Small, Affordable, and Beautiful

cnu-cottage.jpg This cottage, 523 sq. feet, designed by architect members of the Congress for the New Urbanism, is intended as replacement for housing lost to Katrina. “Katrina Cottages” are designed to be “affordable, quickly built small houses of enduring character.” The house pictured is a kernel — two wings can be added to make it 1300 sq. feet. A new cottage design for the Washington, D.C. area will provide low-cost housing that can blend seamlessly into neighborhoods of expensive, up-scale housing.

I’m no architect, and I know nothing of design, but I love the clean lines and classic look of this little house. Dropped in amongst a bunch of McMansions, it might be the best looking house in the neighborhood. It would for sure be the most sensible.

Now that exorbitant house prices in many cities put them beyond the means of middle and lower middle wage earners — so much for the inherent rationality of markets — maybe another, reality based, housing boom can begin. The new boom may be of houses that are affordable to buy and maintain, and combine functionality and style, which is to say, are beautiful.


For People of a Certain Age

In the Washinton Post yesterday, this article by Shankar Vedamtan reports that doing short brain exercises has a profound effect on cognition years after the exercises are performed.

“The researchers divided the volunteers into four groups, including a control group that received no training. A second group was trained in reasoning skills — being asked to spot the pattern in the sequence “a, c, e, g, i,” for example — every other letter of the alphabet. A third group was taught memory skills, which involved remembering word lists and using visualizations and associations as memory aids. A fourth group was given exercises to speed up mental processing — being asked to identify an object flashed briefly on a computer screen while fighting off distractions.

Each of the groups being trained had 10 sessions, each lasting an hour to 75 minutes, and each session presented progressively more challenging problems. Compared with the control group, those who got memory training did 75 percent better on memory tasks five years later, those who got the reasoning training did 40 percent better on reasoning tasks, and those who got the speed training did 300 percent better than the control group.”

An article last year from details many other things we can do to prevent senior moments from evolving into… umm, oh yeah — it is a beautiful cloudless evening, no no, wait, oh yes, of course, time for lunch!!

What’s in a Name?

France is on “high alert” due to threats from an Algerian terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. The International Herald Tribune has the story, by Katrin Bennhold, here.

French counterterrorism forces have stopped three plots by this group since June of 2005. The group is thought to be recruiting jihadists trained and battle hardened in the charnel house that is Iraq.

I had thought I would riff on this name, since it seemed a funny name, “Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.” But really, the name chills me, because with a name like that you know these people have no capacity for mercy, or remorse, or second thoughts. “Preaching and Combat” — you also know their critical thought processes stopped at adoption of their religious ideology. Just too scary, even with a funny sounding name.

More on Swift’s illegals

In an earlier post, I had asked if Swift would be held responsible for financial support to the families of their deported workers. Without such support, these families will be forced to rely on tax-funded social services.

Last night the Newshour on PBS aired a report on the effect of the deportations to those families and the town of Greeley, Colorado. Even in a fairly in-depth report like this, there is no mention of the likely penalty Swift will be assessed, or of any cost to the company at all, except to say that the company is now offering hiring bonuses for replacement workers.

Likewise in Sunday’s Denver Post piece.

Three weeks before the ICE raids, on November 28th, Swift, apparently being told in advance of the raids, asked a court to stop any enforcement action, which the court refrained to do. Swift also asked, if the raids were to take place, that the company be held blameless for any violations because they had participated in the government’s “Basic Pilot Program” and had relied on it to screen out any illegals. An acknowledged flaw of the Program is its inability to detect if a stolen identity is being used. Of the 261 workers arrested in Greeley, 22 are charged with using stolen identities.

In denying Swift an injunction against the raids and/or charges resulting from them, the court also refuted Swift’s contention that the raids themselves are “a de facto penalty” because, the company claimed, they cause the company a “disruption of business and economic damages.” The court observed:

“The testimony that Federal Trade Commission reports show that 331 Swifts employees have used false identities to the harm of other citizens, 170 of which still work at Swift, is evidence that grant of the requested injunction would harm the public’s interest in quickly catching such criminals, swiftly breaking up any rings which cause or contribute to such harm, and minimize continuing damages to innocent citizens.”

