Later On

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Archive for April 24th, 2018

Does anyone have the right to sex?

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From BBC News:

A van driver accused of killing 10 people in Toronto posted to Facebook minutes before the attack to praise killer Elliot Rodger and refer to the misogynistic “incel” Reddit group.

. . .  Mr Minassian’s Facebook post, which the social network has confirmed as real, praised Elliott Rodger, a 22 year old from California who killed six people in a shooting rampage through Isla Vista, California in 2014 before turning the gun on himself.

It read: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

The term “incel” refers to a now-banned group on the message site Reddit, used by Rodger, where young men discussed their lack of sexual activity and attractiveness to women – often blaming women for the problem.

“Chads and Stacys” refers to attractive men and women who are perceived as better than or unavailable to “incels”, which is short for “involuntary celibate”. . .

Continue reading.

With that in mind, Amia Srinivasan has an interesting essay in the London Review of Books:

On 23 May 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college dropout, became the world’s most famous ‘incel’ – involuntary celibate. The term can, in theory, be applied to both men and women, but in practice it picks out not sexless men in general, but a certain kind of sexless man: the kind who is convinced he is owed sex, and is enraged by the women who deprive him of it. Rodger stabbed to death his two housemates, Weihan Wang and Cheng Hong, and a friend, George Chen, as they entered his apartment on Seville Road in Isla Vista, California. Three hours later he drove to the Alpha Phi sorority house near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. He shot three women on the lawn, killing two of them, Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss. Rodger then went on a drive-by shooting spree through Isla Vista, killing Christopher Michaels-Martinez, also a student at UCSB, with a single bullet to the chest inside a Deli Mart, and wounding 14 others. He eventually crashed his BMW coupé at an intersection. He was found dead by the police, having shot himself in the head.

In the hours between murdering three men in his apartment and driving to Alpha Phi, Rodger went to Starbucks, ordered coffee, and uploaded a video, ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’, to his YouTube channel. He also emailed a 107,000-word memoir-manifesto, ‘My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger’, to a group of people including his parents, his therapist, former schoolteachers and childhood friends. Together these two documents detail the massacre to come and Rodger’s motivation. ‘All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life,’ he explains at the beginning of ‘My Twisted World’, ‘but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.’

He goes on to describe his privileged and happy early childhood in England – Rodger was the son of a successful British filmmaker – followed by his privileged and unhappy adolescence in Los Angeles as a short, bad-at-sports, shy, weird, friendless kid, desperate to be cool. He writes of dyeing his hair blond (Rodger was half-white and half-Malaysian; blond people were ‘so much more beautiful’); of finding ‘sanctuary’ in Halo and World of Warcraft; being shoved by a pretty girl at summer camp (‘That was the first experience of female cruelty I endured, and it traumatised me to no end’); becoming incensed by the sex lives of his peers (‘How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half-white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves’); dropping out of successive schools and then community college; and fantasising about a political order in which he ruled the world and sex was outlawed (‘All women must be quarantined like the plague they are’). The necessary result of all this, Rodger said, was his ‘War on Women’, in the course of which he would ‘punish all females’ for the crime of depriving him of sex. He would target the Alpha Phi sorority, ‘the hottest sorority of UCSB’, because it contained ‘the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender … hot, beautiful blonde girls … spoiled, heartless, wicked bitches’. He would show everyone that he was ‘the superior one, the true alpha male’.

Late in 2017, the online discussion forum Reddit closed down its 40,000-member ‘Incel’ support group, for ‘people who lack romantic relationships and sex’. Reddit took the action after introducing a new policy of prohibiting content that ‘encourages, glorifies, incites or calls for violence’. What had started out as a support group for the lonely and sexually isolated had become a forum whose users not only raged against women and the ‘noncels’ and ‘normies’ who get to sleep with them, but also frequently advocated rape. A second incel Reddit group, ‘Truecels’, was also banned following the site’s policy change. Its sidebar read: ‘No encouraging or inciting violence, or other illegal activities such as rape. But of course it is OK to say, for example, that rape should have a lighter punishment or even that it should be legalised and that slutty women deserve rape.’

