Why, Winners

12/2 - What's Next

Hey there, happy Monday. Hope you are enjoying the holidays.

Lots of interesting content this week!


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Really appreciate the support! - Jordan


Articles to Read.

Inflation Inequality Creates Winners and Losers

Do the poor suffer more from inflation than the rich? Recent reports to the contrary, the numbers are not complete enough to answer that question in a simple way. What’s clear is that diverging rates of price inflation are creating distinct winners and losers.

Because the U.S. tech sector has advanced so much while many other parts of the economy have been relatively sluggish, the benefits from progress are now quite concentrated, though not in a way directly related to income. Rather, they accrue to people with a taste for a particular kind of novelty.

Consider people who love to consume information, or as I have labeled them infovores. They can stay at home every night and read Wikipedia, scan Twitter, click on links, browse through Amazon reviews and search YouTube — all for free. Thirty years ago there was nothing comparable.

Lovers of variety are another big winner. You can use eBay to find that obscure collectible, or browse Amazon’s vast inventory, or watch a lot of different TV programs, ranging from Spanish-language news to curling to cooking shows. In short, it is a wonderful time for those who love to browse and sample. Maybe you discover a favorite category or genre and form a deep aesthetic commitment, or maybe you just want to keep on surfing. Either way, the opportunities are unprecedented.

People who like to spend time with their friends across town are one set of losers. Traffic congestion is much worse, and so driving in Los Angeles or Washington has never been such a big burden. In-person socializing is therefore more costly. On the other hand, the chance that you have remained in touch with your very distant friends is higher, due to email and social media. Those who enjoy less frequent (but perhaps more intense?) visits are on the whole better off for that reason. It is easier than ever to go virtually anywhere in the world and have someone interesting to talk to.

Into the Void

When was the last time you contemplated your mortality?

During one exercise, I fixed my attention on infinity. As the black void of time and space enveloped me, I melted into nothingness.

What, exactly, was dissolving? Of what stuff am I constituted? On one level, “I” am a bag of water and other organic and inorganic compounds, made of atoms and quarks, held together by a tightly-woven matrix of skin cells. I am capable of moving through space, of responding to stimulus, of interacting physically with my environment. On another level, I am consciousness – a multi-textured, endlessly flowing stream of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and experiences. On still another, I am suspended in a series of roles and relationships as a romantic partner, brother, employee, citizen. To be human is to be a many-layered being, complex and highly resistant to simplification.

And yet, in that moment all shattered into insignificance. I realized that one day, this state will be permanent. The stream of my subjective experience will simply stop, like water shut off from a tap. The latticework structure of my being will decay and disperse, no longer held together into shape. The relationships that connect and support me will fade – slowly at first, then suddenly into nothing. On the scale of infinity, it will be as if I’d never existed.

Zoom out far enough, and all that is begins to dissolve. Billions of years of evolutionary history: gone. Nations, empires, conquerors: irrelevant. Wealth, institutions, ideas, religions, companies, causes, wars: nullified. Nothing escapes unscathed. Everything moves through endless cycles of death and rebirth, of entropy and negentropy, of decay and renewal.

How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class

These $100 calculators have been required in classrooms for more than 20 years, as students and teachers still struggle to afford them.

It’s not practical or even allowable for students to turn to more modern and possibly more accessible technology — like laptops or smartphones — to fill the gaps. “iPhones do too much,” Thompson told me. “There’s an app you can get where you can just take a picture of a problem, and the app will show you the steps to solve it. For that reason, I really can’t let them use cellphones on tests. Too many students will cheat. So I need to buy graphing calculators, and they need to be nice ones.”

Texas Instruments was not the first to go to market with its commercially viable graphing calculators — Casio preceded it. But Texas Instruments was able to capitalize on its relationship with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to ensure its calculators ended up in classrooms across the country. In 1980, the council recommended that “mathematics programs [should] take full advantage of calculators… at all grade levels.” Throughout the decade, Texas Instruments worked closely with the council to develop its first calculator in hopes of becoming the educational standard.

Is Plagiarism Wrong?

