Linky Friday: Work & Brainwork

Housing:

eviction photo

Image by brads651

[H1] I’m intrigued by group housing options, though at some point you have to be concerned about the combination of choosing your housemates and anti-discrimination law.

[H2] Andrew Small argues that housing policy should be considered health policy.

[H3] When canaries stubbornly don’t die: I keep waiting for this to happen and it keeps not having happened.

[H4] Kevin Williamson reflects on his time working evictions. Some pretty depressing stuff.

[H5] In a piece that will seem familiar to us down south, Max Fawcett wants Canadians to let go of the dream of nigh-universal home ownership.

[H6] These are also neat, though I’m not sure what advantage the hexagon provides.

Law:

[L1] Jonathan Taplin thinks it might be time to break up Google and Ryan Cooper says it’s crushing the Internet. I’m not sold on the notion that their advantage is any more substantial than Microsoft’s (I think it’s less), and that problem took care of itself.

[L2] About the only argument I can see for John Deere (and like companies) is that they have a reputational stake in their own equipment and if people hack the system and open it up for hacker exploitation or system failure it negatively reflects on them. I don’t especially buy it, but it’s there.

[L3] David Newhoff argues in two parts that copyright isn’t really restraining culture in the way its critics claim. Though I disagree, credit to Newhoff for tackling one of the hardest aspects of copyright law to justify (duration).

[L4] The story of dollars and cents and the creation of Spinal Tap, which may be landing in court.

[L5] I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s better than one likely alternative, but nonetheless incredibly unsatisfying. But… it’s probably a good thing in the overall?

[L6] Whiplash are we all taking a bath on account of a myth?

Work:

office romance photo

Image by mrbill78636

[W1] Arizona is cracking down on licensure boards while Idaho is going in a different direction.

[W2] Baron Schwartz looks at how he revamped his hiring process. I’ve never been an attractive enough employee that any company tried to sell me on them (or their culture) to begin with. I did take a personality profile test once. The interviewer (president/CEO) yelled at me for the answers I gave, but then hired me anyway.

[W3] This corresponds with my experience and with the intuitive notion that government pay is on a flatter scale. In ruralia, government jobs are the best and there are lines and lines of people who want them. But in Colosse, they’re kind of meh. And the higher up the economic ladder you get, the more that working for the government is something you do for reasons other than monetary. Clancy has been looking at that as a possibility, and the biggest question is the pay cut.

[W4] Wondering whether or not a coworker has a crush on you, and whether you have a crush on them, may be distracting you from your work. Employers are on it.

[W5] Brookings looks at men who have dropped out of the workforce and why. There’s at least a kernel of a Boost the Minimum Wage argument in there.

[W6] {ominous music} The bloody history of barber shops.

Brainwork:

sleep photo

Image by kozemchuk

[B1] Stoicism: Behold, the power of indifference.

[B2] Let’s get vague.

[B3] This is kind of cool: Opposite words you didn’t know existed.

[B4] Shane Parrish looks at Albert Einstein, the non-essential, and the essential.

[B5] Behold the positive power of daydreaming. Sometimes I wonder if I spend too much time listening to audiobooks while doing stuff, taking up time I used to spend thinking about stuff.

[B6] Intelligence or Superintelligence?

[B7] This seems right. Really, there’s nothing that doesn’t go better with more sleep.

Art:

utopia photo

Image by Ben Husmann

[A1] Like Robinson Carusoe, as utopian as can be

[A2] Well this is cool: 5 Hours of Edgar Allan Poe Stories Read by Vincent Price & Basil Rathbone

[A3] Matthew Franck looks at Huxley, Plato, and the scientific regime. I finally consumed Brave New World last year, and there were aspects of it that seemed more familiar than 1984.

[A4] A thirty-minute, silent production of Crime and Punishment.

[A5] Inglorious Basterds was an okay movie, but the opening scene is truly amazing. I even showed it to my wife, without any intention of showing her the rest of the movie.

[A6] The terrible, tacky art of Moscow.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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147 thoughts on “Linky Friday: Work & Brainwork

  1. H1: Anti-discrimination is just the start of it. When I moved to DC ten years ago and was looking at listings in group homes, it was pretty common to see people screening for certain kinds of political/social/cultural affiliations. Always interesting that some of the folks most concerned with income inequality often end up being drawn to ideas that would hasten and exacerbate it. That said, sure. Why not? People should live with whomever they want, under whatever circumstances they want.

    H2: James Poulos wrote three very dense articles (http://thefederalist.com/2014/07/17/welcome-to-the-pink-police-state-regime-change-in-america/) – that could probably condensed into one shorter, more accessible article – about something that he called the Pink Police State. The basic thesis of those articles was that there is a robust regulatory state that was slowly creeping towards a form of soft-authoritarianism in which all individual behavior would be regulated toward the standard in the name of an ever-growing conception of “health and safety.” As goofy as those articles are, I’ve seen nothing since I read those articles that would suggest that Poulos was wrong.

    W5: What is exactly is the Boos the Minimum Wage argument here? There is always an employment trade off with raising the minimum wage. That is, employers are forced to pay employees more, so they respond by either giving everyone less hours or letting their least desirable employees go. That report says that the increase in men outside of the workforce is being driven by the increase of men with criminal records and substance abuse problems, who haven’t gone past high school and who are on SDI. Those are exactly the kind of people who end up getting squeezed out of the labor market when the minimum wage goes up.

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    • I assume Will is referring to this part:

      For some men with little education or few marketable skills, jobs pay poorly—perhaps so poorly that these men don’t believe it’s worthwhile to work, says Wessel.

      One of the more theoretically plausible arguments for raising the minimum wage is the argument from monopsony. Basically, the idea is that employers have partial monopsony power due to search costs (i.e., it takes time and effort to look for a new job), which allows them to pay lower than a market-clearing wage, because current employees will accept a slightly lower-than-market wage rather than take the time to look for a new job. Also, job candidates will not exhaustively investigate every possible opening to find the best-paying option, but instead will settle for a slightly lower-paying job.

