Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The bully tends to win …

a blog post from Dave Snowden

I would not normally bring this to you but it struck a chord with me.

Dave starts out by talking of childhood experiences but then branches out into the meat of his post – the bullying that goes on in employment.

A lot of the standard childhood books of my generation dealt with the subject of bullying. I was allowed Jennings and Derbyshire but forbidden Billy Bunter as my mother shared Orwell’s derision of Frank Richard’s writing. During that period the BBC produced a series based on Tom Brown’s School Days where the character of Flashman is in many ways the archetypal bully. That was considered as suitable viewing so we watched that and revealed in the final victory of our hero and the humiliation of the bully. As an aside, in respect of maternal censorhip James Bond and Biggles were absolutely forbidden and had to be covertly smuggled in from the Library or read on visits to cousins subject to less maternal constraint. For those unfamiliar with the genre, Harry Potter draws heavily on the tradition of English School novels, Hogwarts having many features in common with Linbury Court.

In all of these the bully is ultimately shown up as a coward by our plucky hero.

Would that were the case in real life. I still remember issues in both primary and secondary school with members of the North family, the caning of one just making things worse. Bullying remains an issue in schools and one that is intractable in nature but what is really scary is that it carries on in adult life.

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Workplace context and its effect on individual competencies and performance in work teams

an article by Mikhail Rozhkov, Benny C.F. Cheung and Eric Tsui (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon) published in International Journal of Business Performance Management Volume 18 Number 1 2017


The purpose of this study was to understand the effect of workplace context on competencies and performance in work (project) teams. This study was conducted at seven technology-based companies in Hong Kong and China.

The results of the study provide companies with important knowledge on how to encourage the right competencies to achieve high performance in a workplace.

This paper attempts to propose a holistic approach on improving individual and team performance in companies. The empirical evidence obtained confirms the importance of the contextual factors as predictors of individual competencies and performance level of team members.

Specifically, the study conducted for industry integrated the concepts of organisational culture, team climate and managing skills into one model that allowed the prediction of the level of competencies and the performance of team members in work teams.

Field-of-study mismatch and overqualification: labour market correlates and their wage penalty

an article by Guillermo Montt (International Labour Office, Genève, Switzerland) IZA Journal of Labor Economics Volume 6 Article 2 (2017)


Field-of-study mismatch occurs when a worker, trained in a particular field, works in another field. This study draws on the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to explore how skill supply and labour market demand dynamics influence mismatch. It updates cross-national estimates on mismatch and estimates the mismatch wage penalty.

Findings suggest that around 40% of workers are mismatched by field at their qualification level, 11% overqualified in their field and 13% overqualified and working outside their field. The saturation of the field in the labour market and the transferability of the fields’ skills predict the incidence of field-of-study mismatch and over-qualification.

Workers who are mismatched by field only suffer a wage penalty if they are overqualified.

JEL Classification: J24, J31

Full text (PDF)

Monday, 27 February 2017

Going the Extra Mile? How Street-level Bureaucrats Deal with the Integration of Immigrants

an article by Warda Belabas (Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands) and Lasse Gerrits (Otto Friedrich University, Bamberg, Germany)published in Social Policy & Administration Volume 51 Number 1 (January 2017)


Dutch immigration and integration policies are being interpreted and implemented by local street-level bureaucrats.

We carried out 28 semi-structured interviews with integration coaches, integration teachers and client managers in order to understand the dilemmas they face, and to explain their subsequent behaviour.

The results show that although organizational characteristics such as the bureaucratic burden made street-level bureaucrats reluctant to enlarge their discretionary space at the expense of policy rules, their willingness to help clients often transcends these boundaries under a combination of three conditions: high client motivation, extreme personal distress of the client, and negative assessment of existing policies and policy instruments (both in terms of fairness and practicality).

Furthermore, street-level bureaucrats were found to be constantly reinterpreting and revising their roles.

Full text (PDF)

Migrant protest in times of crisis: politics, ethics and the sacred from below

an article by Özgün E. Topak (York University, Toronto, Canada) published in Citizenship Studies Volume 21 Issue 1 (January 2017)


This paper focuses on the 300 Migrant Hunger Strikers event in Greece to explore the material conditions of possibility for migrant politics in times of crisis. It identifies three elements that played determinant roles in the articulation of the event: the politics of equality enacted by migrants, the ethics of hospitality and witnessing enacted by the Greek activists and host populations and the sacredness of the event.

