Tuesday Reads: A Trip Down Memory Lane

signs_memory_lane_closed_002

Good Morning!!

I’m going to do something a little different this morning, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

Over the weekend I ran across a story at Slate by Matthew Kirschenbaum that brought back a rush of old memories: The Book-Writing Machine: What was the first novel ever written on a word processor?

The story is about thriller writer Len Deighton, who in 1968 wrote his novel Bomber on an early word processor called the IBM MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter).

It was 1968, and the IBM technician who serviced Deighton’s typewriters had just heard from Deighton’s personal assistant, Ms. Ellenor Handley, that she had been retyping chapter drafts for his book in progress dozens of times over. IBM had a machine that could help, the technician mentioned. They were being used in the new ultramodern Shell Centre on the south bank of the Thames, not far from his Merrick Square home.

A few weeks later, Deighton stood outside his Georgian terrace home and watched as workers removed a window so that a 200-pound unit could be hoisted inside with a crane.

….

Like many early technologies, the MTST began as a hybrid creation, a kind of mechanical centaur consisting of two separate devices fused to work in conjunction with one another. At the same instant a character was imprinted on the page from the Selectric’s typing mechanism, that keystroke was also recorded as data on a magnetic tape cartridge. There was no screen, but backspacing to correct an error on the page also resulted in the data being corrected on the tape. Unblemished hard copy could then be produced with the push of a button, at the rate of 150 wpm. What’s more, the printing process could be halted while in “playback” mode to allow for the insertion of additional text; sentence spacing, line-lengths, even hyphenated words were all adjusted automatically as revisions were introduced. In the States, the MTST retailed for $10,000…

It was one of the first “word processors,” although that expression had not yet been invented. You can see a photo of the one Deighton used at the link.

Keypunch machines

Keypunch machines

The reason this story triggered my mental way-back machine is that in the late 1960s I worked on a machine like that. When I first moved to Boston in 1967, I landed a job at Harvard University’s Widener Library.

The job was in the library’s shelflist automation project (pdf). The starting pay was $65 per week, a quarter of which went to half of the rent on an apartment one block from Harvard Yard ($165/mo.). Today, if you could get a unit in that building it would cost a rather large fortune. But I digress.

I started out working on a keypunch machine like the one at the right. the punch cards were then processed by an IBM 1401 computer like this one.

IBM 1401 computer

IBM 1401 computer

Here’s a video I found about an IBM 1401 computer purchased in 1959!

News Links

It’s hard to believe that in those days computers took up entire rooms! But I’m probably not the only one her at the Sky Dancing blog who remembers those days. Actually, I had worked in the data processing office when I was in college, beginning in 1965, so I already had some familiarity with computers and keypunch machines.

Pretty soon my office at Widener Library purchased a few more sophisticated data entry machines built by the Dura Business Machines Co. The Dura machine was similar to Deighton’s but much cheaper. It consisted of a modified IBM Selectric typewriter with an attachment that punched holes in paper tape instead of the more expensive magnetic tape in Len Deighton’s machine. You typed normally, and the words were converted to code on the paper tape. The tape was then converted to punch cards, read by the computer, and printed out. The printouts were checked by editors who marked any errors, deletions, or additions and you could make the corrections without retyping everything. You could also backspace over errors as you typed.

Here’s a 1968 photograph and description of the Dura 1401 from the ABA Journal. I’m posting it in large type so you can read the text.

Print ad for the Dura 1401

Print ad for the Dura 1401

Now this is where my trip down memory lane started to feel a little less nostalgic. According to the ad, “your girl” operates this magnificent machine and “your girl’s output goes up as much as 100%.” Were things really that sexist in 1968? Yes, yes they were. Here’s a “help wanted” ad from the Toledo Blade that I came across when I was looking for information on the Dura machine. You’ll notice that only men need apply. In the column to the left are some ads for women’s jobs.

dura employment

I couldn’t get all the text into the screen grab, but you can see the whole thing at the link. The text mentions a couple of times that the job is only available to men.

In the mid-1970s, when I worked at M.I.T., our office purchased a Wang word processor. This was a pretty advanced machine, dedicated only to word processing that was operated pretty much like Microsoft Word. It had a monitor, a printer, and a large CPU, I guess you’d call it.

