Stuff to read

  1. The U.S. government puts social housing in flood zones #mixedmessages
  2. From Gentrification to Decline: How Neighborhoods Really Change
  3. How businesses are undermining our privacy
  4. Far-right European parties are adopting Republican strategies to label attempts to slow climate change as leftist conspiracies against the working classes. Sad that those same working classes are going to suffer the most.
  5. Will profit seekers help reduce the rate of climate change? Maybe.
  6. Listen to this discussion of America’s history, people and divisions
  7. Notes on being tall
  8. Greed, deception and Leonardo
  9. Are dentists working for or against us? (I see some troubling parallels to my own experiences here.)
  10. So maybe there are some good reasons to avoid Huawei and 5G

Stuff to read

  1. More bad news on climate change triggered this excellent rant on America’s failure to do anything substantial to block a catastrophe for humanity. (Oh, and for Americans as well, for all those #MAGA people out there…)
  2. The origins of kindergarten… before it was turned into a toy store
  3. More information on America’s broken medical system: Overpriced drugs
  4. An ex-libertarian’s quest to rebuild the center right (I’m in this group)
  5. A white basketball player reflects on fan racism and the NBA
  6. Why are we so bad at planning cities?
  7.  Is there any hope for humanity??

    SCIENTISTS: “We’ve produced the first-ever image of a supermassive Black Hole, 55-million light years away”
    RESPONSE: “Oooh!”

    SCIENTISTS: “We’ve concluded that humans are catastrophically warming Earth”
    RESPONSE: “That conflicts with what I want to be true, so it must be false”

    — Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) April 10, 2019

  8. A Dutch artist made a book of all the addresses of “mailbox companies” that register in the Netherlands to avoid taxes. Here’s her TEDx talk.
  9. Here’s the Flying Money 2018 Reader [pdf] of how Amsterdam is part of (as victim and conspirator) international money laundering.
  10. The “Chicago boys” who built Chile’s free market economy

Stuff to read

  1. What’s the value of your time? Why do Americans work so much?
  2. Do you take too long to reply to email?
  3. I guess the Dutch are right to be skeptical of over-medication
  4. Amsterdam was bike heaven in the 1950s (and again, in Dutch)
  5. Why rent control doesn’t work (“and then what happens?”)
  6. I agree: The Trump administration sacrifices American political authority for American power
  7. Canada’s community-sourced anti-poverty works work better.
  8. Social media platforms destroy your value to make themselves profits (best analysis I’ve heard in years).
  9. I’ve switched to DuckDuckGo for search. It works, and it’s private
  10. Amsterdam is eliminating parking to leave more space for people. Does your city care more about people or cars?

Stuff to read

  1. Apples are actually quite similar to oranges!
  2. Sorting useful from useless information 
  3. The background story of the founder of DeepMind (one of the most cutting-edge AI companies) . Related XKCD
  4. Our evolution as cooperative animals (humans are to chimps as dogs are to wolves)
  5. Airbnb claims it has no obligations to help guests filmed by hidden cameras. Shame.
  6. Environmentalists are facing prosecution in totalitarian/populist countries as the results of corruption and incompetence are revealed in collapsing ecosystems and species disappearance. Climate change will only make this worse.
  7. Female politicians are doing a good job displacing men
  8. Wireless phone companies in the US are selling customer location data to anyone with a few hundred $. The FCC doesn’t care.
  9. A look into planned (and psychological) obsolescence.
  10. April fools! Icebergs to save California and Brexit means no weed for British tourists in Amsterdam 

H/T to AM


Water in Venice

I just spent a few delightful days in Venice. It was my third (or fifth?) time in the city, but this was the first time I paid attention to water management. Here’s an overview of what I learned. (Please add to or correct my information!)


