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This probably shouldn't really bother me

Posted by Ben
on 02.25.12

How to Cook a Wolf is a book by MFK Fisher, published in 1942 and devoted to the topic of cooking when resources are scarce, whether owing to shortages and rationing, or lack of money. (Which may explain its enthusiasm for baked apples.) It contains advice about using the heat from the oven for multiple things at once, and generally economizing on the expense of using the stove at all. At one point it refers to a "momentous purchase of some ground beef". It contains instructions for making one's own mouthwash and soap (from the fat, of the fat you have saved, which is "not fit for food"), and an insipid-looking "war cake" (you can use bacon grease instead of butter, if you need to). It is most famous (I believe) for containing a recipe for a nutritive "sludge" (you prepare it on someone else's stove, because yours has been shut off).

How to Cook a Wolf is a Seattle restaurant which "pays homage" to Fisher's "philosophy of taking simple ingredients and transforming them into culinary splendor". (Is that Fisher's philosophy? To me she seems more French than Italian, and she herself notes that her fondness for including gobs of goose fat (or drippings from wild pheasants) in her kasha is "a blatant example of rich-bitch deviation from a basically 'poor' recipe.") It does not serve sludge, but the prosciutto di Parma and sushi-grade tuna are evidently exquisite.


 

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Homogeneous

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.25.12

For the first time in my life, I do not have any gay people in my immediate, local circle of friends. Up till now, I've always been in groups that had lots of gay people. It was weird to realize this. (Obviously I'm still friends with those people, but they're not local.)

What happened is that we tacked onto a group of parents who all knew each other from their kids' Montessori. (There are gay parents at our kids' daycare, but much fewer and farther between than just regular old gay in life.)

I suspect everyone in our current circle has this pattern. On the one hand, this is totally unremarkable. Straight people are called breeders because penises and vaginas make babies. People with babies have an easier time if they hang out with people with babies.

On the other hand, are there implications if there is in fact a culture-wide segregation that occurs (to an extent) when people start having babies? I still see gay people regularly at work, here on Unfogged, in my family, chat with my old friends on the phone, etc. But when it comes time to call someone to kill a Saturday afternoon with, it's all breeders.

(Possibly the real divide is breeders/child-free. That both are absent from my local circle seems like a failure on my part.)


 

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Corporate psychopaths

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.24.12

From Witt:

"British academic claims "corporate psychopaths" are to blame for financial crisis" (The paper is paywalled, but here's a Bloomberg columnist's quick gloss.

From Heebie: I read Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test, which was a really fun read because he's a great writer. But was inconclusive on the question above - is the finance sector crawling with psychopaths?

Here's my take: Put concentric circles around a person indicating how much concern they have for other people: your close friends and family in the inner circle, acquaintances in the next level, etc, until a circle that's just marked "the rest of humanity". Most people put the "rest of humanity" circle somewhat close, but far enough away to stave off sinking into constant despair*. These corporate psychopaths do have an inner circle, so they're not actually lacking in empathy altogether. It's just that their "everyone else" category is miles away. A more technical description would be corporate pigfuckers.
.
*Except here on unfogged, where no one seems to be able to keep humanity at bay. Maybe we're pathologically empathetic.


 

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Contribution

Posted by Stanley
on 02.24.12

The Gregory Brothers really are a gift to American democracy:


 

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PAC it up, PAC it in.

Posted by Stanley
on 02.23.12

I caught only snippets of today's Fresh Air interview with James Bopp, the lawyer who first represented Citizens United. At one point, Mr. Bopp made two claims: (1) that there are more wealthy people who are liberal than there are wealthy people who are conservative, and (2) that wealthy people have long donated more money to liberal causes than to conservative causes.

I suspect that the veracity of these claims could go either way, depending how one defines "wealthy" and "liberal" and "conservative". But even if it were true, so what? Financing public elections with private money is a terrible way to run a democracy. Full stop.


 

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And there were witches and (spoiler alert) they were hanged.

Posted by Stanley
on 02.22.12

I went to see a play this evening (more of a musical, really; anyway, I attended the theatre). And I was wondering, in a moment where I lacked proper charity, whether watching American actors do British accents would have been totally distracting to a British (or Australian, or Kiwi, or Irish, or Scottish) audience.

I can certainly imagine going to see a production in, say, London, with a cast of Brits playing Americans, and the accents being really pretty good, but clearly not all from the same region.

But I'm being a toad. Support your local arts scene, people!


 

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Guest Post - Nick S.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.22.12

From Heebie: Nick actually sent me two guest posts. The first link is totally fascinating; haven't had a chance to read the second yet:

1. This is fantastic. It opens with the William Gibson line, ""The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed." And goes on to talk about how, at various points, one of the contour lines which affects the distribution is gender and the way in which various tasks are gendered:

By far the biggest literary offender on this subject, I feel, is steampunk. Because when you're talking about the 19th century, the invention that changes everything is not the difference engine, it's not the airship, it's not clockwork robots. It's the washing machine.

This doesn't really relate to the next link except that both are about looking away from the big, visible, iconic elements of technology or commerce to see another set of interactions.

2. I saw something today which made me think of one of x.trapnel's comments in the copyright thread. I was reading Robert Neuwirth (overview/longer) saying that that statement is at least as true in the world of physical good as the information economy.

There's a French word for someone who's self-reliant or ingenious: débrouillard. This got sort of mutated in the postcolonial areas of Africa and the Caribbean to refer to the street economy, which is called l'économie de la débrouillardise--the self-reliance economy, or the DIY economy, if you will. I decided to use this term myself--shortening it to System D--because it's a less pejorative way of referring to what has traditionally been called the informal economy or black market or even underground economy. I'm basically using the term to refer to all the economic activity that flies under the radar of government. So, unregistered, unregulated, untaxed, but not outright criminal--I don't include gun-running, drugs, human trafficking, or things like that.

...

Procter & Gamble, for instance, realized that although Walmart is its single largest customer, System D outposts, when you total them up, actually account for more business. So Procter & Gamble decided to get its products into those stores. In each country, P&G hires a local distributor--sometimes several layers of local distributors--to get the product from a legal, formal, tax-paying company to a company willing to deal with unlicensed vendors who don't pay taxes. That's how Procter & Gamble gets Downy fabric softener, Tide laundry detergent, and all manner of other goods into the squatter communities of the developing world. Today, in aggregate, these markets make up the largest percentage of the company's sales worldwide.

I don't have any conclusions to draw from this, particularly in the area of IP, but it seems relevant to the conversation (and, not incidentally, is exactly what Econ 101 would predict -- it provides a crude avenue for market segmentation and price discrimination). Worth reading.


 

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Testing

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.22.12

(The following is absolutely true, told to me by a person who studies such things.) Texas testing is changing from an old system (TAKS) to a new testing system (STAR). This year is a transition year.

Under the TAKS test, a ninth grade student was tested at the end of the year on material from K-8th grade. Similarly, every test in a given year covered material that ended with the previous year. Yet the 9th grade teacher's merit pay was dependent on the current group of students, performing on material that the 9th grade teacher wasn't supposed to cover.

So the de facto standard - absolutely universal - was for a 9th grade geometry teacher to quit teaching geometry at the beginning of February, and switch to prepping students for the TAKS test - ie old material from k-8. (This came up because if you are trying to study geometry teachers, it is quite relevant to know when, in a school year, the teaching of the subject geometry ends.)

There's a clear logic to having the Nth year test not cover material from the Nth year - students take time to absorb material, not all students take geometry in 9th grade, etc. But writing legislation around this, and then tagging teacher's merit raises to it, is just so stupid. (This is being addressed by the STAR test, for the record.)


(It's almost enough to make you question the value of letting companies that sell standardized tests to public schools, write our education policies.)


 

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Texas is stupid

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.22.12

Last night, with a group of students, I asked if they'd been the target population for Harry Potter and the movie series, and they all collectively said, "Oh definitely," "I was in 4th grade when the first book came out," "I was 13 when the first movie came out," "It was the biggest thing in our middle school," etc.

Which triggered general recollections of the era. It turns out that nearly everyone in this group had someone - a pastor, parent, teacher, or grandparent - sounding the alarm that these books were full of witchcraft and evil. "My mom thought they were evil, but my grandmother said 'It's just a book, and slipped me them behind my mom's back." Etc.

Also, driving in just now, the truck with the confederate flag had another bumper sticker, which had the word "divisible" sandwiched between the American flag and the confederate flag. So I'm glad to see they're teaching fractions, at least. (If you reduce that fraction to its lowest terms, you get "black people should be own-able", although in this kid's mind its probably more like "yankees want to end my way of life".)

Keep this in mind: the majority of Texas is actually sane(-ish) and sound, it's just that the shoutiest parts are batshit nuts. Bat shitnuts.


 

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ATM: Charitable donations edition

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.21.12

I have some tax-refund money to play with, and want to put a chunk into charitable donations, in the social-welfare domain rather than universities, churches, and the like. Given that I have political goals probably around the Mineshaft median, and desire not just provision of services but advocacy for the government to take on more responsibility (or, at this point, avoid cuts), what would commenters recommend?

Nonexclusive list of areas I want to target:
* Human/civil rights, focusing on US policy (the ACLU is already on my list)
* The homeless
* Social safety net
* Prison reform

Groups that work at the state or local levels, not just federal, are also of interest.

Finally, It doesn't need to be tax-deductible - strategies or targets for low-level political donations would also be of interest.

Minivet

From Heebie: Oooh, I like this one. We've had charities threads before, but I'm also particularly interested in government advocacy groups. Take it away, Shaft!


 

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Serious Questions

Posted by Stanley
on 02.20.12

What's a Canadian to do on Family Day if that Canadian is not terribly fond of his or her family?

What does the president do on Presidents' Day? It would seem rather uncouth to take it as a personal holiday, but I might be tempted.


 

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Cue, Response, Reward.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.20.12

Last week Witt linked a short article about how Target figured out a girl was pregnant before her parents knew. It's an excerpt from this longer article, about how companies use the science of habit-formation in ingenious ways to lure us to shop at their store. (Pregnancy is a unique goldmine because new parents don't yet have all their habits locked down.)

First, I totally got played. I don't go to Target weekly, but it's on my radar in a way it didn't used to be, before kids. I've even given the advice: "Use Target for your baby registry, because lots of people just want to give you gift certificates, and you want to be able to easily exchange something and find something else you can use."

The whole article is super interesting, and not limited to Target. Also, consider these two paragraphs:

This research is also transforming our understanding of how habits function across organizations and societies. A football coach named Tony Dungy propelled one of the worst teams in the N.F.L. to the Super Bowl by focusing on how his players habitually reacted to on-field cues. Before he became Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill overhauled a stumbling conglomerate, Alcoa, and turned it into a top performer in the Dow Jones by relentlessly attacking one habit -- a specific approach to worker safety -- which in turn caused a companywide transformation. The Obama campaign has hired a habit specialist as its "chief scientist" to figure out how to trigger new voting patterns among different constituencies.
Researchers have figured out how to stop people from habitually overeating and biting their nails. They can explain why some of us automatically go for a jog every morning and are more productive at work, while others oversleep and procrastinate. There is a calculus, it turns out, for mastering our subconscious urges. For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.

I think every single sentence above is an article I'd like to read.

(However, like I've said before regarding Facebook and online data collection - I think all this targeted advertising stuff is a bubble. Sure, it gives them more market share, but only until everyone else catches up. On the other hand, I think the marketing industry is one of the most pernicious things in capitalism anyway.)


 

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Skunk Pig, Skunk Pig.

Posted by Stanley
on 02.20.12

Over on Facepage.biz, a distant relation reports a visit by ten javelinas to her Arizona backyard. Unclear about what creature she meant, I consulted the internet and learned for the first time of the existence of the skunk pig.

And with that, I think I'm all set on learning new things for the day. Unless you want to tell me about some other weird animals I haven't heard of.


 

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I Wish I Knew More About Basketball, But That's Not Going To Keep Me From Opining

Posted by LizardBreath
on 02.20.12

The headline for this story in the NYT print edition: Lin Tops Himself. Funny, I would have thought he had everything to live for.

But seriously, folks: is there any explanation for why Lin wasn't identified as a major basketball talent before a few weeks ago other than racial stereotyping? Maybe there is, and I don't understand how the basketball system works well enough to see it. And of course what happens to one professional athlete doesn't matter in itself. Still, it is odd to see a very visible test case like this, where a powerful system putting a lot of effort into identifying a kind of skill and potential that should be objectively measurable failed because the talented person came from an unexpected demographic group.

Also funny: an article relating how other NBA players describe Lin. The first three descriptors? "Crafty", "humble" and "hard-working".


 

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"Self worth beats net worth."

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.19.12

I saw this billboard in San Antonio this week:

February%2019%2C%202%2C%202012.JPG

(That's not my photo.) What the fuck?

Maybe I'm late to the party, because this is part of a campaign of optimism that's been out since 2009. More here. It seems to be some rich nutjob's stab at making people feel better, by reminding us about optimism, resilience, and keeping perspective.

"Interesting fact about recessions...they end."
"Chill. (Hysteria feeds recessions.)"
"It's a test, not a final."

You would have to be a pretty ungrateful unemployed person not to feel better after seeing these billboards!


 

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All the single ladies

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.19.12

This article is circulating, on how the majority of births to women under age 30 are born out-of-wedlock. It's a slightly annoying metric, especially if you're doing a historical comparison, because it's all tangled up with the decline of shotgun marriages, poverty rates, lack of sex ed and access to contraception, and social support structures. The group that seems immune to having children out of wedlock is women with a college education. In other words, people with lots of resources.

The shift is affecting children's lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.

But is it really a shift in rates of kids born out of wedlock that matters? Kids born to parents with resources do better than kids born to parents who do not have resources. The gap between who has resources and who doesn't has been growing, and the percent on the shit-end of the stick is growing. The end.

(Statistically kids are worse off if they're born out of wedlock, but that doesn't condemn any one particular kid, nor does it imply that all kids born in marriage are fine and dandy, so anecdotes are particularly unhelpful on this kind of topic, obviously.)


 

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