All The Books I Read In 2022


Some notes and quotes from the books I have read this year:

  • Building the Cycling City - A few things that stuck out to me:

    • The Netherlands wasn’t always so cycling friendly and it took decades to get to this place.
    • There is no blueprint. Every city is different, but in general prioritizing walking, cycling, public transit and driving, in that order, starts you in the right direction. There also needs to be synergy between modes (ie cycling to the train station, taking the train then cycling to your destination needs to be a smooth process)
    • So many of the projects that helped change things were not popular until after they were implemented. Businesses always think replacing things like street parking with bike lanes will hurt their business, but they often end up helping.
  • New Dark Age

    • “Computation does not merely govern our actions in the present, but constructs a future that best fits its parameters. That which is possible becomes that which is computable. That which is hard to quantify and difficult to model, that which has not been seen before or which does not map onto established patterns, that which is uncertain or ambiguous, is excluded from the field of possible futures. Computation projects a future that is like the past - which makes it, in turn, incapable of dealing with the reality of the present, which is never stable.”
    • “Historically, the process of discovering new medicines was the domain of small teams of researchers intensively focused on small groups of molecules. When an interesting compound was identified in natural materials, from libraries of synthesized chemicals, or by serendipitous discovery, its active ingredient would be isolated ans screened against biological cells or organisms to evaluate its therapeutic effect. In the last twenty years, this process has widely been automated, culminating in a technique known as high-throughput screening, or HTS. HTS is the industrialisation of drug discovery; a wide-spectrum, automated search for potential reactions within huge libraries of compounds.” This is believed to be the most significant reason the per-dollar rate at which new drugs are discovered is slowing down.
    • “Or perhaps the flash crash in reality looks like everything we are experiencing right now: rising economic inequality, the breakdown of the nation-state and the militarization of borders, totalising global surveillance and the curtailment of individual freedoms, the triumph of transnational corporations and neurocognitive capitalism, the rise of far-right groups and nativist ideologies, and the utter degradation of the natural environment. None of these are the direct result of novel technologies, but all of them are the product of a general inability to perceive the wider, networked effects of individual and corporate actions accelerated by opaque, technologically augmented complexity.”
    • “Technical possibility breeds political necessity, because no politician wants to be accused of not doing enough in the aftermath of some atrocity or expose. Surveillance is done because it can be done, not because it is effective; and, like other implementations of automation, because it shifts the burden of responsibility and blame onto the machine. Collect it all, and let the machines sort it out.”
    • “The problem of the smoking gun besets every strategy that depends on revelation to move opinion. Just as the activities of the intelligence agencies could have been inferred long before the Snowden revelations by multiple reports over decades, so other atrocities are ignored until some particular index of documentary truthfulness is attained. In 2005, Caroline Elkins published a thorough account of British atrocities in Kenya, be her work was widely criticised for its reliance on oral history and eyewitness accounts. It was only when the British government itself released documents that confirmed these accounts that they were accepted, becoming part of an acknowledged history. The testimony of those who suffered was ignored until it conformed to the account offered by their oppressors - a form of evidence that, as we have seen, will never be available for a multitude of other crimes. In the same manner, the cult of the whistle-blower depends upon the changing conscience of those already working for the intelligence services; those outside such organisations are left without agency, waiting helplessly for some unknown servant of the government to deign to publish what they know. THis is fundamentally insufficient basis for moral actions.”
    • “Fake news is not a product of the internet. Rather, it is the manipulation of new technologies by the same interests that have always sought to manipulate information to their own needs. It is the democratisation of propaganda, in that ever more actors can now play the role of the propagandist.”
    • “What is common to the Brexit campaign, the US election, and the disturbing depths of YouTube is that despite multiple suspicions, it is ultimately impossible to tell what is doing what, or what their motives and intentions are. Watching endlessly streaming videos, scrolling through walls of status updates and tweets, it’s futile to attempt to discern between what’s algorithmically generated nonsense or carefully crafted fake news for generating ad dollars; what’s paranoid fiction, state action, propaganda, or spam; what’s deliberate misinformation or well-meaning fact check.”
    • “Information and violence are utterly and inextricably linked, and the weaponisation of information is accelerated by technologies that purport to assert control over the world. The historical association between military, government, and corporate interests on the one hand, and the development of new technologies on the other makes this clear.”
    • “Our thirst for data, like our thirst for oil, is historically imperialist and colonialist, and tightly tied to capitalist networks of exploitation.”
    • “Data-driven regimes repeat the racist, sexist, and oppressive policies of their antecedents because these biases and attitudes have been encoded into them at the root.”
    • “In the present, the extraction, refinement, and use of data/oil pollutes the ground and air. It spills. It leaches into everything. It gets into the ground water of our social relationships and it poisons them. It enforces computational thinking upon us, driving the deep divisions in society caused by misbegotten classification, fundamentalism and populism, and accelerating inequality. It sustains and nourishes uneven power relationships: in most of our interactions with power, data is not something that is freely given but forcibly extracted - or impelled in moments of panic, like a stressed cuttlefish attempting to cloak itself from a predator.”
    • “Information more closely resembles atomic power than oil: an effectively unlimited resource that still contains immense destructive power, and that is even more explicitly connected than petroleum to histories of violence.”
    • The new dark age: “a place where the future is radically uncertain and the past irrevocably contested, but where we are still capable of speaking directly to what is in front of us, thinking clearly and acting with justice.”
    • “Ultimately, any strategy for living in the new dark age depends upon attention to the here and now, and not to the illusory promises of computational prediction, surveillance, ideology and representation.”
  • Autonorama

