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Archive for the ‘generic stuff’ Category

What’s something wealthy people know that normal people should know?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 6, 2018

Basically, everything listed in The Millionaire Next Door, a mythbusting research into the actual habits of actual American millionaires.
All “normal” people should just buy it and read it – even if I’m quite sure that, no matter how many times they read it, most will not put those things into practice.

Three points in my opinion especially stand out:
1) Millionaires not only have a different view of money, time and wealth, but also marry people who have those same views; in fact, the wives of the researched male millionaires were often even more strategic and thrifty than them
2) Their kids don’t grow up spoiled, and are economically self-sufficient the moment they become adults; millionaires are driven by the idea of passing down their wealth, therefore they’ll give the next generation the necessary knowledge and tools to learn its value, manage it well, and avoid burning it
3) They couldn’t care less about playing the consumerism game, wasting their resources (including time) just to display high social status (hence the book’s title); that path makes you more dependent, not less

Most people don’t care about becoming millionaires, but most people care about being financially stable. Thus, applying the book’s principles just partially would already be enough… but too many don’t (and won’t) even do that.

Annunci

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Which Eastern European countries have the best chances of surpassing Western European countries? (by economic development)

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

In terms of GDP per capita, the best positioned is Estonia.

The country has, for now, made all the best possible choices it could have made regarding economic reforms and digitalization of the public and private sector, has a good education system, very low levels of crime, a lean and fast bureaucracy, a sustainable <8% pensions/GDP ratio, a healthy financial sector, citizens with a strong civic sense, and a culture that firmly and instinctively rejects bad populist (both leftist and conservative) policies disguised as “socially good”.

Tallinn is already the biggest innovative ecosystem in Eastern Europe in terms of investments volume and ROI on startups.
They really want you to bring money and businesses there, and have made things as attractive as they could from a bureaucratic and fiscal point of view.

The crucial problem Estonia faces is a dramatic brain drain – young professionals get a good education and formation, but then escape to some other place in Western Europe where the climate is less cold and salaries are high, no matter how smart and effective their own government is.

Other possible issues: geographic location, and small territorial size (but in an advanced digital economy, they can be both at least partially neutralized).

Give it time, though.
We’ve already had two examples of countries following similar patterns and strategies: Singapore and Israel. Look at where they both are now.
Also, many Western European countries seem to struggle quite a bit with heavy debt, aging population, absurd bureaucracy, and are not at the point where they should be in terms of digitalizing the economy and creating innovative ecosystems. The political direction is controlled by baby boomers, and they’re systematically averse to any possible loss of privileges and any status quo change. The majority of the wealth is in their hands, and is not getting invested where it should. The political currents on the rise are infected by far right and far left populists talking about rubbish instead of sound, rational reforms.

Estonia either didn’t start with or already solved those problems when it was time to first rebuild itself fast after 1991, and then to push itself hard to join the EU in 2004. They won’t likely face anything similar in the next decades, and they’re small, flexible and rational enough to potentially become an Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Singapore. Time will tell…

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What does the Hungarian language sound like to those who don’t speak it?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

I lived in Budapest for 4 months.

I’m a native Italian, but quite accustomed to listening to Slavic languages, especially Croatian and Slovenian, and with of course an obvious exposure to Germanic languages as well as other Romance languages.

The first big thing I noticed was how it didn’t sound Slavic at all, and it didn’t have any of the typical Slavic sounds. Ditto for Germanic. Almost all Slavic (with, for me, the interesting exception of Russian, which I find quite “polished” and musical compared to the others) and Germanic (yes, even English, at least in part) languages can sound quite harsh and “angular” when you come from a Romance language – while Hungarian doesn’t. The sounds are softer and the words and sentences have a better flow, more fluid.

The second, surprising one, was that it didn’t seem like it had an accent. Not only that, but it sounded more “natural” and similar to what I’d recognize as an Italian speaking. The bizarre sensation was to feel like people could have easily switched and talked to me in Italian from one moment to the next if they wanted. That’s probably because of the ancient connection to Finnish, which is oddly similar in phonetics and pronunciation to Italian.
Written Hungarian doesn’t look like anything else (you can just find some similarities with Finnish, Estonian and Turkish, but it’s a stretch), so you have to start decoding it from absolute zero, and this created the very weird contrast of listening to familiar sounds, which thus sounded easy to the ear, that at the same time looked impossibly alien once seen in their written form.

Finally, Hungarians sounded to me like having a quite “steady” way of speaking, with little swings or peaks in any direction. And, when someone had a more different tone than the average, it almost always was on the soft-spoken side of the spectrum. I never heard anyone shouting, and rarely someone even being just loud (then again, my benchmark is Italians, so I’m sure many Northern and Eastern Europeans will disagree). This also contributes to the way you process what you hear.

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Which is the most liberal European country in terms of culture?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 25, 2018

With liberalism defined as the maximization of both personal/social and economic freedom:

Switzerland.
It ranks as world’s #1 in:
– Cato’s Index of Personal and Economic Freedom
And Europe’s #1 in:
– Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom

Followed very closely by:
Ireland.
Sky-high in all three as well.

Other super rankers:
Denmark, Netherlands, UK, Luxembourg, Estonia, Sweden.

All these countries rank higher than the US in all three measures.

If your question had more to do with the personal/social dimension, add to the list Norway, Finland and Austria, which surpass all the others there.

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How does Elon Musk organize his time so that he can work 80 hours a week?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 25, 2018

I don’t know when and where the “5 minute slots” story started, but it’s false.
He just wrote on Twitter he doesn’t use it:

Which is perfectly in line with what all the research on creative and “deep” work (I use this term since it’s been popularized by Cal Newport) says.

It’s pretty much well-known that he splits his time 50/50 between Tesla and SpaceX (confirmed recently by Gwynne Shotwell).
On more than one occasion (here’s one), Musk stated he enjoys focusing on engineering and design, not on sales and finance.
He also doesn’t enjoy managing in general, as confirmed by another recent tweet:

And, as documented in his biography (plus various interviews), he typically sleeps 6.5 hours and eats meals in 5 minutes.
Add to all this the fact that he obviously outsources a lot, just like any other CEO.
So, combining all these info, I think it’s plausible to say he tries to organize his time to do what he enjoys the most – which is uninterrupted, focused, creative work on engineering and design. And that’s the reason why he’s able to work like crazy, to the point of seeing eating and sleeping as distractions to optimize.
He likely tries to outsource everything he can – but of course it’s not possible. So he still has to do a lot of stuff in operations, processes, finance, sales, PR via media and interviews, etc. But he likely sees all that as a necessity to be able to do what he actually enjoys and would potentially spend all his time doing.

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Why is Italy poorer and more underdeveloped than other European countries?

Posted by StepTb su dicembre 18, 2017

First of all, Italy is quite wealthy, it’s one of the 10 top economies in the world.

And not only that, but the Italian super-rich cohort keeps growing. In fact, it has just pushed the country to the world’s #8 for financial wealth, says a report by The Boston Consulting Group.

The problem is where all that wealth gets produced, and where all that wealth goes.

That’s why the country falls down to somewhere around #25-36 once you look at the GDP (PPP) per capita.

A small part of the country (the North, and not even all of it) produces >60% of the national GDP; at the same time, internal inequality has been steadily increasing for decades, with fewer and fewer people actually seeing that wealth because of internal dysfunctions in both the public and private sector.

The dysfunctions are due to excessively high costs, excessively low productivity, family and personal relationships considered more important than skills when hiring and promoting, protectionist laws, and a distorted use of public resources. These problems found a weird vicious balance during the decades right after the economic boom, but the 1992 (both political and economic) crisis first and the 2007–2008 financial crisis later inflicted a fatal blow to the absurd system that was built up until then. Italians have yet to wake up to the fact that that system was absurd and that it needs to be forgotten, though. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s also impossible to make most of them understand the basic point that a country grows if its productivity does. For some reason, the argument gets constantly ignored or rejected by the public.

The 5 key reforms Italy needs ASAP are:
1. Making pensions sustainable (pensions/GDP is at 16%, and we’re projected to have a retired person for every working person by 2045)
2. Making the public sector efficient and accountable, and creating a federalist system (a real one, unlike the fake federal reforms that have blown up public debt for decades), to make regions (especially in the South, but also Rome) accountable and fiscally responsible
3. Cutting regressive taxes and bureaucracy (you can do this only after #1 and #2)
4. Increasing the private sector productivity by removing laws and subsidies that are artificially keeping unproductive firms alive and new, better competitors out of the market (you can do this only after #3)
5. Reforming the banking system, which is undercapitalized and unable to guarantee access to credit

The problem with productivity (#4) is concentrated in the small firms, which, unfortunately, occupy the vast majority of the Italian workforce (some sources say around 70%). It’s extremely difficult to do something about it, because too many voters are employed there, and too many of them prefer the status quo to a better possible future where they can be more productive and make more money.

productivity_smallfirms.jpg

Nobody is touching #5 because of rampant cronyism and corruption.
Some micro reforms have been done during Italy’s darkest hour, after the financial recession nearly made us collapse (2011), especially about #1. But it wasn’t enough.
Renzi tried to do something about #2, but it wasn’t enough, and his main idea (the referendum that didn’t pass) was going in the wrong direction in more than one sense.
The perfect moment to do all that was in the early 2000s, a stagnant but stable time when we had just joined the Euro and were enjoying low interest rates. But we lost a decade thanks to Berlusconi and his banana republic antics on one hand, and thanks to people obsessed by him 24/7 (rather than by those issues) on the other. Now it’s late. Anyone attempting to attack those points will lose the elections, because most Italians live with the dream that things could just go back to Eldorado (the 1980s, basically, when money was growing on trees), and, if they don’t, it’s because there’s some conspiracy going on (blame the EU, the Euro, the immigrants, the masons, the technocrats, Germany, CIA, politicians’ salaries, you name it – you can even find several examples in the other answers to this question here on Quora). They just can’t accept the fact that the world has changed and that’s what we should do as well, radically. Because we can’t afford to have an inefficient public sector anymore, we can’t afford to compete on low costs of labor anymore, and we can’t afford not to invest in innovation and not to jump to produce new things and leave behind the old models (non-innovative, non-meritocratic, family-run or relationship-based businesses and protected professions) anymore.

Until then, we’ll just keep stagnating and electing worse and worse demagogues promising us to go back to Eldorado through some silly or nasty slogan.
And, with a stagnating growth and a broken public sector, wealth will be shared with fewer and fewer people.
And young people with college degrees and work ethic will remain unemployed, or forced to compete like crazy for the few good jobs in the few productive centers, and to accept miserable wages to sustain the privileges accumulated by the Baby Boomers during the past crazy decades. Or forced to move out of the country, somewhere where they can be absorbed by the economy and be productive.

If you want to know more about the crazy policies that undermined the Italian public sector and distorted the social contract, I suggest two books: Il macigno and La lista della spesa.
If you want an overall analysis of the major problems of the Italian economy, then read I sette peccati capitali dell’economia Italiana.
All these three books were written by the economist Carlo Cottarelli, who got hired by the Government to help solving them, and then left the role once he realized nobody actually had any intention of applying his tips.

P.S.
Two related videos, in English.

The first one focuses especially on the productivity problem of the Italian private sector and how it deliberately missed the IT train in the 1990s.

The second one explores three hypotheses to the question of “why has Italy stopped growing?”: 1. the size of the public sector, 2. the Euro, 3. the failed transition from an imitation to an innovation economy. Then it shows how some popular explanations (joining the Euro and having the wrong sectoral allocation) don’t hold once you scrutinize the data. The data show instead that the inequality of productivity and profits between exporting firms and firms oriented only to the local market has dramatically increased – with the first ones driving up the economy, and the second ones driving it down, since they should close and disappear, but they don’t because they’re protected by anti-competition laws and rules.
So the only possible solution should be to enable the reallocation of capital from the inefficient protected firms to the efficient and competitive ones, but it can’t be done because the large institutions (built during the imitation phase and useful back then but not now) have gained too much power to be dismantled, an excessive number of Italians are employed in the unproductive smaller firms plus are not willing to change anything of their situation, and, as a consequence, the political parties’ culture is generally anti-competition across the entire spectrum.
The other odd difference found is that, unlike in other developed countries, in the productive firms, management comes mostly from within the family who owns the business.

They’re both must-watch, and probably the best ones on Youtube on the subject, if you’re interested in understanding the Italian economy.

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Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?

Posted by StepTb su novembre 6, 2017

When will you Americans stop using the term “liberal” in the wrong way?

It’s quite sad to hear, especially since the US was founded as a liberal society.
The US, EU, and the rest of the modern developed nations are, thank God, all liberal societies, with a strong rule of law that exists to promote and protect individual liberty.

Then, within liberalism, there are different currents and schools of thought.
Social liberalism thinks that putting public money into the creation of safety nets and development programs is a better way to achieve the collective sum of individual liberties, because without a certain level of fairness in society, a random-born individual will have too high a probability of being unable to have choices and thus freedom. The debate among parties, here, is more on the effectiveness of specific solutions and resources allocations than on anything else.
Economic liberalism thinks the individual should be as free as possible to create wealth, and this will translate into a wealthier and freer society. Social liberalism advocates normally agree with this position, both in the US and in Europe. The whole debate on the best degree of economic freedom revolves around market failures and negative externalities. European countries are well aware of those points, and actually the debate in a lot of EU countries on how to best preserve economic liberalism is conducted in a more serious way than in the US, see for example Sweden’s fiscal policies for innovation and new businesses (How Sweden became the startup capital of Europe, Why does Sweden produce so many startups?), or Denmark’s labor market liberalizations, or anti-trust actions against big business giants.
(Your real-life average conservative is actually a mix of the two; for example, he thinks putting a lot of public money into military and defense is a good strategy to protect people’s freedom, and is ok with politicians doing it. So it comes down to a difference in allocation preferences.)
I’m making it brutally simplistic, but that’s how it is, basically. The differences are really small.
Take a look at China if you want to start to see some radical differences, not at the opposite party or at Europe.
I’m well aware politicians and media pundits want to create a climate of cultural war and polarization so they can manipulate your emotions and profit, but you shouldn’t play their game. That’s what a negative externality looks like.

Please educate yourself – consider that if you keep talking in those terms, when you’re doing it with someone coming from a European university or even just high school, you’re showing a lack of basic knowledge about Western history and/or a lack of critical thinking. Not a good signal to give, *especially* if you label yourself as a conservative. Conservatives should be the first ones to be interested in preserving historical knowledge.

See also:
– Human Freedom Index
– Index of Economic Freedom – Country Rankings
Year after year, these indexes keep showing a strong correlation between freedom and higher incomes, between democracy and freedom, between personal freedom and economic freedom.
Feel lucky and grateful to live in a liberal society where these are the common values.
Try to live for a couple of years in some of the countries scoring <5.5 if you think a less liberal society would be better.

P.S. A timeless, recommended read: The Open Society and Its Enemies

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Who is the richest person alive right now?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 27, 2017

I agree with Jasmin Bataille’s analysis.
Not to mention all the other natural resources other than oil that Russia is full of.
Putin de facto has strategic control over the entire national economy, which at 1283 billion US dollars constitutes the 2.07% of the entire world’s economy, and rule of law doesn’t apply to him (and others).
Proof and reinforcement to this is also the fact that, in just 10 years (2005-2015), Government plus State-owned companies have grown their share from 35% to 70% of the Russian GDP.
Even Saudi Arabia, at 646 billions and without a single person having a comparable position, is no match.
Charts like the one by Forbes only estimate wealth obtained via the very well defined set of rules of current US free market capitalism, they’re useless once you move away from that. You can’t use those formulas to compute how much wealth public sector (or crony private sector) figures de facto control in countries with a non-liberal, non-free market (by the western/US definition) system.

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Is there scientific consensus on social media being echo chambers? Whenever I see the expression used, the author seems to imply it’s an established fact

Posted by StepTb su settembre 22, 2017

No. Even if the “echo chambers theory” gets cited by politicians and journalists as if it’s a fact (because it provides a simple way for those two groups to explain phenomena and justify personal stances), in reality there isn’t a real scientific consensus on it.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcom.12315/full doesn’t find evidence of a worse fragmentation pattern in online media relative to offline, as well as of the existence of filter bubbles, in the 6 selected developed countries.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227747056_Politically_Motivated_Reinforcement_Seeking_Reframing_the_Selective_Exposure_Debate doesn’t find empirical evidence of the “selective exposure” concept as formulated by the EC theory defenders, who say reinforcement seeking and challenge avoidance are strictly related; it finds, instead, that the trend seems to follow the first one without following the second one (which would be the real dangerous one of the two),

