Flying from West Africa

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy has a passage that seems oddly apropos, 15 years later:

Returning from West Africa last fall was an illuminating ordeal. After leaving Abidjan, my Air Afrique flight landed in Dakar, Senegal, where all passengers had to disembark in order to go through another security check, this one demanded by U.S. authorities before they would permit the flight to set out for New York. Once we were in New York, despite the midnight hour, immigration officials at Kennedy Airport held up disembarkation by conducting quick interrogations of the aircraft’s passengers — this was in addition to all the normal immigration and customs procedures. It was apparent that drug smuggling, disease, and other factors had contributed to the toughest security procedures I have ever encountered when returning from overseas.

Then, for the first time in over a month, I spotted businesspeople with attache cases and laptop computers. When I had left New York for Abidjan, all the businesspeople were boarding planes for Seoul and Tokyo, which departed from gates near Air Afrique’s. The only non-Africans off to West Africa had been relief workers in T-shirts and khakis. Although the borders within West Africa are increasingly unreal, those separating West Africa from the outside world are in various ways becoming more impenetrable.

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

When Star Wars Episode III came out a few years ago, Neal Stephenson remarked that very little of it made any sense, taken as a freestanding narrative — but that didn’t seem to matter at all to millions of people who were happy to veg out:

To geek out on something means to immerse yourself in its details to an extent that is distinctly abnormal — and to have a good time doing it. To veg out, by contrast, means to enter a passive state and allow sounds and images to wash over you without troubling yourself too much about what it all means.

In corporate-speak, there is a related term used when someone has committed the faux pas of geeking out during a meeting. “Let’s take this offline,” someone will suggest, when the PowerPoint slides grow dark with words. Literally, it means, “I look forward to geeking out on this topic — later.” But really it’s a polite synonym for “shut up already!”

The first “Star Wars” movie 28 years ago was distinguished by healthy interplay between veg and geek scenes. In the climactic sequence, where rebel fighters attacked the Death Star, we repeatedly cut away from the dogfights and strafing runs — the purest kind of vegging-out material — to hushed command bunkers where people stood around pondering computer displays, geeking out on the strategic progress of the battle.

All such content — as well as the long, beautiful, uncluttered shots of desert, sky, jungle and mountain that filled the early episodes — was banished in the first of the prequels (“Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” 1999). In the 16 years that separated it from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don’t even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture.

Now geeks get the geeky elements through tie-in novels, comics, and animated shows, while everyone else enjoys the two-hour cinema spectacle for its visceral thrills alone.

But Stephenson isn’t examining just the shift in media:

“Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts,” says a Jedi to the young Anakin in Episode I, immediately before a pod race in which Anakin is likely to get killed. It is distinctly odd counsel coming from a member of the Jedi order, the geekiest people in the universe: they have beards and ponytails, they dress in army blankets, they are expert fighter pilots, they build their own laser swords from scratch.

And (as is made clear in the “Clone Wars” novels) the masses and the elites both claim to admire them, but actually fear and loathe them because they hate being dependent upon their powers.

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents — not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology — and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work — as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.

Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.

If the “Star Wars” movies are remembered a century from now, it’ll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

Expensive, Gentrified, and the Safest Big City in the US

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

New York City is on track to have the fewest homicides for any year on record, making it expensive, gentrified, and the safest big city in the US:

And as a result, Bushwick and Bed-Stuy are overflowing with hipsters on fixed-gear bikes, wearing ironic little mustaches, bitching and moaning about the horrid gentrification of Brooklyn, the so-called Disneyfication of Times Square, and how New York used to be so cool, so authentic when you could see Television at Max’s Kansas City for fifty cents and get stabbed in the neck for wandering into Crown Heights dressed like Elvis Costello. Yeah, those were the days.

