Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Negative Externalities Caused by Trade: The Case of Chicken Fat

At the Fletcher School at Tufts, my students argued that the transportation of goods such as roses from one continent to final consumers in the USA helped to exacerbate greenhouse gas externalities. They were arguing that "local produce" and goods may impose fewer negative externalities.

Here is a funny example of what my students were trying to say. I'd like to know how liability works here. Is the truck company libel?

November 28, 2007
Chicken Fat Leaks Over 20 Miles

ACCOMAC, Va., Nov. 27 (AP) — A truck leaked poultry fat along 20 miles of Route 13 on Tuesday, causing at least four crashes and making a stinky mess.

The state police said that a truck hauling waste poultry grease from a Perdue Farms plant left open a valve and that the fat had leaked from the plant, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, to the Maryland state line.

At least four crashes were reported, said Sgt. Joe Bunting. One person was taken to a hospital.

Sergeant Bunting described the grease as a “glassy film” and said crews sanded the road. He added that the gunk stuck to tires and spread to secondary roads, causing a “really funky” odor.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reference Points and Climate

I was born in Chicago on day that my mom claims that the temperature was minus 15. I've lived in 3 cold places (Boston, Chicago and New York City) for 39 of my 41 years on this planet. But, after 11 months in Los Angeles --- I'm worried that I can't take the cold anymore.

This weekend I make my first trip back to the Northeast and the weather report says that there will be snow on sunday and I'm worried that I may freeze. My wife is demanding that I take all sorts of cold weather gear to protect myself. I'm wondering when I became such a wimp.

My journey will start on redeye flight from LA to Raleigh Durham. I fly out on wednesday night and arrive thursday morning to see my friends at NCSU, Duke and RTI;

The next day I take a flight to Boston to particpate at this NBER conference.

That saturday I fly to NYC to see my parents and that sunday I go to New Jersey
to meet my niece who was born on Thanksgiving. Kahns are not born everyday. There
are very few "new kids" in this small family so I'm very excited to meet this new person.

Monday, I wake up at 4am to fly at 645am from Kennedy Airport back to Los Angeles and I have meetings at UCLA that day and I teach twice the next day.

So, if your life hinges on reading this blog --- expect nothing for several days --- If I survive the cold, I'll have plenty to say.

Toliet to the Tap? Increasing the Western Water Supply Through Technological Advance

Purifying sewer water will increase Orange County's available water supply. Will the public be grossed out? Or does the median voter trust local government and modern technology to do its job? As this article highlights, the "gray water" will not directly go to your tap --- it will be used as a "moat" to protect the water supply and to drip slowly into aquifers.

The article does highlight how engineering feats can cope with growth. Rather than a "crisis" brewing, this investment will help the growing west to enjoy a "win-win" of showering and continued growth.

Is there a risk or a public backlash against this technology? So that Fast Food restautrant got in big public relations trouble when a finger was found it its Chile. Is there some equivalent gross-out episode that will happen here? Will Hollywood (if the Strike ends) be able to make a good movie --- sort of a modern "Chinatown" based on this plot? Will Jack star in the remake with some 25 year old ladies?

New York Times
November 27, 2007
From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.

The San Diego City Council approved a pilot plan in October to bolster a drinking water reservoir with recycled sewer water. The mayor vetoed the proposal as costly and unlikely to win public acceptance, but the Council will consider overriding it in early December.

Water officials in the San Jose area announced a study of the issue in September, water managers in South Florida approved a plan in November calling for abundant use of recycled wastewater in the coming years in part to help restock drinking water supplies, and planners in Texas are giving it serious consideration.

“These types of projects you will see springing up all over the place where there are severe water shortages,” said Michael R. Markus, the general manager of the Orange County district, whose plant, which will process 70 million gallons a day, has already been visited by water managers from across the globe.

The finished product, which district managers say exceeds drinking water standards, will not flow directly into kitchen and bathroom taps; state regulations forbid that.

Instead it will be injected underground, with half of it helping to form a barrier against seawater intruding on groundwater sources and the other half gradually filtering into aquifers that supply 2.3 million people, about three-quarters of the county. The recycling project will produce much more potable water and at a higher quality than did the mid-1970s-era plant it replaces.

The Groundwater Replenishment System, as the $481 million plant here is known, is a labyrinth of tubing and tanks that sucks in treated sewer water the color of dark beer from a sanitation plant next door, and first runs it through microfilters to remove solids. The water then undergoes reverse osmosis, forcing it through thin, porous membranes at high pressure, before it is further cleansed with peroxide and ultraviolet light to break down any remaining pharmaceuticals and carcinogens.

The result, Mr. Markus said, “is as pure as distilled water” and about the same cost as buying water from wholesalers.

Recycled water, also called reclaimed or gray water, has been used for decades in agriculture, landscaping and by industrial plants.

And for years, treated sewage, known as effluent, has been discharged into oceans and rivers, including the Mississippi and the Colorado, which supply drinking water for millions.

But only about a dozen water agencies in the United States, and several more abroad, recycle treated sewage to replenish drinking water supplies, though none here steer the water directly into household taps. They typically spray or inject the water into the ground and allow it to percolate down to aquifers.

Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, among the most arid places in Africa, is believed to be the only place in the world that practices “direct potable reuse” on a large-scale, with recycled water going directly into the tap water distribution system, said James Crook, a water industry consultant who has studied the issue.

The projects are costly and often face health concerns from opponents.

Such was the case on Nov. 6 in Tucson, where a wide-ranging ballot measure that would have barred the city from using purified water in drinking water supplies failed overwhelmingly. The water department there said it had no such plans but the idea has been discussed in the past.

John Kromko, a former Arizona state legislator who advocated for the prohibition, said he was skeptical about claims that the recycling process cleanses all contaminants from the water and he suggested that Tucson limit growth rather than find new ways to feed it.

“We really don’t know how safe it is,” he said. “And if we controlled growth we would never have to worry about drinking it.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego, in vetoing the City Council plan there, said it “is not a silver bullet for the region’s water needs” and the public has never taken to the idea in the 15 years it has been discussed off and on.

Although originally estimated at $10 million for the pilot study in San Diego, water department officials said the figure would be refined, and the total cost of the project might be hundreds of millions of dollars. Although the Council wants to offset the cost with government grants and other sources, Mr. Sanders predicted it would add to already escalating water bills.

“It is one of the most expensive kinds of water you can create,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the mayor. “It is a large investment for a very small return.”

San Diego, which imports about 85 percent of its water because of a lack of aquifers, asked residents this year to curtail water use.

Here in Orange County, the project, a collaboration between the water and sanitation districts, has not faced serious opposition, in part because of a public awareness and marketing campaign.

Early on, officials secured the backing of environmental groups, elected leaders and civic groups, helped in part by the fact the project eliminated the need for the sanitation district to build a new pipe spewing effluent into the ocean.

Orange County began purifying sewer water in 1976 with its Water Factory 21, which dispensed the cleansed water into the ground to protect groundwater from encroaching seawater.

That plant has been replaced by the new one, with more advanced technology, and is intended to cope with not only current water needs but also expectations that the county’s population will grow by 500,000 by 2020.

Still, said Stephen Coonan, a water industry consultant in Texas, such projects proceed slowly.

“Nobody is jumping out to do it,” he said. “They want to make sure the science is where it should be. I think the public is accepting we are investigating it.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why is Chicago Pursuing a "Green" Alley Pavement Program?

This article has several interesting pieces to it. It is almost like a Simpsons episode as it wanders from subject to subject. In the middle, it laments that the City of Chicago has several simultaneous "green initiatives" going and wonders whether these various projects are cost-effective and offering synergies.

I am getting more interested in how and when local government has the right incentives to evaluate its "value added" in achieving its stated goals. A cynic might wonder if the real goal is to create local public employment jobs at high wages and to come up with a popular justification (such as increasing urban "sustainability") that helps to convince the sleepy median voter and tax payer that such programs are "good". Still, I must admit that I like the general idea that this article pursues.

NY Times
November 26, 2007
In Miles of Alleys, Chicago Finds Its Next Environmental Frontier

CHICAGO, Nov. 25 — If this were any other city, perhaps it would not matter what kind of roadway was underfoot in the back alleys around town. But with nearly 2,000 miles of small service streets bisecting blocks from the North Side to the South Side, Chicago is the alley capital of America. In its alleys, city officials say, it has the paved equivalent of five midsize airports.

Part of the landscape since the city began, the alleys, mostly home to garbage bins and garages, make for cleaner and less congested main streets. But Chicago’s distinction is not without disadvantages: Imagine having a duplicate set of streets, in miniature, to maintain that are prone to flooding and to dumping runoff into a strained sewer system.

What is an old, alley-laden city to do?

Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative, something experts say is among the most ambitious public street makeover plans in the country. In a larger sense, the city is rethinking the way it paves things.

In a green alley, water is allowed to penetrate the soil through the pavement itself, which consists of the relatively new but little-used technology of permeable concrete or porous asphalt. Then the water, filtered through stone beds under the permeable surface layer, recharges the underground water table instead of ending up as polluted runoff in rivers and streams.

Some of that water may even end up back in Lake Michigan, from which Chicago takes a billion gallons a year.

“The question is, if you’ve got to resurface an alley anyway, can you make it do more for you?” said Janet Attarian, the project’s director.

The new pavements are also designed to reflect heat from the sun instead of absorbing it, helping the city stay cool on hot days. They also stay warmer on cold days. The green alleys are given new kinds of lighting that conserve energy and reduce glare, city officials said, and are made with recycled materials.

The city will have completed 46 green alleys by the end of the year, and it has deemed the models so attractive that now every alley it refurbishes will be a green alley.

“It is now business as usual,” Ms. Attarian said.

But all these improvements come with a cost, and some people around Chicago have begun to wonder if a city that hardly recycles its trash and has a hard time keeping its trains and buses running should be spending money on fancy alleys.

Judy King, putting all her household refuse into one bag on Tuesday and tossing it into a bin in a green alley, said: “How do you decide where your priorities are? It’s a hard one. I’m bothered that there isn’t more recycling.”