    • “We may hear that people prefer to drive. But in settings that offer no good alternatives to driving, we can’t say what people prefer.”
    • “In the 1930s, motordom learned to depict an unachievable future utopia that is forever just over the next horizon, apparently always close enough to attract extravagant private and public investment, but somehow never actually achieved. The purpose, as some of the motordom’s leaders explained to one another, was not to satisfy personal transportation demands but to serve them while keeping them strategically unsatisfied, to stimulate consumption. … To divert audiences from realistic transport sufficiency, promoters of car-dependent technofuturistic utopias promise instead unrealistic transport solutions up to and including zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”
    • “These futures are not meant to be achieved. They are to be pursued, for in the pursuit lies the endless demand for vehicles, technology and pavement.”
    • “Motordom’s customers - not only the car-buying public but also the public policy makers motordom depends upon - are caught up in a perpetual consumption machine, pursuing expensive but elusive solutions in vain.”
    • “If most people could walk to a convenience store, we wouldn’t have to figure out how to get everyone access to a robotic car that would take them there. If most children had safe ways to bike to school, we wouldn’t have to design school driveways long enough to accommodate driverless car lines from dropping them off and picking them up. If most bus stops were sheltered and equipped - thanks to technology - with digital signs telling bus riders exactly when the next bus will arrive, we wouldn’t have to commit so much research effort and money to developing high-tech systems that can fit more driverless cars in a given road lane. By recognizing the promise of high-tech driving as illusory, we have our best chance of recognizing all that we can do. When we rescue innovation from the technofuturists and recover the tools they have dismissed, we will find that we can do today, at far less cost, what they have promised to deliver for unlimited dollars at and ever-receding future date.”
    • Futurama 1, circa 1940:
      • This is when the idea of keeping the consumer dissatisfied started by the car companies. “If everyone were satisfied, no one would buy the new thing.”
      • Motordom learned that in cities, where cars were blamed for congestion, driving had to be reframed as the solution instead of the problem. “In the new field of highway engineering, funded by gasoline tax revenues and guided by its promoters in motordom, vehicles' capacity for speed made them potential congestion relievers, provided highway capacity was sufficient to to permit speed. … Wherever traffic slowed vehicles down, the consequent delay was therefore grounds for building new road capacity.”
      • There were promises that highways would eliminate 98 percent of all accidents and practically all congestion.
      • The drive-everywhere, drive-only city promised that traffic problems will be a thing of the past by the 1960s. “Motorists of 1960 will loaf along at 50 - right through town.
      • Highways going through cities promised to get “people in and out of cities at moderate speeds rather than with the present intolerable delay and congestion.”
      • “Futuramas depict utopian futures of about twenty years hence: soon enough to be relevant to consumers, but sufficiently distant to avert distrust and disillusionment when reality disappointed - as it always did.” There will always be new horizons.
      • “There was irony in the appeal to ‘individual enterprise.’ Writer Walter Lippman did not miss it. ‘General Motors has spent a small fortune to convince the American public that if it wishes to enjoy the full benefit of private enterprise in motor manufacture it would have to rebuild its cities and highways by public enterprise.’ In the decades that followed, motordom embraced the paradox. Motordom would strive, through public policy, and with public money, to destroy and rebuild American surface transportation around motor vehicle travel, in ways that deprived travelers of a marketplace of competing modes, with the express intention of promoting demand for motor vehicles. All the while, motordom would propagate the notion that public policy was merely following mass preferences, and that the entire conversation was the consequence of the free market.”
    • Futurama 2, circa 1965:
      • Continued promises of expanding highways as a way to remove congestion and accidents.
      • The beginning of the idea of some form of self-driving cars with advancing electronic devices.
      • “In a 1961 ad campaign, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Traffic Safety Program urged drivers to keep driving cautiously until electronics eliminated all hazards and congestion. … Engineers would develop the safe ‘electronic highway’ and the congestion-free ‘jam-proof expressway’. Such highway technology ‘prevents accidents,’ plus ‘radar controls steer the car, setting speeds and making crashes impossible.'”
      • Lavish exhibits imagining the future were created for the World’s Fair to help promote the ideas.
      • “The drive-everywhere, drive-only city was never easy to sell - otherwise, the lavish efforts to sell it would have been unnecessary. To sell it, motordom enlisted the authority of science. In such persuasive efforts, the futuristic sales force had the advantage of frequent news reports about research achievements. … Marketing and press coverage of research reinforced the authority of experts in all fields - even in those cases in which the applications would later prove troubling.”
    • Futurama 3, circa 1990:
      • Walt Disney wanted to create an experimental city in which walking and transit were the only transportation options needed - Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow (EPCOT). “EPCOT, as Disney envisioned it, was not the opposite of futurama. Motor vehicles were to be essential to connected EPCOT to the rest of the country. But the plan was based on Disney’s conviction that successful public spaces are car-free, and that everyday mobility needs are best serviced by public transport systems.” He died before any construction began and the company only developed the theme park. Instead they build an exhibit called World of Motion that was basically a propaganda machine for General Motors.
      • GM and other cars united behind the following to ensure a commitment to car dependency: “First, the Interstate Highway System was nearing completion. As the project ended. Congress might scale back federal road funding - unless it could be convinced that a new high-tech roadwork was necessary. Second, as Gorbachev’s Soviet Union first disarmed and then dissolved, the Pentagon’s budget was expected to fall steadily. Many anticipated a ‘peace dividend’ that could support domestic priorities, and such rhetoric could prove useful for the vast new transportation projects. Third, with defense expenditures falling, military contractors were scrambling for new big-budget government customers, and they saw opportunities in high-tech road transportation. In Congress, the weapons makers had friends who were eager to help them find new markets, and they gave the effort an attractive name: defense conversion. Finally, military contractors took advantage of the Gulf War of 1990-91, not only to sell weapons but also to showcase ‘smart bombs’ and other high-tech weapons systems. Military contractors soon used these displays of digital prowess to see markets for other kinds of high-tech systems - including systems for applications in transport.”
      • Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems (IVHS) was a coalition of industry, government and universities that kept the focus on the future so people would forget the failed promises of the Interstate Highway System (decades late, billions over budget and didn’t fix congestion). They did this by making a massive new project seem cheaper than doing nothing, citing congestion delays costing 73 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.
      • “Why, then, given the apparent failure of the system to relieve congestion, should congress trust GM’s advice again? Had the system in fact exacerbate the problem it was purportedly intended to relive by directing overwhelming federal support to space-hungry cars, to the neglect of other modes? … Wouldn’t federal support for spatially efficient modes serve the purpose better?”
      • “Once transportation policy deprived most people any good choice besides driving a car, whether they could afford one or not, the recourse to driving was then routinely interpreted as a grounds to ignore everything but cars.”
