February 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 PM


Why even Amsterdam doesn't want legal brothels : The Dutch experiment in legalised prostitution has been a disaster (Julie Bindel, 2 February 2013, The Spectator)

Twelve years on, and we can now see the results of this experiment. Rather than afford better protection for the women, it has simply increased the market. Rather than confine the brothels to a discrete (and avoidable) part of the city, the sex industry has spilt out all over Amsterdam -- including on-street. Rather than be given rights in the 'workplace', the prostitutes have found the pimps are as brutal as ever. The government-funded union set up to protect them has been shunned by the vast majority of prostitutes, who remain too scared to complain.

Pimps, under legalisation, have been reclassified as managers and businessmen. Abuse suffered by the women is now called an 'occupational hazard', like a stone dropped on a builder's toe. Sex tourism has grown faster in Amsterdam than the regular type of tourism: as the city became the brothel of Europe, women have been imported by traffickers from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia to meet the demand. In other words, the pimps remained but became legit -- violence was still prevalent but part of the job, and trafficking increased. Support for the women to leave prostitution became almost nonexistent. The innate murkiness of the job has not been washed away by legal benediction.

The Dutch government hoped to play the role of the honourable pimp, taking its share in the proceeds of prostitution through taxation. But only 5 per cent of the women registered for tax, because no one wants to be known as a whore -- however legal it may be. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Sam Adams: Now (finally) in a can : His grail? A can he deems worthy of his beer (Jenn Abelson,  February 16, 2013, Boston Globe)

In summer 2011, they traveled to Ball's factory near Denver to study the canning process -- the thickness of aluminum, molecular properties, how beer pours from a can, and what impacts the flow. They hung out with well-lubricated football fans in Foxborough to understand why drinkers prefer beer in cans -- they account for roughly 57 percent of the US retail market, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago market research firm. The Bunker Hill team interviewed taste experts around the world and examined thousands of plastic coffee cup lids to understand the range of drink delivery options (the peel, the pucker, the pinch, and the puncture).

The big discovery: Conventional cans don't allow enough air into people's mouths as they drink. Turns out, much of what consumers believe they taste is actually smell -- that's why food tastes so bland when people are congested. Increasing exposure to the beer's aromas of hops and fruit can make a big difference in taste, said Roy Desrochers, a professional beer taster at GEI Consultants in Woburn.

So the team began looking for ways to improve air flow. Over several months, IDEO proposed dozens of designs and created eight prototypes that expanded the size and shape of the can's opening. Larger apertures -- one shaped like a bell, another like a peanut -- were supposed to enhance the air flow and access to aromas. The most promising idea, according to Koch, was a design that allowed drinkers to tear off the entire top. [...]

On Thursday, Desrochers gave his final evaluation to Koch. The new can, he said, had strong benefits both in ergonomics and flavor. The hourglass curve and wider lid deposits the beer further in the mouth so a drinker doesn't have to tilt his head back.

"With a traditional can, you feel like you're sucking liquid out," Desrochers said. "With the new design, the beer flows in nicely . . . and you don't get the sensation that it might spill out the side of your mouth."

The bigger lid forces people to open their mouths wider, allowing more air to pass through and go up into the nasal passages. This increased exposure to the smells brings out the flavors of the beer -- the hops, the grains, the fruitiness -- earlier in the drinking experience, which is what consumers associate with a fresher beverage, according to Desrochers. And the outward-turned lip pours the beer directly on the palate, maximizing the sweetness from the malt.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


A Cheerful Welcome To The Robots, Our Future Work Overlords (Scott Winship, 2/18/13, Forbes)

Even if growth rates never return to their glory days, we are on the verge of realizing absolute annual gains that will be permanently larger than in the Golden Age. How those gains are distributed is an important consideration, but the situation is less dire than many believe. Median income has risen by at least one-third since 1979, and the evidence that the labor market is polarizing has been, in the words of Urban Institute and Georgetown economist Harry Holzer, "overblown."

