Later On

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Archive for July 8th, 2017

The US far right’s game plan? A suppression of the majority.

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A more serious post by Jason Kottke:

Rebecca Onion recently interviewed Nancy MacLean, who has written a book about economist James McGill Buchanan, whose work MacLean believes is the origin of the ideas & strategy of the far right in America (most notably represented by the Koch brothers). As told by MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of this coalition is to switch the US to a “totally new vision of society and government, that’s different from anything that exists anywhere in the world”.

When the Supreme Court decided, in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Tennessee-born economist James McGill Buchanan was horrified. Over the course of the next few decades, the libertarian thinker found comfortable homes at a series of research universities and spent his time articulating a new grand vision of American society, a country in which government would be close to nonexistent, and would have no obligation to provide education-or health care, or old-age support, or food, or housing-to anyone.

This radical vision has become the playbook for a network of people looking to override democracy in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few.

I suspect MacLean’s argument is much more fleshed out in her book than in the interview and criticisms are easy to find (although I don’t know how ideologically motivated they are), but what she says could explain what’s happening in our government right now. As I wrote back in December:

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws.

In the interview, McLean says that Buchanan advised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the structure of his country’s constitution:

This document was later called a “constitution of locks and bolts,” [and was designed] to make it so that the majority couldn’t make its will felt in the political system, unless it was a huge supermajority.

That feels like where we’re heading in this country right now . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 5:50 pm

Three interesting posts, with brief videos, at Kottke.org

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Video

Trumpcare Is the Most Hated Law in Decades

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From Kevin Drum, who comments on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 5:42 pm

I just understood the idea of mise en place

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I know about mise en place in general, which in a restaurant means preparing everything ahead of time so that when the order comes, the dish is assembled rather than cooked. Someone orders french fries and a steak. The fries are not only already cut, they are partially cooked so that a brief dip in the hot fat is all that’s required to finish them off. The steak is cooked by sous vide, so it is just slapped on the grill to sear it and heat it some more. A bernaise sauce is already made, ready to be used.

And so in the kitchen I knew about doing the prep work first: getting everything chopped and into bowls, read to go into skillet or pot.

What I had not picked up on is the other part of the restaurant idea: that doing the mise en place is its own job, independent of the last-minute heating and assembly, and so you work on it when you have time—i.e., not when the restaurant is busy, when assembly is what’s happening, but before it opens.

Of course the mise en place in a restaurant must be used for many recipes/dishes. So for example there will be chopped parsley, because surely some order will require it. But at home, my mise en place for a meal means preparing on what I’m actually going to use in that meal.

I have already noticed that I like to start my meals early—getting out the pot, perhaps mincing the garlic. Then later I may just get out of the fridge all that I will need, just so I don’t forget everything. And then the chopping, etc.

Today I was sort of bored, so I went into the kitchen and made Mark Bittman’s “preserved” lemons (which need to sit) and minced the garlic (likewise). And then since this GOPM will include shredded Brussels sprouts, I thought I might as well shred them now, since it takes some time.

I trimmed the ends on all of them, then started slicing them in half lengthwise. (I find it’s more efficient to do one single step on all instances rather than doing all the steps for each instance. For example, if I will be using chapped shallots, rather than cutting the ends off a shallot, peeling it, and chopping it, I instead cut the ends off all the shallots; then I peel all the shallots; and finally I chop all the shallots.) At that point I realized, “I’m doing my mise en place, just like it says.”

Net effect: I will now work on the mise enplace earlier in the day, breaking it free of any attachment to mealtime other than content. Tom Gilb stated in his very good and interesting book Principles of Software Engineering Management the most essential principle: Early. That’s the primary principle (and of course he states it early), and I’ve gradually absorbed it and apply it in many venues. For example, if I get an assignment one day to turn in a report a month later, I will on that very day make an outline of the report, as best I can and however brief, and note in the outline what information I might need and where I might find it. In other words, break the ice immediately. Early is the rule. Apply it. And the outline can grow as you get more information and realize better what should be in the report. (And you can see why I like Workflowy.)

