Eric dP:

For Northwest history geeks, I recommend reading the introduction to this assessment of Latinos in Washington. It traces the history of Latinos in the region from the earliest Spanish explorers in the region, through settlement, the mid-century Bracero program, and up to the present day. I learned more than a couple of things.

Plus, all kinds of fun stuff related to coal trains.

Over at Climate Solutions, Ross MacFarlane has a great blog post pointing about the carbon benefits of efficient rail shipping are somewhat silly if the product you’re shipping is the planet’s dirtiest fossil fuel. The accompanying chart is a keeper.

Then, Jean Melious, a professor at Western Washington University does yeoman’s work to show how BNSF rail improvements actually got paid for in two Midwest towns. The answer? The railway picked up fully 2 percent of the tab; taxpayers got stuck with everything else.

Also at WWU, I thought this experimental clay stop-motion video by grad student Jeff Fitzgerald was a pretty clever criticism of Bellingham-bound coal trains.

Clark:

  • You may have seen that Amazon.com recently purchased a company that makes warehouse robotics. I found this brief movie of an automated warehouse fascinating: equal parts utopia, dystopia, and futuristic techno-ballet. One has to wonder about the systemic effects of this sort of thing on income inequality: high-productivity capital investments can boost incomes for the people who make and program robots…while making a lot of lower-wage warehouse workers very nervous about their job security.

    Take a look this blog post over at Reuters, with some of the most alarming income inequality charts I’ve seen in a long time.

    The 1934 economic rebound was widely shared, with strong income gains for the vast majority, the bottom 90 percent.

    In 2010, we saw the opposite as the vast majority lost ground.

    National income gained overall in 2010, but all of the gains were among the top 10 percent. Even within those 15.6 million households, the gains were extraordinarily concentrated among the super-rich, the top one percent of the top one percent.

    Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37 percent of the entire national gain.

    The charts rely on data compiled by income stats guru and John Bates Clark Medal winner Emmanuel Saez.  For real geeks, here’s a spreadsheet with more income stratification numbers than you can shake a stick at.

    It’s a few years old, but here’s a list of things that economists generally agree on.  I’ve been observing, from a distance, the rancorous election-season debate over whether the boost in federal spending after the 2008 financial collapse did anything to boost the economy.  And listening to the debate, one might not know how that 90% of professional economists generally agree that fiscal stimulus does, in fact, act as a fiscal stimulus.

    Alan:

    The top story in Sightline Daily today is an encouraging look at how smart-phone technology and street-implanted smart sensors could revolutionize urban parking. Available parking spaces on streets and in public garages and lots will announce themselves to your phone or in-car navigation system. They’ll also advertise, and vary, their price. The promise is big for saving time, resources, and money (by avoiding the plague of drivers circling and looking for available spots).

    Now, imagine combining these tools with the ebay-like marketplace for private parking places I mentioned last week. What if all the available parking spaces in a neighborhood were instantly visible on your phone or dashboard, with their prices? What if you could reserve a spot? You might think this would make driving more attractive, but I’m guessing it will not. I think it will facilitate the emergence of a functioning market for parking spaces, the result of which will be to convert parking from a “free” good (that is, a good paid for by someone other than the user) into a priced good. And pricing scarce commodities with high environmental costs is a very, very sustainable thing to do!

    Eric H:

    I tend to be pretty forgiving of Google, but this Gizmodo article, The Case Against Google, is pretty convincing. The fundamentals of how we use the web are shifting from a network of pages to apps and services. Google’s trying to keep up. But in doing so, they’ve violated their mantra: “Don’t be evil.”

    For your viewing pleasure, “How Bikes Make Cities Cool.” Example: Portland.

    How Bikes Make Cities Cool – Portland from Kona Bikes on Vimeo.

    Anna:

    New from neuroscience:

    The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

    The crazy thing is that we not only take pleasure in these vicarious experiences, but we can actually learn something, sorting out through fiction how to behave in real life situations. The takeaway: words matter. Use them well.

    Ezra Klein wrote recently in the New Yorker that presidential speeches don’t make much of a difference—in fact, they can even backfire. In today’s partisan landscape, a president’s aggressive sales pitch actually risks polarizing an issue more sharply than it might have otherwise been.

    Case in point: In August, Obama gave a “slam-bang” nationally-televised speech to Congress on the American Jobs Act, but “the American Jobs Act went nowhere.” This week former White House speech writer and New Yorker senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg agreed. He notes on Klein’s MSNBC show that the Gettysburg Address was initially a “flop-a-roo!” History made it great later on. He sums up the issue: “Our problems are not due to lack of ‘leadership.’ They are structural. They are, in the broadest sense, constitutional.”