      Because of this, some people may opt not to work at all, or to work fewer hours than they would at the market-clearing wage. A minimum wage increase could, under these conditions, theoretically increase employment by pushing wages up to market-clearing levels and increasing the quantity supplied by more than it reduces the quantity demanded.

      I’m skeptical of this story, particularly as it applies to low-wage labor. Partly because low-wage labor is arguably the least monopsonistic segment of the labor market, partly because current employees also have partial monopoly power (the employer has to pay onboarding costs for the replacement again if the worker quits), and also because it’s not clear to me that those telling the monopsony story actually have solid evidence for it that has no plausible alternative explanations. Nevertheless, it is a serious theory that respectable economists are advancing, and not just some crackpot idea cooked up at EPI or CEPR.

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      • I absolutely agree that there is probably a significant reserve force of labor that would be lured into the labor market by a higher minimum wage. I’m just not sure how much overlap there is with that population and the folks being described in that piece. I think it’s more likely that a higher minimum wage would bring in folks like recent retirees, stay at home parents, college students, etc.

        I’ll use my mother as an example. She retired from a municipal job at 55, with a modest pension and health coverage through her union. That was enough to live on. She took a minimum wage job at an amusement park for some extra scratch and to have something to do. At a certain point, the price of gas got high enough where it didn’t make much sense to keep the job, so she quit and started doing volunteer work instead. A higher minimum wage would likely have kept my mom working that job. So the question is, who are employers likely to hire first? Someone recently retired from thirty years working the same job or some some thirty year old dude with a prison record, spotty work history, and the tells of a substance abuse problem?

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      • “it’s not clear to me that those telling the monopsony story actually have solid evidence for it that has no plausible alternative explanations. ”

        It’s also the case that the monopsony story confirms so damn many priors that it’s suspect for that fact alone.

        Although at least people are starting to admit that maybe maybe just maybe it’s possibly true that someone could look at the amount of benefits they get and compare it to the job they’d be likely to find and say “fuck work, I’m stayin’ on the dole”.

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        • And, pace The Last Psychiatrist, opiate addiction comes from the story that the government tells the middle class to keep there from being a popular uprising against the poor.

          Because it’s a lot easier to explain why someone is just never going to work again and is going to get free money for the rest of their life if they’re medically disabled.

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        • It’s not even the dole, necessarily, although of course that is a plausible factor. It could be high-school or college students considering a part-time job, or stay-at-home mothers whose children have started school, or retirees looking to supplement their pensions, etc.

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    • jr,
      You can get TONS of money out of being able to ask “innocent” questions and discriminate about race. (It’s an algorithm my friend wrote. He makes tons of money off it — goes to more useful stuff).

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    • w5: There will never be another meaningful minimum wage increase. Not in my lifetime. Minimum Wage Increases are now a Republican Policy, no matter which fake dem (need I say Hillary) is spouting it.

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    • “That is, employers are forced to pay employees more, so they respond by either giving everyone less hours or letting their least desirable employees go.”

      I dont deny that this is how employers respond, but why do we accept that these are the only two acceptable responses? What would happen if they employed the same number of people the same number of hours at a higher wage?

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      • I’m not sure that acceptable has anything to do with it. Most businesses that employ minimum wage labor run on very small margins, so the only thing that they can do is raise their prices. Maybe that seems like a fair solution, but it creates another problem in that many of the places that employ minimum wage labor are also the places where the poor and middle class are likely to shop. So, you’ve increased some people’s nominal wages, but you’ve also decreased a bunch of other people’s purchasing power. Maybe that’s a trade-off worth making, but it isn’t particularly obvious to me why.

        Also, my intuition is that this is quickly going to become a moot point as a significant percentage of low-wage labor gets automated.

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      • Kazzy,
        Because employers don’t respond in either of those two ways, not really. Instead, they throw money at automation. There is no longer a meaningful way to increase the minimum wage — jobs lost go to robots.

        Raising the minimum wage benefits the capitalists.

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      • “What would happen if they employed the same number of people the same number of hours at a higher wage?”

        If they could do that, they’d already be doing it. Not that this would stop anyone bitching about why they couldn’t do it more, of course.

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        • Wait… do you really believe that to be true?

          Maybe this depends on your definition of “could”.

          I bet many companies could pay their employees much more if they cut executive pay or accepted a lower profit margin. But maybe those are things they “can’t” do.

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          • “I bet many companies could pay their employees much more if they cut executive pay or accepted a lower profit margin. ”

            A quick search returned this article, which is pretty dated but was the most immediate and closest result to “executive pay as a proportion of revenue”, and it’s all over the map in comparing X to Y, but it seems to settle on “about five percent”.

            And most places report five percent profit margins (I can go find articles on this if you like but it’s a pretty straightforward search which I shall, for now, leave as an exercise for the reader.)

            So if you cut ALL profit margins and ALL executive pay, you would have ten percent of revenue left over to split between employees.

            Assuming six “workers” on duty in a McDonald’s when it’s open, and 36000 McDonald’s, that’s 216000 workers. The stores stay open for about 16 hours of the day for 365 days a year, so those 216000 workers will have 5840 total hours during the year, and that’s about 1.2 billion “worker-hours”.

            McDonald’s revenue last year was around 24 billion. So if I take ten percent of that–2.4 billion–and divide it up to each worker-hour, it gives everyone a raise of two dollars an hour.

            Which, y’know, that’s two dollars you didn’t have before. But it’s still not the kind of upend-wealth-inequality-by-eliminating-corporate-profit-and-CEO-pay numbers you’re looking for. And that’s cutting 100% of all executive pay and driving 100% of all operating profit back into employee salary. If you quibble about this or that part of the calculation, then fine; double my numbers, triple them if you like.

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            • I would have approached it from the other direction. $2/hr is about $4,000/yr for a full-time worker. That’s the gross amount; assume net is about 75% (both halves of FICA payroll taxes, something for income taxes), so $3,000/yr or $250/mo. What does $250/mo translate into for someone in that part of the income range? Utilities and phone? A modest car payment? Significantly greater savings rate?

