Saturday, January 04, 2014

We Are Number One!

The "we" would be the Nordic countries, and what the winning is about is coffee consumption.  Here's the pic*:

What's the reason?  Probably the cold and the dark.

Added later:  The traditional Finnish way of serving coffee at parties was with seven different types of cookies and/or cakes.  You had to have seven types or more.

*hat tip to Quentin Compson

On Wars And Resources

Yesterday I got depressed by checking out all the parts of this world where wars and violence are prevalent right now.  Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, just to list the three that first cropped up on my Google news. 

The reasons for wars are always complicated, but many seem to ignite when access to resources changes in a way which leaves one group in greater poverty or when groups disagree about how to share newly-found resources.  That those wars also have other explanations, including long-held grievances between tribal or religious or ethnic groups or between countries, say, doesn't change the possibility that a war might have been averted without a particular resource problem cropping up. 

Even the problems in Egypt are partly caused by the great discrepancy between the amount of arable land in that country and the traditional (and still recent) large size of the farming population, the combination of which has placed a large percentage of the population into poverty, and the antecedents to the Syrian situation point out the reduced resources (possibly caused by global climate change)  as an important cause.  The Israel-Palestine hostilities are also partly based on access to resources, such as access to water for farming.

All this is obvious.  But when a war breaks out somewhere, the peace initiatives tend not to focus on the resource/population question to the extent they perhaps should.  We might get peace faster if that was done?  Could wars be prevented by an international economic policy approach?  Is there a willingness to address such issues?

Then there are the wider links to global climate change and its impact on available resources, the unequal distribution of resources on the worldwide level, with its Western domination,  and the question of what human population size is sustainable in a world where all individuals should be able to enjoy a fair standard of living while leaving some nature for the other species.

You Never Guess What I Found Today!

The Upworthy trick in making linkable posts by using certain headlines!  Check out this slide show, especially slide number 7.  I saw that yesterday and today I've spotted the Upworthy trick all over the Internets!

To be quite honest, I have sometimes used the reverse trick to make sure that a post I write isn't easily found by trolls:  A long-and-boring headline.

Still, it's funny how easily I've been manipulated.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Speed Blogging, 1/2/2014. Assorted Topics.

1. This New England Journal of Medicine article is useful reading.  It is about how anti-abortion legislation affects what is expected of physicians.

2. This is the  kind of piece about gender differences in the brain which doesn't get pulled out and dissected under the glaring lights of the popular media.  When certain studies are ignored and others pushed we get a false impression of what it is that research actually is establishing.  My New Year's promise is to try to cover stuff more fairly.

3. A piece which reminds us about certain oddities in federal voting behavior by state.  The red (Republican flavor) states are more likely to be net recipients of federal aid, the blue (Democratic flavor) states are more likely to be net donors.  It's not the direction of the transfers which matters here but the way the voting patterns go in its reverse.

4. Rhode Island did something good:

With the new year came the implementation of a new bill: Rhode Island’s paid family leave legislation, passed in July, is now in effect. That means that three states have paid family leave programs in place, as Rhode Island joins California, whose law went into effect in 2004, and New Jersey, which started its program in 2009.
Rhode Island’s law expands its previous Temporary Disability Insurance program, which only covered those who needed time off for work-related illnesses or injuries. Temporary Caregiver Insurance will now offer paid family leave, covering about 80 percent of the state’s workforce. Workers can now pay into into the program through a payroll deduction, which would cost someone who makes $43,000 a year 83 cents a week. They can then take up to four weeks of paid leave, although that number will climb to six weeks next year and eight weeks by 2015. The minimum weekly payment someone could receive is $72, while the maximum is $752.

As I've written before, American workers need proper annual paid vacations and proper parental and related leaves.  Many other countries have them already and manage to compete in the international markets.  Besides, well-rested and less stressed workers are healthier and more efficient workers.

5.  On the Ani DiFranco debacle.  This is the gist of what happened:

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has officially canceled her four-day “righteous feminist songwriting retreat” after fans and non-fans alike rightfully took issue with the event’s location — the Nottoway Plantation, one of the largest former slave plantations in the South. DiFranco posted a lengthy message on her Facebook page announcing the cancelation and offered a pretty weak explanation for why the retreat was ever scheduled at such a historically problematic location in the first place.
DiFranco has offered a second apology, the one that should have been her first apology.

For more views on this (also on Ani's Facebook page), check here, here, and here, and, for the sake of covering all views, here

Living Off Tips

This piece and the attached video are worth thinking about.  The federal tipped minimum wage, the wage restaurant servers get before earning any tips, is $2.13 an hour in direct wages.  Here's how it's supposed to work:

An employer of a tipped employee is only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. If an employee's tips combined with the employer's direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.
Many states have higher tipped minimum wages.  But note that the federal tipped minimum wage (that two bucks and thirteen cents) was set in 1991 and this Wikipedia article suggests that sixteen states are still using it as the basis of server compensation packages.

The linked Crooks&Liars piece suggests that employers might not make up the difference when the minimum wage and the tips fail to come up to the federal minimum hourly wage.  But even if they do,  the labor contract here  tilts the usual ideas we have about the entrepreneurs being rewarded for risk-bearing and the workers being protected from it by earning fixed wages:

If I understand this right, the employer will never have to pay more to the wait staff than whatever the relevant hourly (state or federal) minimum wage might be.  If the business is booming and the servers make enough in tips to earn the relevant hourly minimum wage or more, the employer only needs to pay that tipped minimum wage (say, $2.13 an hour in some states).  If the business is not booming, the employer will end up having to pay all of the federal or state minimum wage rate.  But that's it!