Critically engaging with the theories of Rancière, Derrida, Agamben and Durkheim, this paper demonstrates how these elements encountered and how their encounter helped migrants to achieve rights, albeit limited and temporary.

Moving beyond the particularity of the event, this paper also highlights the event’s importance for migrant politics in times of austerity, and increased surveillance and racism against migrants. Despite its limited and temporary success, the event demonstrates how a politics of equality, ethical openness and respect for human life can form the basis of true cosmopolitan universality.

The event also demonstrates how cosmopolitan universality is constructed from below by the migrants, who despite their undocumented status, engaged in an act of citizenship to demand equality.

The crowding out effect from the European debt crisis perspective: Eurozone experience

an article by Baki Demirel and İlhan Eroğlu (Gaziosmanpasa University, Tokat, Turkey) and Cumhur Erdem (Abant İzzet Baysal University, Bolu, Turkey) published in International Journal of Sustainable Economy Volume 9 Number 1 (2017)


The present study aims to measure the crowding out effect for the countries in the Eurozone that have tried to finance budget deficits through borrowing. We have examined the effects of government debt, government expenditure, interest rate and growth rate on private investments for the 2000-2015 period.

The results show that government debt, government expenditure, interest rates and budget deficits all affect private investment negatively and the impact of economic growth is positive.

The findings of the study support the existence of the crowding out effect in the Eurozone for the period of 2000-2015.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

And for Sunday's reading pleasure ... Shakespeare, Spinoza and infinity are included

A surprising new proof is helping to connect the mathematics of infinity to the physical world
via 3 Quarks Daily: Natalie Wolchover in Quanta
[No Caption]
With a surprising new proof, two young mathematicians have found a bridge across the finite-infinite divide, helping at the same time to map this strange boundary.
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Software Heritage: Creating a safe haven for software
via Boing Boing: Paul Brown, Free Software Foundation Europe
Software Heritage is an initiative that has made preserving software its main mission. Why is this important? Consider, if you will, the case of Gary Kildall's video game...
Legend has it that Gary Kildall, forefather of the modern personal operating system, created the first video game ever to run on the first microprocessor, the 4004, manufactured by a then fledgling company called Intel. He ran his game off a computer he had built around the chip mounted into a briefcase. Kildall would lug his case-computer to meetings (along with a 30-kilo teletype), run the game, and demo the hardware's features to prospective clients.
This happened back in the early seventies, still living memory for many of us. The chip has been preserved for posterity as the iconic device it is. But what happened to Kildall's game? Kildall himself died in 1994 and the game, along with much of his early code, has since been lost. We don't even know what the game-play was like.
What could we have learnt from the work of one of the most brilliant minds of contemporary computer history? What other valuable code has disappeared, carelessly overwritten, summarily erased, or fading away as the magnetic layer on an old floppy disk gradually degrades into dust?
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Old Possum's Nest
A second look at the poetry of T. S. Eliot
via Arts & Letter Daily: Marjorie Perloff in The Weekly Standard
This long-awaited critical edition of T. S. Eliot’s poems is a scholarly milestone, a watershed in publishing history. The elaborate notes Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue have provided for each line – indeed, each word – of each and every Eliot poem are so informative and the overviews for each stage of Eliot’s career contain so much of the poet's own germane commentary that one can now trace Eliot’s poetic development using no further aids than these two volumes.
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When Islamic atheism thrived
via 3 Quarks Daily: Amira Nowaira in The Guardian
It’s astonishing to read about the freedom of expression afforded to Muslims in the 10th century, in contrast to our own times.
Freethinking is perhaps not one of the strongest suits of modern Islam. For one thing, the list of books that have been banned for challenging prevalent religious orthodoxies and sensibilities during the past hundred years is disconcertingly long.
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A brief history of crystallography
via OUP Blog by A.M. Glazer
Crystals feature
Walking home from school at about the age of seven or eight I picked up a pebble and dashed it to the ground. It split into two and I saw that inside was a series of coloured bands. Thus begun my lifelong fascination with the world of crystals, and this led eventually to having the opportunity to work professionally in this field. Many years ago I used to have my occupation ‘crystallographer’ on my passport: this often meant a long and sometimes tedious discussion with airport immigration officials. Eventually I changed it to ‘physicist’ as then I didn’t have to explain myself.
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Post-war playtime: Mettoy and Corgi Toys
via The National Archives Blog by David Gill
While many of us are no doubt aware of the successes of the British motoring industry in the 20th century, it’s easy to forget that at one point the UK was home to the major manufacturers of miniature toy cars as well.
The names of some of these – such as Spot On and Budgie – are all but forgotten now, but in the 1960s the big three of Matchbox by Lesney, Dinky by Mecanno and Corgi by Mettoy were the world leaders in their field. Of these three, Mettoy and their Corgi range were perhaps the company with the most interesting history, which itself we find recorded in several documents at The National Archives.
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Life May Have Come from Hellish Solar Flares Raining Down on Earth
via Big Think by Robby Berman
Article Image
We know the necessary building blocks were all here, but the question of what made life actually happen on earth is one of the most compelling scientific questions there are. Was it a quick freak event in some muck somewhere? Ancient astronauts? God? A NASA scientist now says it may have been an extended barrage of intense solar flares that triggered a planet-warming – and life-supporting – greenhouse effect.
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To imagine the ocean of the future: picture a writhing mass of unkillable tentacles, forever
via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow
In Global proliferation of cephalopods a paper in Current Biology, an esteemed group of marine biologists reports that the population of octopuses (and other cephalopods) is booming thanks to its ability to adapt quickly to ocean acidification and temperature change, which is killing off other types of marine life at alarming rates.
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Watch this terrific Rube Goldberg magnet-and-marble tabletop demo
via Boing Boing by David Pescovitz
Kaplamino made this delightful Rube Goldberg-esque demo using magnets and steel balls.
See it here
Warning: it is addictive watching those little balls moving around.

