AuthorTopic: The Surlynewz Channel  (Read 551977 times)

Offline Eddie

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3735 on: March 06, 2019, 07:55:47 AM »
FDR is about as well understood as George Washington. Washington never chopped down that tree, and FDR was not really a communist.

 He was a pragmatist who did what he had to do, and I think he did some good, but you need to look at his earlier life to see where his sympathies really lay, and what he was working to preserve, when he came up with the New Deal. He was more like Clinton than say somebody like Al Smith. He was most definitely one of the elites, and he worked to save the butts of the elites.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline Surly1

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3736 on: March 06, 2019, 11:59:45 AM »
FDR is about as well understood as George Washington. Washington never chopped down that tree, and FDR was not really a communist.

 He was a pragmatist who did what he had to do, and I think he did some good, but you need to look at his earlier life to see where his sympathies really lay, and what he was working to preserve, when he came up with the New Deal. He was more like Clinton than say somebody like Al Smith. He was most definitely one of the elites, and he worked to save the butts of the elites.

The article makes that clear. Some critics have complained that FDR saved capital;sm, and there is a lot of merit in that.
Didn't stop us from having one of our periodic "red scares" in the 50s, though.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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Ancient DNA is a powerful tool for studying the past
« Reply #3737 on: March 14, 2019, 03:12:20 AM »
Ancient DNA is a powerful tool for studying the past – when archaeologists and geneticists work together.

DNA has moved beyond esoteric science and into the center of everyday conversations about identity, culture and politics. It’s also reshaping stories about the past as advances allow scientists to extract ancient DNA (aDNA) from skeletons found at archaeological sites.

With each ancient genetic sequence, scientists learn new information about how people moved around and interacted in the ancient world. In some cases, this has helped overturn theories and resolve age-old debates.

But the aDNA “revolution” has also caused friction among geneticists, archaeologists and others over how this research is done. As archaeologistswho collaborate on aDNA projects, we’ve witnessed these tensions firsthand. What lies at the heart of this rift, and how can these disciplines work together to better research humanity’s past?

What’s behind the aDNA revolution?

Ancient DNA changes how scientists do research, rather than the questions being asked. Geneticists are working on the same problems that archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists have wrestled with for decades, aimed at understanding transitions in the past and the roots of the modern world.

But instead of looking at things people left behind, geneticists are interested in the people themselves. Skeletons are the only direct connection to individuals who experienced life in the past. Biological anthropologists have long studied bones and teeth looking for clues about people’s origins and lives. Now, geneticists can look at their DNA – providing a new level of detail and insight.

The science behind aDNA is relatively new. The first fully sequenced ancient human genome – from a man who lived about 4,000 years ago in Greenland – was published only in 2010. At first this research was limited to skeletons from cold climates where DNA molecules are more likely to preserve. Success rates have steadily improved with cheaper and more efficient laboratory techniques and methods that target the most informative parts of the genome.


The part of the skull that houses the inner ear, called the petrous portion, has proven to be a particularly good source of aDNA.
OpenStax College, CC BY

One of the most important breakthroughs has been the discovery that a small part of the skull – the bony casing around the inner ear known as the petrous – is a rich source of aDNA, even in poorly preserved skeletons from hot climates. This finding has led to a massive increase in the pace and scale of aDNA studies, with thousands of individuals sequenced in 2018 alone and sudden widespread interest in archaeological skeletons in museums throughout the world.

aDNA has thrust archaeologists and geneticists into new partnerships, where one side provides archaeological samples and questions, and the other additional questions, specialized labs and funding. These specialists, with different training and distinct work cultures, don’t always see eye to eye on study design, research pace or interpretation of results. Additionally, institutions and countries may not have explicit aDNA policies in place, leaving research teams and museum curators to navigate research and sampling protocols on a case by case basis. This has elicited concern from archaeologists, some of whom may worry the cart is so far beyond the horse that we should just cancel the trip.

But like radiocarbon dating in the 20th century, aDNA has already fundamentally changed archaeology and will only become more prevalent. Understanding current misgivings now is the best way to move the science forward in a way that benefits everyone.

Critiques of aDNA can be grouped into three categories: interpretive, ethical and systemic.

1) Interpreting the stories told by aDNA

Many concerns focus on how aDNA results are used to answer questions about the past. Most aDNA studies come from population genetics, a subfield that looks at major demographic changes over time – usually attributed to people moving or mixing with other groups, or both.

But identifying these processes doesn’t tell researchers why they happened or detect their impacts on culture. Some critics suggest geneticists construct sweeping regional narratives about migration and population change based on a small number of skeletal samples. Others point out that this research relies on naming and grouping ancient peoples based on cultural evidence like pottery styles, which may or may not reflect biological relatedness. Ancient genetic sequences are also usually compared to modern ones from living people, who have their own complicated histories and are grouped based on language or ethnicity or both at the time of DNA sampling, making for potentially problematic comparisons.

Ultimately, interpreting aDNA results involves many of the same archaeologically informed assumptions as other studies of bones, pots and tools. Yet the scientific aura of aDNA means findings are presented to the world through the media as more objective, stoking archaeologists’ frustrations over apparent “molecular chauvinism.”

2) Balancing ethical obligations

Ethical issues with aDNA affect both the living and the dead. In order to extract sequences, archaeological human remains must be ground up under special sterile conditions. Some targeted parts of the body – like petrous bones and teeth – provide valuable informationabout our species’ evolution and history. Since there’s not an infinite supply of archaeological bones, many scholars are calling for regulations to protect skeletal collections and ensure that future researchers can access them.

Ancient DNA research must be balanced with preserving museum collections for future generations.Elizabeth Sawchuk at the National Museums of Kenya, CC BY-ND

Today’s scientists must also contend with past colonial practices that removed skeletons and artifacts from their countries of origin and sent them to Europe and North America, raising questions about who should now give permission for their study.

Beyond the destruction of ancestors, aDNA findings can pose other harm to indigenous peoples. Because most aDNA studies have focused on skeletons excavated decades ago, few explicitly mention consultation with descendant groups. However, aDNA studies can have negative consequences for these communities. They can complicate land claims and repatriation efforts, undermine oral histories and reveal stigmatizing information like genetic susceptibility to disease. Findings about the past have present-day political implications depending on how they are received and mobilized.

3) Designing a new science

Archaeologists play a key role in aDNA research, selecting samples from excavations and museum collections and providing their own interpretations.Steven Goldstein, CC BY-ND

Underlying all these concerns are apprehensions about how archaeogenetics is developing as a field. A recent article in the popular press painted a dramatic picture of a high stakes game in which a handful of labs dominate access to samples and groundbreaking discoveries. Archaeologists are portrayed as fearful or helpless, exchanging samples for a minor authorship role without the ability to offer their own interpretations. But this hardly describes all archaeologists, many of whom occupy prominent positions on aDNA projects.

Yes, competition for samples can factor into the fast pace of research and exacerbate some of the issues around aDNA. It is wrong though, to place blame on labs alone. An entire system comprising universities, scientific journals, funding bodies and the media stands ready to reward the next big discovery. Pointing the finger at individuals or labs only fosters division, pushing people away from aDNA research without addressing issues or finding solutions.

Mapping out the future of aDNA

Fortunately, change is already happening.

Responses to the first wave of aDNA studies called for better integration of archaeological and genetic data and more nuanced questions about smaller-scale cultural and population shifts. Such change may end up occurring organically as the bar for publication shifts away from single sequences to studies of hundreds of individuals.

aDNA sequences are shedding light on previously understudied areas, like the Rift Valley in Tanzania.Mary Prendergast, CC BY-ND

Strict standards require genomic data to be made public, and aDNA research has become a model for the open science movement. This means more comparative data will become available over time to tackle fine-grained questions about regional histories. As aDNA is brought to bear on increasingly complex questions, archaeologists will need to take on more equitable roles in research design, interpretation and integration of multiple types of evidence.

The field is also making headway on ethical issues. Ethics statements are appearing in journal articles. Museums are establishing their own guidelines. Archaeologists have stepped forward to suggest best practices for sampling and consulting with indigenous stakeholders.

