Category Archives: Ramblings

Ways to fight urban decay

I’ve been thinking a lot about problems that have become insurmountable in Austin around closing schools, density, and paying for the decay of infrastructure.

One big problem in a lot of cities is the shrinking populations in neighborhood schools. Most neighborhoods are built for families. As the houses are finished a family moves in. Their kids go to school. Every house on the street seems to have a family. The common thinking in Austin is that DINKs (dual-income no kids) come into a neighborhood and start pushing families out of single-family homes by paying a lot for them. Or that the houses are too small for families. I think these might have their place, but I think there’s a more organic reason. Home owners age. Their kids grow up. At some point a neighborhood shifts from every house having kids, to the minority having kids.

My neighborhood is losing population. You could see that as being caused by DINKs moving in, but they seem to be holding steady. One of my neighbors is in his seventies or eighties. Another just saw his only child go off to college. Another is in hospice care. Two adjacent houses and mine hold children. Only the house across the street has those accursed DINKs. All of these houses would have had kids in the late-sixties when they were built. This seems like the most natural possible progression for a neighborhood, and all of my older neighbors are not going to die at the same time so we’re not going to see another massive rush of kids, so what’s the solution for this perfectly normal neighborhood progression?

Paired schools

One idea I’ve been playing around with in my brain are paired schools. Each time a school is built it is paired with another geographically close school. These two schools automatically have their boundaries reanalyzed every 5 years (preferably by a computer program that can do things like optimize bus routes), and will be up for automatic closure or consolidation every 10 years if their utilization dips below 80%.

Rather than the current system where politically powerful parents have an incentive to essentially create private neighborhood schools with few students by keeping existing boundaries, this would create a system where parents would constantly be scrambling to be more inclusive. To get boundaries that include more students, and to encourage dense housing and apartments, lest at the end of 10 years their school automatically get closed or merged.

By building this system into the school districts standard operating procedures it would avoid surprises and the sort of uprisings that have recently been seen in Austin where parents feel like this has suddenly been dumped on them.

This could ultimately also be used for things like neighborhood pools and community centers as well.

I had something else on my run, but I’ve forgotten it. What do you think? Would this work, or would it be hijacked the same way school closures are hijacked now?


So, Slate has a story right now on the Phoebe Prince bullying death. It’s interesting, but could use some editing. Especially when you start to realize that the DA in the case appears to have a history of using the court for… bullying.

But what stood out for me is the I feel like we’ve lost track of what bullying is. Reading over the accounts it doesn’t sound like bullying at all.

My definition of bullying is negative attention that occurs for little or no reason. I had a lot of negative interactions with other kids in school, but I would define being bullied as having two common components.

  • The negative attention occurs due to things the child has little or no control over – height, weight, parental income.
  • The negative attention occurs no matter how nice the target is to the bully.

A lot of the stories I read about seem to be cases where a kid does something really mean, and then has to deal with the fallout. Other kids being mean because you did something mean to them is not bullying. It’s actually the reason why I want to send my kids to public school. That’s what socialization is. You’re learning how people react when you do things like say something incredibly hateful or racist or sleep with their boyfriend. Before that means you loosing your job.

Which is not to say that dealing with the fallout of socialization can’t be devastating and lead to things like suicide. Just that I’m not sure it’s bullying.

What do you think?

Lance Armstrong and the Myth of America

We have a myth in America that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become rich, powerful, and successful. Lance Armstrong supposedly embodied that. He was just that talented. Just that dedicated. To a level no one had been before.

Then he had this season, and it brings to mind the fact that even though Armstrong is extremely athletic, the thing he has been even more is super-humanly lucky. And perhaps many of the people at the top aren’t there because of skill, but because of luck. It’s not something people like to hear. But it does explain all the equally (or more) competent people at the bottom.

Libertarianism fails again.

One thing that’s not being talked a lot about is the fact that the BP oil spill proves once again that Libertarianism is not a workable policy.

The classic idea in Libertarianism is that we don’t need government regulation because there is sufficient economic incentive for companies to regulate themselves. There is no need to regulate the oil companies because they realize that if there is a spill in the gulf they might not be allowed to drill there ever again.

So we’re following the classic Libertarian model here. Industry realizes public relations nightmare. Industry will toughen their self-regulation in response. But where does this leave the public? How in the Libertarian model do you get the public back on board? Do they just believe that if an industry destroys themselves through “the Jungle”-style lack of regulation that the industry is gone for good?

This is one of the places that industry regulation is great for business. There will undoubtedly be some new regulations put in place after this, and drilling will more than likely resume in the gulf in a few years. Because ultimately we do trust that the government can do a pretty good job of regulating the oil industry. But how would that trust ever be regained in a Libertarian model?

Libertarians always say that consumers should ultimately make the decisions. But what if consumers actually did and half of Houston’s economy disappeared overnight?

Economics of the Future

So I was somewhat shocked the other day when I saw that Dell still employs around 10k people in Austin, but only around 70k people worldwide. Which is crazy when you realize they’re number 34 in the fortune 500. FoxConn out of China who manufacturers a lot of the products for Dell, Apple, etc. has 800,000 employees. Over ten times as many employees as Dell. I just wonder about this. If you can do only the most profitable work with a small number of employees, what’s your long term business plan? What’s to keep FoxConn who can actually make things cheaply and easily from getting into the managing people who make things market?

East Side King

Just wanted to quickly mention that we went to East Side King this past weekend. It’s kind of weird. You have to go to the Liberty bar to go to the restaurant.

So we went in and bought some drinks. First off we were shocked by their bartender. He was really nice and conversational. It’s a bit sad that seems shocking, but it was. They only have something like 5 taps, but their boring beers are Stella Artois and Negro Modello. And their bottled beer selection looks amazing. We got some Left Hand Wheat Beer and headed outside. It’s not a particularly hipster bar despite being in the hipster part of town. Most of the people looked like tech workers coming out for a beer after work.

East Side King is a trailer that they open up gates to. Basically it’s like an outside bar for the place. Except it serves food instead of beer. And the food…

Julie had “Thai Chicken Karaage” and I had “Poor Qui

Freakin’ Out The Ladies

Currently I have to feed Punky the cat a pill every night to keep her alive. This pill must be handled with a latex glove. The irony of that is not lost on me.

Last night I realized that latex gloves are awesome for making sound effects. Specifically the amplified sound of a cockroach. Put one on, and tap a quick tattoo on your fingers. You’ll have the ladies running.


So I’ve gotten kindof into the idea of talking about theater lately, and where it should go, and what it should look like. And I realize there’s a difference between my idea of theater, and the idea of theater in some town where they get hundreds or millions of dollars in funding. I mean, I’m a little bitter about Zach Scott getting a new theater on my dime, but it really seems kind of practical when you read this. To sum up for those of you not interested in the subject matter:

FugardChicago2010 is a website jointly created by three Chicago theatres, my day job, Remy Bumppo and Timeline. The League of Chicago Theatres supported the project by helping to cover some of the costs around the project. The rest of the project was paid for by the three theatres. The purpose of the website and the related efforts is to increase the public’s awareness of Athol Fugard, a South African playwright and author.

For those who don’t know who Athol Fugard is, this is basically like 3 south african theaters geting together to create a website to increase awareness about Arthur Miller. Athol Fugard is probably the most famous African playwright. A few people have heard of him. Like a few people have heard of Tony Kushner.

So apparently to raise awareness of one of the world’s most well known living playwrights (which I realize makes him still about as well known as your favorite indy band), we need to pool our grant money to make a website?

Seriously. Established theater’s cannot die quickly enough to stop wasting their resources.