Wang word processor

Wang word processor

By the mid-1980s I was working in a different department that had rudimentary PCs. By then I was an “administrative assistant.” I left that job in 1986 and swore never to take another office job, and I never have.

The work could be interesting and challenging, but the condescending attitude toward clerical/secretarial workers was just too much to bear. “Women’s work,” you know. Keep in mind that in those days the people I worked for had no understanding whatsoever of the machines we learned to operate.

I went back to college in 1993, and by then there were much more advanced computers available in the university’s computer lab. Very few students had their own PCs or Macs then. I bought a little word processor to write papers on at home. It probably cost a few hundred dollars and could do everything the giant Wang word processor did and more.

I bought my first PC in 1997 when I started graduate school. At the time it was really state of the art. I spend about $1,500 on the computer and a laser printer. I think it had an Intel Pentium processor, 128 mb hard drive and 64 mg RAM–something like that–and ran on Windows 95. Unbelievable! I got hooked up to cable internet and was immediately hooked. So you can see that I’ve spent most of my adult life working with computers. Of course the young kids assume people my age know nothing about technology.

I hope I haven’t bored you stiff with this little nostalgia trip. I know some of you must recall these old machines too, so I hope you enjoyed the pictures anyway. It’s amazing how technology has changed our lives in the past 50 years, isn’t it?

I have some more up-to-date reads for you that I hope you’ll find interesting.

The Washington Post Magazine published a wonderful story about a family’s nightmarish experience of domestic violence, post-traumatic stress, and recovery: After Dad shot Mom, a family deals with the haunting legacy of gun violence The article by Neely Tucker builds on the story of Lynnie Vessels, who was 7 years old at the time of the shooting as well as interviews with her siblings. Lynnie has just published a book about her recovery, To Soften the Blow.

Of course the story is heartbreaking, but I highly recommend reading it as a reminder of what life was like for women and children in the 1960s–when the terms “child abuse” and “domestic violence” were completely unknown and there was no one to turn to when it happened. It was considered private family business and people mostly didn’t interfere even when they heard women screaming and children crying.

How well I remember. I grew up in a violent home–not as extreme as the Lynnie Vessels’ was. My dad was a rage-aholic, and you never knew when he’d lose his temper and lash out: screaming at the top of his lungs and hitting. There was no one to turn to for advice on how to deal with it, and we were taught to keep quiet about anything that happened within the family.

I couldn’t wait to get out, and I left for Boston when I was 19. My other siblings left home early too, but some of them still can’t admit to themselves that our home was violent and abusive. As the eldest, I probably got the brunt of it, I guess. Now I know that my dad probably had PTSD from his experiences in WWII.

Another important and timely read is this piece by Robert Parry: The Neo-Confederate Supreme Court. Here’s a short excerpt:

If white rule in the United States is to be restored and sustained, then an important first step will be the decision of the five Neo-Confederate justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, a move that many court analysts now consider likely.

The Court’s striking down Section Five of the Voting Rights Act will mean that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting – mostly in the Old Confederacy – will be free to impose new obstacles to voting by African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities without first having to submit the changes to a federal court.

This green light to renew Jim Crow laws also would come at a time when Republican legislatures and governors across the country are devising new strategies for diluting the value of votes from minorities and urban dwellers in order to protect GOP power, especially within the federal government.

Check it out if you can.

Ryan Lizza has a new article in the New Yorker about President Obama and sequestration: THE POWERLESS PRESIDENCY. The gist is that Obama has given up on his dream of bipartisanship and accepted that he can’t bring the parties together.

That Obama, who started his Presidency as a true believer, has now given up on the idea that he has any special powers to change the minds of his fiercest critics is probably a good thing. His devotion to post-partisan governance has long fed two mistaken ideas: that the differences between the parties are minor, and that divided government is inherently good for the country.

A fundamental fact of modern political life is that the only way to advance a coherent agenda in Washington is through partisan dominance. When Obama had large Democratic majorities in Congress during his first two years in office, he led one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. After he lost the House, his agenda froze and the current status quo of serial fiscal crises began. Like it or not, for many years, Washington has been most productive when one party controlled both Congress and the White House.

The boring fact of our system is that congressional math is the best predictor of a President’s success. This idea is not nearly as sexy as the notion that great Presidents are great because they twist arms in backrooms and inspire the American people to rise up and force Congress to bend to their will. But even the Presidents who are remembered for their relentless congressional lobbying and socializing were more often than not successful for more mundane reasons—like arithmetic.

