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Satire alert: Scott Walker sells off Bucky the Badger to Geico

Citing the need for more business-oriented solutions to the obvious problem of a highly ranked and otherwise successful public institution of higher learning, the University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker today announced that he is authorizing the sale of the school’s beloved mascot, Bucky the Badger, to online insurance giant Geico. Bucky will replace their former animal mascot, a gecko with a posh English accent known to his friends as “Geck.”

Walker states that this move secures him as somebody who has bravely fixed what wasn’t broken so that it can be broken so that he then can have credit for fixing it. “I’m just the man for this sort of thing.” He noted, throwing down double finger guns.

Bucky issued a statement through his agent today that he’s excited for the new opportunity to make a difference on the national stage. Sources close to the badger report that Bucky is thrilled with the move: “I’m tired of just seeing myself on TV when UW pulls their shit together to get to the NCAA playoffs. That’s, what? Once a year, man, or maybe twice. How am I supposed to bank any serious coin hooked up to an academic institution? I’ve got, like, six cows and 237 cubs to support.”

Former mascot Geck the gecko responded to this news from his loft in the boggier bits of the Thames in London: “Geico and I have had a wonderful working relationship. I’m so grateful for all the time we’ve had. It’s been a few years since they have really needed me, what with their Cavemen and other stellar personnel. I’m looking forward to new projects, and, frankly, more time for myself. I wish Bucky all the best in the future.”


Geico marketing staffers noted that this parting message was typical of the urbane and gracious Geck, and insiders expressed some worries about working with the pugilistic badger. “Have you ever seen that badger crack a smile? No, you haven’t. It’s always been “Fight! Fellows! – fight, fight, fight!” with that guy.”

University of Wisconsin staffers say that there is no plan to replace Bucky, even though it wouldn’t really cost anything, because doing so would interfere with the high-profile austerity symbolism surrounding Walker’s announcement, and potentially undermine the impact of his finger guns.

There is, however, a new plan to have members of the business community sponsor the University with donations that entitle them to have their names engraved on individual blades of grass on the quad.

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Sonia Hirt’s comparative land use

So I’ve been reading away on Sonia Hirt’s 2014 book

Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land Use Regulation, and finding it quite helpful. Sonia was one of my colleagues at Virginia Tech, and she’s really a wonderful thinker. She’s from eastern Europe, and she’s from architecture, which means she has a unique way of looking at land use and American practices in a way that helps us see things we normally don’t.

I’m not that far into yet, and I’ve been a rotten reader and have been reading out of order, but so far, she’s focussed in on the American cultural aspects of zoning. I’m never sure how to evaluate these sorts of claims about cultural predilections. They feel apt enough, but then there’s the nagging question of how you seek and formulate evidence, a common enough complaint about cultural histories, where charges of essentialism loom.

The book’s organization is a bit surprising, which is one reason I’ve been jumping about a bit; you start with how American zoning works. This is a very nice chapter for planning students, along with the subsequent chapter, on how other, most European, countries approach zoning. The last chapters have to do with explaining the beginnings of zonings, so that it’s a bit inverted. I think the structure does work, particularly for students.

Zoned in the USA The Origins and Implications of American Land Use Regulation Sonia A Hirt 9780801479878 Amazon com Books

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Johnny Cash and the last word on open carry


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The political uses of apocalypse: a reading list to be going on with

My Facebook page has become a clash of cultures between my deeply religious relatives and other secular friends over one of those memes that people send about. Memes are always reductive, and they are usually a shorthand form of political communication, designed to score points off of the satirized viewpoint among people who agree with you rather than convince people who don’t. This one had to do with the apocalyptic arm of the contemporary GOP and its focus on supporting Israel not as a freestanding state designed to be a homeland where the Jewish people (to the degree that we may speak of peoples in the Rawlsian sense of the word) have self-determination, but as the ground zero of the end times for all the worthy Christians waiting to be raptured.

This of course annoyed the Christian conservatives who refuse to be painted with this brush (of course not), but apocalyptic thinking is so rooted in western politics that it’s hard to ignore the sticky problem the meme presents, however rudely, about the central problem of apocalypticism in politics.

There are explicit forms of apocalypticism among people who think we physically are on the clock, winding down, which induces fatalism with regard to progress. We have good evidence that Jesus Christ was an apocalyptic thinker, which makes much of the social program he outlines difficult to apply millennia later: if the end times are coming, of course you can give away all you own. You shan’t need that coat, anyway. But in a world that rolls on an on, you just might.

