Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hillary's revenge on Moscow

For anyone who braves the Russian winter, overcast skies and short, dark days are a depressing reality.

But even those bleak expectations were shattered in December, when Moscow was shrouded in an unrelenting cloud cover for all but six minutes.

It was the darkest December in the capital since the city began recording the data, the previous worst having come in 2000, when the sun checked in for a meager three hours. ...

...the dearth of sunlight undoubtedly has contributed to a surge in visits to psychiatrists in Moscow even beyond the expected seasonal rise, the daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

The reports have unleashed a tide of snarky comment on social media. ...

“Hillary’s revenge,” an American, Steve Lemson, chimed in.
--Matthew Luxmoore, NYT, on the forces of darkness

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Giving military equipment to the police is a good thing

Surprising to me:

Sparked by high-profile confrontations between police and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, many commentators have criticized the excessive militarization of law enforcement. We investigate whether surplus military-grade equipment acquired by local police departments from the Pentagon has an effect on crime rates. We use temporal variations in US military expenditure and between-counties variation in the odds of receiving a positive amount of military aid to identify the causal effect of militarized policing on crime. We find that (i) military aid reduces street-level crime; (ii) the program is cost-effective; and (iii) there is evidence in favor of a deterrence mechanism.
--Vincenzo Bove and Evelina Gavrilova, "Police Officer on the Frontline or a Soldier? The Effect of Police Militarization on Crime," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy


We provide the first local level empirical analysis of the causal effects of providing military equipment to local police. Employing a novel combination of publicly available county-year panel data matched to hand-collected data on citizen complaints, we investigate the effects of acquiring tactical weapons, optics, and vehicles on citizen complaints, assaults on police officers, and offender deaths. For causal identification, we exploit exogenous variation in equipment availability and cost-shifting institutional aspects of the 1033 Program. Our results indicate that these items have generally positive effects: reduced citizen complaints, reduced assaults on officers, increased drug crime arrests, and no increases in offender deaths.
--Matthew Harris, Jinseong Park, Donald Bruce, and Matthew Murray, "Peacekeeping Force: Effects of Providing Tactical Equipment to Local Law Enforcement," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

How the classic endowment effect paper was published

One of the most powerful findings of behavioral economics is “loss aversion,” the psychological tendency to feel losses more acutely than gains. As Adam Smith (1759) put it, “Pain … is, in almost all cases, a more pungent sensation than the opposite and correspondent pleasure” (1981, III, ii, 176–77). Although Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1979) and I (1980) had earlier written about this phenomenon, its empirical validity was still very much in question when Kahneman, Jack Knetsch, and I submitted an experimental paper on the subject to the [Journal of Political Economy], later published in 1990.

In the experiment we randomly assigned half the subjects to receive some object (often a coffee mug), with the other half getting nothing. We then conducted a market for the mugs in which both buyers and sellers stated their reservation prices. Since transaction costs were negligible and the objects were randomly assigned, the Coase theorem predicts that roughly half the mugs will change hands so that subjects who value mugs the most end up owning them. Our hypothesis was that fewer than half the mugs would trade because owners would regard a trade as a loss. This hypothesis was strongly supported. In a typical experiment, the expected number of trades was 11 but the empirical average was only 3.4. As predicted by loss aversion, median reservation prices for selling the mug were roughly twice the median prices for buying the mug.

The editor handling this paper was George Stigler. He sent us back a rejection letter based on a highly critical referee report from someone Stigler described as a “heavyweight in the field.” The referee said that income effects could explain our results since those who received the mugs had received a windfall relative to those who did not. After taking a few days to calm myself down (a good self-control strategy) I wrote back on behalf of my coauthors (who were both away traveling) explaining why the referee’s comments could not be taken seriously, either theoretically or empirically. First, the marginal propensity to spend windfalls on university insignia coffee mugs must be minuscule. Second, one experiment explicitly tested and rejected this explanation. Stigler wrote back in his usual witty style saying that JPE stands for Journal of Perspicacity and Equity, and he offered to send both my letter and the original referee report to another referee to adjudicate. That referee said that if forced to choose between our view and that of the original referee, he would side with us, which is how the paper came to be accepted.*

*The self-control paper [Thaler and Shefrin (1981)] also involved quite a bit of back and forth with the editor Sam Peltzman, who somewhat reluctantly agreed to accept it rather than continue to exchange letters. Both papers were published as the last paper in the issue, which I took as a signal that they were considered the paper the editors were most ashamed to publish. It is gratifying that both papers were ranked highly on the list of most-cited papers compiled by the editors for this issue. Perhaps people read the JPE from back to front.
--Richard Thaler, Journal of Political Economy, on the slings and arrows of publishing seminal papers

Sunday, January 7, 2018

White supremacists are into Asian women

The white supremacists on the far right have “yellow fever” — an Asian woman fetish. It’s a confusing mix.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, once posted a video of himself with a Filipina he called “my jailbait girlfriend,” the young couple flirting as they sauntered through a megamall in the Philippines. Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, has dated a series of Asian-American women, according to one of his ex-girlfriends. (Mr. Spencer insists that it was before he embraced white nationalism.)

