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Corollary: Play Ball Iff There's Grass

Posted by Ogged
on 08.16.14

Sexism in soccer! Isn't this Heebie's beat?

Performing a diving header on a grass field is one thing; doing it on artificial turf -- which, for the first time, will be used for every field at next year's women's championship -- is something else altogether.

That is why Wambach and a host of other top players -- including Alex Morgan and Heather O'Reilly of the United States, and Nadine Angerer of Germany, the 2013 player of the year -- have been protesting the plan to use artificial turf at the World Cup since it was announced. Recently they took their protest up a notch, threatening legal action if the tournament isn't played on grass.
"It's a gender issue through and through," Wambach said, pointing out that a top men's competition like the World Cup or the Champions League final has never been played on it.
"This being the pinnacle of our sport," Wambach added, "We feel like we should be treated just like the men."

Indeed.



 

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Ferguson, Ctd.

Posted by Ogged
on 08.16.14

Figure we need a new thread. Wes Lowery's tweets are a good way to stay on top of what's going on in the neighborhood.

Insofar as we need a topic, maybe it's this: there are so many cases where we wish the cops were wearing cameras, and the technology already exists. It seems like a no-brainer to have every cop wear them, both to police the police, and to show when they're being honest. But...aren't these no-brainer decisions how the surveillance state happens (has happened)?


 

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OED, Give Yourself To Me

Posted by Ogged
on 08.15.14

I went searching for a rant so I didn't have to type it up myself.

The OED should be $29.95 a year, not per month. They could get $99 a year easily. I'll pay that price right now, just give me the opportunity.

The lack of a lower-priced product makes no sense, when the OED could literally wipe out the competition with a reasonably priced web service based on its brand. At minimum, please open an API for developers and allow others to innovate on search and presentation while focusing on its linguistic excellence. Let them sell the subscription as part of their app cost and take a share. Give me my words in more places -- apps, platforms, contexts, such as embedded in other applications as an up-sell -- and I'd consider $199 a year. The magic price is south of $100, I believe.

This is something that seems really under-remarked: given the internet, there really only needs to be one dictionary, and it already exists. They could license it to every major corporation that includes a dictionary in its products (and make any one that used a different dictionary seem second-rate), they could license it for apps, and they could sell individual subscriptions at a price most regular people would pay. They wouldn't be giving up any control of the content itself, and simply rake in money. Anyone know why they haven't managed to do this?

(No, my local library doesn't offer OED access online. In the US, it looks like big cities and universities have it, but the rest don't.)


 

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Survey

Posted by Ogged
on 08.15.14

--There's definitely some shtick in George Saunders' shtick, but if you happen to like it, this is very good.

--American cities (over 250,000) plotted on the liberal/conservative axis.

--Percentage of kids born out of wedlock in countries around the world.


 

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Guest Post - Random access mammaries

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.14.14

Knecht writes: You may look at this article calling for the return of wet nursing and see the usual New Republic trying-a-little-too-hard contrarianism. I see a policy proposal ideally suited to test the trendy theories about how people, especially politically aware individuals, adopt policy preferences based on the prevailing opinions of groups they identify with.

Here's an experiment I'd like to see: present a statement advocating wet nursing to a population that includes a mix of liberal feminists and tea partiers. For the control group, the statement is made in politically neutral language, and there is no mention of an author or source. For the experimental group, you identify the source as either a well-known feminist website or a conservative Christian website. In the former case, you add language stating that wet nursing would facilitate workplace equality for working mothers. In the latter case, you replace it with the argument that working as a wet nurse would be an excellent opportunity for single mothers to earn money after giving up babies for adoption, thus reducing the incentive to get an abortion. Then you ask a battery of questions to assess how the respondents feel about wet nursing in principle. I would wager that you could convince both liberals and conservatives to love or loathe the idea based on its purported popularity with the other side.

Heebie's take: Isn't this the thing where being presented with evidence for or against your preconceived notions just strengthens your preconceived notions?

Also, the modern parts of that article are suffering from some serious ridiculousness:

For many feminists, "housewife" might as well be a dirty word; euphemisms like "stay-at-home-mom" and "homemaker" aren't much better.

No, feminists are not so silly and rigid.

But ten years ago, eating your own placenta would have been unthinkable. Twenty years ago, only a hippy would give birth at home.

If you're traveling in circles where SAHM is a dirty word and eating your placenta has been normalized, you are not in mainstream America.


 

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What The Fuck, Ferguson?

Posted by Ogged
on 08.13.14

Is there a remedy in American law for a police force that's out of control? Send in the National Guard? Or would the guard be outgunned? Jesus.


