The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 12 Jul 2024

Loki the comedian

Toph and I were discussing the story of Loki and Skaði, one of my favorites. (Previously.) The Æsir have killed Skaði's father, and owe her compensation. She has been sad since her father died, she says, and demands that the Æsir make her laugh. Loki rubs his hands together and says "Leave this to me!".

He takes a rope, ties one end to a goat's beard, and the other and to his scrotum. Hilarity ensues.

Skaði tries not to laugh. She fails.

Toph asked a question I had not thought of, but that has been in my head ever since: "Do you think it was an idea he thought up on the spur of the moment? Or was it a bit he had planned ahead of time?"

Wow, I don't know. Was Loki suddenly struck with brilliant inspiration? Or did he think 'Aha, I knew this idea would come in handy sooner or later!' They're both plausible, right?

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Fri, 05 Jul 2024

A triviality about numbers that look like abbc

Looking at license plates the other day I noticed that if you have a four-digit number !!N!! with digits !!abbc!!, and !!a+c=b!!, then !!N!! will always be a multiple of !!37!!. For example, !!4773 = 37\cdot 129!! and !!1776 = 37\cdot 48!!.

Mathematically this is uninteresting. The proof is completely trivial. (Such a number is simply !!1110a +111c!!, and !!111=3\cdot 37!!.)

But I thought that if someone had pointed this out to me when I was eight or nine, I would have been very pleased. Perhaps if you have a mathematical eight- or nine-year-old in your life, they will be pleased if you share this with them.

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Wed, 03 Jul 2024

My reply to the people who want to designate my neighborhood a "historic district"

Last week I received a widely circulated email that began:

With tall apartment buildings being erected all around, we feel it is ever more important to preserve our community.

I sent this reply.

I have been a Spruce Hill homeowner for 16 years. I had to miss the June 26 meeting because I was out of the country. But I think the historic designation is a bad idea and I'd like to explain why.

In brief, our city has a housing shortage and a homelessness problem. There is only one way out of this terrible situation: build more housing. A "Historic District" designation is a direct attempt to prevent exactly that.

I understand why many homeowners might be in favor of it. Homeowners already own homes. We homeowners are the wealthy incumbents, trying to prevent our housing monopoly from being disrupted. If housing is scarce, our houses will be worth more money, at least in theory. But if more housing is built, the price for existing houses, which we own, won't increase so quickly. From an individual homeowner's point of view, this looks like "big apartment buildings could depress my property values."

But I think this is self-deceptive. Having a house in a city with a lot of homeless people, and one where essential workers can't afford to live, will also depress property values. It's not as obvious. It's not as acute. But it's a much bigger problem and one that's harder to deal with.

Also, a house that is "worth a lot of money" is only worth a lot of money on paper. To actually get the money for my house, I'd have to sell it. Then I and my family would have nowhere to live. We'd have to get another house. And because of widespread attempts to keep housing in short supply, that place would be expensive. High property values only help you if you are planning to move out of the neighborhood to somewhere cheaper, or if you're a very wealthy person who invests in multiple properties.

I think letting people live in our neighborhood is good for the neighborhood. The suggested support letter says that current conditions "[allow] small businesses to flourish". But what small businesses need to truly flourish is more customers. More people nearby means more customers for local businesses. More people means more money flowing, more chances for business to develop, more goods and services on offer. I would like to see vibrant stores occupying those vacant storefronts on Spruce Street.

I don't expect many people to be persuaded by this next point, but I have to put it in. I think allowing new people to share our neighborhood is part of the responsibility of living in a civil society. Compare it with jury duty. Nobody likes jury duty. It's inconvenient and troublesome. But we do it because we want to live in a country with jury trials, and we can't have citizen juries if we, citizens, don't serve on juries. I've been a Philadelphia homeowner since 2002. I'd rather have a house that's worth less, on paper, in a neighborhood and a city that are better to live in, one where people who want to live here can afford to do it. Our neighborhood is great! I've loved it since I first moved here in 1990. I want other people to enjoy it as much as I do.

Finally, when community organizations oppose development they often make some claim about "preserving the historic character of they neighborhood." Sometimes that might even be true. But it's clearly not true in this case because this neighborhood has had apartment buildings — low-rise and high-rise — since the 1920s. Garden Court apartments, sixteen stories high, was built before any one of us was born. Writer Isaac Asimov rented an apartment at 47th and Walnut back in the nineteen-forties, in an apartment building that is still there today. Anyone who moved into our area in the last hundred years knew that they were moving into a mixed-use neighborhood where there were rowhouses and semi-detached houses and apartment buildings, all mixed together. Apartment buildings are part of the historic character of our neighborhood, and to say they aren't is just not true.

The suggested letter to the Historical Commission says:

Spruce Hill’s significance lies partly in its variety of housing types that have historically housed an equal variety of people. The diversity of living arrangements and people make the neighborhood unique and valuable.

I agree! Let's keep doing that. Let's work for a more inclusive, growing, evolving neighborhood and for a thriving city that people can afford to live in.

Addendum 20240705

Stuff I thought about putting in the letter, but did not. I've learned a little bit in the last 40 years.

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