SL 617

Today, I’m deep cleaning the house (hello, spider webs under the coffe table!) and making five different kids of cold side salads. There will be 26 relatives here tomorrow to celebrate my parents’ 50 anniversary. Everybody will be here all day, so I’m arranging two meals. It will all be fine, just lots of moving around today. It’s another 10 days until I have the kids in school full time. 10 days.

Here are some things that caught my eye:

Horrific child abuse case in England.

Boycott APSA because it falls on Labor Day.

The gay subculture at Fire Island.

I’m reading stuff today in between the cobweb cleaning, so I’m here.

The New Pop Culture

Facebook is for old people. The VMAs are for old people. So are the Emmys, People Magazine, Oscars and TMZ.  E-mail is for really old people.

I know way more than my fourteen year old son about A) who Miley Cirus brought to the VMAs (a homeless guy), B) the name of Beyoncé’s daughter (Blue Ivy), and C) the latest Ariana Grande-Nicki Minaj song (Bang-Bang - looks like child porn). Jonah says that his friends don’t talk about Hollywood gossip or even have favorite bands. Some of the girls occasionally talk about Taylor Swift.

So, what do they do? Well, they will power watch a favorite show on Netflix. My son watched all nine seasons of the Office this summer. 300 hours of TV! On his laptop. I’m really proud.

Both of my kids spend a lot of time watching other people playing video games on YouTube. It’s so, so, so boring. I don’t get it. Don’t know about Twitch? Read this and this.

Twitch isn’t the only game in town.  There’s Captain Sparklz on YouTube for Minecraft, and Harry101UK for Portal 2. Jonah likes Miniminter for FIFA 14, Inside Gaming and RoosterTeeth. Check out the hit numbers on those videos. Millions.

They spend a lot of time on YouTube watching news shows and music. But really silly music. Ian loves Weebl’s Stuff.

For worldwide soccer, Jonah looks at KickTV and Football Daily. There’s also Bundesliga.

For science, Jonah watches Vsauce.

For animination, there’s Domics.

Ian first music downloads have all been music from his favorite video games, like Portal 2.

Affordable Housing

We seem to have a housing theme going this week. Let’s keep it going.

Paul Krugman notes that that the Sunbelt and Atlantic have seen big population and business growth. Part of their growth may be pro-business and pro-rich policies, but he thinks the biggest factor that explains their success is the cheaper housing. Zoning laws are halting denser and taller buildings in California and the Northeast, so there is very little new construction. Existing homes grow more and more expensive. So, working class and middle class young families are relocating, even taking pay cuts, so they can get cheap, large homes with granite counter tops.

Krugman says that we can encourage growth by reducing regulations on housing.

And this, in turn, means that the growth of the Sunbelt isn’t the kind of success story conservatives would have us believe. Yes, Americans are moving to places like Texas, but, in a fundamental sense, they’re moving the wrong way, leaving local economies where their productivity is high for destinations where it’s lower. And the way to make the country richer is to encourage them to move back, by making housing in dense, high-wage metropolitan areas more affordable.

People are finding cheaper housing within metropolitan areas by continually gentrifying and dealing with looonnnnggg commutes, but it is simply not possible to create the amount of cheap housing that is available in Atlanta around here. There’s not enough space. Older infrastructure. Politically, it is a non-starter, because no voter wants to see their housing values go down. What to do?


Apparently Ian has a great deal of musical talent. We just figured this out. Oops. I’m dealing with it now. We’re signing him for all sorts of music lessons, including one place that specializes in teaching kids classic 80s rock. It puts them in a band after a few lessons.

To get Ian ready for the rock music school, we pulled out our old Who and Stones albums. And, yes, we still have albums. I surprised my husband by knowing all the words to Quadrophenia. Ian and I are listening to Queen right now.

Suburban Walls

The Washington Post has a really dumb article about race, class, and the suburbs. I mean it’s an important topic, but the writer discusses the topic like it is a brand new development and that it is unique to St. Louis. (How old is this writer? 12?) I don’t usually point to bad articles on this blog, but I’m grouchy this morning…

The article contrasts Ferguson, MO, a suburb with a majority of African-Americans, with other suburbs that have more whites and more wealth. The writer says that segregation is reinforced by housing prices and zoning laws in the wealthier, whiter suburbs.

St. Louis’s geographic divide stems from a legacy of segregation — legal and illegal — and more recent economic stratification that has had the effect of reinforcing racial separation. Even now, some tony suburbs maintain large-lot single-family zoning, essentially closing the door to lower-earners who might want to subdivide a property.

Middle class suburbs have zoning laws? No way! Get out of town! These zoning laws help maintain a certain image of a town, keep property values high, and maintain a homogeneous population? Really? This is groundbreaking stuff here.

In my old neighborhood, people parked their cars on front lawns and left the waste from their construction jobs in their backyard. Honestly, it drove me bananas. In our new, wealthier suburb, that just doesn’t happen. One neighbor backs his Mercedes into the driveway, because he wants the car to always point forward. In the old town, there were drive-through, fast food joints in the middle of town. Here, there’s a French bakery and a Kate Spade handbag store. In the old town, any business, no matter how ugly, could plop itself wherever it wanted (provided they paid off the right people), because of the need for tax ratables. Here, it took 30 years to get permission from the town to build another shopping center on the ramp to the major highway.

