Tuesday assorted links

by on April 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The Hijra of India

by on April 11, 2017 at 7:31 am in Economics, Law, Religion, Travel | Permalink

Driving around Mumba one sometimes sees hijra begging at street intersections. The Indian term hijra is typically translated as eunuch but not all hijra are eunuchs or even want to be eunuchs so the term transgender is more accurate. In India, transgendered people are discriminated against, widely disliked, and feared. At the same time their blessings are sometimes sought after on important occasions.

hijraIt’s common for a transgendered person to be abandoned and thrown out of their home. Most then come to live in small communes of hijra headed by a guru and served by chelas (disciples/students).

We chelas must work hard, do the cooking inside the house, and most of the dancing outside. We have an obligation to look after our guru when she grows old, just like we would look after our own mother. In return, when we first become hijras our Chaman Guru teaches us chelas the way of the eunuchs.

(The quote is from William Dalrymple’s wonderful book, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Dalrymple, however, draws too close a connection between hijra and the kind of eunuchs who were forcibly created to guard harems among the Mughals).

The communes of 5-15 hijras are like families but also like firms. The hijra make money by begging and by blessing weddings and births. The guru’s job is to learn the time and place of such celebrations for which she develop informants among midwives, musicians and caterers. A supra-community of hijra divide each city into exclusive territories. Each guru thus has a local monopoly and any hijra thrown out by her guru forfeits the right to work. A hijra thus has little choice but to work as a chela especially since other avenues of work are closed. Thus, the guru is both mother, father and boss.

The woman in the guru makes him feel motherly toward his chelas, but the man in him makes him authoritarian and dictatorial.

The blessings of the hijra are always double-edged. When are the blessed paying for the blessing and when are they are paying for the hijra not to curse them or just to go away? The hijra are not above embarrassing your wedding guests with bawdy and rude behavior.

Times have never been easy for the hijra but times are especially tough now because only the traditional occupations are open to them yet fewer people today believe in either their blessings or their curses. Many people consider them a nuisance. As a result, earnings are down.

Our main occupation is to perform badhai at weddings, or when a child is born. At such times we sing and dance to bless the newlyweds or the newborn. But can badhai alone fill our stomachs? Obviously not, and so we supplement our earnings by begging on city streets, and performing sex work, and dancing in bars and night clubs. Dancing comes naturally to us hijras.

…We are thus destitute. Estranged from family and ostracized by society, people couldn’t care less how we earn a livelihood, or where our next meal comes from. If a hijra commits a crime, the mob rushes to attack him while the police are only too glad to press charges against him. This is not to justify crime, but to reiterate that all crimes have a social dimension, and in the case of hijras this cannot be overlooked. Yet it is never taken into account.

A small trans and hijra empowerment movement works to bring greater acceptance to allow hijra to move into other occupations. On Sunday, I attended a hijra festival. The hijra were sweet and welcoming when I talked with them but it was not well attended.

The movement has found success among India’s liberal “internationalized” elite. India’s Supreme Court, for example, recognized a third gender in 2014, so Indian passports, driver’s licenses and other official documents now include M, F and an Other category. Gay sex, however, is still against the law (although prosecutions are rare to nonexistent). It’s notable that Bangladesh and Pakistan, two other countries not known for their liberalism, also recognize a third gender. The seeming contradiction is in part because sexual categories are different than in the West so, for example, sex between men and the third gender (hijra) isn’t considered sex between two men. As is true everywhere, all these issues are complicated and contested.

Ardhanari 2Intellectuals can also find support for the third gender in Hindu culture. The Vedas, for example, refer to Tritiya prakrti, people of the third sex, and the major Hindu texts treat homosexuality as normal, or at most give it mild admonishments. Hindu gods will often be reincarnated in different genders or even as hermaphrodites (the sculpture at Elephanta island near Mumbai shown at left depicts a hermaphrodite reincarnation of Shiva). The famous erotic carvings at the Khajuraho temples and elsewhere include depictions of homosexual sex.

The relative tolerance of the Hindu classics leads some people to blame Islamic and British influences on Indian society for it’s intolerance but discrimination against the Hijra is widespread. Although intellectuals may find support for tolerance in Hindu classics, the folk do not. Indians by and large are embarrassed about Khajuraho’s depiction of heterosexual sex, let alone anything more challenging.

The willingness of trans and hijra, both in India and the West, to live with discrimination and abandonment is testament to the great drive to live as one feels one is. I wish the hijra good fortune.

Hat tip: Kshitij Batra for discussion.

Hijra festival 2

*Everybody Lies*

by on April 11, 2017 at 2:54 am in Books, Data Source, Economics, Web/Tech | Permalink

That is the new and fascinating book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, with the subtitle Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.  Here is one of many interesting bits:

Urban areas tend to be well supplied with models of success.  To see the value of being near successful practitioners of a craft when young, compare New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles.  Among the three, new York City produces notable journalists at the highest rate; Boston produces notable scientists at the highest rate; and Los Angeles produces notable actors at the highest rate.  Remember, we are not talking about people who moved there.  And this holds true even after subtracting people with notable parents in that field.

