Read about my travel adventures in the business section of today’s New York Times.
Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created and diligently monitored by scores of regular users mass collaborating over the internet, has been a source of immense controversy since it first appeared online seven years ago.
While most of us (I think) regard the online encyclopedia as a very useful resource for initial research into an unfamiliar topic (not to mention one of the world’s greatest time killers), and see its method of creation (mass collaboration) as both novel and strikingly accurate, there has been no shortage of bluster from both sides of the aisle to just how best to describe/exalt/deride the online phenomenon.
The staunchest self-described ‘Wikipedians’ see their community as the first real democracy, a new egalitarian mode of production and a nation online.
Critics argue that Wikipedia is, quite literally, the death of knowledge. Wikipedia embodies a generation (mine) of lazy cheaters – using half-baked, ‘user-generated’ (re: inaccurate) articles written by computer-nerds and other weirdos that skew the truth and focus only on the trivial. Wikipedia is lowering our standards for accuracy and simultaneously lowering our collective IQ.
Describing Wikipedia as either a Virtual Utopia or The Death of Knowledge is reductionism at its finest. While I am generally skeptical of these far-flung metaphors that try to pin down the online encyclopedia, I was intrigued by one recent attempt by Noam Cohen in the New York Times. He says Wikipedia most closely resembles a vast, diverse, online fact city- and quite a creative one at that.
Cohen adapts a Socratic tone in asking a number of thought provoking questions. He says:
“Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair?”
He could just as easily ask: why don’t people sabotage Wikipedia pages? Why don’t people post misinformation?
The reality, of course, is that they do. Just as sometimes in our real cities, people are attacked, lines are budded, and people with blue hair get ridiculed- occasionally. But the stronger the city and the sense of community, the stronger the social forces that combat devious behavior. The same is true for Wikipedia.
To support his claim, Cohen consults the writings of Urban Oracle Jane Jacobs. He quotes the prolific Wikipedian Andrew Lih (who paraphrases Jacobs) saying she “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact, and the assimilation of children.” He continues, “She may as well have been talking about wikis. A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”
So is Wikipedia perfect? Or another question: will we (because it really is we) ever ‘finish’ Wikipedia? The same question could be posed for Chicago, Paris, or Toronto. Of course it isn’t perfect and it will probably never be finished – just as a city is constantly changing, evolving, and reinventing itself.
For the sake of all people who can access this vast, unprecedented body of knowledge, I hope Wikipedia grows – especially in the 100+ versions that exist now in other languages. Never before have we been given such a low barrier – the internet – to access this vast canon of human knowledge.
So forget the controversy, the metaphors, and the bluster and take a stroll down one of the long, wide information boulevards of the online city – you never know what side street you may end up on, or what secrets you might find.
On a lighter note: College Humor’s take on the Wiki-phenomenon.
From the New York Times Economix:
The New York Times profiles the new head of the newly created Office of Urban Policy:
To his critics, Mr. Carrión’s vision was unremarkable and his record of accomplishments a matter of debate. They argue that he often sacrificed community concerns to please business interests and failed to follow through on many of his ideas.
Mr. Carrion’s promise in 2003 to build ice skating rinks at three Bronx parks fizzled, though a temporary rink is planned as part of the Yankee Stadium redevelopment. His Office of Faith Based Initiatives has been largely inactive after the death of its director. And his plans in 2006 to start a Bronx Sports Commission and a health insurance co-operative for small businesses remain works in progress.
Mr. Carrión’s handling of two big projects especially angered many in the Bronx … The shopping center being built on the site of the old Bronx Terminal Market displaced about two dozen wholesale produce and ethnic foods merchants, and a community benefits agreement negotiated by Mr. Carrión with the developer was criticized for shortchanging residents.
The new Yankee Stadium was built on land occupied by two neighborhood parks, and a number of community leaders and parks advocates objected to the loss of the parks and plans to replace them with smaller parks scattered around the neighborhood. Months after a Bronx community board voted against the stadium plan, Mr. Carrión replaced or demoted several board members in 2006.
“It’s ironic that President Obama hired Adolfo Carrión, whose record in the Bronx at every turn thwarted the interest of the community, and yet the president started his career as a community organizer,” said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the market’s former merchants.
Mr. Carrión received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from several individuals who worked for developers, companies or institutions building retail, housing or other developments in the borough, often as plans for those projects were still winding through the approval process.
What, to you, does this appointment signal about the Obama administration’s perspective on cities and urban policy?
A story in Sunday’s New York Times about a drought in Central California made me think again about Modesto, the Central Valley town where I grew up. While we focus on the problems of large cities like Detroit, agricultural and exurban areas like the Valley are crumbling. The implications for our food supply, for millions of people and for our nation, are dire.
Here’s an excerpt from the Times piece:
The country’s biggest agricultural engine, California’s sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase and cripple farms and towns.
