Saturday, December 20, 2014

On Twitter Outrages And Related Topics

Slate has a long list of useful articles to understand what an outrage means on Twitter and what ensues when an outrage has happened.  If you don't share that particular Twitter world, the articles may let you understand one negative side of social media.  It also has many positive sides*, but I'm the goddess of gloom, and if I'm tongue-tied (forked tongue-tied) on Twitter, it's because of the fear that 140 misunderstood characters will destroy my life forevermore.  Quoth the raven.

This links to something wider.   When I began blogging I looked at the keyboard like a child seeing a chocolate castle:  Mine!  All mine!  What fun we will have!

When I got comments the glee and joy trebled and quadrupled.  And then I learned about criticism and debate and not all of that was fun, but necessary, the way cod-liver oil is good for you (and bad for the cod), the way we all grow from criticism (except when we don't) and so on.

But after a while I realized that I don't write about certain topics anymore, because I don't want the aggro.  And that is bad.  Or at least some part of my conscience thinks it's bad.  When I've tried to write on, say, why people firmly enter two separate camps on topic X** and why the conversation never advances beyond the point where the ramparts are reinforced I get comments about the two camps (ours is the correct one!) and more strengthening of the ramparts. 

That makes certain types of posts pointless.  Well, not fun, in any case.

All that is an attempt to explain why writing suddenly seems harder for me than it used to be (I'd send off a long post in as many minutes as it took to type it in, without any editing!  Oh those salad days!), why I think much more about what will happen after I press the Publish-button and why many of my posts are frozen in drafts.

Some of that is great!  It's good to check one's work carefully and to think about what one may have omitted or misrepresented.  But it's not as much fun.
*It allows some members of previously marginalized groups access to the public space, it allows the creation of movements (such as on Ferguson), it allows rapid spread of eyewitness interpretations of events and it allows some amount of direct access to the powers-that-be which can be turned into influence.  It also creates news which may have been ignored by the mainstream media and disseminates important information more widely.  All that is good (though eyewitness reports may be false and the spread of false statistics is still the spread of misunderstood statistics).

**The X could stand for feminists-and-prostitution, feminism-and-transgender-movement, Israel-vs-Palestine, Islamophobia-vs-multiculturalism-gone-amok and so on.  Even something as technical as the individual responsibility part of the ACA is one of those X-topics.  What all those seem to share is the impossibility of getting anywhere but the two-sides-disagreeing setting, whatever the actual contents of the post.  And no, I'm not treating the two camps on a certain topic as equally justified, say. 



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Price Competition Doesn't Work in Most Health Care Markets

The New York Times has published a good article on the wildly varying prices for diagnostic procedures and the apparent stickiness of those prices at the upper tail of the distribution.  The quickest possible look tells us that the prices are not set based on some kind of marginal cost thinking, as simple market models assume.  For example:

With pricing uncoupled from the actual cost of business, large disparities have evolved. The five hospitals within a 15-mile radius of Mr. Charlap’s home here charge an average of about $5,200 for an echocardiogram, according to an analysis of Medicare’s database. The seven teaching hospitals in Boston, affiliated with Harvard, Tufts and Boston University, charge an average of about $1,300 for the same test. There are even wide variations within cities: In Philadelphia, prices range from $700 to $12,000.
You don't need to know anything more than that to know that the markets are not truly competitive, that consumers are uninformed about the prices (except after the fact when it's too late to shop around) and that the supply side has price-setting power.

In other words, competition doesn't lower prices*.  Rather the reverse, in fact:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Women in the US: Wikipedia, Montana Legislature And Skirt Lengths, And What Sony Pays to Its Female Stars.

Wikipedia, the wonderful experiment in anarchy, has a shadow side:

Wikipedia is a paradox and a miracle—a crowdsourced encyclopedia that has become the default destination for nonessential information. That it has survived almost 15 years and remained the top Google result for a vast number of searches is a testament to the impressive vision of founder Jimmy Wales and the devotion of its tens of thousands of volunteer editors. But beneath its reasonably serene surface, the website can be as ugly and bitter as 4chan and as mind-numbingly bureaucratic as a Kafka story. And it can be particularly unwelcoming to women.

Why unwelcoming to women?  Because of this:

Last week, Wikipedia’s highest court, the Arbitration Committee, composed of 12 elected volunteers who serve one- or two-year terms, handed down a decision in a controversial case having to do with the site’s self-formed Gender Gap Task Force, the goal of which is to increase female participation on Wikipedia from its current 10 percent to 25 percent by the end of next year. The dispute, which involved ongoing hostility from a handful of prickly longtime editors, had simmered for at least 18 months. In the end, the only woman in the argument, pro-GGTF libertarian feminist Carol Moore, was indefinitely banned from all of Wikipedia over her uncivil comments toward a group of male editors, whom she at one point dubbed “the Manchester Gangbangers and their cronies/minions.” Two of her chief antagonists in that group got comparative slaps on the wrist. One was the productive but notoriously hostile Eric “Fuck Wikipedia” Corbett, who has a milelong track record of incivility, had declared the task force a feminist “crusade ... to alienate every male editor,” and called Moore “nothing but a pain in the arse,” among less printable comments; he was handed a seemingly redundant “prohibition” on abusive language. The other editor was Sitush, who repeatedly criticized Moore for being “obsessed with an anti-male agenda” and then decided to research and write a Wikipedia biography of her; he walked away with a mere “warning.”

My guess is that a certain number of the volunteer editors (such as the man who called the founder of Wikipedia a "dishonest cunt")  don't exactly yearn for a larger input for women (aka cunt-carriers?).  The impression I get agrees with what the author of the article states:  The group with the greatest staying power wins, never mind the facts in the story.  Or in other words, if you offer anarchy it doesn't mean that power hierarchies are not created.  They just become impermeable to the influence of the rest of the group.

And if women face extra aggression in the editors' meeting places, it's unlikely that their numbers will rise very fast.  This extra aggression could be both because of misogyny of some milder type and because outsiders shouldn't break into the fortress.

In Montana, the members of the legislature are provided with a dress code.  The code differs for men and women.  It requires female legislators to be sensitive to "skirt lengths and necklines."  Male legislators are not asked to be sensitive to, say, the tightness of their pants in the groin area or how many buttons they have undone.  This is an unimportant matter, in the wider frame of things.  But as one Montana legislator states:

Ms. Eck said she was leaving a health care forum in Helena, the capital, on Monday when one of her Republican colleagues peered at her and told her that he was glad to see she was dressed appropriately.
“It just creates this ability to scrutinize women,” Ms. Eck said. “It makes it acceptable for someone who’s supposed to be my peer and my equal to look me up and down and comment on what I’m wearing. That doesn’t feel right.”
And there's a more traditional gender-political division here, too:

Eck said, "(The dress code) is signed by House leadership, but the Minority House leadership wasn't consulted and I do have an issue with that because the majority of our caucus is women and the majority of our leadership is women."
Speaker Knudsen said the matter's been blown out of proportion, and that no one is going to be measuring skirt lengths.

The Sony hack seems to reveal that the Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars on American Hustle  and that 

The news is even more troubling when you take into consideration that the hack also revealed a staggering gender pay gap among Sony staffers. According to a spreadsheet listing the salaries of 6,000 employees, 17 of those employees were raking in $1 million or more, but only one of those $1 million-plus employees is a woman. Also, analyzing the pay of the two co-presidents of production at Columbia Pictures—who have the same job—pointed to another gender-pay disparity, with Michael De Luca ($2.4 million) making almost $1 million more than Hannah Minghella ($1.5 million).
These data are raw and unadjusted to anything that might be relevant in how someone is reimbursed.  Still, raw data like that suggests that more detailed study of the payment policies of Sony would be pretty interesting.

As I've written before, the secrecy about salaries and wages in the US serves only the employers who wish to pay people the smallest amount they can get away with.  And if the markets, overall, offer women lower alternative salaries, well, Sony can pay women less, too!  Save money, right?