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Dr. Willie Parker

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.02.14

The sole abortionist left in Mississippi.

Being bullied had an impact, definitely. He remembers what it's like to be terrorized. That fueled the search for social justice that led him, eventually, to theologians like Paul Tillich, Dr. King, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who wrestled with "Thou shalt not kill" before joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. "He said the kind of Christianity that does not radicalize you with regard to human suffering is inauthentic--cheap and easy grace."
His "come to Jesus" moment occurred in Hawaii. He was teaching at the university when a fundamentalist administrator began trying to ban abortions in the school clinic, throwing students with an unwanted pregnancy into a panic. One day, he was listening to a sermon by Dr. King on the theme of what made the Good Samaritan good. A member of his own community passed the injured traveler by, King said, because they asked, "What would happen to me if I stopped to help this guy?" The Good Samaritan was good because he reversed the question: "What would happen to this guy if I don't stop to help him?" So Parker looked in his soul and asked himself, "What happens to these women when abortion is not available?"

Most of the article is a narrative of particular women getting abortions at the clinic. The whole thing is riveting.

Via E. Messily


 

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Sneaky

Posted by Ogged
on 08.02.14

Will ttaM still complain if I post a video on the weekend? Let's find out! I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere in the archives. Jewel wears a disguise and performs her songs at a karaoke bar. Really pretty great.


 

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Lame, Duck

Posted by Ogged
on 08.01.14

So Obama said "we tortured some folks" and haha fair enough. But here's what he said next.

I understand why it happened. I think it's important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that's what that report reflects. And that's the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be -- that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don't do it again in the future.

I'm torn between "that's as good as we'll get from an American president" and "just call out Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld by name, you fucking wuss." The whitewash of Brennan in the same conference makes me lean toward the latter.


 

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Litter Picker Upper

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.01.14

Whatever happened to David Sedaris? He moved to South Downs, West Sussex, in England. Since nobody knows who he is over there, he had a chance to make a name for himself.

Thrilled to have the vehicle named after him, David 'Pig Pen' Sedaris, said: "When I first moved to Horsham district three years ago I was struck by the area's outstanding natural beauty but I was also struck by all the rubbish that people leave lying around the roads.
"I'm angry at the people who throw these things out their car windows, but I'm just as angry at the people who walk by it every day. I say pick it up yourself. Do it enough and you might one day get a garbage truck named after you. It's an amazing feeling."

The backstory on how he came to be the guy who picks up litter.

via Tweety, who had to explain to me that this did in fact have something to do with the eponymous Sedaris.


 

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Road trip and Iceland

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.01.14

Tomorrow we start our four day drive home. Lessons learned from the trip up:
1. kids were fine, and I actually just found it difficult myself to be trapped in a car for that long. I thought that by the time you're an adult, you can take endless road trips without any problem, but it turns out that the last leg of the trip I was really antsy.
2. we did no treats whatsoever, and it was totally fine. They watched a lot of movies. I never did get the headphone thing working.

Mimi will probably send us off with a bunch of treats, but it's different when they come from grandma - they can devour them in the first 45 minutes, and they'll understand it's not a renewable resource.

Since that probably doesn't constitute a post, let me add that I found Five Lessons From Iceland's Failed Experiment in Creating a Crowdsourced Constitution to be a super-aggravating article. The clickbait is "Iceland Tried To Crowdsource a New Constitution. It Didn't Work."

I had the sense that Iceland was one of those stories that I never caught the tail end of, so I bit the bait and clicked through to see how sad the reason was, and:

The resulting constitutional proposal was approved as the basis of a constitution by two-thirds of the voters in an October 2012 referendum, but the bill based on it ultimately stalled in Parliament the following spring.

So basically the process worked great, and the new constitution languished for reasons that we Americans could never fathom, what with our highly productive congressional system. Fuck you, Slate.


 

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I Blame Eve

Posted by Ogged
on 08.01.14

I didn't even know they made Canadians as trashy as Justin Bieber, and I say that as someone who has watched Trailer Park Boys. It seems impossible that someone hasn't clocked him yet, bodyguards be damned. Speaking of which, Orlando Bloom, no wonder you were cuckolded. Much as it pains me to say it, between the "punch" and the Instagram follow-up, this is Bieber in a knockout.