The second blind spot among the neo-Luddites is their failure to consider the gains we will receive as consumers from technological advances even as they misunderstand the reduced demand for labor technology may create. Technology makes us more productive--it allows us to produce the same stuff, but more cheaply. Too many people hear "producing the same stuff more cheaply" as "producing the same stuff with fewer workers" and see mass unemployment as our fate. Rising productivity actually means "producing the same stuff with fewer hours worked." That can be achieved by having fewer workers do the same amount of work, but it is also consistent with the same number of workers all scaling back their hours.

It hardly seems worth arguing that most Americans would work less per week and for less of their lifetimes if they could. One hundred years ago essentially all men in their early 60s worked; today just six in ten do, and the typical retirement age has steadily declined (while life expectancy has increased). During their working years, men now have more leisure time than in the past. Work has increased markedly for women, but consistent with their rising education levels, longer delays in marriage and childbearing, and reduced fertility, this is mainly reflective of greater opportunities to balance work and family. Unpaid time doing housework has declined more among women than work has increased, meaning that they too have more leisure time than in the past.

Of course, people will only choose to work less if they can afford to. But technological advance will radically increase productivity--reducing demand for labor--only insofar as it also radically reduces the prices of what we buy. Ignoring this connection leads to absurd fears about the future. 

...that your biggest economic worry is that you'll have to work less to enjoy a higher standard of living in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Defense Department set to announce furlough plan Wednesday (Chris Carroll, 2/19/13, Stars and Stripes)

 The Defense Department intends to notify Congress on Wednesday of a plan to furlough nearly 800,000 civilian employees one day each week beginning in April, a defense official said Tuesday.

800 freakin' thousand.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The Silence of Animals by John Gray: review : John Gray's study of the human condition, The Silence of Animals, intrigues Jane Shilling. (Jane Shilling, 19 Feb 2013, The Telegraph)

In modern Western society, the melancholy experiences of the last century have largely (though not entirely) put us off the idea that the remedy for mankind's ills is an -ism, forcibly applied. The brutal utopianisms of imperialism, Nazism and communism are generally regarded by right-thinking people as a kind of atrocious collective delirium. We look back on those passages of our collective experience as a man convalescing from a dangerous fever might recollect his febrile ravings - with a horrified determination never to return to those shameful states of delusion.

But the human inclination to meddle with the status quo is irrepressible: we can't not be doing something. With utopianism off the list of possibilities, meliorism - or the notion that every day in every way, things are getting better and better (or would be, if only a different political party had won the last election) - seems an attractive alternative.

Eschewing convulsive messiness in the form of revolutions and invasions, meliorism imagines a brighter future arrived at by gentler means: education; a respectful relationship with the environment; the eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease; and, of course, capitalism (properly regulated) - all leading to a moment in the not unimaginably distant future when peace and prosperity will cover all the world. Or something along those lines.

Who could possibly object to such a benevolent vision? Well, the political philosopher John Gray, for a start. Gray, whose academic career included professorships at the London School of Economics, Oxford, Harvard and Yale, is a critic of the neo-liberal philosophy that proposes that advances in human scientific knowledge will necessarily be accompanied by equivalent progress in ethics and politics.

First, the End of History does not promise ethical progress.  It concerns the means by which we organize society, not the ends towards which it is organized.

But, secondly, because, in practice,  it does universally render higher standards of living more equitably distributed, it achieves ethical and political progress. To ignore the universal affluence that Western man lives in is to make one's critique of our culture risible.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


No Country for Old Age (MARK W. FRAZIER, February 18, 2013, NY Times)

Entitlement programs like retirement benefits will inevitably force China into a trade-off between social expenditures and domestic security and military spending. Policy makers concerned about China's rising military spending would do well to monitor China's social spending. [...]

A final obstacle, paradoxically, is the Chinese themselves, who (like Americans) strongly oppose an increase in the age at which retirees become eligible for full benefits. Chinese officials often argue that early retirement helps make room for young workers. But the current retirement age -- 55 for women (50 for those in blue-collar jobs) and 60 for men -- adds to the demographic burden. The one-child policy means that an ever-shrinking share of workers is paying the taxes that finance pensions and health care -- the demographic phenomenon that causes the Chinese to fear "growing old before getting rich."

