Stuff to read

  1. Minimum wages help low paid workers overcome “unequal market power” in setting wages, but they can — in “loose” labor markets — still make it harder to get hired.
  2. More evidence of sexism in the economics profession (as well as the clueless behavior of manspaining graduate student trolls)
  3. How your diet drives climate change — and what to do about it
  4. Are subscription services encouraging over-consumption?
  5. A pretty accurate vies of the “downside” of Amsterdam 😉
  6. Environmental justice needs more attention (and action!)
  7. Watch this TED talk on working as a team instead of competing to beat each other.
  8. Listen to this interview on trusting the poor (rather than treating them as babies) as a means of helping them improve their lives.
  9. I support replacing student debt by taking an equity stake in their future.

H/T to PB

 

Stuff to read

  1. Bad news: Global soil fertility gone in 30-60 years due to overuse of pesticides and fertilizers. Good news: Some (small %) of farmers are returning to “bio-organic” practices. Hurry!
  2. How to be a good parent
  3. The idea that mass catering must be devoid of pleasure is false
  4. Play the “evolution of trust” game 🙂
  5. In praise of dementia (assuming you have caregivers!)
  6. The best advice. Really.
  7. The market is betting on climate change (happening)
  8. London’s congestion charging has improved quality of life
  9. I agree that Bernie should give away his $2 million. It may be the easiest spending to defeat the “billionaire” thief-in-chief.
  10. A charming video on the chalk that mathematicians love, featuring my old boss 🙂

H/Ts to PB and RN

Stuff to read

  1. Capetown avoided Day Zero with some action (including cutting off farmers) and luck
  2. In “shocked, I’m shocked” news, there’s a rise in addition among pot smokers in the legal and highly innovative US market. Addiction is often a symptom of deeper problems, and neither pot, nor alcohol, tobacco,  cocaine, etc. will fix them!
  3. Turning away from the modern world to a more balanced life.
  4. Lying for a good cause: Nature documentaries
  5. Why Americans break so many driving laws (and kill people)
  6. Paul Romer has good opinions on economics and cities
  7. Margaret Atwood is wise
  8. The rise of audiobooks
  9. Rules for civil servants, 1949 edition
  10. Paper vs blowdryers in public bathrooms

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!)

Institutions

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