There has also been a push for better communication and outreach. The Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) is designed to help dismantle barriers between descendant communities and scientists. aDNA sessions and entire conferences bringing geneticists and archaeologists together are becoming more common. Establishing discipline-wide best practices and support through professional networks will reduce the burden on individuals to ensure research is done the right way.

Communication and cooperation go a long way, but fixing the system ultimately requires a shift in how science is funded and rewarded. And the public has a key role to play as the taxpayers who fund scientific research and consume its findings. A scientifically literate society can demand work that meets ethical guidelines and provides meaningful insights about our past. Together, scientists and the public can set the tone for what aDNA research becomes and how we use it to explore our shared human heritage.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Editing Inherited Genes
« Reply #3738 on: March 14, 2019, 03:23:22 AM »
Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Editing Inherited Genes
Amid a controversy over gene-edited babies, leading researchers want to call a halt and install a global governance process.


Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Editing Inherited Genes
Biological researcher He Jiankui (right) guides a laboratory staff member at the Direct Genomics lab on August 4, 2016 in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province of China. Credit: Getty Images

A group of 18 prominent scientists—including some who helped develop CRISPR–Cas9, the current leading tool for gene editing—issued a call Wednesday for an international moratorium on gene edits to eggs, sperm or embryos, and for establishing a process to discuss how and whether it should ever occur again.

The move follows Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s announcement late last year that he had edited the genes of twin newborn girls, in attempt to make them genetically resistant to HIV. This was CRISPR’s first known use in human embryos destined for life. There had been a general global consensus to hold off on editing human eggs, sperm or embryos until gene-editing technology (and the implications of the edits) are better understood. But He’s decision to proceed—and some scientists’ focus on gaining regulatory approval rather than achieving societal consensus—showed clearer lines have to be drawn, says commentary co-author Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a genetics research institute.

Lander says the group is calling for a temporary moratorium as a first step. What the scientists ultimately want to see is a global mechanism for discussing whether, and under what circumstances, people should be allowed to make gene edits that will be transmitted across generations.

The commentary, set to be published this week in Nature, suggests each country could set its own rules—but an international governance framework would ensure public discussion take place before decisions are made. One possible governing body could be a new committee that has been set up by the World Health Organization, scheduled to meet for the first time on March 19. Nature is also publishing an editorial supporting the commentary, as well as two approving letters: one from the heads of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society in London; the other from the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a colleague.

Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine and a co-signer to one of the letters, says he fully supports the commentary’s proposals, and that he and his colleagues had already been pursuing similar objectives. “We are responding to their call. We are absolutely working on it,” he says. Dzau and his counterparts at the National Academy of Medicine and the Royal Society are jointly preparing a report, set for release later this year, that digs into the scientific and regulatory issues around editing genes that are inherited. There is no question, he says, that eggs, sperm or embryos should not be gene-edited until the implications and consequences are fully understood—if ever. Surveys clearly show much of the public is not ready to accept the idea of so-called designer babies, he says, although some people might support gene editing to enable the birth of a healthy child to parents who would otherwise pass down a serious genetic disorder.

The commentary’s authors make a clear distinction between germ-line editing—which is performed on embryos, eggs or sperm, and is passed to descendants—and somatic cell edits, which aim to address inherited diseases in children or adults and do not become embedded in the human gene pool. Most of the scientific community strongly supports editing somatic cells to treat diseases including sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

But there is far less agreement on whether altering humanity’s genetic inheritance should be allowed. Some worry such genetic enhancement would lead to attempts at designer babies—“remaking the human species based on your idea of what’s the best way to make a human being,” as Lander puts it. “I’m deeply skeptical about these enhancement applications,” he says. “I think at the moment it would be hubris—because we know so little—to consider such things. And even if we learn more, it might be deeply problematic.” But Lander says he can see an argument for allowing germ-line gene edits in the case of parents who want biological children but would otherwise unavoidably pass on an inherited disease.

Jane Maienschein, a historian of science at Arizona State University, says she would like to see the scientific community keep open the option to someday edit the human germ line. She notes there may be a future scenario, such as a disease epidemic like AIDS, for which there is no other treatment or cure besides germ-line editing. “It’s not thinking about what we need now, but it’s thinking ahead,” she says. “What is the next thing?”

In contrast, Marcy Darnovsky, who heads an advocacy organization called the Center for Genetics and Society, favors a permanent prohibition. She says germ-line editing is “not safe, it’s not needed and it’s way too dangerous from a social point of view.” She supports the goals of the coalition’s commentary, and hopes an open and fair global discussion will bring more people around to her point of view.

Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, who has also been at the forefront of gene editing, says laws in place in the U.S., China and elsewhere already restrict gene editing more than would the voluntary system called for in the commentary. If the community wants to stop or limit germ-line editing, it should set up a stronger system of “carrots and sticks” that would motivate the scientific community to self-regulate, Church says. He adds he is not particularly a fan of germ-line editing, because he thinks there are other, less expensive ways to accomplish most of the same medical benefits—and because proving its safety and effectiveness would require decades of waiting for gene-edited children to grow up.

Jennifer Doudna, who discovered the gene-editing potential of CRISPR–Cas9 in 2012, did not sign onto the commentary, but her co-discoverer Emmanuelle Charpentier did. Doudna, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, who called for a moratorium on germ-line editing back in 2015, says she did not sign because she thinks the time for such a step has passed—and that what is needed now is action. “We have to put in place international requirements and consequences to crossing the line with those requirements, ensuring that we don’t see premature use of human germ-line editing in the near future,” she says.

Doudna says that if scientists do proceed with germ-line editing at some point (and she thinks science is nowhere near the level of safe or ethical human germ-line editing now), there should be standards to ensure their edits are accurate, parents are properly informed of the risks and benefits, and gene-edited children will be monitored so scientists can learn from their experiences. She thinks there also needs to be clearly articulated consequences for any scientist who violates the rules—such as depriving them of research funding, closing their academic labs and denying them the ability to publish any findings in a scholarly journal. All those things have already happened to He Jiankui, but when he set out to gene edit the babies he had assumed the reaction would be far more positive.

“It’s not clear that he recognized before he did his work that he would face those types of consequences,” Doudna says. “That’s what needs to change.”

Karen Weintraub

Karen Weintraub is a freelance health and science journalist who writes regularly for the New York Times, STAT and USA Today, among others.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Eddie

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3739 on: April 17, 2019, 05:52:08 AM »
Surly, please come home.

The children miss your bedtime stories of doom.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline cernunnos5

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3740 on: April 17, 2019, 06:47:17 AM »
No shit. Surly. Get your ass back here. You are one of the main reasons to come here.

You are one of my main 6 reliable news sources. I'm certainly not here to listen to bickering and posturing. I'm here for news.

Offline RE

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3741 on: April 17, 2019, 07:09:27 AM »
I 3rd the motion.

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Offline Surly1

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The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative
« Reply #3742 on: April 23, 2019, 05:20:06 AM »
The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative

Upwards of 40 world leaders will join Xi Jinping in Beijing for the second international gathering on his Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to build a massive network of ports, roads and railways across some 65 countries. When you can get that many powerful people to come to you in Beijing, you're starting to look a lot like a superpower.

China is embarking on the largest infrastructure project in history, spanning four continents and attempting to link the old Silk Road to Europe — and back to China.

Why it matters: China is increasingly asserting its economic power, and seeking to bolster its global influence. It is undertaking this project at a time when the U.S. can't pass a domestic infrastructure project, and is taking a step back from the world.