The city has lately begun having serious talks about a comprehensive recycling program to replace the uneven guidelines now in place. But beyond recycling, it has a vast array of “green initiatives” that put it at the forefront of environmentally conscious cities.

This month, the city has begun two programs with financing from the Clinton Foundation intended to help owners of homes and businesses to modernize old, leaky buildings to reduce energy consumption.

The city also has an expedited permitting process for builders who use green techniques. Its garbage trucks and street sweepers have emission-control devices. In recent years, it has installed rooftop gardens to collect rainwater, planted a half-million new trees and created more than 200 acres of parks and open spaces intended to clean the air and add bits of beauty.

As for the alleys, the city says the cost of construction is offset by what it would have paid for maintenance and sewer improvements for the old ones.

The new alleys will require maintenance, too, so their pores do not get clogged, but, Ms. Attarian said, “I think they’re pretty price competitive.”

The city pays about $45 a cubic yard for permeable concrete, about $100 less than it did a year ago when concrete plants were just revving up production of the new material, but beyond that is the added expense of the stone filtration layer beneath the concrete. Ms. Attarian said ordinary concrete costs $50 or more a cubic yard. The products look pretty much the same.

With its history of heavy industry and bare-knuckled reputation, Chicago may not seem like the most likely city to exhibit environmental friendliness.

But Mayor Richard M. Daley has said that he wants to make Chicago a green model for the country. A few years ago, he was derided as a tree-hugger; now, other mayors are copying him. “Global warming is not a question,” Mr. Daley said in a recent press release. “How we deal with it is.”

Martin C. Pedersen, the executive editor of Metropolis, a magazine about urban living, said, “Recycling programs are all well and good, but the things that really move public policy and the industry are things like taxes and the building code.”

Mr. Pedersen said Mr. Daley had “made adjustments to both to encourage green building, and that’s a big deal.”

In the past several years, Chicago has also has built 90 miles of landscaped medians and refurbished more than 100 miles of streetscapes.

Michael David Martin, an associate professor and associate chairman of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Iowa State University, specializes in the study of alleys and neighborhoods. Mr. Martin praised what he called “more thoughtful alley design.”

“The alley is not only functional,” he said, “but an educational green landscape that is helping a city experiment with design and different ways to handle water.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Santa Monica Airport Should Vanish! Noise and Air Pollution in Residential Communities --- A Coasian Conundrum

The Coase Theorem will not go away. Today's New York Times has a nice case study of the rising costs of air and noise pollution generated by a local airport in West Los Angeles. For those of you who only think about Kobe Bryant and Paris Hilton when you do think about LA, permit me to provide some details.

Santa Monica Airport is located in Santa Monica. This pretty town is located adjacent to the Pacific Ocean 5 miles west of UCLA. This is a densely populated area where single detached homes sit on lots that average around 5,000 square feet. As this article describes, the problem is that over time more and more planes are landing at the Santa Monica Airport and they are larger, noiser planes. We noticed this when we visited friends in Rancho Park/Cheviot Hills --- these should be nice UCLA residential communities but instead you are bombarded by airplane noise. It reminded me of my youth when I would be at Shea Stadium watching Mets baseball games and planes would fly over every 10 minutes.

What I don't see here in this article is a discussion of the basic issue of who has the property rights here? Do property owners have the right to quiet? Clearly there is going to be a fight when this flight law expires in 2015.

November 24, 2007
Santa Monica Journal
Enemy Aircraft Sighted and, Above All Else, Heard


SANTA MONICA, Calif., Nov. 23 — Virginia Ernst sat on her living room couch, her face turned toward the ceiling. The high-pitch grind of a jet engine split the air about 100 feet above her home.

“That’s a Challenger,” said Margaret Williamson. “No,” Ms. Ernst replied, “it’s a Citation. It reminds me of a dentist’s drill.”

The Challenger and the Citation are popular lines of corporate jets. The Citation is louder, explained Ms. Ernst, in her mid-60s, but the Challenger is bigger, and shakes her house’s windows and walls. Either way, the jets, and others like them, are a source of frustration to residents, who complain of not only their roaring engines but also their noxious fumes.

Since the 1960s, both Ms. Ernst and Ms. Williamson have resided beneath the flight path of planes arriving at Santa Monica Airport, one of the oldest general aviation airports in the country and among those closest to residential neighborhoods. Ms. Ernst’s house is 300 feet from the only runway, Ms. Williamson’s is 50 feet closer, and the noise in recent years has only worsened. Jet traffic there has almost doubled since 1999, to 19,000 takeoffs and landings so far this year, says the airport’s manager, Bob Trimborn, even as traffic of small piston-driven planes has declined.

The rise in private-jet travel is being driven in part by long check-in and security lines at major airports. Those waits make private flying attractive to wealthy travelers, while at the same time fractional-jet-ownership companies are making it possible for more corporations to send their executives off in style. The developments have stoked the anger of residents here, who say jet fumes endanger their health and jet noise threatens their sanity.

“You’ve got the celebrities, you’ve got the power players here,” said Bill Rosendahl, a city councilman in neighboring Los Angeles. “Frankly, I say to the super-rich, go to another airport,” because “this is an environmental issue that affects real people.”

The 227-acre airport was built in 1919, when the land for miles around was largely open fields. But with the 1921 opening of the Douglas Aircraft Company here and then the end of World War II and the Korean War, a residential building boom swept the area, spurred by demand from Douglas employees and returning military pilots.

In 1984, after a series of lawsuits, the City of Santa Monica, which owns the airport, signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration not to limit jet traffic there. The agreement (which also imposed some regulations on engine noise) does not expire until 2015, but a number of public officials, among them Mr. Rosendahl, Assemblyman Ted W. Lieu and Representative Jane Harman, are working for an early change to what they describe as a pact that has outlived its time. They are pushing for both state and federal legislation that would limit the size and number of jets at the airport.

Opponents of that effort say Santa Monica, one of 249 “reliever” airports across the country that help unclog congestion at major airports nearby, must remain open to all types of jets using Los Angeles International, five miles to the south. Indeed, any bill limiting jet operations would have to supersede both the 1984 accord and existing law.

“Under federal law, the airport cannot restrict the type of aircraft that can land,” said Bill Dunn, vice president for airports at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “The problem is that people live right next to the airport because of poor local planning decisions.”

The flight paths extending from the runways of Santa Monica and Los Angeles International Airports converge over the Pacific. That means the airports have to coordinate inbound and outbound flights in an elaborately choreographed dance. “We shuffle our cards into their deck,” Mr. Trimborn said.

That can lead to idling engines at Santa Monica that send exhaust out across Bundy Drive, the four-lane thoroughfare that separates the airport from the homes of Ms. Ernst and her neighbors, including the founder and director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, Martin Rubin. Mr. Rubin stood on the sidewalk the other day, pointing to nearby homes and speaking of cancer cases there that he says are tied to airport pollution.

But it is hard to link pollution to specific sources, said Philip M. Fine, manager of atmospheric measurements for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air pollution control agency for all or parts of four Southern California counties. Dr. Fine ran a recent study of air quality around Santa Monica Airport that was financed by a federal grant to measure toxins in the air around general aviation airports. The study, he said, found levels of lead and other toxins in the community around the airport here “well below” federal and state limits.

That is little comfort to the Rubin family and others who fault the study for not noting levels of acrolein, a harmful byproduct of jet fuel known to cause respiratory irritation.

“We’ve always had a nice westerly breeze here,” said Mr. Rubin’s wife, Joan. “But now the breeze brings the jet fumes in. They smell like kerosene and burn your throat.”

Marc Carrel, deputy chief of staff for Representative Harman, is also skeptical, saying too little time passed between the boom in private-jet traffic and the study.

“It’s sick to say, but you need a long-term impact to see long-term effects,” Mr. Carrel said.

Mr. Trimborn, the airport’s manager, says he is not the bad guy. Citing the binding nature of the 1984 agreement, he said: “I try to be as open and honest as possible all the time with residents. If I tell someone this plane’s not going to fly over your house and then it does, they’ll be angry with me. But I don’t tell them that. They know I can’t control it.”

He pointed to a photograph, dated 1924, on his office wall. It showed a row of five Douglas World Cruisers, biplanes with exposed seats. Back then, neither local land-use planners nor anyone else “saw a Gulfstream IV flying out of Santa Monica and going to the East Coast,” he said.

“We’re dealing with development over many years,” Mr. Trimborn added. “So the dynamic between the airport and the community, that’s inescapable.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

How Nasty is Cigar Smoke? A Canadian Reseacher Goes Undercover to Find Out

Now that I've become an Uncle for the first time, I feel a responsibility to blog about important topics rather than trivia. So, I'd like to talk about ambient particulate levels at Cigar Bars. As discussed below, one brave Canadian went deep undercover to measure the ambient pollution at a hotel filled with puffers. The article doesn't mention if Ed Glaeser was there or not.

From a "Green Cities" perspective it has crossed my mind that the decline in smoking in U.S center cities hasn't hurt ambient carbon monoxide and particulate levels. I haven't seen a study trying to measure this trend's contribution to helping to mitigate ambient pollution.

New York Times
November 22, 2007
At a Cigar Show, an Air-Quality Scientist Under Deep, Smoky Cover

The agitators met a few blocks from the target at a secret location, so as not to call attention to the devices in their bags.

They synchronized their watches. They reviewed the well-rehearsed game plan: If their bags were searched, the first operative, known as “Researcher 1 (female),” would say the device was for an asthma condition. If she was not allowed into the event with the device, she would activate Plan B: go to the ladies’ room and strap it to her body.

The man behind the subterfuge (Researcher 2, male) was Ryan David Kennedy, 34, a scrappy Canadian graduate student with crooked glasses who is studying the impact of tobacco on air quality.

He crossed the border at Buffalo on Monday morning and on Tuesday crashed the giant cigar party and trade show sponsored by the publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

A nonsmoking vegetarian posing as a cigar lover, Mr. Kennedy was nervous. Canadians are, for the most part, known to be earnest, demure and very law-abiding.