The right-wing agitator Mike Cernovich, the writer John Derbyshire and an alt-right figure named Kyle Chapman (so notorious for swinging a lead-filled stick at Trump opponents at a protest in Berkeley, Calif., that he is now a meme) are all married to women of Asian descent. As a commenter wrote on an alt-right forum, “exclusively” dating Asian women is practically a “white-nationalist rite of passage.” ...

Maybe it makes sense that the alt-right is so confused: On a neo-Nazi news site, a user asked advice on whether he could be a white nationalist if he slept with East Asian women, and he received dozens of spirited responses from both sides.
--Audrea Lim, NYT, on Asians as whites from the right


The New York Times Bits blog reports:
Google on Wednesday released statistics on the makeup of its work force, providing numbers that offer a stark glance at how Silicon Valley remains a white man’s world.
But wait — just a few paragraphs down, the post notes that non-Hispanic whites are 61 percent of the Google work force, slightly below the national average. (That average, according to 2006-10 numbers, is 67 percent.) Google is thus less white than the typical American company. White men are probably slightly overrepresented; assuming that the 30 percent number it gives for women Google employees worldwide carries over to the U.S. (the article gives no separate number for U.S. women Google employees), white men are 42 percent of the Google work force, and 35 percent of the U.S. work force — not a vast disparity. Indeed, if the goal is “reflecting the demographics of the country” as to race —
Google’s disclosures come amid an escalating debate over the lack of diversity in the tech industry. Although tech is a key driver of the economy and makes products that many Americans use everyday, it does not come close to reflecting the demographics of the country — in terms of sex, age or race.
— Google can only accomplish that by firing well over three-quarters of its Asian employees, and replacing them with blacks and Hispanics (and a few whites, to bring white numbers up from 61 percent to 67 percent). ...

This is part of a phenomenon I have long observed, under the label of “how the Asians became white.” It’s not just that Asians are being treated like whites for purposes of race preferences, with some institutions deliberately setting lower standards (or creating a “plus factor,” which is the same thing) for black and Hispanic applicants than for Asian and white applicants — instead, people sometimes actually call Asians white (mostly unconsciously, I suspect).
--Eugene Volokh, Washington Post, on Asians as whites from the left

Monday, January 1, 2018

The challenge ahead for small cities

Once upon a time, it was obvious what towns and small cities did: they served as central places serving a mainly rural population engaged in agriculture and other natural resource-based activities. The rural population was dispersed because arable land and other resources were dispersed, and so you had lots of small cities dotting the landscape.

Over time, however, agriculture has become ever less important as a share of the economy, and the rural population has correspondingly declined as a determinant of urban location. Nonetheless, many small cities survived and grew by becoming industrial centers, generally specialized in some cluster of industries held together by the Marshallian trinity of information exchange, specialized suppliers, and a pool of labor with specialized skills.

What determined which industries a small city developed? In some cases particular features of the location and nearby resources were important, but often it was more or less random chance at first, then a sequence in which one industry created conditions that favored another. ...

Obviously, this was a chancy process. Some localized industries created fertile ground for new industries to replace them; others presumably became dead ends. And while a big, diversified city can afford a lot of dead ends, a smaller city can’t. Some small cities got lucky repeatedly, and grew big. Others didn’t; and when a city starts out fairly small and specialized, over a long period there will be a substantial chance that it will lose enough coin flips that it effectively loses any reason to exist.

I’m not saying that there weren’t patterns of success and failure. Small cities were and are more likely to fail if they have miserable winters, more likely to come up with new tricks if they’re college towns and/or destinations for immigrants. Still, if you back up enough, it makes sense to think of urban destinies as a random process of wins and losses in which small cities face a relatively high likelihood of experiencing gambler’s ruin.

Again, it was not always thus: once upon a time dispersed agriculture ensured that small cities serving rural hinterlands would survive. But for generations we have lived in an economy in which smaller cities have nothing going for them except historical luck, which eventually tends to run out. ...

In the modern economy, which has cut loose from the land, any particular small city exists only because of historical contingency that sooner or later loses its relevance.
--Paul Krugman, NYT, on having the short stack at the table. But see a rebuttal here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Has U.S. median income risen after all?

Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015. The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980 and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size. The finding of zero growth in American real wages since the 1970s is driven in part by the choice of the CPI-U as the price deflator (Broda and Weinstein 2008). Small biases in any price deflator compound over long periods of time. Using a different deflator such as the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (PCE) yields modest growth in real wages and in median household incomes throughout the time period. Accounting for the Hamilton (1998) and Costa (2001) estimates of CPI bias yields estimated wage growth of 1 percent per year during 1975-2015. Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.
--Bruce Sacerdote, "Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages," on the importance of the deflator

What happened to the Napalm Girl?

You may not recognize me now, but you almost certainly know who I am. My name is Kim Phuc, though you likely know me by another name. It is one I never asked for, a name I have spent a lifetime trying to escape: “Napalm Girl.”

You have probably seen my picture a thousand times. Yes, that picture. The image that made the world gasp. Some called it a turning point in the Vietnam War—a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of me in 1972, age 9, running along a puddled roadway in front of an expressionless soldier. I was photographed with arms outstretched, naked and shrieking in pain and fear, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance. ...

Those bombs have caused me immeasurable pain over the course of my life. Forty-five years later I am still receiving treatment for the burns that cover my arms, back and neck. But even worse than the physical pain was the emotional and spiritual pain. For years I bore the crippling weight of anger, bitterness and resentment toward those who caused my suffering. Yet as I look back over a spiritual journey that has spanned more than three decades, I realize the same bombs that caused so much pain and suffering also brought me to a place of great healing. Those bombs led me to Jesus Christ.

My salvation experience occurred on Christmas Eve. It was 1982. I was attending a special worship service at a small church in Vietnam. The pastor, Ho Hieu Ha, delivered a message many Christians would find familiar: Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather, it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human flesh and given to us by God. As the pastor spoke, I knew in my heart that something was shifting inside of me.

A decade removed from the defining tragedy of my life, I still desperately needed peace. I had so much hatred and bitterness in my heart. Yet I was ready for love and joy. I wanted to let go of my pain. I wanted to pursue life instead of holding fast to fantasies of death. When Pastor Ho finished speaking, I stood up, stepped out into the aisle, and made my way to the front of the sanctuary to say “yes” to Jesus Christ.

When I woke up that Christmas morning, I experienced my first-ever heartfelt celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I know what it is like to experience terror, to feel despondent, to live in fear. I know how wearying and hopeless life can be sometimes. After years in the spiritual wilderness, I felt the kind of healing that can only come from God. ...

My faith in Jesus Christ is what has enabled me to forgive those who had wronged me—no matter how severe those wrongs were. Faith also inspired me to pray for my enemies rather than curse them. It enabled me not only to tolerate those who had wronged me but to love them.
--Kim Phuc Phan Thi, WSJ, on a peace that passes understanding

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bipartisanship used to be seen as a sign of dysfunction

From the end of World War II to roughly the end of the Cold War, American politics and policymaking was markedly different. The Democratic and Republican parties were internally diverse, with distinct factions that often did not agree with each other on fundamental issues. Liberal Northern Democrats, such as Senators Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale, had to contend with conservative Southern Democrats. In the Republican Party, conservative “Regular Republicans” had to contend with liberal Northeastern Republicans, like New York’s Jacob Javits and Massachusetts’s Edward Brooke (the “Rockefeller wing”). To pass anything, parties had to reach across the aisle to find willing partners from the other party—partners that changed depending on the issue.

On civil rights, for instance, to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson relied on the votes of 25 Republican senators, including all 16 Northeastern Republicans, to end a filibuster by his fellow Southern Democrats. On economic policy, Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 relied on the votes of 50 “boll-weevil” conservative Southern Democrats to pass his budget—and later tax cuts—through a Democratic House of Representatives.

To many, this cross-party dealmaking was a sign that American politics was broken. The American Political Science Association called for “responsible” political parties who could present a coherent platform, ostensibly be elected on it, and then implement its planks. Others lamented the seemingly intractable divided government—in which Republicans reliably controlled the presidency and the Democrats controlled the Congress—of the 1970s and 1980s, going so far as to call for four-year House terms so that members of Congress were tied to the presidential ticket. 

Beginning in the early 1990s, however, the political parties started to become more ideologically coherent and competitive, and the result was the broken policymaking we see today.
--Kenneth Baer, The Atlantic, on broken yesterday and broken today

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The hijacking of the word "evangelical"

When I became a Christian in college, in the early nineteen-seventies, the word “evangelical” still meant an alternative to the fortress mentality of fundamentalism. ... In those years, there was such great energy in the movement that, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, it had eclipsed mainline Protestantism as the dominant branch of the Christian church in the U.S. ...

Today, while the name is no longer unfamiliar in my city, its meaning has changed drastically. The conservative leaders who have come to be most identified with the movement have largely driven this redefinition. But political pollsters have also helped, as they have sought to highlight a crucial voting bloc. When they survey people, there is no discussion of any theological beliefs, or other criteria. The great majority of them simply ask people, “Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?” And those who answer ‘yes’ are counted. More than eighty per cent of such people voted for Donald Trump, and, last week, a similar percentage cast their ballots for Roy Moore, in the Alabama Senate race. So, in common parlance, evangelicals have become people with two qualities: they are both self-professed Christians and doggedly conservative politically. ...