So now that I (finally) get it, I’m going to start work on my mise en place much, much earlier: why not, since if you start early enough you can do it in little bits: work 15 minutes, take a break, etc. (I do understand that it helps to be retired.)

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 3:41 pm

I have to say that I like some Koch Industries ideas and principles

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And it’s easy to see why they despise Donald Trump, just in terms of business acumen. A very interesting article by Christopher Leonard in the Washington Post:

Charles and David Koch are best known for their controversial political empire, where they ply their combined personal fortunes of nearly $96 billion into conservative causes and candidates across the nation.

They’re less known for the business empire that’s enabled that wealth: Koch Industries. One of the United States’ biggest companies — whose annual revenue of $100 billion is more than that of Goldman Sachs, Starbucks and Honeywell International combined — Koch owns brands that are fixtures of American households, such as Brawny paper towels and Lycra. But because it’s privately held, how it has grown so big has remained something of a mystery.

A year-long look into Koch Industries’ $21 billion purchase of wood and paper giant Georgia-Pacific, involving interviews with Georgia-Pacific employees from the factory floor to the executive suite, offers a rare view into how the brothers run their businesses. The company’s approach, examined for a forthcoming book, aligns with the brothers’ brand of economic conservativism, which stresses the power of the market and skepticism of government. At times, its approach is at tension with their philosophy.

Charles Koch often frames his political giving in economic terms, saying that the free market is better able to solve society’s problems than the state. As chief executive of Koch, one of his strategies has been to shield his companies from the market pressures that many public firms face.

That shield also makes it difficult for outsiders to judge whether Koch Industries is a good steward of its investments. Outsiders are left to wonder: What does it mean to become part of Koch? What can public companies learn from Koch’s management techniques once it takes another company private? What can employees expect if Charles Koch becomes their boss?

Charles Koch, who did not comment for this story, has implemented deep changes at Georgia-Pacific. Most of them exploit one of Koch’s key advantages: The company is privately held, with essentially only two shareholders: the brothers. This gives the firm flexibility to operate in a way that makes it more nimble than many publicly traded firms.

After taking Georgia-Pacific private, Koch jettisoned annual budgets and quit focusing on quarterly earnings. Reinvestment has skyrocketed. Strategic thinking has shifted years, or decades, out.

The strategy makes Koch Industries somewhat of an outlier among major American corporations, fighting the tide of shareholder-return management strategies that many critics say have led to an excessive focus on short-term returns. Charles Koch perpetually reminds his managers they want to achieve the highest return on investment, but he’s willing to take 10 or 20 years to get it.

“If you need to wreck your budget to do what creates the most value, you should wreck the budget,” said David Robertson, president and chief operating officer of Koch Industries, summarizing his boss’s philosophy.

Yet to achieve success, Koch has at times had to compromise some of his principles. Koch has used his political power to crusade against what is sometimes called “crony capitalism” — the use of tax breaks and subsidies to benefit some companies over others. And yet Georgia-Pacific made use of one such tax break to ride out the recession.

Whatever the approach, it seems to be working for the company’s bottom line. Georgia-Pacific’s debt rating has climbed from junk status to high investment grade. Annual net income averages just slightly more than $1 billion a year, according to Koch Industries, compared with $623 million before the acquisition.

Seeing value others missed

Like almost virtually everything with Koch Industries, the deal began in secret. Not even senior managers at Georgia-Pacific knew what was coming when a small delegation of Koch employees arrived in 2003 and started asking questions. Koch had amassed most of its influence in the energy business, owning oil refineries. But its sprawling business interests span agriculture, minerals, materials engineering and even cattle ranching.

One afternoon, Koch executives met with Georgia-Pacific executives on the 51st floor — reserved for Georgia-Pacific executives and their guests — of the company’s headquarters. Over lunch served on fine china, Wesley Jones, who oversaw Georgia Pacific’s wood-pulp mills, explained how they operated, where it bought timber and where it sold pulp, and the potential growth of Asian markets.