There are also implicit forms apocalypticism that treat disaster thinking as an inherent set of assumptions about the way the world is going. As my colleague, Martin Krieger, points out, you can see apocalypticism in lots of environmental discourse, particularly climate change. And to some purpose: disasters do happen, societies do die, as do cities.

In this way, I tend to think of apocalypticsm as a parallel to utopianism. I’m influenced here by Richard Gunn’s thought piece on the topic (pdf download.) I don’t think they are obverses; I do think they tend to run in tandem because of the influence that heaven and hell influences have on Judeo-Christian thought and attitudes, and, thus, on how people think society might progress or can progress (or not) and thus on the way they think about politics.

And then: ZOMBIES.

There’s a goodly bit of utopianism and apocalypticism in urban studies, which is one reason I find both so interesting: The Life and Death of Great American Cities is an exemplar. Life. DEATH. ZOMBIES.

Here are some things to read if you like this sort of thing:

Genesis 5:21-24 and 6:1-8

Ezekiel 37-39; Isaiah 24-27; Zechariah

Daniel 2, 7-12 (Bible);

4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras 3-14)

John’s Apocalypse, esp. chs. 1-3, 12-18 (Revelation in the New Testament); 1 Thessalonians, esp. chs. 4-5 (for Paul’s apocalyptic worldview);

Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Judean Apocalyptic Literature. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Elaine Pagels, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (Viking, 2012)

Eugene Weber. 2000. Apocalypses: Propheicies, Cults, and Millenial Beliefs Throughout the Ages. Havard University Press.

Harrison, J.F.C. 2013. The Second Coming: Popular Millenarialism 1780-1850. Routledge.

There is so much writing on contemporary Christian apocalypticism that I don’t know where to begin. I have always liked:

Daniels, Ted. 1999. A Doomsday Reader: Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation. NYU Press.

But it’s an older book. Anybody have suggestions?

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53 ways to foster an age-friendly city

My 628 class (Urban Planning and Social Policy) put together some ideas for making cities more age-friendly. This is what they came up with:

As the World Health Organization (WHO) states in their “What makes a city age friendly”:

“cities are complex organisms that rely on effective interaction between people’s homes, the possibilities of communication and travel, the availability of appropriate services and also the less tangible, yet vitally important, influences such as a sense of belonging, security and the kindness of others.”

As a much larger proportion of the population becomes 55 or older, cities must place a larger focus on the aged to ensure a happy and healthy population. Through working with and consulting with stakeholders of all age groups, we have created a holistic approach to an age-friendly city that will enhance the health, and financial security for the aged.

According to the WHO, age friendly cities embody the following:

  • Recognize the wide range of capacities and resources among older people
  • Anticipate and respond flexibly to ageing related needs and preferences
  • Respect older people’s decisions and lifestyle choices
  • Protect those who are most vulnerable; and
  • Promote older people’s inclusion in and contribution to all areas of community life

In identifying the proposals to help make cities more “senior friendly,” we decided to use these criteria:

a. In-home accommodations to meet daily needs;

b. Accessible and affordable public transportation and social opportunities in the community;

c. Available applicable services, ie. elevators, handicapped parking spaces, etc.;

d. Public safety and an inclusive sense of community (Biggs and Tinker, 2007).

So here’s the big list:

1. One-Stop-Shop for Services: Understanding that getting around and finding the answers to important questions often requires multiple organizations working together; the City will construct community buildings that serve as one-stop-shops for senior citizens. They will function both as a social gathering place and source for information, referrals and as appropriate in-building delivery for services most prioritized by seniors. This might include information about doctors and healthcare, housing, banking or finance advisors, as well as educational and social workshops.

2. Events for All Audiences: So often family-friendly events are developed with children and young adults or families in mind. These events are often designed to include audiences that might have trouble walking over large areas or getting around at night. An age friendly world is one in which all people of all ages are able to actively participate in community activities . The city will promote one time and annual events during the day and late afternoon with public transportation available and reduced or free pricing. The design of the event will also ensure parking that is closer and on even ground to provide access for anyone with physical challenges. Walkways to the event will be monitored wheel chairs will be available free of charge. Bathrooms and rest areas will be set up throughout the event. The city is also activity working with neighborhoods to promote smaller neighborhood social events that generate inclusion and social respect for all generations.