“Evangelical” used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with “hypocrite.” ...

Understanding the religious landscape, however, requires discerning differences between the smaller, let’s call it “big-E Evangelicalism,” which gets much media attention, and a much larger, little-e evangelicalism, which does not. The larger, lower-case evangelicalism is defined not by a political party, whether conservative, liberal, or populist, but by theological beliefs. ... Evangelicals have generally believed in the authority of the whole Bible, in contrast to mainline Protestants, who regard many parts as obsolete, according to Bebbington. They also see it as the ultimate authority, unlike Catholics, who make church tradition equal to it. In addition, the ancient creedal formulations of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, as well as others, are taken at face value, without reservation. And, again, unlike many in mainline Protestantism, evangelicals believe that Jesus truly did exist as the divine Son before he was born, that he actually was born of a virgin, and that he really was raised bodily from the dead.

Do the self-identified white “big-E Evangelicals” of the pollsters hold to these beliefs? Recent studies indicate that many do not. In many parts of the country, Evangelicalism serves as the civil or folk religion accepted by default as part of one’s social and political identity. So, in many cases, it means that the political is more defining than theological beliefs, which has not been the case historically. ...

Yet there exists a far larger evangelicalism, both here and around the world, which is not politically aligned. In the U.S., there are millions of evangelicals spread throughout mainline Protestant congregations, as well as in more theologically conservative denominations like the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. But, most significantly, the vast majority of the fast-growing Protestant churches in Asia, Latin America, and Africa all share these same beliefs. And in the U.S., while white Evangelicalism is aging and declining, evangelicalism over all is not. ...

Here in New York City, even within Manhattan, I have seen scores of churches begun over the last fifteen years that are fully evangelical by our definition, only a minority of which are white, and which are not aligned with any political party.

In my view, these churches tend to be much more committed to racial justice and care for the poor than is commonly seen in white Evangelicalism. In this way, they might be called liberal. On the other hand, these multicultural churches remain avowedly conservative on issues like sex outside of marriage. They look, to most eyes, like a strange mixture of liberal and conservative viewpoints, although they themselves see a strong inner consistency between these views. They resist the contemporary ethical package deals that today’s progressivism and conservatism seek to impose on adherents, insisting that true believers must toe the line on every one of a host of issues. But these younger evangelical churches simply won’t play by those rules. ...

The movement may abandon, or at least demote, the prominence of the name ["evangelical"], yet be more committed to its theology and historic impulses than ever. Some predict that younger evangelicals will not only reject the name but also become more secular. That is not what I have been seeing here in New York City. And studies by the Pew Research Center and others indicate that religious denominations that have become more friendly to secularism are shrinking precipitously, while the evangelical churches that resist dilution in their theological beliefs and practices are holding their own or growing. And if evangelicals—or whatever they will call themselves­—continue to become more multiethnic in leadership and confound the left-right political categories, they may continue to do so.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Chinese student puzzled by Western idealism

The doctrines that shape the worldviews and cultural assumptions at elite Western institutions like Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs have become almost religious. Nevertheless, I hope that the perspective of a candid Chinese atheist can be of some instruction to them. ...

One [Stanford GSB] class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees. Many of the students had worked for nonprofits or health care or tech companies, all of which had mottos about changing the world, saving lives, saving the planet, etc. The professor seemed to like these mottos. I told him that at Goldman our motto was “be long-term greedy.” The professor couldn’t understand this motto or why it was inspiring. I explained to him that everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring. He asked if perhaps there was another motto or logo that my other classmates might connect with. I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency. He didn’t like that motto either and decided to call on another student, who had worked at Pfizer. Their motto was “all people deserve to live healthy lives.” The professor thought this was much better. I didn’t understand how it would motivate employees, but this was exactly why I had come to Stanford: to learn the key lessons of interpersonal communication and leadership.

On the communication and leadership front, I came to the GSB knowing I was not good and hoped to get better. My favorite class was called “Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as students referred to it, “Touchy Feely.” In “Touchy Feely,” students get very candid feedback on how their words and actions affect others in a small group that meets several hours per week for a whole quarter.

We talked about microaggressions and feelings and empathy and listening. Sometimes in class the professor would say things to me like “Puzhong, when Mary said that, I could see you were really feeling something,” or “Puzhong, I could see in your eyes that Peter’s story affected you.” And I would tell them I didn’t feel anything. I was quite confused.

One of the papers we studied mentioned that subjects are often not conscious of their own feelings when fully immersed in a situation. But body indicators such as heart rate would show whether the person is experiencing strong emotions. I thought that I generally didn’t have a lot of emotions and decided that this might be a good way for me to discover my hidden emotions that the professor kept asking about.