William Shakespeare: The Bard’s most powerful words of wisdom
via 3 Quarks Daily: Jess Denham in The Independent
William Shakespeare at work in his study circa 1610 (original artist A H Payne) Getty Images
The Bard ran the gamut of human experience in his comedies, tragedies and sonnets, musing on life’s joys and sorrows and masterfully crafting words into timeless morsels of wisdom. From laying bare the futility of our existence in Macbeth (“a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”) and preaching the importance of integrity in Hamlet (“this above all; to thine own self be true”) to warning of speaking without thought in King Lear (“mind your speech a little lest you should mar your fortunes”) and urging us to take control of our dreams in Julius Caesar (“it is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”, Shakespeare’s grasp on the English language is arguably still peerless. Romantics and realists alike turn to his words on love for guidance through a realm of that baffles us all; parents drawn upon his cautions when bringing up their children; those in need of a moral compass find one in the pages of his plays; and “neither a borrower nor a lender be” remains the best excuse when your friend requests a bailout.
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Sykes-Picot: the treaty that carved up the Middle East
via OUP Blog by Umut Özsu
The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement has long been regarded as a watershed – a pivotal episode in the history of the Middle East with far-reaching implications for international law and politics. A product of intense diplomacy between Britain and France at the height of the First World War, this secret agreement was intended to pave the way for the final dissolution of Ottoman power in the region.
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It’s Not Just Us Humans Going, &lsquoOm Nom Nom’ At Dinner Time. Other Primates Do, Too
via Big Think by Brandon Weber
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Scientists have previously found that other primate species express vocalizations when eating – bonobos and chimpanzees – but now they’ve recorded the sounds of gorillas doing the same. In the other species, those sounds changed based on what was being eaten, how much, and who could hear them. Also, in bonobos and chimpanzees, everybody joins in on the mealtime songs, but gorillas have a different social structure and therefore, a different set of needs around meals and such.
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Why Spinoza still matters
via 3 Quarks Daily: Steven Nadler in Aeon
In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. The leaders of the community, having consulted with the rabbis and using Spinoza’s Hebrew name, proclaim that they hereby ‘expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza’. He is to be ‘cast out from all the tribes of Israel’ and his name is to be ‘blotted out from under heaven’.
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