“I think I’m being watched,” he said before the event, known as the Big Smoke, which drew hundreds of cigar lovers and peddlers into a ballroom on the hotel’s sixth floor. He said he strongly believed his room at the Marriott had been searched.

Mr. Kennedy, who holds a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Waterloo in Ontario and is working on a doctorate in psychology there, soon found himself in the belly of decadence. The ballroom was swarming with stogies — Bolivar, Ashton, Don Tomas and a dozen other brands — whiskey, tequila and exotic dancers.

Mr. Kennedy, who has also researched the level of particulate matter produced by smoking tobacco on outdoor patios, and Kerri Ryan (Researcher 1), a friend from college who lives in New York, sneaked their devices in the door. (Mr. Kennedy’s professor used a discretionary fund to cover the costs of the event tickets — $400 each — and other expenses.)

A tiny white plastic tube protruding from each of their bags like a hidden microphone took in the air, which was then measured for particles by the device, known as a Sidepak. The device can log 516 minutes of air sampling before the battery runs out, and is a well-established method for detecting dust and smoke.

Mr. Kennedy measured the particles in the air on Monday to obtain a baseline before the cigar smokers descended. Then on Tuesday he tested the air inside the ballroom and in various places outside the cigar party — at the elevators, in guest rooms and in the lobby. To log enough data on the air, he would need to stand in one place for 5 or 10 minutes and look busy.

If Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Ryan were lurking in one place for too long, perhaps seeming suspicious to security guards, they would say loudly, “We’re waiting for Sally.”

It was easy for Mr. Kennedy to prove his thesis: that plumes of cigar smoke lead to high levels of particulate matter in the air.

Marriott Hotels announced in July that it was making all of its hotels 100 percent smoke-free, but it has made an exception for the Big Smoke.

Opponents of smoking working with Mr. Kennedy said the exception was a glaring violation of the hotel’s own policy.

“The event is really a flagrant contradiction to their commitment to their guests and employees,” said Louise Vetter, president of the American Lung Association of the City of New York and a spokeswoman for the New York City Coalition for a Smoke-Free City. “The dangers of secondhand smoke are indisputable, and in New York City it is law to protect workers from secondhand smoke. We applauded Marriott, but to have this event in New York City and to create an exception — there’s no exception for public health.”

Under the state law, smoking is banned in most indoor places, including the Marriott ballroom (though there is no legal ban on smoking in guest rooms). But the law allows an exception for tobacco promotional events “where the public is invited for the primary purpose of promoting and sampling tobacco products.”

Cigar bars that were open in the city before Dec. 31, 2002, and can prove that they generated at least 10 percent of their gross income from the sale of tobacco products are also exempt; they can extend their registration each year if they continue to meet those criteria and do not expand or change location.

Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for Marriott Hotels, said the company was honoring a longstanding contract with the publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Marvin R. Shanken, and had been the host of the Big Smoke at the Marriott Marquis for at least 10 years.

“We are not going out and booking smoking events at any of our hotels,” she said. “We did announce we would be smoke-free, but with this client we had an obligation.”

She said “we tripled our efforts” to keep the smoke contained, banning smoking outside the ballroom and increasing the filtration in the room, so that the smoke was funneled outside the hotel through air vents.

Under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, air with fewer than 15 micrograms per cubic meter is considered good quality; air with more than 251 micrograms per cubic meter is hazardous.

Mr. Kennedy’s preliminary findings showed that the average level of particulate matter in the hotel the day before the event was 8 micrograms per cubic meter, 40 micrograms where he was waiting to get in line for the event and 1,193 micrograms inside the ballroom.

About 10 p.m., after one last measurement — “Elevators, 9:44!” Mr. Kennedy said to his assistant — he was bloodshot and stinky, but he declared the experiment a success.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Younger Economist with Hair

Simon Board was kind enough to email me this picture of myself that was taken in October 1988. I see that I had more hair there and I look fairly enthusiastic about being a new PHD student at the University of Chicago. Do things change?

Beware the Contents of a Box

I went to a new dentist today in Westwood. We should all read Alan Blinder's Journal of Political Economy paper on the economics of tooth brushing (Volume 82, issue 4, 1974). Near the dentist's office in the hallway there was a box, the sign on the box said "This box does not contain drugs or money. It does contain blood and urine samples." This information convinced me not to open the box.

If you need some excitement in your life, take a look at this urban economics conference. I will see you there.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Jersey Suburban Enclave that Doesn't Feel Like Sprawl

Have you ever wanted to know more about suburban New Jersey? The New York Times celebrates a small town there called Hopewell Borough. The commute to New York City looks a little bit too long for my taste. You couldn't walk to Columbia or NYU from there.

In these real estate articles, The Times does do a pretty good job sketching how "other people live". It would interest me how the morning Manhattan New York Times readers respond to this information. Are they tempted to cash out and move to this bucolic life? Or does Hopewell Borough sound like Mars to them?

November 18, 2007
Living In Hopewell Borough, N.J.
It’s in New Jersey, but It Screams Vermont


MAYBE the people who live in Hopewell Borough have Jersey fatigue. Or maybe they just yearn for a simpler place and time, before traffic jams and planned communities. Whatever the reason, they are quick to describe this small village in central New Jersey as the most un-Jersey-like town in the state.

“It’s not typical New Jersey, which is what we really like about it,” said Beth Judge, who grew up in East Brunswick and moved here with her husband, Will Mooney, 12 years ago to raise a family and open a restaurant.

Despite being surrounded by wealthy enclaves like Princeton, Pennington and Lawrenceville, Hopewell Borough has managed to hold on to more reasonable prices. The quaintness of its downtown draws visitors like Pete Taft, who lives in neighboring East Amwell but does much shopping and dining out in Hopewell Borough. He calls it “the most Vermont-like town in New Jersey.”

A stroll through the area backs up Mr. Taft’s assertion. First, there is the painted brick library, housed in a century-old former bank building. A few doors down is the Baptist Church, with its tall white steeple and bells that chime hourly from early morning to late evening (they used to ring through the night, until residents complained of chime-induced insomnia). Across the street is the Revolutionary War-era graveyard, and around the corner is the neighborhood playhouse, which has just ended a run of — what else? — “The Fantasticks.”

Situated at the base of the Sourland Mountains, Hopewell is not without its wealthy benefactors. Two heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, who own swaths of land on either side of Hopewell for their private estates, have helped the borough buy much of the remaining adjacent land for open space. Also, the borough recently raised $3 million toward the acquisition of a 340-acre tract that once housed St. Michael’s Orphanage.

With its concentrated residential and commercial districts, surrounded by a greenbelt of preserved land, Hopewell Borough became the first municipality in New Jersey to earn the “Village Center” designation under the state’s revised master plan in 1993.

“I tell my kids they’re going to be able to come back here in 50 years and the trees may be bigger, but it’s going to basically look the same,” said Ray Disch, the owner of Disch Real Estate in Hopewell Borough. He lived in town for 12 years before moving a few miles away, to a farm in the greenbelt area.

What You’ll Find

The several blocks contiguous to Hopewell’s downtown are mostly filled with historic homes, some modest, some less so. Most are included in the town’s designated historic district, which encompasses about two-thirds of this mile-square borough. The designation means that homeowners hoping to make changes to their houses’ exteriors must seek approval from the borough’s historic preservation committee.

One of the oldest houses in town is the 1757 brick-and-stone farmhouse that was once home to the borough’s most famous son, John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (He is buried in the graveyard on West Broad Street.) But it is more typical to see a two- or three-story colonial or Victorian, dating to the late 1800s or early 1900s. Northeast of Broad Street is a small section of newer housing, mostly single-family homes built in the last 20 years.

Hopewell Borough, which is in the northeast corner of Hopewell Township, has colleges on all sides: Princeton, the College of New Jersey and Rider University. Many professionals in town are connected to these institutions, each about seven miles away.

Similarly, the nearby offices of companies like Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch and Bristol-Myers Squibb employ some of the newer residents, who have discovered this neighborly, more affordable town. But whatever their work situation, a sizable portion of the town’s 2,035 residents are second- and third-generation Hopewellians.

Betty Gantz has lived all of her 94 years in Hopewell Borough, in the house her uncle bought in 1896. Today, she shares the large multicolored Victorian on Blackwell Avenue with her son and his family.

“Like any other small town,” Mrs. Gantz said, “there are people who are nice and people who are nasty, but generally speaking, people are so very helpful here.”

Sandy Brown, a real estate agent who has lived here for 21 years, describes Hopewell as the kind of place where your neighbors look out for your kids. “That’s a huge weight off your shoulders, knowing there’s a community to take care of you,” she said.

What You’ll Pay

With just over 800 homes in the entire borough, typically there may be only a dozen houses on the market at a time. Prices have come down significantly in recent months, according to Ms. Brown of Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate in Pennington, who said she was having her best fall ever — “now that we have a lot of realistic sellers coming to terms with the market.”

At the high end are a few large Victorian homes, with three stories and four or five bedrooms, listed in the high $500,000s or low $600,000s. One of these, an 1860 five-bedroom, three-bath home on East Broad Street, is said to be the first professionally built house in Hopewell Borough. It is listed at $575,000.

At the opposite end of Broad Street is an 80-year-old expanded bungalow that was one of the original Sears model houses. Sitting on three-quarters of an acre, with a backyard that faces a 70-acre sheep farm, the house is listed at $459,000.

At the low end of the market is an 80-year-old two bedroom, one-bath bungalow on Hamilton Street, with an updated eat-in kitchen, listed at $347,000.

In the newer section, two of the homes in Hopewell Woods, an 18-year-old development on Elm Street, have sold in recent months in the high $400,000s, brokers say. A 20-year-old four-bedroom, two-bath expanded Cape on Hamilton Avenue is currently listed at $539,000.

Multifamily housing is limited, but the newer part of the borough has some duplexes and town houses that sell in the mid-$200,000s when they come on the market, according to Mr. Disch.