One of the visitors listening was James Hannan, who worked for Koch Industries and would be installed as Georgia-Pacific’s CEO in 2007. (Today he is an executive vice president at Koch Industries.) He wasn’t used to wearing a tie — Koch culture was much more informal.

Hannan and his team thought ­Georgia-Pacific’s pulp mills could push Koch into a new industry while allowing the company to build on what it did best. Pulping wood turned out to be not all that different from refining oil. At Koch’s oil refineries, crude oil was pumped in one end and then heated and processed in big towers, making gasoline and other products. At Georgia-Pacific’s pulp mills, truckloads of pine trees were fed into one end of the mill and cooked down into a fibrous goo and sprayed into churning machines that make long rolls of dense pulp material.

The Georgia-Pacific mills were attractive for another reason. Koch executives believed they were undervalued in a way a privately held company could exploit. The company had been on a decades-long spree buying a lot of businesses that didn’t fit neatly together — Georgia-Pacific made high-profit tissue paper and lower-profit wood pulp. The markets for tissue paper and plywood were so different that bank analysts had a hard time putting a single value on a company that was heavily involved in both. The pulp line was cyclical and dragged down the value of the consumer-products business.

Koch Industries wasn’t bothered by the boom-and-bust cycles of the wood-pulp business. Volatility was Koch’s bread and butter. Koch bought Georgia-Pacific’s pulp division in 2004 and renamed it Koch Cellulose. Koch put Jones in charge.

After Koch took the pulp mills private, Jones noticed an immediate change. The biggest, most obvious change was Koch’s willingness to reinvest its profits.

The art of killing dividends

Georgia-Pacific had been skimping on capital spending at its pulp mills for years, Jones said. That was partly because the company had to pay off the roughly $3.5 billion in debt it took on to buy Fort James, a tissue maker. The firm had about $8.7 billion in total debt in early 2005. Georgia-Pacific also paid out generous dividends to shareholders, a common practice that public companies employ to make their shares more enticing.

The company’s strategy was to run its mills as long as possible without shutting them down for repairs, Jones said. It delayed the purchase of new equipment that might have made the plants more profitable. The strategy worked for a while, Jones said, but by 2004 the equipment was starting to show serious wear and tear.

“We were trying to spend as little as possible,” Jones recalled. He said he was frustrated with the lack of investment. “There’s a lot of smaller stuff that we had to have fixed.”

Under Georgia-Pacific, Jones undertook a laborious, bureaucratic process to get new investments approved. He was girding himself for the same under Koch. He badly wanted to install a new set of more-efficient processing towers at Koch’s pulp mill in Brunswick, Ga. After the Koch purchase, he talked about it on the phone with a Koch executive in Wichita, saying they had cost $35 million to $40 million.

To Jones’s surprise, the investment was approved. On the phone. That was a first.

“I remember putting the phone down and thinking, ‘Damn,’ ” Jones said, shaking his head. “It was like a month or two after the acquisition. I was floored.”

Executives at Koch’s headquarters in Wichita were accustomed to such quick approvals. Charles Koch requires that 90 percent of the company’s profits are reinvested. He fought a legal battle for roughly 20 years against his younger brother Bill Koch, who along with other shareholders wanted to pull more cash out of the firm. Charles Koch refused.

To be sure, the relentless drive for profits has led to criticism of Koch’s business practices in the past. In 2000, the company paid what was then the largest civil fine ever — $30 million — for violating pollution laws after its pipelines sprung hundreds of leaks. Its oil refinery in Minnesota was fined for improperly dumping ammonia into local waterways. In such cases, Charles Koch has said, members of management had misinterpreted the company’s philosophy.

As it spent money on Georgia-Pacific’s pulp mills, Koch Industries liked the results.

“We were able to demonstrate relatively quickly that the improvement opportunities were there,” Jones said.

In late 2005, Koch Industries announced that it was buying all of ­Georgia-Pacific for $21 billion.

