Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Higher inequality in the UK linked to higher poverty]

via the STICERD blog from the London School of Economics and Political Science

Double Trouble report by Abigail McKnight, Magali Duque and Mark Rucci, commissioned by Oxfam

Both inequality and poverty are now on the rise again and predicted to increase further in the next 5 to 15 years, but it has never been established if the two are directly linked. Researchers Abigail McKnight, Magali Duque and Mark Rucci explored the different types of inequality including income inequality and concentration of wealth, over the period 1961 to 2016.

The report, Double Trouble, which was commissioned by Oxfam, shows that a positive correlation between income inequality and income poverty in the UK can be clearly established. Statistical analysis found that, on average, during the last 50 years a one point increase in income inequality - as measured using the Gini coefficient – was associated with an increase in relative poverty of 0.6 percentage points.

The report also examines the consequences of inequality, and in particular points to evidence that it leads to lower overall economic growth as well as negative consequences for some individuals and their families, and wider society. Higher levels of inequality are shown to sustain higher levels of poverty through a variety of mechanisms. One of these is the growing polarisation between ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’. This affects people’s perception of inequality, results in a lack of understanding about what it is like to live on a low income, and this lack of empathy has important implications for support for public policy designed to reduce inequality and tackle poverty.

English Report (PDF 104pp)

English Summary (PDF 8pp)

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10 for today from Paris - the city of literature through various twists and turns to end up with a game theory simulator

The City of Literature: 40 Books Set in Paris
via AbeBooks.co.uk by Jessica Doyle

Hemingway wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
It’s a book lover’s dream to wander the very streets that inspired Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and so many others. You might step into the Salon at 27 rue de Fleurus where Gertrude Stein mentored Ernest Hemingway, or have a drink at the café littéraires Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, the long-ago haunts of James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and their fellow The Lost Generation writers.
The love affair between Paris and writers has been a long and passionate one, whether authors are writing from Paris or about it. For centuries, the city has been host to an array of love stories, murder mysteries and dramas, from timeless tales like Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to ground-breaking modern literature like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.
The astounding effect of Paris on writers is demonstrated in the countless memoirs they have penned about their days, years and lives spent in the city. The effect is so strong it’s even inspired chefs and bakers to put down their whisks and pick up their pens, giving food memoirs a genre all of their own.
What is it about Paris that’s so attractive to the creatively-inclined? Perhaps the city’s own history is the most interesting story of them all. Take a literary tour with our selection of novels set in Paris, memoirs about life in Paris and Paris history books.
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Inevitably Posthuman? Predicting ourselves out of the future
via Arts & Letters Daily: Lawrence Klepp in The Weekly Standard

Art credit: Jason Seiler
There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of futurology, the utopian and the apocalyptic. In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari, like the Book of Revelation, offers a bit of both. And why not? The function of imaginary futures is to deliver us from banality. The present, like the past, may be a disappointing muddle, but the future had better be very good or very bad, or it won’t sell.
Harari, an Oxford-educated Israeli historian who teaches in Jerusalem, is the author of Sapiens (2015), a provocative, panoramic view of human evolution and history upward from apedom. It became an international bestseller, recommended by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama. Harari’s style is breezy and accessible, sprinkled with allusions to pop culture and everyday life, but his perspective is coolly detached and almost Machiavellian in its unflinching realism about power, the role of elites, and the absence of justice in history. He is an unapologetic oracle of Darwin and data. And he is clearly a religious skeptic, but he practices a form of Buddhist meditation, and among the best things in his new book, like his previous one, are his observations on the varieties of religious experience.
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Folk horror, a history: from The Wicker Man to The League of Gentlemen
via the News Statesman by Ben Myers
Author Adam Scovell’s tone is perfectly pitched between articulate academic and box-set binger.
In 1801, the proportion of the population of England and Wales living in towns and cities was just 17 per cent, but by the close of that century, as landowners were displaced and industry boomed, it had jumped to 72 per cent. The most recent UK census showed that 81.5 per cent of the population of England and Wales now live in urban areas, with less than 10 per cent residing in what would qualify as villages or hamlets.
This mass movement from agricultural to post-industrial life has detached us from the land that fed and clothed us for thousands of years, with the countryside becoming increasingly alien territory, avoided or misunderstood by those who have little contact with mud, dead animals, or the stench of excrement. Such urbanites have scant knowledge of farming or food production and patronise ancient local traditions. They are unnerved by the space, the silence. They fear their countryside, their own past.
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What Made Dogs Our Close Companions? New Study Finds It Was a Genetic Mutation
via Big Think by Philip Perry
Article Image
Whenever I go over my sister’s house, her beagle Taylor runs and jumps all over me. The dog then races around the room, barking and howling. If I sit on the couch she leaps onto my lap and licks my face (I’d better cover my groin, I’ve learned. One misstep can be painful). It doesn’t matter if my last visit was just yesterday or last year. This is how she is: a non-stop lovefest.
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This Burning Man documentary traces its history from a bohemian gathering to a global movement
via Boing Boing by Rusty Blazenhoff

This 20-minute documentary is definitely worth a watch. It follows Burning Man’s fascinating history from its “humble countercultural roots on San Francisco’s Baker Beach” to “the world-famous desert convergence it is today”. If you’ve ever been to the big event in the Black Rock Desert, I guarantee it’ll give you a greater appreciation and understanding of it.
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10 of the Best Poems about Wine
via Interesting Literature
The finest wine poems
‘Wine is bottled poetry.’ So said the Victorian poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson; and, indeed, over the centuries numerous poets have waxed lyrical about the juice of the vine.
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The Art at the End of the World
via 3 Quarks Daily: Heidi Julavits in The New York Times

We were taking an airplane, I told our children, to see what I dramatically billed as ‘‘the end of the world’.
‘‘Can’t we go to a beach?’’ they asked. It was February. They were sick of the cold.
I promised them sand and plenty of water, but unless things went terribly wrong, we would probably not be swimming in it.
‘‘Where are we going?’’ they asked.
We were flying 2,000 miles to see more than 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks extending 1,500 feet into the Great Salt Lake in the shape of a counterclockwise vortex, designed by the most famous practitioner of ’70s land art, Robert Smithson.
‘‘It’s called the ‘Spiral Jetty,’ ’’ I told them.
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Australian dig finds evidence of Aboriginal habitation up to 80,000 years ago
via the Guardian by Helen Davidson at Madjedbebe and Calla Wahlquist
Artefacts in Kakadu national park have been dated between 65,000 and 80,000 years old, extending likely occupation of area by thousands of years
Madjedbebe site custodian May Nango and excavation leader Chris Clarkson in the pit.
Madjedbebe site custodian May Nango and excavation leader Chris Clarkson in the pit. Photograph: Dominic O'Brien/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation
A groundbreaking archaeological discovery in Australia’s north has extended the known length of time Aboriginal people have inhabited the continent to at least 65,000 years.
The findings on about 11,000 artefacts from Kakadu national park, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, prove Indigenous people have been in Australia for far longer than the much-contested estimates of between 47,000 and 60,000 years, the researchers said. Some of the artefacts were potentially as old as 80,000 years.
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Understanding the origin of the wind from black holes
via OUP Blog by Daniel May and Joäo Steiner

Hubble Space Telescope image of Messier 77 spiral galaxy by NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Contrary to common belief, black holes don’t swallow everything that comes nearby. In fact, they expel a good part of the gas of the centre of galaxies. This happens when a wind of ionized gas is formed in the vicinity of the black hole. In the case of supermassive black holes that occur at the centre of many galaxies, they produce a wind that can interact with the galaxy itself shaping its evolution through time. We may say that this wind could come in two “flavours”: in form of radiation emitted from a disc before falling onto the black hole or a jet of particles launched in opposite directions perpendicular to the same disc. We know, for instance, that they keep the intergalactic gas hot and prevent the galaxy from growing bigger, suppressing star formation in most of them.
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Fun interactive game theory simulator shows how trust and mistrust evolve
via Boing Boing by Mark Frauenfelder