What to Do

What started as a destination for antique hunters has become a bustling commercial district that serves not only Hopewell Borough but also the more rural areas surrounding the town. The Brothers Moon, the restaurant opened in 2001 by Ms. Judge and Mr. Mooney, helped redefine the downtown, according to Mr. Taft and others. Since then, several restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops have opened.

At Christmastime, the borough’s five churches join forces in creating a nativity scene on the grounds of the Calvary Baptist Church on West Broad Street, on the site of the borough’s original Baptist Meeting House. The Hopewell Museum on East Broad Street has a holiday tea and open house in December. At other times of the year, the museum’s focus is village life in America from colonial times to the present.

The open space that surrounds the borough includes walking trails, and picnic and playground areas. In Hopewell Park at the end of South Greenwood Avenue, a fanciful gazebo — largely paid for from the Johnson fortune — is the site of summer concerts and parties.

The Schools

Borough schools are part of the Hopewell Valley Regional District. Kindergarten through Grade 5 are taught at Hopewell Elementary School, which also has students from Hopewell Township; enrollment is 520.

Those in Grades 6 through 8 attend Timberlane Middle School, and older students go to Hopewell Valley Central High School. Both schools are in Pennington Borough. Average SAT scores in 2006 at the high school, which has an enrollment of 1,150, were 556 on the verbal, 591 on the math and 557 on the reading section. Those compared favorably with state averages of 494, 591 and 493, respectively.

Being in the heart of an academically rich area, Hopewell Borough children also have many private schools nearby from which to choose, including Princeton Day School, the Hun School, the Peddie School, Lawrenceville School, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart and the Pennington School.

The Commute

The closest train station offering service to New York City is in Princeton Borough, seven miles away. From there, New Jersey Transit trains travel regularly to Pennsylvania Station, in about an hour and 20 minutes. The drive to Midtown is about 55 miles, and takes 75 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic.

The History

Founded in the early 1700s by a group of Baptist farmers, the area was first called Hopewell Meeting House, then Columbia and, later, Hopewell. In 1756, the country’s first Baptist secondary school, Hopewell Baptist Academy, was started here. Its graduates went on to found what became Brown University in Rhode Island.

With the arrival of rail service in 1874, Hopewell saw a burst in industrial development, with a lumberyard, a creamery, canneries and a shirt factory.

Today, several of those buildings, along Railroad Place, house antique sellers and artisans. The rail line now carries freight only, while the restored railroad station is used for community events.

Hopewell is also known for its proximity to the site of a notorious 20th-century crime: the 1932 kidnapping of the aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s baby from his home in nearby East Amwell. Deep in the woods a few miles outside the borough, the Lindbergh Mansion, now a home for troubled youth, is still a curiosity for sightseers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pollution Havens: Evidence from China

Is Free Trade good for your environmental exposure? This is an interesting case study. It claims that U.S electronic waste is heading to China because it is cheaper to dispose of it over there. It also claims that this would be less of an issue if nations ratified the Basel Convention. Will the next President ratify this treaty?

According to Wikipedia;

"The Basel Convention (verbose: Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal) is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs). It does not, however, address the movement of radioactive waste. The Convention is also intended to minimize the amount and toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation, and to assist LDCs in environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate.

The Convention was opened for signature on March 22, 1989, and entered into force on May 5, 1992. A list of parties to the Convention, and their ratification status, can be found on the Basel Secretariat's web page. Of the 170 parties to the Convention, Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have signed the Convention but have not yet ratified it."

What is the enforcement mechanism for this convention? For nations that violates its laws, does the United Nations' invade?

Enforcement is central to the effective implementation of the Basel Convention. Although it may seem a straightforward activity, it happens to be rather complex because of its multidimensional requirements. There is a need for a proper infrastructure, adequate staffing of trained personnel, appropriate logistical support and knowledge of hazardous wastes. From an operational point of view, a properly integrated national enforcement programme would include: tracking of hazardous waste shipments; visits to company sites (and other sites); transport control/checks/inspections; sampling and testing; information exchange. A number of basic criteria are required to fulfill the aims of the Basel Convention. These are:The existence of a regulatory infrastructure and enforcement that ensures compliance with applicable regulations;•Sites or facilities (including storage) are authorized and of an adequate standard of technology and pollution control to dispose of the hazardous waste in the way proposed, in particular taking into account the level of technology and pollution control in the exporting country;•Operators of sites or facilities at which hazardous wastes are disposed are required, as appropriate, to monitor the effects of those activities;•Action is taken at the site or facility in the case of accidental spillage, and in cases where monitoring gives indication that the disposal of hazardous wastes have resulted in unacceptable emissions;•Persons involved in the disposal of hazardous wastes are capable and adequately trained;•Any residues from the recovery of hazardous wastes and portions of unrecovered materials should be managed in an environmentally sound manner, including final disposal;•Evidence of an action plan for emergencies or accidents covering the disposal operations.To be operational, enforcement personnel (competent authorities; police; customs officers; port or airport authorities, coast guards) need to be trained in the following technical areas:•identification of hazardous wastes;•knowledge of companies' operations;•knowledge of the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (all modes of transport);•understanding of laboratory results on sampling and testing;
Page 2
•familiarities with Notification and Movement Document, tracking documents, permits, contracts, financial guarantees;•statistical information and processing of data provided by the World Customs Organization;•identification of cases of illegal traffic. Because of lack of manpower or lack of trained enforcement personnel or equipment, a number of activities may be the source of difficulties, such as:•tracking down of illegal shipments;•development of practical guidelines for sampling liquid and solid hazardous wastes that could be harmonized at regional level;•agreement on which hazardous wastes to be monitored as a matter of priority;•thorough company visits;•way of getting up-to-date information on active movements of hazardous wastes;•time necessary for analysing samples, interpretation of laboratory results. As part of its functions, the Secretariat of the Basel Convention is providing, upon request, assistance to countries in the field of enforcement. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT THE SECRETARIAT OF THE BASEL CONVENTION: 15, chemin des Anemones CH-1219 Chatelaine, SwitzerlandTel: (41 22) 979 92 18 Fax: (41 22) 797 34 54 E-mail:

China's e-waste nightmare worsening By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 49 minutes ago

The air smells acrid from the squat gas burners that sit outside homes, melting wires to recover copper and cooking computer motherboards to release gold. Migrant workers in filthy clothes smash picture tubes by hand to recover glass and electronic parts, releasing as much as 6.5 pounds of lead dust.

For five years, environmentalists and the media have highlighted the danger to Chinese workers who dismantle much of the world's junked electronics. Yet a visit to this southeastern Chinese town regarded as the heartland of "e-waste" disposal shows little has improved. In fact, the problem is growing worse because of China's own contribution.

China now produces more than 1 million tons of e-waste each year, said Jamie Choi, a toxics campaigner with Greenpeace China in Beijing. That adds up to roughly 5 million television sets, 4 million fridges, 5 million washing machines, 10 million mobile phones and 5 million personal computers, according to Choi.

"Most e-waste in China comes from overseas, but the amount of domestic e-waste is on the rise," he said.

This ugly business is driven by pure economics. For the West, where safety rules drive up the cost of disposal, it's as much as 10 times cheaper to export the waste to developing countries. In China, poor migrants from the countryside willingly endure the health risks to earn a few yuan, exploited by profit-hungry entrepreneurs.

International agreements and European regulations have made a dent in the export of old electronics to China, but loopholes — and sometimes bribes — allow many to skirt the requirements. And only a sliver of the electronics sold get returned to manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett Packard for safe recycling.

Upwards of 90 percent ends up in dumps that observe no environmental standards, where shredders, open fires, acid baths and broilers are used to recover gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals while spewing toxic fumes and runoff into the nation's skies and rivers.

Accurate figures about the shady and unregulated trade are hard to come by. However, experts agree that it is overwhelmingly a problem of the developing world. They estimate about 70 percent of the 20-50 million tons of electronic waste produced globally each year is dumped in China, with most of the rest going to India and poor African nations.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is ten times cheaper to export e-waste than to dispose of it at home.

Imports slip into China despite a Chinese ban and Beijing's ratification of the Basel Convention, an international agreement that outlaws the trade. Industry monitor Ted Smith said one U.S. exporter told him all that was needed to get shipments past Chinese customs officials was a crisp $100 bill taped to the inside of each container.

"The central government is well aware of the problems but has been unable or unwilling to really address it," said Smith, senior strategist with the California-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which focuses on the electronics industry.

The European Union bans such exports, but Smith and others say smuggling is rife, largely due to the lack of measures to punish rule breakers. China, meanwhile, allows the import of plastic waste and scrap metal, which many recyclers use as an excuse to send old electronics there.

And though U.S. states increasingly require that electronics be sent to collection and recycling centers, even from those centers, American firms can send the e-waste abroad legally because Congress hasn't ratified the Basel Convention.

The results are visible on the streets of Guiyu, where the e-waste industry employs an estimated 150,000 people. Shipping containers of computer parts, old video games, computer screens, cell phones and electronics of all kinds, from ancient to nearly new, are dumped onto the streets and sorted for dismantling and melting.

Valuable metals such as copper, gold, and silver are removed through melting and acid baths, while steel is torn out for scrap and plastic is ground into pellets for other use.

This is big business for those who control the trade. Luxury sedans are parked in front of elaborate mansions in downtown Guiyu, adorned with fancy names such as "Hall of Southernly Peace."

Many of those who do the dirty work are migrants from poorer parts of China, too desperate or uninformed to care about the health risks.

In the town of Nanyang, a few minutes drive from Guiyu, a middle-aged couple from the inland province of Hunan sorts wiring in a mud-floored shack. Such work, including melting down motherboards, earns them about $100 per month, said the husband, who answered reluctantly and wouldn't give his name.

Many houses double as smelter and home. Gas burners shaped like blacksmith's forges squat beside the front doors, their flues rising several stories to try to dissipate the toxic smoke.