Kodak, Bill Gates and efficient markets

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

John Hempton shares a story of Kodak, Bill Gates, and efficient markets:

Warren Buffett has a group of his best investing friends get together once a year. He originally called it the Graham group in honour of his mentor Ben Graham who presented at the first annual meeting in 1968. By 1991 the group had expanded somewhat to include not only the original fabulous stock pickers but some business luminaries who could help enlighten the group on the nitty-gritty of their industries. One regular attendee was Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. From here I will quote Alice Schroder:
After a while Buffett asked everyone to pick their favourite stock. “What about Kodak?” asked Bill Ruane. He looked back at Gates to see what he would say.

“Kodak is toast,” said Gates. Nobody else in the Buffett Group knew that the internet and digital technology would make film cameras toast. In 1991, even Kodak didn’t know it was toast.

Gates was right of course – and since 1991 Kodak has been a terrible stock – and I would have counted Bill Gate’s comments as “knowledge” in as much as a statement about markets and technology could be knowledge. But it would be an awful long time before that “knowledge” would be reflected in stock prices. Here is a graph of the stock price since 1 Jan 1990.

If you had taken Gates to heart in 1991 and shorted the stock then for almost ten years you looked like toast. If you sold the stock because of something Bill Gates said then you looked silly for six or more years unless you purchased something better.

Indeed if you had the “knowledge” probably the best thing to do with it was to use it just to avoid the photography sector altogether. That would mean you might outperform the market – but that outperformance was slight. [If avoiding that sort of catastrophe was your mechanism of making money you probably needed an enormous amount of “knowledge”.]

Anyway there is little question that if you understood the implications of digital photography in 1991 you were – at least on that item – the smartest guy in almost any room. And it did not help you make (much) money.

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

The Red Bat-Phone to Washington

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

David Foster cites an interview with fund managers Kevin Duffy and Bill Laggner, two guys who seem to have a gift for expressing themselves well and concisely:

Barrons: You’ve said that perhaps the most redeeming feature of capitalism is failure. Please explain.

Duffy: Any healthy system needs a way to correct error and remove waste. Nature has extinction, the economy has loss, bankruptcy, liquidation. Interfering in this process lengthens feedback loops. Error and waste are allowed to accumulate, and you ultimately get a massive collapse.

Capitalism is primarily attacked by two groups: utopians who wish to impose a more “compassionate” system, and political capitalists who want to enjoy the fruits of success without bearing the pain of failure. They use the coercion of the state to gain privileges, at the expense of everyone else.

Barrons: What about the argument that a financial panic would have ensued and crushed the little guy?

Duffy: The little guy actually has been crushed. Nobody is asking where this money is coming from. And the money has to essentially flow into the political economy at the expense of the real economy. The little guy is always going to be the last one in the soup line. So he will get a bone tossed to him, like cash for clunkers. But if you are Goldman Sachs or if you have got essentially the red bat-phone to Washington, D.C., you are first in line.

Barrons: Where are we in the deleveraging process?

Laggner: We had a massive real-estate bubble and credit growth, thanks to off-balance-sheet banking that went to four or five times gross domestic product in the latter part of this decade — and of course it burst. Because of huge government commitments, we now have rolled the credit bubble into a sovereign-debt bubble.

Barrons: Speaking of a backlash, we now have Goldman managers toting guns to protect themselves from populist rage. At what point will society demand some sort of change from the government?

Laggner: A client sent me an e-mail the other day in which the tea-party demonstrators are getting a higher approval rating than the Democrats or Republicans. There is a backlash building, and that’s a very good thing. But it’s a process. As the arrogance level of central bankers or the money-center banks continues to grow, 2010 and the mid-term elections will be very exciting.

Duffy: Last year, 70% of the people were opposed to the bailout. And so far, through these massive interventions, government has been able to stabilize the financial system. But you have this divergence between the real economy and the political economy. People are still hurting. Consumer confidence has not rebounded like investor confidence has. If we are right, and we are heading for the next leg down, that’s when I think all bets are off. If the political economy and some of those who got bailed out are back asking for another bailout, that’s when the backlash really starts to heat up.