      • On the initial GPS products, that were sold as a way to reduce congestion via improved routes and traffic notices: “Once drivers were on the road, however, the system’s traffic reports seldom saved drivers time, suggesting that TravTrek could do little to speed anyone’s daily commute.”
      • One of IVHS’s few successes at reducing congestion was electronic toll collection. But since the car companies didn’t like them they weren’t implemented in many places. “Though congestion pricing was IVHS’s greatest practical opportunity to relieve congestion, thirty years later, the United States still had no citywide congestion pricing.”
      • On military contractors shifting focus from the Gulf War to transportation: “From their point of view, the problem was not ‘How do we make transport safer and more efficient?’ It was ‘How do we find new customers for our expensive, high-tech systems?'” … “Much of the military stuff is technology looking for a marketplace. What they offer is not really what consumers are looking for.”
      • “At a tiny fraction of their actual cost, smart highway projects might have been limited to what they could actually deliver: some practical navigation guidance, information about current traffic via dynamic roadside messages, and especially charging drivers for the road capacity they used. Instead, because they were sold as systems that could relieve or even eliminate congestion and make roads much safer, smart highways attracted big public money, diverting resources that could have gone to the transit system that can move people safely and efficiently.”
      • “If IVHS doubles highway capacity, we have to ask, ‘What happens when all those cares reach their exits?’ But in 1993, hardly anyone asked.”
    • Futurama 4, circa 2015:
      • “Autonomous vehicles retained the same fundamental constraints they had without the expensive new systems, including high cost, high energy demands, and low spatial efficiency, but their marriage to state-of-the-art technology made them appear innovative enough to be disruptive, and thereby ade them targets of investment.”
      • “High tech was not really offering anything new; rather it was adding a futuristic veneer to the status quo.”
      • “To relieve congestion by eliminating delays to drivers no matter the cost is only to invite more driving. For those in the business of selling driving, this result was not a bug but a feature. By diminishing the time cost of travel, delay reduction also promotes dispersion of destinations, which in turn negates much of the benefit.”
      • “Automation reduces some kinds of risk while introducing others. In gauging the safety benefits of autonomy, promoters of the driverless cars routinely commit an elementary error in arithmetic: they subtract all the crash-causing deficiencies that human drivers are susceptible to, but fail to add all those that their robotic substitutes are susceptible to. Autonomous vehicles are allegedly ‘smart,’ and certainly are relative to an empty conventional car. But with a human driver of average competence at the wheel, a conventional care is still vastly smarter.”
      • “Wherever fast driving is ubiquitous, and by whatever technology the choice is enabled, other choices decline or vanish. Driving then ceases to be a choice at all; it becomes a systemic obligation. Destinations grow ever farther apart; walking, cycling, transit, and other means of mobility become ever less practical once fast driving dominates. For all its burdens on public budgets, car dependency is redefined as normal, while the carless or those who cannot drive are officially classed as unfortunates: the ‘transit dependent.’ In such places, car ownership is ‘liberating’ only because the environment is so hostile that no one can meet everyday needs without one. It is a private remedy for a state-imposed disability. Owning a car becomes an obligation whether the owner can afford it or not. It is the price of citizenship and the prerequisite for a job. Having no car may prevent employment, but buying, fueling, insuring, garaging, and maintaining a car may preclude accumulating any savings.”
      • “AVs are an attractive but expensive distraction from things we can do today at far less cost that yield affordable, sustainable, equitable, healthful, and efficient mobility. Much as elaborate but ineffectual cigarette filters were an attempt to perpetuate cigarette smoking when it was clear that smoking itself was the problem, AVs are, more than anything else, an attempt to perpetuate car dependency when car dependency itself it the problem.”
      • “Passenger vehicles that can approximate zero crashes already exist. They’re called trains.” Both are expensive but it’s not clear that AVs will ever get close to zero crashes.”
      • “In a messy real world, AVs cannot have 100 percent confidence, or even just always err on the side of caution. There can be no market for vehicles that often make unexpected sharp turns or that hard-brake every few seconds or minutes.”
      • “Though human incapacity to pay attention to nothing has been well documented for more than seventy years, promoters of automated driving systems still tend to discount it, and sometimes proceed as if it doesn’t exist.”
      • “Automated systems work best when they promote human-machine collaboration - admittedly no easy task. Too often, however, they deter it, for example, by requiring drivers to pay attention to nothing, or by inducing overconfidence.”
      • “Humans are and will remain far better at estimating other humans’ intentions.”
      • “In cities, Uber and Lyft tend to exacerbate congestion for some of the same reasons that AVs would. The necessity of parking a conventional car often compels drivers to leave it blocks from their destination, typically in a less congested area. But with an Uber, a Lyft, or an AV, passengers summon a car to a location of their choosing, and they take it to or near the door of their destinations. At busier destinations, traffic-choking drop-off and pickup lines would form.”
    • “Profit seeking induces companies to offer their customers a good product - but if a mobility company’s paying customers are data brokers and the product is data, then data collection, not mobility, comes first.”
    • “When the time spent in travel is regarded not as a total loss but a qualitative experience, walking and cycling tend to look much more like worthy modes of mobility, even if studies of transportation often neglect them.”
    • AV promoters feel that the technology isn’t the issue and that “the biggest hurdle to widespread adoption of automated vehicles are Joe and Jane Consumer.” They feel simply educating them is the solution, not improving their products that don’t work as promised.
    • “If a wrench make a poor nail drivers, the solution is not to develop a high-tech wrench, but to choose a hammer for driving nails. For urban mobility, we already have the tools we need.” Policy makers just choose not to use them, in part, because reports on urban mobility usually reflect the corporate agendas of their sponsors.
    • 55% of Americans would prefer to drive less and walk more.
    • Ciclovias in Bogota: closed major streets to cars one day per week. An inexpensive way to show people then benefits of reducing car dependency. “Business owners who associated dense motor traffic with commerce discovered new markets from people on foot and on bikes.”
    • In Stockholm in 2006, 80 percent of residents opposed congestion pricing. They implemented a 7 month trial that reduced traffic. When the trial ended traffic jams returned. A referendum happened shortly after, and a slight majority improved congestion pricing.
    • These highlight the importance of cheap, easily reversible experiments in shifting public opinion.
    • The Netherlands, where travel by car is deemphasized by policy makers, is rated by Waze the best country in the world to drive in.
    • “A complete innovation palette will include high tech, no tech and everything in between.”
    • “The critics of car dependency face daunting rhetorical obstacles. We can be caricatured as people who want to deprive others of choices. A critic of car dependency can expect to be misrepresented as an opponent of cars. A carpenter who prefers to drive nails with a hammer is not an opponent of wrenches but a person who appreciates what a wrench is for - and what it is not for. A critic of car dependency is likely to agree that there are many jobs for which a car is the right tool. Especially in cities, however, a car makes a poor all-purpose tool, as the per-person energy requirements of any car-dependent city will attest. The wasteful and destructive reconstruction necessary to retrofit an older city to car dependency is evidence of how unsuited cars are to be all-purpose transportation for everyone, everywhere. Critics of car dependency are the advocates of using the right tool for the transport job at hand.”
  • Overtime: Why We Need A Shorter Working Week