Nonetheless, a visitor soon develops a throbbing headache and metallic taste in the mouth. The groundwater has long been too polluted for human consumption. The amount of lead in the river sediment is double European safety levels, according to the Basel Action Network, an environmental group.

Yet, aside from trucking in drinking water, the health risks seem largely ignored. Fish are still raised in local ponds, and piles of ash and plastic waste sit beside rice paddies and dikes holding in the area's main Lianjiang river.

Chemicals, including mercury, fluorine, barium, chromium, and cobalt, that either leach from the waste or are used in processing, are blamed for skin rashes and respiratory problems. Contamination can take decades to dissipate, experts say, and long-term health effects can include kidney and nervous system damage, weakening of the immune system and cancer.

"Of course, recycling is more environmentally sound," said Wu Song, a former local university student who has studied the area. "But I wouldn't really call what's happening here recycling."

Those who control the business in Guiyu are hostile to outside scrutiny. Reporters visiting the area with a Greenpeace volunteer were trailed by tough-looking youths who notified local police, leading to a six-hour detention for questioning.

Government departments from the provincial to township levels refused to answer questions. The central government's Environmental Protection Agency did not reply to faxed questions.

Guiyu faces growing competition from other cities, notably Taizhou, about 450 miles up the coast in Zhejiang province. Meanwhile, collection yards have sprung up on the fringes of most major cities. The owners sell what they can to recyclers — most of them unregulated — and simply dump the rest.

Efforts to recycle e-waste safely in China have struggled. Few people bring in waste, because the illegal operators pay more.

"We're not even breaking even," said Gao Jian, marketing director of New World Solid Waste in the northeastern city of Qingdao. "These guys pay more because they don't need expensive equipment, but their methods are really dangerous."

The city of Shanghai opened a dedicated e-waste handling center last year, but most residents and companies prefer the "guerrilla" junkers who ride through neighborhoods on flatbed tricycles ringing bells to attract customers, said Yu Jinbiao of the Shanghai Electronic Products Repair Service Association, a government-backed industry federation.

"Those guerrillas are convenient and offer a good price," Yu said, "so there is a big market for them."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why Is Santa Monica Real Estate So Expensive?

As a renter in West L.A, I continue to think about the supply and demand for real estate near UCLA. I understand why demand is high. This is paradise. I have lived in Chicago, Boston, New York City, and London and there is no comparison.

There are some supply side barriers. There isn't much "empty land" but there are plenty of golf courses and land zoned for commerical purposes (and much of these lots are ugly and look unprofitable) that could be rezoned to allow for housing. Land is not being allocated to its highest value use. Would negative externalities really be exacerbated by residential growth? At a price of $1,000 per square foot in Santa Monica, it is time to examine the case study of the challenges of building. This discussion below hints at the role that "historic preservation" plays in limiting the supply of new housing. Who has an incentive to balance the desires of the incumbent community for preserving the past (and their home values!) against the demands for "affordable" housing from people like me who want to move to their community?

A historic decision

Re "In historic district, a conflict builds," Nov. 11

The Third Street Neighborhood Historic District's efforts in Santa Monica to stop the building of a two-story Modernist home that is three times the size of nearby structures should not be confused with favoring "faux historic" architecture.

If the proposed structure followed the established guidelines of being sensitive to surrounding structures, its design would not be such an issue. Those who buy in a historic district enter into a social contract with the city, wherein they agree to maintain the structure and preserve the character of the neighborhood by following established guidelines.

The structure intended for the heart of Santa Monica's only historic district simply does not fit the guidelines.

I hope the city of Santa Monica will listen to the concerns of residents who have shown up at commission hearings to voice their opposition and request that the city enforce the guidelines. If the city allows this structure to be built, it will have ignored its own mandate of historic preservation.

Candace Veach

Santa Monica

Here is a history from the Santa Monica city government;

"Preservation of historic resources has been important to the City of Santa Monica and its residents for decades. The local preservation movement began in earnest as the City responded to the increased development pressures taking place in Southern California cities during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the early catalysts was the threatened demolition of the Santa Monica Pier. Constructed as two separately owned adjacent piers - the Municipal Pier, built in 1909, and the Pleasure Pier, built in 1916 the fishing pier and amusement park was one of the focal points of the City. The Pier, as the two separate structures were known, was acquired by the City in the 1950s. Soon thereafter, several developments were proposed which would have led to demolition of the Pier.

The first two proposals, a large boat harbor, and an ocean causeway to Point Dume, ended after some controversy. But the third, a man-made island, with commercial and recreational uses, a 1500-room hotel, and a convention center, was approved by the City Council over public protests. Opposition increased, a "Save the Santa Monica Bay” advocacy group formed, and a lawsuit was filed. The City Council responded by approving a motion preventing development of any kind near the water, which would have meant that the Pier would have to be removed. Several more groups formed with the objective of saving the Pier, and on February 27, 1973, the City Council voted 6-0 to not demolish the Municipal Pier, followed by a 6-1 vote on May 8, 1973, to rescind the order to raze the pleasure pier.

Preservation politics began to change in 1973 as the Santa Monica Centennial approached, and the City Council created the Historical Site Committee. The committee's primary responsibility was to help develop standards and procedures for designating and preserving historic sites in the city. The City Council, following the community interest in preserving local landmarks, adopted the Landmarks and Historic District Ordinance on March 24, 1976. Even prior to the adoption of the formal ordinance, the City designated its first Landmarks: the Rapp Saloon/Old Town Hall on August 20, 1975 and the Miles Playhouse on October 15,1975. Since that time, the city has designated a total of 35 city landmarks, including the Santa Monica Municipal Pier which was designated in 1976.

The Santa Monica Landmarks and Historic Districts Ordinance was amended in 1987 and again in 1991, to create a more comprehensive preservation program. The ordinance established a Landmarks Commission with the power to designate Structures of Merit and Landmarks, and to make recommendations to the City Council regarding the designation of potential Historic Districts. It established criteria and procedures for designating historic resources and instituted requirements for Certificates of Appropriateness for alterations or demolitions of historic resources. Other sections of the ordinance include an economic hardship provision, requirements and exemptions for maintenance and repair of resources, and procedures to respond to unsafe conditions. In addition to regulatory requirements, the ordinance provides for preservation incentives including waivers of fees and zoning regulations, use of the California Historical Building Code, and the Mills Act property tax reduction contracts. A comprehensive architectural and historic resources survey of the City of Santa Monica had been a goal of the City since the late 1970s.

In 1980, the Planning Department staff began the process with a study of the Central Beach Tract neighborhood, hoping ultimately to name it as an historic district. Although this objective was not realized, in 1982-83, the City authorized a city-wide survey and a Historic Preservation Plan Element for the General Plan. This became Phase I of the Historic Resources Inventory, identifying 2,775 sites of potential significance city-wide and documenting 555 of those sites, mostly located in a strip along the western City boundary. In 1985-86, the City obtained a matching grant from the California Office of Historic Preservation to continue the process; Phase II of the survey documented the sections of the City north of Montana Avenue not previously inventoried and produced an additional 162 inventory forms. Phase III, the final increment of the Santa Monica Historic Resources Inventory, was completed in May of 1994, and encompassed the remaining 75% of the City. An additional 660 properties were recorded on inventory forms, bringing the total number of documented historic resources to 1377 (See Figure 1 on page 9).

In 1990, Santa Monica designated its first historic district, the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District, consisting of 38 contributing buildings constructed between 1875 and 1930. The small neighborhood, located in the Ocean Park section of the City, illustrates historic and architectural patterns characteristic of the larger community. Architecturally, the buildings chronicle the evolution of design from the Victorian era through the revival styles of the 1920s and 1930s. Historically, the neighborhood has ties to some of Santa Monica's most prominent early residents."

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Very Successful UCLA Graduate Believes in the Carnegie Conjecture

Alfred E. Mann is my kind of guy. He graduated from UCLA. He lives in a tiny 23,000 square foot house in Beverly Hills and he is betting a large share of his fortune on a new insulin medication that could help millions of people.

The New York Times has a long piece about him in the Business Section.
"Despite Mr. Mann’s remarkable entrepreneurial career — he has founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies — there are people who wonder whether he has so much invested in this latest effort, both financially and emotionally, that he cannot see any odds against him."

The FUNNY part of the article appears at the end of the piece where he discusses why he is investing so much $ in this new project rather than just giving his billions to his children.

"As for his six biological children, Mr. Mann said he had already given them more than he should have, turning them into idle multimillionaires. (He has also adopted the daughter of his current wife, his fourth).

“One tried working for three days and didn’t like it,” Mr. Mann said. “Another didn’t work a day in his life.” He added, “I would feel more comfortable if my kids were doing something worthwhile.” "

I like this guy and I'm hoping that he likes UCLA!

Recall your definition of the Carnegie Conjecture ----
The results are consistent with Andrew Carnegie's century-old assertion that large inheritances decrease a person's labor force participation.
Academic nerds continue to test this hypothesis but Mann has lived it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Information Technology and Efficient Government

Truckers haven't been able to shirk to the same degree due to GPS technology tracking their movements. Now government employees can shirk less. I'm hoping they don't start following academic economists.

GPS helps cities catch goof-offs By FRANK ELTMAN, Associated Press Writer

GPS tracking devices installed on government-issue vehicles are helping communities around the country reduce waste and abuse, in part by catching employees shopping, working out at the gym or otherwise loafing while on the clock.

The use of GPS has led to firings, stoking complaints from employees and unions that the devices are intrusive, Big Brother technology. But city officials say that monitoring employees' movements has deterred abuses, saving the taxpayers money in gasoline and lost productivity.

"We can't have public resources being used on private activities. That's Management 101," Phil Nolan, supervisor of the Long Island town of Islip.

Islip saved nearly 14,000 gallons of gas over a three-month period from the previous year after GPS devices were installed. Nolan said that shows that employees know they are being watched and are no longer using Islip's 614 official vehicles for personal business.