3. Support for families providing eldercare. Often the family members most active in taking care of their elderly family members live in other parts of the state or country and are unsure of the quality of the services they are looking into. The city will design an app and online tool that is a service director of organizations and companies in the city. It will also allow for reviews and ratings so that family members and primary caretakers can be surer of the quality and level of service they are getting for their family member. These sorts of technologies have already been created in other sectors. For example, Yelp provides a range of information about consumer services.

4. Door-to-door services that improve quality of life: From basic medical to homecare services and grocery shopping, if you have limited mobility these needs are hard to meet. The City will institute infrastructure and tax credits which prompt companies to think creatively about getting their services to the doors of people who need them.

5. Mobile pet care. Pets can improve quality of life for animal lovers. Programs that foster pet care organizations to make sure seniors have access to care for their pets and animals could be given credits at tax time and free advertising in city communication.

6. Consumer Protection and Advocacy Task Force: Seniors may be the most vulnerable when it comes to identity theft, credit fraud, and other targeted financial threats. They also may not have access to the same information and know-how younger generations have. The city will set up a task force to research and identify specific mechanisms to protect seniors from these threats to make sure they are informed and able to protect what they have worked for.

7. Age-friendly building codes. Buildings must be appropriately designed for equitable use by everyone. Specific improvements for senior citizens include non-slip floors, bathrooms that are accessible, railings that are prominently placed in appropriate areas, ramps, and easily accessible elevators. According to research published in the Journal of Urban Health, “The city’s landscape, buildings, transportation system, and housing contribute to confident mobility, healthy behaviors, social participation, and self-determination, or, conversely, to fearful isolation, inactivity, and social exclusion.”

8. Ensure that at least some public spaces retain a quiet, communitarian, age-friendly environment: parks that are quieter, possibly a bit removed from major streets (or more secluded/quiet parts of larger parks), ample seating and shade are nice places to rest and relax away from skateboarders, bicyclists, and other potential conflicts.

9. Encourage employers to try out age-spectrum redistribution.
The city could offer tax credits to companies willing to use a pilot program that redistributes work schedules, billable hours, and organizational management. They could be targeted to businesses in areas with high age range variance so model can be accurately specified. In allowing companies the flexibility and temporary capacity to shift weekly work schedules with age distributions, they may be able to enable senior labor force participation that may have otherwise not been available.

10. Expand emergency housing options for seniors struggling with stable housing. Cities can work with HUD and the Housing Authority of Los Angles to provide low-cost housing for seniors, including emergency housing in times of crises.

11. Expand senior subsidies for bus passes. In Los Angeles, a senior pass is $20. We could halve that and ask for voluntary donations and sponsorships from other pass buyers. (This could work for student passes, too!)

12. Offer phone and in-home mental health assistance as means to reach out to older residents.

13. Foster and train community-based police officers to look in and look out for seniors. Community-based policing in which officers live and work in the communities they serve can build ties of trust and respect.

14. Fix Los Angeles’ sidewalks: (Editor’s note: I can’t believe we have to say this out loud.) Broken or cracked sidewalks not only create injury risks for older Angelenos, but they create environmental barriers that make the elderly less inclined to leave the house and take a walk outside.

15. Bring back benches and public washrooms: In response to complaints of loitering, many bus stops, parks, and sidewalks of Los Angeles have gotten rid of benches and washrooms. But this makes our neighborhoods less inviting and welcoming.

16. Make Access Services easier to use. Currently, in order to use access-a-ride services, elderly and disabled people must schedule in-person appointments and go in to the city’s access eligibility center for an assessment. Let’s make it easier for people to access the services they need.

17. Fix and maintain elevators and ramps in transit stops and stations. Too often, elevators, escalators, and ramps in Metro stations are broken. These are potentially debilitating obstacles for elderly trying to make it to a doctor’s appointment or simply visit an old friend across town.

18. Foster auxiliary units and more options for in-place downsizing. Many seniors may want to downsize, but don’t want to necessarily leave their neighborhood or their city to do it. Cities can build more senior-accessible housing to give elderly more options.

19. Make it easier to age-in-place with volunteer carpenters and handy work Many seniors want to age in place, but need to have renovations done to their house or apartment in order to do so. But home improvement loans have high rejection rates. Cities and nonprofits can help make it easier for seniors to get credit to renovate their homes, or they can work with homeowners and volunteers to to get quality accommodations done on existing homes.

