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Things

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.05.14

1. No one need ever post photos of their local fireworks.
2. The Detroit water shut-off isn't new, but it is awful. I don't know what there's to say, but it keeps dragging on.
3. The ten most corrupt states in 'Murica.


 

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Nanny From Hell

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.04.14

I don't know if you all have been enjoying the Nanny From Hell story, but this is a particularly nice take on it.

Now, to their shock, the Bracamontes have discovered that the person who initially agreed to work on their exploitative and illegal terms is unreasonable. They are so upset that they have gone to the press with this problem: that the person they unlawfully brought into their home, as an unpaid servant, now will neither work as their servant nor leave their house.

Ah, what a mess.


 

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No Pressure

Posted by Ogged
on 07.03.14

Beautiful.

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.

Longer write-up.


 

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Guest Post - hi-lo mashups

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.03.14

E. Messily sends in:
books & tv shows

paintings & hip hop lyrics

Sesame Street/Muppets & pop songs

symphony orchestra & cartoon themes

Heebie's take: When we were at Chuck E. Cheese recently, we saw the fake-band perform the song "My Karate Kid" to the tune of Bobby Brown's "My prerogative". Someone else's video of it here.

It is so weird. At one point, in place of the lyric It's my prerogative, you can do what you want to do the mouse Chuck sings It's my Karate Kid, the one with Elizabeth Shue.


 

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Let Us Hate

Posted by Ogged
on 07.02.14

Justin Mateen, ladies and gentleman. Who raised this guy?


 

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Bodies.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.02.14

1. People Posing As If They've Just Fallen In Hilarious Photo Series. The weird thing here is how certain the journalist is that the photos are hysterically funny. Artistic? Sure. But calling them funny requires a heavy dose of misogyny, I think.

2. This Woman Had Her Face Photoshopped In Over 25 Countries To Examine Global Beauty Standards. It is not very interesting to observe that a very pretty woman can be tweaked to be differently pretty with varying amounts of different make-up. Until you get to Germany. WTF, Germany?!

3. Old article, but reminiscent of the recent article where the hot skinny girl describes how much work it takes to stay waifish. It's a nearly identical regimen for formerly obese people to maintain a normal weight.

4. I finally saw the first few episodes of Girls last night. First, I laughed a lot. The people are sort of despicable, but not in a deal-breaker way for me. It is honestly impressive to me how willing Lena Dunham is to let her body be portrayed in the most brutally unflattering ways, though. I can't think of a time when someone with so much writer/director control has put themself through the wringer quite so savagely.

5. Not about bodies, but I laughed at the Wikipedia entry for Guam if retold as a YA novel.


 

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The Past Is...Nope, Same Country

Posted by Ogged
on 07.01.14

--John Yoo would like to thank the University.

"It's a great honor to hold the oldest chair at the law school," Yoo, who received the first chair established at Berkeley Law

--Blackwater would like to shoot you in the head.

in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor's operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater's top manager there issued a threat: "that he could kill" the government's chief investigator and "no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,"


 

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NSA

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.01.14

Helpful chart of all the NSA secret programs revealed in the past year.


 

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Consideration

Posted by Ogged
on 07.01.14

Cannibal cop's conviction has been overturned, and although I thought it was a close call, this seems right. I argued with friends about it at the time. Similarly, I thought killing Awlaki was beyond the pale, and argued with friends about it at the time. Which makes me realize that my own friends would do things in office that I would find craven and inexcusable, and surely they'd say the same of me. I suppose the question is whether we should be less forgiving of friends, or more forgiving of people in office. I should ask Stras what he thinks.


 

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High Dudgeon

Posted by Ogged
on 06.30.14

Of course there's no profit in posting about the Palestinian situation, but this latest round of "history started with the latest bad thing the other guy did":

"There is no mercy for the murderers of children. This is the time for action, not words"

Did catch my eye.


 

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Footy

Posted by Ogged
on 06.30.14

The World Cup rolls on.


 

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Hobby Lobby

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.30.14

Jesus fucking christ. Explain to me again how I sound like the idiot for failing to say "natural-born persons" when complaining that corporations are not people?


 

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Guest Post - what were the nineties?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.30.14

K-sky writes: It's laughably easy to come up with tropes that encapsulate the 1980's. Reagan! Pastels! Cocaine! Phil Collins! Wall Street! Done. Throw in Family Ties and Miami Vice for free. The 80's feels endlessly essentializable. (Hello, American Psycho.) Even the counternarratives feel like they're of a piece with the master narrative -- there was an episode of Miami Vice where they fought the contras.

By contrast, the 90's feel totally elusive to me. I could reel off a similar list of signifiers--"triangulation", grunge, cargo shorts, Just Do It, microbrews--but they don't feel like an answer to the question What Were The Nineties?

The simplest reason could be personal -- I was in college for half the decade, experiencing my first era as an adult but also slightly disconnected from popular culture (or more connected to my studies). In a related manner, it could be that the 80's were slightly mysterious to me, but having lived through them, once other people began to characterize them, it was easy for me to fill in their concepts with my experience. It could just be too soon, although nearly 15 years on, it doesn't seem that way -- certainly "The Seventies" was easy enough to caricature when I was reading MAD Magazine in 1985.