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              • Sure, go for it. It’s not college or a house, though. It’s not an answer to “my rent just doubled, what do I do”, or “suddenly my kid has diabetes”.

                My point being, it’s not like cutting all profit and all executive pay will open some torrential floodgates of money. Maybe it’ll lighten some loads but it’s not going to fundamentally change the nature of wealth distribution.

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  2. H1: I’ve read stories of groups of people trying to create co-housing informally in the United States but tending to run afoul of the local NIMBYs and zoning laws. The anti-discrimination law is an interesting angle to the problem though. I guess since people are buying housing together rather than renting or buying separately, anti-discrimination law shouldn’t apply. If a group of friends want to go on a vacation together, the government doesn’t make them take somebody they don’t want with them.

    H3: People like beaches and glorious coastal living near the ocean.

    H4: Some jobs drain the soul. Many defense attorneys started as prosecutors that couldn’t stand the convict them all attitude. I know one immigration lawyer who started out working for the former INS. He said he lasted one day before he flipped to the other side.

    H5: The debate on rent vs. ownership continues

    L2: Many corporations seem driven to turn everybody into a leaser of their products rather than an owner because it gives them more power.

    L5: I can’t stand judges that won’t do their job.

    W1: Its charming that Reasons think that Libertarians are enough of a political force for the Idaho governor to care about them.

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  3. Fortunately he’s such a lightweight we didn’t even feel it.

    Heeeeyyy…. erm, well, maybe. *sigh*

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          • … if you can’t say something nice.

            He has his charms and hopefully some things are working in ways and in places we can’t see. In the end he dies.

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          • I don’t require a pope to be a people person, and for that matter he doesn’t have to be a particularly good theologian, as long as he’s not wrong about certain things. The charisma of Benedict is maybe a little more esoteric, but for me there’ll probably never be a pope in my lifetime I’ll feel closer to. My reaction to Marchmaine’s comment was primarily that a lot of people find Pope Francis to be off-putting.

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                  • As Marchmaine notes, he was conscripted, and by all accounts didn’t participate. If he was walking the safe path, he wouldn’t have been attending seminary. As for the SSPX, I’ve never found them anti-Semitic, but they do have some European nutjobs, so I wouldn’t be surprised. But excommunication isn’t about truth or error, and it’s not about piety or sinfulness: it’s about discipline or defiance. I’ve done a lot of lousy things in my life, and I’ve believed nonsense at times, but I’ve never been excommunicated.

                    (ETA: In case that needs clarification, there are things you can do to get arrested, and things you can do to get your dentist’s license suspended, but they don’t necessarily overlap. I’m guessing you can be an anti-Semite without either thing happening, but no one would say that the ADA is soft on anti-Semitism.)

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              • Well there you go… only two things not to like about a fellow – and one of them a wartime contingency before he even turned 16 and the second orthogonal and incidental to the matter at hand.

                Bully to him I say to navigate a highly public life with only those two things to tarnish his reputation.

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  4. H1: yes, anti-discrimination laws, but also: what if you share chores and there’s a free-rider? Or what if, when it’s Person X’s turn to buy toilet paper for the house, he buys some horrible cheap sandpapery stuff instead of the brand most of the housemates prefer? How do you deal with that? Or with the person who acquires a new Significant Other that doesn’t fit with the “group” ethos?

    Sometimes I think communal housing would be the way to go (especially as I age, seeing as I’m single and have no children to be ‘grown children helpers’) but then I’m reminded how much Hell is other people (last night, cursing the neighbor and his love of boom car….for the whole hour it was going on from 11 pm to midnight).

    The problem is that people have different ideas about what constitutes things like “noise,” and “bad smells,” and “mess” and whether or not it’s ok to let their grotty unwashed dog lie on the sofa…..and so it’s like being in a family, but worse, because these people don’t really have any ties of obligation to you.

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    • I had the same roommate for three years in college. We were compatible in many ways, but one of the most important was that we had about the same threshold of disgust. One of us would look around and say “This is disgusting” and start cleaning up. It could be either one of us, or both simultaneously.

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      • I have friends who live together and say “the one who’s most easily disgusted winds up cleaning up” but (a) that seems to always put the effort on ONE person or (b) I am a slob BUT a people-pleaser and I could see putting a lot of effort into cleaning up “for” the approval of my roommate where, were I alone, I’d probably ignore the mess.

        My house is never really unhygienic (though it borders on that during exam week, for external reasons of busy-ness) but it is cluttered. I know lots of people would have issues with all the books and the quilting fabric and the little toy collections I have.

        I honestly hope I never have to live with someone (I mean, for financial or “safety” reasons). I think at this point it’s unlikely I’d find someone compatible enough with me to marry him, so I just hope I never wind up so broke or so sick I need someone in the house to help keep me going.

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        • That system also creates perverse incentives. A few times Zazzy and I found ourselves in a “game” of “Who can ignore the bathroom garbage can the longest?”

          No one ever really wins that game.

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  5. H6: Possible reasons for hexagons rather than squares: hexagons have a significantly greater area per amount of exterior wall than squares (area divided by perimeter); greater visual privacy between the exterior porches; more interesting visuals for the sales pitch.

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  6. L6: In summary, the writer was in a car accident once and didn’t get whiplash. From this he concludes that everyone claiming whiplash is simply faking it. In support of this we have doctors pointing out that soft tissue injuries don’t show up on radiological tests, and therefore aren’t real because, apparently, by definition anything real shows up on those tests. Also the amazing revelation that in countries where there is no point to filing a claim, people tend not to file claims.

    I have been in four accidents in my life. In none of them did I have an injury that would show up on one of those tests. In all four I felt fine immediately after the accident. With three of them, I felt fine the next day. In the other, I felt like I have been run over by an elephant. That’s how these things go.