The crime I can claim as my own begins with the need to learn English. I had learned some Italian in kindergarten in Rome, and some Russian because that was the language of the refugees we were housed with, but at home we spoke Hungarian, and my parents’ English was not great. From a very young age, well before I learned how to read, I had loved memorizing and reciting (Hungarian) poetry. So when we got to America one of the first things my mother bought me was a book of poetry: Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic.

Fast forward to the first grade. By this time we’ve been in the U.S. a few months, so my English is pretty good: I understand the teacher perfectly when she instructs us to sit at our desks and write a poem. I am proud to be the first to finish the task, and rush up to the teacher to show her my work. She reads it, very impressed with the speed with which I had managed to write a rhyming poem. But then something changes in her face. She asks, “Did you write this?” Yes. (What a dumb question—she saw me write it!) “All by yourself?” Yes. (Who could have helped me?) “This is your poem?” Yes. (Couldn’t she see it was in my handwriting?!)

In academia the immorality of plagiarism is one of the few principles everyone converges on. Many of us are prepared to debate the fine points of questions such as “Under what circumstances it is okay to torture someone?”, but only against a background of unquestioned agreement that representing other peoples’ ideas or phrasings as your own is, always and forever, evil. If you are caught plagiarizing in a class, you will feel the moral hammer of your institution come down on you like a hammer—just as I did, in the first grade.

It is true that I did not know about “intellectual property,” but even if I had, that would not have helped. Intellectual property is a legal concept, specified by laws governing patents, copyrights and trademarks. Those laws protect your right to the fruits of your mental labor by giving a determinate and concrete sense to what it means to “own an idea.” For example, it is illegal for me to publish a novel continuing the Harry Potter series. That right belongs exclusively to J.K. Rowling. But what if I want to go around quoting Hamlet and claiming the words as my own? In that case, there’s no issue of depriving Shakespeare or his immediate descendants of the money that is rightfully theirs. It is at that point that plagiarism norms kick in.

Never mind the 1 percent. Let's talk about the 0.01 percent.

Since the Great Recession, America’s wealthiest 1 percent have been demonized as fat cats who have grown ever richer while the middle class has stagnated. While protesters have called for the 1 percent to be taxed more heavily, economists have been digging into data to develop a better understanding of who the top earners are.

University of Chicago’s Greg Kaplan says the main point of recent research he did with University of Minnesota’s Fatih Guvenen is to highlight that there’s variety in the group so many know as the 1 percent. “When I hear people talk about top income inequality, I hear words and phrases such as ‘top 1 percent,’ ‘top 0.1 percent,’ ‘top earners,’ ‘CEOs’ . . . thrown around all the time,” he says. “I think we need to keep in mind that these are very different people. They get their income from very different sources. They live in different parts of the country. . . . There is a huge amount of diversity, even within a group that we think is small but is actually very big, which is the top 1 percent.”

Yes! and...

The office is a theatre, and work is an unfolding narrative on the stage.

Many people aspire to “silent success” at work - to do work that “speaks for itself”. Unfortunately this is the wrong move in the theatre of work. Instead we should aspire to the opposite - for knowledge work, the performance of the work is the work.

Because in truth - how else could it function?

Much as we might like to think of organizations as rational machines - the reality is that companies are social organizations and people interacting with people is the way decisions are made and how work gets done.

Math scares your child’s elementary school teacher — and that should frighten you

Students at Los Angeles Elementary School solve math problems at a whiteboard.

American students remain stumped by math. The 2019 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress test — known as NAEP — were published last month, showing that performance for fourth- and eighth-graders hasn’t budged since 2009.

What’s been overlooked is that teaching deep understanding to elementary students requires that teachers have that understanding themselves. Studies consistently show many don’t. Research also shows that, compared with other college students, future elementary teachers are especially prone to math anxiety —apprehension about doing math that’s so severe it interferes with actually doing it. That anxiety remains once they are in classrooms, and studies show that students learn less math from a math-anxious teacher.

More to Check Out: 
Domes are over-rated
- Why is everyone becoming a bank?
Why does F = ma?
Why are people getting worse at “The Price Is Right”?
- Why basketball players believe they weren’t last to touch ball

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My Update:

  • Was at home in Arizona over the holidays. Was great to see family and friends. Back to SF now!

  • Will be in NY over New Years. Let me know if you are around!

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan