Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Is cash such a bad thing?

More and more society is moving away from the use of cash. There are serious proposals to do away with cash and move completely to electronic money. While the emphasis of these proposals tends to be reducing money laundering and other large scale illegal or anonymous uses of cash, I have yet to see an explanation of how we'll eliminate cash for the many everyday small cash transactions many of  us engage in.

I just returned from vacation. While on vacation, I flew, stayed at a nice hotel, and used a special shuttle bus to travel between venues. In each case, following custom, I tipped porters, drivers, valets, bellhops, and similar employees. While easy today with cash, how to tip isn't clear in a cashless society. It takes 1-2 seconds to hand somebody a few dollars as a tip and continue on my way. So far there are no electronic payment methods which are this simple. The best I could guess with today's technology is:

  1. Pull out my phone.
  2. Go to some payment / tipping app.
  3. Hope the other person has a phone with a compatible app.
  4. Do whatever is needed to transfer a few dollars.
This is a 1-2 minute process with any technology I currently own, much more time consuming than the old method. I would love to hear a proposal on how tipping of this sort can work without cash. Note this is tipping independent of any other transaction -- restaurant, taxi, hair stylist, etc. tips are currently handled when paying by credit card, but for porters, valets, etc. there's no transaction to add the tip to.

It appears there are some attempts at solving the tip problem -- an electronic "tip jar" -- but this only appears to solve some fixed location problems (e.g. coffee shop counters). And the tip amount is fixed -- perhaps the really good hotels will be known because the bellhop's tip device will be set in increments of $20.00.

Some might say the new "living" minimum wage means we no longer need to tip, and there is some truth to this -- in the past porters, valets, etc. were often only paid in tips and today probably need to get minimum wage. While a higher minimum wage guarantees a higher income, I imagine many service personnel will end up making less money after being paid the new "living" wage in lieu of tips.

And, of course, there are the really serious issues of cashless society. Like strip clubs. For those who don't want to read the link, there is at least one club which lets you pay for private dances with a credit card (with transaction fees taking 25% of the total, so both the customer and stripper lose money). But nothing about how to replace dollar tips for the girl on stage.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Assumptions about political philosophies

I've been reading Against Empathy by Paul Bloom. Near the middle of the book he talks about politics and makes some comments dividing liberals and conservatives based on their relative levels of empathy. He also makes a couple generalizations about politics and empathy (e.g. more women are liberals because women are more empathic).

While his discussion is interesting, it's clear to me that he never talked to conservatives about the reasons for their beliefs. Thus his reasons why conservatives oppose abortion are in terms of male power over women or following rules. He never mentions that many conservatives feel that the fetus is alive and killing it is wrong (by implication feeling empathy for the fetus). He assumes conservatives lack empathy when they oppose government programs and gives short shrift to the idea that a government program may not be the best way to handle a situation or may be more "empathic."

Obviously there are no absolute views in this area, but the book would have been better if it didn't appear Mr. Bloom was trying to figure out conservatives without finding sources with first hand knowledge. Then again, being at a university, conservatives are often few and in the closet.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Paid Anti-Trump Protesters -- Confusing the Matter

Conservative groups have long claimed that protesters at left wing and anti-Trump events have been paid, with George Soros usually given as the source of the funds. Now a mainstream newspaper is verifying the claim, sort of.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some people at protesters are being paid. But the claim is that they are being paid by their normal employers, some of which are allowing employees to go to protests on company time.

The protester claims are important because conservatives claim there isn't a huge grass roots left wing protest movement, and the "paid protester" claim implies that a few activists are creating these protests using people off the street who may not agree with the protest's ideas but want a some money.

However, this article doesn't validate the usual protest claim. It says companies are giving employees social-justice or similarly named time off work. But it appears most companies specify a certain number of days per year. This makes social-justice time off another name for personal time off which other companies will provide so employees can deal with things like doctor's appointments without using vacation time.

So it appears some protesters are being paid, but they're just collecting their usual salary or wages. The same as taking a vacation day or calling in sick to go to the protest, just under a different name.

