2014-02-28

Indian communication

It's not uncommon to be offended if one suggests that a group of people who share a superficial trait have other traits in common. Nevertheless, correlations exist.

I'm noticing some consistent features in my interactions with people from India over the years. These features affect me in varying ways, from annoying to funny:
  • Use of revert instead of "reply". They often ask to "revert as soon as possible".
  • Use of the needful instead of "what's necessary" (or not saying anything at all). One common phrase is "please do the needful".
  • When they're expecting something from you - such as a service - they tend to communicate in a tone that is entitled, talks down to you, and is disrespectful.
  • When communicating about anything by email, there seems to be a trend to include at least 10 people on an exchange that is completely trivial. None of these other people ever participate in the communication. Still, the person you are talking to CCs seemingly everyone on their team. Is it to show that work is being done? Or is the intent to pressure you with all these other people present in the conversation?
June 26, 2015: I found this humorous CNN article about "10 classic Indianisms". :)

2014-02-23

Autism

I take back everything I ever said about people with autism, or how we should treat them.

I'll explain... when I understand better. For now, I just take it back. And I'm sorry.

(To those who might worry this post could be related to something new about Aaron - don't worry. I hope I don't jinx it somehow, but this isn't about him.)

2014-02-22

Why teachers should be paid more

Currently, in the US, but also many other countries, teachers are paid 30% - 50% less than people in engineering professions. I argue that, as a consequence of this, teachers are mostly mediocre people who are not very good at the job; and those who are good at it, tend to be self-sacrificial. Then there are people who argue that this is fine, that teaching is a reward in and of itself. They argue that teachers ought to be motivated by aspects of the job other than money.

For many people, including myself, money is not just about money, it's about status. Most people care about status. I don't necessarily care about being able to buy things I don't need, but I care about being perceived at approximately the rung of the totem pole where I see myself belonging. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to feel like I'm being valued less than I think I should be valued on a chronic basis. I believe that's true for most people.

Now, there are some people who are able to maintain a perception of being valued even if they aren't being paid much. I am not. I need society to show it values me through a real and meaningful gesture (e.g. granting me access to resources), not merely by paying lip service, and then denying me resources. That's why, in the current atmosphere, I can't be a teacher, even though I'd otherwise like to teach.

One might think that people who need to be paid well in order to perceive that they're being valued might be people we don't need teaching children. One would be wrong. I want people like me teaching my kids. I do not want only self-sacrificing people teaching my kids, because I don't want my children to be exposed to only those values.

Given what we're paying teachers, the only kind of decent teacher we can have is the self-sacrificing kind. I find this gives children a lopsided idea of the value spectrum actually available to them, and gives them no exposure to strong, capable and virtuous people who aren't self-sacrificial. I find that limiting and harmful. At the very least, it means a large proportion of children who aren't that way are growing up without teachers they can relate to.

2014-02-17

Aaron's family #4

My dad has been reminding me that there haven't been new photos since last year, so... here they are. :-)

Sorted newest first, mostly:
























2014-02-15

Internet trolls are psychopathic and sadistic

I've been convinced this is true for a while. It's nice to finally see research that adds credibility to it. The research is weak, because it uses self-reported information, but the results are still interesting:

Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People

Narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic.

[...]

The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. [...]

2014-02-12

The "economic activity" fallacy, and the effect of unspent money

I've been having an argument on Reddit - where else - with someone who thinks it's necessary to progressively tax people's income, rather than spending. I argued that money that never gets spent on consumption doesn't compete for consumer goods, so you're really not redistributing as much as you think by taxing income. I pointed out that to achieve real redirection of resources from profligate to worthwhile, you need a progressive tax on spending. (Possibly a much larger tax than you could afford to put on income, and possibly much easier to collect.)

Then, this person goes and writes the following gem:

Building yachts for the wealthy isn't the problem. That actually increases wealth and gives people jobs. The problem is more the vast wealth parked in non-productive derivatives and stocks

This is so dumb that it stopped me right in my tracks. I just can't not stop here, and expound about how dumb this is.

Money is a proxy for human time. When you have $100 million being spent - not stored in a vault somewhere, but spent, meaning, used to recruit human effort - on a boat that's meant for the enjoyment of a single person, that's the most mind-boggling waste I can imagine. All of that time spent on that boat is wasted time, from everyone else's perspective, except the person who enjoys the boat. (Then the person doesn't enjoy the boat, and just keeps it parked somewhere, racking up further expenses.)

Sure, the people who worked on that boat got paid, which helped them feed their families. But if they didn't work on the boat, their work time would be available for something else. Imagine, just imagine, how many people would benefit from the amount of human work that $100 million buys.

I argue that, if the economy ran on gold, this person would be complaining that the entire economic problem is that the gold is parked in warehouse X, instead of in warehouse Y. Or they would think that, because it's parked in a warehouse, instead of many people's pockets, it somehow affects how resources are distributed. Resources don't get distributed due to money parked, they get distributed due to money changing hands. Money that doesn't change hands simply doesn't affect anything; the economy adjusts to the portion that's actually being spent.

If some guy right now had $1 trillion dollars in cash, that wouldn't affect the economy or resource distribution at all, if he didn't try to spend them. Only if he did try to spend them, it would affect the economy because then this money would be competing with everyone else's. He could buy up all the food and gasoline and burn it, so there's nothing left for anyone else, and my Reddit friend would argue that this is valuable economic activity, because people got paid. Meanwhile, prices of food are up 10x and everyone's starving.

What matters is what people spend their time on. Polishing mirrors, dusting, and tending the gardens of someone's 11th villa, that no one will even step foot in, is a waste of time if there ever was any. And this person would want this waste to happen, because it's "economic activity". Ridiculous.

Yachts don't become magically worthwhile just because it takes a lot of people to make them. It's the difference between a thousand slaves being employed to make the pyramids for the glory of the pharaoh, or a thousand people working on providing services to each other. Both are economic activity, but one is not equal to the other. An economy which employs most people in yacht building is closer to the pyramid scenario.