Soon after Rodger’s killings, incels took to the manosphere to explain that women (and feminism) were in the end responsible for what had happened. Had one of those ‘wicked bitches’ just fucked Elliot Rodger he wouldn’t have had to kill anyone. (Nikolas Cruz, who gunned down 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, vowed in a comment on a YouTube video that ‘Elliot Rodger will not be forgotten.’) Feminist commentators were quick to point out what should have been obvious: that no woman was obligated to have sex with Rodger; that his sense of sexual entitlement was a case-study in patriarchal ideology; that his actions were a predictable if extreme response to the thwarting of that entitlement. They could have added that feminism, far from being Rodger’s enemy, may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made him feel – as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy – inadequate. His manifesto reveals that it was overwhelmingly boys, not girls, who bullied him: who pushed him into lockers, called him a loser, made fun of him for his virginity. But it was the girls who deprived him of sex, and the girls, therefore, who had to be destroyed.

Could it also be said that Rodger’s unfuckability was a symptom of the internalisation of patriarchal norms of men’s sexual attractiveness on the part of women? The answer to that question is complicated by two things. First, Rodger was a creep, and it was at least partly his insistence on his own aesthetic, moral and racial superiority, and whatever it was in him that made him capable of stabbing his housemates and his friend a total of 134 times, not his failure to meet the demands of heteromasculinity, that kept women away. Second, plenty of non-homicidal nerdy guys get laid. Indeed part of the injustice of patriarchy, something unnoticed by incels and other ‘men’s rights activists’, is the way it makes even supposedly unattractive categories of men attractive: geeks, nerds, effete men, old men, men with ‘dad bods’. Meanwhile there are sexy schoolgirls and sexy teachers, manic pixie dreamgirls and Milfs, but they’re all taut-bodied and hot, minor variations on the same normative paradigm. (Can we imagine GQ carrying an article celebrating ‘mom bod’?)

That said, it’s true that the kind of women Rodger wanted to have sex with – hot sorority blondes – don’t as a rule date men like Rodger, even the non-creepy, non-homicidal ones, at least not until they make their fortune in Silicon Valley. It’s also true that this has something to do with the rigid gender norms enforced by patriarchy: alpha females want alpha males. And it’s true that Rodger’s desires – his erotic fixation on the ‘spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut’– are themselves a function of patriarchy, as is the way the ‘hot blonde slut’ becomes a metonym for all women. (Many in the manosphere gleefully pointed out that Rodger didn’t even succeed in killing the women he lusted after, as if in final confirmation of his ‘omega’ sexual status: Katherine Cooper and Veronika Weiss were non ‘hot blondes’ from Delta Delta Delta who just happened to be standing outside the Alpha Phi house.) Feminist commentary on Elliot Rodger and the incel phenomenon more broadly has said much about male sexual entitlement, objectification and violence. But so far it has said little about desire: men’s desire, women’s desire, and the ideological shaping of both.

*

It used to be the case that if you wanted a political critique of desire, feminism was where you would turn. A few decades ago feminists were nearly alone in thinking about the way sexual desire – its objects and expressions, fetishes and fantasies – is shaped by oppression. (Frantz Fanon and Edward Said’s discussions of the erotics of racial and colonial oppression are important exceptions.) Beginning in the late 1970s, Catharine MacKinnon demanded that we abandon the Freudian view of sexual desire as ‘an innate primary natural prepolitical unconditioned drive divided along the biological gender line’ and recognise that sex under patriarchy is inherently violent; that ‘hostility and contempt, or arousal of master to slave, together with awe and vulnerability, or arousal of slave to master’ are its constitutive emotions. For the radical feminists who shared MacKinnon’s view, the terms and texture of sex were set by patriarchal domination – and embodied in, and sustained by, pornography. (In Robin Morgan’s words, ‘Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice.’) That there were women who seemed capable of achieving pleasure under these conditions was a sign of how bad things were. For some the solution lay in the self-disciplining of desire demanded by political lesbianism. But perhaps even lesbian sex offered no decisive escape: as MacKinnon suggested, sex under male supremacy might well be ‘so gender marked that it carries dominance and submission with it, no matter the gender of its participants’.

*

Some feminists in the 1980s and 1990s pushed back against the radical critique of sex advanced by MacKinnon and other anti-porn feminists. They insisted on the possibility of genuine sexual pleasure under patriarchy, and the importance of allowing women the freedom to pursue it. MacKinnon disparaged such ‘pro-sex’ feminists for confusing accommodation with freedom, and for buying into the idea that ‘women do just need a good fuck.’ To be fair, MacKinnon’s pro-sex adversaries weren’t arguing that women needed a good fuck – though some came uncomfortably close to suggesting that MacKinnon did. Instead they insisted that women were entitled to sex free of guilt, including heterosexual sex, if they wanted it. In ‘Lust Horizons: Is the Women’s Movement Pro-Sex?’, the essay that inaugurated sex-positive feminism, Ellen Willis set out the basic case against the MacKinnonite critique of sex: that . . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 7:07 pm

Why It Seems Like Everyone Is Always Angry With You

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Your family experience can bias your reading of emotions in others. Heather Murphy reports in the NY Times:

Why do you look so angry? This article hasn’t even begun and already you disapprove. Why can’t I ever win with you? I see it in your face.

If this sounds unfamiliar, good for you. You don’t need this.

For the rest of us, it may be helpful to know that some people seem to have outsize difficulty with reading neutral faces as neutral, even if they are exceptionally accurate at interpreting other facial expressions. Over the past decade psychologists have been piecing together why this occurs.

A study published in March in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that some people who grew up with parents who fought a lot never learned to properly read those in-between faces, perhaps because they spent so much time watching out for signs of conflict.

“Angry interactions could be a cue for them to retreat to their room,” said Alice Schermerhorn, a developmental psychologist at the University of Vermont and the author of the study. “By comparison, neutral interactions might not offer much information, so children may not value them and therefore may not learn to recognize them.”

These findings build on previous research indicating that depression, anxiety and irritability can affect how a person perceives other people’s faces. It has also been shown that adults who were exposed to violence, neglect or physical abuse in childhood are more likely to see hostility where there is none. This can create a self-reinforcing cycle.

“If you think they look angry then you may respond angrily,” said Abigail Marsh, the director of the Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience at Georgetown University.

What interested Dr. Schermerhorn was whether an even more common issue — conflict between parents — might also take a toll.

She tested this by gathering 99 children, ages nine to 11, who lived in households with their two married biological parents. After the children completed a questionnaire with statements such as, “My parents get really mad when they argue,” she tested their ability to gauge emotions in a series of photos: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Curious Case of the Twice-Fired FBI Analyst

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Topher Sanders reports in ProPublica:

On Feb. 22, 2018, when Said Barodi received the letter from the deputy director of the FBI, he expected bad news.

A year earlier, Barodi had been fired as an analyst for the bureau, a job he’d treasured for nearly a decade. Barodi, a Muslim born in Morocco, had been accused of “unprofessional conduct” during an encounter with a federal agent at an airport overseas and of “lack of candor” with a customs agent at Dulles International Airport. Barodi had resisted the agent’s questions because he felt he’d been singled out for his race and religion.

Barodi, however, had won a rare victory when he appealed his firing. The FBI’s Disciplinary Review Board had dismissed two of the three charges and reduced his punishment to a 20-day suspension. He’d been cleared to rejoin the bureau.

But then Barodi waited months for the FBI to complete the basic security check he needed to go back to work. Amid the delays and the silence, fatalism took hold.

The February letter just confirmed the feeling.

“Acting pursuant to my delegated authority,” wrote David Bowdich, second in command at the bureau, “I hereby dismiss you from the rolls of the FBI.”

Barodi had been fired from the FBI for the second time.

Senior officials at the FBI have admitted in recent years that the bureau’s lack of diversity amounts to a crisis, undermining the agency’s effectiveness. Those officials have publicly pledged to do better, and insisted the bureau is eager to sign up people of all races and faiths.

Said Barodi’s career — hired, fired, rehired, and fired again — will not do much to make the FBI’s case.

Barodi had begun working for the FBI while still in college. He’d joined the bureau, he said, in part because he wanted to repay the U.S. for granting him citizenship. His superiors had routinely rated his work as “excellent” in reviews and had even awarded him cash bonuses for his performance. He’d been saluted for mentoring younger analysts.

It’s true Barodi had been outspoken, even confrontational, about the fact that many Muslim agents and analysts believed they were regarded with suspicion by their own colleagues. He’d even engaged in an email exchange with then-FBI Director James Comey about this.

Still, Comey had ended the exchange by thanking Barodi for his “service to the FBI and the nation.”

That was three months before he was fired the first time.

Bowdich would not be interviewed about the second and final dismissal, and the FBI declined to comment on any aspect of the case.

Today, Barodi, 36, supports his family by working for a private security company. He’s launched yet another complaint about how Bowdich and the bureau handled his appeal, but has little confidence he’ll ever work for the FBI again.