Across the valley, towns are already seeing some of the worst unemployment in the country, with rates three and four times the national average, as well as reported increases in all manner of social ills: drug use, excessive drinking and rises in hunger and domestic violence.
Ironically, many of our neighbors and friends my parents’ age when I was growing up were Okies and Dust Bowl refugees. This drought may now impact their grandchildren the same way but it’s not clear where they can go.
Modesto sometimes seems to be suffering the plagues of Egypt. However, the region’s problems precede the downturn by a couple of decades and, in fact, Modesto suffered from the dot-com boom as well. The downtown is pretty dead, but the malls that replaced it are also suffering.
My mother lived in the house I grew up in until a couple of years ago, so I visited frequently. Our working class neighborhood has turned into a virtual slum (yes, they don’t only exist in big cities). Several of the neighbors live in the cash economy, the guy across the street ran a small junk yard in his backyard. When we were cleaning out her house, the neighbors were digging through the dumpbox in broad daylight.
I started to notice Modesto’s statistics when I read Rise, then in postings on this blog. In Rise, Modesto ranked 208 of 265 in the creativity index. This isn’t the deep South or rural Midwest, but a medium-sized city some 90 miles from San Francisco.
During the housing bubble, Modesto ranked high on the unaffordability list, as prices were driven up by Bay Area commuters earning much more than the locals. Then when the bubble burst, it was in the top ranks of foreclosures. Median house price went from $110,000 in 2000 to $350,000 in early 2006 to $175,000 today (Zillow numbers).
As I’ve watched lists on this blog, Modesto commonly is at the bottom, most recently in best places for small business (#98 of 100). It was virtually dead last in Bert Sperling’s last Best Places list. Other lists as diverse as worst air pollution and numbers of college-educated women have Modesto scraping bottom. Decades of industrial fertilizer and pesticides have sunk into the ground and poisoned the aquifer, so that the Valley is a place where drinking bottled water is an actual health measure.
The Valley is different from the farming parts of the Midwest, it’s not losing population, and grows pretty high value orchard and truck farm crops. Nevertheless, it’s collapsing and the repercussions will likely affect the nearby San Francisco-Silicon Valley region and California’s creative class economy.
The Freakonomics blog in the New York Times has a brief article (and a spirited discussion section) considering how people’s spending patterns might adapt to changes in income. While the conjecture about which products and services might be more or less income-elastic is certainly interesting, the first two paragraphs contain two very curious words which add up to a pretty big unchallenged assumption: “presumably,” as in “a (presumably) temporary decline in income during the recession; and “the short run.”
In the short run, Daniel Hamermesh is probably right: lots of things get short shrift when income shrinks, including his list of “postponable luxuries” like plastic surgery, participation in the Austin Marathon, and pediatric visits (not my idea of a postponable luxury, but to each his own). But I am not convinced that we’re in a short run situation at all, and that we are witnessing the presumptive temporary decline in personal income.
So, what do you think? Is this a permanent or temporary setback? What are you you postponing, or planning to forego entirely?
Two conservative intellectuals have recently raised questions about the value of college for most students. While they come from different starting points, they make the same basic point. I find the sources mildly interesting but I think the basic concept is long overdue. Just as high school needs to be reinvented, so does the undergraduate college model.
Charles Murray from the American Enterprise Institute had a piece in the New York Times about a week ago, which is summarized in these first paragraphs.
Barack Obama has two attractive ideas for improving post-secondary education – expanding the use of community colleges and tuition tax credits – but he needs to hitch them to a broader platform. As president, Mr. Obama should use his bully pulpit to undermine the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification. Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”
The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.
Then yesterday George F. Will had a rambling column in the Washington Post about civil rights court cases that included this nugget:
…many employers, fearing endless litigation about multiple uncertainties, threw up their hands and, to avoid legal liability, threw out intelligence and aptitude tests for potential employees. Instead, they began requiring college degrees as indices of applicants’ satisfactory intelligence and diligence.
This is, of course, just one reason college attendance increased from 5.8 million in 1970 to 17.5 million in 2005. But it probably had a, well, disparate impact by making employment more difficult for minorities. O’Keefe and Vedder write:
“Qualified minorities who performed well on an intelligence or aptitude test and would have been offered a job directly 30 or 40 years ago are now compelled to attend a college or university for four years and incur significant costs. For some young people from poorer families, those costs are out of reach.”
Indeed, by turning college degrees into indispensable credentials for many of society’s better jobs, this series of events increased demand for degrees and, O’Keefe and Vedder say, contributed to “an environment of aggressive tuition increases.” Furthermore they reasonably wonder whether this supposed civil rights victory, which erected barriers between high school graduates and high-paying jobs, has exacerbated the widening income disparities between high school and college graduates.
Maybe this rings true to me because it matches my own experience. I never liked school with its emphasis on memorization, and was bored to tears as a college freshman when I dropped out. By the time I went back years later and got a BA, I was able to test out of about two years worth of courses. By then I had started a couple of small businesses, edited and published two newspapers, been a broadcast engineer, managed a radio station, done a lot of political activism, and had many other jobs. None of these required me to have a college degree at the time.
However, I don’t accept Murray’s thesis that this is primarily Obama’s responsibility – everyone under the sun is trying to pile more work on his desk. Instead it should be the basis of a public conversation involving universities, think tanks, unions, and other interested parties.
What do others think?
So says New York Times’ David Brooks:
The 1980s and 1990s made up the era of the great dispersal. Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward — from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe … If you asked people in that age of go-go suburbia what they wanted in their new housing developments, they often said they wanted a golf course. But the culture has changed. If you ask people today what they want, they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers. People overshot the mark. They moved to the exurbs because they wanted space and order. But once there, they found that they were missing community and social bonds. So in the past years there has been a new trend. Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape.There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers’ markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving as many people move back into the city in search of human contact…
Barack Obama has said that he would start an infrastructure project that will dwarf Dwight Eisenhower’s highway program. If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns. It would be great if Obama’s spending, instead of just dissolving into the maw of construction, would actually encourage the clustering and leave a legacy that would be visible and beloved 50 years from now.
To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. The old metro design was based on a hub-and-spoke system — a series of highways that converged on an urban core. But in an age of multiple downtown nodes and complicated travel routes, it’s better to have a complex web of roads and rail systems.
Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares. Many communities are trying to build focal points. The stimulus plan could build charter schools, pre-K centers, national service centers and other such programs around new civic hubs… A stimulus package may be necessary, but unless designed with care, its main effect will be to prop up the drying husks of the fall.
As I mentioned in a previous post here, I was asked to do a Q&A on the Freakonomics blog in the New York Times. Readers posed their questions about “Best Places” studies, and now I’ve posted my responses.
We had more than 60 questions, and they were all interesting and thoughtful. They covered the quality of life in Scandinavia, the effect of our Best Places studies on cities, Wasilla, boring Dallas, and whether I get offered bribes to influence our rankings. In my responses, I addressed the effect of the creative class and how Richard’s work impacts our research in finding the Best Places to live, work, and play.
People asked if I’m holding a bowling bag in the photo which they used. And the answer is yes – and here’s the full picture. I’m including it because this is my homage to Bob Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” I saw they were going to remodel this local building with these very cool old bowling illustrations, and I had to capture them in case they were gone forever. And sure enough, weeks later they were just a memory.
In yesterday’s New York Times, I noticed a few separate articles about Latin America and was struck by the impact the U.S. financial crisis/downturn is having in the rest of the hemisphere. In several ways, legal and illegal, we have been supporting economies which will now grow more slowly and needed investment will slow down. What effect it may have on reforms is unclear – Thomas Friedman has argued that huge oil revenues actually slows reform in many countries.
Just looking at Mexico, they’ll be losing money three ways:
- Reduced remittances
- Declining oil sales and prices
- More controversially, possibly declining drug smuggling and sales
I’ve provided the headline, URL link and brief quotes from each article. Do these connections make sense to you? What other impacts going both ways across the border might we see?
“..for the first time in nearly a decade, the number of people entering the country illegally was lower than the number arriving through legal channels.”
“Central banks from Mexico to Brazil have projected the biggest declines in remittances from the United States in more than 10 years.”
“In Mexico, where remittances are the second-largest source of foreign income after oil, officials projected a 12 percent drop this year, the biggest on record.”
“In only a few days, Latin American leaders have gone from schadenfreude to fear. Despite strong economic growth this decade and some aggressive efforts to break free of the American orbit, there is a growing nervousness that once again Latin America cannot escape the globalized connections in the financial sector that run through the United States.”
“…the financial crisis has exploded far beyond Wall Street. Whipsawing global markets are already having a ripple effect across Latin America. As nervous investors pulled money out of emerging markets, Brazil’s currency, the real, plunged 16 percent against the dollar last month, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses at large food and eucalyptus-pulp exporters that placed bad bets on the direction of the real.”
“President Filipe Calderon who has made fighting drug traffickers the centerpiece of his administration, proposed legislation on Thursday that would decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cocaine and other drugs for addicts who agreed to undergo treatment.”
“A recent government survey found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost doubled in the past six years to 307,000, while the number of those who had tried drugs rose to 4.5 million from 3.5 million.”
“Drugs used to flow through Mexico to the United States, and they still do, but an increasing amount of those narcotics now stays in Mexico to feed the habits of domestic consumers.”
I’m just extrapolating, but as smuggling gets harder will less illegal immigration, and U.S. recreational drug users cut back their budgets, the cartels will look at selling more in Latin American countries.
“While consumers welcome the decline, which will reduce the nation’s $1.3 billion daily oil import bill, oil producers are wary. Mexico said it might have to cut its budget next year as petroleum revenue dropped. Countries like Russia and Venezuela, which have been riding a wave of energy-fueled nationalism, could be forced to scale back their ambitions and energy projects that require enormous financing could be delayed.”