “Why are you riding a tiger?”
“Because I cannot get off!” he replied in a panic.
I read a book a while ago called “Wanderlust: a history of walking” by Rebecca Solnit. I was pretty eager to read this book, as it promised a history of walking right there on the cover. The history of walking I have gleaned up until now has mostly been about footraces and some sidewalks. This book, alas, had an entire chapter on philosophers and their role in walking aimlessly, a handful of writers in England and Paris, and the revelation that women could not walk safely outside after dark through much of recorded history. This was pretty thin gruel to my eye, accustomed to hunting for facts, events, and sweet sweet numbers as I have become.
It was about at the close of the book that I realized Continue reading
I was listening to the news about Syria this morning, and thinking of the time a couple of months ago when America almost went to war (again) in the middle east. The conflict was considered on three levels: justice, interests, and power. These three levels of negotiation ranged from the most to least moral, and from the least to most “civilized”.
Power is just “might makes right”, interests, the most sophisticated, is the peace of a negotiated, implied or ongoing contract between parties who see pursuing their own ends as more costly than honoring the contract, and Justice is what’s fair. Justice often comes at the hands of a court and a Judge, but it can also arrive through negotiations or commonly agreed upon rules. The reason Sports are so popular and compelling is that they are a pantomime of justice. Everyone agrees ion the winner and loser, even if they support the losing team. This is why cheating is taken so seriously in sports.
Now consider money. Money is abstraction of value. You get it for doing things or selling things to other people, and you send it to get things or get other people to do things for you. Instead of trading a thing in itself, you trade this piece of paper, this coin or contracts for it.
What’s interesting about money is that the easier it is to spend, the more of it gets spent. If you reduce the thought, inconvenience and risk of handling money, people are more likely to use it to get things. Coins were invented in the 18th century to reduce the need for heavy gold, silver or platinum bullion for trades. Cash, had a long and arduous trek up form company notes, through state notes and finally to national currency in the late 19th century. Paper currency just represented a certain weight of precious metals until the early 20th century, when we developed fiat currency to allow free trade between countries with vastly different stores of precious metals. Currency became a pure abstraction of value in relation to other currencies in the mid twentieth century. The credit card was not invented until the 1950’s. Banks charged stores 2-4% per transaction for the privilege of using credit cards, but most places paid the fee because making spending easier was well worth it. Because of their ease of use, and therefore spending, low cost places that accepted only cash in the 1990s, like fast food restaurants, will gladly accept credit cards. Paypal and Online transactions allow us to buy thing s without touching them , and sometimes have them delivered to places we’ll never see. The surcharge on credit cards is often no more than a mouseclick away, and banks are making hundreds of billions in the American economy from this, where consumption accounts form 70% of the economy. Now we’re developing RFID implanted credit cards you can merely wave in the direction of the reader to have your account debited. In countries without banking systems, cell phones are used to store and exchange credits and currency. Your cell phone is your bank. Don’t lose it.
When we are freed from the immediate responsibility of paying for something, it is easier to spend. The mortgage itself is an abstraction of value, trading long term debt of immediate reward. A century ago, if you wanted to won a building in most parts of America, you had to pay for it in cash. The mortgage allowed buyers to afford homes they could never pay for at once, all for a regularly recurring interest payment. When the market got lucrative in the 1920s, we developed things like Adjustable Rate Mortgages and Interest only mortgages to entice more people to e to buy things they would not have dreamed of. With more Americans suitably over-leveraged, the 1929 crash affected the entire world.
A few pounds
I am currently listening to “Belfast” by 808 State on Pandora. I do own a physical copy this song on tape and LP, but I am listening to a copy on Pandora’s boxes now. A hundred years ago, if you wanted to hear music, you had to play it or go to a concert. Depending on how much money you had, you’d play a piano, a guitar or a bucket. All these personal ways of getting music into the house required that you learn to play on physical objects manufactured or found for the purpose.
I read this article a few months ago, and it reminded me of a geographic truism I’d figured out years ago.
The suburbs are bigger than the cities.
This first occurred to me after reading Robert Lang’s important work “Edgeless Cities”. Its main claim was that the job growth in the suburbs had been much greater than in the cities for some time. In Atlanta, famously, the suburbs were already outpacing the Central Business District by the 1960s. Many cities we think of as the archetypes of urbanity are surrounded by vast and “edgeless” suburbs, with a network of housing , jobs and shopping stretching tens of miles away from the CBD. They are called ageless because you cannot tell which way the CBD is from just looking at a random square mile of these suburbs. They are not oriented to their city.
As striking as this is, it also relies on a truism. Of course there are more jobs and housing in the suburbs. They are radially much larger than any CBD.
Recently, I read this article about the decline of the creative class and the fall of cities, by Joel Kotkin. Setting aside the little slap fight detailed within, I was interested in the figures he offered as evidence of the continued irrelevance of cities.