    • “Work’s ability to aid human flourishing should only be considered sufficient if it can provide the social conditions that would allow all humans to cooperate, structure their time, achieve a sense of dignity and obtain the necessary material means to live in a safe and secure environment.”
    • “Political philosopher Elizabeth Anderson draws parallels between the public governance exercised by the states and the ‘private government’ exercised by managers in firms. Using this analogy, she brings to light a number of uncomfortable truths about the extent to which we, as employees, are subject to the relatively unchecked domination of our bosses. We wouldn’t (knowingly) tolerate such undemocratic granular control of intimate aspects of our lives by the state, Anderson asks, so why should we take it for granted when it comes to our employer?”
  • Future Histories - Covers a lot of ground on the issues surrounding technology and society.

    • “What other forms of knowledge have we lost as a result of privileging specific forms or representations?”
    • “The old style of doing business - making money from proprietary software, packaging up information as a commodity to preserve its value - is slowing us down as a species.”
    • “Technology alone will never solve our problems. But political activism, informed by theory and history, can push for technological development to serve people rather than profit.”
  • Ghost Work - A detailed look from observing hundreds and surveying thousands of ghost workers who preform everything from flagging tweets to transcribing doctors’ visits. They are central to the functioning of the internet but largely invisible to most people.

    • “Billions of people consume website content, search engine queries, tweets, posts and mobile-app-enabled services every day. They assume that their purchases are made possible by the magic of technology alone. But, in reality, they are being served by an international staff, quietly laboring in the background. These jobs, dominated by freelance and contingent work arrangements rather than full-time or even hourly wage positions, have no established, legal status.”
    • The paradox of automation’s last mile: “As machines progress, they solve problems that previously only humans could solve. But with each solution a new problem — or opportunity for machine learning — presents itself.”
    • “Ghost work markets do not make the transaction costs associated with getting work done evaporate. Instead they shift those costs to the on-demand workers and requesters. While software can be fixed, the bigger issue is a system that turns a blind eye to workers when things break down.”
    • “First, requesters come to on-demand platforms to find and source workers. They take the time and effort to vet them, and those who pass are given a task. After the task is completed, those workers who performed well are added to the hiring firm’s internal database of trusted workers. Then, when it comes time to hire another on-demand worker, firms start by looking in their trusted pool.” Saves them money, and improves onboarding.
    • “In reality, flexibility is a myth.” Workers have to spend so much time scanning new postings because the good ones get snatched up quickly.
    • “According to a national survey we conducted in partnership with Pew Research, 30 percent of on-demand gig workers reported not getting paid for work they performed. Workers can lose their job and wages, with no explanation and no opportunity to appeal the cancellation of their account.”
    • “Platform designers are leaving this enormous potential untapped by not building any infrastructure for workers to collaborate. Platforms like MTruk even discourage collaboration.”
  • Money for Nothing - The lead up and fall out of South Sea Bubble of 1720.

  • System Error:Where Big Tech Went Wrong And How We Can Reboot - A little more both sidesy than the title suggests.

  • [23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism][https://www.academia.edu/20089247/23_Things_They_Dont_Tell_You_about_Capitalism]

  • Arriving Today

  • Empire of Pain

  • The Code

  • Evil Geniuses - A good history on how the super-rich and big businesses became so powerful at the expense of everyone else, starting in the 1970s, and really taking shape in the 1980s.

    • “Once a large majority of Americans came to believe that the federal government was uninspiring or incompetent or corrupt or evil, as they rapidly had over the previous decade, it was going to be a lot easier for the economic right to persuade people that regulating big business and taxing the rich were just plain wrong. Those people wouldn’t necessarily become crusaders for free enterprise, but if they started focusing more of the resentment and anger on the federal government, the smart right-wingers knew, it could have the same effect.”
    • Idea behind Law and Economics, which originated out of the Chicago school - “that a main point of the low, not only of antitrust, is to maximize economic efficiency… So if you happen to think it’s a good idea for judicial decisions to also consider fairness or moral justice, or other values or versions of social happiness that can’t be reduced to simple metrics of efficiency, Law and Economics says you’re a fool.” Hides political ideas behind equations and other math to give it the ideal of impartiality.
    • “From 1980 on, Law and Economics arguments powered both the subversion of antitrust enforcement and the new mania for deregulation. It also, for instance, provided the rationales for legal and regulatory changes that were particularly sweet for the telecommunication and financial industries, and for corporate defenses of female pay gaps as being justified by economic efficiency. Law and Economics has shaped other policy as well - it even presumes to reduce marriage and child custody and civil liberties cases to simple equations of economic efficiency - but its primary and profound impact had been to fortify the power of big business to do as it pleases.”
    • Paying executives in stock kills innovation and places more value on short-term gains. “in a survey in the 200s of four hundred financial officers of public companies, as many as 78 percent of them actually admitted they would cancel projects and forgo investment that they knew would have important long-term economic benefits for their companies rather than risk disappointing Wall Street’s every-ninety-days earnings expectations. Another giant irony: precisely the kind of perverse, enterprise-damaging management behavior was what the professor-godfathers of shareholder supremacy in 1976 had warned that purely salaried managers were doing.”
    • “It’s ironic that one of the rationales for America’s 1980s makeover was to revive the heroic American tradition of risk-taking given that so much of the story has turned out to be about reckless financiers insulating themselves from risk by shifting it to customers and, though the government, to taxpayers.”
    • Increasing job insecurity has resulted in a loss of power of the workers. “employees of the biggest corporations, whose jobs everyone had considered the most secure, were now too frightened of being jettisoned from those jobs to push hard for more pay or better working conditions.”
    • “Democrats as well as Republicans, began using the phrase ‘socially liberal but fiscally conservative’ to describe their politics, which meant low taxes in return for tolerance of … whatever, as long as it didn’t cost affluent people anything.”
    • “The old Republican goal of budgetary prudence, trying to balance federal revenues and spending, became a vestigial. Fiscal responsibility rhetorically pops back to life for Republicans only when they’re out of power in Washington, and only as an argument for achieving their secondary goals of reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits and preventing any major expansion of health or education or other social programs.”
    • “The economic right was shrewd enough to understand that the issues they didn’t care much about - abortion, gay rights, creationism - did matter to liberals, and that those culture wars drew off political energy from the left that might otherwise have fueled complaints and demands about the reconstructed political economy.”
    • “And for the last forty years, the story of the tax code has been the same back and forth and back again, Republicans radically lowering rates on business and the rich, then Democrats nudging them back up, not mainly to expand social programs or redistribute wealth but to reduce budget deficits.”
    • “Mistrust of government is an effect of conservative politics as much as it is a cause.”
  • There Are No Accidents

