Tuesday, October 15, 2013

April 2014: What Americans and the world must do after the Tea Party's first defeat

Imagine it's April 2014. Winter is fading, the days are getting longer. The Tea Party is in its cave, licking wounds and sharpening knives.

America is not quite in recession, but we're still digging out from the partial default of 2013.  The American dollar has fallen relative to other currencies and we pay more interest for short term treasuries. The falling currency has been a boost to manufacturing, and maybe we're finally getting some of the inflation we need. The state healthcare exchanges are operational and the federal exchange is finally more or less working.

Internationally the past few months have been an education in American civics. There's a bit more understanding of what Presidents can and can't do, and a wariness about the future of the American nation.

At home we have a better understanding of what drives the Tea Party -- decades of static white male income, fears of loss of historic privilege, and a deep fear of minority status and changing social mores. Did I mention fear and uncertainty?

So what should Americans, and non-Americans who are collateral damage in the latest bout of our centuries old slaver war, be doing?

We, everywhere, should be working on America's wealthy and America's corporations. The only way to manage the Tea Party is to strengthen the rational minority within America's GOP. That means funding GOP reformers and fighting Tea Party candidates. The only people who are going to do that are corporate donors, Chamber of Commerce members, wealthy Americans and others who still, barely, have a place in the GOP.

I'm not going to fund the GOP, but someone has to. We all need to put relentless pressure on the GOP's 'rational' donors to fight the Tea Party. We need to be doing that now, we need to be doing that next April.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I need a feed of television commercials

Ok, I don't need the stream of scams that keep daytime television on life support, but I do need something.

The problem is I've gotten very good at hiding from marketing -- including the marketing of goods and services I'd like to know about either for myself or for my family. I don't watch television, I only listen to NPR and BBC In Our Time Podcasts, my brain blanks out Gmail ads, and my hundreds of feeds don't show me ads. When I do notice Facebook ads, they're invariably targeting the wrong person. The only ads I really see are in Silent Sports -- and I buy it largely for the ads.

I live in a weird marketing-free zone.

So I wouldn't mind a service that let me characterize my interests, and that gave me a feed of new product/service announcements and updates, paired with a searchable repository. It would be paid for, of course, by the service owners.

I'm afraid I'm the only market though ...

Monday, October 07, 2013

How to practice your French (or Chinese, English, etc) pronunciation on your iOS device. For free.

Do you have a lousy French accent?

Never fear, it's better than mine. What we need is a victim, a native speaker, who will type whatever we say. Someone who never tires and never complains. Someone who is poor at interpreting foreign accents.

Someone like your iPhone.

Here's the trick for an English speaker:

  1. In Settings, General, International, Keyboards enable French (or Chinese, English, etc) keyboard.
  2. Go to an app like Notes. Tap world icon to switch to French keyboard.
  3. Tap microphone icon and dictate your French phrases. Watch the iPhone get them completely wrong. Keep practicing until they come out right.
It's even easier than doing the same thing on OS X. Handy for kids learning foreign languages. (I'm certain Android does this as well.)
(Credit to Talking to Siri by Sadun & Sande for discussing this in terms of Siri control.)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

For American adults are poverty and disability the same thing?

[Preface 9/6/13: I am enjoying the app.net discussion thread on this with @duerig and @clarkgoble. When reading this, try substituting TRREP - Trait that Reduces Relative Economic Productivity for the word "disability". Also, please note disability is not inability. In my experience parenting/coaching two children with disabilities I think of managing disability like building a railroad across mountainous terrain. Sometimes reinforce, somethings divert, always forward.]


Anosmia is not a disability.

Well, technically, it is. Humans are supposed to come with a sense of smell. For most of human existence anosmia was a significant survival problem. At the least, it helps to known when food has gone bad. So Anosmia is a biological disability.

In today's America though, there's not much obvious economic downside to anosmia. Diminished appetite is more of a feature than a defect. There are many jobs where a keen sense of smell is a disadvantage -- including, I can assure you, medical practice. Anosmia is a biological disability, but it's not an economic disability. Not here and now anyway -- once it would have been.

Disability is contextual, it's the combination of variation, environment and measured outcome that defines disability.

What about if I lose my right leg? Am I disabled then? Well, if I delivered mail I'd have a problem -- but in my job an insurance company would snort milk out its proverbial nose if I tried to claim longterm disability.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. Stephen Hawking is an extreme example -- you can have a lot of physical disability and not be economically disabled.

So how can I become disabled? 

Probably not through my "risky" CrossFit hobby,  but my benign bicycle commute is another matter. Until that glorious day when humans are no longer allowed to drive cars, I'm at risk of a catastrophic head injury. An injury that may impact my cognitive processing, my disposition to use cognition ("rationality"), my judgment and temperament -- and leave me as completely disabled for high income work as if I were 85 [1]. At that point, barring insurance, I'm economically disabled and impoverished.

Clearly, acquired cognitive injury can be disabling. So what of congenital cognitive disorders like low functioning autism or severe impulse disorders? Impulsivity, inability to plan, very low IQ ... Clearly disabling. Without income support from family or government, extreme poverty is likely.

Ahh, but what of those born with average IQ, average rationality, average judgment, average temperament? Employment is likely -- but earnings will be limited. To be average in the economy of 2013 is to sit on the borderline of poverty -- and of disability. The difference will be decided by other factors, factors like race, location, and family wealth. An average person who looks and acts "white" and is born to a middle class family in Minnesota may make it into the dwindling middle class (for a time), an average person who looks and acts "black" and is born to a poor family in Mississippi is going to be impoverished.

Which brings me to my question - for American adults are poverty and disability the same thing? Not entirely -- race, residence, and family income have an impact, particularly within some ill-defined "middle range" of "native disability". Not entirely -- but they are clearly related. 

How related? Consider this OECD graph of poverty rates across nations with very different cultures, attitudes and histories:

 Pov taxtrans

Across Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the US we see a "natural" or baseline (pre-transfer) adult poverty rate of 24-32%, with Swede and the US both at 28%. Not coincidentally, 30% is what I suspect our baseline rate of mass disability is today.

We can and should deal with poverty-enhancing factors like racism, unfunded schools and the like. That will make a difference for many -- and, if all goes well, we might get the US baseline poverty rate to be more like Denmark's. We'll go from 28% to 24%. Ok, maybe, in a perfect world, we get our baseline rate from 28% to 20%. Maybe.

To really deal with poverty though, we need to understand what real disability is. Economic disability in 2013 isn't a missing leg, it's poor judgment, weak rationality, low IQ, disposition to substance abuse. To conquer poverty, we will need to conquer disability - either with Danish style income transfers or with something better.

I think we can do better.

- fn -

[1] Social security is simply a form of insurance for age-related disability with an arbitrary (but pragmatic) substitution of chronology for disability measurement.

See also