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Friday WTFery

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.15.19

Eternal questions:
Will we have a state of emergency this afternoon?

Do you guys have a good way for thinking about this stuff without being overwhelmed with anger?

Where did I put that thing I was just holding?


 

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Last minute meet-up DC

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.14.19

Argh, I totally flaked on posting this. I'm sorry.

CharleyCarp wrote me last week to say, "Anyone free for drinks and snacks in DC on Feb 14?"

Again, shit, I screwed up. (Charley might have made plans in the meantime. I thought I should get this up ASAP.)


 

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Guest Post - Assessing Global Poverty

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.13.19

Nick S. writes: The vox explainer about a debate about various measures of global poverty is very well done.

In a Guardian article titled "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn't be more wrong," anthropologist Jason Hickel raises a variety of objections to the chart [Bill Gates had tweeted]:

1. The $1.90-a-day line is "obscenely low," and "earning $2 per day doesn't mean that you're somehow suddenly free of extreme poverty." A minimum of $7.40 per day, at least, is necessary for "basic nutrition and normal human life expectancy."

2. Using the percentage of people in poverty is misleading, and we should instead focus on the absolute number of people in poverty, which according to Hickel's preferred $7.40-a-day line has increased since 1981.
..
4. The chart erases the toll of colonialism, particularly in the 1820 to 1981 period. "The world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money," Hickel writes. "The graph casts this as a decline in poverty, but in reality what was going on was a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labour system, during the enclosure movements in Europe and the colonization of the global south."
...
[O]ver the course of the debate, the two sides' positions appeared, at least to me, to converge substantially. Everyone agrees that since 1981, the incomes of the world's poorest people have gone up -- even Hickel has disavowed his Guardian headline, saying it was forced upon him by editors. Everyone agrees incomes for the poor haven't gone up enough, and that $1.90 per day is hardly enough for a human being to live a decent life.

The big differences, then, are how to slice and interpret these facts, and which political interests and narratives they serve. Hickel argues that focusing on data showing declines in global poverty does political work on behalf of global capitalism, defending an inherently unjust global system that has failed residents of rich and poor nations alike. Pinker agrees that the data supports the idea that capitalism is working for the world's poorest, and says that's a decisive rebuttal of Hickel's narrative of enduring persecution.

Roser, as he stressed repeatedly in messages to me, just wants to be clear on what the facts say -- and what they say definitively is that living conditions for the world order have improved for decades and decades. Based on my read of the evidence, that's certainly true.

The article does a good job of describing the various positions, the evidence for each of them, and explaining how they agree or disagree and why it matters.

Heebie's take: I really didn't realize how much of the world was pre-monetary, pre-colonialism.

The article is very interesting, but it made me want to throw up my hands and suggest that maybe it's better to measure access to fresh food, adequate housing, and safe working conditions than get into the weeds about cut-off numbers. Maybe throw in medical access and available schooling, and even not being poisoned by your environment. Has the aggregate measure of all that improved or not over the past 200 years? It probably becomes totally meaningless to aggregate that, then average it across all populations, and then chart the average over time.

Pretty much the world is too complicated for any single measure.


 

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But Wisdom Closely Guarded By A Few

Posted by Ogged
on 02.12.19

We have a Slack channel at work for a technical topic several of us have an interest in, and today someone posted complete pdfs of three related books. I replied thus,

I'll just note it once, then leave you all in the hands of an angry god, but we should really pay for books we use! You can expense them all on [our internal reimbursement system].

He replied,

i firmly believe knowledge should be free and accessible to all

The only interesting thing about this is that he's actually a very good coder, but he comes out with these opinions that are almost literally too stupid to contemplate.


 

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Yearbooks

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.12.19

Why yearbooks from the 60s and 70s are such a cesspool. The article focuses on med school yearbooks, but it's hard to imagine that law school or regular undergraduate yearbooks are particularly different.

If you flick through the 1969 yearbook from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, you'll find a centerfold featuring a naked model wearing only a nurse's cap, posed on a bed contemplating medical diagrams of vaginal surgery. This image was far from unique. In the same year, the University of Kansas medical school yearbook adopted a "PlayDoc" theme, with a front cover showing a blond, humanized and feminized illustration of the Jayhawk mascot in a white coat, as well as Playboy-style and centerfold features. Medical school yearbooks most explicitly associated this sexual imagery with nursing.

Also plenty of racism.

Basically, the white dudes in the editorial room got their jollies riding the backlash against the recent admissions of women and people of color.


 

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Imposing interior lives*

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.11.19

Mossy Character sends in The Trouble With Autism in Novels. Basically, the vast majority of the time it's not okay for neurotypical people to pretend to be the voice of people with disabilities on their behalf. But right now autism is really seductive as a tabula rasa plot device. Context:

These portrayals drove me to revisit "Illness as Metaphor" (1978), Susan Sontag's critical look at the "literary transfiguration" of illness. Tuberculosis, a microbial infection characterized by sputum and wracking coughs, became the "romantic disease" of the 19th century, its fevers and pallor standing in for creativity, beauty and moral superiority. Novels of the era were populated with beautiful TB deaths whenever an innocent deserved a peaceful and painless end, perhaps most memorably Little Eva in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
With the virtual eradication of tuberculosis in the 20th century, it receded as a dominant form of illness -- in art as in life. Cancer filled the void, but with darker metaphors of shame, external disfigurement, war. Like cancer and like TB before the discovery of the mycobacterium tuberculosis, autism is a condition whose etiology remains largely a mystery.

Most of the article is about various examples of plot devices filled by an autistic person.

The crux of the issue is that with autism there is often, not metaphorically but literally, a lack of voice, which renders the person a tabula rasa on which a writer can inscribe and project almost anything: Autism is a gift, a curse, super intelligence, mental retardation, mystical, repellent, morally edifying, a parent's worst nightmare. As a writer, I say go ahead and write what you want. As a parent, I find this terrifying, given the way neurotypical people project false motives and feelings onto the actions of others every day.

At the end, there's a description of a recent book by an autistic guy, called "The Reason I Jump" (2013), by Naoki Higashida.

* Me, hunting for vocabulary words in a tired brain: Impugning interior lives? No. Imparting interior lives? No. Intoning? Embellishing? No, no.


 

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