Venice was founded by “mainlanders” seeking refuge from attacks. They settled on “islands” in the saltwater lagoon that were basically mud and grass (much like the Dutch did, but without the tidal and storm violence). Over time, these islands became around 120 “campi” (fields), each with its separate church, common areas, and local governance (via collective action). The islands were stabilized by driving trees into the mud (as in Amsterdam) and topped by Istrian stone that looks like marble but is actually a very strong and water-resistant limestone that formed a transition layer between the trees and brick buildings built on top. The campi are now joined by over 450 bridges. (Buildings and bridges were originally wood, but they burned so often that they were gradually replaced by stone and brick, but there’s still some fire risk.)

The Republic of Venice was rich, powerful and imperialist for centuries, so there was a lot of investment in churches, palaces and other public spaces. Decline began in the 1400s, as trade routes shifted from the Byzantine Empire, Silk Road and Middle East to routes around Africa (removing profits from spices, silks and other eastern goods) and across the Atlantic (bringing far greater colonial wealth). Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797, signaling an end to autonomy and beginning of rule (or neglect) from afar.

Most people think of Venice as a group of islands in the lagoon, but the area also includes the mainland, where more people now live. The population of the islands has dropped from a high of 175,000 in the 1920s (mostly due to Murano’s glass industry) to around 60,000 today. (The population was over 100,000 for centuries and only dropped under that level in the 1960s as the mainland industrialized and families moved to cheaper housing there.) It’s important to note that 70% of voters live on the mainland, so they may not favor policies or spending to maintain a place they no longer consider home.

Drinking water

For centuries, drinking water was collected in cisterns (pozzi) underneath each campo. These cisterns were topped by well heads with locking covers that were opened twice per day so that residents could collect their drinking water. The keys were kept by the priest from the local church. My impression is that this system was robust to free-riding due to the small number of users (each household had a designated water collector) and intense social relations. I’m also guessing that anyone subject to community punishment might have been forced to leave the campo, since it’s hard to live without water.

The pozzi are no longer in use, and drinking water comes from the mainland, via the causeway that brings cars, trains, gas and electricity to the islands. We drank the water from taps and public taps without problems. I didn’t look into the cost of drinking water or state (e.g., leaks) of the water network.

Wastewater and waste

For centuries, garbage and wastewater ended up in canals, to be carried away by tides. A system of drains also emptied into canals. In the 1500s, this system was relatively advanced compared to the standard of Europe, but it has not been upgraded to modern standards. At the moment, there’s a mix of septic tanks, sewerage that gets collected, and untreated discharge (30%) that flows into canals. As you can imagine, there’s a smell. It was worst for us on the island of Burano but not so bad on Murano or the main (tourist) islands. We were told that Venice stinks in the August heat and crowding. Don’t go then.

Garbage used to be piled next to canals for collection, but the rat problem got so bad that they instituted a system where households had to bring their waste directly to boats that passed a few times per week. (Businesses use large dumpsters.) This system means that costs are much higher, but problems with smells, mess and rats have fallen. In touristed areas, there were many overflowing garbage cans so I guess the problem is much greater in the high season.

We rented a room in an Airbnb from some young people who were trying to cover their rent (four shared rent of €1,400/month). One told me that garbage fees rise “exponentially” with the number of apartments owned, which was a problem for them, since their landlord owned 7 places and their lease says they pay the cost. This system — like systems of punative water tariffs — is silly. If you want to”soak the rich,” then tax their wealth (property).

Flood waters

Venice is sinking due to natural and artificial subsidence and sea levels are rising due to climate change. Cruise ships in the lagoon area make matters worse by creating waves that undermine foundations.

We visited the “public information point” for the MOSE project that’s supposed to protect the islands by closing three entrances to the lagoon during high tides. The project cost is €billions over budget and politicians have gone to jail for stealing  few billion euros, but it seems that the gates might actually work (or might slowly — or suddenly — fail). They are in final stages of testing and plan the “hand over” in 2022, about 4-5 years late. I just re-visited the Maeslantkering that the Dutch built in 1997 to protect Rotterdam’s ports, and I am not confident that the Italians — who claim to have “learned a lot in the process” — will be successful.

My one-handed conclusion is that Venice is a lovely city that is suffering from decades of underinvestment and a lack of political will to make hard decisions (e.g., banning cruise ships). In the decades to come, I guess that there will be more problems with pollution, mosquito-borne disease,* and crumbling foundations than there will be with sudden floods.

* I was saddened, but not shocked, to see that Italian populists in the government have proposed to allow unvaccinated children into public child care centers. It looks as if the country will be seeing an increase in preventable deaths and diseases due to anti-vax lies and propaganda. I bambini poveri 🙁

Stuff to read

  1. Social infrastructure (e.g., libraries, community relations) is important!
  2. Taking the train across the US and Rick Steves’s life of encouraging Americans to discover Europe and better their lives.
  3. Although it’s sad to see politicians changing the rules to try to avoid corruption charges, I agree that these shenanigans — some of which are reversed by popular protests — are better than the old regime of impunity.
  4. Gaming Disorder: What it’s like to be addicted to video games
  5.  Ljubjlana is impressive. I love it’s car free area. Read the backstory.
  6. An update on Saudi Arabia’s use of subsidized U.S. water
  7. Big Pharma doesn’t need high drug prices for research but profits
  8. Some students are better off choosing trade schools over university
  9. Arranged marriage can work and bring love
  10. Listen to these recent Jive Talking podcasts: Janna Ruiter brings a human touch to space and Martin Keulertz says solar will free the Middle East

Stuff to read

  1. An update on the collapse of recycling in America. (China banned imports of “trash” and American cities cannot afford to run recycling services at prices residents are used to. Either prices rise or the materials go to the landfill.)
  2. A surreal video portraying Capetown when it was near Day Zero (no water)
  3. Jihadists and white extremists have a lot in common (e.g., needing hugs)
  4. Hygiene saves us from infectious diseases but now we’re getting allergies
  5. Inside the world of drop-shippers, theft and counterfeits
  6. Raghuram Rajan is very wise on trade, competition and bank policies
  7. The Cambridge Analytica Facebook manipulation scandal broke one year ago, but politicians have not acted to prevent election manipulation. Fail.
  8. Journalists are suing Trump for threatening their First Amendment rights to safely do their job. Good.
  9. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt on politics, morality, and the coddling of the American mind
  10. This podcast on parenting and breastfeeding makes me question the value of “natural parenting” 

Stuff to read

  1. Struggling millennials need financial help from parents. Related: It’s hard to get ahead if you’re not “of the right class”
  2. Listen to this discussion on the impact of minimum wages on workers!
  3. Robert Schiller (of “Irrational Exuberance” fame) explains political-economy
  4. Lake Erie is now a “legal person” with the right to not be polluted. Big Ag is upset, but Big Ag can go fuck itself or — better — stop killing neighbors. (NB: This move is/will be challenged in court, so it’s not operational yet.)
  5. Facebook is locked in an unwinnable war with the world it helped create
  6. A former jihadist speaks on the war in Afghanistan
  7. Natives owned land before Columbus, so most settlers were stealing
  8. Police criminals, not “dangerous” neighborhoods
  9. Why is American light rail so expensive compared to other countries?
  10. California has a half-million homeless — and a public health crisis

H/T to SM

Stuff to read

  1. Jive Talking: “Zach Malik had 5 jobs before starting his MSc
  2. Bad news for sustainability: American millennials are driving plenty
  3. Ralph Nader has good ideas on how to improve US politics.
  4. Women die because we measure “the world” according to male metrics
  5. I don’t 100% agree with Salaita’s politics, but he writes beautifully about academic corruption and the nobility of “honest” work.
  6. Northern Macedonia The Republic of North Macedonia explains the tricky do’s and don’ts of its name
  7. Generation Z (born since 2000) is very stressed
  8. The president of Y-combinator on start-ups and innovation
  9. Concrete-demand is a macro driver of climate change. Related: This paper explains how 90 private, state-owned and nation-state producers of oil, cement and natural gas are responsible (on the production side) for 63 percent of cumulative global GHG emissions. These guys are, in other words, the biggest opponents to doing anything about climate.
  10. Google and Microsoft are eager to help oil firms, thereby undoing all their “green” pledges.

H/Ts to PB and PH