The only ideas I have are counternarratives. The first one, in music, is of a girls vs. boys movement -- the first half of the decade was this feminine/feminist insurgence, from Lilith Fair to Riot GRRL, and the second half was a backlash, with hyper-masculine nu-rock pushing to the front. (Grunge fits in this narrative, but it's not the main event.) The second is the Tom Frank take on the decade -- it's the time of "Be Your Own Dog" and corporate-alternative or commidified dissent. But both of those feel like slant perspectives. What would "That Nineties Show" be about? And why don't I already know?

Heebie's take: I think there's a real phenomenon here, but maybe a bit overstated. I'd essentialize the 90s with "Seinfeld, Clinton, dot com, raves, Nirvana, Doc Martins". Throw in OJ and Lorena Bobbitt for giggles. But it does also seem a little more elusive to me than the infinitely parody-able 80s.


 

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Piketty Reading Group: Chapter 7

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.29.14

Lw has chapter 8 next week, and fake accent has chapter 11 four weeks from now. Volunteers for 9, 10, and 12 solicited in this week or next week's thread. Under the fold, I discover that I should have read Balzac before going to law school.

Prior reading group posts:

Piketty Reading Group Setup
Initial Scheduling Post
Introduction and Chapter One -- Robert Halford
Chapter Two -- Minivet
Chapter Three -- Essear
Chapter Four -- Unimaginative
Chapter Five -- X. Trapnel
Chapter Six -- Conflated

Chapter 8 begins Part Three of the book, turning from the history of the capital/labor and the capital/income ratios to a discussion of inequality between individuals. This summary is going to be wordy and incoherent -- I found the chapter not terribly logically organized, which made it hard to summarize on any but a page-by-page basis.

Piketty opens with a discussion of a scene from Pere Goriot (which I'm figuring is either his favorite book, or he wrote a paper on it in college that got a really good grade, or something -- half of the literary illustrations are from it, and almost all of the ones that both specifically address something in the novel and actually relate to the economics. Has the Balzac Society asked him to lecture on it yet? Does the Balzac Society exist? But I wander), in which a shady character explains to a naive young man that the very pinnacle of success as a lawyer would be an income of 50,000 francs a year, which is nowhere near real wealth, so he should marry an unappealing woman and hire the shady character to kill her brother so she inherits a fortune. (I'm not saying I wouldn't have gone to law school if I'd read this first, but I would have had a more realistic sense of my options.) His point generally is that to nineteenth century authors, it was obvious that wealth was something you inherited rather than something it was possible to earn (he cites Gone With The Wind. I disapprove of using a book published in 1937 as historical evidence about the 1860s. Also, what about Thackeray, with characters who got rich in India?).

Now, we generally no longer believe that -- we generally think that wealth can be earned. (Whether justifiably or not, but received as the result of income from labor.) Piketty picks apart different possible kinds of income inequality: there is inequality of income from labor and inequality of income from capital, and the latter can itself be picked apart into inequality of income due to the amount of capital owned, and due to the returns the owner can get on their capital (which may itself be a function of the amount owned -- e.g., a billionaire with a hedge fund is getting rates of return that Joe and Zelda Average are not getting in their savings account). The correlation between income from capital and income from labor may be negative, as when rich people don't need to work, but isn't necessarily.

As a general rule, income inequality is much smaller than wealth inequality -- the bottom half of the wealth distribution basically owns nothing, while the bottom half of the income distribution earns a substantial percentage of the national income. The reverse case -- more income inequality than wealth inequality -- is theoretically possible but never actually happens. Wealth inequality at about the same level as income inequality is also possible, and that's what you would get if wealth were generally the result of saving from a lifetime's income, but again, Piketty says, looking at the numbers makes it seem as though that is not the case. So now we start looking at the numbers.

Piketty uses lower, middle, and upper classes to refer to the bottom 50% of the wealth or income distribution, the middle 40%, and the upper 10%, and breaks down the upper 10% into the top 1%, the dominant class, and the remaining 9%, or the well-to-do class (these classes are not going to describe the same people when you're talking about wealth and income, necessarily). He has no theoretical justification or strong attachment to those breaklines, you could use different ones, but that's what he's using, because at least they can be clearly compared across societies, as opposed to more nuanced, socioeconomic descriptions of the different classes. He gives a series of tables describing what low, medium, high, and very high inequality would look like in terms of income accruing to each of these groups -- 1970s and 80s Scandinavia is his paradigm of low income inequality, but he doesn't have a real-world example of low capital inequality. The example of very high capital inequality is Europe in 1910, where the upper class owned 90% of all the wealth. Also, breaking down the wealth and income distribution in the top centile and the structure of the top decile is going to be interesting; e.g., there's going to be a social difference between a society with a very few very rich people, and one with a top class of significant size.