The servers, on the other hand, cannot predict their overall earnings that easily, because they depend mostly on the tips, and though there are conventions about what the right amount for a tip should be, a customer who simply refuses to pay for the work of a server cannot be made to do so.  In a sense, it is the servers who are the risk-takers here, and that can make life hard for low-income workers who try to schedule the payment of rent and utilities.

The push, as I understand it, is for a higher federal tipped minimum wage, given that the current one was set in 1991, probably before the birth of many who work today as servers.

Other countries might have something to offer here, too.  In some the tip is routinely included as a certain percentage of the total invoice.  Tipping above and beyond that is only for some extraordinary services.  This practice doesn't completely isolate the serving staff from the business risks of the restaurants but reduces the ability of a customer to walk away without paying.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Communication Thoughts

This will all be silly stuff as I'm not wearing my Echidne helmet today.  First, Leonardo da Vinci's Michelangelo's grocery list for his servant who may not have been able to read.

How we communicate depends on the context.  And every context is fraught with dangerous possibilities of misunderstanding.  The context itself can be interpreted that way.  Michelangelo is privileged (he can write), his servant, less so.  Or perhaps not, because we don't truly know what their lives were like, and because most people then were  illiterate, so communication, as such, wasn't based on the ability to write.

Then there's communication with other species of animals.  Humans tend to regard that as happening when the other animal species are taught to understand human language.  Think of the cue cards for chimpanzees or how we teach our dogs and cats commands.

The reverse way of looking that is for us to learn the language of other animal species.  I speak very little dog, for example, but what I do understand came from the patient teaching of my dogs.  Still, I speak a lot more dog than most people who put, say, what's supposed to be an angry dog into a movie, and then we hear a dog happily barking a welcome to someone but are expected to understand that the dog is angry.  A double translation!

Internet communication.  That is a very different kettle of fish from face-to-face communication, partly because we cannot see facial expressions and we cannot hear the tone of voice and also because it is very easy indeed to forget that the other participants are living, breathing human beings.  Even if they appear to be utterly wrong and misguided in their arguments.  (That part was a joke).

Then there's that 140-character limit on the Twitter.  Too bad that few complicated issues can be properly and precisely distilled into 140 characters.  Twitter does better with emotions and jokes than with substantive discussions.

All this led me back to this piece:

It is both a joke (on many levels, note that the pianist doesn't play at all) and a comment on Wittgenstein's theory.  But it's also true about many debates, not because the terms didn't have a meaning one could communicate, but because the meaning of those terms is quite different for people with other frameworks of life.  And unless we are willing to take time to clarify what we mean and to understand the frameworks different people mean the chances of increased clarity from communication are minimal.  Indeed, sometimes silence is more conducive to real understanding.

Not that I will necessarily shut up now, sorry.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

May 2014 be good one for you and yours.

I have no talent for end-of-year retrospective assessments, because, as my car mirrors tell me, the objects in the mirror are closer than they seem.  Spotting patterns takes more time for me.  Note that I said "patterns."  Every year has its own major news items and major events, but whether they are evidence of some permanent change takes longer to spot.

Watching the new year in:

On US Beliefs About Evolution

Pew Research Center has a new survey out on that (n=1983 adults).  It has been written up in various ways, but the major result people talk about is the finding that those who believe humans were created exactly as they are now are more likely to be Republicans now than in 2009:

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.
The researchers looked at a lot of stuff to account for the change, but couldn't completely do that:

Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.

That's weird.  My first guess for an explanation would have been that Republican Party is now more religious than it was in 2009, in the sense of having more fundamentalists in it.  Perhaps "differences in their levels of religious commitment" doesn't account for that aspect?  On the other hand, the change from 2009 could be just getting a non-representative sample by accident, either that year or now.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sex And Personal Responsibility For Orgasms

Blow jobs. I bet you never thought you'd read something like this on my priggish blog!  And this is definitely not safe for viewing in public.

By "this" I mean an interview about how a woman can learn to teach herself to orgasm while giving BJs, even while deep throating (work on that gag reflex, you irresponsible woman!).  The trick is to work on your thoughts, to learn sexual meditation and then --- presto! --- you can orgasm while doing something completely different!  It's your responsibility to get in touch with what your body wants, after all.

If you work on it, you can orgasm while giving BJs.  Or while scrubbing the floor.  Or while you vacuum.  There's an interesting aside in that piece to how hard the work of BJs is on your knees:

Prioritizing your comfort also might mean avoiding the typical kneel-and-worship approach to blow jobs. “One of the hard things about being on your knees is there’s only so long that that’s comfortable,” says Van Vleck.

There's nothing much wrong with that piece if it's one in a series where the next one teaches all the same skills to people who do cunnilingus on someone else.  If that's not the case, my impression is that the piece contributes to the currently common narrative that sex is defined by what heterosexual men like (from porn, say) and that this is what we all should learn to truly enjoy.

I'm not ridiculing the obvious fact that one can enjoy giving pleasure to a loved one in sex, that the so-called foreplay aspects of sex can be enjoyable in themselves.  I'm not even saying that a woman couldn't orgasm from giving BJs or from peeling potatoes or whatever.  But there's something inherently tilted in Van Vleck's idea that personal responsibility for one's orgasms means something like nobody else having to do anything for you.