Another study here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0267323117695734

And another one here: New theory, old problem (EC theory fails to replicate)

Here’s another one, specific to politics: Epistemic Factors in Selective Exposure and Political Misperceptions on the Right and Left

And here’s another one: Exposure to Political Disagreement in Social Media Versus Face-to-Face and Anonymous Online Settings (the perception of political conflicts increases on social media instead of decreasing, ergo social media don’t work as filter bubbles)

And here’s another one, observing the last USA presidential elections: Helping populism win? Social media use, filter bubbles, and support for populist presidential candidates in the 2016 US election campaign

Another network analysis paper with a focus on Australia can be found here: http://snurb.info/files/2017/Echo%20Chamber.pdf

And another one: News consumption on Facebook led to less polarization and greater exposure to counter-attitudinal content https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1444783?journalCode=rics20

In general, the negative feelings seem to derive from an idealized view of the offline world. If you think about it, for a person it’s on average way easier to build a customized bubble in his or her offline life. Just take into consideration the daily lives of people once you eliminate interaction with media: they’re exposed to the same social circle, the same workplace, they go to the same places, etc. Social media are relatively more unpredictable, and even if you try to build your own personal bubble (mimicking the regular behavior humans exhibit offline), you’ll have actually more chances to come across new trends and diverging content.

Another interesting point: some decades ago, another version of the EC theory was formulated for what we now call ‘traditional media’. McGuire, one of the pioneers of psychology applied to political science, wrote that the first part of that theory (seeking ideas that reinforce your own ideas) had found some relative validation, while the second part (avoiding different opinions) never got proven.
It’s curious to observe how some people have taken, and shaken the dust off, the same exact theoretical framework, but this time for new media.

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Why does Poland have such a low birth rate?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 14, 2017

It really seems to be a bit of a puzzle, when you look at the numbers: Poland | Economic Indicators

  • Poland has experienced a stable economic growth for many years
  • The trend in wages growth has always remained positive
  • The unemployment rate, at 7%, has never been so low since the 1990s, and it will probably go down even further in the next years
  • The youth unemployment rate was very high in 1998–2004, but then went rapidly down (the Visegrád Group joined the EU in 2004), went up again a bit after the 2008 crisis, and then went down again and it’s now at a sustainable 15%
  • It should be therefore safe to say that people in Poland don’t have many reasons to hold a bleak/pessimistic view of the future, which instead can explain the <1.5 birth rate of other countries (Greece, Italy)
  • On top of all that, Poland is also a homogeneous and religious country, with 94.30 % of its citizens identifying as Christians – which is a trait positively correlated with high birth rates

Why then does Poland have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, at 1.2–1.3?

I suspect it’s another good example of reality not matching the model’s predictions – at least if you use simplistic models with simplistic assumptions.

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Why do intelligent people end up being lonely in life?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 3, 2017

I can come up with two explanations.

1. Being very different than the average (in any trait, really) means that, unless you’re one of the lucky ones, most things around you don’t satisfy you, since they weren’t built “for you” (or people like you). This will make you change your environment due to dissatisfaction and lack of sense of belonging at a certain point, and move somewhere else. And this, in turn, will basically kill the social environment you were a part of before the change; like expats and refugees, you’ll have to start a new life from scratch. And, as everyone knows, the older you get the harder it is to build a social circle – it’s easy to end up being lonely no matter your efforts.

2. Having a remarkable talent usually comes with a curse: the realization you’re also wasting it. This makes you visualize bigger goals and work more, because you’re driven by the fear of wasting your potential.
In the case of highly intelligent people, this translates into utilizing your abilities to solve complex problems. But working on hard stuff, of course, implies sacrificing most (if not all) of your time to study in depth a field, then an area of specialization, and finally hypothesizing and developing possible solutions through trial and error.
In the meantime, the people around you will go on with their lives. You’ll basically disappear from their lives, and the overall divide between you and them will increasingly grow – at a certain point, even having a casual conversation will become difficult, for the lack of common ground. Other people don’t put studying and working 24/7 before social relationships and communities, and will think you’re strange, and possibly unlikable or disagreeable, for doing it. So, at the end of the day, you’ll both end up with what you aimed for: social relationships for them, expertise and loneliness for you.

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In what country is High School the hardest?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 18, 2016

(Titoli alternativi:
– Alle superiori in Ita si studia “troppo poco”: uhm, davvero?
– Siamo pigri, dobbiamo fare come gli asiatici che invece a scuola si fanno il mazzo. O forse no…
– Bla bla vari su stakanovismo studenti non-Ita o riforme scuola Ita che mancano totalmente il punto)

To answer, I think we should take into account three metrics:
1. How much time you need to spend in class
2. How much time you need to spend doing homework
3. The material’s difficulty level

I don’t know about 3, but we can find an answer to 2 here: Homework around the world: how much is too much?

China (Shanghai) dominates the chart, with 14 hours/week, followed by Russian Federation (10), Singapore (9.5), Kazakhstan and Italy (9).
All the other countries are below 7.5, with most of them around 5. US, Hong Kong and Australia are around 6.
At the bottom of the chart, we can find the students from Finland, Korea and Czech Republic, who spend an average of 3 hours/week.
Poland also scores relatively high (6.6). Canada, Netherlands and France are around average. Israel, Austria and Denmark are below average. Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Japan are near the bottom.

As for 1, some OECD data about “average number of hours per year of total compulsory instruction time” can be found here.

For “Age 15 – typical programme”, the countries surpassing 1000 hours/year are Austria, France, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands and Spain.
China has only 750 (most likely evening lessons are counted as tutoring/private study, hence why they top the other chart but not this one).
Finland 856, Russia 912, Czech Republic 950.
Poland, Chile, Greece, Hungary and Sweden are at the bottom, with less than 700 h/y.
US hours vary a lot between different States, but, judging from this, it seems they’re around 950–1000 on average.
I couldn’t find data for Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In another chart, Education resources – Teaching hours – OECD Data, “teaching hours” in “upper secondary” education, the countries at the bottom are Denmark, Greece, Russia, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Korea (contradicting the other data), Israel and Poland.
Italy and France here are around the OECD average.
Argentina, Chile (contradicting the other data), Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Netherlands top the chart.

Korea, the current #1 performer in nearly every international assessment, seems less demanding and more balanced than both China and Italy.
Singapore, another top performer, is likely very demanding, near the Chinese level.
Japan, another top performer, seems on the other hand less demanding than all four.
Finland, another regular top performer, is instead much more relaxed and less demanding not just than all the other five, but even than the OECD average.
Poland, Netherlands, Russia and Canada seem all fairly demanding, with above average demands correlated to top results. Hong Kong is probably the same.
Israel, Denmark and Czech Republic seem to be highly efficient (even if less than Japan and Finland), producing more than what they demand.
Italy strikes as highly inefficient: it demands top commitment and dedication from students, but it doesn’t top charts.
The examples of, above all, Italy, Japan and Finland, suggest that making school ‘hard’ and making it ‘efficient’ are two different things.

Now, some observations on #3 and Italy:
In the Italian case, the only type of institute being equally demanding in both Humanities+Philosophy and Science+Math areas is the so-called Liceo Scientifico (Science High School).
Plus, difficulty varies a lot on a regional/local basis, with some regions like Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia being particularly hard on students, and many others being softer (see Quant’è generosa o severa la tua scuola superiore alla maturità? and Maturità, la geografia dei voti racconta un Paese diviso).
Probably, at the end of the day, Iocal differences weigh more than the institute’s type, and a good HS in the 5–6 ‘hard’ regions is still hard.

A final consideration on the Italian case:
Not many people know Italian HS actually demands top commitment both in lessons hours/year and in homework hours/week when compared to the rest of the world (points #1 and #2).
The material’s difficulty and teacher’s strictness (point #3) are two metrics that vary a lot between regions and institutes, especially in the Italian case. If we take into account this big internal heterogeneity (that can help us understand why the national system as a whole isn’t a top performer, even if it’s not enough) and we add it to the previous observation, it means the ‘hard’ regions (Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Liguria, Piemonte, Veneto – more or less in this exact order) and the ‘hard’ institutes are actually *really* hard.
Conclusion: if you attended an Italian Liceo Scientifico in one of the ‘hard’ regions, you attended one of the hardest and most demanding high schools in the world.

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Il complottismo non ha un colore, ma forse ha una causa

Posted by StepTb su aprile 25, 2015

Post sul complottismo che mi tenevo in canna da un po’ di mesi.

Colgo l’occasione perché non molto fa è uscito un articolo su Scientific American (link) che ricorda tre dati a proposito delle tendenza a credere alle teorie del complotto.

1) “Surveys by Uscinski and Parent show that believers in conspiracies “cut across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level, and occupational status.” People on both the political left and right, for example, believe in conspiracies roughly equally, although each finds different cabals.

Come hanno confermato vari poll e studi prima di questo, il complottismo non è né di destra, né di sinistra.
Qui userò l’aneddotica: come chiunque capace di ragionare, anche a me capitò, appena iniziato a capire cosa fosse la politica, di imbattermi nel “pensiero” estremista di un colore e dell’altro, e di riconoscerlo in entrambi i casi come imbecille ad essere generosi. Ciò che non focalizzavo ancora bene era il fatto che entrambi utilizzassero della retorica complottista per portare avanti le proprie tesi – questo perché ho scoperto cosa effettivamente fossero i complottisti solamente una volta avuta l’ADSL e finito per sbaglio nel pozzo online delle paranoie in libertà di cui prima ignoravo l’esistenza.
Tuttavia, nel frequente caso in cui il grosso degli anni giovanili venga passato in ambienti saturi di litania anti-USA, anti-Israele e anti-“sistema”, ci si può facilmente convincere che ormai, in quest’epoca post-WWII e post-68, il complottismo abbia trovato casa per l’appunto nel pensiero sessantottino del “fight the system” e bla bla; tale è stata per un certo periodo anche la mia sensazione. Un confronto, anni dopo, con utenti americani, mi ha svelato che, ironicamente, nel Nuovo Continente il complottismo viene al contrario visto come “di destra”, a causa del loro peculiare assetto politico in cui la dx (che sia conservatrice o libertarian) non è mai dx sociale, ma sempre contraria alle politiche stataliste, e quindi è la dx quella ad essere scettica e, nei casi estremi, paranoica nei confronti del “sistema”. Ma anche la loro sx è mobile, e abbraccia con disinvoltura aperture complottiste nel momento in cui le fa più comodo (dal noto esempio dell’omicidio JFK a tutte le paranoie contro le corporation, non ultime quelle sulla Monsanto e su tutti gli OGM).
La prova empirica di quest’assenza di colore, nel nostro panorama nazionale, è stata data dall’entrata nell’arena politica del M5S; costruito su più basi sedimentate (il seme originario può essere individuato negli spettacoli grilleschi anni ’90), sfruttando un’onda lunga di sentimenti antisistema, non s’è fatto scrupoli ad accogliere e far leva a livelli diversi su complottismi d’ogni genere (1, 2, 3, 4), e, allo stesso tempo, ha pescato a strascico lungo tutto l’asse da dx a sx.
A distanza di tempo, appare evidente come le ideologie estremiste poggino le proprie basi su complottismi più o meno celati: per essere estremisti, costoro necessitano di prendere una posizione manichea secondo cui “l’altro” è il nemico assoluto che li opprime, mentre ammettere proprie colpe e mancanze finirebbe inevitabilmente per trasformare il bianco/nero in una scala di grigi, e dunque ricadere verso posizioni centriste.
Più o meno celati, perché spesso il ragionamento complottista si annida dietro talmente tanti strati di retorica che può diventare difficile riconoscerlo come tale. Un caso che non può più essere celato, perché la Storia ce l’ha consegnato già analizzato e sviscerato, è quello del filone antisemita che culminò nel periodo nefasto cui resterà indissolubilmente legato. Un caso molto più insidioso, perché nascosto dietro problemi sociali realistici e al ricatto morale del politicamente corretto, è quello, tipicamente di sinistra, del dividere la popolazione in gruppi identitari a cui rivolgersi politicamente e ai quali vendere il concetto (complottista) secondo cui ogni loro problema è causa di un altro gruppo identitario, stavolta di maggioranza, che li ha sempre oppressi – ignorando platealmente il fatto storico che, lungo il corso del tempo, anche in quella stessa maggioranza il potere è sempre rimasto nelle mani di una minuscola élite.
E infatti,

2) “Group identity is also a factor. African-Americans are more likely to believe that the CIA planted crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. White Americans are more likely to believe that the government is conspiring to tax the rich to support welfare queens and turn the country into a socialist utopia.

3) Infine, “42 percent of those without a high school diploma are high in conspiratorial predispositions, compared with 23 percent with postgraduate degrees.
– Come mostrano i dati, la variabile dell’educazione da sola non basta a spiegare la tendenza al complottismo: nonostante si rilevi una riduzione, quasi un quarto di chi possiede titoli superiori alla laurea triennale ne risulta ancora non immune.
Potrebbe quindi essere spiegata col benessere economico? Pare di no (vedi più sotto).
Io ho una teoria su quale sia il fattore principale, che ho dedotto da una ricerca sul web in cui ho confrontato varie fonti.

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_National_ConspiracyTheories_040213.pdf
La prima pagina riassume un po’ tutto il discorso di poc’anzi. C’è una distribuzione equa di chi crede ai complotti, che varia grandemente a seconda di come viene formulata la domanda (non essendoci una definizione universale di cosa sia esattamente un complotto, la formulazione della domanda può contenere questo o quell’altro bias e variare di molto il risultato), ma anche del tipo di complotto (NWO e global warming schiaccianti tra i repubblicani, e invece pari sulla guerra in Iraq).

911worldopinionpoll_Sep2008
World poll sul 9/11, condotto nel 2008. Nigeria e Kenya figurano meno complottiste dell’Italia.

A cui va aggiunto http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9760.2008.00325.x/abstract
Si legge solo l’inizio, ma riporta che nel 2006 il 22% dei canadesi credeva al 9/11 come complotto attuato dagli stessi americani. Più della media mondiale, e di varie nazioni nettamente più povere, di due anni dopo.

http://www.911truth.org/images/ZogbyPoll2007.pdf
Poll sul 9/11, la correlazione dell’income non è evidente. Si abbassa e poi si alza quando si passa alla fascia di reddito più alta. Quindi nemmeno la variabile del reddito basta a spiegare la tendenza al complottismo.

http://www.aei.org/files/2013/11/06/-public-opinion-on-conspiracy-theories_181649218739.pdf
Vari poll condotti nel tempo. Pochissimi considerano la variabile income, ma, dove c’è, mostra variazioni di pochi punti. La variabile dell’istruzione ne mostra di più, ma ci si aspetterebbe maggiori variazioni, soprattutto tra high school e college. Il dato ricorrente è di nuovo che, pare, siano equamente distribuiti demograficamente e politicamente, e che varino a seconda del tipo di complotto. Ad esempio, il complotto sull’assassinio di King vince nettamente tra le minoranze etniche e i democratici.
Nelle loro parole:
We don’t find compelling evidence from the data in this document that particular demographic groups are susceptible to a belief in conspiracy theories. It depends on the theory. Middle-aged Americans are more likely to believe in the JFK assassination conspiracy than older or younger ones. Young people and Democrats are most likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories about 9/11. Women are more likely to believe foul play was involved in Princess Diana’s death. While the demographic data presented here are by no means exhaustive, we’re hesitant to endorse what much of the literature concludes – that the young and less educated are more prone to conspiratorial instincts.
– Quindi sia il loro risultato, sia quello più diffuso, mostrano come correlazioni principali delle altre rispetto alla povertà.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02018.x/abstract
Studio che mostra come ci sia una correlazione tra un tipo di personalità machiavellica e la credenza ai complotti. Chi crede ai complotti, è probabile ne farebbe uno.

http://www.psypag.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Issue-88.pdf
Compendio di vari studi. Alle pp. 8-9 elenca la serie di correlazioni finora emerse da essi: bias cognitivi, alti livelli di rifiuto delle norme sociali, autoritarismo, sensazione di impotenza, basso self-esteem, bassa fiducia, cattivo carattere, alti livelli di cinismo politico. Conclude sostenendo ci siano vari meccanismi sia cognitivi che sociali in gioco, e che, per ora, oltre alle correlazioni trovate, gli studi siano ad uno stadio troppo precoce per avventurarsi nell’individuare quali siano invece le cause.
Alle pp. 23-24, parlando della possibile ma in realtà sfuggente correlazione tra complottismo e autoritarismo, secondo me c’è il passaggio che riassume tutto:

Several studies by Monika Grzesiak-Feldman have shown that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in Poland are more likely to be held by authoritarians. Likewise, a study in the 1990s by Yelland and Stone found that authoritarians are more amenable to persuasion that the Holocaust was a hoax, orchestrated by a massive Jewish conspiracy. Viren Swami, a psychologist at the University of Westminster, has demonstrated that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are associated with authoritarianism in a Malaysian sample as well. But there’s some evidence pointing the other way as well. In a separate study, Swami and his colleagues at the University of Westminster showed that 9/11 conspiracy beliefs are associated with negative attitudes toward authority, and John W. McHoskey found that people high in authoritarianism were more likely to be anti-conspiracist when it comes to the JFK assassination. So what’s going on here? It looks like the content of the theories is what matters. The research on the psychology of authoritarianism has long shown that authoritarians tend to derogate and scapegoat minorities, which seems to be what’s going on in a lot of these anti-Semitic cases: a minority is being blamed by the majority for the ills of society. Swami’s Malaysian study actually proposes that the anti-Semitism shown by the Malaysian respondents might be a proxy for anti-Chinese racist attitudes: there are very few Jews in Malaysia, so Malaysian authoritarians might displace their ethnic aggression from a relatively powerful and socially accepted minority group (Chinese) onto one that is almost non-existent in their society and so can be scapegoated without consequence (Jews). In contrast, a lot of modern conspiracy theories have a very populist and antigovernment tone. They blame authorities for the evils of society, not minorities – the American government blew up the Twin Towers, MI6 killed Princess Diana, and so on. So it makes sense that authoritarians would be less likely to believe that their governments are conspiring against them and anti-authoritarians would find this idea more appealing. There’s no uniform association between authoritarianism and conspiracy belief – it seems to depend on the specifics of the theory in question.

Scapegoat, ovvero scaricabarile. De-responsabilizzare psicologicamente se stessi caricando qualsiasi colpa sulle spalle di un capro espiatorio.
Riassunto del tutto: la correlazione tra complottismo e povertà non è abbastanza consistente da poter essere indicata come la principale, sia per ciò che emerge dai risultati esistenti, sia perché mancano ancora studi in materia, e, allo stesso tempo, non c’è una correlazione solida quanto ci si aspetterebbe con l’istruzione.
C’è invece una correlazione ormai provata tra complottismo e varie attitudini psicologiche individuali, tra le quali emergono soprattutto alienazione, “scapegoatism” aka scaricabarile, senso di impotenza, sfiducia nel mainstream (e quindi anche nelle istituzioni) di qualsiasi tipo.
Ipotesi mia finale: da questo si può ipotizzare che un paese come l’Italia, nel quale indoli come scaricabarile e sfiducia sono diffuse, e il declino (che la nostra pessima classe giornalistica si ostina ancora a chiamare “crisi”, ma questo è un altro discorso) è manifesto ovunque da troppi anni, produca più complottismo di, ad esempio, un paese con meno benessere ma avviato verso lo sviluppo, in cui i cittadini hanno iniziato ad avere fiducia nelle istituzioni perché stanno funzionando.
Il dubbio che resta è di essere nel pieno di un circolo vizioso: le persone che tendono ad avere tali qualità negative, e dunque credere ai complotti, magari lo fanno solo per via di una proiezione sul prossimo di ciò che (consciamente o meno) “sanno” di loro stesse, ma ciò significa anche che, se tali persone ne avranno la possibilità, costruiranno o popoleranno istituzioni disfunzionali che avranno l’effetto di propagare una sfiducia verso le stesse sul resto della popolazione, e dunque a loro volta alimentare i sentimenti che danno vita ai complottismi.

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Quote of the Day

Posted by StepTb su gennaio 9, 2015

« Nonostante la mia venerazione per la scienza, non sono uno scientista. Perché uno scientista crede dogmaticamente nell’autorità della scienza mentre io non credo in nessuna autorità ed ho sempre avversato il dogmatismo, e ancora ovunque lo avverso, soprattutto nella scienza.
Sono contrario alla tesi secondo la quale lo scienziato deve credere alla sua teoria. Per quanto mi riguarda, I do not believe in belief, come dice E. M. Foster; in particolare non credo nella scienza. Credo al massimo alla fede nell’etica, e anche lì solo in pochi casi. Credo, ad esempio, che la verità oggettiva sia un valore, dunque un valore etico, forse addirittura il più alto valore, e che la malvagità sia il massimo non-valore. »

– Karl R. Popper, in Alla ricerca di un mondo migliore: conferenze e saggi di trent’anni di attività

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Distopie generazionali

Posted by StepTb su novembre 6, 2014

Non si contano le opere che trattano di distopie. Ciascuna di tali opere, tuttavia, non è riuscita ad anticipare correttamente i reali svolgimenti futuri, e ciò perché le suggestioni distopiche sono strettamente connesse alla situazione presente e passata in cui vengono immaginate, più che a visioni del futuro.
La chiave per capire la nascita delle distopie non sta nell’immaginarsi un futuro che progressivamente diventa sempre più minaccioso perché tale è la direzione naturale degli eventi, ma nel realizzare come sia una cristallizzazione del passato e/o del presente, resistente ai cambiamenti naturali del contesto, a costruire anno dopo anno quello che sarà un futuro nero.
Nell’immaginare le distopie, le fiction partono da un punto nella storia in cui il sistema distopico è già affermato, e una generazione intera si trova nata in un mondo già precipitato; ciò perché ogni distopia nasce come utopia. Il futuro distopico non arriva per progressione naturale della storia: ogni generazione cercherà di perseguire la propria felicità, perciò non finirà mai per mettere in piedi un sistema contrario agli interessi della propria maggioranza.