Piketty describes inequalities in labor income as generally 'moderate'. In low-inequality Scandinavia in the 70's, the top 10% got about 20% of the income, the bottom 50% got about 35% -- that is, the bottom 50% earned almost twice as much, in total, as the top 10%. In high-inequality present-day US, the top 10% earned 35% of the income, and the bottom 50% only 25%. This difference has significant effects on the options open to people in the bottom half of the distribution. Inequalities in capital, on the other hand, are extreme: as noted above, in all real world examples the bottom half of the distribution owns less than 10%, usually less than 5%, of all wealth. Low-inequality 1970's Scandinavia, the upper class owned about 50% of everything; current France, they own 62% of all wealth; the current US, they own 72% of everything, while the lower class owns 2%. And Piketty asserts that this data probably under-, rather than over-, estimates wealth concentration, guessing in an endnote that the real number for the US is 75%. To put this all another way, the most equal societies in terms of wealth, have far higher inequality than the least equal societies in terms of income; wealth in 70's Scandinavia was less equally divided than income in the current US.

Thinking about what that sort of wealth distribution actually looks like: a large part of the population owns literally nothing or less than nothing (debt, which was invented by circles of ex-IBM employees in their garages... oh, that really wasn't called for), while the remainder of the lower class owns maybe a few thousand dollars in a checking account, or a heavily mortgaged house. In a wealth distribution like modern day France, at the other end of the scale the average wealth of the top 1% is 5 million €, and of the next 9% 800,000 €. Real estate is a significant part of wealth at the bottom end of the upper class, but much less so at the top of the upper class. And then the middle class's wealth is largely the family home, with some additional savings.

A middle class with any wealth that can be inherited (a 'patrimonial' middle class) is a novelty that didn't exist in Europe in 1910 (or, presumably, generally earlier). Wealth is still very concentrated now, but not like it was then, and as a result the top decile has fewer 'fortunes' that can support a comfortable life without labor income -- Balzac's naive young man being advised to marry money would have a harder time now, because there just aren't as many heiresses on the hoof.

Next, we look at what total income (from capital and labor) inequality looks like in real-world societies. Piketty asserts that inequality can't get too high, or blood will flow in streets like borscht, and raises a possible natural barrier when the top 10% takes in 50% of the national income. That barrier may have been exceeded in immediately pre-Revolutionary France, and in earlier agrarian society. And it might be possible to sustain such high inequality if it seems justified by the superior work-ethic or skills of the high-income, or if there's a belief that high income inequality is good for the poor. Anyway, he projects that the US may break the 50% barrier before 2030, so we'll find out, and the justification for our income distribution is going to be really really important in terms of the blood in the streets thing (chill, bob).

There are two possible kinds of high income inequality societies: rentier societies, where the distribution of capital is wildly inequitable and the income from capital is the most significant part of total income, and 'hypermeritocratic' (in sneer quotes -- this is how such a society would be characterized by those who approve of it, but not necessarily with justification) societies where the distribution of labor incomes is wildly inequitable. And of course the two can be combined, with heirs of hypermeritocrats being rentiers or other combinations. At the moment, the US is a "hypermeritocratic" society, mostly, not a rentier society, and we're going to talk about the differences between the two, and the possibility that a society with the characteristics of both may develop, in future chapters.

We close the chapter by talking about data: the Gini index is oversimplified, and decile/centile distribution tables like Piketty uses are better, as better conveying the actual amounts of money being discussed, and being less likely to obscure bad data. Interdecile ratios as used by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I had to google it, and will be trying to figure out what it is after I'm done with this summary) are also misleading, because they rely on, e.g., the income level at the 10th and 90th percentile, which elides any differences within the top decile. This elision obviously loses a lot of information about the very rich, and just makes people angry. (I found this thought oddly evocative -- I want to know more about the people Piketty is talking to who are enraged by OECD stats, and perhaps to have drinks with them.) To sum up, looking at the income and wealth statistics the way Piketty does with distribution tables showing percentage of total income/wealth accruing to each portion of the population is clearly better than any practical alternative. Which, sure, I figure I'll trust him on that until someone convinces me different.

Anyone still reading?


 

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Weekend.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.29.14

Generally I'm all reverse snobbery as the next person. But today, and on occasion, no. We were at a pool with a gorgeous outdoor set-up - multiple expensive outdoor couch seating arrangements, awnings with fans, fancy outdoor kitchen, and so on...and it's nice. Expensive stuff is sometimes just really awesome. It's sort of depressing.

Also someone described a restaurant in Dallas that specializes in Mexican, Southern, and kosher deli style breakfasts, which sounds amazing. Maybe arguing over who does breakfast best is futile, but those are three solid contenders.


 

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I'm Bored With The World Cup -- Changes To Tennis Rules Are More Interesting

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.29.14

John McEnroe is proposing the elimination of line judges, claiming that most calls could be made by the players because they're obvious, and the new instant replay systems could handle the few hard calls. Other players were skeptical, particularly my new hero:

(Ernests Gulbis of Latvia was among those who said it would not work, but only after he went on a rambling soliloquy on the need to get rid of vampires. "My God, umpires?" he said when someone slowed him down. "I thought something else.")


 

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