I’m not at all sure that Obama has really let go of his dream of unity, although I hope Lizza is right.

I missed Charlie Rose while I was writing this, so I’ll have to try to catch a rerun or watch it on-line. But Joe Weisenthal has published a few excepts of the battle between Paul Krugman and Joe Scarborough. Weisenthal says Bloomberg with air a repeat tonight at 8PM.

Here’s a piece on the human brain at The Guardian Observer: Our brains, and how they’re not as simple as we think. I found it fascinating and I hope you will too.

One more psychological article from The New Yorker: Up All Night: The Science of Sleeplessness, by Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s a problem I’m very familiar with.

Science AAAS has a article about a Lost Land Beneath the Waves (Atlantis?)

Geological detectives are piecing together an intriguing seafloor puzzle. The Indian Ocean and some of its islands, scientists say, may lie on top of the remains of an ancient continent pulled apart by plate tectonics between 50 million and 100 million years ago. Painstaking detective work involving gravity mapping, rock analysis, and plate movement reconstruction has led researchers to conclude that several places in the Indian Ocean, now far apart, conceal the remnants of a prehistoric land mass they have named Mauritia. In fact, they say, the Indian Ocean could be “littered” with such continental fragments, now obscured by lava erupted by underwater volcanoes.

The Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands about 1500 kilometers east of Africa, are something of a geological curiosity. Although a few of Earth’s largest islands, such as Greenland, are composed of the same continental crust as the mainland, most islands are made of a denser, chemically distinct oceanic crust, created midocean by magma welling up beneath separating tectonic plates. Geologists think they separated from the Indian subcontinent 80 million to 90 million years ago.

Freaky!

I guess that’s enough to get us started on the day’s discussions. Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Of BoobPads and BoobPhones

I remember that at some point in my early childhood that dressing me up in a cowgirl outfit and putting me in front of the TV on my stuffed, pillow-like horse to watch Captain Kangaroo or the Lone Ranger turned from cute to too much.  I had other childhood occupations besides spending time outdoors with friends. One was practicing my piano from the age of three on; starting at 15 minutes a day with time off on Christmas and my birthday.  The other was being taken to the library–a big old Carnegie building with iron stairs and oak stacks–to pick out 5 books a week to read. There was a stint with ballet and tap and swimming lessons. Eventually, I learned that all mom’s childrearing literature at the time I was weaned from afternoon cartoons was filled with tales of the boob tube and fat, dull children who had been hooked in to it for hours a day. My mother wasn’t going to be caught raising fat, dull children. There was too much status at stake during that time in America.

I also remember when I was a young mom I had absolute dread when being begged to run the same Barney tape over and over. It was as bad as the continual whining about Rainbow Brite or My Little Ponies or what ever mass marketing TV toy of the day.  The real shocker was finding out how so many kids seemed to have nearly uniform expressions of glee when any where near the golden arches.  That included mine even when I was hand making all of the baby food and growing it in the backyard garden. I got motivated quickly to stack my daughters’ rooms full of nature items, books, and musical instruments.  We had a 5400 square foot house with one TV and thousands of books in hundreds of books shelves. TVs are not allowed anywhere near dinner tables or kitchens in my home.  There was  and is that same piano that both my mom and I played and games.  At some point, I got that boob tube message loud and clear too.

We got an IBM peanut when doctor daughter was about two and the one cartridge of child friendly software mostly had numbers and shapes on a very primitive level.  Dr. Daughter had to learn to work a keyboard the same way she learned piano.  That would be one key and one connected image at a time.  That’s like 25 years ago and it’s as much a world of difference from that time as it is from me sitting on the family room floor with a toy guy blazing watching Kemo Sabe get the bad guy one more time.  The boob tubes are much more sophisticated. I can only imagine any potential grandchildren I may have will have much more engaging boobtubes as the technology develops.

I have to admit that I spend hours in front of my PC doing work, playing games, and socializing. Even though it is much more interactive than Captain Kangaroo, it’s an isolating and nonphysical experience on the whole. It’s also quite addicting.  I remember graphic computer novel games–like Zork–used to keep me up at night. I call youngest daughter and she’s on the WII trying to take on the latest version of Zelda.  That happens at all hours and pretty much every time I call for about a period of a week. Thankfully, all three of us still retreat to our pianos and books which might actually be seen as earlier versions of boobtubes if you think about it.

Still, it makes you think when you see stuff like this.

THE average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

I’ve just learned about a phenomenon called ‘internet rescue camp’ and ‘freedom software’ that helps netizens learn to disconnect.  I don’t want to disconnect. I have to admit that I can’t last through TV programs very much these days.  Going to a movie at a theatre is akin to a dentist trip for me.  I have the blackberry–crackberry–out within about 10 minutes looking for the latest twitter news or checking my email.  My blackberry has given me adult attention deficit disorder but I call it multi-tasking.  I can only imagine how bad I would be with a tablet and wifi. My kids aren’t much better.  I can’t get youngest daughter away from texting and 2 minute shout outs on the phone.  When the house fills up at Mardi Gras time, I discover just how much young adults text each other these days.  My daughter panics if she doesn’t have her phone on her at all times.  She might miss something earth shattering.

So, that article that I’m quoting is at the NYT.  It’s called ‘The Joy of Quiet’ and was sent to me by an old friend.   He knew me before I refused to go anywhere without internet connections.  I wonder what that says?

The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

The author brings up one of my other long time activities; meditation.  I still escape to books.  I can spend hours still playing the piano.  It’s why gigging was the perfect antidote to working at the FED for me.  Right now, I’m reading 1Q84. This is a great pleasure for me given how much of my reading has been dedicated to scholarly articles the last few years. I snuck in all three of Larsson triology last summer too despite the pressures to get the dissertation done.  I still can’t believe I got my first masters with just a mainframe and tons of error messages on greenbar paper that had to be deconstructed by a computer person.  I get data from the Fed in two keystrokes now.  It used to take me days down in the university library basement where the government docs were stored.  I had to go through hundreds of Beige Books.  That didn’t even count the time it took to get stuff from nominal to real.  That’s not even a two minute activity these days.

The thing that has always historically defined our species is our use of tools.  It’s basically contributed mightily to the evolution of human intelligence from the time we first picked up sticks and stones.  Our cousins the great apes also use them.  However, what also defines us is our social displays.  We and our great ape cousins show empathy,  demonstrate a sense of humor, and thrive around friends and relations. We make love and war with tools and with out them.   So, not only do I play games to get my mind off of life, I Skype friends all over the world.  I also think, therefore, I blog.  It’s one of those chicken and egg things. Do we define our tools or do our tools define us?  Some times, it’s very hard to tell.


Monday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

and Happy Native Americans’ Day!

The second Monday of October annually marks Columbus Day in many parts the United States but not all states or region follow this observance. Instead, they celebrate other events on the day. For example, South Dakota’s official holiday on this date is Native Americans’ Day (also known as Native American Day), while people in Berkeley, California, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.

I think it’s a great idea to switch the current federal holiday out to a celebration of indigenous cultures or maybe find a better thing to celebrate!

BTW, National Coming Out Day is Tomorrow.   That’s something to remember as you read that Speaker Boehner is threatening to withold funds from the Justice Department if that don’t vigorously enforce DOMA.  There he goes again!!!  The Republican Jobs Agenda is just always topmost on the priority list.

“We’re going to take the money away from the Justice Department, who’s supposed to enforce it, and we’ll use it to enforce the law,” Boehner told the conservative Value Voters Summit.

Boehner is engaged in an ongoing dispute with Attorney General Eric Holder over his refusal to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act. President Obama has taken the stance that the law is unconstitutional. While the Justice Department usually defends laws passed by Congress against legal challenges, the Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA while Democrats work to repeal the law.

In March, Boehner announced that if Obama wouldn’t defend DOMA, he would, hiring a private law firm to defend it on behalf of the House.

“As the Speaker of the House, I have a constitutional responsibility. I’ve raised my hand to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws of our country,” Boehner said Friday.

You know, he’s all about saving those taxpayer dollars too.  True Story.

Here’s a movement I want to join if this California Republican Nutter would only give me the location where they’re taking on volunteers.  And yes, it’s a REAL tweet.

@RepJackKimble After Value Voters I am more convinced than ever about the radical atheist agenda to secularize Columbus Day

Okay, I’d like to use the next bit of space to clear up a few right wing memes with actual research.  I know, you’re shocked, it’s so unlike me to do so.   First, while Fannie and Freddie exacerbated the meltdown and behaved as irresponsibly as any Wall Streeter, there is absolutely no connection between the meltdown and the Community Reinvestment Act.  I have never been able to figure out how folks jumped the shark to make this connection, but it happened.  I’ll give you the bottom line from the abstract but if you want to chase after the econometrics, feel free to follow the link.