So I bought a heart rate monitor and checked my resting heart rate. Right around 78. And when the professor said to me in class “Puzhong, I can see that story brought up some emotions in you,” I rolled up my sleeve and checked my heart rate. It was about 77. And so I said, “nope, no emotion.” The experiment seemed to confirm my prior belief: my heart rate hardly moved, even when I was criticized, though it did jump when I became excited or laughed.

This didn’t land well on some of my classmates. They felt I was not treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserved. The professor was very angry. My takeaway was that my interpersonal skills were so bad that I could easily offend people unintentionally, so I concluded that after graduation I should do something that involved as little human interaction as possible.

Therefore, I decided I needed to return to work in financial markets rather than attempting something else. I went to the career service office and told them that my primary goal after the MBA was to make money. I told them that $500,000 sounded like a good number. They were very confused, though, as they said their goal was to help me find my passion and my calling. I told them that my calling was to make money for my family. They were trying to be helpful, but in my case, their advice didn’t turn out to be very helpful.
--Puzhong Yao, American Affairs, on a man without ideals. HT: Marginal Revolution

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ticketmaster and scalpers help artists

And then there are those much-unloved “service fees” that vendors like Ticketmaster add. In New York, they average 21 percent of the ticket price but, as we heard earlier, they can reach 100 percent of face value.
[Economist Eric] BUDISH: Something that’s not widely understood is that these service fees often — part of them goes back to the venue. ... So Ticketmaster takes all the P.R. hit for these egregious service fees. But actually a lot of that money spreads its way around the rest of the food chain. 
[Head of music at Ticketmaster North America David] MARCUS: It’s actually historically kind of part of Ticketmaster’s business model to take on the burden of that negative sentiment. ... We would say it in the hallways: the reason that we’re successful as we are is because we take those bullets on behalf of the venue, the artists, the promoter.
...
[Stephen] DUBNER: OK, so let’s back up a bit here — the real scalping is going on between who and whom? 
[Scalper Ken] LOWSON: Well, promoters and teams sell directly to brokers. You know, and then those brokers and list them on the marketplace. You know, for a team owner, it’s their ticket. And for a promoter, it’s their ticket, it’s not the artist’s ticket. I don’t know another industry that intentionally advertises one price to intentionally hold it, and resell it secretly.
...
DUBNER: Yeah, but what we’re told is that artists are typically not getting any of that additional markup. Are you saying that’s not the case, that they are getting some of that markup? 
LOWSON:Well, maybe it’s something like that. But their managers are hired to make them the most money. And in the end, you know, if you’re taking a guaranteed amount that’s higher than the revenue from the tickets. It’s like a pre-scalp. 
DUBNER:I just want to make sure I understand it. So it’s not that the artists are, per se, getting a cut — let’s say a ticket sells for $100 on the primary, gets marked up to $500 right? It’s not like the artist is getting any of that additional $400, it’s that the guarantee that their manager negotiates for them is based on a ticket sale price somewhere in between $100 and $500, is that what you’re saying? 
LOWSON: Well, they’re negotiating with, you know, a promoter which is for a flat amount per show. There’s 50 shows on the tour, “we want $50 million.”
--Freakonomics Radio on who's making really money on service fees and scalping 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The similarities between Trump and Bill Clinton

The key for Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton was convincing the public that they were not distracted by the investigations but instead remained focused on doing their jobs and serving the American people. In Mr. Clinton’s case, at least, it was partially an act — while he was able to effectively manage major foreign policy issues even at the height of the impeachment debate, in private he was consumed by the investigation, raged endlessly about his tormentors and at times seemed deeply distracted.

Aides found Mr. Clinton absently playing with old campaign buttons, and at a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it fell to an adviser to conduct the discussion while the president’s mind drifted off. On another occasion, the head of the World Bank called a top White House official after a meeting with Mr. Clinton to say, “It’s like he isn’t there.” During a visit to the Middle East, an aide noticed Mr. Clinton trying to keep his mind from wandering off by scribbling on a yellow legal pad, “Focus on your job, focus on your job, focus on your job.”
--Peter Baker, NYT, on an eerily familiar description of a president. The difference, of course, is that Bill kept it hidden from the public.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prophetic words from Samuel Huntington in 1996

In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. People and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.
--Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996), on our present moment

What causes the gender pay gap?

According to a commonly used measure adopted by the United States Census Bureau, women in 2016 earned 81 cents for each dollar earned by men, both working full-time. ...

What’s more, the gap is a statistic that changes during the life of a worker. Typically, it’s small when formal education ends and employment begins, and it increases with age. More to the point, it increases when women marry and when they begin bearing children. ...