 

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Which photo would they use?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.13.14

It probably made the rounds already, but #iftheygunnedmedown is an amazingly concise way to express the complexities of media bias.


 

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Guest Post - Awesome

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.13.14

Nick S writes: This post speaks to me. Short summary, person wonders why they aren't getting a more diverse applicant pool for advertised programming jobs. Talks to a couple of people and is told that some of the puffery in the job description is potentially off-putting. Re-writes it in a way which is, to my eyes, only slightly better, and sees improved results.

Here's the original phrase:

Working at FT Labs is a commitment to drive yourself beyond your own expectations

Here's the replacement, which he describes as such: "but the focus has shifted from the individual to their place in the team, and includes a reminder that commitment and enthusiasm and talent does not necessarily require experience or even a lot of expertise."

Being part of the FT Labs team is a commitment to push yourself and those around you to do better, constantly adapt and learn new technologies, and be able to apply yourself to any challenge, whether you're just starting out or a veteran of the industry.

Personally, I take pride in my ability to work within a team, and my willingness to take on new challenges, but I still find the revised version doesn't match how I would describe myself. Thankfully I haven't been on the job market for a while, and I'm sure that sort of phrase is standard and that it doesn't take much practice to see it and think of oneself in those terms. But I can immediately sympathize with how the choice of aspirational verbiage in the job ad will push some people away.

Heebie's take: At the link, the author swerves back and forth between complaining that the full-strength version of "awesome" is being used to inflate not-awesome things, which seems valid, and complaining that "awesome" is being diluted by describing not-awesome things, which seems silly.

The opening ceremony of London 2012, for example, was awesome. The fact that I am willing to pick up a sandwich for you on my way past Sainsbury's, is not.

Quit being persnickety, your friend just meant that he appreciated the sandwich.

That said, I'm all for celebrating standards which are less work than awesome is.


 

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So Many Links

Posted by Ogged
on 08.12.14

I know nothing gets properly discussed in these link dump posts, but:

--An interview with Robin Williams from a few years ago. Heartbreaking!

--How Chris McCandless died. Quite a detective story. Also heartbreaking!

--Crossfit flirting. Crossfit sounds great for people who like m-fun.

--The trucking industry is turning away business, but won't raise wages to hire new drivers. Maybe $40k/yr is in the Bible, but inflation isn't?

--Pretty good article with a very annoying title about paid family leave.

--A judge decided the settlement in the Silicon Valley wage-fixing case went too easy on the perps. Also "Steve Jobs, an unquestioned genius." What?


 

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Ydnew ni Nas Ocsicnarf no Yadnom

Posted by Ben
on 08.11.14

Gniyats, sa I dnatsrednu ti, raen nwotnwod ro stuobaereht, dna gnihsiw ot teem pu htiw su setaborper ni eht gnineve ot knird dna esrevnoc dna tontahw; gnilliw, spahrep, ot levart yawa morf nwotnwod rof dias esoprup.

TAHW YAS UOY?

EXECUTIVE DECISION: 7pm at The Sycamore. Be there or know that your life is empty, void, nothing, a nullity, a perfect unmarred inhuman sphere!


 

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Michael Brown

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.11.14

We should probably have a thread.


 

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Grade Inflation

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.11.14

A chart showing, at Wellesley, grade inflation by department. Italian, Women's Studies, Spanish: you have some 'splaining to do.

The funny thing about grade inflation is that there's something nonsensical about the accusation, when I think about it as a teacher. What I mean is this: I consider a it a reasonable outcome if a class has an average around a low B on a test or semester. I also don't worry too much about outliers.

If I were consistently above or below the low B average, then the course content needs to change, because I'm no longer teaching appropriately to my students. It's possible that it's easier to ratchet up or down the difficulty in some subjects than others - maybe the humanities have more well-defined course goals that are less justifiably ramped up as their students increase in preparation. Grade inflation conversations always assume that the course content is becoming diluted, but that's groundless - we basically have no idea. Different teachers, different eras, different things being emphasized - who the hell knows how these stack up against each other. Not to mention the fact that teaching is actually improving a lot.

(This ties in to my ongoing frustration with assessment and measuring outcomes and how absurdly flawed - yet time-consuming - the process is.)


 

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Piketty Reading Group: Chapter 13

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.11.14

Parenthetical has Chapter 14, Minivet has 15, and Fake Accent has 16, which finishes the book. Inexplicably, Walt has slacked throughout this process, and while I try not to judge people, sometimes there's just no way to avoid it.

Thorn, below, notes that Piketty should really have explored the economic messages of the Aristocats in greater detail.

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
Chapter Eleven -- LizardBreath
Chapter Twelve -- Chris Y

First an aside that it probably wasn't the best idea to choose to recap this chapter, since procrastinating means I'm writing it after a particularly long post-birthday-party bedtime for Selah (now 2) and her big sisters. So the actual social state of the 21st century will reimburse I think $30 of what I spent on birthday gifts, which I'm told was to encourage Jehovah's Witnesses and other foster families who otherwise wouldn't be inclined to spend any money on a foster child's birthday to do so but could certainly be interpreted to mean we personally are taking money from the state and spending it on alcohol since we did buy alcohol and don't have to provide receipts to the state and thus can mentally allocate the money to anything. Just so you know where I stand on whether state money does or should flow to deserving parties and also that I can consider this free wine and keep drinking it as I write.

Anyway, spoiler alert, the last sentence of the chapter tells us that "the question of what kind of fiscal and social state will emerge in the developing world is of the utmost importance for the future of the planet." Since at that point we've spent almost 500 pages discussing the major economies in North America and the EU and not many other places and only have another 75 pages of the book left, I'm not sure that's a question that will get answered. I didn't think this was a chapter that particularly answered questions and in some cases seemed not to even ask them, but there were a lot of interesting asides at least.

P. starts by reminding us of the history of inequality he's already discussed and pointing out that inequalities of wealth are currently getting close to or in some cases exceeding historical standards. ("Some individuals are now as wealthy as entire countries," which makes me feel queasy.) Piketty's response is that the whole world needs a progressive tax on capital, but he realizes that's not about to happen and wants to strengthen his argument for it by spending this chapter discussing government's role in a society, particularly the ways various social programs can reduce or increase inequity.

The Great Recession starting in 2007 was not like the Great Depression in part because states backed the banks. Unfortunately this means that policy changes haven't been made to tax or economic policies as a result because even though it routinely gets discussed as a Crisis and P. calls it "the first crisis of the globalized patrimonial capitalism of the twenty-first century," the state's involvement was to support rather than challenge and tax high incomes. P. points out that both the Occupy and Tea Party challenges to government response are getting toward real problems at least at times, that the financial system needs to be better-regulated to be brought back under control and that the current "tax and transfer" system underlying the modern social state needs to be reformed.

The growth in the social state in the 20th century (shown for Sweden, France, Britain, and the US on figure 13.1) shows total tax revenues were below 10% of national income before 1910, whereas a century later they range from right around 30% (US) to 55% (Sweden), with the major growth happening post-World Wars. P. is clear that we shouldn't expect to see this sort of growth again in the developed nations, that the great leap from a state that maintains roads and a police force and similar absolute basics (what you get for the tax revenues at 10% of national income) to one that spends 10%-15% of national income just on education and health means there's not the same sort of room at the top for continued growth. (And that 10%-15% covers all health and education spending in the enlightened topless areas, 3/4 or so in I guess see-through-bikini-top Britain, and a mere half of what's spent on health and education here in the US.) Also at 10%-15% of developed economies' total incomes, though sometimes going up to 20% or so, are the public payments toward replacement income and other transfer payments like "family allowances, guaranteed income, etc.," which I'm leaving verbatim because I don't know what cetera are included. (He doesn't seem to discuss foster care anywhere in the book, though obviously I think it's pertinent, and how it gets funded and understood in these countries varies significantly as far as I know, but perhaps Selah's birthday stipend is a small part of what's being discussed here.) Anyway, of those payments, only 1%-2% of national income goes out to cover unemployment, while 2/3 to 3/4 of the total 10%-20% gets spent on pensions. Despite their periodic controversy and criticism, welfare payments take up such a small amount he doesn't even bother to break it out, and as all of us know and our annoying facebook friends don't, the payments to welfare recipients who can't pass a drug screen are way, way smaller than whatever that is. At any rate, all of this means that a state is spending 25%-35% of national income on health, education, and replacement and transfer payments, which maps pretty well with those leaps in tax revenues shown in 13.1.

The next section talks about how redistribution of income from rich to poor is not happening in our current system, which is based on the idea of rights. Even though the US Constitution and French revolutionary documents paid lip service to absolute rights to equality, in practice this doesn't actually mean equality and the political systems supposedly protecting those rights mostly focus on property rights. And even though common people basically accept and rely on the current social safety net, there's no support to continue to increase the social state at the rate of change it saw in 13.1, leading to 70%-80% of national income going to taxes by 2050-2060. But now that we're all living in situations where we expect the rights to healthcare, retirement, and education to be covered by the state, what is the most appropriate way for that to be financed? And if not everything in life should be paid for out of the money the state brings in via taxes, how should the decisions about what counts and what doesn't be made?

