September 19, 2014

Shadow price of sophistication is obfuscation

You should know the difference between sophistication and obfuscation. In sales documents, the more complicated something is, the more sophisticated it appears. In real life, the more complicated something is, the higher the fees you can get away with charging.

-- Morgan Housel

September 18, 2014

Where to live ?

Since 1950, the disparity between incomes and home prices has steadily widened to the point that many urban areas have become largely unaffordable to the middle-class workers who once inhabited them. Economists at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia have coined the term "superstar cities" to refer to the likes of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston. "Even large metropolitan areas might evolve into communities that are affordable only by the rich, just [like] exclusive resort areas," wrote the economists Joseph Gyourko, Christopher Mayer and Todd Sinai in a 2013 article.

As the superstar cities have become unattainable, the middle class is increasingly finding refuge in places like Philadelphia or Nashville, Denver or Charlotte, N.C. An example of "the people who are getting killed," Renn said, "is the old traditional blue-collar Queens person who's now getting squeezed with taxes and with housing costs. It's clear they don't fit into the vision of the city. They're basically realizing, Hey, I can go to Charlotte and live like a king on a truck driver's salary."

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September 14, 2014

Distracted much ?

A Changing Business Model

Cellphone carriers like Sprint have become strong opponents of distracted driving. That was not always so. When cellphones first became mass-market products, drivers were the target market. Carriers sold talk-time by the minute, so the more people talked, the more money carriers made. And people spend a lot of time in cars.

But business models have changed. Carriers now sell unlimited use, making it much less important to their bottom line that people talk or text behind the wheel.

"It did become less of a business interest for carriers to push the freedom of use wherever an individual might be," said Ray Rothermel, internal counsel for Sprint, who works on government affairs.

Tony or hip Bushwick wins two ways

Ryan Jensen, a stay-at-home father and part-time photographer with a second child on the way, was priced out of East Williamsburg and now rents a three-bedroom in Bushwick that is about a 15-minute walk from the L train. "We're the leading edge of gentrification," he said. "We're the people willing to be in these areas where there isn't transportation, or where our kid may be the only white kid in the school, or where there aren't amenities. We have delis, and that's about it."

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September 10, 2014

Spain, since 1850 1550

Correction: September 9, 2014
A previous version of this article referred incorrectly to the history of Spain. It was united into a single nation in the 16th century, not the 19th.

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September 8, 2014

Simplified cockpit for busy driver

Much as regulators and automakers have rushed to deal with the flood of distractions that invade the automobile -- GPS displays, Internet radio, e-mail and even Facebook apps -- there is a growing effort by engineers to build cars that gauge the difficulty of situations and recognize a driver in distress. Then the car would react, delaying all but the most urgent alerts, sending phone calls to voicemail and freeing the driver to focus on the task.

The study of driver workload management -- some would point to the irony in this reaction to a situation partly created by automakers themselves -- is progressing alongside the efforts of the planners who dream up new generations of infotainment features. A foundation of workload study is the Yerkes-Dodson Law, a theory developed in the early 20th century that plots workload and performance on a bell curve.

There can be trouble at either end -- an inattentive, underworked driver may be as much a risk as an overworked driver who cannot handle the combined sensory inputs and driving chores. In the middle is the ideal, a driver functioning at optimum level.

Systems that detect driver drowsiness, like the Mercedes-Benz Attention Assist feature, can prompt a driver to be more alert, but driver overload is harder to manage. N.H.T.S.A. has issued voluntary accessory-design guidelines in an effort to reduce distraction, but given consumers' hunger for gadgets, managing those distractions to reduce workload may prove a better solution.

As safety groups press for restrictions on phone conversations and messaging in the car, the urgency to find a solution will only increase, experts say. Studies of driver workload have a long history, but a milestone came in 2003 when the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a unit of the Transportation Department -- in conjunction with Delphi, the giant parts supplier, Ford Motor and several universities -- began a research project to quantify distractions and driving situations as a way to generate workload estimates.

