Category Archives: Reflected Glory

Inequality and Occupy Wall Street

So, I just discovered the blog of Miles Corak, an Economics Professor at the University of Ottawa (via this short piece in The Atlantic Wire). He has been doing a series of posts about wealth and income inequality that are really interesting and accessibly written. At this time, there are five posts in the series (here, here, here, here, and here).

If you’re interested in a thoughtful, nuanced, and readable discussion of the economic factors underlying the Occupy Wall Street protests, check it out.

The most striking image comes from the post on nepotism, where Corak presents a graph from one of his own papers from the Journal of Labor Economics (accessible version available here) that shows the fraction of sons who work in the same firm as their fathers, as a function of income percentile. (Data for Canada)

Corak notes:

Connections matter. And for the top earners this might even be nepotism. This is not a bad thing if parents pass on real skills to their children, skills that might even be specific to particular occupations, industries, or even firms. If this is the case then it makes economic sense to follow in your father’s footsteps.

Wayne Gretzky often talked about the role his father played in developing his skating and stick handling skills. He spent hours and hours with Walter on the backyard rink. But not all top earners got to where they are because of this sort of good nepotism. I somehow doubt that James Murdoch is the Wayne Gretzky of the publishing world.

Bad nepotism promotes people above their abilities by virtue of connections, and it erodes rather than enhances economic productivity.

But there is even a larger cost. If the rich leverage economic power to gain political power they can also skew broader public policy choices—from the tax system to the education system—to the benefit of their offspring. This will surely start eroding the belief that labour markets are fair, and that anyone can aspire to the top.

He also notes that the United States is among the most unequal of the world’s rich countries, as well as one of the most elastic. Elasticity, in this context, is the extent to which a person’s income is determined by the income of their parents.

Corak goes on to write:

These facts are finally starting to percolate into the American consciousness. Joseph Schumpeter, the Harvard University economist who taught during the 1930s, is often cited as saying that recessions are like cold showers: they clear the economy of inefficiencies, make the existing structures more apparent, and set the conditions for change.

But recessions have social as well as economic consequences. The current recession has shaken some people awake, and Occupiers signal the decline of the American Dream in our consciousness, a manifestation of underlying realities, and the demand for a change in the way of doing business.

Here’s hoping that there will be many more installments coming in this series.

Corak, M., & Piraino, P. (2011). Intergenerational Transmission of Employers Journal of Labor Economics, 29 (1), 37-68 : 10.1086/656371

Best space time-lapse video yet

So, there have been a number of time-lapse videos of earth as viewed from space making the rounds recently. But this new one is extra awesome. Except for the fact that the International Space Station has its thumb in front of the camera for many of the shots. Also, I would have used Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin'” for the soundtrack.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space | Fly Over | Nasa, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

via Gawker.

Yelping with Cormac McCarthy

So, here’s something awesome from the tumblr-sphere: Yelping with Cormac. The premise is Yelp reviews written by Cormac McCarthy.

A lot of them are worth reading, but the October 26 review of Taco Bell is maybe the best:

Two stars.

And so the man defied the villagers and ate the taco. In defiance of the will of those people but also in defiance of some order older than he. Older than tortillas. Than the ancient and twisted cedars. How could we know his mind? We are all of us unknowable. Blind strangers passing on a mountain road.

The man laid there in the village square for three days and nights and took no food and spoke to no visitor. The older villagers said that the man should not have eaten the taco and no sane man would do so and the price of such folly was known to all.

On the fourth day an old lady asked the man was he ill and did he need a doctor. The man told her he was indeed ill but that he wished to see a priest. And she crossed herself and left and in the sweltering afternoon sun a priest came down to the square to see the man.

The priest asked the man why he lay there in the square and if perhaps he could be convinced to leave. The man said he had eaten a thing which he should not have and he could not move because the world was revealed to him in its evil and in its beauty. That if he moved he might fall into the sky and never return. The priest assured him that it was not possible to fall into the sky and that an earthly cure of ginger and peppermint would surely calm his digestion. The man asked could God make a taco so terrible even He could not eat it. The priest considered this and said no this was not possible and to think so was a sin. The man was silent for some time. Then he said that he had eaten such a taco and that it tasted of bootblack and horsefeed. That if this taco was under God’s dominion then surely all other great evils must be as well. And then the man took the halfeaten and greaseblackened taco from his coatpocket and thrust it at the priest like a broken sword. Eat it, he said. Eat it or be damned.

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense

So, we’re on a somewhat restricted publication schedule here at Lost in Transcription, as we are entering Day 4 of no power following Saturday’s “Snoctogeddon.” Still not clear how many more days until the lights (and heat) come back on, or how long every place with WiFi will be overrun with laptop refugees.

In the meantime, let me point you to a new group blog, which takes it’s name from Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous quotation, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I wrote about the origin of the quotation here, and featured this anagram-themed Darwin Eats Cake strip:

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:

The new blog’s name is “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense,” and features the even something-er URL It features writing from Simone Des Roches, Devin Drown, Sarah Hird, CJ Jenkins, Noah Reid, Chris Smith, Luke Swenson, Jeremy Yoder, and Jonathan Yoder (the fightin’ Yoders!).

The venture is only a few weeks old, but features veteran bloggers, and already has some really interesting posts.

Read it!

Jonny Quest Stop Motion

So, if you’re old enough, you’ll remember the short-lived cartoon Jonny Quest.  Roger D. Evans has recreated the show’s opening sequence in stop-motion animation. It’s just . . . wow.

Jonny Quest Opening Titles from Roger D. Evans on Vimeo.

Now go to his website, where you can see just how much work went in to every one of these shots. Then rewatch the video and be amazed all over again.

via Boing Boing.

Reflected Glory: Hark, a vagrant Yeats

So, if you don’t read Kate Beaton’s excellent webcomic Hark, a vagrant, you should. It has a historical focus, as in, many of the comics focus people ranging from Ben Franklin to William the Conqueror to a whole bunch of (apparently) Canadian people I’ve never heard of.

One of my favorite things about her drawing style (not evident in the strip below) is how many of her characters seem to have been caught by surprise with their mouths full.

Also, they’re consistently dorkily hilarious.

Every now and then, the historical intersects with the poetical, as in this piece on Yeats:

Bookmark this, and check back about once a week.