20. Invest in financial literacy: Options like home equity conversion mortgages present the elderly with options to supplement their retirement income, but these options are potentially costly and confusing. Cities can foster resources that can help advise elderly Angelenos on their options.

21. Support homecare workers: The people that often spend the most time with the elderly, homecare workers, are not eligible for overtime pay. City services and employment practices should explore ways to make home care work more financially stable and secure for those who provide it.

22. Turn Libraries into Community Centers -Libraries can expand senior-specific programming, offering computer classes, book clubs, and movie nights to provide additional opportunities for senior citizens to engage with their community.

23. Supplement urban seniors with housing stipends. Housing affordability is a chronic problem, and helping seniors stay in place with housing stipends to help them remain in the city as rents rise increases urban diversity and housing stability.

24. Ensure Accessibility at Transit Stations – To ensure senior citizens can take advantage of the public transit options available to them, the stations have to be accessible with ramps and elevators, adequate lighting, and comfortable benches to sit while waiting for a bus or train.

25. Make Crosswalks Safer – Streets designed to move car traffic quickly are dangerous to older pedestrians. Raised crosswalks, added medians, and longer crosswalk times will help to ensure senior citizens have a chance to cross successfully before cars enter the crosswalk.

26. Create Parklets – Public spaces offer a place for seniors to spend their leisure time and interact with their community. The city’s parklet program should be expanded, with designs that appeal to seniors to encourage their use.

27. Train city service workers to be sensitive and aware of the needs of senior residents. Senior Awareness Education: City personnel, as well as any citizen that shows interest, will be given special training on how to care for the needs of the elderly. Classes will vary from how to determine the needs and how to respond. Regular CPR classes and first aid classes will allow for better-trained staff and citizens. This will create more responsible workers and prevent any situations of elder abuse.

28. Senior town hall meetings to focus on the needs of seniors. Regular meetings will be held at the City Hall to allow for interaction of the community with the local agencies. Suggestions will be taken for consideration and responses will be shared at subsequent gatherings. Those unable to be present can participate via the free internet access.

29. Encourage independent living housing construction through facilitating infill and adaptive re-use. These housing projects could take existing apartment buildings and refurbish them to make them ADA compliant as well as modern so that they have the appearance of a regular apartment. Supportive services, like health care, should be located in these complexes so that seniors can get any medical care they need at their doorstep (Lewis, R.K., 2014). Changing zoning laws will allow for mixed use buildings with both living and business space (Lewis, R.K., 2014).

30. Innovate pension solutions, such as pooled pension plans. The City of New York has proposed a pooled pension plan for people reaching retirement age who have no safety net which Los Angeles could adopt as well (Taylor, K., 2014). Individuals employed in private companies would choose to enter the fund, and workers would contribute a portion of their pay (Taylor, K., 2014). The City of Los Angeles could manage the funds (Taylor, K., 2014). To take this further, the city could create a public pension plan in which all people pay into and receive benefits as residents of the city, to ensure that all people are able to stay out of poverty, regardless of previous employment (Herd, P., 2009).

31. Free internet access. The City of Los Angeles needs to implement free wifi for the city as well as make sure that all seniors have access to a computer or tablet/e-reader, either a personal computer or a designated computer room at senior housing, senior centers, and libraries. The Pew study “Older Adults and Technology Use” demonstrates that seniors who have access to the internet view it positively, and feel that it is beneficial to have access to all of the available information on the internet (Smith, A., 2014). Further, seniors who are online tend to have more active social lives, which can help with isolation (Smith, A., 2014). The Brookings Institute summarized the findings of a report by the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute which found that the main motivation that seniors use the internet is to communicate more easily with family and friends (Schaub, H., 2014)

32. Boost local community colleges to provide job training to empower older employees to stay relevant in their fields. In a competitive labor market, seniors are potentially at a disadvantages.

33. Improve coordination and mobility between health and social services facilities in the metro area with shuttles between service providers and medical locations.

34. Foster “digital inclusion” to create more user-friendly methods to engage with online city servicesAs more city services are digitized and provided through the internet and mobile technology, all programs should be created as user-friendly as possible. This includes readable font sizes, and the ability to speak with individuals if any questions arise.

35. Coordinate and promote funding opportunities for senior advocates. Funding opportunities for senior programs fly under the radar. More transparency for available funding opportunities for public and private organizations can help organizations get access to the funding. The city can partner with organizations to connect older adults on eligibility for benefits like SNAP, SSI, and Medicare.

36. Encourage wellness through trails and parks of multiple exercise levels: Seniors deserve opportunities to stay physically fit through low-impact and high-impact activities. Regular exercise is an effective preventative health measure and improves overall happiness.

37. Foster Abundant Health Care Services for Seniors and for Economic Development: Aging populations need more frequent medical care than other demographics; the health services market is growing more than just about any other economic sector. Cities can work to attract health care services and locate them conveniently, as well as fostering local clinics that offer a range of preventive and emergency services. The city can also encourage home care services such as house-calls and in home nurses that allow seniors to stay living independently in their homes for longer periods of time (Help the Aged, 2007).

38. Senior-Friendly Tax Policies. Economic security is key to protecting quality of life for the aging population. Changes in tax levels can be a particular concern for seniors, and especially local option sales taxes and property taxes. The city can and should investigate the possibility of senior exemptions or two-tiers on sales taxes for seniors.

39. A peer ambassador program among friends and neighbors to promote healthy behaviors, lower diabetes rates, and ward off social isolation. A bellwether for the demographic destiny of the country, Los Angeles has significant diversity among its senior citizens and widespread health disparities. Chief among those are elevated rates of diabetes, which disproportionately affect Hispanic and African-American seniors. A peer ambassadorship pilot program in the Bay Area has been shown to decrease diabetes in these populations, increase healthy behaviors, and decrease social isolation.

40. Innovate better street lighting and lighting design. Falls and crime are a major concern for all citizens, but they are an especially grave concern for frail seniors. Cities can increase and better design lighting on major and secondary streets as well as in and around parks and other public facilities to help seniors with night vision difficulties better navigate sidewalks and walkways.

41. Improve bus stop design. One step in promoting transit use among seniors is to improve the conditions of bus stops and shelters. All bus stops should provide protection from sun, wind, and rain. All shelters will be positioned so that they are wheelchair accessible from all approaches. Shelters should have bus routes and schedules posted on signage with sizeable font and brail so that it is readable by riders of all abilities.

42. “Seniors lead” programming. In addition to have good community spaces, it’s a good idea to have seniors lead in developing programs that emphasis inter-generational connections both within and between families.

43. Nutritional programs and food security. Nutritional needs change throughout life. The Department of Public Health can work our local hospital and other healthcare providers to design and implement free health and nutritional learning and planning for seniors. Time swap volunteer programs might allow seniors to swap some time volunteering for vouchers at farmer’s markets and groceries.

44. City-sponsored free health screenings and celebration events. The local hospital, pharmacies, and community center can provide routine health screenings, free of charge to seniors (sponsored by the city and health donors) as part of public events like CiClivia or before concerts and sports events.

45. Home accommodation and emergency micro-loan programs. The fund shall also be used to provide financial assistance to senior homeowners who may be at risk of losing their homes. Ensuring that seniors can endure financial hardships and remain in their homes will foster their continued independence and potentially prolong the need for greater government-funded assistance.

46. Tax incentives for co-housing. Tax incentives can be provided to all housing developers who design or reconfigure properties to accommodate a multi-generational tenant base. This may include variation in unit sizes as well as the implementation social programs that not only target a variety of age groups but aim to connect the tenants across generations.

47. Support lifelong caregivers who have been uncompensated. Women and men who can substantiate long-term care to others, which has resulted in a loss of wages, social security and reduced pensions should be granted supplementary retirement income in the form of local service vouchers that ‘pay back’ service.

48. Build on the Great Streets idea to create “Gray Streets” as well. Most municipal leaders already know that multimodal transportation and great streets help cities thrive, but additional work done can be done to ensure that the built environment includes relatively small accommodations so that streets also meet the needs of seniors. Dangerous traffic conditions, uneven or dilapidated sidewalks, the lack of crosswalks, too-short crossing times, inadequate signage, and other issues can make walkability difficult or dangerous for elderly pedestrians.

49. Establish senior-friendly shopping districts. These districts designed to address the needs of older residents. Based on existing models in Bloomington, Indiana, and East Harlem, New York City, the areas will work with businesses and service providers to ensure that senior-friendly amenities are provided (fold-down chairs and benches at bus stops; age-friendly infrastructure in stores such as railing and easy-access doors; increased provision of public toilets; and special discounts for seniors in participating businesses). Other services for seniors, such as community health resources and targeted outreach programs, will be available in Aging Community Districts.

