Friday, October 21, 2016

No Belles, Hombres, and Equalism

David J. Thouless
F. Duncan M. Haldane
J. Michael Kosterlitz
Jean-Pierre Sauvage
Sir J. Fraser Stoddart
Bernard L. Feringa
Yoshinori Ohsumi
Juan Manuel Santos
Bob Dylan
Oliver Hart
Bengt Holmström
If you are like me, then reading "Bob Dylan" in that list of names is the clue that explains that they are the people tapped with the Nobel honors this year.  Well, except the last two on the list--theirs is a fake Nobel!

The listing of names reveals something, right?  No females honored with that stratospheric honor.  In fact, "it’s been 53 years since a woman won the Nobel Prize in physics."  Most of that is political--a process that keeps deserving women away.  My favorite in this context is Rosalind Franklin.  While controversy abounds, from what I can understand, I am convinced that sexist politics kept her out of the picture.

But, here's what we also find--males tend to be found in high percentages at the high achieving end, and they also seem to be overwhelmingly the gender in everything from mass shootings to drug-dealing to the population in prisons.  Of course, for even thinking about this, Larry Summers was kicked out of his job at Harvard; recall that brouhaha?

Most of us in our regular lives do not ever cross paths with the high achieving end nor the other extreme.  And, what I find in that vastness of regular life is this, and about which I have been thinking and blogging for the longest time: Men are in trouble.
Consider some startling statistics.
More than a fifth of American men — about 20 million people — between 20 and 65 had no paid work last year.
Seven million men between 25 and 55 are no longer even looking for work, twice as many black men as white.
There are 20 million men with felony records who are not in jail, with dim prospects of employment, and more of these are black men.
Half the men not in the labor force report they are in bad physical or mental health.
Men account for only 42 percent of college graduates, handicapping them in a job market that rewards higher levels of education.
Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and now a professor of economics at Harvard, estimates that a third of men between 25 and 54 without college educations could be out of work by midcentury.
Well-paying jobs that don’t demand a college degree have been shrinking for generations — and technology is accelerating that trend.
That report from the NY Times is filled with rich evidence, which is why:
Alan B. Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton, recently conducted a study of working-age men. “I came away thinking our biggest social problem is men,” he said. 
Take your time to read through and digest all that.  A point there reinforces something that I have been talking about for a while--we need to seriously reconsider what it means to be a man in these rapidly changing times.
Succeeding in the new economy and culture may well require rethinking conventional ideas about masculinity.
I cannot understand how and why we as a society are not engaging in such important conversations and are, instead, wasting away our time and money on frivolity.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our sterile pursuits

Consider this:
Does anyone, for instance, believe that tax accountants contribute to national wealth or to productivity, and altogether add to society’s well-being, whether material, physical or spiritual?
Perhaps you are thinking that it is so typical of this left-of-center blogger to beat up on tax accountants.  If so, ahem, you don't know me then ;)

The writer also follows up with another comment that we are wasting well-educated human intellect on such "essentially sterile pursuits.”

So, who said that?  Peter Drucker. Yep, that Drucker.

It is bizarre how in a liberal democracy we continue to add taxes and tax-breaks, which almost always end up making creative work for tax accountants and attorneys, while making even more money for corporations, when the whole idea of government collecting revenue is for the "public interest."  At the end of the day, a presidential contender struts around with everybody understanding that he paid no taxes thanks to all those lines in the tax code and all those accountants.  It is a fine mess that we have created, and even an Alexander cannot handle this Gordian Knot!

To some extent, the tax attorney/accountant jobs that we have created are not that different from the textbook case of paying people to dig holes and have them fill those hole back.  We pass laws that create all those tax loopholes, and then these highly educated folks get paid to needle the thread through those holes.  One hell of a Keynesian jobs creation scheme, except that the ones who benefit from it usually attack Keynesian ideas.

But, back to Drucker's point on highly educated people following sterile pursuits.  I wish I had known this phrase back in my undergraduate days, because all I knew then was that I didn't want to waste my life in sterile pursuits.  But, it took me a while to also figure out what might be a worthwhile pursuit.

I am yet again reminded of the observation on "bullshit jobs" that I blogged about.  In another place, that same author--David Graeber, who is as far from Drucker as can be possible in the political economic spectrum--notes:
A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish
Of course, that is a a little exaggerated.  Without actuaries?  But Graeber's larger point is no different from Drucker's.

Like many, I too worry that the automation that is rapidly coming down our way will further drive many into sterile pursuits, instead of liberating us to pursue activities that will add meaning.  My father commented a while ago, "everybody says they are consultants.  But I don't understand what they are consulting about."  The next time he says that I should perhaps tell him that most are sterile pursuits--only because that sounds more official than saying "bullshit jobs."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not one lasts

Many trees around me have lost all their leaves already, thanks to the vigorous northwest winds that blew through.  The maples by the river are in fifty shades of gorgeous red; soon, they too will fall, leaving the trees nude in the winter grey.

All the old things go.

The evergreens last.  Against the cloudy and dark November sky, the firs will be quite an exception.  As if they are keeping a watch on everything that happens all around.  They listen to our talking, the river rushing, the rain falling, the wind whistling.

They will be around when we also leave.

Autumn Movement
By Carl Sandburg

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman,
the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
and the old things go,
not one lasts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Some are more "digital" than others?

A few days ago, I told the friend that we had to make use of the sunny Sunday that was forecast.  "It could be the last one for a long time" I said.

I am glad we put that sunny day to good use.  Boy has the weather changed since then.  Typhoon-like conditions.  Wind. Rain.  Not the drip-drip variety rain, but the rain that comes down in buckets.  The rain with the huge drops that almost crack open my bald head.

Autumn in Oregon.

The sudden change in the season has upset some people, apparently.

On the road, as the two lanes were merging, I noticed the two vehicles ahead of me were on par with each other.  Clearly neither driver wanted to yield to the other.  I slowed down and gave myself even more space than I normally do.  I didn't want to become a victim in their game of chicken.

Finally, almost at the last minute, one vehicle's brake lights flashed for a second and the other vehicle went ahead.  Collision avoided.

I was so focused on the drama in front of me that I did not know about the drama that was unfolding behind me.  It was another case of road rage, with neither driver yielding to another.  I tuned into that show at the final stages.

I saw one driver raise the hands over the steering wheel, in frustration maybe.  And almost immediately, the hand of the other driver came out.  And then the one-finger salute.

I tell ya, these people do not deserve to be in Oregon.

A couple of minutes later, another lane opened up.  I moved over to the slow lane, of course.  The finger-driver's vehicle shot past me in the other lane.  It was a woman.

Which is when I wondered whether a woman showing the finger makes any sense at all. When a man shows his finger, there is the suggested threat with the finger representing the penis.  There is nothing literal when a woman shows the finger, right?

Because I was in the slow lane, the fingered-driver's vehicle caught up with me.  The driver was a woman in this case too.

But,  here is the worst thing: In the passenger seat was a young girl, who perhaps was about twelve or thirteen.  I felt awful that the kid was exposed to such a terrible behavior.

I suppose this is also a part of life. Kids get to see angry people. Homeless people. Sick people.  All kinds of people.

It is one crazy world.