Some administrators around the country emphasized that the primary purpose of the GPS devices is not to catch people goofing off but to improve the maintenance and operation of the vehicles and to design more efficient bus, snowplow and trash-pickup routes. Among other things, the devices can be used to alert mechanics that a car's engine is operating inefficiently.

Still, in Indiana, six employees of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department lost their jobs last year after an administrator bought three Global Positioning Satellite devices out of her own pocket and switched them in and out of 12 department vehicles to nail health inspectors running personal errands on the job.

Employees were caught going to stores, gyms, restaurants, churches and their homes. (And the administrator was reimbursed the $750 she spent.)

One of those who got in trouble, 27-year employee Elaine Pruitt, decried what she called "sneaky" methods. She said she had fallen ill and stopped at her home for a long lunch break, returning to work just 38 minutes late.

Previously, "as long as we got our work done, there was never any problem. All of a sudden, it became wrong if you stopped at a grocery store for some gum," she said.

In Boston two years ago, a snowplow driver was accused of hiding his GPS device in a snowbank and then going off to do some private plowing. The driver pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor larceny charge and was fined $300.

In Denver, 76 vehicles equipped with GPS this year were driven 5,000 fewer miles than the unequipped fleet had during the same period the year before. Denver plans to outfit police cars, snowplows and trash trucks with GPS soon.

"It's growing by leaps and bounds," said Chris Ransom of Networkcar, one of the country's leading providers of GPS systems. "I'd say we're seeing double-digit growth among the municipalities, whether it's statewide or down to the local county."

In Delaware, GPS was used to confirm two employees using state vehicles were going home early, said Terry Barton Jr., fleet administrator for the state. He would not say what action, if any, was taken against the employees.

"If they're in charge of the car and they decide to go visit their Aunt Mary, we'll know that they went someplace they weren't supposed to. It has a chilling effect," he said.

Barton said Delaware paid $425 per unit for the GPS devices, as well as $24.99 a month per vehicle for tracking services. Information from each car is sent back to a central location, where things like fuel consumption and speed are recorded. He estimated the investment will be recouped in 3 1/2 years.

"If we're getting fuel reduction, less accidents and have our people slowing down, it more than pays for itself," Barton said.

The Teamsters are negotiating more contracts that protect workers from being spied on or punished as a result of the devices, union spokeswoman Leslie Miller said. She said the union's tentative contract with United Parcel Service prevents the company from firing any employee for a first offense uncovered by GPS unless there is proof of intent to defraud.

Sean Thomas, chief of staff for the Manchester, N.H., mayor's office, said a plan to use GPS units on garbage trucks was scrapped after "some union push-back. "They said, `You are watching us like Big Brother,'" Thomas said.

GPS is helping improve efficiency in other ways.

Houston officials say they have used GPS on garbage trucks to design more efficient trash-collection routes, reducing fuel costs and other expenses.

This winter, the New Hampshire Transportation Department will begin testing GPS devices in some sand spreaders.

"It's so when Mrs. Smith on Warren Street calls and says we haven't plowed her street, we can say, `Yes, we have,'" said Phil Bilodeau, Concord, N.H., deputy director of general services. "It's not to check up on drivers, although they would say it is for that purpose."

Boston's school system uses GPS devices on its buses — technology that proves useful when worried parents call because a bus is late.

"It's hugely helpful for us to say, `The bus is five blocks away,'" schools spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hey Hey It's the Urban Monkeys

The Monkees, as a rock band, weren't quite in the same league as the Rolling Stones but now in 2007 as a bunch of creatures they are touring in New Delhi. This New York Times article highlights the interesting "refugee" issue of what happens to non-humans when suburban sprawl displaces creatures from "their" habitat. Where was the coasian transfer to this group of initial property owners?

Would a "helicopter drop" of these Indian monkees reduce home prices near UCLA? I can't figure out whether their demand for housing would bid up real estate prices here or if they cause a degradation in quality of life and this would reduce everyone else's demand and this would reduce local home prices?

In other news, did you see Ray Fisman's quote in Maureen Dowd's column today about Hilary Clinton and men's ambivalence about successful women? As a dude who is married to a very successful woman, I would like to know how many male academics under the age of 45 have "stay at home" wives versus are bundled into a power team. When I think of the top economics departments such as Chicago, Harvard and MIT ---where most of the faculty are male --- their spouse's LFP rate is low. I'm not sure what to make of that. Is this the "Dowd effect"? Or is home production a normal good?

November 14, 2007
New Delhi Journal
Monkeys in the Parks, Monkeys in the Palace

NEW DELHI, Nov. 13 — The authorities here managed to do very little about the city’s soaring wild monkey population — until the deputy mayor toppled from his terrace to his death as he tried to fend off a gang of the animals.

The official, Sawinder Singh Bajwa, 52, was reading a paper on his balcony on a Sunday morning in late October when four monkeys appeared. As he brandished a stick to scare them away, he lost his balance and fell, his son said.

While publicly lamenting the accident, the mayor’s office fought off criticism for failing to remove the aggressive troops of monkeys that coexist uneasily alongside humans.

The phenomenon is a side effect of India’s rapid urbanization. As Delhi expands, with half a million new residents moving in every year, the green areas in and around the capital, which for centuries have been the monkeys’ habitat, grow smaller. Their territory encroached on, many monkeys uproot to settle in the city center.

Particularly irritating for the authorities is the monkeys’ attachment to some of the capital’s most prestigious monuments. While most of the bleaker manifestations of the anarchic expansion — the slums, the urban squalor — are hidden from the government’s showpiece center, the monkey invasion is visible at the heart of the leafy city of New Delhi, remarked upon by every visiting foreign dignitary.

Guards watching over Rashtrapati Bhavan, the stately sandstone president’s palace, are there as much to fend off the hundreds of monkeys that swing from the parapets as to contend with human intruders. At dusk, mother monkeys bathe their infants in the ceremonial fountains, while males fight noisily on the clipped lawns.

Politicians with residences in the area have resorted to hiring private monkey catchers, men who use a larger, dark-faced monkey, the langur, to scare away the smaller wild ones.

In 2000, a lawsuit was filed accusing the government of failing to take any action, and legal proceedings dragged on with little perceptible progress until January of this year, when the Delhi High Court summoned senior officials to explain themselves.

Official embarrassment intensified when a newspaper said that the only monkey catcher employed by the city, Nand Lal, who had two decades of experience, had resigned and returned to his village, fed up with being harassed by animal rights advocates.

When a three-month court deadline to remove the entire monkey population expired in June, a member of the enforcement committee asked for an extension, arguing that it was cruel to capture the animals during the summer because so many were pregnant then.

The monkeys that were caught were held in specially built structures at the edge of the city, while officials waited for a deal to be negotiated with neighboring states so they could be released into forest areas far from the capital. But those states refused to take the refugees, and the animals remained in captivity, enraging wildlife protection agencies, until a disused mine area on the fringe of the city was declared a sanctuary.

The lawyer charged by the High Court with ensuring the monkeys’ removal said recently that things were as bad as ever, even in some leading hospitals. “They attack patients who are being rolled inside the hospital, pull out IV tubes and scamper off to drink the fluids,” the lawyer, Meera Bhatia, told Indian journalists.

It took the death of the deputy mayor to inject new vitality into the removal drive. The mayor, Aarti Mehra, said in a telephone interview that “after the incident, the process has really speeded up.” Already, she said, 35 municipal monkey catchers have been hired, divided into five teams across the city. Over the next few months, a total of 100 will be working in 14 teams, she said. She estimated, however, that 20,000 to 25,000 monkeys still had to be caught.

Part of the difficulty lies in people’s ambivalence toward the animals, she added. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, followers of the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, risk being fined to feed the monkeys.

“We have a serious problem because of our religious ways,” Ms. Mehra said. “People feed them liberally. But they do attack. In the past three years, there have been 2,000 cases of monkey bite in Delhi.”

In fact, a wild monkey went on a rampage in a low-income neighborhood of the capital on Monday, injuring several people, mostly children, The Associated Press reported. Such incidents are surprisingly common.

J. K. Dadoo, the local environment and forest secretary, put the total monkey population at a more conservative 5,000. He said 2,000 had been sent to the sanctuary this year, adding that the removal process was going smoothly.

Wildlife advocates say the growing tension between man and monkey arises not so much from the animals as from humans. Just as monkeys near the capital are losing their natural homes to developers, so, too, are the tigers of Rajasthan and the elephants of Assam.

“We are continuing the deforestation so fast that all kinds of wildlife are finding themselves suddenly homeless,” said Ranjit Talwar, a conservationist. “That’s why we are seeing more attacks by tigers, leopards, monkeys and elephants.”

Sonya Ghosh, an animal rights campaigner advising the government on monkey removal, said residents should try to live in harmony with the monkeys.

“The only way is to ignore them,” she said. “Never look a monkey in the eye, never raise your eyebrows at one: it’s interpreted as a challenge.” But she conceded that for many people, the abundance of monkeys was an unwelcome reminder that New Delhi was still far from its goal of transforming itself into a world-class city.

“People in the new residential areas, these newly rich, have different sensibilities,” she said. “They want to pretend that they are living in New York.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Do Pigeons Threaten NYC's Quality of Life?

I have a vague memory of a Bob Lucas paper that had a section stating that pigeons have downward sloping demand curves. So, Let's see how these rational actors respond to these incentives ---
New York City Pigeons

I can't think of any negative unintended consequences of this new policy but I doubt that it is credible. I am not a fan of these creatures and would vote for a Mayor who could put a diaper on each of them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is Government Efficient? Evidence from Commercial Building Energy Consumption

I am starting a new empirical project on energy consumption by various cities. Buildings are major energy consumer. I realize that most bloggers do not post econometrics output in their blog outputs but so be it. The unit of analysis is a commercial building so a Starbucks or a post office. There are 4716 in this year 2003 sample. The dependent variable is the natural log of the building's annual energy consumption.

Some Definitions;

1. builtyr = year the building was built
2. size = square feet of the building
3. hdd65 = heating degree days to a base of 65 degree
4. cdd65 = cooling degree days to a base of 65
5. Gov = dummy variable that equals 1 if the building is a Government building
and it equals zero if the building is a private sector building.

