From the monthly archives:

August 2019

Who do I think I am?

by Harry on August 7, 2019

I can’t remember whether I have plugged this before — I suspect I have — but the radio version of Mark Steel’s autobiographical one-man show, Who Do I Think I Am?, is available on Sounds for the next 17 days. It is just brilliant. Its the story of Steel’s search for his adoptive mother, which involves so many twists, turns, and bizarre coincidences that at various points you think he must have added this or that (surely the details about the Socialist Party of Great Britain???) for effect but… no, its all, bizarrely, true. Mainly its hilarious, but it is also, in parts, serious and very poignant. If you have one hour to spare in the next 17 days, this is how to spend it, even if (maybe especially if) you have no idea who Mark Steel is.

Does talent matter?

by Chris Bertram on August 7, 2019

I’ve recently been in Germany which, to a greater extent than many other countries (such as my own), is a functioning and prosperous liberal democracy. It wasn’t always thus, as every participant in internet debate know very well. By the end of the Second World War, Germany had suffered the destruction of its cities and infrastructure, the loss of a large amount of its territory, and the death or maiming of a good part of its population and particularly of the young and active ones. Yet, though not without some external assistance, it was able to recover and outstrip its former adversaries within a very few decades.

Thinking about this made me reflect a little on whether people, in the sense of talented individuals, matter all that much. That they do is presupposed by the recruitment policies of firms and other institutions and by immigration policies that aim to recruit the “best and brightest”. Societies are lectured on how important it is not to miss out in the competition for “global talent”. Yet the experience of societies that have experienced great losses through war and other catastrophes suggests that provided the institutions and structures are right, when the “talented” are lost they will be quickly replaced by others who step into their shoes and do a much better job that might have previously been expected of those individuals.

I imagine some empirical and comparative work has been done by someone on all this, but it seems to me that getting the right people is much less important that having the institutions that will get the best out of whatever people happen to be around. I suppose a caveat is necessary: some jobs need people with particular training (doctoring or nursing, for example) and if we shoot all the doctors there won’t yet be people ready to take up the opportunities created by their vacancy. But given time, the talent of particular individuals may not be all that important to how well societies or companies do. Perhaps we don’t need to pay so much, then, to retain or attract the “talented”: there’s always someone else.

How do student evaluations survive ?

by John Quiggin on August 4, 2019

Among the few replicable findings from research on higher education, one of the most notable is that student evaluations of teaching are both useless as measures of the extent to which students have learned anything and systematically biased against women and people of color. As this story says, reliance on these measures could lead to lawsuits.

But why hasn’t this already happened. The facts have been known for years, and potential cases arise every time these evaluations are used in hiring or promotion: arguably every time the data is collected. And student evaluations are particularly popular in the US, where litigation is the national sport. Yet no lawsuits have yet taken place AFAICT.

Maybe the zeitgeist is changing. I was going to write this post before seeing the linked article, which turned up in my Google search. Any lawyers or potential litigants want to comment?

Right, Absolutely Not.

by Belle Waring on August 2, 2019

What would the world be like if women were unable to withdraw consent with regard to sex? You would be living in North Carolina, is what. Now, as an aside, I would totally live in North Carolina (please don’t tell my dad I would live in the wrong Carolina.) It’s lovely. But boy howdy does it have some terrifying rape laws and legal precedent. I mean, would I let my daughters live there?

Some cases are more difficult than others, especially if the initial act began with consent.

In 1979 the Supreme Court of North Carolina that once a sex act begins, a woman cannot withdraw her consent.

The court wrote that: “if the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused was not guilty of rape, though he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.”

DA Welch called this a “troubling precedent.”

“I feel like you should be able to withdraw consent at any time,” Welch said. “If you have consented to one act, to me it doesn’t mean that act can keep going as long as necessary.”

“However, again it comes back to juries and how they view consent.”

“You will see someone who is consenting to a particular act, and all of a sudden it gets rougher than what they bargained for, or they change their mind, and we’re stuck,” Welch said. “If it goes from one act to another I don’t feel that that law apples, but you still have to deal with that issue in front of a jury, and that’s going to be very hard to convict.”

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What Are You Listening to This Week?

by Belle Waring on August 1, 2019

This will hopefully be less contentious than my two previous posts, unless someone loathes and abominates Sure Sure for some reason. But why would they, Sure Sure is great! I listened to this song on repeat on a four mile walk today up hill and down dale in lovely West Virginia.

Vampire Weekend, still having it all going on! Actual video as well. (You should read the lyrics because they are a little bit incomprehensible.)