He speaks of his career — aspects of which were first reported by The Guardian — with a withering candor.

“We are a target,” Barodi said of himself and other Muslim FBI employees. “We are either suspects or snitches, that’s our station in society. We’re not allowed to be patriotic or serve our country. All that stuff about family and we’re a big family, blah, blah. No, I was not family. I was the enemy within.”


Born in Morocco, Said Barodi came to the U.S. in January 2001 and settled in Washington, D.C.

He worked odd jobs at first, he said, and considered joining the military until 9/11 happened and friends warned him he’d be harassed and mistrusted by his fellow soldiers.

Instead, Barodi enrolled in community college, primarily studying English with the goal of applying to a four-year school.

In 2006, he became a U.S. citizen, and soon after became a student at George Mason University, studying global affairs, with an emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa. He spoke French and multiple dialects of Arabic, and was attracted to the idea of working in counter-terrorism. While at George Mason, Barodi began working as a contractor with the FBI, both in the U.S. and overseas.

In 2009, he formally applied to the bureau as an analyst — typically these employees examine raw data and make sense of it for agents and policy makers.

“They needed a linguist,” he said, “so I applied.”

After 9/11, the FBI had launched a push to recruit Muslim employees. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 3:34 pm

Basic Income Is Already Transforming Life and Work In a Postindustrial Canadian City

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Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:

Something is happening in the postindustrial pocket of Hamilton, Ontario, a 45-minute drive from Toronto’s gleaming skyscrapers. In its squat downtown, where payday loan services with names like Money Mart and Cash 4 U compete across the street from each other and a beware of dog sign hangs from a church gate, a potentially transformational future is on trial.

Hamilton (population: roughly 500,000 people) was built with steel and smoke, and recent downturns in manufacturing have hit the once-booming steel town hard. A study by the city’s social planning office last year found that in 2014 one in five children there were living in poverty. What’s more, dropping housing prices have made Hamilton something of a destination for would-be Toronto property owners looking for a deal, arguably driving up rental prices in the city even as vacancies increase.

So there was a sense of relief—excitement, even—when the Ontario government announced in mid 2017 that Hamilton had been chosen as one of three cities in the province for a pilot study on the effects of a basic income. A basic income is essentially social support in the form of lump-sum payments with no strings attached, just like income from waged labor minus the work.

As of January 2018, more than 2,000 people in Ontario were getting basic income checks. All of them have applied of their own volition, though some people who met the criteria were sent application packages by the government as an incentive to check out the program. Ultimately, the government wants 4,000 people to participate in the pilot, which has the potential to be rolled out across the province as real policy after the trial runs its three-year course.

Yet the Ontario government has had substantial difficulties onboarding people for the pilot, which is why it enlisted the help of community groups like the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. At the Roundtable’s office in downtown Hamilton, I met a pilot participant, Dave Cherkewski, who chalked up the slow uptake to people’s fear of losing the benefits they already receive, or getting caught in bureaucratic quagmires. This, he said, is the attitude created by living under existing social programs.

Even if the Ontario trial is new, basic income isn’t a novel idea. Anti-poverty advocates have long promoted it as bringing freedom and dignity to the lives of people who need government support.

Recently, basic income has gained support among the political left as a way to both diminish the role of capitalist work in society and distribute the benefits—beyond just company shareholders—of the robot workers predicted to automate more manufacturing and other jobs in the near future. Silicon Valley elites, and even some conservatives, have also gotten onboard. The startup incubator Y Combinator is planning to run a full-scale basic income pilot for 1,000 people after a small but successful 2016 trial in Oakland, California. Finland is currently running its own pilot, and pilots are also being planned in Scotland and in the city of Stockton, California.

Such a broad political base of support hasn’t made basic income uncontroversial. The left is suspicious of it as a Trojan horse for right-wing plots to dismantle social supports, while the right frets about money going to the poor. Many of the people who could potentially benefit from receiving it, meanwhile, can be (understandably) wary of government programs after years of living under the current system.

n Ontario, the basic income trial is open to anybody in the trial areas aged 18 to 64. Single people making under $34,000 annually receive up to $17,000, and couples earning under $48,000 will get up to $24,000 (as a whole sum or as a top-up), minus 50 percent of any earned income. People with disabilities receive up to $6,000 more per year, although they must stop receiving disability supports for the duration of the trial (“basic needs” disability payments in Ontario max out at roughly $8,000 per year for singles with no dependents and $12,000 for couples), which will run for three years.