La distopia si crea perché un dato gruppo, in un dato periodo, vuole creare un’utopia per se stesso. La conseguenza è che il monopolio che così va a crearsi scombina gli equilibri e mantiene i privilegi da una parte della bilancia nonostante tempi e contesti cambino, e dunque chi nasce successivamente a tale cristallizzazione subisce un destino via via peggiore. Una volta che un modello mentale utopistico prende il potere, man mano che i tempi e le circostanze cambieranno esso si rivelerà anno dopo anno sempre più obsoleto: se, durante tale periodo, reagirà stringendosi e solidificandosi nel proprio monopolio invece di adattarsi o cedere, il futuro sarà inevitabilmente quello di una distopia, che finirà per crollare rovinosamente dopo essersi divorata le 2-3-4 generazioni successive.

Non c’è quindi da stupirsi se la generazione più utopistica del dopoguerra, quella dei baby boomers, sia stata anche quella ad aver creato il più sbilanciato sistema di privilegi per se stessa, cristallizzando il proprio presente a spese delle generazioni future, che si trovano a doverne pagare gli errori (tra cui i debiti da essi contratti). Ciò è accaduto in tutto il mondo occidentale, ma in alcuni paesi, come il nostro, per mancanza di un sistema di regole chiaro, efficiente, capace di assorbire ed adattarsi automaticamente ai cambiamenti, e allo stesso tempo con indicatori demografici via via peggiorati, le conseguenze sono state disastrose. Il fatto che si sia creata la famosa “casta” parlamentare è solo la punta dell’iceberg: fuori dalle luci dei riflettori ci sono decine di altre caste create dalla stessa generazione.
Voler dialogare con quella generazione per ridisegnare il sistema è inutile, dal momento che, dopo tutto l’investimento messo nella propria causa, ora essa non è capace di capire lo sbilanciamento che ha creato per chi è venuto dopo. Guardare la realtà dei fatti e realizzare come stiano effettivamente le cose significherebbe per loro dover ripudiare almeno parzialmente l’utopia che li ha guidati, e quindi l’idea di aver fatto bene, di aver combattuto cause giuste e di aver messo in piedi un sistema migliore del precedente. Peccato che su tali idee sia fondata la loro identità generazionale, quindi non ci si può aspettare alcuna comprensione.

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Fuffa d’arcangelo

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 10, 2013

9 ottobre, commenti al rapporto OCSE http://skills.oecd.org/OECD_Skills_Outlook_2013.pdf a confronto.

Boeri su Repubblica: “Questo permette anche di misurare lo spreco di capitale umano. Da noi è macroscopico: con un tasso di disoccupazione giovanile al quaranta per cento, i punteggi dei giovani sono sistematicamente più alti di quelli del resto della popolazione e spesso in modo consistente, cosa peraltro non vera in tutti i paesi (ad esempio non è così in Norvegia, Danimarca, Regno Unito, Giappone e Stati Uniti). […] I disoccupati e le persone inattive, a differenza che in altri paesi, non sono meno competenti di chi lavora. Le donne disoccupate hanno addirittura punteggi migliori sia nelle competenze matematiche che in quelle linguistiche non solo dei disoccupati di sesso maschile, ma anche di chi ha un lavoro e ha più di 55 anni. ”

Uriel: “Finalmente l’ OCSE ha detto cio’ che sostenevo da qualche tempo, ovvero che la stragrande maggioranza dei disoccupati italiani sono semplicemente inoccupabili, e per quanto si sbattano di fare, anche all’estero, non riusciranno mai a trovare un lavoro nel 2013.”

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Global Democracy Ranking, 2012

Posted by StepTb su luglio 27, 2013

http://www.democracyranking.org/en/ranking.htm

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Librerie personali e web: una considerazione rapida

Posted by StepTb su luglio 15, 2013

Questa settimana la mia “libreria” (libri fisici, ebooks e prestiti bibliotecari, a occhio in rapporto 40/30/30) ha superato i 1000 titoli.
Le statistiche sono: 300 ancora da leggere, 300 consultati, 40 abbandonati (rivenduti o cestinati), i restanti in lettura o completati.
I numeri erano circa la metà solamente 4 anni fa, quando ho iniziato a contarli.
Se non fosse per Abebooks, Amazon, cataloghi online, e in casi rari eBay, solo negli ultimi 12 mesi avrei speso, a stima, più di 1000€ in libri invece dei circa 300€ effettivamente spesi (acquistando da Italia, Germania, UK e USA, con prezzo compreso di spedizione quasi sempre minore all’estero – anche nel caso di edizioni italiane, guarda un po’). E avrei conosciuto, letto e comprato 10 volte meno.
Ergo, chiunque parli male di internet e la tennologgìa d’oggi che fa chiudere le piccole librerie tradizionali di una volta e ci disumanizza e causa la grisidellìbbro che non si compra più eccetera eccetera sa già la risposta.

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Uno per tutti?

Posted by StepTb su luglio 2, 2013

Ci arrovelliamo tanto, ma forse il problema dell’Italia è tutto qui:

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Il pastone sbroc della domenica

Posted by StepTb su giugno 30, 2013

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-guardian-wayne-madsen-nsa-scoop-2013-6#ixzz2Xgh05aJk

«Some of Madsen’s controversial views include the belief that President Obama is secretly a homosexual and that the Boston bombing suspects were government agents. He’s also reported on a “former CIA agent” alleging the 2000 USS Cole bombing was perpetrated not by al Qaeda terrorists, but by a missile fired from an Israeli submarine.»

Ma figuriamoci se i nostri professionalissimi tiggì potrebbero mai dare le notizie come andrebbero date.

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