    Are there bullshit claims made? Of course there are. Are they all bullshit? Not even close. What fraction of all claims are bullshit? I have no idea. That’s the problem with injuries that don’t show up on tests. The real issue here is whether are we so horrified at the idea that some undeserving person might benefit that we will disregard the genuinely injured.

    Based on the comments in that Guardian piece, there does seem to be a problem with British rules about lawyer marketing. That is a different issue, however.

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    • Soft tissue injuries are hard to diagnose, but they also, very rarely, fail to heal if care is taken to let them. Also, if you get whiplash, chances are you have no one to blame but yourself for not having your headrest set high enough to prevent your head from whipping back. That headrest is designed specifically to stop the whipping motion your head can experience from a sudden & unexpected acceleration. If the back of your head doesn’t meet the center of the pad, you need to adjust it.

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      • The discussion used the word “whiplash” but the way it was discussed applied to general soft tissue injuries. A typical pattern is neck and low back pain. But even for neck strains in particular, there is more to it than the headrest. There is a strong, effectively random element to how the head and body were positioned at the moment of impact. Headrests help avoid the worst of it, but there is more to it than that.

        As for letting it heal on its own, I expect this is true. But what does it mean to let it heal? Lying in bed for a few weeks? This is all very lovely, if one is of a socio-economic status that allows for this. Let’s add a daily fresh bouquet to liven up the room. But for the rest of us, telling us to let it heal is profoundly unhelpful. Hence the utility of physical therapy to help things along.

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  7. H3: This is fascinating to watch, in a slow-moving train wreck sort of way. Why is the market still going up? My guess is that buyers are a combination of people whose religious convictions demand they deny climate change and people figuring on getting out in time, selling to a bigger fool. Ad to this a widespread mentality that at least it isn’t snowing. Insurer’s? They don’t have a long term commitment. They can keep an eye on the situation waiting for the moment to cancel policies, while still collecting premiums in the meantime. Then there is simple stupidity. The article discusses a partner in a law firm who bought in 2015 without giving any thought to flooding, or only looking at the neighborhood’s history without considering how relevant that history is to changing conditions.

    This leaves the banks. Why are they still writing thirty year mortgages? That on its face seems the crazy part. But not really. Organizations that think over the longer term are very concerned about climate change. The US Navy, for example, has its largest base on the east coast built on a swamp barely above sea level, and it takes climate change seriously (to the dismay of the religionists who take as an article of faith that only dirty hippies believe this stuff). One might naively believe that a bank selling a thirty year mortgage would take a similar long view of things. But that mortgage will be sold to someone else, who can sell it again, and so on. The “bigger fool” mentality very much applies. Then there the mentality of worrying about the next quarterly earnings report, and the person making the decision probably won’t be there when the crash comes, so what’s the problem?

    You want a canary? The article interviews two people who got out early. The metaphor of the canary in the coal mine is the first sign of trouble before it is obvious to everyone. This exactly is the first people selling to get out before the crash.

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    • The feds subsidize risk-taking through the flood insurance program. The amount of the subsidy has been recently reduced to make the program self-sufficient, but flooding in coastal areas is not an insurable risk because flooding in these areas results in mass exposure to a large number of insured to the same event. Without the government socializing the risk, there would be no flood insurance.

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    • Why are they still writing thirty year mortgages?… But that mortgage will be sold to someone else, who can sell it again, and so on.

      Also, Florida is a recourse state. So if the home owner stops paying, the mortgage holder goes through foreclosure and then gets a deficiency judgement. No more “working for the bank” for 30 years and then winding up with a house. Just “working for the bank” and having nothing to show for it.

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  8. H1: In California, we have the Tenancy in Common which sometimes functions as group housing in weird ways. I’ve also seen it done on the down low. But I am a firm believer in the idea that sharing housing with friends is one way to end the friendship. But I am also an intensely private person.

    H5: The only we to end ownership is to create a rent structure designed for decades long living especially for older Americans and to make the house less valuable in equity as an asset.

    W2: I’ve only had one job interview where the culture was explained and it was explained that they had a horrible job culture. Turns out they were right.

    W3: There is no link here. A lot of government pay seems to be on a lock step system. The largest employers in San Francisco are the City and County of San Francisco and UCSF (the state medical school and research institution). But I suspect that not all government jobs are kept a like in cities. I know a lot of people from law school who ended up in quasi-legal positions at UCSF because of the law school crisis. A lot of them do contract and grant administration type stuff. They get paid a decent but not amazing amount of money and their pay is based on their level which seems to correspond with years of employment. On the other hand, I think they basically have their jobs for life and the benefits and time off are supposed to be good. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know how to get a job at the DMV or as a Court Clerk. Where do people apply for those jobs?

    My understanding of government lawyer jobs is that they run the gamut between jobs you do because the hours are good and the work culture is not intense to highly competitive positions that are just as elitist in their hiring as the top law firms.

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    • I think the mid-range brands are falling behind because they still embrace a sort of preppy Anglo-Saxon version of America that no longer applies to modern demographic and isn’t appealing to most people these days.

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      • Is there still a mid-range in America, and what is it?

        I genuinely ask because I don’t know: I dress “bohemian” and I make much of my own clothing (and a lot of the rest of my clothes are a decade or more old). When I was younger I went kind of “preppy” but I was also never known for having fashion sense.

        Or are we at the point where there is the 1% shopping at Nordstroms or whatever is better-than-Nordstroms and everyone else is going to wal-mart?

        The last piece of clothing I think I bought was a pair of jeans bought at a farm store….

        I used to love Coldwater Creek but then they closed all their stores. I still get the catalog but am leery of ordering “sized” clothes because I hate the rigamarole of sending back stuff that doesn’t fit right.

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        • That’s an interesting question. There doesn’t seem to be a mid-range America anymore but you can’t always judge by the eye. I’d argue that stores like Zara and H&M are the heirs to mid-range America because they are trying to look high-end while not charging high-end prices.

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          • What about the old Land’s End/L L. Bean demographic? That’s where I fall: I am fundamentally uninterested in clothes. I am therefore willing to pay for boring clothes that are well made and therefore do not need to be replaced frequently. This was Land’s End’s business model until Sear bought and gutted it. Now it is simply overpriced for the quality. I also haven’t had much luck with L. L. Bean of late.

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            • Have you considered Orvis or Filson?

              I think of the LL Bean demographic as being outdorsey. I do know people who wear hiking clothing all the time but it is not Lands End or LL Bean. I think Marmont took over that group.

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            • Yeah, I have a lot of LL Bean stuff – in fact, I got some from family for Christmas. I will say I think LL Bean’s quality, at least in women’s “nicer” clothing (as opposed to “barn clothes’) has dipped in recent years.

              Land’s End used to be wonderful, when I was in prep school in the 1980s. Now it’s terrible because of the Sears buyout you mentioned.

              I like clothes and I like dressing nicely but I loathe shopping for clothes. More than once I have wound up in tears in some stupid department store. (Kohl’s is the current target of my incandescent hate). I’m slightly on the fattish side, not big enough for the full-fledged “big women’s” stores, but at the upper end of what most places carry, and I have broad shoulders and big boobs and I like pockets and those are all the things most clothing manufacturers skimp on. (I get that bust darts are hard and take more material – I sew – but if you’re not a board-front, a blouse looks SO MUCH BETTER with them).

              I could write an entire clothing rant on all the things that aggravate me. I am sure it is worse because I know how to sew but don’t really have time to make all the things I would want to make, so I can always see how commercial clothes are lacking.

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        • There are a great many Americans who would not be caught dead at a Walmart. For the purest of humanitarian reasons, of course. The fact that those people shop at Walmart is purely coincidental.

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          • and some of us have no choice, short of an hour’s round trip drive.

            I’ve asked people if they think it’s more virtuous of me to burn the gas and pollute (and spend the time) to avoid Evil Walmart, or if it’s better for me to save the gas and pollution and shop at them.

            I don’t think any of those folks have every really given me a good answer to that.

            I wouldn’t buy clothing at wal-mart because I don’t fancy stuff that falls apart the third time I wash it, but I do kind of need food on a regular basis.

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            • When I lived in a very, very Democratic city—the kind where people have started using “liberal” as a slur against people who aren’t left-wing enough—I always wanted to go to Walmart, just to be subversive. But it was like thirty miles away.

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        • Or are we at the point where there is the 1% shopping at Nordstroms or whatever is better-than-Nordstroms and everyone else is going to wal-mart?

          Have we ever not been at that place? As I said in my other comment, I don’t know that clothes have ever played a particularly central role in the lives of most Americans. If you were a farmer and you needed jeans, maybe you bought some Levis or Wranglers. If you were a business executive and you needed a suit, maybe you got it at Brooks Brothers. Or maybe not. Maybe you went to the nearest department store or the nearest tailor and got whatever was good enough at the cheapest price.

          Maybe folks had a couple-few nice items of clothing that were bought at a particular place, but the idea of whole classes of people with lots of disposable income to spend on lifestyle brands is probably just an invention of the fashion and media industries.

          Look at a list of the richest Americans. Are any of them really known for particularly well-dressed? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are known for sensible dad-wear. And Zuckerburg is known for hoodies. Look at which careers make up the 1%. The biggest occupation is doctor, who are known for nice cars and expensive hobbies, like flying planes, but not for being particularly fashion forward. You’ve got lawyers and business execs and finance folks, but mostly these guys are known for sack suits and bro-wear. Yeah, I’m sure you’ll find more than a few Prada suits and Gucci loafers if you look hard enough. But most of the folks obsessed with fashion and sporting the right brands tend to be part of the aspirational middle class. Lots of wealthy folks got that way exactly by avoiding the kind of expensive status signalling that goes with buying expensive brands.

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          • It seems like when I was growing up, there was something in between the super-status-stuff and the really downmarket (and mostly poorly-made) stuff – Penney’s was okay, Sears was okay. Now those places are dying and we seem to be left with stuff that’s 100% sweatshop made or out of the price range of what remains of the middle class.

            I mean, yeah, probably some of the stuff I wore as a kid was sweatshop-made, but it seems like there were more things made in places unlikely to have sweatshops, and also stuff that didn’t fall apart if you looked at it funny.

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            • Oh, you should SEE the greenwashed sweatshops these days!
              Hahaha!
              Upscale is slavery these days, kids. And by that we mean child slavery just one step away from getting nabbed by the narcostate government for being too profitable.

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    • J Crew was my go to brand from high school through my late twenties. And I didn’t stop shopping there because preppy clothes felt unduly nostalgic or out of sync with the times. Quite the opposite. Chinos and polos and oxford shirts are pretty timeless. It just made no sense to keep buying them from J Crew, who kept upping their price point for no discernible reason. Now I mostly default to Uniqlo for those same items.

      There is a whole industry of people writing pieces on what happened to J Crew. I’ve got my own pet theory. I remember watching some interview with Anne Hathaway when The Devil Wears Prada came out. And she made some comment about how her character wasn’t really a bad dresser at the beginning of the movie. Rather, she was just a sort of blah, J Crew wearing ugly duckling before emerging as the Channel-clad swan after her high fashion makeover.

      I’m guessing that someone at J Crew saw that interview and it fueled some sort of inferiority complex that pushed J Crew to try and reinvent itself as more fashion forward brand that would appeal to the fashionistas. The flaw in that strategy is that fashionistas are largely an invention of the fashion and entertainment industry. I’m sure that some of them exist, but most people simply don’t have, and never had, that kind of relationship with clothes. The only people in real life who spend actual money to be regularly clad in Channel and Valentino are old ladies in a few U.S. cities and some mainland Chinese.

      OK, that’s an exaggeration. But in reality, high end fashion lines make some money on staple products (like the Louie Vuitton bag, the Channel suit, the Hermes scarf, etc.) but most of these brands make most of their money on lower end ready to wear lines and by slapping their names on things like perfumes and watches and shoes and selling them at a 10 to 20 percent markup.