So, in English; controlling for the building's size and birth year and local climate,
does the private sector consume less energy than the public sector?

Note that the OLS coefficient on Gov = ".474" so exp(.474)-1 = 60% higher
energy consumption by the public sector!

What is going on here? Is the Postman leaving the lights on or does the
public sector build really inefficient buildings because there is no incentive
to build an energy efficient building?

areg ldep builtyr size Gov hdd658 cdd658 [w=adjwt8], absorb(wkhrs8)
(analytic weights assumed)

X Beta T-Stat

builtyr -0.00127 -1.92000
size 0.00001 30.12000
Gov 0.47391 8.02000
hdd658 0.00005 3.31000
cdd658 -0.00001 -0.18000
_cons 14.58793 11.14000

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Corporate Environmentalism and Cutting Out the Middleman: The Case of the Eagles (the Rock Band)

In recent years, you can directly buy computers from the maker (Dell), buy your own plane ticket without a travel agency ---- now the Eagles will sell you their album at Walmart without any record company getting involved. Cutting out the middleman raises the revenue per CD that the Eagles will receive. Could there be any environmental benefits from simplifying the chain?

Don Henley claims that he has more direct access to Walmart (the seller of his album) because of his band's direct contract with him. This green believes that he can "green" Walmart from the inside because of their mutually profitable relationship.

This is an interesting claim and he may be right. It would interest me what suggestions he makes to the company and whether they really "listen" or whether they say "let's nod our heads as this old hippie makes these suggestions and then continue with business as usual after he leaves". I'm hoping I'm wrong about this and that Dr. Henley is right.

November 11, 2007
A Big Box of Eagles

The new Eagles album — “Long Road Out of Eden”— came out recently, but only at Wal-Mart. One of the points the Eagles may be making is that you have to consider your allegiances in the world of the present, not the past. A few years ago, any link between Wal-Mart and Don Henley, an ardent environmentalist, would have seemed puzzling at best. But there is a simple equation here. This new album was released without the participation of a major record label. This isn’t just a case of selling exclusively in the Big Box. It’s a case of giving up Big Vinyl and its distribution.

Mr. Henley has also explained this decision in terms of demographics. The Eagles may have the best-selling album ever, but Mr. Henley is 60, and most of the band’s fans are either closing in on that birthday or receding from it. There is no doubt that Wal-Mart is doing a good job of getting the CD into the hands of buyers. After all, it sold 710,000 copies in its first week, the second strongest debut of the year so far. The details have not been made public, but it is safe to say that the band is getting far more money per CD than it would have if the album had been released by a major label.

The music industry is undergoing a series of tectonic shifts, something that is beautifully illustrated by the marketing of “Long Road Out of Eden.” But it is also reflected in the decision by Billboard, the music trade magazine, to begin listing on its sales charts records sold exclusively through a single source, something it never used to do. And the No. 1 record? “Long Road Out of Eden.” This is both a recognition of Wal-Mart’s importance in music sales and a sensible effort to keep the Billboard charts from becoming irrelevant.

Have the Eagles sold out? Mr. Henley says that by doing business with Wal-Mart, he has more influence and easier access to the company’s executives, including the ones responsible for trying to make the company more environmentally conscious. His argument is almost certainly bolstered by the strong sales of “Long Road Out of Eden.”

We hope, with him, that he has the influence he suggests, otherwise this arrangement may well turn out to be nothing more than a long road to Wal-Mart.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Solar Power Visionary and the Slow Diffusion of His Ideas

A 98 year old named Harold Hay would disagree with Milton Friedman. Professor Friedman didn't believe that there were "$20 bills lying on the ground". Dr. Hay disagrees. He claims that his solar ideas fleshed out 40 years ago work in practice and are better than other solar approaches. To his shock, his ideas haven't diffused.

I can't judge his product based on this news article but this is an interesting case of whether "good ideas" do quickly diffuse or do small transaction costs (such as this guy being a bit of strange dude) lead to sharply reduced rates of diffusion. In that case, he should have sold his idea to a better salesman! A class in economics would have taught him comparative advantage and we would have had a greener economy as his idea would have diffused faster.

I realize that it is possible that Dr. Friedman was right and that Mr. Hay's idea wasn't a good one but this article doesn't provide enough analysis to judge whether Mr. Hay's $20 bill was real or counterfeit.

His passion for solar still burns

Forty years ago, Harold Hay came up with a way to heat and cool homes using water and the sun. At 98, he's still trying to get the world to notice.

By Elizabeth Douglass, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 10, 2007

Harold Hay wants to help the world save itself, but he's running out of time.

Forty years ago, Hay invented a simple, inexpensive way to heat and cool a home using the sun's rays, but without the panels and wiring that come with conventional solar energy systems.

He's been pushing for its adoption ever since, trying to find footing in each of the solar industry's last three boom-and-bust cycles.

Yet, despite the merits of his pioneering technology, the energy establishment has shown only fleeting interest.

Now 98, Hay is making what he knows will be his final push.

The retired chemist promotes his cause by funding research. He vents his frustration in letters, e-mails, phone messages to anyone who will listen, and on his own website,

Hay is sanctimonious, unyielding and scathingly critical of other people's efforts and the solar business as a whole. He dismisses the Energy Department as being "in the research-forever stage" and the solar trade as "a bunch of money grubbers."

Hay has no interest in softening his message. He doesn't have time for subtlety.

Hay quotes from an article he's earmarked in Natural History magazine:

"When scientists do science, when they play their game, they debate passionately, and disagree openly, often with brutal honesty toward party lines, sacred cows, or" -- Hay raises his voice for emphasis -- "other people's feelings."

He closes the magazine. "Now that defines me as close as you can get." Hay adds, as if reminding himself, "That's why I'm a loner."

That tenacity has sometimes worked against him.

Over time, people lost patience with Hay and then lost interest in his creation, says Ken Haggard, who designs buildings that use solar energy. Hay's combative personality and reluctance to let others join his mission scotched one potential deal and may have turned others off, Haggard says.

"He's a caricature of the mad inventor," says Haggard, who met Hay in 1972 when the architect was a young professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "He's a genius. But he's also impossible. And he has not mellowed one iota."

It's tempting to write off Hay as a bitter solar has-been, hoping for immortality at the end of his life. But, given today's energy and climate challenges, ignoring his message and achievements could be a mistake.

"His invention and what he's been saying for all these years is still very, very relevant," says Becky Campbell-Howe, operations director at the American Solar Energy Society, which gave Hay its Passive Solar Pioneer award in 1986.

"The main point that he's trying to make now is that all of our hopes are pinned on all of these complicated technologies, and it's not that complicated. We could solve a lot of the problems by building our buildings correctly."

Hay calls his invention the Skytherm system, and it was a wonder in the 1960s because it used the sun to heat and cool a home. The earliest version operated without any electricity, making it a purely passive solar technology.

Skytherm was the first of what's known today as a roof-pond system. It includes a large mass of water, contained water-bed style in plastic bladders on top of a house. A steel liner subsitutes for regular roofing. The flat roof also holds an insulation panel that moves on rails to cover and uncover the water with the help of a motor, an upgrade from the original rope pulley.

The concept relies on water's tremendous ability to absorb heat. During hot summer days, the water bags are covered by the panel, which deflects the heat of the sun while the bags draw warmth from the house, keeping the interior cool. At night, the panel moves aside and the bags release their heat into the night air. The process is reversed in the winter.

Hay explains the basic theory by pointing out his bedroom window: "Take the black pavement out on the street. It gets extremely hot every day in the summertime -- much too hot to walk across barefooted. The next morning it's cold."

Hay attempts what passes for a shout these days: "You don't need electricity to cool! You don't need an air conditioner! You do it with the sky."

In 1967, Hay scraped together the money to build a one-room test home in Phoenix. The results were encouraging, but yielded no flood of support or funding. It took him several more years, but Hay finally got a full-scale model built in Atascadero, Calif., near the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

It was completed in 1973. The next year, Hay testified before Congress, imploring lawmakers to fund research into solar heating and cooling. Two years later, Hay's Skytherm house was recognized by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission as one of the country's 200 most promising inventions.

In his run-down apartment near downtown Los Angeles, crammed with a lifetime of research, Hay holds up a brightly colored poster celebrating the award; he points to the spot where the Skytherm house is mentioned.

"That was an award from the president of the United States," he says. "My house was one of the unique things, and it's gone nowhere."

Hay likes to say he was born to invent.

He grew up on a dairy farm in Spokane, Wash., the youngest of three boys. His father held patents on pasteurizing machinery and young Harold, the farm's bottle washer, got his start in chemistry by studying butterfat content at the dairy.

Later, he earned a chemistry degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Hay's first job out of college was at Monsanto Chemical Co.'s wood products division, where he concocted a preservative that was used for years on telephone poles and railroad ties around the world.

In the library at Monsanto, he met Evelyn, the woman who became his wife and stuck by him as he zigzagged through life, taking jobs in government and industry that sent them to Sweden, Venezuela, Colombia, Morocco and India, the place that inspired the Skytherm design.

Hay stops his story here because it's impossible for him to gloss over Evelyn. For 48 years -- until her death from breast cancer in 1985 -- she was the chief believer in a temperamental scientist with big ideas.

"Evelyn. Oh, God. She's such a treasure," Hay says, speaking of her in the present tense. "Without a person like that, a scientist has a hard time in life."

He grins while recalling an ill-conceived Christmas Eve journey to northern Sweden. The young couple, intent on a romantic sleigh ride, instead found themselves with a lone reindeer, freezing and sinking into the snow because it was overwhelmed by the load.

And there was the time they couldn't pay the rent and thought they'd have to sleep on benches in MacArthur Park. For those few minutes, thinking of Evelyn, Hay seemed like a young and foolish husband again.

Hay says he spearheaded the creation of the St. Louis Progressive Party, which helped get him labeled a communist. He came up with a chemical to purify drinking water, and he found a way to chemically toughen fiberboard to broaden its use. During World War II, the self-proclaimed pacifist worked on the development of synthetic rubber to avoid military service and jail. Along the way, almost as a hobby, Hays did groundbreaking research in the origins of medicine.

Today, Hay's universe is considerably smaller. For more than two decades he's been living in a tiny apartment, surrounded by dozens of boxes full of magazine articles, scholarly treatises and government reports. One entire wall of boxes is devoted to medical topics. Asisclo "Butch" Carnaje, who takes care of Hay, says the clutter is loosely organized by subject. Amid the mess, Hay keeps a magazine display rack that holds copies of his congressional testimony as well as conference papers with titles such as "Wet Steps to Solar Stills" and "Roofponds En Route."

The most recent material is in the bedroom, where Hay spends most of his time. There, magazines, annual reports, clippings and the like are stacked on the floor and under the hospital-style bed.

Hay is strong for someone who has lived 98 years. But age and illness, witnessed by the long rows of medications on his dresser, have left their inevitable mark. His daily routine is dictated mostly by meals and sleep, which leaves pockets of time for him to read, watch the BBC and business news, check e-mail and track his stocks online.

Hay used to regularly board a crosstown bus to do research at university libraries. Now his social schedule is composed mostly of doctors' appointments. But not entirely.

In December, he spent nearly a month in a mountainside bamboo house in Manila with Carnaje and his family. He then made a side trip to an international meeting on the history of medicine, with a stop to lecture a Habitat for Humanity group on the Skytherm design.

"I'm happy here," Hay says. "The thing I'm not happy about is that my ideas aren't recognized."

Hay's prized Skytherm house is in disrepair these days. A family lived in it for a while, but there were leaks. When fuel got cheap again in the late 1970s, enthusiasm for the project petered out along with the entire solar movement. The Skytherm house's benefits were never documented beyond the prototype stage, and no one worked out how much mass production would cost.

Over the years, Hay has given $500,000 to the University of Nevada Las Vegas and $50,000 to Indiana's Ball State University to fund Skytherm research. The studies confirmed the heating and cooling benefits of Hay's design but didn't go further.

Encouraged by a $1-million research grant from Hay -- along with title to the Atascadero house -- Cal Poly has periodically revived the project. Mike Montoya, a professor of construction management, recently secured permits to bring the house up to current building codes. He hopes to reopen it and quantify its merits.

"The thing that sparked my interest is the fact that it is supposed to be able to heat and cool the house with no power," Montoya says. "There are a couple of problems, but it clearly works. It's a design that's very, very simple and that can be applied pretty much anywhere."

What has kept the idea from spreading?

"One of the reasons he hasn't had more success is that the entire solar industry, with few exceptions, has been undercapitalized," says David James, an associate vice provost at UNLV who worked with Hay for three years and coauthored with him a 2006 paper on solar stills, which purify water using sunlight. "Some of it is back-scratching, or politics . . . and you have to be able to convince conventionally minded bureaucrats that it can be done."

Steven Strong, who heads a solar design company that uses passive solar techniques alongside solar panels and other methods, has doubts about the applicability of Hay's roof ponds in today's housing market.

"The actual application that he had, very few will ever be done. But the whole idea of a green roof, where you're intercepting the sunlight and creating a thermal barrier so that the building is cooler below, that has more appeal," he says. "He was just ahead of his time."

Steve Baer, another solar inventor and a Hay admirer since the 1960s, says he built a business selling utility cooling systems that were inspired by Hay's concepts. And over the summer, he tested a variation of Hay's roof-pond system that he hopes will catch on in Southern California and other sunny spots.

"I'm more and more sure that his ideas are going to find their way to the public," says Baer, president of Zomeworks Corp.

If it happens, it won't be soon enough for Hay.

"All these developments are in the future," Hay says, "and I'm getting older, and know it."


Friday, November 09, 2007

Columbia University's Slow Mail System

I just received the following letter from Columbia University's Office of the Controller , Unclaimed Property Office.

Check Date 11/25/1996

Matthew Kahn
Littaver Ctr.
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

According to our records, the above check (for $350 in 1996 dollars) in your name was never cashed. We are contacting you in an attempt to reissue these funds to you.

11 years! and no compound interest! Newman from Seinfeld would be impressed. I respect the Columbia Office's tenacity in tracking me down but it took a while!!

Sharing Common Space in Big Cities

Cities are an interesting mix of private and public property. This article
discusses the uneasy sharing of Athens' roads and walkers, bike riders and cars share the roads. I sometimes play "rock,paper, scissors" with my son and it is clear to me that in Athens that walkers face a challenge.

In Los Angeles, bikers have learned that there is strength in numbers.

November 9, 2007
Athens Journal
Running Out of Space to Park, and Places to Walk
ATHENS, Nov. 8 — Wandering along a walkway in central Athens, Tassos Pouliasis found a sport utility vehicle blocking his path.

The vehicle — parked illegally with its boxy body positioned squarely across the pavement — left no space for pedestrians to squeeze past, and like most Athenians who face the same predicament daily, Mr. Pouliasis was about to step into the street to go around it.

But then, he thought, why not go over it? And on the spur of the moment he decided to engage in a form of activism, popular elsewhere in Europe, called car vaulting.

No one saw this protest, and perhaps nothing would have happened, but Mr. Pouliasis’ stunt — unusual even for this city’s agitated pedestrians — backfired.

By planting one hand on the hood and the other on the windshield, Mr. Pouliasis set off the car alarm. The hood was dented. The vehicle’s owner, a shop owner, was furious. And soon, the police arrived.

Mr. Pouliasis, 29, was accused of vandalism. He was locked up in a detention center then released pending trial next year on a string of offenses that could send him to prison for four years.

“All I did was exercise my right as a pedestrian,” he said in an interview. “No one, neither the police, the car driver or even a single bystander, could see beyond my action to realize that there was a blatant traffic violation to begin with.”

In many other countries, Mr. Pouliasis, a graphic designer, might have found some sympathy from the authorities, and the car’s owner would have received a ticket for parking illegally.

But in Greece, the concerns and rights of pedestrians are widely disregarded.

“Step on a sidewalk or try crossing any street here, and chances are you’ll instantly feel like the prey of a safari hunt,” said Vassilis Theodorou of the Hellenic Association of Road Traffic Victim Support. “This is the only place in Europe where the golden traffic rule — that pedestrians have the unconditional right of way — is so brazenly disrespected.”

In Athens alone, swarms of scooters race down crowded sidewalks. Pedestrians struggle to circumnavigate construction debris, torn-up pavement and mounds of refuse. The greatest impediment, however, is the fleet of vehicles that each day mount the city’s approximately 1,200 miles of tree-lined sidewalks or other walkways to park.

To deter violators, the authorities blocked off the sidewalks with some 50,000 steel columns in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. But since then, drivers complaining of not enough parking places have rammed, removed or ruined most of them.

“The drivers aren’t to blame,” said Christos Akritidis, the deputy mayor of Athens. “We, the authorities, are responsible for applying Band-Aid solutions, than setting up a coordinating commission to effectively deal with the city’s traffic problem.”

With an estimated two million vehicles in the city, Athens has the European Union’s highest per capita car ownership, Mr. Akritidis said, with 450 cars registered for every 1,000 residents.

A string of new traffic measures, including high fines, designated parking areas and campaigns to discourage driving in favor of mass transit, biking and walking, have eased the plight of pedestrians somewhat.

Still, activists argue, no solution can succeed without effective enforcement of traffic regulations, and a change in the Greeks’ lackadaisical mind-set.

“Athenians never really learned to be urbane,” said Elsa Tsekoura, head of the Pezee pedestrians’ rights association, referring to the 1950s population boom in which millions of rural and island Greeks came to the capital in search of work, prompting decades of rapid and unplanned growth.

Today, however, groups like Pezee, whose 50 members plan to take to the streets of Athens this month, pushing baby carriages and wheelchairs, are increasingly demanding that pedestrians’ rights be recognized.

In the last year alone, the most innovative display of activism has sprung from the Streetpanthers, a band of thirtysomethings who under cover of night prowl the streets of Athens slapping the vehicles of egregious parking violators with Day-Glo orange stickers depicting a donkey in a car above the message, “I park wherever I want.”

More than 250,000 stickers have been distributed nationwide since the group’s Web site began operation ( in July.

“With so many people fed up, aggravated and downright mad at the state’s indifference toward them, we couldn’t have chosen a better time to boost public awareness for pedestrians’ rights,” said the chief Streetpanther, Panayiotis Panopoulos, who is an architect.

Mr. Panopoulos recently guided four new members, including a blind physical therapist and a surgeon in training, through a district awash with illegally parked cars, explaining the group’s rules.

“We’re not subversive. We’re not confrontational. And we don’t want to cause damage to anyone’s property,” he said, slapping a sticker on the windshield of a Jeep squeezed across a sidewalk on a narrow passageway called Arahovis Street.

The driver was nowhere to be seen. But a few feet ahead on Arahovis Street, they spotted a red Peugeot backing over a strip of ribbed paving that helps blind people with canes navigate sidewalks. The middle-aged motorist, who had just emerged from the car, was aghast when a pair of Streetpanthers swooped down, pasting a donkey sticker on his windshield.

“That same stunt cost my fiancĂ©e a broken rib cage over the summer,” the blind Streetpanther, Stathis Zachariades, said to the driver, as a handful of bystanders cheered him on before asking the Streetpanthers for some of their stickers.

Across Europe, other activists have turned to imaginative, and legal, means to fight indifferent motorists.

Two years ago, a French group known as the Deflated discovered that letting the air out of tires was legal so long as no damage was caused. Other forms of protest have included mud smearing and car vaulting — which first took hold in Germany and eventually inspired Mr. Pouliasis to try to throw himself over the S.U.V.

“We’re definitely supporting him,” said Mrs. Tsekoura of Pezee, which helped him find a lawyer and publicized his case. “A court ruling in his favor will mark the first major victory for us. We need that to keep on walking.”