Correcting for time off and hours of work reduces the difference in the earnings between men and women but doesn’t eliminate it.

On the face of it, that looks like proof of disparate treatment. It may seem understandable that when a man works more hours than a woman, he earns more. But why should his compensation per hour be greater, given the same qualifications? But once again, the problem isn’t simple.

The data shows that women disproportionately seek jobs — including full-time jobs — that are more likely to mesh with family responsibilities, which, for the most part, are still greater for women than for men. So, the research shows, women tend to prefer jobs that offer flexibility: the ability to shift hours of work and rearrange shifts to accommodate emergencies at home.

Such jobs tend to be more predictable, with fewer on-call hours and less exposure to weekend and evening obligations. These advantages have a negative consequence: lower earnings per hour, even when the number of hours worked is the same.

Is that unfair? Maybe. But it isn’t always an open-and-shut case. Companies point out that flexibility is often expensive — more so in some jobs than others.

Certain job characteristics have a big impact on the gender earnings gap. I have looked closely at these issues, including the extent to which workers are:

■ Subject to strict deadlines and time pressure

■ Expected to be in direct contact with other workers or clients

■ Instructed to develop cooperative working relationships

■ Assigned to work on highly specific projects

■ Unable to independently determine their tasks and goals

Occupations with a lower level of these characteristics (like jobs in science and technology) show smaller gaps, corrected for hours of work. Occupations with a higher level (like those in finance and law) have greater gaps. Men’s earnings tend to surge when there are fewer substitutes for a given worker, when the job must be done in teams and when clients demand specific lawyers, accountants, consultants and financial advisers. Such differences can account for about half the gender earnings gap.

These findings provide more nuance in explaining why the gap widens with age and why it is greater for women with children. Whatever changes have already taken place in American society, the duty of caring for children — and for other family members — still weighs more heavily on women. And if you thought that moving to a more family-friendly nation would eliminate the gap, think again. In several nations, including Sweden and Denmark, a “motherhood penalty” in earnings exists, even though these nations have generous family policies, including paid family leave and subsidized child care.
--Claudia Goldin, NYT, on going deeper than "81 cents for each dollar"

Sunday, November 5, 2017

When pro athletes have to pee mid-competition

"Imagine you're an athlete, you've just consumed a ridiculous amount of liquid on a hot day, you can't get off the field and you're in terrible pain," [neurology professor Pete] Snyder says. ...

Thanks to Snyder's study, it now makes perfect sense why Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, admits he lets loose in the pool. It might even provide a scientific explanation for the Red Sox phenomenon known as "Manny being Manny." In 2005, during a pitching change in Boston, outfielder Manny Ramirez claims to have stepped into the Green Monster to relieve himself -- an urge so bad he almost missed a pitch. ("I'm just glad he came back," said Sox skipper Terry Francona.) It also explains one of the NFL's dirty little secrets: At any given moment on a sideline, someone probably is relieving himself while hiding in plain sight. Or trying to. Former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder's solution was fairly simple: He says he wet his pants ... in every one of his 82 games as a pro. ...

"Guys are peeing all over the sideline in every game, into cups, on the ground, in towels, behind the bench, in their pants, everywhere," says Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who covered this topic and others in The Rookie Handbook, co-authored by Gross and Geoff Hangartner. ...

So many runners in the New York City Marathon pee off the sides of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at Mile 1 that race veterans can only giggle when they hear first-timers below them on the lower deck talk about the sudden "refreshing" rainstorm they experienced. World-class cyclists still speak in awe of the balletic way former Tour de France racer Dave Zabriskie was able to straighten his right leg, stand tall in the saddle and urinate off the side of his bike while whizzing through the French countryside at 30 mph. In 2005, when Zabriskie became just the third American to wear the appropriately named yellow jersey, it earned him the privilege -- according to the Tour's unwritten rules -- to decide when, where and for how long the peloton was allowed to pee. "That's when you know you've made it in our sport," says former teammate Christian Vande Velde. "It's like, 'I just made the whole peloton stop and pee; I'm the man.'"

Because of cultural and anatomical obstacles, female athletes are forced to plan better and hold longer than their male counterparts. Members of the U.S. women's hockey team have even been known to use the expulsion of urine to measure the force of an opponent's checks. ...

Brandi Chastain, a member of the iconic 1999 U.S. women's national soccer team, leaked into her cleats only once -- during one of her first World Cup practices in Haiti. She remembers it fondly. "Absolutely liberating," she says. "It's hard to feel loose when you have that kind of tension in your bladder." ...

It's common for female athletes to drink less -- and therefore perform worse -- simply because they're worried about how, or where, they'll go to the bathroom. ...

Boxing's golden rule is clear: Never put the gloves on early before a big fight. Once they're secure and the tape is initialed by a boxing commission official, they can't come off. After that, if a fighter is overcome by the combination of prefight hydration and jitters, his entourage has to play a high-stakes game of "not it."

Moments before he was supposed to be in the ring, [boxer James] Toney turned to [Freddie] Roach with a look on his face every trainer dreads. ... "Best way to do it," he says, "pull the cup out, pull the junk down, look the other way."
--David Fleming, ESPN the Magazine, on awkward biological moments

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How slowness helped Martin Luther change the world

Modern professional culture encourages collaboration through instant communication and globalized networks. But [Martin] Luther’s legacy as one of history’s most influential thinkers shows us that there are certain epic projects — such as the systematic rethinking of foundational dogmas — that require time to mature and space to germinate before they are safe for universal exposure. Without that window, they die. ...

...when he produced his more provocative set of theses in October 1517, it took more than a month for any feedback to roll in — despite Luther’s efforts to move things along by sending personal copies to local bishops. ...

...news still traveled by horse and cart in the 16th century, and this fact was critical for Luther. Indeed, it probably saved his life and his ideas — because it meant that he could win over the town before the district, his fellow monks before strangers, Germans before Italians. ...

What sympathy he attracted in his early days was owed, in part, to the intellectual and social capital he’d earned from those who knew him personally and had heard him preach. Many of these friends and admirers took extraordinary risks to defend him, which in turn gave others courage do the same — a cycle that gradually expanded his sphere of support outward from Wittenberg. ...

It wasn’t until early 1518 that Pope Leo X looked at the 95 theses. Having limited access to timely German news, he seriously underestimated their significance and passed off the matter to the Augustinians for resolution at their next annual meeting. ...

It wasn’t until early 1521 that he was formally excommunicated — more than three years after he composed his 95 theses. And by then, as we now know, it was too late to snuff out his influence.

Saul Bellow, in his introduction to Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” makes the memorable point that great and important writing is possible only when one is able to shut out “the noise of history.” This is what Luther managed to do when he created his 95 theses, his translations and the other texts that became part of the Reformation’s early canon. ...

Five hundred years later, there are few writers, artists, designers or intellectuals who do not feel impelled to deliver regular updates on their work online, or at weekly grad seminars, shareholder meetings or workshops with colleagues. ...

These networks make us more professionally productive and accountable. But they also can make us more cautious, since we know that any new idea can expose us to instant censure from complete strangers in other parts of the world who know nothing of our local circumstances. This phenomenon goes by different names — groupthink, political correctness, herd mentality. But in every form, it serves the interest of the orthodox and frustrates the heretic.
--Jonathan Kay, Washington Post, on taking time

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why are honeycrisp apples so expensive?

Oftentimes, Honeycrisps are more than four times as expensive as other varieties of apples. ...

There are many reasons that add to the cost of Honeycrisp apples, and it all starts on the farm.

The Honeycrisp variety was developed by the University of Minnesota, which still holds the patent. So for every Honeycrisp yielding tree a grower buys, they have to pay a $1 royalty to the University of Minnesota. That’s not the case for more common and older varieties like Red Delicious.

The trees which grow Honeycrisp apples are relatively weak and yield very large fruit, so they require a trellis system to hold them up and keep their branches from breaking or hitting the ground.

One of the appealing things about Honeycrisp is its thin skin. It adds to the crunch and allows people to enjoy the meat of the apple without breaking their teeth. But that also means the apples bruise more easily, and can be damaged by their own stems during processing.

Nick Schweitzer says workers are asked to pick them slowly and more carefully than other types of apples. Instead of being paid by the bin of apples, they’re paid by the hour. Workers are also required to clip the stem as closely as they can to the apple so it won’t bend and puncture the skin as its transported.

Unlike varieties that tend to ripen at the same time on the tree and only require one picking, Honeycrisp tend to ripen at varying intervals and require three pickings before the season ends in November. That means more time spent in the fields for smaller yields. It also means that growers have to suspend picking operations on one variety and move their workers to the Honeycrisp trees in order to catch the apples at their peak.

In addition, they also require more calcium sprayings to prevent an affliction called “bitter pit.”
--Brett Thomas, WoodTV, on a high-maintenance diva

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happiness is found in community, not solitude

Having spent the last few years researching and writing a book about happiness and anxiety in America, I’ve noticed that this particular strain of happiness advice — the kind that pitches the search for contentment as an internal, personal quest, divorced from other people — has become increasingly common. ...

This isolationist philosophy is showing up not just in the way that many Americans talk about happiness, but in how they spend their time. People who study these things have observed a marked increase in solitary “happiness pursuits” — activities carried out either completely alone or in a group without interaction — with the explicit aim of keeping each person locked in her own private emotional experience.

Spiritual and religious practice is slowly shifting from a community-based endeavor to a private one, with silent meditation retreats, mindfulness apps and yoga classes replacing church socials and collective worship. ...