This simulation, called The Evolution of Trust starts with a variation of the prisoners' dilemma. You can choose to put a coin into a slot. Another person has the same choice on a different machine. You can't communicate with the other person. The only thing you know is this: if the other person put a coin in their slot, you will receive 3 coins. And if you put a coin in your slot, the other person will get 3 coins. What's the best strategy?
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These Brain Exercises are Proven to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

an article by Philip Perry for the Big Think blog

47 million people worldwide suffer from dementia. That number is expected to go up as the enormous baby boomer generation continues to age. Dementia is one of the most common causes of disability. We don’t know what causes it and beyond a few measures, there’s little one can do to prevent, slow, or stop it. That is, until now.

A collaboration of American researchers has identified certain brain training exercises that can help reduce the risk of dementia. This cognitive training program, known as speed of processing, was first developed to improve cognition and memory. The study shows that taking part in such exercises gave practitioners protective benefits which lasted for a full decade. This was known as the Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study. Its results were published in the journal, Alzheimer & Dementia Translational Research.

Although the impact was significant, the exercises themselves weren’t so taxing and didn’t take up a lot of time. Participants underwent 10 sessions for one hour each, over the course of six weeks. A smaller group then had up to eight sessions afterward. The more training sessions a participant had, the lower their dementia risk.

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Counter Stress with Serenity

a post by Christiana Star for the World of Psychology blog

Everybody knows about stress. Too much to do, too little time, problems, issues, irritations and whatever else makes life complicated and frantic. But serenity? Isn’t that a very old-fashioned idea with no relevance in the modern world? Quite the contrary, it is essential for well-being and counteracting the damaging effects of stress on body, mind and soul. But how to practice it in a fast-paced life?

Meditation is an allocated time set aside for stopping, settling an overactive mind and establishing inner calmness. On the other hand, serenity is not something you practice for a limited time. It is a state of mind – tranquility of spirit – that carries through into a way of dealing with everyday life.

Developing or increasing serenity does not require you become a monk or nun and neither is it a luxury you cannot afford. If you choose to live life with quiet inner strength, you can start where you are right now.

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How to Tame Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple

via ResearchBuzz Firehose: an article by Peter Coy for Bloomberg

There hasn’t been a concerted effort to stop the runaway tech giants—yet. Would today’s laws even be up to the challenge?

It’s harder to fix a problem than to identify it. That goes quadruple for Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com Inc., and Facebook Inc.

On the upside, these U.S. tech giants provide some of the world’s best-loved products and services. Investors love them, too. They’re the first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-most-valuable companies. (Microsoft Corp. places third.)

Yet the four, taken together, also stand widely accused of the sins associated with corporate bullies: crushing competition, avoiding taxes, undermining democracy and invading privacy. Russian operatives have used American social media companies as a playground. Executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter Inc. told Congress on Oct. 31 that they can’t even measure the extent of Russia’s manipulation of the U.S. presidential election and don’t yet have the tools to stop it the next time.

The result, so far, has been threats of new taxes, regulations, laws and antitrust actions—not only in Europe, where the giants have long been treated as problems, but increasingly from what has been long seen as the more hands-off U.S. government. Some experts see the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block AT&T Inc.’s purchase of Time Warner Inc. as a possible precursor of actions against the tech giants. Even the experts are confused. Are these companies our friends, enemies or frenemies? Are they basically familiar entities that can be dealt with using tried-and-true remedies—or something new that requires a fresh approach?

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The higher education market

a Press Release from the National Audit Office (8 December 2017)

Only 32% of higher education students consider their course offers value for money, and competition between providers to drive improvements on price and quality has yet to prove effective, according to today’s report from the National Audit Office.

The Department for Education’s (the Department’s) up-front public funding for higher education students in England is now over £9 billion a year, up from £6 billion in 2007/08. In recent years, the government has increasingly delivered higher education using market mechanisms, in particular relying more on student choice and provider competition to improve quality, and value for money. Some 85% of up-front funding now follows students directly, in the form of tuition fee loans, up from 23% over the same period.