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      • PS – this is most definitely the dumbest passage I’ve read today:

        When I contemplated those dresses, what struck me was their willful nostalgia; preppy clothes may be inherently nostalgic, but the whimsy of these items seemed over the top. During the Obama years, nostalgia might have seemed harmless, even admirable, but today it feels like a troubled and doubtful impulse. Does it make sense for young, urban men to dress up like Rust Belt factory workers, or for women to embrace the style of Hyannis Port in the nineteen-sixties? The answers to those questions have changed over the past six months.

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      • I don’t remember when that movie came out and I did not see it so I cannot say whether the truthiness applies to me.

        I actually like J.Crew cords and they used to put out some nice shirts but the style is not so much mine anymore. Though I do like their linen shirts.

        Styles do change and the endless prep of J.Crew is a bit on the outs. You can always find their stuff on sale at sometime so paying retail makes no sense.

        Also you can find more interesting stuff at similar or somewhat higher price points.

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    • “New Yorker has an interesting essay about the rise and fall of J.Crew and why many mid-range brands are falling on hard times:”

      The middle is dying, just like everywhere else. Because the cheap stuff is so cheap that going to the mid-range is now a much larger relative price increase than it used to be. Meanwhile, the good stuff is as good (and as expensive) as it’s always been.

      I remember seeing this, as it were, in animation. (bear with me, this does apply!) It used to be that everything was drawn by hand. You could do cheap crappy animation, or expensive good-looking animation, and going from “cheap” to “good” was maybe double the cost.

      Then along comes digital painting (as in, “do it on a computer instead of by hand”), and suddenly the cost of cheap stuff went way down. So when you’re budgeting for animation, going from “cheap” to “good” is now ten times the cost. So even though “good” is the same cost it always was, getting to good is now a lot higher percentage increase–and that much harder to justify to the people fronting the money for the project.

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      • That makes sense as explanation more than anything else including j r’s theory. There used to be a serious market for mid-range models, people who wanted something sturdier or better looking than the low end but couldn’t afford the high end. This was for everything from clothing to cars to appliances. The cheap stuff is generally better looking now than it was in the past and is cheaper. Going for something mid-market doesn’t make much sense. This means that you get high end and low end but nothing in the middle.

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        • My 98 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX is a good example. It was an attwmpt at jazzing up a lower-end product into thw mid-range. It had ABS when it wasn’t close to standard, all-wheel drive, and a little turbo which provided, if nor a lot of extra power, at least a little extra noise. And the body was slightly modified from the standard to give it shapelier, Porsche-inspired hips.
          Nice car. End of an era, though. It was expensive enough that it was in the conversation with real sports cars, which thrashed it performancewise. And most people who wanted a hot hatch bought one that was 90% of the car at 75% of the price.
          Even now there’s really nothing comparable in that price range, just stripped down sports cars, purpose built rally course rice rockets, and glamour versions of roadsters for particularly well off flight attendants.

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        • Isn’t the middle always dying, though? It seems like there’s always a new brand attempting to capture the low-end market, but then it sees the potential of increasing market share and starts to produce better products. I’m going to show my age and give Japanese cars and IBM knockoffs as examples, but I think it’s a pretty common phenomenon. Top-end companies sometimes try the same thing (like affordable lines from high-end watch companies) but they have to be very careful, because they have reputations to lose.

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      • The middle is dying, just like everywhere else. Because the cheap stuff is so cheap that going to the mid-range is now a much larger relative price increase than it used to be. Meanwhile, the good stuff is as good (and as expensive) as it’s always been…

        That makes sense as explanation more than anything else including j r’s theory.

        I don’t see how that has any explanatory value there. I look at myself, for instance. I was born to a lower middle class household and now I’m upper middle class. If I’m lucky, I’m five to ten years from being legit wealthy. I’m still pretty cheap. Half of my furniture is from Ikea,with the other half from Crate and Barrel-level stores. I buy the Ikea stuff because I’ve moved cities four times in the last ten years.

        What’s the causality between my socio-economic status and my consumption habits? How are you defining cheap vs mid-range vs high end? How have inflation trends affected those prices? What’s happened to prices of consumer goods in relation to median wages?

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        • I am probably (for my location) upper middle-class.

          I don’t want flashy stuff, I don’t care about brand names. But I want stuff that’s decently made so I don’t have to go shopping for another whatever-it-is in six months to a year.

          But that seems like too much to ask, some times. I guess the trend really is you buy cheap stuff you assume is disposable, and they you go buy more in a few months.

          I’d rather pay more for stuff that lasted. You used to be able to trust that, maybe not any more.

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        • “What’s the causality between my socio-economic status and my consumption habits?”

          The point is that there’s no longer anything between Ikea and a full-flight furniture store where the cheapest couch is over $2500 (and that’s for something Ikea would give you for $400). There’s no more “middle”, no more “not flashy but durable”.

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          • This is demonstrably false. And not in any really way difficult way to prove. It doesn’t require sophisticated statistical analysis. It just requires Google.

            I bought a couch from Macy’s in 2010 and paid $1,000. The couch I’m sitting on right now is room Crate and Barrell and was somewhere south of $2,000; although their couches do go up into the thousands. But Crate and Barrell also has a CB2 brand with couches starting at around $500.

            Think about the claim that you’re making: that how many ever years ago in whatever magical, golden era, there were more products, at a wider range of price points and at a more varied level of quality than there are today. That claim makes no sense. There has never been a wide array of consumer products than there are today.

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      • I partially agree. I still think that the issue with a lot of cheap stuff is that it is not cheap in the long run. You can buy a cheap suit from H&M but it will fall apart in a year or less. This is true for cheap jeans from a Walmart as well. They are probably a not great cotton-poly blend.

        But you do have a point that the high-end or “good” stuff always being expensive and a lot of people not justifying the costs.