I cannot imagine that a company could knowingly employ identified illegal aliens without having charges pressed against it. But that’s what Swift did, apparently thinking itself above the law.

In addition to any legal penalties, I really think Swift should pony up to help out the affected families, not only because failure to do so dumps the costs onto the taxpayer, but also because some of these workers have been at Swift ten years without any indication from the company that either their employment or their freedom was imperiled — a de facto entrapment, offering a steady job to people who do not know the law and cannot speak the language, and are desperate to work. If these people thought the company was protecting them, were they wrong to believe that? Because it certainly does seem that the company was shielding them from deportation.

In the end, it is probably only the illegals and their families who will pay a significant penalty. Swift will get a slap on the wrist, as I am sure they are expecting, especially given the fact that they brazenly employed 170 known identity thieves. Maybe despite the raids, it is still business as usual.

US Emissions a violation of human rights?

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, has declined to rule on a complaint by native Arctic peoples that global warming caused by gases from the United States violates their right to sustain their traditional ways. The agency told the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents 150,000 people in northern Alaska, Canada, Russia and Greenland, that there was insufficient evidence of harm. Inuit leaders said they would seek a hearing to present more evidence.” Andrew Revkin, NY Times

I wonder what “insufficient evidence of harm” means?  Not enough evidence of harmful warming of the Arctic, or not enough evidence that “their right to sustain their traditional ways” has been impaired?  I assume the latter, but I would really love to see the two questions considered separately. If this commission were to accept that there was harmful warming, and that US emissions were the cause, that in itself would be huge legal precedent.

Soothing Summers

Lawrence Summers wrote this last week in the Los Angeles Times.  Title and subtitle are:

Calming an anxious middle class

The incoming Congress will need to pursue policies that promote more economic fairness without hindering globalization.”

Speaking of the growing disillusionment of the middle class with their dwindling economic prospects and the new Congress’ cognizance of that displeasure, Summers warns corporate managers to beware of a populist backlash. He says:

“These economic and political trends should be of great concern to the business community as well as to policymakers in Washington. They will continue to lead to any number of populist proposals that cut against the grain of the market system, such as limiting free-trade agreements, restricting outsourcing or blocking the ability of successful companies to expand.

But the track record of populist economic policies has been dismal — they rarely achieve their objectives but incur huge collateral costs. Policymakers forget at their peril that globalization has enabled the U.S. economy to enjoy the very favorable combination of low unemployment and low inflation, and that without open markets, product prices would be rising much faster than they are, making living standards even worse for middle-class families.”

I’m no economist, but that last line, “making living standards even worse for middle-class families” sounds like a damning indictment of a professedly good economy.

If the “grain of the market system” is such that the great majority of citizens are suffering for it, then why wouldn’t  Congress want to do some targeted surgery, specifically, “limiting free-trade agreements, (and) restricting outsourcing”? Are they not derelict if they do not act?
I have no idea why he thinks economic populists want to block the expansion of successful companies. That’s just bizarrely paranoid.  And demonizing as well.

If, according to Summers, “populists” are the middle class who want a reinvigorated manufacturing sector, and who recognize that some market protections may be necessary to achieve that, then are the corporate barons who oppose them “elitests”?

No Mas Patience for Mass Transit

Mass transit detracters make much of this truth: ridership is consistently far below capacity in most cities.

They say this proves that mass transit is unwanted/unneeded/or unworkable.

They must not have gotten on mass transit in most cities — if they had, they would know that the real, important truth of today’s mass transit systems is that they are incomplete. And like any system, if it’s incomplete, it’s broke.

They are always too small, and thus run on too sparse a time table, with too few routes, making them unworkable at reliably getting folks to work, or to shop, or drop their kids off at daycare. And if you have to do all three of these every day, you are flat out of luck. The wonder is that cities continue to fund these clearly dysfunctional transit systems at all. Can only assume that as bad as they are, the only thing worse than a broken transit system is no transit system.

Very few cities and metropolis’ can adequately fund the equipment, vehicles, right-of-ways, and personnel that would make for truly functional transit. It’s an apparently insoluble problem, as much a product of city planning and design decisions over the past 80 years as it is of simple neglect.

Yet the need to do so, and in a hurry, is an inescapable fact for nearly every city.