Even if Northeastern states have lost 40% of their House seats, has the region lost that much influence?

Large-scale population shifts can have all sorts of effects including the loss of seats in Congress:

The Census Bureau reports that population growth has shifted to the South and the result is that the 11 states that make up the Northeast are being bled dry of representation in Washington…

Deep in a recent report, for example, the American Legislative Exchange Council tabulated how the drop in population relative to the rest of the nation cut the region’s power in Washington. While the states from Pennsylvania to Maine had 141 House members in 1950, they are down to 85 today, a drop of some 40 percent.

California and Texas combined have more House representatives..

“This result is one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in American history. This migration is shifting the power center of America right before our very eyes. The movement isn’t random or even about weather or resources. Economic freedom is the magnet and states ignore this force at their own peril,” said the report.

The last quote is particularly interesting as the population center of the United States has indeed kept moving further and further west (and a little south). Yet, even with the loss of seats from Northeastern states, New York City is still the #1 global city. Additionally, this region is close to the city of Washington D.C. which seems to be doing just fine in terms of wealthy counties and communities and a growing presence among large cities. Does having less seats in Congress necessarily mean the Northeast has lost 40% of its influence in American life? How many lobbyists are located in the Northeast compared to other places? Where are the institutions of higher learning from which many politicians and other elites come from? Where are the large media organizations?

It would also be interesting to see where these Northeast house seats have been lost. Is it primarily from large cities or more from mid-sized cities and more rural areas that have had steady population losses? Is this more of a Rust Belt phenomenon that affects cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Worcester more than Boston, New York, and Philadelphia?

Differences at the Starbucks inside the CIA

Starbucks might be ubiquitous in busy American places but the location within CIA headquarters has some key differences:

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”…

The baristas go through rigorous interviews and background checks and need to be escorted by agency “minders” to leave their work area. There are no frequent-customer award cards, because officials fear the data stored on the cards could be mined by marketers and fall into the wrong hands, outing secret agents…

Because the campus is a highly secured island, few people leave for coffee, and the lines, both in the morning and mid-afternoon, can stretch down the hallway. According to agency lore, one senior official, annoyed by the amount of time employees were wasting, was known to approach someone at the back of the line and whisper, “What have you done for your country today?”…

“Coffee culture is just huge in the military, and many in the CIA come from that culture ,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence expert and curator at the International Spy Museum. “Urban myth says the CIA Starbucks is the busiest in the world, and to me that makes perfect sense. This is a population who have to be alert and spend hours poring through documents. If they miss a word, people can die.”

Starbucks may market itself as a modern “third place” but in this particular case, this is an anonymous service business. I wonder how much Starbucks had to pay to get this contract…

Sociologist on who gets to define ISIS as a terrorist group

How did ISIS come to be defined as a terrorist group? A sociologist explains:

While there are a number of militant groups in Syria that foreign governments could focus on, ISIS has three things that makes it appear as a pressing threat. First, ISIS’s sudden advances in Iraq were an unanticipated event, and consequently created a media spectacle. No one really expected the Iraqi central government or Kurdish authorities to lose control of major cities and sites so quickly. Once they did, there was a major story there. Second, and related, the group has territorial control. While ISIS had controlled territory in Syria and Iraq previously, the declaration of an Islamic State in late June creates a clear target. There is little evidence that the Islamic State intends to directly attack outside of Iraq and Syria, but territorial control signals capability and threat, in the same way that aviation attacks do, as Miner and I argued in our study. Finally, ISIS engages in classically “terrorist” behavior—beheadings of captives and attacks on civilian populations. In essence, it’s the combination of sudden success, territorial control, and markers of terrorism that bring attention to the Islamic State.

None of these are sufficient explanations by themselves…

Even before the video-taped beheadings, the attacks on Yezidis and other religious minorities seemed to signify international terrorism to the American public. There’s a seemingly odd confusion here in public opinion. While the Taliban in Afghanistan never carried out international terrorism, they were the target of the American response to September 11th just as much as Al-Qaeda was. Similarly, in Iraq, various militant groups were seen as international terrorists even without action beyond the context of the Iraqi Insurgency. Americans have thus learned to think of any militant Islamic group as terrorists; all the group needs to do is reveal its Islamicness. Attacks on religious minorities certainly do that. In this environment, beheading hostages is just another marker, especially as it echoes the acts of previously militants defined as terrorists—Al Qaeda’s beheading of Daniel Pearl in 2002 or the frequent beheadings of captives by Al Qaeda in Iraq during the Insurgency…

ISIS really demonstrates the large amount of variation there is among “terrorist” groups. There are lots of different ideologies, lots of different goals, and lots of different types of groups among militants. While policymakers and the public tend to view certain forms, such as transnational networks of Islamists, as threatening, organizational forms might be best seen as different ways of solving resource dilemmas and meeting goals.

While there are a number of militant groups in Syria that foreign governments could focus on, ISIS has three things that makes it appear as a pressing threat. First, ISIS’s sudden advances in Iraq were an unanticipated event, and consequently created a media spectacle. No one really expected the Iraqi central government or Kurdish authorities to lose control of major cities and sites so quickly. Once they did, there was a major story there. Second, and related, the group has territorial control. While ISIS had controlled territory in Syria and Iraq previously, the declaration of an Islamic State in late June creates a clear target. There is little evidence that the Islamic State intends to directly attack outside of Iraq and Syria, but territorial control signals capability and threat, in the same way that aviation attacks do, as Miner and I argued in our study. Finally, ISIS engages in classically “terrorist” behavior—beheadings of captives and attacks on civilian populations. In essence, it’s the combination of sudden success, territorial control, and markers of terrorism that bring attention to the Islamic State.

None of these are sufficient explanations by themselves.

- See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/09/decides-isis-terrorist-group/#sthash.5V5lFlam.dpuf

While there are a number of militant groups in Syria that foreign governments could focus on, ISIS has three things that makes it appear as a pressing threat. First, ISIS’s sudden advances in Iraq were an unanticipated event, and consequently created a media spectacle. No one really expected the Iraqi central government or Kurdish authorities to lose control of major cities and sites so quickly. Once they did, there was a major story there. Second, and related, the group has territorial control. While ISIS had controlled territory in Syria and Iraq previously, the declaration of an Islamic State in late June creates a clear target. There is little evidence that the Islamic State intends to directly attack outside of Iraq and Syria, but territorial control signals capability and threat, in the same way that aviation attacks do, as Miner and I argued in our study. Finally, ISIS engages in classically “terrorist” behavior—beheadings of captives and attacks on civilian populations. In essence, it’s the combination of sudden success, territorial control, and markers of terrorism that bring attention to the Islamic State.

None of these are sufficient explanations by themselves.

- See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/09/decides-isis-terrorist-group/#sthash.5V5lFlam.dpuf

Appears to be a combination of militant Islam and specific actions like drawing attention through victories, controlling territory, and beheadings. But, it still has to be defined as terrorism – these traits on their own don’t automatically confer such a status unless other states and actors do so. When it is the United States or other powerful bodies doing the deciding, a matter of definitions can matter quite a bit.

One implication here is that switching up a few things such as changing the specific place (the Middle East already draws extra attention given recent years) or the religious background of the group or actions receiving less media attention might lead to a very different definition of the group.

Daily water allocation next in dry California?

Groups in California are considering daily water allocations per household to help conserve water in the current drought:

The latter represents the amount of water you are allowed to use per day. If you don’t know it, you probably should. Not knowing could cost you money. As California’s severe drought moves into a fourth year, state and local water agencies are working on something called “allocation-based rate structures,” a kind of precursor to water rationing that’s all the rage in Sacramento and in some areas such as Santa Cruz, Irvine and Santa Monica.

Here’s how it works: Your local water company, special district or city assigns you and your household a number in gallons — a daily water allocation. Usually, one number applies to maximum indoor water use, i.e. showers, kitchen and bathroom faucets, dishwashers, clothes washers, etc., and an extra allocation is assigned for outdoor use such as lawn irrigation.