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        • “the issue with a lot of cheap stuff is that it is not cheap in the long run. ”

          The kind of good stuff that lasts is much more expensive than the cheap stuff that wears quickly.

          I mean, it’s not like J. Crew is all that durable compared to off-the-Kohl’s-rack. It’s been my experience that most items of clothing have pretty much the same service life. I’m sure you’ve got one or two pieces that you’ve had for a long time; so do I, but I don’t wear them every day.

          And, as I’ve said elsewhere, if it’s something you’re only going to wear once or twice then what’s the use of buying exceptional durability? Like, if I only ever wear a suit to weddings and funerals and job interviews, how many of those can I expect in a given year?

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          • Also, the more fashion forward something is, the more likely that you would only wear it for a year.

            This is why I buy a lot of Dickies clothes. They wear very well, but they aren’t high fashion in the slightest. But they again, neither am I.

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  9. [L1] Full disclosure: I have ties to Google. I live a mile away from their headquarters.

    The story about Brian Warner is disturbing. Generally, if you don’t want Google to crawl your site, it won’t. That they would ask him to scrape his site, have him decline, and do it anyway seems very odd. He says he’s sure they are scraping him, I wonder if maybe something else isn’t going on. Even if they way they have gathered the data that’s killed his business model in a way that’s legitimate, the story illustrates how they are an elephant, and people like him are mice.

    However, Google isn’t the reason that online ad revenue is declining. This isn’t due to some manipulation by Google and Facebook. That’s due to the fact that advertisers value these ads less over time. And that’s due to the fact that consumers pay less and less attention to them, and click on them less and less. So the ads get more obnoxious, and websurfers get ad-blockers, and the revenue continues to decline.

    This is a difficult time for independent operators, they can’t operate on the basis of ad revenue. That kind of sucks. Sites that survive do so by being very linkbaity, or by developing other revenue models. But these small, ad-revenue-based, independent sites are not struggling because Google and Facebook are conspiring against them.

    It’s true that Google is only a little better than Bing these days. But to claim that it was only a little better than it’s competitors at its founding demonstrates that the writer doesn’t remember those days at all. Searching at Alta Vista, which I thought the best, usually meant slogging through pages and pages of results which were completely irrelevant. The same search at Google would get you relevant results on the first page, often as the first result. They were not the first mover, there were dozens of companies doing search, and Yahoo’s strength was it’s directory, with listings of sites by topic. We don’t need a directory now, because Google (and probably Bing too) is good enough.

    No, Google deserved to win that battle. Success always involves luck of some sort, but he claims that Google’s success is “almost wholly unmerited”. He uses italics to shout those words, he’s so sure. This is rubbish.

    Businesses come and go. They prosper and fail. Some of my favorite websites have had to close up because they couldn’t make a go of it. I had to wonder though, why they were so eager to hire more people, but didn’t consider downsizing when their revenue started to shrink. It can seem like people can easily explain failure as “Google ruined me”, rather than “I needed to do something different”.

    Rupert Murdoch was making this same sort of complaint years ago, that Google ruined his website business. I laughed then. I shed no tears for Murdoch. I’m frankly not going to shed many tears over the loss of a website for tracking celebrity wealth. But there are others that I’m sad to see go.

    Finally, he wraps up with this:

    But certainly all search platforms should be forced to follow something like a railroad’s common carriage rules, where websites are not allowed to be ranked according to how much they might profit the platform itself, and get fair access to search traffic.

    Google has always done this. There are paid results, which are clearly marked as such, and the first search result is always the result that Google thinks is the most relevant to the query. Always. Cooper has offered no evidence in the entire piece that this is not so.

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    • When is the last time you clicked on a web ad? Anyone? I might have become aware of a website that I hadn’t heard about before and look into it later, but actually clicking on a web ad, never.

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      • A couple of weeks ago I clicked on an ad at Slashdot. It was an interesting add-on for the Raspberry Pi, heavily discounted. Turns out it didn’t meet the needs of my current project, but was close.

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      • You mean on purpose? I sometimes click on those Google text ads at the top of the search results, but only when that was the company I was looking for anyway.

        The thing is, I am just barely conscious of TV ads either. There have been multiple times when my wife commented about the ad that had just been on, and I have no idea what she is talking about. Back in the day I used to read articles by marketing gurus swearing that I really truly was being influenced by these ads, and I was just fooling myself if I thought otherwise. I haven’t seen that article in some years. Maybe the internet, with actual click-through numbers, has killed off that claim.

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        • This is exactly where I am. I’m either the most- or least-advertising-affected person in the world. I’m consciously oblivious to them. I do suspect that there’s a diminishing return to scale for advertising, though, and the sheer number of ads we’re exposed to makes it nearly impossible for any one to score a hit.

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          • Upon reflection, I have made one consumption change in the past year due to advertising. The most mass media thing I do regularly is listen to ballgames on the radio. Last summer they were running an ad for a local brand of Italian sausage that swore they is just barely removed from papa’s deli. Good Italian sausage is hard to find, so I gave it a shot. It met with my approval, and is a regular part of my grocery shopping rotation. Yay, Power of Advertising!

            The thing is, the ad (1) addressed a product category relevant to me, (2) essentially said “here is a product you are unaware of, (3) of a sufficiently low price that I was willing to try it on spec, and (4) for a product of good quality such that I continued to buy it. All the ads in the world won’t make me decide to start drinking a brand of beer I already know sucks or go out and buy a new car.

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        • On at least a couple of occasions I’ve spent time looking for a niche product that solves XYZ problem when I wasn’t sure such a product existed. I failed because I couldn’t describe exactly what I was looking for. Then the right thing popped up in Google ads.

          On the flip side, according to their profile of me, Google also thinks I’m single (married 11 years), likely interested in cycling (not even slightly), and 20 years older than I actually am. So it’s probably a bit of a toss of the dice.

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      • I clicked on a pop-up that came up on a blog on Patheos. I was trying to hit the close button but they intentionally.made it hard to find the hot spot on a mobile device. Hey, clicks are clicks, right…?

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    • You saw the same set of things I saw. That article is kind of a mess. On top of the wrongness that you pointed out, there’s another elephant in the room: The problem with monopolies is that they’re bad for consumers. The article is mostly about Google being bad for other companies because it delivers results to consumers and makes those companies unprofitable. That’s OK for a business to do. In fact, we usually encourage it.

      And the reason nobody has dethroned Google at searching is because as far as I can tell, Google has pretty much solved the searching problem. Search is “good enough” almost all the time. I can’t remember the last time I was unable to find exactly what I was looking for–to the point where I don’t even bother with bookmarks in my browser. Google dethroned everybody because, as you pointed out, they weren’t a little bit better. They were a ton better. They turned search from a crap shoot into a sure thing.

      Sure, there’s luck involved with everything, but all of my interactions with Google indicate a fearsomely competent company, and that competence is generally applied to making better products rather than screwing the consumer.

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    • Amen. Web search before Google was terrible. Alta Vista. Lycos. Yahoo. Remember mid-90s Yahoo? And web rings, which were actually kind of useful just because search engines were so bad. Google was a legitimate game-changer. Bing’s good because Google made it become good.

      But still…as much of an unnavigable mess as it was, I miss the mid-90s Internet. Or maybe I just miss the age I was in the mid 90s.

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      • Remember the sites that advertised “natural-language search”, like, you would type in “how do I do (thing)” instead of just “(thing)”? This was presented as “we’re a search website for REAL PEOPLE like YOU, not NERDS who talk all that TECHNOBABBLE all the time”.

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          • AIs will now answer questions.

            Not in my experience. When I am told that a computer can answer my question, my standard test is “What was Bobby Mathews’ ERA in 1883?” This is a perfectly straightforward question with a single unambiguous answer. (Well, not entirely unambiguous, but for this purpose it is, in that there is an unambiguous standard answer.)

            There may be an AI that will come up with the answer (2.46, for those scoring at home) but I haven’t run into it. The best I get is a link to the Bobby Mathews page at baseball-reference.com. I can then use this to find the answer, but it is not itself the answer. It is in fact the answer to the question “Where can I find Bobby Mathews’ ERA from 1883?” That is a different question.

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            • Inspired by this, I just asked my phone, “What is Bobby Bonilla’s career batting average?” (A colleague and I had made jokes earlier today about Bonilla’s salary structure in the context of a settlement offer we’d just received.)

              My phone returned a page of search results responsive to “what is Bobby bananas career batting average” at the top search result was the baseball-reference.com listing for Bobby Grich. Very respectable career, but this wasn’t the information I’m looking for though now whenever he is mentioned I must struggle to not reference him as “Bobby Bananas” since no one but I will get the joke.

              My Apple tablet translated “Bonilla” to “Pena” and gave me a listing to Batting Average for All-Time Leaders Baseball Almanac.

              I don’t have access to an Amazon Echo at the moment, although I’ve had experience with it for easier questions: “Alexa, how old is Tom Brady?” She just answered the question (he’s 39).

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            • I’m guessing that a Watson-like Jeopardy engine with its question phrasing turned around to “normal human” would probably get it right. It would just use a ton more computing power than any search engine is able to allocate to a single search.

              And while the chosen answer would probably be right, the second and third ranked answers may be, “corgis” and, “Jingle Bells.”

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        • Those were hilarious. I always wondered if they just had a regular expression that automatically deletes common interrogative phrases like “Who is” and pass the raw details back to the search function.

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        • And, right along with that, remember when google let you put in meta-instructions to force them to treat your search terms the specific way you want, rather than what their parser decides would be easiest for them to process?

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  10. W2: Let’s see, an accurate interview portrayal of the culture at my current employer…

    “No, please don’t come in for an interview. We’ve decided to make a bunch of decisions behind your back and choose someone at random. We’d rather not have information to base it on. We’ll call you in two months and let you know if you’ve been working here for a month or not.”

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  11. W4 sounds awful. There’s always going to be an underlying sexual dimension to the workplace, or any other place people gather. But the more attention we call to it, the worse it gets. An office using this app would turn into a singles bar.

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  12. [H1] I am not at all surprised to learn that this idea is based on a fantasy idea of European life.

    I would, actually, love to live in the fantasy Europe these people envision, where we’re all, just, like, incredibly cool and interesting people who only have jobs, like, as income, as the means to obtain beer money (because medical care and school are all paid for by the government, as it should be, and food just kind of happens without our intervention or request.) Where we don’t have kids or any other sort of long-term commitments or responsibilities, where we can just, like, hang out and be cool, go to clubs, go on holiday to beautiful places where we really find ourselves, bang anyone we want without repercussions.

    Anyway. Sounds great. You aren’t gonna get that by setting up the 2017 version of a commune, and you wouldn’t be allowed to do that anyway (as the link commentary points out, your commune is gonna be 100% white and that’s 100% illegal these days).

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  13. [H4] Kevin Williamson is such a tool.

    As though the Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrants who operate convenience stores from coast to coast show up in the United States with a $1 million line of business credit from Chase, an MBA, and a gas station waiting for them in Oklahoma. Next time you’re filling up in some country location late at night, take a peek around the back of the place, and see how many of those immigrants are quietly living in the gas stations they operate. It is not uncommon, for a time. But they don’t stay there long.

    So he…he really thinks that the people working at the gas stations and convenience stores own them? He really thinks that these people sleep in the back room because that’s also their property that they own and they’re sleeping there to save money?

    And the thing is, he does have some insights that I share. That most of these people are really waiting for Daddy to come in and tell them what to do. That our society has changed into this weird place where sometimes we’re bloody-mindedly authoritarian and sometimes we’re shockingly laissez-faire, and that nobody seems to be thinking about what that means for people who haven’t got the motivation to manage their own lives and the intelligence to pull it off.

    But his attitude seems to be that everyone has got those things and if they weren’t so darn lazy they’d be doing as fine as he is, with his property that his mother bought fifty years ago and gave him for free.

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