Many of the results in the book are taken from Google data and Google searches.  I was a little chuffed to read this part:

A child born in New York City is 80 percent more likely to make it into Wikipedia than a kid born in Bergen County.

[Actually I was born in Hudson County, but grew up in Bergen.]  And this:

Of the trillions of Google searches during that time [2004-2011], what do you think turned out to be most tightly connected to unemployment?  You might imagine “unemployment office” — or something similar…The highest during the period I searched — and these terms do shift — was “Slutload.”  That’s right, the most frequent search was for a pornographic site.

Here is previous MR coverage of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 11, 2017 at 1:19 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Philippe Desan, Montaigne: A Life.  Knotty, complex, and almost 800 pp., the bottom line nonetheless is that I will not liberate this book but rather keep it forever.  I’ve read only about 200 pp. so far, but it is one of the best guides to understanding its main topic, most of all when it comes to integrating how his written texts sprang from his actual life.

2. Dieter Helm, Burn Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels.  That’s not the right title, because most of this book covers the game rather than the endgame.  This is a careful and conceptual look at how different sectors of energy production are likely to evolve, taking good care to distinguish different parts of the world and stationary vs. mobile energy sources.

3. John F. Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.  A very good and readable book on a much misunderstood topic.  Upon a close read of the data, it turns out the War on Drugs and private prisons are overemphasized as causes of overincarceration, whereas much of the actual blame should be placed on altered incentives for prosecutors.  Note that Pfaff also has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago in addition to his JD.

4. Kevin N. Laland, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.  If you read and profited from Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Success, this book is the next step.  Here are remarks by Robin Hanson on the book.

5. Edna O’Brien, August is a Wicked Month.  Irish fiction, 1967, old and old-fashioned enough that the sex in the story still sizzles, as does the comeuppance.  I will read more of her.

Nadia Hillard’s The Accountability State: US Federal Inspectors General and the Pursuit of Democratic Integrity, is a thorough and useful account of what the title promises.

The Summer Institute on Field Experiments (SIFE) is a highly selective and innovative program at the University of Chicago that brings together the brightest young economists in the world and companies interested in using rigorous field experiment methods and behavioral economics to design solutions to problems they face. Organization partners will share their business challenges, and the Institute’s academics help them to scientifically test new ideas and solutions. The third edition of SIFE will take place at the University of Chicago, July 9-13 2017.

More information can be found here: https://economics.uchicago.edu/content/sife2017

Monday assorted links

by on April 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Interview with Amos Oz.

2. New Harvard student group dedicated to inviting controversial speakers.

3. Understanding loan aversion in education.

4. Profile of Leonard Leo.

5. The most underrated place in every state?

6. My macro-complacency podcast with David Beckworth, more of a macro angle on complacency ideas than anyone else has done.  I consider for instance why ngdp targeting is not more popular, and other such macro issues.

Soon I will be doing a conversation with Dave Barry, podcast only, no public event (alas).  In case you somehow do not know, that is Dave Barry the humorist.  So what should I ask him?

Today is a good day to remember the great Julian Simon. Here’s a piece on just one of his many accomplishments.

Julian Simon helped revolutionize the airline industry by popularizing the idea that carriers should stop randomly removing passengers from overbooked flights and instead auction off the right to be bumped by offering vouchers that go up in value until all the necessary seats have been reassigned. Simon came up with the idea for these auctions in the 1960s, but he wasn’t able to get regulators interested in allowing it until the 1970s. Up until that time, Litan writes, “airlines deliberately did not fill their planes and thus flew with less capacity than they do now, a circumstance that made customers more comfortable, but reduced profits for airlines.” And this, of course, meant they had to charge passengers more to compensate.

By auctioning off overbooked seats, economist James Heins estimates that $100 billion has been saved by the airline industry and its customers in the 30-plus years since the practice was introduced.

From Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, vol.II, p.99, from “The Soul of the City”:

The stone Colossus “Cosmopolis” stands at the end of the life’s course of every great Culture.  The Culture-man whom the land has spiritually formed is seized and possessed by his own creation, the City, and is made into its creature, its executive organ, and finally its victim.  This stony mass is the absolute city.  Its image, as it appears with all its grandiose beauty in the light-world of the human eye, contains the whole noble death-symbolism of the definitive thing-become.  The spirit-pervaded stone of Gothic buildings, after a millennium of style-evolution, has become the soulless material of this daemonic stone-desert.

These final cities are wholly intellect.