By the numbers

$1 trillion or more is the expected price tag, the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reports. That's seven times as costly as the Marshall Plan, on which the U.S. spent $130 billion to rebuild Europe after World War II.
70 countries will be involved in the initiative, Chinese news outlet Xinhua reports.
At least 36 planned or existing ports outside of China are involved.
$786 billion in trade took place between China and Belt and Road partners in the first three quarters of 2017, a 15% increase from 2016.
In Pakistan: China is partnering with Pakistan to build $60 billion worth of infrastructure as part of the initiative, CNBC reports.
In Thailand: The Chinese partnership with Thailand is expected to yield a 542-mile railroad, carrying high-speed trains that’ll move at up to 150 miles per hour, per CNBC.
In Malaysia: One Belt, One Road will spend about $40 billion on four railroad projects, per Xinhua.
The rise: The U.S. controls 24% of the global economy and China 15%, compared to 31% and 4% respectively in 2000.

https://www.axios.com/staggering-scale-china-infrastructure-142f3b1d-82b5-47b8-8ca9-57beb306f7df.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline RE

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Re: The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative
« Reply #3743 on: April 23, 2019, 06:32:08 AM »
The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative

Ruh Roh....HE'S BACK!

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/QOkSvLqkafU" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/QOkSvLqkafU</a>

The Blues Brothers team up again!


 :icon_mrgreen: :icon_mrgreen: :icon_mrgreen: :icon_mrgreen: :icon_mrgreen:
 :multiplespotting:

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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3744 on: April 23, 2019, 07:28:49 AM »
Thank goodness. I was afraid I'd been responsible for the worst thing to ever happen to the Diner...which would have been the loss of the voice of its progressive liberal conscience....which is very important and not anything I ever wanted to silence or belittle. Really.

Let me hereby publicly apologize for the recent ugliness and my part in same. Very good to see Surly back. I missed him.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Online knarf

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Give 'em hell Surly - I am much aligned with your view of things
« Reply #3745 on: April 23, 2019, 08:20:41 AM »
Revolution now, is where we are headed, lets speed up the process.
HUMANS ARE STILL EVOLVING! Our communities blog is at https://openmind693.wordpress.com

Offline Surly1

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3746 on: April 23, 2019, 11:51:37 AM »
Thank goodness. I was afraid I'd been responsible for the worst thing to ever happen to the Diner...which would have been the loss of the voice of its progressive liberal conscience....which is very important and not anything I ever wanted to silence or belittle. Really.

Let me hereby publicly apologize for the recent ugliness and my part in same. Very good to see Surly back. I missed him.

No apology necessary, now or ever. We’re all big boys, and we all pack our own chutes.
 Hell, it’s the Easter season, and I didn’t even get 40 days in the wilderness!
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline RE

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3747 on: April 23, 2019, 12:06:38 PM »
Thank goodness. I was afraid I'd been responsible for the worst thing to ever happen to the Diner...which would have been the loss of the voice of its progressive liberal conscience....which is very important and not anything I ever wanted to silence or belittle. Really.

Let me hereby publicly apologize for the recent ugliness and my part in same. Very good to see Surly back. I missed him.

No apology necessary, now or ever. We’re all big boys, and we all pack our own chutes.
 Hell, it’s the Easter season, and I didn’t even get 40 days in the wilderness!

Deflation.

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Offline azozeo

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Re: The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative
« Reply #3748 on: April 23, 2019, 01:56:32 PM »
The staggering scale of China's Belt and Road initiative

Upwards of 40 world leaders will join Xi Jinping in Beijing for the second international gathering on his Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to build a massive network of ports, roads and railways across some 65 countries. When you can get that many powerful people to come to you in Beijing, you're starting to look a lot like a superpower.

China is embarking on the largest infrastructure project in history, spanning four continents and attempting to link the old Silk Road to Europe — and back to China.

Why it matters: China is increasingly asserting its economic power, and seeking to bolster its global influence. It is undertaking this project at a time when the U.S. can't pass a domestic infrastructure project, and is taking a step back from the world.



