Mathematicians: refuse to work for the NSA!


In a stirring editorial in the New Scientist, University of Edinburgh mathematician Tom Leinster calls on the world's mathematicians to boycott working for the NSA, which describes itself as the "largest employer of mathematicians in the US" and which may the world's number one employer of mathematicians. Leinster suggests that mathematicians could refuse to work for the NSA, that university heads could refuse to grant professors leave to work at NSA or GCHQ, that national mathematical societies could refuse NSA job-posting ads, and even "expel members who work for agencies of mass surveillance."

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Having leisure time is now a marker for poverty, not riches


In Post-Industrious Society: Why Work Time will not Disappear for our Grandchildren, researchers from Oxford's Centre for Time Use Research argue that there has been a radical shift in the relationship between leisure, work and income. Where once leisure time was a mark of affluence, now it is a marker for poverty. The richer you are, the more likely you are to work long hours; while the poorer you are, the fewer hours you are likely to work every week.

The researchers theorise multiple causes for this. Poor people are more likely to be underemployed and unable to get the work-hours they want (and need) to support themselves. Rich people are likely to work in jobs that disproportionately advance and reward workers who put in overtime, so a 10% increase in hours worked generates more than 10% in expected career-gains.

They also claim that rich workers are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, but I'm skeptical of this -- I think that relative to unskilled workers doing at-will 0-hours temp work whose every move is constrained and scripted by their employers, this is probably true, but I don't think that the white-collar world is producing a lot of people who think that their work is meaningful and rewarding.

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Playing Jenga with heavy earth-moving equipment

In Stack competitions, a bunch of earth-moving equipment plays a monster-scale game of Jenga with 600lb blocks of wood -- pretty amazing skill on the part of the operators!

This is pretty amazing, but don't get too excited about Cat's equipment. Remember, this is the company that bought an Ontario factory, got a huge, multi-year tax break out of the government, then, pretty much the day it ran out, demanded a 50% wage-cut from the union, refused to negotiate, then closed down the factory, fired its workforce just before Christmas, and split town, having waxed fat on corporate welfare. No amount of fun promotional Jenga games can change the fact that if Cat's corporate personhood was literal, the company would be such an obviously dangerous sociopath that it would be permanently institutionalized to protect the rest of society.

Built For It Trials - Stack: Largest Board Game Played with Cat Excavators (via JWZ)

German labor ministry bans after-hours email from managers to employees

The German labor ministry has banned managers from calling or emailing employees outside of working hours as a means of preventing "self-exploitation," wherein workers end up putting in hours while they're off the clock. This follows on from voluntary bans enacted by major German companies like Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom. Managers can contact employees after hours only under "exceptional circumstances." Cory 14

Worker co-ops: business without bosses


Worker-owned co-ops are a mainstay of crappy economies, and are thriving around the world. Worker-owned co-ops have better productivity than regular businesses, pay higher wages, and offer better benefits packages. As Shaila Dewan points out in the NYT, they're also easier to accomplish than hikes in the minimum wage or fairer tax-codes. On the other hand, this may be an argument against them, since they may diffuse energy that could make a bigger impact on ordinary workers' lives if it were devoted to systemic fixes.

Still, the worker-owned co-op movement is doing very well, and some co-ops are even using their profits to kickstart other co-ops around the world -- helping fund the worker buyout of a profitable Chicago window-factory that was suddenly closed by its investors because it wasn't profitable enough. The workers took in money from the Latinamerican Working World fund, bought the factory's equipment, and moved it themselves into a new facility. Now they're their own bosses, running a worker-owned window company called New Era Windows.

It's unimaginable heresy in today's world to suggest that doing things is as important as owning things, and that this entitles the people who do stuff to a say in the disposition of the businesses they make possible. But there was a time, not so long ago, when this was a mainstream idea.

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Brutal working conditions for Qatar Airlines's flight attendants


An article in the Swedish newspaper Expressen documents the human rights abuses suffered by the woman flight attendants on Qatar Airways. These abuses are part of a larger pattern of deplorable labor conditions in Qatar, but Qatar Airlines has the distinction of being a business through which westerners interact with women living under deplorable circumstances. The senior management of QA, including CEO Akbar Al Baker, are accused of sexual harassment, and exercise near-total control over the flight attendants' personal lives, literally locking them in overnight and setting guards on their doors. It's reminiscent of stories of the stories told by women who've escaped abusive husbands, except that the "husband" is a millionaire airline executive and the wives are the vulnerable young women who are made to simper and fetch for passengers travelling to the Qatar.