 

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Economic Decency

Posted by Ogged
on 07.31.14

To make a substantive (or maybe stylistic) point about the economic equality discussion for a moment: framing this issue as one of "economic inequality" is unfortunate insofar as very few people are in favor of anything like "equality" when it comes to money, and because it lets hacks like Cowen go Max Mendacious and focus narrowly on whether inequality, as such, has deleterious effects. Not that that's not a discussion worth having, but because the larger, more important issue in the US right now is really one of economic decency: a nation with billionaires should not also have people going without food, shelter, security, education, and all the rest. Inequality is the indicator that tells us there's some to go around, but it's not going around. If the poorest 5% had enough to support themselves in a way we could recognize as acceptable for ourselves, very few people would care about the "obscenely" rich.


 

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The Dumb Thread

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.31.14

I'm just a teenage dirt bag. I'm sure you were, too, at least once. (I'm actually having trouble remembering things I did that made such short pithy descriptions as Mallory.)


 

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Myler Bowen

Posted by Ogged
on 07.31.14

So bold, so out-of-the-box.

Note that the observed stagnation in earnings has plagued male earners, not women. Women continue to do better in the work force and also in education, or if they choose not to advance this is often a voluntary decision, linked to childbearing.

Men are perhaps better suited for old-style manufacturing jobs, and women are often better suited for service sector jobs. A lot of men seem to have problems with discipline and conscientiousness.
If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot -- how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

Thanks, New York Times.


 

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Market Basket

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.31.14

Market Basket, the Massachusett's grocery store chain:

Employees get the benefits of a 15 percent profit sharing plan provided by Market Basket, while the groceries the store sells are less expensive, on average, than Walmart's. As for the register: Market Basket rang in $4.6 billion in revenue last year, and is the 127th biggest privately owned company in America.

Family-owned by a high conflict mess of a family, and the profit-sharing advocate was recently ousted as CEO. The cousin that's taking over will likely sell the chain to the company that runs Safeway, Albertson's etc. Workers are picketing and he's trying to buy back the company. It's a good read.

This conclusion is so inescapably depressing. Market Basket functions as a very profitable business that gives its employees regular raises, healthy benefits, and yet has unusually low prices for customers.

And it proves that none of this matters in the American economy if those at the top aren't getting more than enough. Executive pay is the only beast America's brand of the free market is designed to feed in 2014.

The free market optimizes whatever motivates the people with power.


Via some of you, elsewhere.


 

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This microphone turns sound into electricity

Posted by Ben
on 07.30.14

When I was in college I learned that a guy I knew from high school, at that point also in college, but not in the same college I was in (he was in a different college), held some position of authority at his college's college radio station. I can't recall precisely what it was but the title seemed impressive for a college student, like general manager or program something or other. This surprised me, because when we were both in high school he was not someone who I thought of as particularly cool, even going by my high-school standards, which of course were not the same as the standards I would have when I was in college, certainly not by the end of my college career or even the, let's say, late middle, when I too had a position, though not one of any authority whatsoever, at my college's college radio station—though I believe that this person, my fellow collegian and former fellow high-school student, though in different senses, since we attended the same high school but different colleges, would also not have been judged particularly "cool" by the standards I developed, or anyway came to possess, when I was in college, which is when the anecdote I am laboriously gearing up to relate takes place. (Now that college is more than a decade in my past, of course, I have realized that "cool" is a sham.)

Anyway, I contacted this now-in-college person using some college-era communication technology, such as email or "google" chat or perhaps even "aol instant messenger", which are all, I believe, technically still with us, and it emerged that his college's college radio station was in fact basically run by NPR or a local "public radio station" and was teh l4mez. Figures! And apparently this kind of thing is and has been happening to increasing numbers of stations in the country, which is just such total bullshit it's impossible to express adequately. Anymore, practically the only thing worth listening to on the radio comes from college radio stations, and they're all going to be neutered into worthlessness too, it seems.