But while placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people. Nearly half of all meals eaten in this country are now eaten alone. Teenagers and young millennials are spending less time just “hanging out” with their friends than any generation in recent history, replacing real-world interaction with smartphones.

And it’s not just young people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that the average American now spends less than four minutes a day “hosting and attending social events,” a category that covers all types of parties and other organized social occasions. ...

All in all — and that includes daily bouts of nagging, arguing and whining — the average American spends barely more than half an hour a day on social communication. Compare that to time per day spent watching television (three hours) or even “grooming” (one hour for women, and just over 44 minutes for men). ...

But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.

And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Understanding Sens. Flake vs. Murkowski vs. Collins' situations

[Senator Jeff] Flake is very conservative. But as I wrote in July, Flake has made no significant effort to use his official powers to block Trump's agenda even on issues where he sits to the president's right, like trade.

Instead, Flake's opposition to Trump has consisted almost entirely of complaining, and now he's not even bothering to seek reelection to the Senate, where he could do something about whatever Trump is doing.

Flake behaves like he is helpless. That's because he is helpless. And he should think some more about why he is so helpless.

Flake is helpless because there's no real constituency in America for what he favors: low taxes and spending, openness to immigration and trade, international collaboration where America honors its commitments, and polite public behavior.

There is one coalition of voters that favors a much larger and more active government than Flake wants. Many of these voters share a portion of Flake's values (they may share his commitment to openness and politeness, for example) but they also oppose him on various social issues where he is conservative and they are liberal. Flake does not have a home in the Democratic Party with these voters.

The other coalition of voters is the one Flake relied on all along to get elected. But it turns out they don't care very much about some of the policy ideas Flake thought were important. And they outright oppose him on others, like immigration. And many of these voters have come to view nastiness and crudity as virtues, since they think politeness norms have been weaponized by an establishment that wants to exclude them — or just because they are jerks.

It was essentially an accident that Flake and elected officials like him were able to harness the Republican electoral coalition for so long to back an agenda that excluded policies those voters cared about (like immigration restriction) and included ones they opposed (like cutting Medicare). Now that's over, and he has nowhere to go.

A look at the non-helpless anti-Trump senators gives a clue about why Flake can't seem to do anything about the things he cares about.

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have broken extensively with Trump to much greater effect than Flake. Their defections have worked because their formulation of personal decency plus policy moderation is saleable to a large slice of the electorate. ...

Collins and Murkowski are able to be a lot more soft-spoken than Flake; their anti-Trump actions have done most of the talking. They've had a lot of effect on policy in Trump's America. And they don't seem to intend to leave the Senate anytime soon.
--Josh Barro, Business Insider, on power through bases of leverage

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Was the iconic V-J Day kiss sexual assault?

Late summer, 1945. In the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 100,000 people lay dead, casualties of the United States’ decision to drop a pair of atomic bombs. But in Times Square on Aug. 14, a much different vibe prevails: Japan has surrendered, and the victors are celebrating — drinking, shouting and dancing in the streets.

An American sailor named George Mendonsa spontaneously takes hold of a complete stranger, 21-year-old Austrian-Jewish refugee Greta Zimmer [Friedman], bends her backward, plants a kiss on her mouth and continues on his way. Unbeknown to either, famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt has captured the encounter. The resulting image, published soon after in Life magazine, came to symbolize the exuberance of that moment, in a country overflowing with vigor and youth, at a time when anything seemed possible. ...

In 2012, a London-based blogger who uses the pseudonym Leopard wrote a provocative post on Crates and Ribbons titled “The Kissing Sailor, or ‘The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture,’” arguing that Mendonsa’s actions should not be idealized as romantic. To the writer, the kiss represented nothing short of a sexual assault.

The post highlights a series of comments from Greta Friedman’s 2005 Veterans History Project interview, which addresses the issue of what we would now call consent. “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” Friedman said at the time. “The guy just came over and grabbed!” adding, “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” Leopard also cited a CBS News interview in which Friedman said of Mendonsa, “I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip (sic).” ...

Josh Friedman says that his mother is well aware of the discussion, and has expressed a nuanced reaction. Greta Friedman has become friendly with Mendonsa over the years and her son says she considers him to be “a lovely person.” When CBS News reunited the two in Times Square for the interview cited on Crates and Ribbons, Friedman appears to be at ease with the former sailor. She has declined to fault Mendonsa for his actions — taking into account his overwhelming admiration for the nurses on the Bunker Hill — though she is not unsympathetic to the contemporary critique.

“My mom always had an appreciation for a feminist viewpoint, and understood the premise that you don’t have a right to be intimate with a stranger on the street,” Josh Friedman says. “(But) she didn’t assign any bad motives to George in that circumstance, that situation, that time.”
--Andy Martino, New York Daily News, on the past, a foreign country