Something not quite right here

So Mattel is trying really hard to show us that Barbie is still relevant. I suppose they think cultural diversity is part of that plan. How many things can you find wrong with this picture?

Offhand, I see a black girl with ridiculously straightened hair, and an Asian girl with a T-shirt that looks like they ran an internal contest for “best stereotype.”

When somebody who thinks cultural appropriation is a woman shaming scam notices this stuff, you can be sure the target audience ain’t buyin’ it either.

The Childcare Problem.


Click image to read more from the original article
Click image to read more from the original article

Lately, politicians have been making a bunch of noise about affordable childcare. Here’s the part of the problem they are focusing on: “The average cost of full-time daycare for kids up to the age of 4 has reached $9,589 a year.” Just for reference, with the minimum wage at $7.50, a minimum wager lucky enough to actually get 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year makes $15,600 — and that almost never actually happens. Median income in the United States (remember, half of us earn more and half earn less) is

Median income in the United States (remember, half of us earn more and half earn less) is $53,657. That means that many families are spending a fifth of their monthly income or more on childcare. Even for somebody fortunate enough to make $100,000 is paying a tithe for an average daycare bill. Even though the problem is hitting low-income families hardest, the families of roughly 32,700,000 families feel this burn.

The other side of the problem is that child care workers are poorly paid: “These workers earned an average hourly wage of $9.40. This hourly pay rate translates to an average annual wage of $19,560. The median hourly pay rate was $8.94, which means that half of childcare workers in the daycare industry made more than $8.94 and half earned less.” This leads to high turnover, which isn’t good for the kids.

So let me summarize both halves of the coin: childcare workers are paid a pittance, yet child care is too expensive for workers who need it. That’s a big problem. It can’t be solved by paying childcare workers $15 an hour and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour: that still leaves workers paying too much of their salary for childcare (X still equals X)! It can’t be solved (completely) by office daycare centers: over 80% of us work for small employers where that’s just not possible. It is neither practical nor desirable to assume that there will be willing and able relatives to take care of our children.

How do we solve this problem? I don’t know. The one thing I do know is that market forces are not sufficient to make it happen.

Babushka: the Tar Pit of Cultural Appropriation


Follow the link to learn more about her culture. Seriously.

Some weeks back, I read this item on cultural appropriation. And I’ve been bothered by it ever since. I looked into the issue further. To briefly summarize, it’s cool for a woman from anywhere in the world to wear jeans and T-shirts, but I am not allowed to experiment with world fashion. If I am in a Kimono or a Cheongsam, it had better damn well be Halloween. Headgear? Sure, I can wear certain hats, but beyond that lies dangerous territory.

Men seem to be largely exempt from these rules. Utilikilts are acceptable in many places. L.L. Bean has been selling plaid shirts in traditional clan patterns for decades without checking the heritage of the purchaser. Nobody seems to be alarmed at western men with their hair done in a topknot, despite not being samurai.

Some people even want to be in an uproar about sushi being served in a university cafeteria. One must wonder if these people are similarly concerned over spaghetti or tacos.

And this brings me to an important question. Many of my forebears hail from Russia — somewhere near Anatevka, perhaps. I have forebears from other areas of Eastern Europe as well. So, am I Russian enough to wear a scarf in the Babushka style? Or am I about to be flamed for taking this picture in the privacy of my home?



On the Value of Hard Work

Yesterday, I encountered this image:



So, recently I earned a Bachelors of Science in Nursing. I didn’t have any scholarships this time. I took out student loans which I plan to pay off as quickly as possible. I wasn’t living with my parents, who have regrettably both passed. I worked my butt off for this degree. I put in long hours studying. I earned it fair and square.

Moreover, I got up off my butt and attended a job fair right before classes ended. I made the effort to dress for a potential job interview, took copies of my resume, and came home with a job offer. That’s right, my job was lined up before I even finished. Hard work paid off, right? Of course it did.

And while this is all true, it ignores certain things that are luck. I had the good luck to notice an ad on Facebook for that job fair, and more good luck that my employer was considering new grads that day. I am lucky enough to live in a city that has multiple accredited nursing programs. Through a combination of luck and work, I actually was accepted into two different programs. If I lived in a small town, I might have had to relocate to get into a nursing school. If I lived in California, I might have had more competition for a seat, and may have had to get on a long waiting list.

Those problems are relatively easy to overcome, sure. Just a little extra hard work, a little extra money, maybe a little extra time.

I am further lucky that I read and write well in English. Sure, learned skills. It turns out that I was lucky enough to be born into a middle class household in a middle class suburb that had good enough schools. My road to this place would have been more difficult had I been born into poverty, living in an inner-city neighborhood with a crappy school system. A matter of a few dollars and a few miles changed the potential course of my life.

And frankly, I was lucky enough to be born in the United States. There would be no road to where I am had I been born, for example, in Afghanistan. My educational and career opportunities in such a place would have been sharply limited.

Sociologists have a term for these little turns of luck: “life chances.” While hard work is very important, sometimes it is overwhelmed by circumstances.

Or, to put things very simply, there’s a very famous little girl named North West. It is very unlikely she will ever want for money. Hard work, or lucky enough to be born to the right family?

In Closing: Happy Thoughts of Peace for Munich; Glenn Greenwald; the TSA could use some house cleaning; yes, obesity is bad; drug tests; how sad that we need a law to enforce common sense; teen abortion; cop killers (thanks, Mikey!); unpaid internships are a bigger scam than I thought; time to rethink the War on Terror; pet adoption; senseless violence. Have a peaceful weekend, folks. It’s crazy out there.

I believe

I believe that both political parties have lost their minds. They’re both so far out of touch with what their voters want and need that they may as well run the country from Mars.

I believe that the no-fly list as it exists today — with many ways on, no clear way to get off if there’s an error and no accountability — is a dumb idea exceeded only by PreCheck. PreCheck is proof that the whole process is Security Theatre, and that some people are willing to pay for convenience. It assumes that nobody ever hides radical tendencies, nobody ever becomes a Bad Guy, nobody ever goes crazy, and certainly nobody ever has their identity stolen. Oh yeah, and the current long airport security lines? They may well be designed to manipulate you into paying.

I believe that making the no-fly list into a no-gun list is also stupid. Funny how nobody suggested the idea until we had some Muslim mass shooters. The problem is that none of them were actually on the list. In fact, this last asshat was actually removed from the watchlist. Twice. Yet now sensible ideas such as universal background checks are being conflated with this bad idea.

I believe that the Second Amendment — along with the rest of the Bill of Rights — was written by men who overthrew the legal government.

I believe that, since it costs 18 times as much as life in prison (not just a little bit more, but 18 times more!) and there’s the possibility of making a mistake, there is no reason to support the death penalty. Conservatives should oppose it on fiscal grounds. Liberals should oppose it on fairness grounds. The end.

I believe that Obamacare is neither as good nor as bad as everybody says. I further believe it could be greatly improved by allowing people to buy in to Medicare: a public option that means I don’t have to enrich for-profit insurance companies to follow the law.

I believe that a social safety net is a good thing. Don’t believe it? You don’t even need to read Les Miserables to understand how that works, you can now watch it.

I believe immigration is hopelessly messed up in this nation. That is partly due to quotas, which are both artificially low and outright discriminatory against people who are not white and English speaking. Illegals need to “go to the back of the line“? That line is something like 17 years long. Talk about a sick joke.

I believe that America’s largest employers, including and especially the military, deserve to know that any high school graduate from any school in the United States has certain skills in reading, writing, and math. However, I believe that Common Core is not that standard.

I believe in school choice. I also believe that taxpayers should not pay for your choice if it is not a public school. And as many rules as get forced down as a condition of receiving funds? Parents should not want money that could have strings attached later.

I believe it’s entirely possible that I’ve become so liberal that I’ve come around the other side of the spectrum and somehow become conservative. In fact, I actually agreed with Glenn Reynolds about something. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

The Little Search Engine that Thought it was Smarter than Me

I’ve been using search engines and Boolean search terms since literally before there was a Google.  Back in the old days, you actually had to use some care and know some things about your topic before you started. Some of those search engines were sufficiently dim that — no joke — a search for “ants” might turn up restaurANTS and consultANTS. This actually happened to a lady I know.

Search engines got better and more numerous in the late 90s and early 2000s. Each had its own strength and weaknesses. On the Macintosh, there was actually a tool that let you use one search query on multiple search engines. This was a boon to me, since I was working as a researcher at the time. I could get Yahoo and Lycos and Ask Jeeves and all those other search engines to dance together and spit out what my bosses wanted to know in far less time than most people — partly because I knew what to ask.

Then this wonderful new search engine called Google came to my attention. It blew all the competition out of the water. Google was so good at what it did that “to Google” replaced “to do a web search” in our collective vocabularies. Over the years, Google got mostly better at finding what most people want to know. You could start asking it questions: what is the Capital of France; where can I get Thai food in Seattle; what is the airspeed of an unladen swallow? By the way, Google autocompletes that last one by the time you get 2 letters in to “airspeed.”

And here’s where it started getting dumber. It sounds like a brilliant idea to tailor your searches towards your history, right? If you are constantly looking up medical articles, you are likely to want more. Ok, but what if you were looking up anti-vaccine arguments for a school project? Google will happily help you make a tin-foil hat. Look up arguments against Hillary Clinton? Be prepared for biased articles every time you want to know about politics. There is a way to turn this feature off, and I recommend it. I have no idea how many arguments on the internet center on “Look, every time I search Google on this issue, X comes up.” Yeah, because Google decided that’s what you want to hear!

This ability of Google to find what it thinks you want instead of what you actually asked comes up in odd places. This brings me to this morning’s adventure. I am doing research on a specific zip code for a project:

  • How many parks are there in my target zip code, Google? Well, here’s a park in the next zip code over — because surely you actually want information on nearby parks, right?
  • What grocery stores are there in that zip code, Google? Well, there’s these 3, but wouldn’t you rather shop at the better-rated store across the street in the next zip code? And hey, will a convenience store do? And what about the places that you usually shop at a mile farther down the road? They’re open and traffic is clear!

In the old days, a search engine would have been literalist. Yes, the convenience stores would have turned up as grocery stores because most of them carry certain basic grocery products. But if that address didn’t have the right zip code at the end, it would not have turned up. I concede that most of the time “near” is a better answer. However, sometimes precision matters.


Save a Life or Two


One donation of whole blood gets processed into both packed red blood cells (RBCs) and plasma, often also other important blood products as well. An hour of your time may mean a lifetime to somebody else.

In Closing: sex sells, but more slowly; construction revolution; the freaking TPP has been signed but not ratified (still time to call your Congressmice); Sesame Ventures?; Bleeping New Yorkers freaking out over the bleeping crane falling into the bleeping street; Hillary wants to help; Kitty!

10 Observations on the New Star Wars Movie, No Spoilers

Image from IMDB, so please visit them. Yes, I actually paid money to see it. In 3D no less. So in no particular order, my observations:

  1. Dear Directors of 3D Films and Trailers: If you could please stop making it appear that things are aimed right at my head, I’d appreciate it! — Thanks!
  2. It turns out that nurses “long ago in a galaxy far away” use pretty much the same therapeutic communication that nurses use here on this planet.
  3. There is nothing in The Force Awakens that suggests the Zahn Trilogy didn’t happen. However, the Extended Universe might no longer be canon.
  4. There are details of the soundtrack that I am distinctly unhappy about. Williams uses a 19th century technique that pairs characters and/or events with thematic material. I was ok with “Luke’s Theme” becoming “the Skywalker Theme,” but now it’s just the “Rebels doing cool stuff theme.” Best moments of the soundtrack were the strategic usage of “Leia’s Theme” and “Kenobi’s Theme” (also known as the “crazy old powerful Jedi wizard theme”).
  5. All those things you suspect? Yeah, probably true.
  6. I would love to be wrong about this one, but it sure looked to me like the right corner of Harrison Ford’s mouth droops a little bit.
  7. J.J. Abrams knows how to play up a scene for maximum suspense, before doing the obvious thing.
  8. Of course there’s a trash compactor!
  9. Droids are good at comic relief. And it’s amazing how small an astromech can be these days!
  10. Nice set up for the sequel. Hope they don’t screw it up.

In Closing: TPP is still not good; Department of Homeland Stasiliars; obvious; sandwiches. I hope to put together something soon about the current proposal to make the No-Fly List into a No-Gun-Buy List — a proposal that only got traction after a mass shooting happened to be perpetrated by a Muslim instead of an angry and/or crazy white man.