This is especially galling:

Rice University's station was known for playing local Houston artists like rapper Fat Tony and indie pop group Wild Moccasins. The University of San Francisco's station used to play the likes of AFI, the Dead Kennedys and MC Hammer as well as cultural programming for Chinese immigrants and the disabled. Both were sold in 2011--USF's license for $3.75 million and Rice's frequency and tower for $9.5 million--and now public-radio networks use the frequencies to play classical music all day.

And you can bet that the classical music they're playing is the same old boring radio fare every other such station plays and is not, for instance, a rival to Sarah Cahill's show on KALW.

ON THE OTHER HAND:

In the music city of Nashville, Vanderbilt University's WRVU 91.1 FM station had long stood out, helping to popularize indie artists like Mumford and Sons and The Civil Wars.

If you've already brought yourself so low by your own hands, maybe no great loss.


 

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Flip side of the coin

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.30.14

So, the Satanic Temple using the Hobby Lobby decision to fight restrictive anti-abortion practices is a nice first step. But it seems to me that what should really happen next is that the abortion clinics themselves should take up this line of argument, in states requiring that they be ambulatory surgical centers, and doctors having admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and so on. Those aren't medically grounded laws - can an abortion clinic make a case that they should be able to opt out? Are there other places where conservatives have made in-roads with religious based laws that are now up for opting out?


 

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Guest post: Danger to oneself or others

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.30.14

Clew writes:

Family and friends of Reuter that spoke with CHS agreed that police did everything within reason to deescalate the situation. What Reuter's family decried was their inability to have their son involuntarily committed for treatment because of strict protections in Washington state law.

[...]
"I was told if he had a loaded gun on his hand with his finger on the trigger, then we could get him help. That's exactly what Joel had on the morning of July 5th, and the help they gave him was to kill him," he said.

I'm surprised that the Powers that Be resist involuntary commitments so hard. I mean, we're plenty accustomed to increasing jail and prison time `for public safety', and the damages to civil liberty and the public purse seem similar. Is this evidence that the tough-on-crime movement is entirely retributive?

Tangentially, when working as a nurses' aide, we had at least one patient who seemed to have been set up for geriatric commitment by her son (in-law?) who then got her house. She certainly didn't seem incompetent; just heartbroken.

Heebie's take: I'm reminded of this other article I read recently - husband has a psychotic break, sufficiently endangering kids that he's judged to be forcible into treatment. After that, he goes off his meds and descends into total divorce from reality. His wife takes the kids and leaves, but very much misses and loves the person he used to be. The ex-wife and grandparents are exceedingly worried about him, and everyone agrees he's deeply mentally ill, but there's no recourse.


 

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Funding

Posted by Ogged
on 07.29.14

Another really well-reported story from the Times, this time about ransoms paid to Al Qaeda (affiliates) by European governments (who deny that they do it).

In its early years, Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.

Lots of good detail in the story. I would not want to be the person deciding whether to pay ransom for someone's life, no matter how clear the right decision seemed.


 

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Michael Robbins

Posted by Ogged
on 07.29.14

I read Michael Robbins' lovely poem Country Music and went looking for more of his stuff. He is a clever, funny dude, who is craftsman enough to work some genuine emotion into the laughs. But I think he and I are around the same age and have lived in some of the same places. I wonder if his stuff will make a lick of sense to anyone not precisely of his cohort.

(He's also a smart critic. Here, to pick one at random, on black metal. And another on Piketty. Or, if you're truly a king geek masochist, on postmodern poetry anthologies as a genre.)


 

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Cheap labor

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.29.14

So if being an inmate firefighter is strictly on a volunteer basis, is it a problem? Maybe it is exhilarating to fight fires, but it's not very exhilarating to earn $2/day.

(I remember reading elsewhere how prisoners and their families are being sacked with all sorts of fees and fines to cover their stay, which seems much more straightforwardly awful, and thus less interesting to argue about.)


 

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Lady Parts

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.29.14

Oh this is stupid:

Despite my support for all of the issues Lady Parts Justice stands for, I have one big problem with Winstead's new project: Its name. I understand that Winstead and her colleagues are using the term "Lady Parts" as a playful euphemism for much more clinical-sounding terms like "uterus," "vagina," and so on. The problem with this name--and with use of terms like "lady parts" or "lady bits" more generally to refer to reproductive organs that have been typically associated with women--is that it reinforces biological essentialism, tying gender to genitals. Not all women are the owners of a uterus, and not all owners of a uterus are women.