Here are his figures for the 51 largest metros, repeated from Wendell Cox as damning evidence:
0-2 miles from CBD “Walkable City”: 206,000 residents added between 2000 and 2010
2-5 miles from CBD “Halfway to Everywhere” : 272,000 residents lost
10-20 miles from CBD “American Dreamscape” : 15,000,000 added
QED. Those are some dramatic numbers, and I’d best just shut up about any hope of revival of city centers.
But then I thought, this doesn’t account for the areas involved. What are the per square mile changes in population in these three bands to American metropoles?
|Radius (mi)||Area (Sq. Mi)||Pop. Change/Sq. Mi.|
So, actually the center city is growing faster than the suburbs. Not by much, but it is a reversal of a trend that lasted for over 50 years.
Another thing simple geometry does not explain is where the growth is occurring. Many cities and metropoles are trying to deal with rising infrastructure costs and falling property taxes by encouraging walkable or mixed use developments rather than traffic dependent single use subdivisions. While the installed base of many suburbs is overwhelmingly single-use subdivisions, most of the new things getting built are designed to allow walking, require less infrastructure per capita, and return more property taxes than they consume in services. These are important assets in a time of fiscal conservatism. Even if the suburbs are growing almost as fast as the cities, they are growing in a way that is more urban than ever.
This weekend we spent Diwali with our niece in suburban Philadelphia. We were out in her backyard, when she saw a spider on a hedge with her new and focused eyes. “Eek, a bug!”. I hadn’t even noticed it (2 mm across), but I did note silently that it was an arachnid, not a hemipteran.
Much of education today* is designed to make us into obedient adults, respectful of authority and willing to delay or even deny our own wants of the sake of the whole.
I know, because it has taken me until now to realize that my role is not to sit down and shut up, so my betters can speak before me. It is a mistake to run a classroom for the imposition of order on kids. It works well if the kids are going to be working in mills or fields, and need to learn to take direction faithfully for the sake of their lives, livelihoods and limbs. That was true when the school “system”** we have today was formed. Like the zoos of today, today’s schools reward children for good behavior, not learning, not creativity, not fitness, and certainly not loudness. If your interests happen to be channeled into the few programs the school does have, likes sports, music, or math, then you will do well. What you want is what they want, and you are valued from an early age.
My life would have been far easier if I knew that my wants and curiosity were valued. Some kids got to express these, but only within the structure of the classroom. Every kid I went to school with could have been great, but I suspect some of them are in jail by now. An only child, I was naturally a class clown without tact in elementary school. For much of elementary school, I was in trouble with the teacher or my classmates for acting out in some way. I just had too many thoughts I made into words. I spent most of elementary school morose, as I did not see anywhere for my thoughts to go. Those who know me form graduate school saw this acting out again, but by then I knew what I wanted to do. All people should be so privileged, much earlier in life if possible.
This is as much a short piece on parenting as on school, for most kid’s lives have been lived at home with their parents by the time they start pre-school. Most have already learned the lessons that they will have to unlearn if they want to succeed before they even sit in a classroom.
I was reading a bit (http://www.amazon.com/The-Essentials-Inborn-Resources-Fulfilling/dp/1594631220) today about safety in playground design.. The Monkeybars of my youth have all been sold for scrap, perhaps even as toxic waste. Kids no longer learn that they can do things truly risky and survive them if they overcome their fears. There fears are baked right in, structurally avoided, and kept intact. Surely, when they have kids whey will rebel against this level of liability and mollycoddling, and the toddlers will stream into the emergency rooms in 2025. For this generation, I am concerned that we are raising a nation of ninnies. Worse that that, broken kids. Kids and adults need to know that they can take a hit and get better from it. No hits, and nothing gets built but fear.
The key to raising kids that are healthy of body and mind and able to enter the new global knowledge economy intact and raring to go is that they have hope that their actions will make a difference, and that diligence on their part will be have an effect on the world. Feeling unable to affect the world creates hopeless nabobs, or terrorists. Arbitrary and capricious enforcement of rules by parents or teachers for the sake of order trains kids to never stick their neck out, never create. Mythologies and statistics of poverty, inequality, and immobility does not serve anybody but the arrivistes. If it bleeds, it leads, but if it is you that is bleeding your own gift and ambitions, you’d rather the news just shut up about it.
I am not advocating setting kids loose in a cornfield. Reading comprehension, science, and math are all complex bodies of knowledge that require a lot of study. Kids will learn those things a lot faster the more they see the point of learning them, however. Ask any pokemon collector.
Every kid and every adult has to identify and win their own struggle for relevance and power. That has damn little to do with the fetish of order that most schools enforce.
^ Rikachu, the evolution from Pikachu. Its amazing what you can find on the intertubes.
* At least back to when I was in school, and I don’t hear about many fundamental changes in better directions.
** Colophon: I always put things I have little respect for, but high hopes for, in quotes