Prospective students are in a potentially vulnerable position when deciding whether to enter higher education and take on a student loan. Graduates earn, on average, 42% more than non-graduates. However, graduate earnings for some providers and subjects are lower than for non-graduates, emphasising the importance of making an informed choice. The average student debt, for a three-year course, on graduation is £50,000.

The NAO finds that the Department needs a more comprehensive approach to the oversight of the higher education market, and must use the proposed regulatory reforms to help address the deficiencies identified in this report, if students and the taxpayer are to secure value for money. The Department began consulting on a new regulatory framework for higher education in October 2017, focusing on improving student choice and outcomes, and seeking to address a number of weaknesses in the market.

Higher education has a more limited level of consumer protection than other complex products such as financial services. The Department has improved information available to help prospective students choose their course and provider, but only one in five use it and additional support does not adequately reach those who need it most. The Department plans further improvements as part of its new regulatory framework, but requirements for higher education providers to ensure that prospective students understand their prospects are limited.

The report outlines that the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education has increased, but participation remains much lower than for those from more advantaged backgrounds. The percentage of 18- and 19-year-olds attending higher education from the lowest participation areas of the country (which correlates closely to lower socio-economic status) increased from 21% to 26% between 2011 and 2016. However, 59% attend from the highest participation areas, a difference that is mostly explained by educational achievement at school. Furthermore, increased participation among disadvantaged students is weighted towards lower-ranked providers, which risks creating a two-tier system.

There is no meaningful price competition in the sector and market incentives for higher education providers to compete for students on course quality are weak. In 2016, 87 of the top 90 English universities charged the maximum permissible fee of £9,000 a year for all courses. The relationship between course quality and providers’ fee income is also weak. The NAO finds that, on average, a provider moving up five places in a league table gains just 0.25% of additional fee income.

Students can do little to influence quality once on a course. The sector ombudsman considers that providers have improved their handling of complaints and feedback, with a 25% drop in student complaints referred to it since 2014. However, students are unable to drive quality through switching providers. There is also not yet evidence that more providers entering and exiting the market will improve quality in the sector, and protections for students are untested.

The Department provides grant funding for high-cost courses, many of which it considers strategically-important. Providers’ costs vary from £7,000 for some subjects to £20,000 for others. The NAO finds that the cheaper a course is to run, the more likely a provider is to maintain offers in the face of declining applications or expand student numbers in response to more applications.

The Mystery of Work Life Balance

a post by Leon HO for the Lifehack blog

Kate is a hard-working manager working at a startup company. She toils at work but gets that nagging feeling that she’s missing out on living her life. And then perversely, when she’s not working, she tries to switch off ‘work-mode’ to enjoy her passions, friends, family… but eventually she finds that she just doesn’t have the energy.

Many people are like Kate, misunderstanding the true meaning of work life balance. They try to keep ‘work’ and ‘life’ separate, but this brings undesirable results.

Where the Curse of Work Life Balance Begins

Those who are trying to maintain a work life balance only by dividing their time – by driving a sharp wedge between work-mode and life-mode – are inadvertently dividing themselves.

When people juxtapose ‘work’ and ‘life’, they unconsciously think in terms of ‘work’ versus ‘life’ – and are constantly forced to choose one at the expense of the other. In this framework, a gain on one side is always a loss on the other side.

And so people start to see ‘work’ as the times when they are not living their lives. ‘Work’ is seen as a necessary evil that they must suffer through until it’s time to switch off. But if you encode everything related to work as negativity and suffering, while your ‘life’ strains under the weight of unrealistic expectations of enjoyment, there really is no balance there at all.

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I can see some value in what Leon is saying if you have the sort of managerial job he seems to be describing. However, when working as a checkout operator I rather like the idea of keeping work separate from home/personal life. Sure, I see some of the same people in both spheres but in one I am providing a service and in the other I am a friend.