For bear markets to end, they have to teach lessons. But the people who didn’t see this bus coming 2 1/2 years ago — they’re back in droves, and they’re bullish. We haven’t changed behavior, and this bear market will not end until we do.

Gold Aluminum, Blue Titanium, Gold Platinum

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Researchers have created gold aluminum, blue titanium, and gold platinum at the University of Rochester — and it looks like they can turn most any metal most any color with their super-laser:

Using a tabletop laser, University of Rochester optical scientists have turned pure aluminum, gold.

And blue. And gray. And many other colors. And it works for every metal tested, including platinum, titanium, tungsten, silver, and gold.

Chunlei Guo, the researcher who a year ago used intense laser light to alter the properties of a variety of metals to render them pitch black, has pushed the same process further in a paper in today’s Applied Physics Letters. He now believes it’s possible to alter the properties of any metal to turn it any color — even multi-colored iridescence like a butterfly’s wings.

Since the process changes the intrinsic surface properties of the metal itself and is not just a coating, the color won’t fade or peel, says Guo, associate professor of optics at the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. He suggests the possibilities are endless — a cycle factory using a single laser to produce bicycles of different colors; etching a full-color photograph of a family into the refrigerator door; or proposing with a gold engagement ring that matches your fiancée’s blue eyes.

“Since the discovery of the black metal we’ve been determined to get full control on getting metals to reflect only a certain color and absorb the rest, and now we finally can make a metal reflect almost any color we wish,” says Guo. “When we first found the process that produced a gold color, we couldn’t believe it. We worked in the lab until midnight trying to figure out what other colors we could make.”

Guo and his assistant, Anatoliy Vorobeyv, use an incredibly brief but incredibly intense laser burst that changes the surface of a metal, forming nanoscale and microscale structures that selectively reflect a certain color to give the appearance of a specific color or combinations of colors.

The metal-coloring research follows up on Guo’s breakthrough “black metal” discovery in late 2006, when his research team was able to create nanostructures on metal surfaces that absorbed virtually all light, making something as simple as regular aluminum into one of the darkest materials ever created.

Guo’s black metal, with its very high absorption properties, is ideal for any application where capturing light is desirable. The potential applications range from making better solar energy collectors, to more advanced stealth technology, he says. The ultra-brief/ultra-intense light Guo uses is produced by a femtosecond laser, which produces pulses lasting only a few quadrillionths of a second.

Builders Zero In on New Goal of Energy-Neutral Housing

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Builders are zero-ing in on net-zero housing — whether or not it makes economic sense:

In Greenfield, Mass., where Rural Development is putting up duplexes, the premium for a net-zero home is as much as 15%. For example, it has one three-bedroom home on the market for $240,000, compared with about $203,000 for a comparable home without net-zero features, says Anne Perkins, a Rural Development director. Most of that extra cost is for solar systems, she says.

Eight of Rural Development’s net-zero homes built so far have been purchased. One selling point: energy bills that can run more than $2,700 a year are cut to about $700, and total energy savings allow buyers to recoup the purchase premium in roughly 12 years after tax incentives and rebates are included.

A 12-year pay-back period after tax incentives and rebates are included is not impressive at all. The problem is that solar systems generally aren’t cost-competitive, but they’re necessary to declare a home net-zero, rather than simply energy-efficient.

Other countries may have goals that conflict with ours

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

James Rummel cites a most astonishing op-ed from the Miami Herald that reveals something shocking — other countries may have goals that conflict with ours!

What knocks me for a loop is how Ms. Ghitis patiently goes through this indescribably obvious concept, explaining it in small words as if her readers have the same mental development as five year olds. It appears as if she was taken by surprise by the most basic fact that influences foreign policy, a fact that has been obvious since before nations were even formed, and the one truth that makes foreign policy necessary in the first place.

It seems that Ms. Ghitis drank deep the Liberal kool-aide and simply accepted without question the notion that the reason why some other countries were belligerent to the US was because President Bush was talking tough and being mean. Now that Obama is sitting pretty she is shocked, shocked to find that the real world doesn’t operate according to her simplistic notions.

So the author is confused and disappointed that the rest of the world isn’t an obedient lapdog now that Obama is President. But what she has neglected to mention is the fear that is held by those of us who have always had a clear vision of the way the world works.

If the President is shown to be weak, without resolve, and overly reluctant to use force in order to protect the interests of the US and our allies, then those regimes which are inimical to democratic ideals will rightly interpret this as a green light to cause mischief. Diplomacy without at least the implicit threat of force will do more harm than good, as repressive regimes will think the time is right to increase their influence, their power, and the means to threaten and enslave their neighbors.

This goes beyond a simple loss of prestige, as real people can lose their lives or liberty. Toothless bargaining and an overly high regard for diplomacy for its own sake is usually dangerous in our imperfect world.

T.M. Lutas has more to add:

The unfortunate truth is that an American President must be sufficiently scary. He can do this by credibly talking tough. He can also do this by killing people. The less you impress people with your “I’m scary” act, the more people you have to actually kill.

Antibody finds, wipes out prostate cancer

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Researchers have found an antibody that hunts down prostate cancer cells in mice:

When injected in mice, F77 bonded with tissue where prostate cancer was the primary cancer in almost all cases (97 percent) and in tissue cores where the cancer had metastasized around 85 percent of the time.

It recognized even androgen-independent cancer cells, present when prostate cancer is incurable, the study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed.

F77 “initiated direct cell death of prostate cancer cells… and effectively prevented tumor outgrowth,” it said.

But it did not target normal tissue, or tumor tissues in other parts of the body including the colon, kidney, cervix, pancreas, lung, skin or bladder, the study showed.

The antibody “shows promising potential for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer,” which often spreads to the bones and is difficult to treat, the researchers wrote in PNAS.

Complicating the Detroit Bomber Narrative

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

A Detroit-area lawyer claims to have seen a well-dressed older Indian man helping the Nigerian bomber past the boarding gate, complicating the Detroit bomber narrative — but that’s not what puzzles Brian Doherty:

I still find the most suspicious fact of this whole incident that 257 people were flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, a city that is by most accounts deader than Mu and Atlantis combined, on Christmas day.

Programmer Conned CIA, Pentagon Into Buying Bogus Anti-Terror Code

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Double-crossing the CIA sounds like risky business, but a programmer did just that. Dennis Montgomery conned both the CIA and the Pentagon into buying bogus anti-terror code:

In December 2003, DHS secretary Tom Ridge announced a terror alert based on intelligence from “credible sources” about imminent attacks that “could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11.” Dozens of French, British and Mexican commercial “flights of interest” were canceled, and news agencies were reporting that the threats extended to “power plants, dams and even oil facilities in Alaska.”

Playboy says the source of the intelligence was never revealed publicly. But the evidence points to Dennis Montgomery, who had convinced the government that Al Jazeera — the Qatari-owned TV network — was unwittingly transmitting attack orders to Al Qaeda sleeper cells concealed in video it broadcast.

Montgomery claimed he decoded the orders using a program developed by his four-year-old Las Vegas firm, eTreppid Technologies. The software found hidden bar codes in Al Jazeera videos that contained latitudes, longitudes, flight numbers and dates for planes being targeted for attacks, he reportedly claimed. He fed the information to a CIA employee at the agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology, who passed it up to CIA Director George Tenet, who in turn passed it to the White House.

“[Tom] Ridge’s announcement, the canceled flights and the holiday disruptions were all the results of Montgomery’s mysterious doings,” the Playboy article asserts.

Over the next few years Montgomery’s intelligence wound its way through the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Senate Intelligence Committee and even Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

But aside from Tenet and a few others, Playboy reports, no one actually knew the information was supposedly gleaned from messages hidden in video broadcasts.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the government was searching feverishly for any information or tools that would help deter additional attacks, and was willing to throw millions of dollars at any prospector who asserted he had a solution. It was this environment that helped Montgomery convince officials at DHS and elsewhere that he was able to detect hidden messages in video that no one else was able to see.

When one CIA officer finally learned the source of the information his agency was being fed, he says he was livid.

“I was told to shut up,” he told Playboy. “I was saying, ‘This is crazy. This is embarrassing.’. . . I said, ‘Give us the algorithms that allowed you to come up with this stuff.’ They wouldn’t even do that. And I was screaming, ‘You gave these people fucking money?’”

The Secret Lives of Amazon’s Elves

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Joel Johnson describes the secret lives of Amazon’s elves — “workcampers” who park their RVs near Amazon’s fulfillment center in Coffeyville, Kansas:

“From what the agency people had told us, Amazon had a bad experience busing in people from Tulsa,” says Chris. “There was a lot of theft and a lot of people who weren’t really serious about the job.”

Workers from Tulsa were adding a 4-hour round-trip commute to an already grueling 10-to-12 hour shift, Cherie is quick to add. “They’d get there exhausted.”

Enter the workcampers, people making a go at living in their RVs full time — many of whom might be otherwise overqualified. “I think Amazon was skeptical at first,” says Cherie. “But after the first trial year they were very, very impressed. Workcampers came in enthusiastic about working, since most are professionals. We’ve owned businesses or been managers.” White collar workers, trying their hand at the gypsy life. Even better, the workcampers were able to stay locally.
“Every shift starts with what they call a ‘Stand Up.’ You gather in one area with your usual department — ours was called ‘Sortable Singles,’ which sounds like it should be the name of a dating site — and they’d count off how many people they needed in each department. Run through a few announcements. Give you a few safety tips. And then they lead you through five minutes of group stretches.”

Cherie was mainly a packer, putting items in the box and scanning them. Chris, on the other hand, was a “water spider.” He explains, “A water spider is responsible for keeping all the packers supplied, so ideally they’d never need to stand up and leave their station to get any other supplies like all the different sizes of boxes, plus making sure their tape machines and paper-spitter machines are operating.”

“I never quite exactly figured out why they call it a water spider. My guess is back in the history of assembly line jobs, the water spider would be the person who would bring people on the line water to drink. Nobody seemed to know!”
Inside the warehouses, machines and man alike were controlled by Amazon’s computerized assembly line.

In one part of the factory, Chris watched two giant elliptical carousels, each one the size of a football field, carry wooden trays around at 15mph. “All the items are coming in the totes on one side of this giant machine. There are people who take each individual item, scan them and put them on the trays as they go by. The trays get to a chute where their order is being assembled, tilt, and the product flies down into that space. When all the items for a particular order are assembled in one place an orange light comes on and somebody comes by.” Above, another carousel brought an endless procession of empty boxes to be filled with the orders.

It wasn’t exactly what Cherie had envisioned. “When we told people were going to do this, someone said ‘Whenever I click the order button on Amazon, I always imagine a chorus of happy, singing Oompa-Loompas riding around on Segways and shipping my stuff.’ Well… no. It’s not exactly like that.”

“The computer has to prioritize how it’s going to send out all the pickers in this giant facility. So someone could order a book and a sweater and an iPod, and those could be in completely different corners of the whole facility. But somehow they all arrive within about 30 minutes of each other.” It’s efficiency even Willy Wonka could love.

The Sky’s the Limit for China’s DIY Aviators

Monday, December 28th, 2009

The sky’s the limit for China’s DIY aviators, Michele Travierso says:

These garage builders and innovators are, like their products, often called shanzhai. Literally translated, it means “mountain strongholds,” but it has come to mean nonprofessional or clandestine manufacturers turning out products from the basic to the highly sophisticated. These shanzhai often take familiar products, concepts and marketing memes and remake them with peculiar but innovative twists.

Xu Bin, a 31-year-old farmer from Zhejiang province, became an internet sensation and the face of the shanzhai zeitgeist when a video of him flying his autogyro went viral:

Bin managed to design and build the contraption, which uses a rotor for lift and a propeller for thrust, then teach himself how to fly it after checking the internet for guidance. He’s built four flying machines, including a two-seater. It’s strictly a low-budget affair, as Bin finds using new engines beneath his dignity. Using old motorcycle engines, he says, “keeps me on my toes. It prompts me to be a better designer.”

Bin says the craft is inherently safe because it can safely glide to the ground in the event of an engine malfunction. Many wannabe pilots have paid Bin a visit in the three years since his first flight, and he is only too happy to offer advice and guidance gleaned from hundreds of flights.

The authorities, he says, “leave me mostly alone, as I fly low and locally.”

Modern China is more like the America of 100 years ago than modern America is.

Democratic Fundamentalism and The Baby Business

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Bryan Caplan calls Deborah Spar (The Baby Business) a democratic fundamentalist, because she (supposedly) supports whatever regulation emerges from the political process:

My objection is simple: Almost all of the regulatory evils I’ve listed are ultimately caused by “political debate.” The public irrationally opposes technological innovation and mutually advantageous exchange in the baby market. But as long as this market stays below the public’s radar, it remains unregulated and progresses rapidly. Whenever voters notice what’s going on, in contrast, they cry out for restrictions, bans, and a bunch of arbitrary “safeguards,” and their leaders oblige them. The result — sometimes intended, sometimes unintended — of these policies is to impede two great goods: creating and adopting children.

Under the circumstances, only two strategies merit our attention. One is education: To clearly explain why popular complaints about the baby market reflect economic illiteracy, if not sheer malevolence. The other is stealth: To help the baby industry keep a low profile so it can survive, thrive, and gradually triumph as a fait accompli. If Spar managed to inspire a grand political debate, in contrast, the probable result would be heavier regulation of what exists, and an outright ban on much of the progress we would otherwise see. Debate? We don’t need no stinkin’ debate!

Gary Death Countdown

Monday, December 28th, 2009

The clock is ticking for the death of Gary, Indiana, says T.M. Lutas:

State law imposes property tax caps on all local governments far below the level Gary has grown accustomed to. Gary finances 80% of its $80M+ general fund operations through the use of property taxes. A vote on including the tax caps in Indiana’s Constitution is widely expected in 2010.
Complicating matters are at least $34M in outstanding debts on top of its impending structural deficit. The term at least is used advisedly because unlike most cities, and most private organizations of its size and complexity, Gary uses a cash based accounting system. Future obligations that have not been presented for payment are not accounted for at all in a cash based system. The city government literally doesn’t have the capacity to accurately know what it owes. Because of the lack of information the financial monitor is forced to guess at some basic information.

The current Gary financial monitor’s report makes for frightening reading. Property tax revenue is scheduled to drop 50%+. There is no likelihood of a local income tax and Indiana does not share its sales tax revenue with local government. One of two casinos operating in Gary has entered bankruptcy and even before then a dispute with the casino operators disrupted payments to Gary. The bad news keeps on rolling for 265 pages.

Dan from Madison says:

Every year I vacation in Michigan and drive by Gary on the way there. The downtown area always reminds me of what one of the old cities behind the Iron Curtain used to look like.

This anecdote paints a creepy picture:

A few years ago a friend of mine was working a contract for the state government which sent him all over the state. He spent at least a couple of days in Gary. The small group he was with went out to lunch. They tried finding an ATM machine and couldn’t. So they asked a cop, who laughed and said they didn’t have any ATM machines in Gary.

It really is the Detroit of Indiana:

I recall taking the bus to Chicago around 1990 and stopping in Gary (and Hammond). Panhandlers and hookers in the bus station. Streets with ripples like Lake Michigan frozen in mid-breeze. Inhabited houses with the white plugs for spray-in insulation and, occasionally, charred areas around the windows. As we pulled out, I got to see more inhabited homes with cars out front up on blocks, yards with trash, often large (e.g., a dead washing machine). It’s all sad, as I know people in their 40s from the Region who can say they knew when Gary used to be a nice place to live.