Every Breath You Take

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Enjoy this spoof of the Police’s Every Breath You Take, about new Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, sung by Cabe Franklin and produced by Michael O’Rorke of Columbia Business School’s Follies.

Your Tube, Whose Dime?

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

From Your Tube, Whose Dime?:

Startup of the moment YouTube, which garnered 12.9 million unique visitors in March, doesn’t care what viewers watch, as long as they keep tuning in. Making money is another matter: The site, which has raised $11.5 million in venture capital in the last year, didn’t see a penny in revenue until March, when they cautiously began selling ads. Meanwhile the site’s bandwidth costs, which increase every time a visitor clicks on a video, may be approaching $1 million a month — much of which goes to provider Limelight Networks.

The Truthiness Can Be Hard to Take

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Stephen Colbert closed the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with his usual biting routine in his usual bombastic right-wing persona — and neither the president nor the press core seemed to get it. (You, the heroes, get it.)

You absolutely must watch the video. I won’t ruin the best bits for you.

Wallaby milk beats penicillin on bacteria

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Wallaby milk beats penicillin on bacteria:

Scientists have found a chemical in wallaby milk which is 100 times more effective against bacteria, such as E coli, than the strongest forms of penicillin.

The molecule is called AGG01.

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

A City Is Not A Tree

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Of A City Is Not A Tree, Clay Shirky says:

It’s a moment of disorientation I’ve had a couple of times — you find a great piece of writing, and think “Wow, this is really going to change things!”, only to discover that it is in fact decades old. The clash of historical vertigo with Internet Now is both wonderful and daunting.

Christopher Alexander’s A City Is Not A Tree, from 1965, argues that a natural city is not a tree — in the set-theory sense, with clearly separated hierarchies — but a semilattice, and that artificial cities oversimplify the structure of natural cities to the point where they don’t work anymore. For example:

Consider the separation of pedestrians from moving vehicles, a tree concept proposed by Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn and many others. At a very crude level of thought this is obviously a good idea. Yet the urban taxi can function only because pedestrians and vehicles are not strictly separated. The cruising taxi needs a fast stream of traffic so that it can cover a large area to be sure of finding a passenger. The pedestrian needs to be able to hail the taxi from any point in the pedestrian world, and to be able to get out to any part of the pedestrian world to which he wants to go. The system which contains the taxicabs needs to overlap both the fast vehicular traffic system and the system of pedestrian circulation. In Manhattan pedestrians and vehicles do share certain parts of the city, and the necessary overlap is guaranteed.

Voices from the New American Schoolhouse

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Voices from the New American Schoolhouse
“explores life outside the usual educational box”:

Narrated exclusively by students, the film chronicles life and learning at the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD which practices an undiluted form of freedom and democracy that turns mainstream education theory on its head. Filmmaker Danny Mydlack enjoyed unrestricted access over a two-year period to produce this candid and unblinking encounter with kid-powered learning.

Definitely watch the video. I half expect Billy Jack to protect these kids from close-minded townies. (“I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face — and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.”)

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

Here’s how the Fairhaven School describes itself:

Fairhaven students ages 5 through 19 and beyond are free to decide for themselves how to spend their days. Motivated by curiosity and the drive to become competent adults, they grow emotionally, creatively, and intellectually — through play, school governance, conversation, the arts, classes, computer activities, reading, and the exploration of nature. All kinds of learning, all types of intelligence are valued.

Fairhaven is a true democracy: a weekly School Meeting, made up of students and staff, votes on all aspects of the schools operation — from school rules to budgeting to staffing. Issues of justice are resolved by the Judicial Committee, on which everyone serves on a rotating basis. Students learn firsthand what it means to live in a working democracy, with the freedom and responsibility it entails.

Fairhaven School is modeled after the 35 year old Sudbury Valley School.

I also can’t help but think of the Enriched Learning Center for Gifted Children from Bart the Genius — the first official episode of The Simpsons. (“Discover your desks, people.”)

Energy Policy for Idiots

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Arnold Kling’s Energy Policy for Idiots is his attempt “to explain elementary economics to the most poorly-educated segment of our society, meaning people like Energy Secretary Bodman, Senator Bill Frist, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O’Reilly.”:

Who would benefit from a short-term suspension of the 18.4-cent-per-gallon retail gasoline tax? Probably not the American consumer. The biggest beneficiary might be Iran.

Drivin’ and Not Cryin’?

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Drivin’ and Not Cryin’? looks at what gas-scare stories don’t say:

According to the Bureau of Economic Affairs (see chart here), American consumer spending on energy as a fraction of total personal consumption has declined considerably since 1980. Whereas 25 years ago, one in every ten consumer dollars was spent on energy, today it’s one in every sixteen bucks. In other words, what it takes to heat and cool our homes and drive to and from our jobs and vacation destinations is relatively less costly than it once was.

This goes a long way to explaining why even while gas prices rise this summer, and while they will be higher than they were through the 1990s, people will still be driving more — it’s much more of a value than it was a generation ago.

What’s more, so-called energy intensity is declining rapidly. That means we produce more with less energy. According to Economy.com, “The U.S. economy has undergone major structural changes over the last two decades, becoming more energy efficient, thus reducing its overall dependence on energy… The energy intensity of the U.S. economy has declined by roughly 40% since the first oil crisis” (as of 2001). (See Economy.com graph here.)

Say It With Me: Supply and Demand

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

In Say It With Me: Supply and Demand, Charles Krauthammer descrbies “what the Bush search for price gougers and profiteers will find”:

Demand is up. China has come from nowhere to pass Japan as the number No. 2 oil consumer in the world. China and India — between them home to eight times the U.S. population — are industrializing and gobbling huge amounts of energy.

American demand is up because we’ve lived in a fool’s paradise since the mid-1980s. Until then, beginning with the oil shocks in 1973, Americans had changed appliances and cars and habits and achieved astonishing energy conservation. Energy use per dollar of gross domestic product was cut by 30 percent in little over a decade. Oil prices collapsed to about $10 a barrel.

Then amnesia set in, mile-per-gallon ratings disappeared from TV ads and we became “a country of a million Walter Mittys driving 75 mph in their gas-guzzling Bushwhack-Safari sport-utility roadsters with a moose head on the hood, a country whose crude oil production has dropped 32 percent in the last 25 years but which will not drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for fear of disturbing the mating habits of caribou.”

I wrote that during the ’96 witch hunt for price gougers. Nothing has changed. Except that since then, U.S. crude oil production has dropped an additional 12.3 percent. Which brings us to:

Supply is down. Start with supply disruptions in Nigeria, decreased production in Iraq, and the continuing loss of 5 percent of our national refining capacity because of damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Add to that the mischief of idiotic new regulations. Last year’s energy bill mandates arbitrary increases in blended ethanol use that so exceed current ethanol production that it is causing gasoline shortages and therefore huge price spikes.

Why don’t we import the missing ethanol? Brazil makes a ton of it, and very cheaply. Answer: the Iowa caucuses. Iowa grows corn and chooses presidents. So we have a ridiculously high 54-cent ethanol tariff and ethanol shortages.

Another regulation requires specific (“boutique”) gasoline blends for different cities depending on their air quality. Nice idea. But it introduces debilitating rigidities into the gasoline supply system. If Los Angeles runs short, you cannot just move supply in from Denver. You get shortages and more price spikes.

And don’t get me started on the missing supply of might-have-been American crude. Arctic and outer continental shelf oil that the politicians kill year after year would have provided us by now with a critical and totally secure supply cushion in times of tight markets.

A Solution at the Stroke of a Pen

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Arnold Kling offers A Solution at the Stroke of a Pen:

Some problems are hard. Iran. Health care. Global warming. The proposed solutions to these problems typically are painful. People do not like painful solutions, and so little gets done. Perhaps this is for the best, given all of the uncertainties involved.

But there is one problem that is easy to solve. The specter of future entitlement shortfalls could be eliminated with the stroke of a pen.

The problem is that Social Security and Medicare payments are on course to rise to unprecedented levels as a percent of GDP.
[...]
The solution, as I have argued for several years, is to raise the age of government dependency for workers now in their 30′s and 40′s. This is a painless solution, because (a) it does not affect anyone who currently receives our is counting on government entitlements and (b) it does not really affect people now in their 30′s and 40′s.

For people in their 30′s and 40′s today, the age of government dependency is only a promise. As of now, projected entitlement benefits to young workers are only promises that, under conservative assumptions, the government will be unable to meet. If the assumptions pan out, then the actual benefits that young workers receive when they finally retire probably will have to be reduced. It seems to me that young workers are no worse off if their promised benefits are reduced now (by raising the age of government dependency) than if their actual benefits are reduced when they reach their late 60′s. In fact, they probably are better off knowing the score now, when they can do something to accumulate personal retirement accounts, then thirty years from now, when it is too late.

Jane Jacobs (1916–2006)

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Howard Husock writes an excellent retrospective on “New York’s indispensable urban iconoclast,” Jane Jacobs (1916–2006):

The real Jane Jacobs not only enjoyed busy city blocks but deplored high levels of welfare spending that inhibit urban economies. The real Jane Jacobs not only enjoyed the great variety of small businesses which cities offer, but questioned the public operation of services such as transit that preempt the formation of private competitors.

Recent posts on Jane Jacobs:

Jane Jacobs R.I.P.
Urban thinker Jane Jacobs dies
It’s the Cities, Stupid

Older posts on Jane Jacobs:

Jane Jacobs
Urban Iconoclast: Jane Jacobs Revisited
Jane Jacobs, The Anti-Planner
Jane Jacobs on Getting an Education

GyroBike

Friday, April 28th, 2006

The idea behind the GyroBike is pretty obvious — once you’ve been told about it:

The Gyrobike™ employs spinning flywheel inside the front wheel that uses gyroscopic precession to provide a bike moving at 2.5 mph with the natural stability of a bike moving at 10 mph. This natural stability has been demonstrated to enhance the process of learning to ride a bike — something that training wheels have never been able to do.

Jon Favreau and John Carter

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Jon Favreau (Swingers) was looking to direct a John Carter of Mars movie, but Paramount decided to shelve the whole thing:

Unfortunately, due to the 2008 Paramount production of Star Trek, it looks like Carter is not going to happen in the near future. I assure you that the script and artwork were very well received, but they’ve got a lot of “similar” stuff in the pipeline at the studio. I am trying to help position the film to get made and remain committed to seeing it through. That said, it’s not going to happen this year.

Answer to AIDS Mystery Found Behind Bars

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Answer to AIDS Mystery Found Behind Bars:

It is one of the most puzzling mysteries of the AIDS epidemic: Why did blacks, in little more than a dozen years, become nine times as likely as whites to contract a disease once associated almost exclusively with gay white men?

Two researchers say they found the answer in an unlikely place: prison.

TMI?

Other studies suggest that half of all prisoners engage in homosexual sex.

Jane Jacobs R.I.P.

Friday, April 28th, 2006

In Jane Jacobs R.I.P., Michael Blowhard cites a number of tributes:

You’ve probably noticed that the great Jane Jacobs has died at the age of 89. The web is full of intelligent and appreciative tributes: A Google News search on her name will turn up a lot of them. An obit by the LA Times’ Mary Rourke is a good starting point. Martin Knelman writes a touching character sketch. Interesting to learn in Counterpunch that Jacobs, a Canadian resident since the 1970s, favored the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada, and thought that the Euro was a dumb idea. Curbed is sweetly running a “the most Jane Jacobs block in New York City” contest. Gothamist supplies many links. I recently wrote a long intro to Jacobs and her work. Don’t miss a couple of wonderful interviews: one from 2000 conducted by James Kunstler; and one from 2002, done by Blake Harris. A final question: Why on earth was she never awarded the Nobel Prize?

Also, the final chapter of her The Death and Life of Great American Cities is available on-line.