Unfortunately, this confuses future paid protester headlines. It's easy imply protesters are being paid by activists to show up when they're actually just taking paid time off from work. So "paid protester" headlines are still no more meaningful than they were when there was no specific evidence.

Monday, May 8, 2017

How did we ever survive?

One of today's headlines is about studies which find that grandparents, who are increasingly raising children, may be putting the kids at risk because of outdated views on child safety. Yet the most interesting comment is at the end of this article:

Although the study focused on grandparents, Adesman [study author] and Altmann [a pediatrician] both recognize that other groups can make the same mistakes. In a previous study, Adesman surveyed pediatricians (PDF) and found that only 24% answered all 12 questions about basic safety information correctly.
In her practice, Altmann hears many of these health myths from new parents and grandparents alike.
"I'd love to see this study redone and given to the parents; I think people would be surprised," she said.
These comments point out the problems with this study. First, apparently most pediatricians don't know child safety rules. Second, the study wasn't also done on parents. For all we know, parents are just as bad or worse than grandparents when it comes to child safety. After all, grandparents succeeded at least once in raising a child in the past while new parents don't have any sort of track record. But the headline is about grandparents' "out of date" child raising methods.

Another assumption in the linked article is that "more grandparents are taking on child care roles." Is this really true? Grandparents have always helped with parenting and have always taken on the task of raising children when parents are unable to. There may be a larger role for grandparents today because they are in better health on average than in the past, but it isn't clear that a larger proportion of children are being raised by grandparents (and accurate data probably doesn't exist).

All of which brings up the irony of modern child safety rules. If we total up all child safety advice, from car seats and seat belts to plastic caps on electrical outlets, one wonders how any children actually lived to adulthood in the past.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Are the airlines suddenly starting to kick passengers off of planes?

After the incident when United had a passenger physically dragged off a plane we're seeing numerous reports of passengers being taken off planes. The latest involved Delta and a family with a 2 year old.

So have the major airlines suddenly decided to be mean to passengers? Why the sudden rise in incidents?

It seems obvious that there hasn't been any rise in the number of passengers removed from planes. The change is that the national media is now paying attention. In the past a passenger removed from a flight might have made local news and become part of the "insensitive airline"' lore.

But today passengers removed from airplanes are popular news. For the next few weeks or months we'll see a bunch of news stories. Congress gets a chance to hold hearings, introduce "passenger rights" bills, and possibly pass a new law resulting in a new set of unintelligible regulations.

Here is a reason to be careful with news reports. Is there really a new problem or are we just seeing high profile reports of longstanding practices?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

So much for eliminating traditional gender roles

In today's push for equality of the sexes we often hear that boys and girls act they way they do because society treats them differently. Girls play with dolls while boys play with cars because we give dolls to girls and cars to boys.

But it appears there's a complication to this narrative. With the recent emphasis on transgender rights and allowing children to declare their own gender, some appear to be pushing kids toward the gender the act out.

So instead of boys and girls being able to choose the activities they like, with boys able to play with dolls or girls with cars, still remaining boys and girls, their gender identity is being selected based on how they act. So a girl who would have been called a tomboy in the past is now assumed to be a transgender boy.

So a few years ago the effort was to stop pushing girls away from traditionally male occupations (like science and engineering). Now it appears that girls who are interested in traditionally male occupations are at risk of being considered transgender boys instead.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Strange bedfellows

The reactions to President Trump's decision to bomb Syria after the apparent poison gas attack have been interesting. While many have applauded his action, punishing the Syrian regime for crossing President Obama's "red line" (which Mr. Obama wasn't willing to do), more interesting is those denouncing the attack. They appear to be two distinct groups:

  1. The hard left is complaining about the attack. This is to be expected. Anything Donald Trump does will have this group complaining.
  2. The "alt-right". Yup, a number of populist, right wing leaders (Nigel Farrage of the Britain's UKIP party, Marie Le Pen in France, and some US bloggers) are speaking out against the attack, some saying they believe the Russian version of events (that it was a rebel chemical weapons dump that the Syrian attack hit). This is more interesting. Thirty years ago it was the Communist Party in various nations which followed Moscow's line without question. Today it's the hard right which is doing it, though it appears they are just enamored with Vladimir Putin, not under his orders.