The timing of the deal could not have been worse.

Riding the crash

Koch took full custody of Georgia-Pacific just as the nation’s housing bubble burst. Georgia-Pacific made plywood, lumber and gypsum building panels used in everything from apartment buildings to new restaurants. The market collapsed.

When Georgia-Pacific hit a rough patch in 2009, it made use of a highly controversial tax credit for a pulping byproduct known as “black liquor,” the company acknowledged to The Washington Post. Critics said the creation of the tax credit in 2007 was a backdoor bailout for some wood companies in lean times.

“Of all the tax loopholes I’ve seen in the last three decades, none is more despicable than the totally unintended and unproductive black-liquor tax credit,” Marty Sullivan, a tax consultant and former staff economist with the Treasury Department, said in an email.

Karen Cole, a Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman, said: “We did not advocate for this tax credit, but ultimately we did participate in it — not doing so would have put us at a competitive disadvantage. We have consistently opposed all subsidies, mandates and programs that distort the market and will continue to do so, even when they benefit us.”

The market collapse was particularly bad news for Jose Casanova, a manager of Georgia-Pacific’s gypsum mill outside Savannah, Ga. Casanova said the market for his products tanked just as the plant opened a newly expanded production line. Sales were low for years afterward. But Casanova, who had worked for ­Georgia-Pacific since 2000, noticed something surprising. Koch didn’t pull back its capital spending.

Koch installed new safety fencing around the machines, hoping to cut down on lost-time accidents. The yellow metal barriers would discourage employees from manually dislodging jammed machines or trying to clean around conveyor belts while they were will running.

“We didn’t think it was possible — until we implemented it,” Casanova said. “Now we need to make sure the equipment is reliable. Then you don’t need to access the equipment and risk getting hurt.”

Koch’s experience with volatility created another practice that soon swept through Georgia-Pacific.

In the 1980s, Koch stopped routinely using annual budgets — those financial documents that for many public companies are akin to divinely inscribed stone tablets, dictating which financial targets would be hit in a given quarter. The power of budgets was logical for public companies — if sales or profits are below expectations, even for one quarter, it can hurt the stock price.

During the oil shocks of the 1970s and ’80s, Koch executives realized that budgets were all but worthless — it was all but impossible to predict how much Koch needed to pay for oil six months or a year down the road.

Instead, Koch uses “plans” for each year, sketching out revenue, costs and profits it anticipates, mainly used so executives can better plan acquisitions. Managers aren’t judged on how closely they adhere to the budget — just on whether they expand their business.

“The difference is that many companies go to painstaking detail on every line item in their budget in an effort to, I’ll say, predict the future,” Robertson said. “What we determined is that we weren’t very good at predicting the future. So why do we want to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to?”

A new culture . . .

Continue reading.

I certainly resonate with investing in the productive capability of the enterprise (which includes taking good care of employees), and with the folly of trying to stick to a budget made the previous year in a culture in which any variance (regardless of external conditions) from the budget is very difficult to secure. I’ve worked in that situation, and what it seems to lead to is a culture of lying and deceit.

For example, one division at which I worked was presumed to generate a certain (relatively high) profit each year. That was written into the budget, and budgets were treated as sacrosanct. So if external conditions went awry, the fear of being penalized by corporate for varying from the budget led division executives to use accounting tricks to hide the facts and make it seem as though the budget was working. So the 10% goal was “met,” in a sense, and since the division seemed to meet its goal, then the following year’s profit goal from corporate was unchanged because it was viewed as doable and was a good profit—quite a good profit.

This went on for a few years, then the CFO and CEO were fired for cooking the books. All the falsehoods were exposed and the problems recognized and written off. A new CFO and CEO were named, and they started with a clean slate—and the same profit goal. They were forced into the same effort, and it worked for a few years, then it blew up again, and the cycle was repeated. No one seemed to learn anything, in part because corporate was remote and interested only in that (unrealistic) profit goal because it was needed to keep the stock price up.

It was nuts.

What’s odd about Koch is that he doesn’t seem to see that, just as he invests in his businesses to grow their productive capability, the government should invest in its citizenry and infrastructure the same reasons: cutting back on maintenance and social support makes no more sense in a country than in a business: businesses that invest in their physical plant and in their personnel can thrive (as Koch has shown), and countries that keep their infrastructure in good maintenance and expand as needs require (e.g., better railways, more ways to get from A to B at lower cost overall, ensuring that the environment is in good shape, that citizens are provided pure foods and effective medications) and provide their citizens a good education and training as needed—and a good education includes teaching them what is required of citizens for the good of the country (e.g., being informed on major issues, voting in elections)—that is, teach them their civic responsibilities. Just as a business can be destroyed by not investing in productive capability in order to provide bigger dividends, so a country can be destroyed by cutting back on protecting the environment, keeping the infrastructure current and in conformance with what we now know about such things, making sure citizens are educated and healthy, and so on, just in order to deliver a big tax cut to the wealthy (as we see in the GOP effort regarding Medicaid).

The US is like a badly run company, including having Donald Trump heading it up.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Business

One Woman’s Slide From Middle Class to Medicaid

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It can happen, and in the NY Times Ron Lieber gives an example:

A dozen or so years into retirement, Rita Sherman had plenty going for her financially.

Recently widowed, she had a net worth of roughly $600,000 as of 1998. Her health was excellent, and she dutifully purchased a long-term care insurance policy that would cover three years of nursing home costs should she ever need help. Watching over it all was her daughter, a medical social worker, and her son-in-law, a financial planner.

By the time she died at the age of 94 last year, however, all of the money was gone after a diagnosis of dementia and five and a half years in a nursing home. Like so many people who never see it coming, she’d gone from being financially comfortable to qualifying for Medicaid.

This is the same Medicaid that our representatives in Washington are aiming to cut right now. While there is no telling how the debate over health care legislation will end, it ought to matter plenty to everyone who hopes to grow old and is not certain that their savings could last for decades. While many people don’t realize it until well into old age, it is Medicaid, not Medicare, that pays for most nursing home and community or home-based care for older adults who run out of money.

Continue reading the main story

Marcia Perna, Ms. Sherman’s daughter, and her husband, Michael, were acutely aware of this fact from decades of work at their day jobs, but it was not something that they imagined they would personally encounter.

Rita Sherman did worry about money, according to her daughter. Ms. Sherman’s father had fallen ill when Rita was a child, and the family’s fortunes had taken a negative turn. Ms. Sherman worked much of her adult life as a bookkeeper and also as a recreational aide for older people who were sick. Her husband, Stanley, had worked as an industrial psychologist and educator before becoming too ill from emphysema to work.

Ms. Perna still remembers the stern warning her father gave her about his own care. “‘You make sure I don’t go to a nursing home!’ he told me,” she said. “‘If you think you’re going to transport me, I’m going to jump out of the car.’”

She didn’t dare try. Her mother had quit her job to take care of him before he died, and once Ms. Sherman was on her own, she soon sold the family home — the same postwar ranch house in Natick, Mass., they’d had all along — and moved to an apartment.

Her mother, according to Ms. Perna, was the kind of health-obsessed person who even decades ago would exercise regularly and go sparingly on the cheese. Still, Ms. Sherman had watched her own mother end up in a nursing home and wanted to plan for that possibility in a way that might preserve some of her money for Ms. Perna, her only child. So after her husband’s death, another relative helped Ms. Sherman buy that long-term care insurance policy.

According to Ms. Perna, her mother’s mother succumbed to her illness mere months after moving into a nursing home, and everyone assumed that Ms. Sherman would go just as quickly, too, if it ever came to that. But just in case, the family put some of her assets in a trust, so that in the unlikely event that she lived in a nursing home longer than the three years that her insurance policy would cover, any bills would not entirely wipe out her savings.

Things did not work out that way, though. Ms. Sherman started having trouble with daily tasks, was found to have dementia and moved into an assisted-living facility and then a nursing home with specialized staff members for memory care patients. Along the way, the insurance company declared her not sufficiently ill to warrant paying out on the policy. Then the trust, which is common and legal, did not hold up to state scrutiny because of a problematic passage.

These twists and turns reveal two terrifying facts about aging and how we pay for it. While it’s hard to imagine a couple better suited to help an aging parent navigate her final years than a social worker-financial planner duo, the Pernas still ended up hiring five additional professionals to help them with complex, specialized tasks: a long-term care insurance salesman, a nurse consultant to help get the insurance company’s decision reversed, an elder care lawyer to set up the trust, another consultant to help with the Medicaid application, and a malpractice lawyer to sue the attorney who created the defective trust. (The family eventually received a settlement. And to the many readers who have asked about the ethics and economics of Medicaid planning and trusts, please watch this space in the coming weeks.)

So add aging to the maddeningly long list of enormously complex financial tasks that each of us faces. And pity those in their 70s or 80s who must navigate this morass without expert adult children or other advocates.

Second, for people like Rita Sherman who lead healthy lives for three-quarters of a century, it is often their brains that give out first, not their bodies. And when that happens, the decline can be both lengthy and expensive, given how much supervision dementia patients need.

Just over three years into Ms. Sherman’s nursing home stay, her money was gone and the long-term care insurance had been used up. She eventually did qualify for Medicaid, which paid for much of her final two years of care.

Continue reading.

Of course, nations that have more advanced healthcare systems than the US, such as France with its single-payer system, do not experience to complexity and costs of the jury-rigged ad hoc “system” in the US. People who need medical attention get it, and no paperwork is involved. That, however, is not the US way.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 1:48 pm

People are intensely loyal to groups which abuse newcomers through hazing. Why?

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I have to admit that I have zero interest in joining a group that hazes newcomers, seeing it as a clear sign that the group does not want me as a member (and I’m sure such groups would agree: they do not want members who refuse hazing). So I found Christopher Kavanaugh’s article in Aeon of interest. They note that he “is a post-doctoral researcher in cognitive anthropology at the University of Oxford, currently based in Japan. His research interests include East Asian religions, ritual behaviour, and the bonding effects of shared dysphoria.” He writes:

In the autumn of 1900, Oscar Booz, a 17-year-old student at West Point military academy, was hazed by fellow cadets. Tabasco sauce was forced down his throat on three different occasions, and he was coerced into boxing a much larger student who savagely beat him. After the fight, he became ill, moved home and died.

The hazing became the subject of a national scandal when a congressional investigation into the death was launched. Ultimately, congress declared that West Point was not accountable for Booz’s death, but the committee was harsh in its assessment of the academy. Congressman Edmund Driggs issued a fiery denunciation: ‘[the hazing] was atrocious, base, detestable, disgraceful, dishonourable, disreputable, heinous, ignominious, ill-famed, nefarious, odious, outrageous, scandalous, shameful, shameless, villainous, and wicked’. It was a serious embarrassment for West Point, and senior military figures pledged to mercilessly stamp out the culture of hazing.

They failed. As recently as 2015, at least 30 freshmen cadets at West Point were injured during a mass ‘pillow fight’ brawl organised by their seniors. Rumours suggested that the injuries were due to some cadets concealing heavy objects in their pillowcases. Twenty-four cadets suffered concussions. [And deaths through hazing are not all that uncommon: the Florida band’s killing a new member, fraternity hazing deaths, etc. – LG]

‘Hazing’ or ‘ragging’ refers to the ritualised abuse and humiliation of newcomers to a group, often through initiation challenges. The anthropologist Aldo Cimino at the University of California at Santa Barbara argues that the core features of hazing practices are that they are coercivetemporary and rarely repeated; unidirectional, in that it’s always newcomers being hazed by veterans; and they occur most commonly in long-term coalitions. Such practices are not restricted by class: they are found among privileged clubs at elite schools as well as the poorest street gangs. Nor are they constrained to any single culture. German fencing clubs, Japanese sumo stables and tribes in Papua New Guinea all practice intense hazing rituals. Perhaps what is most remarkable about hazing practices is just how popular and prevalent they remain, regardless of official efforts to prohibit and eradicate them.

In the US, for example, there are numerous anti-hazing programmes and charities. Hazing scandals are well-publicised in the media, and 44 out of 50 states have passed anti-hazing laws. Yet research on US students typically finds that around 10-20 per cent continue to report some experience with hazing and this grows closer to 50 per cent among those involved with sports clubs. To offer one illustration from my own research, in a survey of more than 700 practitioners of the martial art Brazilian jiu-jitsu, 53 per cent reported that ‘gauntlets’ that involved training partners whipping each others’ backs using untied belts were a part of their promotional activities.

Why do unpleasant hazing practices manage to remain so appealing that individuals are willing to risk legal punishment, injury and even death to keep the practices alive?

Cognitive dissonance is a theoretical concept introduced by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1962, which suggests that people have a compulsion to maintain harmony in their beliefs, attitudes and actions. The classic illustration of this effect is from a 1959 study by the psychologists Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, which varied the severity of the embarrassment and discomfort involved with gaining access to a discussion group. The study had three conditions: severe, mild, and control. In the severe condition, participants were required to read to the experimenters 12 obscene words and two explicit sexual descriptions. In the mild condition, they read five sex-related words that were not as obscene. And finally, in the control group, there was no initiation requirement.

Afterwards, all participants listened to a tape-recorded conversation concerning the ‘psychology of sex’ that Aronson and Mills had designed to be ‘one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable’. Participants were then asked to rate how much they liked the discussion and the other participants on a variety of scales. The results demonstrated that those who undertook the more severe initiations reported a much higher level of liking for both the content of the discussion and the other group. The researchers’ explanation for this was that participants in the severe condition had sought to reduce the dissonance induced by completing a painful task to gain nothing but access to a dull group by retrospectively enhancing their evaluation of the group and its members. Dissonance accounts thus help to explain why people maintain positive views of groups that haze them.

An alternative explanation, advocated by the cognitive anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse of the University of Oxford, is that enduring collective painful experiences creates a salient shared memory that serves as the basis for a kind of ‘social glue’, bonding members together. This account has also received some support from psychology experiments, as studies by Brock Bastian at the University of New South Wales in Australia and colleagues have recently demonstrated that individuals who experience painful events collectively (eg, eating hot peppers, submerging hands in ice water) display stronger bonds and greater generosity to fellow group members than those who perform comparable painless tasks.

From an evolutionary perspective, researchers have noted that enduring the physical or psychological effects of hazing could serve as a costly signaldemonstrating an individual’s personal strengths, as well as the quality of the group that can motivate such acts. The anthropologists Richard Sosis and Eric Bressler (2003) of the University of Connecticut, for instance, analysedrecords of 19th-century religious settlements in the US, and found that religious communes with the costliest ritual requirements proved to be longer-lived than either secular communes or religious communes that had less costly requirements.

Drawing on such research, Cimino’s automatic accrual theory suggests that hazing provides an important solution to a recurring adaptive problem faced by our species during our evolutionary history: how to . . .

Continue reading.

The comments are worth reading.

I think it is important to note that a required ritual of shared suffering by newcomers to a group is important to bond them together and to the group. However, this does not require that current members be the agents of suffering (e.g., inflicting pain and humiliation on the newcomers) and it is probably better that the current members not play such a role, since among them there may well be some who have a strong sadistic streak, and also if current members abuse new members grudges can arise that undermine group cohesion.

Instead, the initiation suffering can be intrinsic to a task or series of tasks that the newcomers must complete, and it would seem even better if the completion of those tasks required cooperation and communication, thus selecting out members who are unable or unwilling to cooperate and/or communicate. This obviates the chance for current members to vent their anger (at whatever) on new members but would still build group solidarity.

I confess, though, that I am not much of a group person, more of a loner.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2017 at 11:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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