I can never subdivide my property and make it a two or three family home. Actually, you can’t do that in almost any suburb in this country. I also can’t change the footprint of my house much. I can’t turn my house into a five story, glass box. I can’t turn my house into a business. There are millions of things that I can’t do. I need approval from a zoning board. In my parents’ town, if you cut down a tree, then you have to plant five more.

Do all these rules make it impossible for lower income people to move to this town? Yes! There are some apartments near the center of town with lower-income people. Some of Jonah’s friends live there. But no new apartments have been constructed in this town since the 1960s. Any proposal by a developer to build multi-unit apartments is immediately squashed by community groups with Facebook pages.

Now, are suburban zoning laws a terrible thing? On the one hand, these zoning laws do result in economic segregation. On the other hand, suburban zoning laws are the result of local decisions, little democracies. People can create communities of their choice. If the people in Cape Cod want all their houses to be three colors, then good for them. The place looks wonderful and it brings in a lot of tourists, who love the Cape Cod esthetic. If the people in Town A want to make laws that say that everybody has to wear a hat on Thursday, then that’s fine, too.

Also, people set up these zoning laws, because the value of the house is largely determined by its location in a particular community. A house is a person’s biggest investment, their larger purchase, their retirement plan. If that retirement plan is compromised by the fact that a neighbor begins parking their car on the front lawn, then the person will get understandably pissed off. Hence, zoning laws.

I’m not sure how we can create more diverse suburbs, while maintaining the right of local people to self-determine the appearance of their community.

Painted Brick Pony


We love painted brick. And there was tons of it in Georgetown, DC and in Baltimore. This pony was off some alley in Georgetown. The orange and green of the natural brick next to the creamy lavender painted brick is perfect. I would like to mount this pony on the side of my house. I bet my neighbors would love it, too.

The National Building Museum


It’s Friday, so it’s just lifestyle and girlie-ness today at Apt. 11D.  Jonah is looking over the balcony at the National Building Museum in DC. The exhibits at this museum were fine. The building itself is fantastic. Check out the awesome terra cotta tile floor. Orange, black, and beige. It’s the color of a Penguin book.

Men Get Tenured Over Women With Equal Numbers of Publications

A study from the ASA conference explored the data on gender and tenure in computer science, sociology and English.

Not only are men more likely than women to earn tenure, but in computer science and sociology, they are significantly more likely to earn tenure than are women who have the same research productivity. In English men are slightly (but not in a statistically significant way) more likely than women to earn tenure….

In sociology, she found that the odds of a woman earning tenure were 51 percent lower than for men, when controlling for research productivity. In computer science, the figure was 55 percent. Those gaps are “highly significant,” she said. These figures suggest, Weisshaar said, that it’s not that women have to find ways to become as productive as men, but that women must be more productive than men if they want to earn tenure at a research university.

Wendy sent me the link to this study and a link to Instapundit’s reaction.

Stripped Down College

When we were in DC last week, we took a stroll through the Georgetown campus. We wanted to give Jonah a taste of a fancy college. He’s seen some of the public colleges where I’ve taught. He’s even sat in a couple of my classes. But they were public schools with 70s architecture and cranky Dell computers at the front of the room. Kids sitting on radiators in the back of the room. We wanted to show him ivy covered buildings and eager, over-achieving students. We wanted to give him a picture of what is waiting for him at the end of high school.

We wandered through the campus. We took a couple of pictures and sent them to my sister, who graduated from Georgetown many years ago. We walked into the buildings and into the classrooms, which surprisingly had no security guards. The classrooms were a combination of tradition and technology — old school blackboards and lecterns with built-in, touch screen computers. Steve and I groaned. At one time, we planned to be at a place like this.

We asked Jonah what he thought about the campus. He shrugged. His brain, which has been permanently altered from Minecraft, had already re-engineered the campus for maximum efficiency. He didn’t think much of the Hogwarts vibe or the ivy. He described his plan for a college campus with large modern buildings surrounding a circular green zone. I’m really glad that he’ll be starting his architecture program this fall.

The Atlantic has a long article this month about one for-profit, online college, Minerva College. It’s highly selective and not free, which sets it apart from MOOCs. The students live in dorms on a campus, but the faculty live wherever they like. Information is learned and conversation is facilitated through the computer.

The Minerva boast is that it will strip the university experience down to the aspects that are shown to contribute directly to student learning. Lectures, gone. Tenure, gone. Gothic architecture, football, ivy crawling up the walls—gone, gone, gone. What’s left will be leaner and cheaper. (Minerva has already attracted $25 million in capital from investors who think it can undercut the incumbents.) And Minerva officials claim that their methods will be tested against scientifically determined best practices, unlike the methods used at other universities and assumed to be sound just because the schools themselves are old and expensive. Yet because classes have only just begun, we have little clue as to whether the process of stripping down the university removes something essential to what has made America’s best colleges the greatest in the world.

I think it would be silly to form an opinion on such an enterprise before it is up and running. Let’s see what it can do. If Mineva can provide a cheaper college that teaches kids about the same amount of material, then it’s worth a shot.