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Curb Cut Effect?

A while ago Ozy wrote a post on the curb cut effect. They claim that when people without disabilities use things intended to benefit people with disabilities it's generally positive. For example, curb cuts and closed captioning were initially created for people in wheelchairs and people with hearing disabilities, but there's no harm in other people using them and having more people that benefit from them makes them politically sturdier. For example, they argue that:

Nondisabled people using wheelchairs does nothing but create a larger pro-wheelchair demographic, which benefits disabled wheelchair users.

But consider how buses handle wheelchairs. The driver positions the bus next to the curb and folds down a ramp. The passenger rides up the ramp, either they or the driver fold up a set of seats, the passenger positions their chair where the seats were, and again either they or the driver set the straps to hold the chair still. There are two spots for wheelchairs on each bus, and when a spot is in use three standard seats are unavailable. If lots of people who didn't need wheelchairs started using them, at first we would have a dramatically larger incidence of problems where buses already have their two spots occupied and don't have room for a third wheelchair-using passenger. Additionally, each bus could seat four fewer non-wheelchair-using passengers. Then maybe we redesign and replace the buses to allow for more wheelchairs, but this is expensive and capacity goes down even more which means we need more buses and more drivers. more...

Scientific Charity Movement

A group of relatively well-off people apply ideas from science to charity, trying to improve efficiency and end poverty. It doesn't turn out well. Sounds like something I should read up on.

There was a movement, starting around 1870, to replace municipal and religious aid to the poor with a system of Charity Organization Societies. Their rhetoric reminds me of today's effective altruism:

  • "All are pretty well agreed that both sense and sentiment are necessary to guide us properly along the devious paths of politico-economic investigation."

  • "It is characteristic of the new or scientific charity as opposed to purely emotional philanthropy that it regards poverty as an evil to be assailed in its causes. It does not merely pity poverty, but studies it. It believes that a doctor might as well give pills without a diagnosis, as a benevolent man give alms without an investigation. It insists that 'hell is paved with good intentions,' and that the philanthropist must be careful as well as kindly."

  • "The purpose of this movement is to make the benevolent work of our large cities more systematic and more intelligent."

  • "But there is, happily, an increasing number of those who appreciate the fact that the introduction of scientific methods into charitable work will not hamper charity but aid it; that the resulting restrictions that may be placed upon us will merely guide our sympathies, and not thwart them. The restraints that will be put upon benevolence will be merely to prevent its waste and insure its usefulness—'restriction for the purpose of expansion.' Scientific methods carefully used for such purposes will not make the charity of the future cold-blooded and calculating, but will prevent it from being foiled, defeated, and turned back from its high purposes by its own gratuitous blunders; they will render that charity helpful, constructive, progressive, and make it possible that love of neighbor may "shape with growing sway the growing life of man."

(All from A. G. Warner's 1889 article, Scientific Charity [1], emphasis mine.)

While in some ways they sound a lot like today's effective altruists, in other ways they're miles apart. more...

Safety Policy

Prompted by the Standing up for Safer Spaces pictures and other conversations in the dance community, I've been thinking about codes of conduct. I read through a lot of them (helpful list) and tried to synthesize my thoughts into a a document. Here's an idea:

At [event] we want everyone to be able to have a good time together at our dances, but sometimes people act in ways that make others feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe. So, first, don't do that! Unwanted touching, harassment, threats, unsafe dancing, and other harmful behavior are not acceptable at [event]. If someone tells you no, listen to them and stop.

On the other hand, if someone is bothering you by doing the things above or anything else, the organizers want to support you. Here's how we can help: more...

Price Gouging and Increased Costs

When a business raises prices in response to increased demand after a disaster, that's price gouging and is often illegal. New Jersey famously enforced this after hurricane Sandy, issuing stern warnings and then suing them after the fact. I recently read a response to this enforcement that argued these laws were clearly harmful:

If New Jersey gas stations were allowed to sell gas at $20, the price would have stayed at that level for at most 3 or 4 hours. That's how long it takes to fill up a tanker in Pennsylvania or Maryland and drive to Jersey.
Many gas stations had generators that would power the pumps, but running the generators costs more than electricity from the grid does, and without raising prices by more than 10% that gas stations couldn't break even while running generators. In case this isn't clear: there is gas in the ground, there are pumps to pump the gas, there are generators to power the pumps, there are people desperate to buy the gas, there is a law that prevents them from doing so, there is someone dying in a hospital because their doctor can't get there to help them.

This is a common misunderstanding the way price gouging laws work (and one I've made myself). A store simply charging more for what's already on their shelves is gouging, but passing along increased costs, with their customary markup, is generally not. more...

All-Day Fan Cooling

When it's 90F in the middle of the day, you're going to be hot even with a fan. But by taking advantage of the day/night temperature difference, you can keep your house pretty cool without AC.

During the summer in Boston we'll typically have nights that get down to 70F with days that get up to 90F. If you also have >15F between your lows and your highs you can use this difference to do a lot of work! Here's how: more...

BIDA board over time

Here's a visualization of the composition of the BIDA board over the past eight years:

full post...

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