In this paper we examine more directly whether these programs were associated with worse outcomes in the mortgage market, including delinquency rates and measures of loan quality.

We rely on two empirical approaches. In the first approach, which focuses on the CRA, we conjecture that historical legacies create significant variations in the lenders that serve otherwise comparable neighborhoods. Because not all lenders are subject to the CRA, this creates a quasi-natural experiment of the CRA’s effect. We test this conjecture by examining whether neighborhoods that have been disproportionally served by CRA-covered institutions historically experienced worse outcomes. The second approach takes advantage of the fact that both the CRA and GSE goals rely on clearly defined geographic areas to determine which loans are favored by the regulations. Using a regression discontinuity approach, our tests compare the marginal areas just above and below the thresholds that define eligibility, where any effect of the CRA or GSE goals should be clearest.

We find little evidence that either the CRA or the GSE goals played a significant role in the subprime crisis. Our lender tests indicate that areas disproportionately served by lenders covered by the CRA experienced lower delinquency rates and less risky lending. Similarly, the threshold tests show no evidence that either program had a significantly negative effect on outcomes.

Okay, one more meme to shoot down.  You know how all those Republican presidential wannabes are trotting around saying about half of Americans don’t pay taxes and the rich are still burdened?  I’ve shot down some of that argument before, but here’s some further details.  I’m quoting from the executive summary and not the study itself.  Again, you can go into the methodology if you want here.

A recent finding by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation that 51 percent of households owed no federal income tax in 2009 [1] is being used to advance the argument that low- and moderate-income families do not pay sufficient taxes. Apart from the fact that most of those who make this argument also call for maintaining or increasing all of the tax cuts of recent years for people at the top of the income scale, the 51 percent figure, its significance, and its policy implications are widely misunderstood.

  • The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the “Making Work Pay” tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect. Together, these developments removed millions of Americans from the federal income tax rolls. Both of these temporary tax measures have since expired.
    In a more typical year, 35 percent to 40 percent of households owe no federal income tax. In 2007, the figure was 37.9 percent. [2]
  • The 51 percent figure covers only the federal income tax and ignores the substantial amounts of other federal taxes — especially the payroll tax — that many of these households pay . As a result, it greatly overstates the share of households that do not pay any federal taxes. Data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center show only about 14 percent of households paid neither federal income tax nor payroll tax in 2009, despite the high unemployment and temporary tax cuts that marked that year.[3]
  • This percentage would be even lower if federal excise taxes on gasoline and other items were taken into account.
  • Most of the people who pay neither federal income tax nor payroll taxes are low-income people who are elderly, unable to work due to a serious disability, or students, most of whom subsequently become taxpayers. (In a year like 2009, this group also includes a significant number of people who have been unemployed the entire year and cannot find work.)
  • Moreover, low-income households as a whole do, in fact, pay federal taxes. Congressional Budget Office data show that the poorest fifth of households as a group paid an average of 4 percent of their incomes in federal taxes in 2007 (the latest year for which these data are available), not an insignificant amount given how modest these households’ incomes are — the poorest fifth of households had average income of $18,400 in 2007. [4] The next-to-the bottom fifth — those with incomes between $20,500 and $34,300 in 2007 — paid an average of 10 percent of their incomes in federal taxes.
  • Even these figures understate low-income households’ total tax burden, because these households also pay substantial state and local taxes. Data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy show that the poorest fifth of households paid a stunning 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2010.[5]
  • When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account,the bottom fifth of households paid 16.3 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average, in 2010. The second-poorest fifth paid 20.7 percent. [6]

I know it’s statistics heavy, but some times that’s the best way to see what is actually going on.  Right wing memes seem to thrive on taking things completely out of context and this one about tax dodging poor people is a doozy.  See exactly how many taxes that get paid that weren’t counted in that famous figure which is an anomaly as it is.

Here’s an interesting article at NYT by David Leonhardt  on how today’s economy makes the Great Depression look like the halcyon days.

Still, the reasons for concern today are serious. Even before the financial crisis began, the American economy was not healthy. Job growth was so weak during the economic expansion from 2001 to 2007 that employment failed to keep pace with the growing population, and the share of working adults declined. For the average person with a job, income growth barely exceeded inflation.

The closest thing to a unified explanation for these problems is a mirror image of what made the 1930s so important. Then, the United States was vastly increasing its productive capacity, as Mr. Field argued in his recent book, “A Great Leap Forward.” Partly because the Depression was eliminating inefficiencies but mostly because of the emergence of new technologies, the economy was adding muscle and shedding fat. Those changes, combined with the vast industrialization for World War II, made possible the postwar boom.

In recent years, on the other hand, the economy has not done an especially good job of building its productive capacity. Yes, innovations like the iPad and Twitter have altered daily life. And, yes, companies have figured out how to produce just as many goods and services with fewer workers. But the country has not developed any major new industries that employ large and growing numbers of workers.

There is no contemporary version of the 1870s railroads, the 1920s auto industry or even the 1990s Internet sector. Total economic output over the last decade, as measured by the gross domestic product, has grown more slowly than in any 10-year period during the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s.

Perhaps the most important reason, beyond the financial crisis, is the overall skill level of the work force. The United States is the only rich country in the world that has not substantially increased the share of young adults with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree over the past three decades. Some less technical measures of human capital, like the percentage of children living with two parents, have deteriorated. The country has also chosen not to welcome many scientists and entrepreneurs who would like to move here.

I’m still of the opinion that we should hand out citizenship to any of our highly skill foreign students and do everything we can to keep them here.  I have a feeling I’m in the minority on that opinion, however.

If you want to do some time tripping to a really upsetting period of history for women, here’s The Nation on The Legacy of Anita Hill.  We’re now stuck with this total  jerk on SCOTUS because of people like Joe Biden.  I’ll never forget one of those senators  that let Clarence Thomas get away with it.  They hid the women that could verify her stories and put her squarely in the worst position possible. She handled it with dignity and we all lost.

Anita Hill remains an icon to whom subsequent generations are rightfully indebted. At the same time, she has not remained trapped by her own symbolism or frozen in time. It is sometimes forgotten that she is a respected scholar of contract jurisprudence, commercial law and education policy. She is a prolific author, publishing numerous law review articles, essays, editorials and books. Today, Hill is a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University. Much of her most recent research has been on the housing market, and her most recent book, published this month, is Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home.

It is ironic that the full substance of Hill’s remarkable intellectual presence remains so overshadowed by those fleeting, if powerful, moments of her Senate testimony. If the larger accomplishments of her life aren’t quite as iconic as that confrontation with Clarence Thomas, they nonetheless merit attention by feminists and scholars alike. To begin with, Hill is a remarkably elegant and accessible writer. For those who wish to apprehend the gravitas of her intelligence and dignity, Reimagining Equality would be a good place to start.

Krugman gets the Occupy protestors and has some delightful comments up on the Panic of the Plutocrats.   He eloquently lays out the hype coming from the Cantors and the Bloombergs as well as CNBC and Fox that paints every one upset with their behavior as Leninist.  The descriptions are a hoot but here’s the meat.

The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.

Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

And then there’s the campaign of character assassination against Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer now running for the Senate in Massachusetts. Not long ago a YouTube video of Ms. Warren making an eloquent, down-to-earth case for taxes on the rich went viral. Nothing about what she said was radical — it was no more than a modern riff on Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous dictum that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

I have one more offering that is just for pure delight. It’s a short bit from the daughter of George Harrison’s Business Manager on what it was like to run the halls of crackerbox palace as a child.

Harrison’s wife, Olivia, always took good care of us and, like her husband, had a gentle, calming disposition. I loved going up the great gothic staircase in the living room to the recording studio on the first floor. I was fascinated by the recording console and the selection of instruments. Sometimes, Harrison would play new music for us and ask for our feedback.

Adjacent to the recording studio was a room with gold records and awards and an Oscar statuette. I remember the exhilarating sensation I got picking up the Oscar earned for “Let It Be” and feeling it weigh down my hand.

When it got late, and Dad was still in meetings, we would go to bed in one of the guest rooms down the hall from the studio with sounds of Harrison’s sitar lulling us to sleep.

You can see I’m full throttle academic today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


How Badly Does the World Need iPads?

Man poses as Apple's Steve Jobs at protest in Hong Kong

Are these gadgets really worth the sacrifice of workers’ lives? I admit I’m not an Apple enthusiast, but I don’t think so. Last year there was a series of suicides at Foxconn plants and on Friday, there was a fatal explosion at a Foxcomm iPad factory in Chengdu, China, that killed two workers and injured 15 others. Today a third employee died from injuries sustained in the blast.

Company officials said the explosion occurred on Friday May 20 in one of the polishing workshops at the factory, and that the initial finding of a joint investigation task force led by government officials and law enforcement authorities was that combustible dust exploded in a duct.

A little more detail from Mashable.com:

…the Chinese government in Chengdu has taken over the plant, censoring the information flow to the extent that local newspapers aren’t reporting about it.

With numerous workers committing suicide at the company’s Shenzhen-based iPad plant last year, Foxconn attempted to remedy the situation by giving them raises, but still needed to increase the production capacity to meet increasing demand. As a result, the new factory was built, an enormous eight-building complex hastily constructed in a record-breaking 70 days to accommodate the voracious demand for the iPad 2.

Soon after the factory was built…Apple’s inspection team visited the facility, taking two days to inspect the buildings, production lines and “especially the workers’ dormitories.” After its inspection, Apple approved the plant for manufacturing iPads.

After the suicides in 2010, the group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) investigated the factories and produced a report (pdf) that documents the horrors of the working conditions in Foxconn’s factories.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the study found that slave labor-type conditions are still in effect at the factories. Workers are now forced to sign “no-suicide pacts,” and they are routinely humiliated by “military-style managers.” They may have to work as much as 100 hours of overtime per month, and are still not paid a living wage–they earn only about $186 per month. And Foxconn “routinely” fails to pay workers the correct amounts they have earned. This is after Apple visited the factories and approved the wages and working conditions!

Conditions at Foxconn’s two Chengdu factories, which exclusively produce Apple iPads, were among the worst reported. While nets have been installed to catch suicidal workers, factory staff are reportedly required to sign “no-suicide” pacts which also give licence to Foxconn to institutionalise them if it sees fit.

Workers at Chengdu say they are routinely humiliated and scolded by management. One was forced to stand in a corner with his hands behind his back because he giggled with a colleague. Others have been required to write confession letters to their supervisors after making mistakes and in some cases read the letters out in front of colleagues.

“Some of my roommates weep in the dormitory. I want to cry as well but my tears have not come out,” said 19-year-old Chengdu worker Chen Liming.

Ah Ming, 19, who produces cases for the iPad, said he stands for at least 14 hours a day. He wakes up at 7am to queue for the bus to the factory and it is 9pm by the time he returns home every evening.

The report also found that workers don’t

have adequate protections to safeguard against occupational health and safety issues such as aluminium dust and harsh reactions from chemicals used in the production process.

“I’m breathing in dust at Foxconn just like a vacuum cleaner. My nostrils are totally black every day,” one male worker said.

From the aptly named “Crave” blog at Cnet.com:

SACOM researchers visited Foxconn plants in Chengdu, where iPads are produced; in Chongqing, a smaller facility making mostly HP products; and Foxconn’s huge campus in Shenzhen, where half a million workers assemble a variety of computers, mobile phones, and additional products for Apple, HP, Nokia, Dell, and others. The researchers claim to have observed a number of problems at the Chengdu facilities in particular:

Workers do not have adequate training on usage of chemicals and do not have regular on-post health examinations. A number of interviewees even complain they suffer from allergy, but the management does not probe into the adverse health impacts of workers. Workers also highlight the problem of poor ventilation and inadequate personal protective equipment.

While SACOM notes the lack of ventilation as a possible threat to workers’ respiratory health, it appears that it may also have been a contributing factor to Friday’s explosion, which reportedly was centered in the “polishing” section of Foxconn’s facilities.

According to the report, the polishing department is filled with aluminum dust and there is inadequate ventilation.

Both aluminum and magnesium are commonly used ingredients in industrial polish–magnesium is a highly flammable metal used in fireworks, flares, and flash powder. A buildup of such dust due to improper ventilation could have created dangerous conditions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m very glad I don’t have an iPad, because if I did I’d be tempted to trash it right about now. If this is what it takes to produce a gadget that appears to be little more than a glorified cell phone that doesn’t do much other than provide entertainment and status to its users, I say it’s not worth it.