And on p.107, these cities are described as:

Rootless, dead to the cosmic, irrevocably committed to stone and to intellectualism, it develops a form-language that reproduces every trait of its essence — not the language of becoming and growth, but that of a becomeness and completion, capable of alteration certainly, but not of evolution.

Good thing this is such a silly book!

“The clue to many contrasts in British geography,” wrote the geographer Halford Mackinder in 1902, “is to be found in the opposition of the south-eastern and north-western — the inner and outer faces of the land.  Eastward and southward, between the islands and the continent, are the waters known to history as the Narrow Seas; northward and westward is the Ocean.”  The happy conclusion he drew from this is that Britain has the best of both: “as liberty is the native privilege of an island people, so wealth of initiative is characteristic of a divided people.”

Tradition divides Britain diagonally, demarcating the south/east from the north/west, and imputes great significance to the contrast between these regions in the composition of British identity.  For some, the tension between the two is creative, and Britain’s ingenuity benefits from facing both the Atlantic and Europe.  Celtic was the term coined in the eighteenth century for the Atlantic-facing arc of Scots, Welsh, Manx and Irish…

This is of note:

Since 1821 the population of the Celtic arc of the north and west has declined as a proportion of the population of the United Kingdom, from 46 per cent in 1831, to 20 per cent in 1911, to 16 per cent in 2014, due to famine, independence and emigration.  This is a configuration of the country which we have been losing for nearly two centuries.

That is from the rewarding Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, by Madeleine Bunting.

Here is from a new research paper by Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin, and Paul Bloom:

…despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality.

As I said in a talk at Harvard Business School a few days ago, “if you hear the word “inequality,” the chance that what follows will be wrong is at least 3/4.”

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Sunday assorted links

by on April 9, 2017 at 1:01 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the theme of new research by Karl Halvor Teigen, et.al., here is the abstract:

Events are temporal “figures”, which can be defined as identifiable segments in time, bounded by beginnings and endings. But the functions and importance of these two boundaries differ. We argue that beginnings loom larger than endings by attracting more attention, being judged as more important and interesting, warranting more explanation, and having more causal power. This difference follows from a lay notion that additions (the introduction of something new) imply more change and demand more effort than do subtractions (returning to a previous state of affairs). This “beginning advantage” is demonstrated in eight studies of people’s representations of epochs and events on a historical timeline as well as in cyclical change in the annual seasons. People think it is more important to know when wars and reigns started than when they ended, and are more interested in reading about beginnings than endings of historical movements. Transitional events (such as elections and passages from one season to the next) claim more interest and grow in importance when framed as beginnings of what follows than as conclusions of what came before. As beginnings are often identified in retrospect, the beginning advantage may distort and exaggerate their actual historical importance.

Now let me tell you how I first became interested in this paper…we’ll leave aside why it didn’t quite convince me…

Marco Bresba emails me:

I loved your post on how Food has displaced Music in pop culture (March 29)

I’ve been thinking about the topic for years, and I believe complacency is pertinent.

Musical taste (like one’s taste in wine, food, books, etc.) provides a measure of social currency. It’s a way into a clique you want to join but admittance requires work.

Music no longer provides much of an effort barrier. Mention the most obscure band and I can become an expert in a few hours.

This was not always the case. Rewind to 1985: a classmate mocks me with “I bet you never heard of The Smiths.” He’s right. How do I get up to speed and become cool?

None of my radio stations play the Smiths. One channel teases me with a 3-hour alternative block every Sunday. The cool indie store is a bus ride away. And their inventory is spotty. The good stuff is imported form the UK. A domestic compilation is rumored for next year. Until then, would I be interested in the latest Cure single? They have one copy left. Only $9.99. I pick up the NME instead.

I hit a bunch of used record stores. Every second day. Two weeks later, I find one of the Smiths’ less popular singles. At this rate, I’ll be a fan by the time I graduate high school.

In our age of convenience, food still requires long term planning. At least the stuff foodies value. Will anyone care if I order Massaman Curry on Uber Eats? No. In order to become an elite foodie, I have to leave the house. I must shed my complacency in various ways:

  • I accept a 90 mins line-up to nab a seat at a Celebrity Chef Pop Up.
  • I have to befriend an annoying waiter at a hipster party just to find out how to secretly order raw pork at a suburban joint 45 mins away.
  • I worry I don’t have enough referrals to get invited to the newest alternative supper club.
  • I depend on the cheesemonger that only works on Saturdays to point out the best seasonal stinky varieties.
  • I stay up till midnight that one night Pied de Cochon accepts resos for their Sugar Shack months away.
  • I scold myself for not planning my Italian trip a year in advance –  my bucket list meal at Osteria Francescana now in jeopardy.

In addition to the reasons you mentioned, food obsession will always hold currency because it still requires plenty of legwork. Music just needs an internet connection.

Saturday assorted links

by on April 8, 2017 at 12:28 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink