Recent Articles

What’s Old in St. Louis?

| March 25, 2015 | Reply

I own an old house in the Shaw Neighborhood of the City of St. Louis, a gorgeous historic neighborhood. The houses are works of art–unique works of stone and brick. My house is especially old, built in 1894. A few days ago, I wondered what is was like to live in Shaw at about the time my house was first built. I posted my thought on a neighborhood list, and received more than a few suggestions. One of those included this link to a page that shows when every house in the St. Louis area was built. Using this page, I can see that when my house was built it was surrounded by large tracts of undeveloped land.

Other people suggested I take a look at drawings by Dry and Compton. I hadn’t heard of this work before, but it was exactly what I was looking for. In 1875, a company called Dry and Compton sent balloonists sailing into the sky with map experts who somehow divided the city into a big grid and then made precise comprehensive drawings of each of section of this grid. The individual drawings can be found in a large old book. I went to the Mercantile Library (at the University of Missouri) last night to take photos of some of the drawings, focusing on my own neighborhood. I then created the attached composite photos of the Shaw Neighborhood, as best I could given that the grids don’t fit together perfectly. The resulting collection of images gave me a very good idea of what the Shaw neighborhood looked like in 1875.

Dry and Compton - Shaw neighborhood extra lo res

For those familiar with the area, the above image focuses on the Shaw Neighborhood itself, with Tower Grove Park located at the bottom right of the image. To get one’s bearings, note the location of the Compton Heights Reservoir along Grand (with the Water Tower, which would not be built until 1898.

The image below focuses on Tower Grove Park and the area to the south of the park. I love that these resources are available to enable this trip through time. Click on either of these images for much greater detail.

TGP area - Dry and Compton - extra lo res

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What’s new on Catholic radio

| March 25, 2015 | Reply

Not much is new on Catholic radio.

Here in St. Louis, we have a Catholic radio station. Sometimes I listen to try to understand how Catholics think (I was raised Catholic). Yesterday, a woman called in and reported that her parish priest was serving up grape juice instead of wine to the 7-year old children who were about to receive their First Communion. She was upset because it isn’t proper to drink grape juice. Ten minute conversation ensued, with the radio hosts urging her to confront her priest, and then report this to his superiors if he didn’t change his ways.

I was thinking, “What would Jesus do?” (assuming that there were a divine Jesus). I couldn’t imagine any person with any heart sending a child to hell because she drank grape juice instead of wine.

Next caller wanted a clarification about the doctrine of papal infallibility. Another 10 minute discussion–it left me completely bewildered. Metaphors heaped onto metaphors, framed with utter vagueness. It reminded me of Daniel Dennett’s characterization of theology as “tennis without a net.”

Today, a caller wanted to know why priests couldn’t get married. The expert answer: Ao that they could focus on the important work they do. The voice in my head then said, “That’s why all the CEOs of all the big corporations are celibate and unmarried (as well as all professional athletes, entertainers, politicians, doctors and computer programmers).

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Falling through the center of the earth

| March 24, 2015 | Reply

Fascinating thought experiment now has a more precise answer:

Suppose you dug a tunnel through the center of Earth, jumped in, and let gravity pull you through. How long would it take you to reach the other side of the planet? For decades, physics students have been asked to calculate that time and have been taught that the correct answer is 42 minutes. Now, a more realistic analysis has lopped 4 minutes off that estimate.

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No way out for Democracy?

| March 23, 2015 | Reply

Robert Kuttler is pessimistic about meaningful democracy in the U.S., as I am. In his article, “Why the 99% keeps losing, he gives the following reasons:

  • Reason One. The Discrediting of Politics Itself.
  • Reason Two. Compromised Democrats.
  • Reason Three. The Reign of Politicized Courts and Big Money.
  • Reason Four. The Collapse of Equalizing Institutions.
  • Reason Five. Bewildering Changes in How Jobs Are Structured.
  • Reason Six. The Internalization of a Generation’s Plight.
  • Reason Seven. The Absence of a Movement.

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Eric Barker tethers happiness and better use of attention

| March 22, 2015 | Reply

How do happy people stay happy? Eric Barker reports on an important technique: By deploying attention in more effective ways.

Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention… So changing behavior and enhancing happiness is as much about withdrawing attention from the negative as it is about attending to the positive.

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Lee Camp comments on the way the U.S. fails to support college education

| March 22, 2015 | 1 Reply

Lee Camp comments on the way the U.S. fails to support college education. Spot on. Then he skewer Obama by reference to 1994 Cheney. Excellent.

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On coming out as an atheist

| March 20, 2015 | Reply

Wendy Thomas Russell came out as an atheist flu years ago and has found it to be a positive experience. “I can candidly say that, for me personally, being “out” has been one of the most surprisingly gratifying choices I’ve ever made.” Here are her four main reasons:

1. It turns out I really enjoy shattering people’s assumptions.
2. I like religious people more now.
3. I’m setting a great example for my child.
4. I’m opening the door for others.

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War on Drugs: An economic analysis

| March 19, 2015 | Reply

The War on Drugs is terrible for taxpayers and users, because it treats a medical problem as though it were a criminal problem, filling our expensive prisons with millions of non-violent persons, and making violent persons out of non-violent persons. Yet we carry on with this “war.” This article by Benjamin Powell focuses on an economic analysis of the “War,” discussing the many other counterproductive aspects of the war. Here is an excerpt:

Prohibition also creates more problems for non-users. Because it increases the cost for addicts to support their habit, many resort to stealing in order to get their needed high. In a study of the U.S. drug war on Latin America, economist David R. Henderson estimated that if the same mark-ups applied to cocaine as to coffee, which would be roughly accurate with cocaine legalization, then cocaine’s price in the United States would fall by about 97%.[12] If cocaine and other narcotics lost the price premium caused by the drug war, few, if any, addicts would need to resort to crime to afford their habit.

On the supply side of the market, the drug business is violent precisely because it is illegal. Illegal businesses can’t settle disputes in court, so they do so through violence. If drugs were legalized, drug suppliers could settle disputes by turning to courts and arbitrators. One reason that large dealer networks and organized crime outcompete smaller dealers is that they can partially provide their own internal dispute resolution.

When alcohol was prohibited in the early twentieth century, violent criminal gangs catered to the nation’s thirst for alcohol. When Prohibition ended, normal businesses returned to the market and violence subsided.

Economist Jeffery Miron found that both alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition enforcement efforts have increased the homicide rate in the United States. He estimates that the homicide rate is 25-75 percent higher due to prohibition.[13] In short, the violence associated with drugs, both by users to support their habit and by gangs supplying the drugs, is a product of prohibition rather than a rationale for prohibition.

These costs, taken together with the above supply and demand analysis, indicate that the very concerns that animate drug prohibitionists—the harm to users and the violence in society—should cause them to oppose drug prohibition.

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The power of hugs.

| March 18, 2015 | Reply

As reported in Scientific American:

“New research out of Carnegie Mellon indicates that feeling connected to others, especially through physical touch, protects us from stress-induced sickness. This research adds to a large amount of evidence for the positive influence of social support on health.”

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