First, "Lady Parts" isn't exactly a playful euphemism: it's a faux-conservative euphemism which is supposed to be super gender-essentializing and biologically hand-wavy. Which is central to their point, that conservative men are making decisions that about biology that they find grody, based on old-timey gender roles.

So the article - on the wild off-chance you don't click through - is a tirade on behalf of transmen with uteruses and ladies without, and good grief, let's just focus on how those groups are marginalized by actual conservatives and not by activists who are co-opting conservative euphemisms.


 

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Guest Post- Ray Rice

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.28.14

J, Robot writes: Bombastic, self-righteous correspondents, and even Upworthy, have their place. Am I banned now?

Heebie's take: I'd seen that meme about how Football Player #1 beat his wife into oblivion and got a two game suspension, whereas Football Player #2 tested positive for pot and was suspended for the entire season. I don't think we talked about this here, yet, have we?

I have no idea how to troll this thread and generate a discussion, but perhaps you can?


 

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Piketty Reading Group: Chapter 11

Posted by LizardBreath
on 07.27.14

Chris Y is scheduled for Chapter 12, and we need volunteers for 13 and later. Fake accent -- you want one of those?

I flounder my way through Chapter 11 below -- it's one of the central chapters of the book, as well as being long as hell, which means I hope the quality of the summary doesn't hold back discussion too badly.

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 Seven -- LizardBreath
Chapter Eight -- Lw
Chapter Nine -- Bave D
Chapter Ten -- Rob Helpy-chalk

And we're back talking about Balzac again (I really must read Pere Goriot sometime -- if anyone wants to recommend other Balzac in the comments, I'd like that). This whole chapter is largely an analysis of how the advice Vautrin gives to Rastignac, that you can't possibly earn enough money for a civilized life, so if you're not going to inherit a fortune you need to marry one, plays out in the economic conditions of various periods, and how it may play out in the future.

Thesis of the chapter: "Whenever the rate of return on capital is significantly and durably higher than the growth rate of the economy, it is all but inevitable that inheritance (of fortunes accumulated in the past) predominates over saving (wealth accumulated in the present)." P. concedes that this is not necessarily true, but believes that it is actually true. If the 21C is an era of low growth, inheritance will take on increased importance, although it may be structurally distinguishable from the role it played in the 19thC.

Fig. 11.1 shows inheritance (in which he includes gifts between individuals, and which he calculates by two methods, fiscal flow and economic flow, which turn out to be quite consistent with each other) as a fraction of national income from 1820-present (in France. It is later revealed that US data is worthless on this point): essentially, annual inheritance is stable-ish between 20% and 25% of national income through the 19C until WWI, at which point it drops like a rock to about 10%, and then keeps on drifting down to 5% in 1950, since which time it's drifted back up to 15%. (Piketty missed a trick by not citing to Lady Mary's fiance in Clouds of Witness, who lost his investments in the war and then killed himself when he could no longer afford diamond cats for his expensive mistress. Not that it would have added much to the chapter, but neither do the rest of the literary examples.) This collapse in the inheritance flow is much greater than the drop in the value of capital at the same time we saw in earlier chapters -- while capital shrank compared to income in the 20C, inheritance shrank to a much greater extent, and was almost unimportant in the period right after WWII.

P. sets up an accounting identity: if Β is the capital/income ratio, m is the mortality rate (percentage of the adult population that dies every year), μ is the ratio of decedent's wealth to average living person's wealth, and by is inheritance (+gifts) as a percentage of national income, then by definition by=μmΒ. The breakdown works as follows: where Β is high, there's more wealth to inherit; where m is high, deaths happen more frequently so there's more inheritance, and where μ is high, people die rich rather than outliving their wealth, so there's more inheritance.

Modigliani (not the painter) developed the 'life-cycle theory of wealth' in the 1950s, speculating that people accumulate wealth for retirement, and then spend themselves down to zero at death, making μ nearly zero -- P. will later in the chapter argue that this does not describe reality well. Mortality dropped due to the baby boom, when a large percentage of the population was young, but will go back up again when the boomers start croaking, and will go up even more in countries with low birthrates, making inheritance more important. Greater age at death means greater age at inheritance, but this has been compensated for by a rise in gifts, which are largely to children.