Piketty thinks that the idea of the state covering education, healthcare, and retirement is a good thing, and thus we don't want people dismantling that. However, it would be a good idea to reform and reconfigure what goes on now to make things work better and keep tax-haters from being able to gain more ground. (I liked his aside that about foundations and associations in the arenas of health and education that are neither corporate nor governmental, that "[f]or example, no one has proposed transforming private US universities into publicly owned corporations." I fully expect someone will be able to link to a comment where that very suggestion has been made, though I'm unaware of any.) And since it's already my bedtime and he doesn't want to say everything about everything, he's only going to discuss the questions of equal access to education and the future of pay-as-you-go retirement systems in looking at how the current social state could be reformed.

I should probably just recuse myself from "Do educational institutions foster social mobility?" though I appreciated that he covered inequalities at France's Sciences Po and other grandes ├ęcoles and not just things like that "the average income of the parents of Harvard students is currently about $450,000, which corresponds to the average income of the top 2 percent of the US income hierarchy. Such a finding does not seem entirely compatible with the idea of selection based totally on merit." Spoiler alert? Anyway, he calls for increased transparency, in the hopes that this would make some ways out of the problem of inequality clearer. But even though this is a book on economics, here's a place where the lack of discussion of race and gender as well as the history of race-based economic oppression in the US and elsewhere makes me feel like the conversation itself could use more transparency.

The other topic he covers is how to address pay-as-you-go retirement systems in an era of low growth and increasing life expectancies. If workers' contributions to the retirement fund are being paid out to retirees with the expectation that children will eventually take the workers' places so the cycle continues, except falling birth rates and restrictions on immigration cut out the population of eventual workers, while retirees are living longer and thus draining the input of more active workers. If we're now in a position where the rate of return on capital is higher than the rate of growth of the total economy, good old r > g, it might make more sense to invest the money current workers are saving for retirement, except that that would leave an uncovered generation not being paid out what they'd paid in and also means relying on a volatile and not entirely reliable financial system to perform consistently, which it won't. One thing P. seems to be suggesting is a system where people in physically demanding jobs are able to retire earlier than those of us who just sit at desks, though he doesn't explain how this should work, just that programs geared at one of those populations often won't address the other appropriately. However, there are plenty of people who've built a sort of diversified retirement portfolio just by virtue of having worked varying jobs for the government with contributions to those pension plans and in the private sector where investment-based retirement savings are the norm, and P. seems to think having both a pay-as-you-go model as well as some personal savings is the way to go. Again, transparency is necessary so people can understand where their money is going and so policymakers can figure out how to account for the complexity.

And look, two pages on what sort of social state poor and emerging countries do and should have! Western European countries have their taxes bringing in 45%-50% of national income, while the US and Japan only take 30%-35% and have to adjust what services they offer accordingly. The poorest countries in the world were taking 10%-15% in the 1970-1980 period, the same as the richest countries a century before them, but there's only a general comment that those rates have gone down rather than up since the 1970s, perhaps because of the early impact of the Cold War and anticolonial struggles, followed by being on the poor side of the trade liberalization policy from the 1980s on. Other developing nations are in the middle still, with 15%-20% of national income going to taxes now. But how taxes are gathered and used and what the social understanding of taxes and the role of the state is are concepts that vary widely within the countries in these groups, and each country will have to find a development path that effectively connects with those distinct cultural narratives. Meanwhile, developed nations need to see the overlaps with their own historical paths rather than using poorer countries as test tubes for economic experimentation. "In any case, the question of what kind of fiscal and social state will emerge in the developing world is of the most importance for the future of the planet," as you may recall.

And so that's what we have, a lot about inequality and not a lot about how to change it, in part because there aren't going to be easy-to-standardize rules about how to address any of these complicated situations. There were no appeals to literature, even though we all know how important it was for their development that the over-educated and wealthy Aristocats were exposed to a broader, more diverse social situation. There's a lot missing here and I'm the sort of person who wants to quibble because of that, but the rate of growth of taxation is interesting and definitely an important pattern to understand. And now you can quibble with Piketty and/or me in the comments!


 

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Oops

Posted by Ogged
on 08.10.14

All you other sports (hockey, I'm looking at you) can stop with the fighting and macho posturing: car racing has you beat.

Whether you think Stewart or Ward was at fault, I think the lesson here is "temper, temper." That and, 13, kinda unlucky maybe.


 

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Sabbatical

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.10.14

I am incredibly relieved and happy to be on sabbatical this semester, and simultaneously terrified that I'll blow it completely unproductively, like I spent the summer.

In general, it confirms that I made the right choice to be teaching-focused a decade ago, because I'm clearly not particularly driven towards research for the sheer thrill of it.


 

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