    • “The cost of accidents can be counted in taxes paid and wages lost. And because American taxpayers, rather than corporations, carry most of these costs, letting accidents happen is perfectly profitable for corporate America, even when those accidents happen in unsafe American cars or in uninspected American workplaces.”
    • Bad Apple Theory - a few bad apples cause the accidents. New View - if people are making mistakes and getting hurt, it indicates conditions are unsafe “For subscribers of the Bad Apple Theory, the purpose of investigating an accident is to assign blame to whoever made a mistake. Once whoever is in charge assigns blame and hands out punishment, they can consider the accident solved. For subscribers of the New View, the purpose of investigating an accident is to identify the dangerous conditions that caused people to get hurt when someone made a mistake. Once the dangerous conditions are identified, they can be changed - to prevent the accident from occurring again or to reduce the likelihood of death or injury when another person inevitably makes the same mistake.”
    • “Automakers and sellers, car parts manufacturers, and oil companies fought against restrictions dictating how cars we built, redirecting car-related ire towards the way people walked or drove. With concerted campaigns about a few bad apples, these interest groups shifted a conversation about the shocking impact of powerful cars on pedestrian-dense city streets into a conversation about crazy drivers and pedestrians who just don’t walk right.”
    • “While some of the financial benefactors of car sales pushed municipalities to pass local traffic ordinances restricting pedestrians' access to the street, the American Automobile Association in particular focused on education, launching and funding a national traffic safety campaign in schools. Street crossing lessons became part of the curriculum, and those lessons reinforced the idea that now cars go first and pedestrians wait. Inherent in this education was the message that if the person did not wait and a driver killed them in the street, their death was caused not by the car’s speed but by jaywalking - the pedestrian’s error. The goal was to teach the next generation that the roads are for automobiles, not people. And since cars were new, and pedestrians had long rules city streets, someone had to invent the idea that a person could walk improperly - the auto lobby did just that.”
    • On the idea that the distracted pedestrian being at the cause of many crashes (Car companies even tried to the the term petextrian to take off for people who text while walking) “So appealing was this idea that a survey of transportation officials in 2018 and 2019 found that a third believed that distracted walking was a serious safety issue. Those road planners and engineers estimated that 40 percent of the pedestrians killed died because of distracted walking. (In reality, it is estimated to be the cause of 0.2 percent of pedestrian fatalities.) The same wrongheadedness drove legislators in New York City to pass a law to force the city’s department of transportation to study the depth of the distracted pedestrian problem. The agency abided by the law and conducted a study. They found no evidence of any such problem.”
    • “If the only job of executives is to maximize profits, then without a countervailing force to keep workers safe, accidents happen. This tension between safety and production defines the industrial workplace, where the pressure and desire to make money manifests in accidents.”
    • It is estimated that technologies such as emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, alcohol sensor interlocks and lane control would save 17000 lives a year in the US if every car had them. “These technologies are not mandated of automakers by regulation but are offered to the wealthy at a cost - so, if you can afford it, you can pay more to change the dangerous conditions inside your car and thus survive an accident. Otherwise you might die because you did not hit the brakes in time, in which case, the story of your accidental death will be that you should not have been driving like such a nut.”
    • “The is significant evidence that the vast majority of people tend to see their own accidents as a product of the environment they were in at the time, and other people’s accidents as a problem of human error and personal responsibility, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.”
    • “By the end of 1953, DeHaven had compiled a list of the most dangerous parts in any automobile. The killers were pointed knobs, dashboards without padding, steering columns that could not collapse on impact - and the lack of seat belts to prevent people from smashing into all of that. His list was proof that accidents were in our control, regardless of the nut behind the wheel. All that matters was how the automakers built the car.”
    • “The accident-prone worker is a myth and the nut behind the wheel a clever distraction from the true cause of accidental death and injury - and we miss a wealth of information that could prevent accidents when we pay any attention to these caricatures of personal responsibility.”
    • “Like the employer blaming the accident-prone worker in the small accident, the politician or corporate CEO insisting this is no big deal is a fixture of the large scale accident. You could say, of course, that it’s essential to calm the public. Except that diffusing our panic can also diminish how much we care about a disaster…. All of this - the cleanup, the lies, the hyperbole of politicians and executives - is an equivalent of the accident-prone worker and the nut behind the wheel. However, the large-scale accident is too big and too public the shift the blame to one person making one mistake. Yet there’s still a need to distract from the dangerous conditions of generating nuclear power and pumping oil, so instead you get powerful people mucking with your perception of the problem.”
    • “Scientists found that cleaning oil of a bird could cause as much injury as the oil itself. The majority of brown pelicans cleaned and released after an oil spill in California never mated again and died. After a 2002 oil spill in Spain, scientists an volunteers cleaned thousands of birds; the majority died within weeks… Still, all this scrubbing serves a purpose. It is oil spill response theater, with the message that these accidents are fine because they can be cleaned up. Pretending that we can clean up a oil spill is one way that oil companies make the risk of an oil spill feel less dire.”
    • “Dumbaugh found that most accidents on city streets happened because cars were driving and turning too fast onto driveways and side streets. It turned out that when traffic engineers build straight, wide roads that looked like interstates, drivers felt encouraged to drive at interstate speeds. Those curves, trees, and benches that engineers removed had actually been making drivers slow down to avoid the risk and more in control driving driving faster, and driving too fast, people died in traffic accidents. The design of the road induced the errors.”
    • “Most of the time, when a traffic engineer designs a new road to connect two places, there is nothing in between, at least at first. Traffic engineers make all the big decisions about the road design - how wide, how fast, how straight - by prognostication. They forecast traffic and land development thirty years into the future and design high-speed roads connecting that new development to the rest of the region. The road is perfectly safe when there is nothing much on it, but as development fills in the spaces between with shops, homes, and schools, the empty high-speed road becomes a busy - and hazardous - high-speed road. Dumbaugh had been taught that roadside hazards were the risk, but the actual hazard is the shape of the street and the speed it encourages. The risk that engineers build into a new roadway only increases over time as development fills in the area around the road.”
    • “Most speed limits are not based on physics or crash test expertise but simply the upper limit of what most amateur drivers feel is safe.”
    • “Engineering schools across the country still teach these rules, and the graduates of those schools still believer that following them will reduce risk for drivers. But these guidelines also give engineers protection. By following the rules, however outdated or unproven they may by, engineers shield themselves from lawsuits. Engineers build roads that put us all at risk of an accident and thus protect themselves from the risk of legal action. When a traffic accident kills someone in an unsafe street, the engineer can claim, accurately but dangerously, that they were just following the rules.”
    • “The government’s interest in protecting people from accident differs depending on the person to whom it happens - an innocent child accidentally ingesting a pill merits a response different from that accorded an adult who uses a drug who accidentally overdoses. In this way, risk exposure can be a moral judgement. The difference between a rapid response to one accident and a seventeen-year wait before responding to accidents that were killing tens of thousands a year represents how we feel about the people having those accidents. We are especially willing to let accidents happen to some people.”
    • “In so many cases, ‘it was an accident’ is a phrase that absolves powerful people of responsibility for dangerous conditions. And these people allow accidents to happen again and again. But when a powerless person says ‘it was an accident,’ the phrase can take on other meanings. It can mean that an overdose was unintentional or that any consequence was regrettable - it can be a way to say: I didn’t mean it. And if ‘accident’ can offer that person some kindness and absolution, that is the story I want us all to hear.”
    • “It is no accident that mechanisms that can prevent overdoes and disease transmission are inaccessible; it is a direct result of a lack of empathy and perhaps even a desire to punish people who are addicted. The outcome of making known methods of prevention inaccessible is that accidental overdose crises are allowed to grow for decades. And while stigmas that attend addiction are particularly deadly, these are hardly the only dangerous ones. For too many people, stigmas stack up.”
    • “You can see how this could create a vicious cycle: accidental death is more likely because of dangerous conditions, which are distributed across society in a racist way, and which are justified to remain dangerous by a racist interpretation of the cause of accidental death. The response to a white person killed in a bike accident, absent racecraft, might be more sympathetic, less focused on human error and more on dangerous conditions - leading to solutions for the actual problems.”
    • “Risk perception researchers have found similar results so often they’ve branded this the ‘white make effect.’ White men feel significantly more comfortable with risk or are just acutely aware that their risk exposure is relatively minimal. They aren’t simply more willing to accept risk; they accurately perceive that they alone are at less risk.”
    • “Researchers have found a correlation between deadly work accidents, for example, and high state debt, meaning states that spend money - whether on infrastructure or social welfare programs - are also places where you are less likely to die by accident. Other research, which correlated greater income inequality with higher accidental death, also found that the cities that spent more on roads had a 14 percent lower rate of accidental death.”
    • “One of the reasons that we don’t spend money to protect people from accidents is the same reason that many Americans blame poor people for their poverty: the human error explanation absolves us of the responsibility. But blaming human error is also a well-documented cognitive bias that helps us see an unjust world as just. This bias - known as the just world fallacy - helps us feel more comfortable in a cruel world by focusing on individual behavior to explain systemic failures and structural inequality. In particular, we zero in on anything that reinforces the belief that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.”
    • “Studies show that this simple act - finding someone to blame - makes people less likely to see systemic problems or seek changes… No matter the accident, blame took the place of prevention.” Example: the helmet-wearing or helmetless status of a person is often mentioned in news reports when someone on a bike is hit by someone in a car. “Noting the lack of a bicycle helmet is a dog whistle for human error, like invoking the jaywalker, or the nut behind the wheel, or the criminal addict. And researchers have found that when we read about an accident and hear mention of human error, such as not wearing a helmet, it draws us like moths to a flame. This is true to such a degree that reading about an accident where someone was found to blame triggers an increased desire for punishment and a disregard for changing institutional or dangerous systemic conditions, such as an unsafe street.”
    • A kid was killed crossing a street with his mother to get from a bus stop to their home across the street. The nearest crosswalk was a mile down the street. The driver of the car was partially blind, admitted to drinking and taking pain medication earlier and had previously been convicted of two hit-and-run incidents. If you want to blame human error you could say what caused the error was (a) crossing the street outside the crosswalk or (b) driving on pain medication after drinking with a medical condition. To actually solve the problem we need to ask why (a) and (b) were allowed to occur. There was no crosswalk nearby and she had to use public transit because she couldn’t afford a car. Driver was given a driver’s license despite being partially blind in part because he needed to drive and he drive into a child because traffic planners declined to add a crosswalk.
    • “You can prevent drunk driving accidents by offering transportation options that allow people to get drunk without driving; you can prevent accidental overdoses by making naloxone as ubiquitous as aspirin; you can prevent accidental fires by installing an automatic sprinkler system in every home in America; you can prevent accidental death caused by overheating or freezing by nationalizing the utility industry and making safe home temperatures a right, not a privilege.”
    • Think of “the lowest-common denominator user - the worst driver, the most tired employee, the most distracted pedestrian. If you want to minimize the damage, don’t fixate on fixing that person. Instead, build an environment that controls the energy that person may come into contact with.” Make the world safe drunks, you make it safe for everyone.
    • “As long ago as 1975, the USDOT itself figured out that three factors most determined whether or not a person was injured in a car accident: how much the vehicle weighed, how high it was off the ground, and how much higher its front end was compared to a pedestrian.” Yet they have done nothing to regulate how vehicles are build. Pedestrian fatalities are rising and cars SUVs are getting bigger.
    • “There is a lot of evidence that regulations save lives and a lot of propaganda that regulations stifle the economy, Narang explains - but there is little or no evidence to support the propaganda. Still today, it is common for regulatory agencies to work towards the goals of corporations and for those agencies to think like the corporations they regulate.” Regulatory capture is killing people.
    • “Regulations are preventative, and when regulation fails, people die. These were all called accidents - teh West, Text, explosion; the Uber driverless car killing; the Boeing 737 Max crashes; the Rhino Resource mine collapse - but Narang tells me that they are choices born of greed.”
    • “When we call something an accident, we feel better at once, and at once, we fail to prevent it from happening again. Only by overcoming this tendency can we prevent accidents.”
    • “Accidents are not a design problem - we know how to design the built environment to prevent death and injury in accidents. And accidents are not a regulatory problem - we know the regulations that will reduce the accidental death toll. Rather, accidents are a political and social problem. To prevent them, we only need the will to redesign our systems, the courage to confront our worst inclinations, and the strength to rein in the powerful who allow accidents to happen.”
  • Curbing Traffic - The authors moved their family from Vancouver to the Netherlands.

    • Cities that aren’t build around getting around by car are much better for children and their parents. “The additional mental and emotional energy we used to spend choreographing the lives of four people has certainly lessened with our children’s newly discovered autonomy, and we are savoring those effects every day. The results are confident, more independent children and much more chilled out parents. Building autonomous cities doesn’t just lead to happier kids, it leads to happier parents.”
    • On streets with low traffic residents spend more time gathering outside their homes which leads to being more connected with their neighbors. You have far more ‘stop-and-chats’ when there isn’t a constant flow of traffic on the street outside your home. This gives added social connections that would be absent other places.
    • “The danger in not considering care work and the trips required to perform it - or care trips - in the transportation planning landscape, is that the needs of a significant portion of the population are left unmet. Care trips are often undercounted or uncounted because they don’t fall into easily measured, quantifiable definitions. When you think of the average journey to drop kids off at school or daycare, stop at the grocery store, or visit a doctor’s office, they are generally less than a kilometer in distance and seldom take longer than 15 minutes. Most travel surveys fail to take these measurements in account due to their brevity, ultimately ignoring entire swatches of mobility patterns. At the same time, care trips are usually arranged in a polygonal spatial pattern - indirect and with multiple stops - covering smaller geographical areas that are closer to home and made on foot or public transport. From a data collection stance, these trips are harder to track than the average, single-purpose commute for employment.” These care trips are also more often taken by women and the planners are more often men, which further causes those trips to be ignored when designing a system. “When these systems specifically omit data reflecting the need to make multiple stops conveniently and during nontraditional work hours, especially when looking at noncar travel, women are disproportionately underaccommodated, leading to greater strain and inequity.”
    • Following some failed attempts at improving cycling in the Netherlands: “In their postmortem of these two projects, experts pointed to their lack of cohesion and directness. People declined to use them because they were single corridors, designed in isolation, that forced users to detour several streets out of their way, and navigate different types of confusing and inconsistent infrastructure.”
    • Cars are loud and there are many health risks associated with constantly being around that much noise.
    • “When transport planners look at a network, they design for efficiencies based on trips people do take. They examine where they live, where they travel, and how to make those journeys as cost and time effective as possible. However, no one is ever analyzing or measuring the trips people don’t take, which is particularly problematic for the disabled community. Think about the last time you were ill. When you’re feeling a little sick, the last thing you want to do is take a 40 minute meandering bus ride when a 10-minute taxi ride would be easier. If cities are designed like that - and we would argue most are - it puts people off traveling, or it makes those choices more expensive.”
    • On the Gardiner Expressway: “In 2016, the municipal council voted to completely replace the crumbling arterial, including a 7-kilometer elevated section at a cost of $2.2 billion. Between 2020 and 2030, that single piece of infrastructure will eat up 44 percent of the transport department’s capital plan, despite moving just 7 percent of commuters (many of whom don’t even reside or pay taxes in the city). Less costly, at-grade options were rejected by councilors after a staff report predicted that they might prolong peak driving times by two to three minutes.”
    • “These kinds of collective investments in a frequent and flexible public transport system - to maximize its convenience and coverage - are precisely what governments must do to lighten the financial burden of car ownership and break down the all-too-real barriers experienced by those lowest on the socioeconomic ladder. But far too often, untold billions are spent widening roads to benefit those who already enjoy the greatest proximity and privilege, while mass transit that would benefit those who need it the most is chronically ignored and underfunded. By doubling, and then tripling down on car dependence, and mandating costly automobile ownership, regions are quite literally holding themselves back, preventing entire swaths of the population from fulfilling their true economic potential. The tremendous cost of car dependency continues to blow a giant hole in our governmental and household budgets, and everyone ends up the poorer for it.”
    • To build a resilient city means “building diverse, flexible, and reliable options into our transportation networks, and breaking up the monopoly enjoyed by the private automobile in most cities.”
    • “Even in the midst of a climate emergency, many cities continue to look at resiliency from the engineering perspective, and resist the changed needed to weather this biggest crises, which will lead to floods, cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons. By building up their resilience to these events with a windshield worldview, and stubbornly adding road capacity and redundant routes, they may be creating higher car dependency and making things worse by decreasing their ability to pursue comprehensive resilience.”
  • The Innovation Delusion - Innovation, or more appropriately, innovation-speak, gets all the headlines and investment, but the maintenance and upkeep of existing infrastructure is what actually keeps the world moving.