By contrast, Ontario’s current last-resort social support program, Ontario Works, gives single people roughly $4,000 annually to live on, treating them as “clients” to be managed with case workers and regular check-ins.

Still, this isn’t Canada’s first experience with basic income. The province of Manitoba first tested the idea in the 1970s, and the results suggested that . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 11:37 am

Shutdown of Texas Schools Probe Shows Trump Administration Pullback on Civil Rights

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Annie Waldman reports in ProPublica:

Beside a highway in Bryan, Texas, tucked between a motorcycle bar and the county jail, stands a low-slung, sprawling complex with tinted windows, sandstone walls and barbed wire lining parts of its roof. A roadside sign identifies it as the Brazos County Juvenile Justice Center.

One Friday afternoon last October, after an incident at nearby Arthur L. Davila Middle School, a police officer arrested 13-year-old Trah’Vaeziah Jackson and brought her to the juvenile detention facility. She cried as employees patted her down, cut off her hair extensions, and took her photo and fingerprints. She was served dinner — chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and an apple in a styrofoam box with a carton of milk — but had no appetite.

In the shower room, guards applied thick anti-lice shampoo to Trah’Vaeziah’s hair. As she washed and combed it, clumps fell out. Afterwards, she reluctantly changed from her school clothes, a T-shirt and jeans, into the detention uniform, an orange shirt with matching shorts. Then she was locked in her cell, which contained a sink, a toilet, and, instead of a bed, a stuffed blue mat atop a brick base. High on the wall was a sliver of a window, but she wasn’t tall enough to see outside.

Only after 8 p.m. was she permitted a phone call. She called her mother and sobbed into the receiver. How could this accident have turned into a jail sentence?


Three decades ago, schools across the country began bolstering discipline to deter juvenile crime. Zero-tolerance policies were introduced, school law enforcement budgets swelled and suspensions, expulsions and student arrests multiplied.

These punishments, though, are applied unequally. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of students of color, like Trah’Vaeziah, bear the brunt. Black students are almost four times as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension and twice as likely to be arrested as their white peers, according to federal data. The pattern starts early: Even black preschool students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended from school.

Harsh discipline can backfire, especially when meted out arbitrarily. It may reinforce bad behavior, or encourage students to drop out, creating what sociologists call the “school-to-prison-pipeline.” A suspension increases the likelihood of dropping out by 77 percent, and the incarceration rate of high school dropouts is 63 times higher than that of college graduates, studies show.

“There’s no doubt that as we’ve escalated security and punishment strategies within schools over the past 25 years that this has had a disparate impact on youth of color,” said Aaron Kupchik, a sociology and criminal justice professor at the University of Delaware. “They are more likely to be seen as problematic, and to be policed and disciplined in schools even when they show similar behaviors as white students.”

Flooded with about 1,500 complaints related to racial discrimination in school discipline between 2011 and 2017, the Obama administration made the issue a priority. Relying on the doctrine of “disparate impact,” which emerged in the 1970s and holds that differential treatment by race amounts to discrimination whether or not there is overt or intentional bias, the Department of Education opened sweeping investigations into disciplinary disparities, from large school districts such as Minneapolisand Oakland to smaller ones like Bryan, Texas, where Trah’Vaeziah goes to school. It pushed investigators in its regional offices to broaden probes of individual incidents to look for systemic discrimination.

But under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration is taking a more hands-off approach. DeVos has indicated that she may soon reverse Obama-era guidelines on disparate impact and school discipline, and her hires have signaled this policy shift. Kenneth Marcus, tapped to lead the civil rights office, has argued that disparate impact analysis has significant legal limitations. And Hans Bader, an attorney adviser at the department, has accused the Obama administration of using disparate impact to create “racial quotas.” DeVos is also decentralizing decision-making, giving regional offices more control over investigations.

Quietly, the pullback is already happening. In a June 2017 internal memo leaked to ProPublica, one of DeVos’ top officials ordered investigators to limit proactive civil rights probes rather than expanding them to identify systemic patterns, as the Obama administration had often done in school discipline cases.