Paul A. Green, a University of Michigan research professor, said in a telephone interview that the Volpe study stimulated research. Today, automakers and universities are developing technologies that will let them measure the level of driver stress and the response to the pressure. That data could be used by a management system that would delay calls, alerts, text messages and warning lights at the times when the driver's workload was peaking and the stress level was high.

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September 7, 2014

China's Campaign to Turn Working Women into Wifeys

Passport
China's Totally Misguided Campaign to Turn Working Women into Wifeys

Why China's leaders would want to push a generation of professional women back into the home at a time when Japan and South Korea are desperately trying to leverage the economic potential of women workers. At the World Economic Forum in January, for example, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe noted that increasing women's labor participation could boost Japan's GDP by as much as 16 percent. Other studies suggest that restricting job opportunities for women costs Asia $46 billion a year.

The answer, argues sociologist Leta Hong Fincher, lies in the Chinese government's determination to maintain social order at all costs, a subject she explores in her forthcoming book, Leftover Women. The book's title refers to a pejorative term, sheng nu, used by the government to describe unmarried women in their mid- to late-20s. Fincher argues that the "leftover women" campaign -- comprised of media propaganda, mass matchmaking events, and bogus studies about the debilitating effects of singledom -- are one piece of a larger state effort to control women, and society, through economic and cultural means.

September 4, 2014

Douthat abortion counter +1

A pervasive sense that Catholic identity was entirely up for grabs -- that having dispensed with Latin Mass and meatless Fridays, the church might be poised for further revolutions, a major schism, or both. When Walker Percy's novel "Love in the Ruins" imagined Catholicism in the United States splitting in three -- a progressive church modeled on liberal Protestantism, a right-wing "American Catholic Church" that plays the "Star-Spangled Banner" during Mass, and a tiny remnant loyal to Rome -- it seemed more like prophecy than fiction.

It was the work of Ratzinger's subsequent career, first as John Paul II's doctrinal policeman and then as his successor, to re-establish where Catholicism actually stood. This was mostly a project of reassertion: yes, the church still believes in the Resurrection, the Trinity and the Virgin birth. Yes, the church still opposes abortion, divorce, sex outside of marriage. Yes, the church still considers itself the one true faith. And yes -- this above all, for a man whose chief gifts were intellectual -- the church believes that its doctrines are compatible with reason, scholarship and science.

It was understandable that this project made Ratzinger many enemies. It turned him into a traitor to his class, since it involved disciplining theologians who had been colleagues, peers and rivals. It disappointed or wounded the many Catholics who couldn't reconcile the church's teachings with their post-sexual-revolution lives. And it obviously did not solve the broad cultural challenges facing institutional Christianity in the West.

September 1, 2014

Chinese American

The point of American life is to take Eddie Huangs and let them fuse the styles of rappers and foodies and hipsters and more--and thereby redefine "American." This is the great U.S. advantage. But there is nothing automatically self-renewing about our inclusive civic ecosystem. It must be cultivated continuously.

People like me can offer what I call the Chinese American way--tempering raw individualism with a sense of community; adding a corrective dose of duty and propriety to a society rooted in rights and self-expression; paying heed to context and history, not just what's shiniest here and now.

This fusion is perhaps best embodied by the second generation, children of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants who grow up at the intersection of cultures. Consider Ai-jen Poo, the New York-based founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She advocates fearlessly for a workforce of poor women of color. How American. But she does so using the language of love, intergenerational care and family responsibility. How Chinese.

Or take Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos.com, who moved his company to dilapidated downtown Las Vegas and put $300 million of his own fortune into revitalizing it. His goal is to foster community in perhaps the country's most atomistic place--audaciously American, profoundly Chinese.

Let China make it hard for outsiders to become Chinese. The great competition today isn't really between China and the U.S. It's between the static illusion of purity and the propulsive reality of hybridity. If we choose well, my country will still prevail.