February 20, 2016

Fintech insurgents are moving

Fintech insurgents are moving and growing quickly, they must overcome big challenges of their own before reshaping the industry. They are still relatively small and niche players in the sprawling retail banking business. They are not deposit-taking institutions, where consumer savings are insured by the government.

They also lack the legal and regulatory apparatus that traditional banks have built over many decades. Already, some of the new services are facing regulatory scrutiny. In November, Apple, Google, Amazon, PayPal and Intuit formed a Washington-based advocacy group, Financial Innovation Now, to promote policies to "foster greater innovation in financial services."

February 1, 2016

Rise and Fall of American Growth, Robert J. Gordon

Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we're in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective: Developments in information and communication technology, he has insisted, just don't measure up to past achievements.

Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.

In "The Rise and Fall of American Growth," Gordon doubles down on that theme, declaring that the kind of rapid economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event.

First, genuinely major innovations normally bring about big changes in business practices, in what workplaces look like and how they function. And there were some changes along those lines between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s -- but not much since, which is evidence for Gordon's claim that the main impact of the I.T. revolution has already happened.

Second, one of the major arguments of techno-optimists is that official measures of economic growth understate the real extent of progress, because they don't fully account for the benefits of truly new goods.

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January 29, 2016

She, etc

Misgendering "isn't just a style error," Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post wrote to describe a Twitter account she created following Ms. Jenner's coming out, to "politely" correct for pronoun misuse. "It's a stubborn, longtime hurdle to transgender acceptance and equality, a fundamental refusal to afford those people even basic grammatical dignity." (The Post, Ms. Dewey's employer, recently announced the term "they" would be included in its stylebook.)

And yet the learning curve remains.

I discovered recently that "trans*," with an asterisk, is now used as an umbrella term for non-cisgender identities -- simpler than listing them all (but still considered respectful). On a recent radio segment, I found out that a newer term for "cisgender" is "chromosomal," as in "chromosomal female," which denotes a person who identifies with the sex (female) she was assigned at birth. (Another way of saying that a person was "assigned female at birth" -- which does not necessarily make her a "chromosomal female" -- is A.F.A.B.).

As for the pronouns: "They" may or may not correspond with these identities -- which is why it's in anybody's best interest to simply ask. But when you do, don't make the common mistake of calling it a preferred pronoun -- as it is not considered to be "preferred."

"The language is evolving daily -- even gender reassignment, people are now calling it gender confirmation!" Jill Soloway, the creator of "Transparent," said in a recent profile in The New Yorker, making the case for "they."

"It's not intuitive at all," her girlfriend, the lesbian poet Eileen Myles, said in the article.

That doesn't even begin to delve into the debate about the evolving use of "woman" and "vagina" -- or, as some prefer to call it, "internal genitalia" -- which is perhaps a linguistic (and political) world unto its own. Mills College recently changed its school chant from "Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!" to "Strong, proud, all, Mills!"

Meanwhile, Mount Holyoke prompted a response from the iconic feminist playwright Eve Ensler after canceling a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" last year (because of its narrow view of gender). (At Columbia, that play has been replaced by a production called "Beyond Cis-terhood.")

Even the venerable NPR host Terry Gross has struggled with the language, repeatedly using the incorrect pronoun when interviewing Ms. Soloway last season about her transgender father, upon whom the show is based.

"I think there are a lot of people who want to do the right thing but are struggling to play catch-up with this new gender revolution," said Ms. Mencher, a former transgender specialist at Smith College, which is one of a handful of historically women's colleges to begin accepting transgender students.

"I begin all my trainings with an invitation for participants to stumble over language, to risk being politically incorrect, to bungle their pronouns -- in the service of learning," Ms. Mencher said.

As for they: Lexicological change won't happen overnight. (Just look at the adoption of Ms.) But it does have a linguistic advantage, in that it's already part of the language.

January 18, 2016

Aging well and gracefully ?

Aging well and gracefully in retirement may be the goal, but getting there is often a challenge. After all, it can be traumatic to leave the working world -- particularly if your self-concept is wrapped up in your job. You might feel a loss of importance and a loss of vitality; you may grieve the loss of friendships. "A lot of people get their identity from work and they get their social interaction from work, so the idea of stopping means they're going to lose both," says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at Wharton and the director of the school's Center for Human Resources. "[You need to] respect that it's going to be a huge loss.

January 17, 2016

Lumosity lawyer needed ?

In one TV commercial, a man declared that with Lumosity "decisions come quicker. I'm more productive." The company website stated that brain training could help "patients with brain trauma, chemofog, mild cognitive impairment and more," adding that "healthy people have also used brain training to sharpen their daily lives and ward off cognitive decline."

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission said: No more.

Its complaint charged that the company could not substantiate such marketing claims. "The research it has done falls short because it doesn't show any real-world benefits," said Michelle Rusk, an F.T.C. staff lawyer.

She called the commission's yearlong investigation "part of an effort to crack down on cognitive products, especially when they're targeted to an aging population."

Lumosity agreed to give its one million current subscribers, who pay $14.95 a month or $79.95 annually, a quick way to opt out. It also accepted a $50 million judgment, all but $2 million suspended after the commission reviewed the company's financial records.

The company had already stopped making health and cognition claims, its new chief executive, Steve Berkowitz, said in an interview. But the firm settled because "we came to the realization that the most important thing we could do is focus on the future," Mr. Berkowitz said

January 16, 2016

Caliber mortgage loan modification

Lone Star and its Caliber unit have become a magnet of criticism from housing advocates and housing lawyers who complain that the companies are too quick to foreclose on delinquent borrowers or to refuse to negotiate with borrowers over terms of plans to make loans more affordable.

The private equity firm's practices in dealing with delinquent borrowers was the subject of a recent front-page article in The New York Times.

In particular, critics have taken issue with Caliber's standard loan modification that temporarily reduces a borrower's payments for five years but then reverts back to the original payment terms in the sixth year, often with all the deferred payments added to the back end of the loan. The critics contend the temporary modifications merely enable Caliber to begin collecting payments on a loan that has been delinquent for many months or years, but provide no permanent relief to a borrower whose income has declined because of a financial crisis.

Ellie Pepper, an employee of the Empire Justice Center and regional coordinator for the attorney general's homeownership protection program, said the center had worked with a number of borrowers who have been presented with a temporary five-year loan modification from Caliber.

January 15, 2016

Represent poverty through recognisably Dickensian tropes -- the too-big hand-me-down boots, the thick socks, the bad teeth ?

It's almost redundant to call the republication of In Flagrante, Chris Killip's classic work of the 1970s and 1980s, a timely one. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher punished the north for rejecting her party by refusing them any means of humane transition into a post-industrial world. Killip's depiction of the effects of this policy on the coastal towns of the north-east was a metonym for a more wholesale dismantling and dereliction. The book affords us a way we might think about how our own poverty currently looks.

The new edition is shorn of the original text by John Berger and Sylvia Grant; their collaborative essay has not aged well, and did Killip's images no favours. No scene was not apparently charged with some larger allegorical responsibility, no figure not contemplating the bleak future or the human condition -- or worse, salvaging some small redemption from the ashes; even a patch of Brussels sprouts was obliged to shoulder the burden of human hope. But there's little redemption in these photographs, and therein lies their power. (The new edition also loses Killip's own introduction, where he describes his work as "a fiction about metaphor" -- a scrupulously unhelpful remark, as much of its time as Berger's essay. I have still no idea what he means. The work is not a fiction, nor is it concerned with metaphor, if either of these words are to be conventionally defined.)

Helen and Hula Hoop, Seacoal Beach, Lynemouth, Northumberland

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January 12, 2016

Sharp divergence between pay at the most successful companies and also-rans in the same field

Bloom believes inequality is being magnified by technological change and what's known as skills bias, where workers with a particular expertise reap the biggest reward. Neither is amenable to quick fixes.

In Professor Bloom's new paper, which he wrote with David J. Price, a Stanford graduate student, and three other economists -- Jae Song, Fatih Guvenen and Till von Wachter -- the top quarter of 1 percent of Americans appears to be pulling away from the rest.

For workers at this threshold, who earn at least $640,000 annually, their salaries rose 96 percent from 1981 to 2013, after taking account of inflation.

The trend was especially pronounced among the most successful enterprises in the American economy, creating a divergence between the highest-paid people at companies that employ more than 10,000 people and the rest of the work force. In this rarefied circle, overall pay jumped 140 percent versus a 5 percent drop for the typical employee at these corporate behemoths.

The split in compensation between executives and everyone else was much less pronounced at smaller companies, according to the research by Mr. Bloom and his colleagues. At these firms, between 1981 and 2013, top salaries rose 49 percent, while median pay rose 30 percent.

In addition, Mr. Bloom and his team also found a sharp divergence between pay at the most successful companies and also-rans in the same field -- think Apple versus BlackBerry. The highest-paid workers cluster at the winners, heightening income disparities in the overall work force.

Mr. Bloom traces the outsize gains to large grants of stock and options to top workers at big companies, with their fortunes rising in line with the performance of the stock market.

"There used to be a premium for working at a big company, even in a lower-level job," he said. "That's not true anymore. The people who have really suffered are lower-level employees at big companies."

January 11, 2016

When two people agree

Campuses like Trinity's have thick handbooks full of sexual assault resources, filled with pages upon pages of legal definitions and situational scenarios. But that doesn't mean that students necessarily understand the new policies. Yes, "consent" is now emblazoned on T-shirts and posters -- it was the subject of a recent public service initiative at Columbia, "Consent is BAE," that was criticized by students -- but even that does not ensure that students can define it.

"I think it's when two people agree to have sex, yeah?" a young woman, a junior at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said when approached on a recent day in Manhattan and asked if she could define "affirmative consent."

"Isn't that when only yes means yes? But not really?" said another woman, a dance and fashion major at N.Y.U.

"I know what consent is; is this different?" said a young man, a sports management major, also at N.Y.U.

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