50. Appoint an “Aging Czar” to coordinate and advocate for services for senior citizens. The creation of a new position to address these needs signals the administration’s desire to better coordinate aging-related services, provide a system of accountability, and ensure that programs continue to meet the needs of diverse urban communities.

51. Use school buses not in use during school hours for the transportation needs of senior citizens. Most school buses remain under-use between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (normal school hours), a new program will create benefits at a minimal cost. The program is based on similar programs in New York and North Carolina that takes seniors to major shopping destinations.

52. Offer ride vouchers for senior citizens through ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. As part of city negotiations with Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar about integrating their services into the regulatory fabric of the city, the ride-sharing companies can set aside free or heavily discounted ride vouchers for qualifying low-income city residents to travel to medical or shopping-related trips. Lack of opportunities for transportation often leads to isolation and economic hardship for many seniors and represent a barrier to aging-in-place strategies. Taxis can be effective ways to meet the travel needs of seniors, though there are sometimes barriers in terms of availability, drivers’ attitudes, and accessibility.

53. Neighborhood-based senior citizen action teams can pinpoint critical aging needs and participate in local advocacy process. With its diverse population, Los Angeles presents a challenge in terms of meeting the different needs from its many communities.


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  40. Meng YY, Pickett MC, Babey SH, Davis AC, Goldstein H. (2014). Diabetes tied to a third of California hospital stays, driving health care costs higher. Policy Brief UCLA Cent Health Policy Res. 2014 May:1-7.
  41. Paluska, S., & Schwenk, T. (2000). Physical Activity and Mental Health. Sports Medicine,29(3), 167-180.
  42. Peggy Ussery, “Flowers’ Emergency Room Catering to Seniors,” Dothan Eagle, November 2, 2014.
  43. Richard Johnson, Desmond Toohey, and Joshua Wiener, “Meeting the Long-Term Care Needs of the Baby Boomers: How Changing Families Will Affect Paid Helpers and Institutions,” The Retirement Project (May 2007).
  44. Risser, R., Haindl, G., & Stahl, A. (2010). Barriers to senior citizens’ outdoor mobility in Europe. European Journal of Aging, 7(2), 69-80. DOI 10.1007/s10433-010-0146-4
  45. Smyer, M. A., & Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2007). The meanings of work for older workers. Generations, 31(1), 23-30. Retrieved from
  46. Steve Lopez, “In L.A., anything but a crack response to tree-buckled sidewalks,” Los Angeles Times, February 1, 201
  47. Twiss, J.M. (2001, November). Cities as Partners in Community-Based Public Health.

  48. Vaupel, J. W. & Loichinger, E. (2006). Redistributing work in aging Europe. Science, 312, 1911-1913.
  49. Wilder Research. (2007). The Civic Engagement of Baby Boomers: Preparing for a new wave of volunteers Community Assessment Report.
  50. Wolfinger, Raymond E., and Steven J. Rosenstone. Who Votes? New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980.
  51. World Health Organization (2007). Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide.

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What I learned from Spock as a lonely kid with autism/Asperger’s

The world is all the poorer as today Leonard Nimoy died here in Los Angeles. I am going to try to write a sensible thing, but it is very hard because Nimoy was so important to me, and I am emotional right now.

You see, back in the late 1970s and 1980s, nobody had heard of Asperger’s, and very few had heard of autism. My parents had no idea, and I’m not sure they would have been really capable of dealing with it even if the idea was on anybody’s radar. I went to a small school; special education classes were unknown. There were the ‘slow’ kids and the ‘normal’ kids, and they were all the same classes. I was the former, for quite some time.

And I was absolutely reviled among the other kids and, frankly, among the adults as well, because I simply didn’t have normal reactions to anything. I cried over weird shit. I failed to cry over normal shit. Things that I thought were funny weren’t funny to anybody else. The other kids–all but one or two others–hated my guts and teased me mercilessly. Teachers did little to intervene. After all, peer learning is good for kids; I’d learn, of course, to fit in when I got tired of being a punching bag and treated so badly. If I retaliated, as I often did out of hurt and frustration, THEN a teacher would be worried. My place was at the bottom of the social hierarchy, period. Temper in a girl? How unseemly. “All you have to do” I remember one genius instructor telling me, “Is to be more like the other kids.”

Well, gee, wish I’d thought of that.

Only I couldn’t. When confronted with other kids and their boring games, I tried to pretend to be interested, and I wasn’t, and I wasn’t a good enough actor to pretend otherwise. I tried conversing with them. Jesus what a mess that turned out to be. I missed their subtle clues about how they felt about me, or misinterpreted them, so they went to more vicious lengths to tell me they wanted rid of me. “Why can’t you fit in?”my poor, confused, Homecoming-Queen-nominee mother would ask.

Staying in from recess was *awesome.*

I was clumsy, uncoordinated, and unworldly, a terrible disappointment to my father as well, who valued athleticism and what he considered real-world smarts, not the sort of dreamy, preoccupied mind I seem to have.

Nor was I a pretty girl, in addition to the rest of this mess. That’s always a problem, isn’t it?

I sincerely tried to be other people. I tried on personas like pairs of pants. I acted, and failed. I lied to people, made up stories, to create a person I thought they might like. After all, people hated the real version. My imagination was good; and what I have found is that people aren’t really all that interested in reality.

And I sincerely couldn’t help it. I needed to wear the same clothes day after day. When Zuckerberg does it, it’s now considered genius. When I did it 30 years ago and in 3rd grade, it was deviant. I couldn’t control the repetitive hand flapping and finger twisting that plagued my elementary school years. I didn’t understand why people wanted to talk to me only to get angry when I talked, or why, when I stopped communicating in order to avoid making people angry, they got angry, then, too.

So when Star Trek went into reruns on network television, I encountered the only character I had ever seen who was a lot like me. Here was Spock, constantly reviled for his reasoning and his inability to feel things the proper way, in a way that reassured people around him that he was emoting in a manner that other people approved of. There he simply was: he knew what his brain was for and what it could do if you used it for analyzing and for solving problems instead of constantly worrying about “being appropriate.”

Not only did I see in Spock somebody, like me, who couldn’t help not fitting in, but he was a profoundly good soul despite his inability to fit in. It was possible, entirely possible, that my decency and compassion, which I felt so acutely but that others never seemed to see, was misunderstood, like Spock’s, because I expressed it so differently. People didn’t get it. And they often rejected Spock’s decency and goodness, like mine, because they could not see what he saw. But that didn’t make his desire to be a friend and to live a good life any less sincere or valuable. In Spock, I had a model, both intellectual and moral, that allowed me to envision myself as something other than a colossal failure as a human being.

As Nimoy and Spock aged, they never disappointed me. Spock became, of course, part of Trek’s pantheon of superheroes, always wise, always thinking, always loyal.

Nimoy, sentenced to typecasting, inspired me in a different way: by continuing to live a creative life in various pursuits despite the fact that the rest of the world only wanted to see him in one character. He continued to write and express himself artistically regardless of how every single one of those endeavors would be received only as a footnote to a character played early in his career.

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy.

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The flawed, award-winning paper, and cups of coffee

I’ve had a lovely bit of news that my paper in JAPA was selected the best of Volume 80. That’s been a dream of mine for some time, and it’s wonderful to have had it happen.

But I’m still struggling with the paper. The paper is:

Schweitzer, L. 2014. “Planning and Social Media: A Case Study of Public Transit and Stigma on Twitter.” Journal of the American Planning Association. 80(3).

It’s available for free download if you’d like to look it over.

I did a fair bit of media work trying to get this paper out there, largely because JAPA could use the eyeballs, and if there were ever a study that could work as click bait, it’s this one. I pretty much did nothing for two weeks besides prepare the press release and work with media. Even with the work, most of the attention went to the listicle aspect of it. But some journalists really did a great job, and I’m grateful to them for their time, energy and insights.

All of it reminds me of a quote from Helen Mirren after she won an Oscar: “I’m honestly at my happiest in a cold rehearsal room with my polystyrene cup of tea.” Only in my case, it’s coffee. Because coffee–yum.

The ego, the ego. One wants attention until one gets it, and then one gets tired of talking about the study and wants to talk about, or get back to, work one is actually doing, and why will everybody keep talking about this thing that was done ages ago?

Promoting work is work, and I did just about everything I wanted to do here, except I am still haunted by questions concerning regional effects. At one point, I thought I should have some test of regional effects. I thought, for example, about matching transit agency regions with their police departments, so we might be able to tell of Bostonians are just exceptionally grumpy, or if Chicagoans are mad in general at city management and that spills over to the way they talk about their local transit provider.