It's just a bigger, poorer Japan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


'Sharon was about to leave two-thirds of the West Bank (ELHANAN MILLER, February 19, 2013, Times of Israel)

"The military unequivocally decided that [Ahmed] Shafiq will be president, not [Mohammed] Morsi," Eitan told The Times of Israel. "But the Americans put all the pressure on. The announcement [of the president] was delayed by three or four days because of this struggle."

Immediately after Egypt's presidential elections in June 2012, Eitan spoke to unnamed local officials, who told him that with a mere 5,000-vote advantage for Islamist candidate Morsi, the military was prepared to announce the victory of his adversary Shafiq, a secular military man closely associated with the Mubarak regime.

But secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Eitan said, decided to favor democracy at all costs and disallow any falsification of the vote.

"This is idiocy. An act of stupidity that will resonate for generations," Eitan said. "I also thought Mubarak should be replaced, but I believed the Americans would be smart enough to replace him with the next figure. Mubarak would have agreed to that, but the Americans didn't want that; they wanted democracy. But there is no real democracy in the Arab world at the moment. It will take a few generations to develop.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


China, technology and the U.S. middle class (Chrystia Freeland FEBRUARY 15, 2013, Reuters)

The main point of democracy is to deliver positive results for the majority.

All of which is why understanding what is happening to the middle class is urgently important. There is no better place to start than by talking to David Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Autor is one of the leading students of the most striking trend bedeviling the middle class: the polarization of the job market. That is a nice way of saying the economy is being cleaved into high-paying jobs at the top and low-paying jobs at the bottom, while the middle-skill and middle-wage jobs that used to form society's backbone are being hollowed out.

But when I asked him this week what had gone wrong for the U.S. middle class, he gave a different answer: "The main problem is we've just had a decade of incredibly anemic employment growth. All of a sudden, around 2000 and 2001, things just slowed down."

Academics can usually be counted on to have a confident explanation for everything. That is why I was surprised and impressed by Autor's answer when I asked him where the jobs had gone. "No one really understands why that is the case," he said.

It was a winningly modest reply. But work by Autor and two colleagues -- David Dorn, a visiting professor at Harvard, and Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego -- is starting to untangle the two forces that both the conventional wisdom and the academy agree are probably responsible for a lot of what is happening to the middle class.

Those forces are technological change and trade. The easy assumption is that the two go together. After all, trade needs technology -- it is hard to imagine outsourcing without the Internet, sophisticated logistics systems and jet travel. Technology is dependent on trade, too: The opportunity for global scale is one reason technological innovation has yielded such outsize rewards.

But in a careful study of local labor markets in the United States, Autor, Dorn and Hanson have found that trade and technology had very different consequences for jobs.

"We were surprised at how distinct the two were," Autor said. "We found that the trade shock had a very measurable impact on the employment rate. Technology led to job polarization, but its employment effect was minimal." Trade, at least in the short term, really did ship jobs overseas. Technology did not kill jobs per se, but it did hollow out those essential jobs in the middle.

The big surprise, at least for believers (like me) in the classic liberal economic view that trade benefits both parties, is the strong and negative impact of globalization on U.S. workers -- Autor estimates it accounts for 15 to 20 percent of jobs lost.

That first sentence is the key.  The main point of economics is to create wealth.  A main point of politics is to deliver it equitably.  The main point of neither is work.  Jobs were just one method for redistributing wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Who's to Blame for the Sequester? (Michael Tomasky Feb 19, 2013, Daily Beast)

Whose "idea" was the sequester, and why should it matter? My Twitter feed these last couple of weeks has been overflowing with people going beyond the usual "communist" and "idiot" name-calling that I get every day and throwing the occasional "liar" in there because I "withhold" the information that the sequester was the Obama administration's idea. Very well, consider that nugget hereby unwithheld. Let's grant that this is true. But it's true only because the Republicans were holding a gun to the administration's head--and besides, the Republicans immediately voted for it. In any case the important thing now is that outside of Fox News land, it's an unimportant fact whose "idea" it was.

The GOP ought not share the credit for returning spending to historical norms, even if the UR deserves some.