Using census records, aerial photography and satellite imagery, an agency can determine a property’s efficient water usage.

At the Irvine Ranch Water District, number of residents, amount of landscaping and even medical needs are factored into a household’s water allocation or water budget.

It will be interesting to see how this is received and how much arguing there might be about the calculations. As the article goes on to note, one popular method is to start charging really high rates for people who exceed their water levels, which in some places are already set at about 60 gallons per person.

A beer pipeline to help relieve congestion in Bruges

The city council of Bruges has approved a beer pipeline that will cut down truck traffic from a brewery shipping beer to the city center:

In the years since the De Halve Maan brewery opened a bottling facility outside Bruges in 2010, the company’s faced a tricky logistics problem. It still brews beer at its original site downtown, just as it has for nearly five centuries. To get all that delicious beer to the new factory for filtration, bottling, and shipping, it uses trucks. Trucks that burn fuel, spew carbon and clog the city’s cobblestone streets (which surely froths all that beer).

No more. The city council has approved the brewery’s unusual but clever plan to save time and money while reducing emissions and congestion. It will build a pipeline to ferry the good stuff across town, underground. Yes, you read that right: A beer pipeline.

Instead of making the 3-mile drive in one of dozens of tankers that traverse town each day, the award-winning beer will flow through a 1.8-mile polyethylene pipeline, making the trip in 15 to 20 minutes. The pipeline will move 6,000 liters of beer every hour, De Halve Man CEO Xavier Vanneste told Het Nieuwsblad.

As CityLab points out, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company uses underground tubes to move beer between its brewery and its pub, across the street. But this is a longer journey, one with real environmental consequences, and the Belgian pipeline surely will have a bigger impact in terms of reducing traffic and carbon emissions. “In time, this innovative investment plan would reduce the amount of transport by heavy goods vehicles by 85 percent,” says Franky Dumon, the alderman for spatial planning who approved the project on behalf of the city council. “It is a win-win situation for everyone.”

A fascinating solution. Indeed, I expect there will be a lot of efforts in the years ahead to try to limit congestion through all sorts of means like piplines or drones or new means that haven’t yet been tried. And I imagine such an unusual feature could be used to attract tourists. Perhaps the pipeline could have an ongoing “leak” where people could get a small amount for a fee?

This idea makes me think of The Simpsons episode from eighth season titled “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.” Operating as the Beer Baron, Homer has a Rube Goldberg-esque pipeline that connects the alcohol production facility to the bowling alley where the illicit booze is delivered in bowling balls. I’m sure the pipeline in Bruges will be more efficient and has the benefit of the blessing of the local government.

Changing worker’s commutes from driving to mass transit can be hard

A new study looks at how the World Wildlife Fund successfully pushed workers to switch to mass transit when they moved their offices:

Last fall, the World Wildlife Fund moved its U.K. headquarters from Godalming to Woking. One of the main reasons given for the move was the desire for a more sustainable work environment. To that end, the company encouraged employees to trade their car commute for the train; Woking had much better rail connection anyway, and for six months after the move WWF-UK paid the fare difference for workers whose rail costs rose or who switched from driving…

In a word, the decline in car commuting, and related rise in train use, was remarkable. The share of employees driving to work fell from 55 percent, when the office had been in Godalming, to roughly 23 percent a week after the move to Woking (and 29 percent a month later). The share using the train, meanwhile, did just the reverse: rising from 18.5 percent before to 56 percent after the move. The use of other modes, including cycling, walking, car-share, and bus, remained pretty steady, all under 10 percent…

In simple terms, that finding merely echoes what we all know: old habits die hard. But in terms of encouraging new commute behavior, it’s a critical insight, because it establishes a timeline for intervention. If a commuter mode-shift program isn’t sustained for long enough, there’s a real possibility of relapse, since the old habits tend to linger even after the new one starts to form, and since the new one doesn’t reach the power of the old even after a month…

Some might consider WWF-UK a best-case commute-shift scenario. These are environmentally conscious workers, after all, and the new transit option was much more appealing (the train station at Woking was a 7-minute walk from the office, compared with 25 minutes at Godalming). Then again, driving wasn’t exactly a huge hassle here: the new office sits right on top of a parking lot, and WWF-UK subsidized employee parking for six months after the move.

An interesting question to consider. It sounds like the study primarily puts this in terms of the habits and patterns of the employees but making the switch to mass transit may not be so simple. For example, employees might initially choose where to live based on the mode of their commuting. If the company suddenly moves, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone can now take the train.

How much does it matter that this relocation primarily took place in a suburban context? It is one thing if a company moved from Westerminister to the City in London proper. Here, the move was more on the periphery of the metropolitan area as Woking is 23 miles out. Certain companies might attract more urban employees, perhaps younger couples or those interested in certain political or social causes, making a move to an area with more mass transit more attractive.

In the end, how much does this one case tell us about larger commuting habits that are hard to break?

Aurora fire illustrates need for redundancy in key infrastructure systems

A fire at an Aurora FAA facility caused all sorts of airport problems in Chicago and across the country:

The FAA said it’s working “closely with the airlines that serve the Chicago-area airports to minimize disruptions for travelers” and expects to “continue to increase the traffic flow at those two airports over the weekend.” FAA officials did not respond Saturday to requests for more information.At least 778 flights had been canceled Saturday out of both airports by just before 3 p.m., according to Flightstats, a website that monitors air traffic.

O’Hare was able to operate at around 60 percent of its usual Saturday capacity, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Because of the fire at the Aurora facility, O’Hare’s control tower can’t receive or send to other control centers the airlines’ automated flight plans, so airlines are having to fax them to O’Hare. That’s requiring two controllers to staff every position at the main O’Hare tower, and had to close the auxiliary north tower at the airport, Church said.

While this is certainly an unusual accident, it illustrates the fragility of some of our key infrastructure: the behind-the-scenes equipment and people that keep airplanes flying and airports operating. As many have noted, flying has become quite hum-drum in the United States in recent decades and this is partly due to the general efficiency of this system. No one likes delays or lost luggage or maintenance problems but it is still pretty remarkable the number of flights in the air on a daily basis and the relative ease of traveling across long distances.

What we need are some redundancies in these key systems in case something does go wrong. As the article notes, the whole system isn’t shut down because flight plans can be sent by fax. But, there isn’t a quicker way – like digital photos or digital scans – to do this? Can’t this be done with one person? But, building redundant systems might often cost significant money upfront, a luxury many systems don’t have. At the least, this incident in Aurora should lead to some rethinking of what can be done better in the future if a key facility breaks down.

McMansions are not necessarily in gated communities

One writer suggests both McMansions and gated communities are alive and well in the United States:

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the real estate market saw an explosion of “McMansions” and sprawling estates across the nation. The economic downturn toward the end of the decade brought the country back to earth and shifted the trend in new housing from giant luxury homes back to moderately sized residences.

While many have claimed that the McMansion boom is over, others beg to differ…

While the tiny house trend has been intriguing to observe, it’s not terribly indicative of where the country is headed in general. For every house that’s being built on wheels, at least one other is moving into a luxurious gated community.

To be honest, experts who voiced a death sentence on McMansions, estates, and gated communities probably spoke too soon.

This piece seems to suggest that homes in luxurious gated communities are necessarily McMansions. However, I’ve never seen evidence that would suggest this is the case. There is little doubt that these two trends were occurring around the same time with gated communities picking up steam in the 1970s and 1980s and the term McMansions arriving by the late 1990s even if the homes started growing in number in the 1980s. But, not all gated communities necessarily include large houses. From what I can recall from the 1997 book Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States, gated communities can often include middle-class or more average homes as can even be in urban neighborhoods with smaller homes. Gates may project the image of exclusivity but this can be relative or as Blakely and Snyder point out in the book, the gates are often just ornamental rather than serving as real barriers.