Rebutting the 'Modigliani triangle' -- which claims that poor young people save, become wealthy, retire, and finish consuming their wealth at death -- Fig. 11.5 shows that in France the dead have consistently been wealthier than the living, and if you add back in gifts (as money that the dead would have died with if they hadn't given it away), the dead are much wealthier than the living, rather than poorer as Modigliani would have predicted. (Buck, kibbitzing, queries whether paying for college counts as the sort of gift that's equivalent to an inheritance. Sounds plausible to me, and significant in what P. calls the 'patrimonial middle class', but P. doesn't raise it.)

P. now examines wealth as a function of age in various eras: 1820, 80 year olds were hardly wealthier than 50 year olds, by 1910, they were two and a half times wealthier (remembering that the majority of people had basically zero wealth at both times). This accumulation of wealth in the elderly (leading to high μ, in that we can regard the elderly as the immediately pre-mortem), P. attributes to saving of income from capital -- if your return is 5%, and you live off 2%, that gives you a 3% growth rate every year, and over the decades that accumulates. (NB: Even in 19thC France, there were some earned fortunes, but once those fortunes were earned, they behave like the inherited ones; growing through the accumulation of capital income, and providing inheritances to the next generation.)

Come the world wars, economic shocks meant that lots of rentiers lost everything. This was particularly hard on older people, who didn't have much time to recover when post-war good times returned. The 1950s were the period when Modigliani's triangle looked plausible; older people had been impoverished and weren't in a position to earn much, while younger adults had less accumulated wealth to lose and more earning capacity. Inheritance was temporarily unimportant -- that is, this age-cohort effect, where old people lost more wealth than young people, explains why the U-shaped curve for inheritance over the 20thC was deeper than the U-shaped curve for wealth, as we noted above. Now, however, things are returning to normal -- 80-year-olds were, in 2010, 30% wealthier than 50-year-olds, and if you add gifts back in they're twice as wealthy.

What will happen in the future? Fig. 11.6 tells us that if r=3% and g=1.7%, inheritance will stabilize at about 16% of national income; for r=5% and g=1%, it keeps growing and hits about 23% in the 2060 -- the levels we saw at the beginning of the 20th century.

P. then turns to the fraction of capital that consists of inherited wealth. Before WWI, inherited wealth was 80-90% of all private wealth (still leaving a significant 10-20% role for earned capital). I'm a little confused here -- he must be counting capital accumulated from the income on inherited capital as itself being inherited capital? Otherwise, his numbers seem misleading. Fig. 11.7 gives us another U-shaped 20thC graph, this one bottoming out in the '70s when inherited wealth was less than 50% of all capital. But we're back up to almost 70% again now, heading probably for 80 or 90%.

Back to Rastignac's Dilemma

Get a job, or marry rich? To decide which makes sense, we're going to analyze inheritances and earned incomes as multiples of the lifetime earnings of a typical prole, defined as the average lifetime income of the bottom 50% of the income distribution. In the 19thC, a top-centile heir could expect a 20-30 prole-equivalent inheritance, while a top-centile earner only earned 10 prole-equivalents. Advantage, inheritance; you'd be a fool to work for a living. For someone born in 1910-1920, though, their inheritances were the ones that got lost in the wars: a top-centile heir only got 5 prole-equivalents, while a top-centile earner would still earn 10-12 prole-equivalents. Advantage, working-stiff. (More missed opportunities on the literary references: surely this explains all Wodehouse's useless young men between the wars raised to expect to be heirs, but scrambling because their inheritances aren't materializing). Starting for the generation born in 1930, though (this is all in Fig. 11.10) the value of inheritance in prole-equivalents began to rise again, hitting a crossover point for the generation born in 1970 (hey, this suddenly feels personal), when top-centile heirs and top-centile earners received the same value (now they tell me. I mean, you can't pick your parents, but I suppose I could have married rich. Eh, probably couldn't have.) Anyway, we had a couple of generations where wealthy people were predominantly earners rather than heirs, but that's coming to an end. Heir-dominant periods occur only when capital is highly concentrated.