    • “There’s no evidence that actual innovation or technological change has increased during the period when everyone started talking about innovation. At it’s most extreme, innovation-speak actively devalues the work of most humans, especially those who do the dirty work that keeps our technological civilization running. And … it fails to capture the essence of human life with technology - where maintenance and reliability are far more valuable than innovation and disruption.”
    • “The late economist Nathan Rosenberg and others who have written deep studies of innovation have tended to emphasize incremental changes and long processes of continual improvement. Indeed, most innovation and most of the changes that have contributed to the massive transformations of the last three hundred years are of this sort. … It’s not the kind of message that will attract multimillion-dollar endowments to universities or enable your dear authors to open up consultancy and get filthy rich.”
    • “If you go to a bookstore or a library and look for histories of technology, the shelves will be filled with biographies of great inventors like Edison, Tesla, and Bell, and stories about the creation of planes, trains, and automobiles. Yet, as we have seen, most human activity centers on using technologies, not creating them. Stories of our everyday interactions with the material world have largely gone untold.”
    • “And in every sector of society, we see how a lack of investment in maintenance is causing catastrophic problems, from dirty hospitals and crumbling bridges to failing schools and inept government agencies. But politicians, pundits, and executives continue to cry out for more innovation to save us from any number of crises - climate change, economic slowdown, inefficient healthcare, to name just a few. This instinct - to pin all of our hopes on innovation - is exactly the problem that we summarized as the Innovation Delusion.”
    • City of Remer, Minnesota need to repair a sewage pipe. Repair costs were 300k, which was more than the city’s budget and there was no federal grant program for such a small project. So they designed an updated system with a cost of 2.6 million which would be able to qualify for a federal grant. “Projects like the one in Remer have burdened localities with extravagant infrastructure that they can’t afford. The consequences lie over the horizon, however, so officials and citizens can congratulate themselves for accomplishing something while leaving the worries and problems to the future.” Why aren’t more sustainable projects emphasized? Why aren’t future costs of maintaining new systems considered?
    • “If governments, organizations, and individuals build and buy systems without providing for their future care, we end up facing a stress-inducing mountain of deferred maintenance and infrastructural debt, which is precisely what we see in many parts of society today.”
    • In 2018 Apple had record revenues but their 4th quarter earnings report didn’t meet expectations, so their share price fell 7%. A big reason for that was because of people replacing their batteries rather than buying a new phone. “The absurdity of Apple’s situation becomes clearer when you think about it in a more holistic way: Apple’s stock price dropped because users were - in a very modest way - choosing to fix instead of throw away. But Apple’s executives and shareholders didn’t seem to care about the potential benefits of these choices, such as less pressure to exploit natural resources, or a decrease in ware as perfectly operational iPhones no longer needed to be thrown into dumps and landfills for want of a reliable battery, or freeing up customers to spend their money on something more important. … If the goal of innovative companies is to constantly increase profit, then anything and everything is fair game for being put in service of that cause - even values like efficiency and sustainability.”
    • An example of the Innovation Delusion in healthcare: organ transplants. Researchers began to experiment with embryonic stem cells for regenerative therapies in the 1990s, viewing it as a way to potentially produce artificial organs and repair damaged organs, which attracted lots of funding. This diverts resources from existing approaches. “Physicians are sometimes reluctant to speak publicly about the dilemma. One told use that the transplant unit in his hospital is decades old and ‘suffers from inadequate infrastructure and limited nursing resources.’ He’s frustrated that there are billions of dollars going into regenerative medicine start-ups that he sees ‘going nowhere,’ but he also feels like he has no other choice but to apply for research funding in the same field.”
    • “Within organizations and society at large, maintenance roles often fall at the bottom of the status hierarchies. Nearly all maintainers experience condescension on the job, whether it takes the form of being ignored, talked down to, or taken advantage of.”
    • “We think the personal costs of maintenance work being considered low status go much deeper and take at least two forms: a lack of recognition and a lack of compensation. A third issue is that maintainers often aren’t given enough resources to do their work.” The people who do these jobs are often women and minorities.
  • Your Computer Is on Fire - A collection of essays on tech issues. I thought the best ones were “Sexism is a feature, not a bug”, “Coding is not empowerment” and “How to stop worrying about clean signals”

  • Think Again - A book about the value of rethinking. A few takeaways:

    • Define your identity in terms of values, not opinions
    • To get people to reevaluate, ask them how they originally formed an opinion. It is often arbitrary and getting them to notice that can get them to reevaluate.
    • In a debate, acknowledge common ground.
    • Establish psychological safety. When people feel confident they can freely challenge the status quo, or take risks and make mistakes, it leads to better outcomes.
  • What’s Wrong with Economics?

    • “The most important possibility opened up by behavioural economics is that the neoclassical modal of rational behiviour based on fixed preferences, complete contracts, and ample relevant information is the wrong one. The way most people behave much of the time should carry no implication of irrationality, but should rather be thought of as reasonable behaviour in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The sin of behavioural economics is to dub such behaviour irrational.”
    • “By investing their interests with the authority of science, economics can make self-interest seem more enlightened. Practical people like nothing better than to have their prejudices dressed up in scientific language. Such language has the power to turn what is really a matter of opinion into a fact of nature.”
    • “The weakness of economics in handling power is part and parcel of the absence of institutions from its map of reality. The only actors in its map are maximizing individuals. A proper economics would start with institutions - classes, organizations, and social norms - and then try to show how these shape individual choices. The objections is that such an approach is impossible to model mathematically. For mathematical modelling you need tight priors from which you can deduce precise quantitative conclusions. With any other approach you fall into - God forbid! - political. To this objection Keynes gave an answer which to me is irrefutable: in matters of public policy it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.”
    • “The fact that an idea formerly grasped without maths is now stated in maths is not necessarily an argument for progress, because it ignores the possibility that a great deal of useful knowledge gets permanently lost in translation.”
    • “The upshot is that once a ‘normal’ way of doing ‘science’ has been established, it develops strong staying power, however much its scientific claims are questioned. How much more is this likely to be the case in economics, when refutation is almost impossible and vested interests are rampant.”
    • “If economics is to be useful today it will need to modify its belief in the self-regulating market. That free markets contain a principle of order was a huge discovery. It meant that economic life could be set free from state, municipal, communal, and customary direction. But to maintain that market competition is a self-sufficient ordering principle is wrong. Markets are embedded in political institutions and moral beliefs.”
    • On changing how economics is taught: “I would start with the institutions of the macroeconomy and show how they structure markets and shape individual choices within markets. This is what a properly sociological economics would do. Central topics would be the role of the state, the distribution of power, and the effect of both on the distribution of wealth of income. There would be no assumption about individual behaviour except that individuals act as rationally as they can in the incomplete conditions of knowledge in which they find themselves. Further, my textbook would make clear that the only defensible purpose of economics is to lift humanity out of poverty. Beyond this, the lessons of economics end, and those of ethics, sociology, history and politics take over.”

See also