The contract mentioned in the article is reproduced in part here.

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Portraits of London's 19th century poor


Thomas Lord Busby's 1820 volume Costume Of The Lower Orders was part of a genre of books that featured colourful paintings depicting working people in the streets of London, generally viewed through the lens of an aristocratic voyeur. They're a kind of visual companion to Mayhew's classic London Labour and the London Poor (though this latter dates 20 years after Busby's book).

Another important volume is Thomas Rowlandson's Characteristic Series of the Lower Orders, which Spitalfields Life has excerpted in two posts (1, 2).

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Free houses for writers


Writeahouse is a Detroit-based charity that trains people in carpentry and related trades by having them renovate houses, then gives the houses to writers (novelists, journalists, poets), encouraging them to relocate to Detroit. Applications open in spring 2014. Writers are given a house that is 80 percent renovated, and are responsible for finishing the work and paying insurance and taxes. After two years, they are given the deed to the house, with the stipulation that if they sell the house within five years, Writeahouse gets the right to buy it back at an independently appraised value.

WRITEAHOUSE.ORG (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Department of Labor seeks "Books That Shaped Work in America"

Michael from the US Department of Labor writes, "To commemorate its 100th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Labor has launched Books that Shaped Work in America, an online project that explores work, workers and workplaces through literature, and aims to educates the public about the history, mission and resources of their Labor Department. People from all walks of life are being asked to recommend books that informed them about occupations and careers, and molded their views about work."

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Differences between life when you're poor and life when you're middle class

Beth Pratt writes, "Being poor is different than being middle class. Killer Martinis explains just how different in this post she calls 'Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts'. She begins by telling us that 'rest is a luxury for the rich' and goes on from there."

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Letter from a Chinese forced-labor camp found in Kmart Hallowe'en decorations


Since last Hallowe'en, a woman in Oregon has been circulating a letter she found in a box of decorative tombstones she bought at Kmart. The letter was written by a prisoner in a forced labor camp in China's Masanjia camp; he was imprisoned for practicing Falun Gong, a banned religion whose members have long been targetted for brutal suppression by the Chinese state. CNN located the ex-prisoner and interviewed him as he narrated a story of "inhumane torture" at the camp.

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UC Davis's Officer Pepper Spray gets a $38K payout for mental trauma of being hated by the entire world


Mark wrote in July that Lt John Pike, the UC Davis cop who attained notoriety after he sadistically hosed down seated, peaceful protesters with pepper spray, jetting it directly down their throats and into their eyes, had applied for worker's comp for the psychiatric injuries resulting from everyone in the world thinking he was a horrible, horrible person.

Now he has been awarded $38K by California's Division of Workers' Compensation Appeals Board. He left his job (which paid nearly $120K), and has had to change addresses and phone numbers several times to dodge harassment from his detractors. Davis settled a lawsuit by the protesters he sprayed for $1M.

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McDonald's advises hungry, sick employees to get welfare benefits

In this video from Low Pay is Not OK, we hear some of a recorded conversation between a ten-year McDonald's employee and the company's "McResources" helpline for employees in financial trouble. Nancy, the employee, explains that she can't make ends meet for her family on her McDonald's pay, and the company representative counsels her to enroll in federally funded welfare programs (low-paid fast-food employees account for $7B in welfare payments) to help her eat and get medical care.

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American education's use of "value added measures" is statistically bankrupt

American teachers are widely assessed on the basis of "value added measures," a statistical tool for analyzing the outcomes of their teaching. But as Jerry Genovese points out, this is statistically completely bankrupt -- unless you randomize your samples, you get no insight into the quality of the teaching. I asked my father, Gord Doctorow -- a mathematician, math teacher, and professor of education -- what he thought of Genovese's piece, and he sent me some great material, which you'll find after the jump.

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Lessons learned from a flat-rate service-charge, no-tip restaurant

Jay Porter owned a San Diego restaurant called The Linkery where tipping was not allowed; instead, a flat 18 percent service-charge is added to each bill, and that charge is divided among the servers, bus-people, and kitchen-staff. In a six-part series, Porter sets out the case for his experiment and reports on the result, covering the bad gender dynamics, motivation and microeconomics, and a comparison with a tip-friendly restaurant he also owns. It's a compelling tale about economic fairness versus locked-in dysfunctional conventions. He summarized his findings in an easily digested article for Slate.

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