Since then, the Education Department has closed at least 65 school discipline investigations opened under Obama, including the Bryan probe, without any mandated reforms, according to an analysis of federal data received by ProPublica through a records request. In at least 50 cases, the department attributed the shutdowns to “moot” allegations or insufficient evidence or details. That was its explanation for letting Bryan off the hook, even though federal investigators there had uncovered numerous examples of black students being punished more harshly than whites for the same offenses.

While the Education Department didn’t respond to ProPublica’s questions about the Bryan case and disparities in school discipline, it has said that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 9:57 am

Paul Ryan’s magic asterisks come home to roost

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Paul Ryan has long been notorious for offering fake budgets based on ideological aspirations that simply are totally unrealistic and rely heavily on figures with asterisked footnotes that say essentially “Source to be determined.” The heavy weight given to fictional numbers that have such asterisks leads to their being termed “magic asterisks” by analysts such as Kevin Drum and Paul Krugman, one of whom is a Nobel prize winner.

Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Republicans keep talking up the tax cut. Maybe they should stick to other accomplishments (are there some?) because the tax cuts aren’t doing what Republicans said they would. And that criticism is not coming from the left.
Consider the Wall Street Journal’s report:

The U.S. economy slowed down in the first quarter. That isn’t a surprise, but considering the stimulus hitting the economy it counts as disappointment.
Economists had thought that 2018 was off to a solid start. In early February, forecasters polled by Macroeconomic Advisers expected gross domestic product would grow at a 2.7% annual rate in the first quarter. But a series of disappointing reports on consumer spending pushed estimates lower. Economists in the Macroeconomic Advisers poll now estimate Friday’s first-quarter GDP report from the Commerce Department will show the economy expanded at a 1.7% rate after growing 2.9% in the fourth quarter last year.

Wasn’t the tax cut going to usher in 3, no 4, no make it 5 percent growth? Remember that “the first quarter was when the tax cut took effect, raising the take-home pay of many Americans in addition to sharply reducing corporate taxes. That ought to have boosted consumer spending, but apparently it wasn’t enough to offset the temporary factors weighing on the economy in the first quarter.”
Well, at least the tax cuts went to the middle class. What’s that? Oh, it didn’t, as The Hill reports:

Much of the tax benefit from the new tax law’s deduction for pass-through businesses will go to wealthy individuals, according to a Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT] report released Monday.
About 44 percent of the tax benefit from the deduction will go to those with income of $1 million or more in 2018, and 52.4 percent of the benefit will go to those with income in that range in 2024, the congressional tax scorekeeper estimated.

Democrats during the tax debate complained about the bill for exactly this reason. Now, the conservative Washington Examiner  acknowledges: “The idea behind the deduction was that it would allow mom-and-pop shops — sole proprietorships and partnerships, for instance — to continue competing against corporations that would enjoy the new 21 percent corporate tax rate.” However, as we knew at the time, “the vast majority of small businesses are pass-throughs, not all pass-throughs are small businesses. Some, including law firms, hedge funds, and other big partnerships, are major businesses. Some outside analysts criticized the GOP tax bill on the grounds that the new pass-through break would mean big tax cuts for high earners and big companies.” Some outside analysts (evidently not the ones Republicans consulted) had it right.
Jared Bernstein, former chief economist for VP Joe Biden tells me, “The JCT findings are totally expected, as we knew that more than half of pass-through income accrues to the richest 1 percent of tax filers. My concern is that this estimate represents a lower bound because this change opens up a huge new tax-avoidance incentive to redefine regular earnings as pass-through income.” He added, “Yes, there are guardrails against this, but they’re very weak.”
But at least the tax cuts paid for themselves, just as Republicans promised? Oh, no. Not by a long shot the Congressional Budget Office told us. CBO told us that with the tax cuts: “Deficits would be larger by an average of a full percentage point of GDP, rising by a total of $2.6 trillion to yield a cumulative deficit of nearly $15 trillion over that period. And debt held by the public would reach about 105 percent of GDP by the end of 2028, an amount that has been exceeded only once in the nation’s history. Moreover, the pressures contributing to that rise would accelerate and push debt up even more sharply in subsequent decades.”
To sum up,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 8:54 am

Against metrics: how measuring performance by numbers backfires

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Jerry Z Muller, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D C., has in Aeon an extract from his most recent book, The Tyranny of Metrics (2018). It begins:

More and more companies, government agencies, educational institutions and philanthropic organisations are today in the grip of a new phenomenon. I’ve termed it ‘metric fixation’. The key components of metric fixation are the belief that it is possible – and desirable – to replace professional judgment (acquired through personal experience and talent) with numerical indicators of comparative performance based upon standardised data (metrics); and that the best way to motivate people within these organisations is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.

