Weekend Reading 5/3/13

No rich child left behind, the most wildly irresponsible vintage toys, and more.
This post is 105 in the series: Weekend Reading

Anna

If this was a pill, you’d do anything to get it. But sequester cuts are shutting down this simple, live-saving, life-extending health program in Pennsylvania. (h/t JDF).

You’ve probably heard the news that NBA veteran Jason Collins is gay. But if you haven’t yet, you should read his coming-out piece in Sports Illustrated. It’s really powerful.

And don’t miss Sherman Alexie’s response in The Stranger: “And there’s the rub: When we’re talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.”

When it comes to luck or pluck, luck wins out. In fact, when education in the US is concerned, it’s really ‘no rich child left behind.’ In fact, family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

Maybe you’ve been following biologist and author (and my personal hero) Sandra Steingraber’s trip to jail for protesting what she calls “chemical trespass” of her community and her body by a fracking natural gas company, Inergy. If not, read Bill Moyers’ interview with her. And here’s more on how you became a guinea pig for big chemical corporations.

Oh, and this is just captivating: Photographs of four sisters as they age together over 30 years.

Eric

University of Washington professor Dan Jaffe is crowdsourcing the funding for a new research project: Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air? Jaffe has published groundbreaking studies on the ways that pollution from Asia can travel across the Pacific Ocean to contaminate the Northwest. (I’ve written about his work here.) And as one of the nation’s leading experts on air pollution, he is likely to provide valuable insight into the risk of coal trains.

Relatedly, this week I happened upon Historylink’s excellent account of the history of coal mining in western Washington.

Matt Yglesias has what I believe to be a perfectly accurate analysis of the NBA’s recent vote to keep the Kings in Sacramento:

…the Seattle bidders were offering to build a brand new arena for the Kings. By contrast, the Sacramento bidders managed to persuade the city of Sacramento to build a brand new arena for the Kings. The Seattle bid, in other words, would have set a good precedent for the future of American public policy. And the owners didn’t want that.

Yglesias was on a hot streak this week. He also produced a photo essay that should win some kind of award for Snark In the Service of Good Public Policy.

Seattle urbanist and land-use lawyer Chuck Wolfe has a new e-book out: Urbanism Without Effort. I’m looking forward to checking it out.

And while we’re on urbanism, the next public meeting about micro-housing in Seattle is scheduled for Monday, May 6th, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Avenue (downstairs in the Fellowship Hall). Read Alan’s blog series first, Legalizing Expensive Housing, and then go speak your mind.

I got a few laughs from this feature: The 8 Most Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Toys. By chance, my kid and I recently experimented with an English version of #6 and I can assure you that it was appallingly—almost hilariously—dangerous. It’s probably not safe for adults, much less for four-year-olds.

Speaking of things that aren’t safe, Rolling Stone has an interesting first-hand account of life working the tar sands.

Finally, what do philosophers really believe? A new research paper reports survey statistics on academic philosophers. Among other things, we learn that philosophers like to bury the lead, but you can skip to page 11 to see the results.

Alan

Charles C. Mann’s “What if We Never Run Out of Oil?” in the May Atlantic Monthly seems likely to become instant conventional wisdom. It’s a wide-ranging, artful, and contrarian look at the way fracking and newer techniques for collecting unconventional oil and gas (which are preposterously abundant on Earth and ever-more-practical to extract) are displacing coal, changing the clean-energy outlook, and even shifting global power. It’s worth reading, if only as a counterweight to the green-optimist tendency to focus on technical advances in clean energy without understanding the equally brisk pace of technical innovation in fossil fuel extraction and transport. Here’s one of Mann’s conclusion:

For years, environmentalists have hoped that the imminent exhaustion of oil will, in effect, force us to undergo this virtuous transition [from fossil fuels to renewable energy]; given a choice between no power and solar power, even the most shortsighted person would choose the latter. That hope seems likely to be denied. Cheap, abundant petroleum threw sand in the gears of solar power in the 1980s and stands ready to do it again. Plentiful natural gas, a geopolitical and economic boon, is a climatological shackle.

And later:

Natural gas, both from fracking and in methane hydrate [semi-frozen natural gas held in enormous and widely dispersed deep-ocean deposits], gives us a way to cut back on carbon emissions while we work toward a more complete solution. It could be a useful crutch. But only if we have the wit to know that we will soon have to lay it down.

If you want to understand why Seattle has virtually no brownstone-style townhouses but hundreds of hideous, auto-oriented “four-packs” and “six-packs,” read these two revealing posts by Seattle architecture blogger Gregory Wharton.

As much as Seattleites have complained about the poor quality of townhouse developments and lamented the ugliness of the “four-pack” and “six-pack” townhouse projects, these projects are exactly what the Seattle zoning code tells developers to build.

In the industry, we call this DBZ: Design By Zoning. Whenever zoning restrictions become so detailed, numerous, and onerous that there is only one possible way to satisfy them, you will inevitably get a whole lot of whatever that one possible way dictates. In Seattle’s case, that means hundreds of “four-packs” and “six-packs.”

The posts make crystal clear much that I understood previously only vaguely. I should note, however, that Seattle has changed the particular rules that forced free-standing, garage-centric townhouses, though some developers continue to erect them. Still, Design by Zoning is all too commonplace in Cascadia.

Clark

A fascinating look at the history of Europe, told only with a map and some music.  It’s interesting to realize that there was simply no way to tell this story—at least not so succinctly—before there were moving pictures.

Serena

“I’m not a cyborg (yet).” I’m on a technology interface kick this month, and the first demo of Google Glass has perhaps provided the most interesting fodder this week. While I can’t yet picture myself casually sporting a mind-reading headband, I’m sure my parents, 30 or 40 years ago, couldn’t picture themselves standing fixated on a completely portable hand-held super-messenger. (Watching my dad eke out a text, whenever he actually remembers to check his inbox, is still one of the most sympathy-inducing experiences I know.)

The Living Future “unConference” is coming up in just a couple of weeks. Aside from the great speakers and workshops they’ve got lined up for this year, they’re also hosting a funConference culminating in a day-long brewery bike tour.

 

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Comments

  1. Not so fast says:

    Alan – Oil is not cheap if one accounts for the cost of securing the resource and its transport to markets. Nobody who actually paid attention claimed that oil would run out, it is claimed that CHEAP oil will run out. By many standards, unconventional oil and gas aren’t cheap either especially because the energy return on investment is low and perhaps not sustainable. Today’s cheap natural gas cost isn’t sustainable as it probably results from a speculative bubble and reserves are vastly overestimated. The economics of extracting clathrates are still an unknown quantity. At any rate, the lower energy density of natural gas means that it is at best a regional energy source. Despite claims that burning natural gas reduces carbon emissions, many studies show that unburned methane (much greater warming potential than CO2) emissions are much higher than what is claimed by industry and could likely negate any advantage gained over burning dirtier fuels. A piece that expands on some of my comments: The great oil swindle

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