Monday, August 12, 2013

Tabs of Outrage and Wonder

Lots of links again. Sorry about that.

Today's decision in New York City, finding the NYPD stop and frisk policy unconstitutional, included a requirement that the department run a one-year test where officers wear cameras while on patrol. At least one study has shown that cops wearing cameras use force one-third as often as ones without.

From NPR, When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart. Neuroscience experiments on the presence or absence of empathy. (Interesting segue from the previous link.)

The Charitable Industrial Complex, a New York Times op-ed by one of Warren Buffett's sons, explores the self-perpetuating nature of social service nonprofits.

Radio discussion from MPR on the sharing economy , one part of the solution to too much stuff.

A Financial Times review of the book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths. "The failure to recognise the role of the government in driving innovation may well be the greatest threat to rising prosperity."

Remember the case, settled by the Feds, where mortgage fraudsters paid pittances to people they had ripped off? Well, there's more to that story -- additional discovery is going on, and documents are coming out revealing the extent of the banks' illegal actions. Boiling blood alert.

A bit of good news on the housing front: The city of Richmond, California, is buying out underwater mortgages and helping the owners refinance at the the current market price of their homes. Makes sense to me, since the banks will lose the money either way if they foreclose. But just in case the banks won't sell, the city is going to use eminent domain to take the houses.

Why are a quarter of primate species (relatively) monogamous, while that percentage among other types of animals is much lower? Theories include the need to prevent infanticide and the lack of density among female populations. And monogamy may be responsible for our current evolutionary state of big-brainedness.

I love Bruce Schneier, security expert and freedom writer. From a recent Boing Boing post:

Trust is essential in our society. And if we can't trust either our government or the corporations that have intimate access into so much of our lives, society suffers. Study after study demonstrates the value of living in a high-trust society and the costs of living in a low-trust one.

Rebuilding trust is not easy, as anyone who has betrayed or been betrayed by a friend or lover knows, but the path involves transparency, oversight and accountability. Transparency first involves coming clean. Not a little bit at a time, not only when you have to, but complete disclosure about everything. Then it involves continuing disclosure. No more secret rulings by secret courts about secret laws. No more secret programs whose costs and benefits remain hidden. 
This New York Times art by Grant Snider shows why illustration can add so much, and makes me sad about its near-demise in recent years:

(Click to see the full and readable size.)

Apple, Walmart, McDonald's: Who's the Biggest Wage Stiffer? Walmart underpays the most people, McDonald's pays the least per hour, and Apple makes the most pre-tax profit per employee -- almost a half milllion dollars per person! (By contrast, Walmart makes a mere $5,800 and McDonald's $18,000 per employee, the poor sods.) And get this -- the average Apple employee's hourly wage is lower than that at Walmart. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The more I think about the evils of poverty, including the high Adverse Childhood Experiences scores (ACES) that usually accompany it, the more I wonder why government job creation would be such a bad thing. Earning a living, no matter where it comes from, is better than poverty all the way around. And a living minimum wage, one that came up to pace with increases in worker productivity since 1970, would make a huge difference for those who do have jobs in our increasingly service-oriented economy.

Here's a particular study where researchers set out to find the effects of drug exposure, in utero, but instead found out it was poverty that caused kids' lifelong problems, mostly from the factors measured by ACES:
As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home - measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation - were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside - and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.
How can scientists act ethically when they are studying the victims of a human tragedy, such as the Romanian orphans? From Aeon magazine.

Iodine. Amazing. When iodized salt was introduced, it was kind of the inverse of the leaded gasoline effect. After its introduction, "population in iodine-deficient areas [of the U.S.] saw IQs rise by a full standard deviation, which is 15 points." We know this because the U.S. military gave intelligence tests in every state as a prerequisite to admission; before iodized salt, very few men from states with naturally low levels of iodine in the soil were admitted to the Air Force, the most selective branch; afterward, there was a clear increase.

In a patriarchal world, women can't win for losing, as pointed out in this Alternet story, When Women Wanted Sex Much More than Men (and how the stereotype flipped).

Genuine white guy Dr. Grist says it well: "It is no great imposition on your White Dude autonomy just to be f’ing respectful" to women and everyone else.

Finally, it does sometimes pay to read the comments. Here's one outstanding quote from a commenter named "sv," responding to a Ta-Nehisi Coates article in the Atlantic. S/he wrote: "the plight of being human is a constant struggle against one's own ignorance."

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