My problem with that is, simply, that there are no close public management analogues for most these transit agencies. Transit agencies are one of the few exemplars of service-providing regional quangos with street-level bureaucrats. So matching the Chicago PD with the CTA has some geography and service area in common, but the CTA serves way more. The LA Metro spans countless police departments; ditto with New York. I could have gone with smaller regions where the service areas overlap more, but I needed to focus on larger systems to get Tweets. (At the beginning of the study, I only used a year of data, but holdups with getting the thing reviewed delayed for four years. Turns out to have been a good thing because I worked on it and keep gathering more data over time.)

I probably should have matched the police department controls by geography just to see, and if it showed nothing, well, that’s information, and overlaps in sentiment would then need to be interpreted. Ah well. The next paper.

I’m pretty sure anything you get from Twitter about police departments will be spicy now.

Back to working on the next thing. :)

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Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris helpful OpEd on HSR development in California

Friend and mentor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris penned an Op-Ed on HSR station development for California High Speed Rail development near stations in the LA Times:

In the U.S., the introduction of new rail systems has not necessarily been an upgrade for surrounding areas. This is clearly demonstrated in Southern California, where often-subpar Metrolink station locations and a lack of foresight in planning have confounded efforts to activate development around them. Commuters passing through Metrolink’s Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs or Commerce stations have little reason to linger in the car-centric wastelands surrounding these transit hubs.

Go read.

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A look at my to-do list

Scott Walker has succeeded among all those who hate universities and professors with his shots at the UW system, which is unfortunate. If he really succeeds, he’ll damage one of the few reasons anybody with an education might move to Wisconsin. Milwaukee isn’t exactly setting any records, and if you would like your state to become a haven for impoverished whites who do not have the economic productivity to move elsewhere, well, in about 50 years or so wages for low-skill manufacturing work will even out at the global scale and the state will probably once again be competitive in the global market.

The villains in all this are, of course, the tenure track faculty. They don’t work enough. They should teach more classes. They are also living a life of gravy and pie while adjuncts do all the teaching, according to the media which likes to set up the “poor, sad adjunct” against the “high-living, do nothing tenured” prof. Only professors’ salaries haven’t moved up either; if faculty were the all-powerful people we are portrayed to be, we’d be able to affect our salaries. We’re not. We can’t affect our own salaries. Why not? Because there is an army of cheap teachers out there known as adjuncts, and the premium faculty become premium faculty branding themselves based on ideas, not teaching.

My teaching evals, even for classes that everybody hates, are really, really high. My administrators do not care. I teach a full load. They do not care. They care about what I am publishing. I am truly sorry about this, but again…this is the incentive system I am in.

So here is my list of things to do today. While adjuncts have more of the class-related stuff to do, they don’t have some of the other crap that I do that also supports the institution. The institution is very selective about what it rewards me for:

1. Grading PPD 628. No I do not have a graduate student slave to do it for me. (nice, but not a high priority for my administrators; won’t make or break promotion or merit increase)
2. Get class ready for 628 (nice, but not a high priority for my administrators; won’t make or break promotion or merit increase)
3. Edit manuscript for special issue of journal coming up–other authors (can’t get promoted without broader visibility)
4. Code interview transcripts for manuscript (Can’t get promoted without more papers)
5. Take notes for chapter 5 of the book manuscript (can’t get promoted without this book)
6. Teleconference with NYU about new research project (Can’t get promoted without more papers)
7. Presentation for MRED students on Thursday (do it because I care about the real estate students; extra work for me, not one thin dime in my wallet or any progress towards promotion.)
8. Letter of recommendation for student (do it because I care; the institution seems to not care one bit)
9. Help graduate student revise a fellowship application so that she can support herself in her last year of research (do it because I care; the institution seems to not care one bit.)
10. And yeah, write blog posts and engage in public relations to remain salient. (the institution loves this.)

This is just the top 10. Which do I cut? Which do I do first, Governor Walker? Which one is unnecessary? Because if it’s the research, then you should probably get that memo to the people who decide my raises and promotions. Because if I don’t do that part, I suffer–a lot.


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YouTube of my public transit stigma on Twitter study

Hi Everybody. I gave a seminar for Matrons on the Twitter study I just released. You can watch it here if you have a mind to:

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