The rewards can be monetary, in the form of pay for performance, say, or reputational, in the form of college rankings, hospital ratings, surgical report cards and so on. But the most dramatic negative effect of metric fixation is its propensity to incentivise gaming: that is, encouraging professionals to maximise the metrics in ways that are at odds with the larger purpose of the organisation. [“Bending the needle,” as I call it. – LG] If the rate of major crimes in a district becomes the metric according to which police officers are promoted, then some officers will respond by simply not recording crimes or downgrading them from major offences to misdemeanours. Or take the case of surgeons. When the metrics of success and failure are made public – affecting their reputation and income – some surgeons will improve their metric scores by refusing to operate on patients with more complex problems, whose surgical outcomes are more likely to be negative. Who suffers? The patients who don’t get operated upon.

When reward is tied to measured performance, metric fixation invites just this sort of gaming. But metric fixation also leads to a variety of more subtle unintended negative consequences. These include goal displacement, which comes in many varieties: when performance is judged by a few measures, and the stakes are high (keeping one’s job, getting a pay rise or raising the stock price at the time that stock options are vested), people focus on satisfying those measures – often at the expense of other, more important organisational goals that are not measured. The best-known example is ‘teaching to the test’, a widespread phenomenon that has distorted primary and secondary education in the United States since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Short-termism is another negative. Measured performance encourages what the US sociologist Robert K Merton in 1936 called ‘the imperious immediacy of interests … where the actor’s paramount concern with the foreseen immediate consequences excludes consideration of further or other consequences’. In short, advancing short-term goals at the expense of long-range considerations. This problem is endemic to publicly traded corporations that sacrifice long-term research and development, and the development of their staff, to the perceived imperatives of the quarterly report.

To the debit side of the ledger must also be added the transactional costs of metrics: the expenditure of employee time by those tasked with compiling and processing the metrics in the first place – not to mention the time required to actually read them. As the heterodox management consultants Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman note in Six Simple Rules (2014), employees end up working longer and harder at activities that add little to the real productiveness of their organisation, while sapping their enthusiasm. In an attempt to staunch the flow of faulty metrics through gaming, cheating and goal diversion, organisations often institute a cascade of rules, even as complying with them further slows down the institution’s functioning and diminishes its efficiency.

Contrary to commonsense belief, attempts to measure productivity through performance metrics discourage initiative, innovation and risk-taking. The intelligence analysts who ultimately located Osama bin Laden worked on the problem for years. If measured at any point, the productivity of those analysts would have been zero. Month after month, their failure rate was 100 per cent, until they achieved success. From the perspective of the superiors, allowing the analysts to work on the project for years involved a high degree of risk: the investment in time might not pan out. Yet really great achievements often depend on such risks.

he source of the trouble is that when people are judged by performance metrics they are incentivised to do what the metrics measure, and what the metrics measure will be some established goal. But that impedes innovation, which means doing something not yet established, indeed that hasn’t even been tried out. Innovation involves experimentation. And experimentation includes the possibility, perhaps probability, of failure. At the same time, rewarding individuals for measured performance diminishes a sense of common purpose, as well as the social relationships that motivate co-operation and effectiveness. Instead, such rewards promote competition.

Compelling people in an organisation to focus their efforts on a narrow range of measurable features degrades the experience of work. Subject to performance metrics, people are forced to focus on limited goals, imposed by others who might not understand the work that they do. . .

Continue reading.

See also two books by Alfie Kohn:

Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes

No Contest: The Case Against Competition

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 8:47 am

Green Ray brush, Eufros Rosa Bourbon shaving soap, the 102, and Dark Rose

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JabonMan in Spain makes very nice shaving soaps, and this one, Rosa Bourbon, has a fine rose fragrance. The lather it makes is quite good, this morning achieved with the Green Ray brush from Phoenix Artisan.

Three easy passes with the iKon 102 left a perfectly smooth result with not even the threat of a nick: a wonderful razor.

I just received yesterday a fresh bottle of Dark Rose from Saint Charles Shave. This is an EDT, but it works fine as an aftershave and has a wonderful fragrance—rose, but somehow more adult. I don’t know that it’s listed on the site, but you can certainly request it.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2018 at 8:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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