The American elections: a suicide note from human civilization?


Stephen Gardiner, in his book A Perfect Moral Storm, says that climate change produces moral corruption. The worst effects of carbon pollution are many years to come; responsibility is diffused over hundreds of governments, thousands of corporations, billions of individuals, and many generations; and, we are not well practiced or intellectually equipped for making decisions about problems of this sort. So it is hard not to make up stories, to fool ourselves, to tell ourselves that what we do now doesn’t matter, and carry on as before. That is moral corruption. It leaves us with a good chance that action will not be taken soon enough to avert catastrophe.

Americans voted yesterday for more moral corruption, choosing to boost the power of a party that is wedded to the propositions that we can’t have a good life without plenty of fossil fuels, Continue reading

Manufacturing logic for football skills

There is a select group of people who can’t take seriously any sentence with the word “skills” in it because, at an impressionable age, they were exposed to Napoleon Dynamite. ND being a film about a boy who is convinced that a range of fairly worthless skills – from the use of nunchucks to high-performance computer gaming – will impress the girls. Not being a sports fan myself, my reflexive response would be to put football (that is, for any compatriots of mine reading this, soccer) skills in this category: it can be a fun game and maybe you will impress those who you wish to impress (or maybe not), but if we’re talking about the problem of skills in our economy surely we should get serious, and talk about literacy, numeracy, and that sort of thing.

Germany wasn’t doing well in international football competition a decade ago, and to solve this problem it turned to what it does best: training. What Germany has done to improve its football skills in recent years as documented in an excellent article by Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian last May is particularly interesting because is shows how the passion for learning a skill for which the market is small and precarious – the case here is football, but similar cases could be made for many arts and sciences – can be harnessed to ensure the acquisition of general, transferable skills.

There are two reasons to treat football skills as meaningful human capital. Continue reading

Tech skills are risky

Readers of this blog (yes, you are legion … waves to crowd) will know that I think investment in skills can be risky, and that because of this the social insurance framework – how generous are short-term unemployment benefits, and who pays for retraining – has a big effect on what sort of skills people choose to acquire. See old posts for various examples.
Now, you might wonder if this can really be so, in our dynamic information economy, in the case of those bread-and-butter tech skills like programming. If you’re good at that, you should be set for life, no? If you do so wonder, then take a look at this piece by Noam Scheiber on The Brutal Ageism of Tech: highly-skilled Silicon Valley nerds in their thirties sneaking off for botox so it won’t be noticed they’re almost ready for the scrapheap.

Going Dutch: more about kids than commuters

Percentage of trips by cycling, UK (blue) vs. Netherlands (orange), by age group. From City Cycling, eds. Pucher & Buehler, 2012, via AsEasyAsRidingABike.

update: David Hembrow reminds me of an excellent resource on this – his A view from the cycle path blog, and the linked Campaign for Childhood Freedom.

Two densely populated countries in northwest Europe, with similar mild-if-dreary climates. The difference? Cycle infrastructure. It’s why “going Dutch” has become a motto for cycle advocates in Britain.

Who would benefit from going Dutch? From San Francisco to London (two cities I happen to pay attention to, for personal reasons), public concern about bicycle safety and infrastructure focuses on hardy adults, 18-60, at risk of being hit by motor vehicles – particularly trucks – when commuting. Sometimes we cycle commuters are not the most sympathetic lot, especially when pumped with adrenalin after a near-death experience on the road. For an excellent discussion of why quality cycle infrastructure is not about today’s cycle commuters but the much larger population of potential cyclists – disproportionately children and old people – see this post at AsEasyAsRidingABike. Continue reading

Some small costs of mafias

We went to Italy in the first half of August, partly to relax and see friends but mostly because Simona’s father had just died, and Leonardo needed to spend time with his nonna [grandmother]. Just before we went I read about a big mafia bust in Ostia, a town on the sea near Rome. Sicilian mafia families, it seems, pretty much run the streets in Ostia, wringing protection from businesses and controlling the allocation of beach umbrellas, as well as running guns, drugs and prostitutes. Things had been getting out of hand – somebody gunned down in the middle of Ostia, and too much mafia activity was moving into Rome itself – so some arrests were needed.

Simona’s mother was staying not far away, near the beach not far to the south-east of Ostia, north-west of Anzio. Simona and I hung around for a few days while Leonardo and Nonna settled into a new routine, without Nonno. After we paid for dinner one evening at a restaurant by the beach, I observed that Simona had not asked for a receipt, as she would have done in Rome. She’s always told me – I have never actually seen this happen – that the Guardia di Finanza might stop us as we came out of a restaurant and demand to see our receipt, to verify that our payment had been recorded for tax purposes. “There’s no need for a receipt here”, she said, “this is all mafia, all up and down this coast. The police Continue reading

Map: corporate shuttle routes from San Francisco to the Silicon Valley

- map from Eric Rodenbeck, writing (and mapping) in Wired. Thanks to Louis Suárez-Potts for the link.

For many, San Francisco’s transition from center of finance, trade and manufacturing to a new role as a suburb of the Silicon Valley (the latter comprising the ex-surburbs to its south), seems wrong – a vibrant, heterogeneous city gentrified, converted into a pretty place for techies to perch. It feels wrong to me, too, but at the same time it says something beautiful to me: Continue reading