Patrimonial Societies: Balzac and Austen

(Note: throughout this section I found it hard to tell when P. was referring to income and when to capital. I will be guessing as I summarize, but someone should speak sharply either to P. or to his translator.) In your classic B&A 19C novel about rich people, an adequate income was about 30 times the average income (also, P defined the prole-equivalent above (although the punchy name for it is mine) but seems to have stopped using it here although it would have been just as useful as the 'average income' benchmark he begins to use instead. Annoying.) As noted above, this was not an income that could be achieved through work. There were poorer rentiers -- Rastignac's family had an income of 6 times the average income, which was pathetic. Likewise, in Cesar Birroteau the 'audacious perfumer' (I haven't read it, so the nature of his audacity is a mystery) rejects settling for an income of 5-10 times the average, holding out for 20-30 times. Similar discussion of Sense and Sensibility -- poverty, for a family of gentlewomen, was an income of four times the national average. See also Washington Square, in which Catherine Sloper discovers that a dowry sufficient to produce 20 times the average income isn't enough if you're sufficiently unappealing. In the 19thC, life was pretty lousy if you weren't rich; food, clothing, travel were all laborious, expensive, and required servants.

Meritocrats defend large wage inequalities, sometimes on the grounds that prestigious wage earners, like important civil servants, should have an economic position comparable to the wealthy heirs they regulate/govern. (As a civil servant, I'm all for this idea.) Also, unless there are people who earn ridiculous salaries, all the rich people would be heirs, and that would be unjust. (P. says there are people who make this argument. I don't think I've ever actually seen it in the wild. Is it familiar to anyone else?) So the existence of high wealth/inheritance inequality is used to justify high wage inequality. (Again, maybe? I haven't seen that, I don't think.) And the upper middle class is self-righteous about how they deserve their money because of their work-ethic and general awesomeness. (This, I'm familiar with. Heck, I have to consciously talk myself out of thinking that way.)

Despite the increasing importance of inheritance again, it's still not close to Balzac/Austen levels of concentration. That 30 times average income cutoff would correspond to a capital holding of about 30 million € these days, and present-day novelists don't mostly write about people that rich because there aren't enough of them and it would seem absurd. Also, modern novels tend to hold heirs in contempt, and glorify wage-earners, rather than treating the ability to live off lots of unearned income as the basis for a civilized life. But this means that less-concentrated inheritance goes to more heirs. Fig. 11.11 shows the percentage of each cohort from 1790 on that inherits at least one prole-equivalent, and it's up to about 10% of the population and rising.

Is all this generalizable to the rest of the world, particularly the US? Can't tell because the US data is worthless. Damn you, generous estate-tax exemption!


 

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New Math

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.27.14

From what I understand, this article is exactly right, on math teaching reforms at the K-12 level:

In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices. The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

Sometimes it's phrased as whether or not you get buy-in from the teachers - stubborn teachers are sick of being told how shake up their teaching, and under duress they follow the letter of the implementation but not the spirit. I assume that there are a very wide range of reasons why teachers fail to implement each wave of teaching reform, but the basic point is that we do know how to teach math - it's slow, requires depth over breadth, requires budgeting large amounts of time for students to wrestle with ideas and work out for themselves why certain ideas are faulty. We don't necessarily train the teachers in how to implement this discussion-idea-wrestling part very well whatsoever.

The article doesn't get into the other reason that our reforms fail - even if a teacher understands how to implement the reform, they're hamstrung by the size of the curriculum. Curricula grow and they are never, ever reduced. Not only is that obviously unsustainable, implementing most of these teaching reforms require reducing the amount of content to levels beyond most people's comfort zone. You actually have to have dedication to the idea that not all important topics should be covered - that it is crucially important to omit key ideas, because there are too many key ideas to cover them all effectively.

(This particular example seems absurd, though:

On the same multiple-choice test, three-quarters of fourth graders could not translate a simple word problem about a girl who sold 15 cups of lemonade on Saturday and twice as many on Sunday into the expression "15 + (2×15)."

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I would not have been able to do that in fourth grade, either. You could certainly teach a fourth grader how to understand that kind of equation, with some work, but it's not standard fourth grade curriculum by far, as far as I know.)


 

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