At the same time, it would be interesting to look at some data on this. Yet, it is relatively hard from survey data to define a McMansion beyond basic features like square footage and number of rooms.

Anthropologists used to convince Americans to eat organ meats during WWII

Need to get Americans to eat organ meats so beef can be sent to soldiers during World War II? Bring in anthropologists:

To head the committee, the NRC recruited anthropologist Margaret Mead, along with German-born psychologist Kurt Lewin (considered to be one of the founders of social psychology). At the top of their agenda: addressing the looming meat shortage. More specifically, they needed to devise a way to convince Americans to abandon their steaks, pork chops, and other familiar cuts in favor of the meats that the soldiers wouldn’t eat—the hearts, livers, and other organs that remained plentiful stateside.

The committee members had their work cut out for them. Organ meats at the time were largely shunned by all but the poorest Americans, considered a marker of low social status or a rural, unsophisticated upbringing—and of all the social taboos, those related to food are among the most difficult to dispel, said Barrett Brenton, a nutritional anthropologist at St. John’s University…

One of the major reasons, they soon found through their research, was organs’ unfamiliarity—people balked at the idea of serving something without knowing its taste or even how best to prepare it. In response, the committee urged the government to produce materials that couched the new meats in more comfortable terms…

And thus, “variety meats” were born. Butchers, who already sold organ meats for fewer ration points than premium cuts, were encouraged to adopt the new term with their customers; so were reporters with their readers…

The effect, though, lasted barely longer than the war itself.

Not quite the glamor of Indiana Jones but still fighting the Nazis by replacing beef with lesser cuts of meat. This also hints of American’s long interest in beef, not just an invention of fast food or post-World War II prosperity.

Would leading anthropologists be willing to join such a war cause today?

 

Selection bias with Derek Jeter’s fielding: bad stats, memorable moments

As Derek Jeter’s career winds down, one baseball pundit wrestles with how Jeter’s defense numbers are so bad even as we remember some of his great fielding moments:

Data-mindful observers couldn’t figure out why the decorated Yankee kept winning those Gold Gloves and garnering raves for his defense. Stats such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved didn’t merely suggest that Jeter was overrated; they pegged him as downright terrible. Even the best glovemen lose range as they age, which means Jeter actually hurt himself by playing past his 40th birthday and seeing his career defensive totals dip as a result, but the figures are unnerving regardless. Based on Baseball-Reference’s Runs From Fielding, which is based on DRS, Jeter’s combination of subpar defense and exceptional longevity don’t merely make him a defensive liability; they make him the worst defensive player relative to others at his position in baseball history.

That ranking is incredibly hard to fathom because of a very human weakness: selection bias. People remember a few extraordinary events, then ignore or even repress the information that might contradict that initial impression. With Jeter in particular, it’s nearly impossible to make the visceral reactions agree with the data, because Jeter has pulled off some of the most incredible defensive plays we’ve ever seen.

How to put this all together?

So really, it’s OK to agree in part with both sides of the argument. Even if we acknowledge the flaws of advanced defensive stats that aren’t yet based on play-by-play data or dispute the claim that Jeter was the worst ever, we can comfortably say he was overrated defensively by many people for many years, and cost the Yankees their share of outs. But we can also say that every huge-leverage play like The Flip negated a handful of squibbers through the infield during random April games in Cleveland, even if they left him as a net-negative defender on the leaderboards. Jeter might not have deserved five Gold Gloves, but he does deserve credit for crafting memorable plays that can’t simply be chalked up to coincidence or luck.

In other words, memorable plays that lead to key victories can go a long way to wiping out more objective data over a longer period of time. Of course, this is true across a broad range of contexts beyond baseball; showing unusual urban crimes and police responses as “normal” could have a similar effect on television viewers. In the long run, perceptions may have less of a shelf life as people who witnessed those events – like “The Flip” – stop remembering them or die and the data lives on.