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A train traveling at 40 mph is train traveling at 40 mph is a train traveling at 40 mph.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.24.13

Chris Y asks: ... these are taken from a national exam aimed at 16 year olds. How does the standard compare with US schools? Easier? Harder? (I got the trig one wrong because I was taught in the middle ages using a book of tables, which I do not have.)

Heebie's take: These seemed slightly easier than the Texas exam to graduate, but that's not a very well-informed hunch. The 2nd, 3rd, and 7th questions seem comparable, but the 1st, 4th, and 6th seem easier. The 5th question - probability - is generally not covered in high school (although it certainly should be).

I'm slightly relieved that easy math is about the same in either country. (Amusingly, the answers have just been written out by hand and scanned in.)


 

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Guest Post - Motor Voter law & Affordable Care Act

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.23.13

Witt writes: Does the 1993 Motor Voter law mean that the new ACA health insurance exchanges will be required to help people register to vote?

Signs say yes. Whoa.

Long interesting article from Pew's Stateline project.


 

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Ka-blam.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.13

Just heard a great Mike Tyson quote: "Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth." It gets depressing when you start thinking about how widely it applies.


 

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Guest Post - Bullshit Jobs

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.22.13

Clew writes: I like Graeber on bullshit jobs. We could quietly accuse each other of having bullshit jobs, and argue that all jobs always have been bullshit, and bemoan the ecological cost of almost all non-bullshit jobs, and psychoanalyze people we don't know about why they think bullshit should be paid more. Though apparently I am grouchy today and shouldn't play.

Possible natural experiment; Medford and Ashland. Medford is literally productive. Ashland is an epiphenomenon of epiphenomenal wealth -- Shakespear festival, professional river rafters, retirement community called `Emeritus' and not joking. All the places to sleep in Ashland were expensive and booked, last month. The non-chain breakfast restaurants in Medford were closed. Medford is half for lease and all pretty grouchy -- last in the news when two citizens went somewhere more liberal in Oregon to wear their semiautomatics into the library. Ashland is doing very well. Medford's most famous company, Harry and David's, was bought, bankrupted, and is struggling to recover.

Heebie's take: Here's the introduction, to ground the discussion a bit:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
Why did Keynes' promised utopia - still being eagerly awaited in the '60s - never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn't figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we've collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment's reflection shows it can't really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the '20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

And here's Graeber's answer:

The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the '60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

I don't think this is quite right. I think it's merely profit-driven: get labor as cheaply as possible. Then the natural consequence is that people have to work until they have enough money to live on. The last sentence is entirely correct.


 

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Andrew Ross Sorkin Is Not Good At Calculating Odds

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.22.13

John Quiggin has a post on cronyism that linked to a Sorkin piece in the NYT defending nepotism, and reminded me that I'd thought the Sorkin piece was either clueless or dishonest when I read it. Sorkin talks about how the children of well connected people are often very impressive in their own right, such as Chelsea Clinton:

The same goes for the prime example of this issue in the United States: Chelsea Clinton. Ms. Clinton worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company after college and later at Avenue Capital, a hedge fund founded by a big Clinton fund-raiser, Marc Lasry. But Ms. Clinton, a Stanford graduate who is considered intelligent by virtually everyone who has spent time with her, had as genuine a claim on those jobs as anyone else graduating the year she did.

The last sentence there is perfectly defensible -- Clinton has a high-prestige education and doesn't seem to be an idiot. Any job that requires a high-prestige education might as well go to her as to anyone else. But then Sorkin takes it a step farther:

And then there is Robert Rubin's son Jamie, who worked at the Federal Communications Commission and at Allen & Company, the boutique bank, while his father was part of the Clinton administration. I've known Jamie for years and he, too, probably would have landed prominent posts even without his name. In some cases, some of these children will tell you that they try to work harder than others at their jobs, just to prove that they earned the position.

No. There are a whole lot more people with high-prestige educations than there are "prominent posts". I don't know a thing particularly about Rubin, but I'm pretty sure that, like Clinton, he's neither more nor less qualified for prominent positions than hundreds of his classmates, and the reason why he and she are on a different career track than their classmates are is their parents rather than any particular individual excellence.

This is the smallest of possible justice issues -- the people who are qualified on paper for the jobs that get handed to Clinton and Rubin are doing just fine doing something else. But it still burns me having Sorkin patiently explain that the children of the powerful are running things because of their objectively judged merit.


 

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More Various

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.21.13

Sometimes I keep tabs open thinking I should post on the link, but the tab lingers because I have no angle exactly. I want to close some tabs.

1. Civil forfeiture is such baldfaced corrupt theft that it's hard to believe it has any legal cover whatsoever.

2. Dear Dylan amused me.

3. Is Crooked Timber getting all kinds of shout outs lately? Krugman mentioned them, and some list said they were big thinkers...Just remember what your knees are for, guys.

4. Watch a patronizing asshole save the homeless. Via Snarkie.


 

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"Lights"

Posted by Ben
on 08.20.13

A poem composed by me at an unknown age
But judging from the physical qualities of the printout, probably ca. middle school years
And sent to me for unknown reasons
By my mother, and reproduced here
With mispellings and mis spacings intact:

Red lights, man, they're getting bigger, closer, no where's safe any more, man, no one.
Green lights are the worst, man, the worst, and yellows, they're only there for a few seconds, man, but they fight like all the forces of Hell where behind them
And the bright lights, man, never look at them.
They don't do much themselves, man, but they go out with a glare.
Enough to blind you, man, enough to eat your soul.
Have you ever seen a man when his soul is being forcibly torn from his body?
I have, man, and it isn't pretty, man, it's ugly.
They scream like their lungs are on fire, man.
After that, they're just so many clods of dung that look human.
They can't do anything.
Can't even breathe by themselves.
Lack the drive, the will power, to stay alive, even.
The lucky ones die, man.
The lucky ones.
The rest require 24 hour care, man.
Some go crazy.
See, their minds still work, they can think, tehy know what happened, what's happening.
Know they can't do anything about it.
They scream, man, scream worse than they do when the soul leaves the bdoy in the first place.
Scream all night long, all day long.
Don't even pause for breath.
Sometiems the suffocate themselves.
Sometimes the screaming drives every one else mad.
I've heard it, man, saw it happen.
It isn't pretty.


 

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Emotional fluid dynamics

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.20.13

Apparently there was a rather influential 2005 psychology paper - "322 scholarly citations and 164,000 web mentions" - which concluded that the ideal ratio for a good life was roughly three positive emotions for every one negative emotion. The psychologists gathered a lot of self-reported data on whether people were flourishing or languishing.

Then the psychologists applied the Lorenz equations, because you know, emotions are fluid so why not pull in some fluid dynamics? And nobody questioned this in eight years until a grad student actually tried to read the Lorenz paper "with some difficulty" and concluded that the numbers being generated were utterly meaningless.

It is just bizarre that nobody questioned how some psychologists were applying a simplified model of atmospheric convection to a bunch of data about feelings. People sure are intimidated by math.


 

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Reality Hunger

Posted by Ben
on 08.20.13

Stories that once might have been channeled into fiction end up instead presented as news. Much click bait in these publications follows this pattern: A confessional writer -- or one pushed into confession by market demands -- will spill before an online audience.

But why the vogue for the confessional mode? (Recall, as I apparently never tire of reminding people, that A Million Little Pieces was initially shopped around as fiction, but only got interest when its memoirish aspects were played up.) Is it just that one can't feel superior to, or berate, fictional characters, and there's a great demand for butting-in that isn't satisfiable outside Slate's columns? It's not as if tales of neglecting one's dog offer a vision of excitement that you too (dear reader) could potentially experience as well, were you only rightly situated.

Unrelatedly, some novels in three lines.


 

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K-cups

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.20.13

Apparently at the very end of the school year, after I was gone on maternity leave, somebody decided that our department needed one of those fancy-pants k-cup coffee machines. Apparently we splurged for it.

Over the summer, the secretary realized that we were now spending $.60/cup of coffee, and the old system cost $.04/cup of Folgers Crapstals. So she purchased a whole bunch of reusable little k-cup filters, and worked out the math, and got it down to $.06/cup.

So basically we now have an extremely labor-intensive system, where you individually fill a filter with Folgers and then clean out a miniature reusable, in order to drink crap coffee made through a pricey machine. The secretary explained it to me as "I'll fill all the filters in the morning, and then you just leave them in the sink and I'll clean them out at the end of the day," which of course is wildly more work than she ever did with the old coffee pot, and I hope everyone is like me and feels too guilty to actually take her up on her offer.

I'm mildly having a fit of "This never would have happened on my watch!" because it sure as hell wouldn't have. I would have pitched a fit and pointed out these problems. A good-natured fit, but a fit nonetheless.


 

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Body Dysmorphia

Posted by Alameida
on 08.20.13

For many years I avoided ever going on a diet of any sort since I was convinced it would do something weird to my body metabolism and then when I ate normally again I would gain weight. I think this was not an entirely crazy notion. Spending so much time in bed with a pillow on my head last year...well, OK, also this year, but truly I do go to work a lot, so I was never in bed for so long a stretch as I make it seem...I did gain a substantial (to me) amount of weight and was unhappy about it.

My mom came a year ago and told me to stop eating too many meager granola bars and eat a nice salade composée with a just-past-soft-boiled egg on it, or some chicken, or salmon, or whatever. Piles of food. Baby carrots and cherry tomato halves and Japanese cucumbers and mixed Asian salad greens. And I have eaten salad every night for dinner, for a year. Occasionally I have eaten other things, sure. But I only have one kind of cereal for breakfast. And then I have fruit for lunch. Then the question was, why do I not weigh only one pound, and it turned out to be that two of the pills I take cause weight gain as a side effect. The question is also, does a sane, healthy person eat the same thing for a whole year? No.

But I've lost my appetite? Now I weigh what I weighed when I got pregnant for the first time. I believe this number on the actual doctor's scale. And in the fact that my clothes fit a certain way. But I still look fat, to myself. Fat isn't even right. Unsatisfactory to myself personally in some way notionally attached to me being fat. And also in the mirror. But not in photographs! I can look at a photo of myself and see more accurately what I look like to other people. To the point where I failed to identify myself in several pictures from my brother's place in WV. Like, who's that obviously thin person sitting next to the creek in that photo? Surely the mirror should be the same as the photograph? But it's not that I feel no satisfaction, I do. It's just that the amount of feeling bad about my body seems pretty constant regardless what I weigh. This is annoying.

Partly this is just the illusory nature of weight loss which is presented to women as the key to happiness. It turns out you're still you, and you still have the same life problems, or not, only when you step on the scale thing x happens rather than thing y. But this isn't entirely right either, since people are very judgmental, and want to put women in box x or box y. This can be seen in the hilariously menacing multi-grain Cheerios slogan: "more whole grains...less of you." Yes, pesky you! Away with you! Along these lines, my sister and I have found that no male doctor has ever been remotely worried about unintentional weight loss as a symptom of anything or a problem. Unintentional weight gain, yes. Loss, no. Obviously there's some number below which my primary care physician would care, but what he said today was, "you've slimmed down."

It's my general understanding that dudes just don't give that much of a shit about it? That can't be right either. Tell me about your constant anxiety, and that time you bought extra French blue eye-drops in the airport. They are like Visine, but also with blue dye--hence not approved by the FDA--to make the whites of your eyes glossy and pale with youth.
Confidential to Constant Poster HBGB: I have the house dream too! There are...like you said, maybe 15? That's a lot. 10. The plot of the dream is that there is some whole new wing and I didn't know it was there, or a walk-in closet of incredible vintage clothes in my size, or a ghost but it turns out she is friendly, mostly. The main one is in Savannah on a spot where no square was ever built, though one was planned, which is where all my mom's Savannah house dreams take place (if not at my grandmother's, natch.)


 

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The Arnolds feign death until the Wagners, sensing the sudden awkwardness, are compelled to leave.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.19.13

Daycare was closed today; a friend came over with her daughter. I was super goddamned tired from traveling yesterday. At one point in the afternoon, I laid down on the floor, by the kitchen table. As a joke, ie see how tired I am? It felt so good down there that I closed my eyes, and then fell sleep.

When I woke up, my friend had left. I felt so fantastically well-rested. But it's just now dawning on me to be embarrassed by the whole spectacle.


 

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Done.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.19.13

Due to our dear Facebook, it's ubiquitous all of a sudden to see like as an imperative. Like us on Facebook! Like me, now! LIKE IT. It's close to one of those semantic satiation* moments.

I entertain myself as a parent by using the do-imperative all the time, as in "Do keep up" and pretending I'm either pretentious or British, I never can tell. Perhaps advertisers might start imploring us to "Do like us on Facebook. Do! Do like us!" Of course, then we'd all start imitating them.

This entry is getting sillier the longer I type. Do post it without editing, Heebie.

* I trotted out that phrase, "semantic satiation", in a kind of did-you-know moment last weekend to a friend from grad school. He totally pulled a "whoa! What a mouthful! I could never say that!" and I got unnecessarily irritated, because dude. I know you're bright. It's two words, both of which you know, so just get with the program.


 

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The kids, and their short lifespans thus far.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.18.13

Some friends visited with their exceptionally mature 13 year old niece. She was so mature and adult-seeming that it was extra-surprising that she didn't know who Elvis Presley was. Upon reflection, it does seem easy to be born in 2000 and not necessarily encounter Elvis. Maybe the weirder part is that someone born in 2000 can seem so adult.

(Different friend's daughter: "I know I sound like a broken record, but..." My friend, confused, because the daughter hadn't been repeating herself or doing anything broken-record-esque. "Honey, do you know what a broken record sounds like?" The daughter makes a noise sort of like a dying pterodactyl. When my friend finished laughing, she explained about skipping records and they found a youtube video of a broken record. I think I've told this story before.)


 

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