By the numbers

$1 trillion or more is the expected price tag, the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reports. That's seven times as costly as the Marshall Plan, on which the U.S. spent $130 billion to rebuild Europe after World War II.
70 countries will be involved in the initiative, Chinese news outlet Xinhua reports.
At least 36 planned or existing ports outside of China are involved.
$786 billion in trade took place between China and Belt and Road partners in the first three quarters of 2017, a 15% increase from 2016.
In Pakistan: China is partnering with Pakistan to build $60 billion worth of infrastructure as part of the initiative, CNBC reports.
In Thailand: The Chinese partnership with Thailand is expected to yield a 542-mile railroad, carrying high-speed trains that’ll move at up to 150 miles per hour, per CNBC.
In Malaysia: One Belt, One Road will spend about $40 billion on four railroad projects, per Xinhua.
The rise: The U.S. controls 24% of the global economy and China 15%, compared to 31% and 4% respectively in 2000.

https://www.axios.com/staggering-scale-china-infrastructure-142f3b1d-82b5-47b8-8ca9-57beb306f7df.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top


Heads it's REHAB , Tail's it's prison  :icon_mrgreen:
I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.
You don’t know what it is but its there, like a splinter in your mind

Offline Surly1

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How your employer uses perks like wellness programs, phones and free food to control your life
https://theconversation.com/how-your-employer-uses-perks-like-wellness-programs-phones-and-free-food-to-control-your-life-115681

Companies offer all sorts of benefits and extras to attract the most favored workers, from health care and stock options to free food. But all those perks come at a price: your freedom.

There’s a reason labor historians call these perks “welfare capitalism,” a term that originated to describe company towns and their subsidized housing, free classes and recreational activities. Like government welfare, offering any benefits that people come to rely on is also a convenient vehicle to mold their behavior.

And just as Henry Ford sought to transform auto workers through a generous though invasive profit-sharing program, today’s employers also use perks to influence our behavior in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

The dark side of corporate perks

You might think of compensation in terms of your hourly wage or salary. Companies see it differently.

Back when I drafted employment contracts and policies as an employment lawyer, companies tended to think in terms of “total compensation,” which also included commissions, bonuses, stock options and sometimes benefits like medical insurance and vacation. And that’s where they stand to influence behavior.

Under state and federal law, companies aren’t allowed to mess around with your hourly wage. A company can’t dock an entire day’s pay if you show up five minutes late. Or issue paychecks only once every six months.

However, that’s not true of other types of compensation. Lawyers like me attach all sorts of policies and restrictions on these benefits as a way to influence worker behavior. The aim of such policies generally ranged from a modest goal like getting you to work harder to making it painful to leave for a competitor.

For example, companies such as Facebook, Dropbox and LinkedIn have offered free food, but it’s not necessarily for employee well-being. It’s for the bottom line. And if your employer offers a gym, free dry cleaning or – heaven forbid – a nap pod, don’t assume it’s an act of charity. As former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff observed, perks of this sort mean “that employees are expected to work very long hours and not leave the office too often.”

On the other end of the spectrum, benefits can be laid out in a way to encourage sought-after employees to stay longer. Stock options are typically earned slowly over four years, an especially valuable tool in Silicon Valley, where workers are prone to jumping ship. Vacation never seems to accumulate fast enough for new workers to take holidays off.

Even signing bonuses – purportedly a rewarded for starting a job – are sometimes structured where you have to pay it back if you leave in the first year or two.

Company town, corporate control

But as I learned recently while researching a book about how companies – with some help from courts – exert control over workers, it gets a lot worse. It turns out there is a rich history of employer experimentation with benefits as a behavior-modification device.

Benefits, particularly those that employees deem necessary or exceptionally valuable, enable employers to exercise surveillance over workers and demand behavioral change in ways they could never do through threats alone.

Historically, company housing sat at the sweet spot of valuable and necessary.

If you were operating a new mine in the early 20th century and there was no housing or transportation nearby, you likely had to provide housing. But like stock options or paid vacation today, once companies started offering it, they couldn’t resist the urge to meddle.

For example, company towns commonly restricted the consumption of alcohol, according to historian Angela Vergara. Pennsylvania coal companies even included a provision in their leases requiring workers to move out within 10 days if they went on strike. Not only would the prospect of eviction weigh heavily on workers’ decision to unionize, companies could use the vacated housing for strikebreakers.

And although Henry Ford is famous for paying his workers US$5 a day – an extravagant wage at the time – that’s only half the story. Ford actually paid his workers a wage of just $2.50 day.

The other $2.50 was a profit-sharing dividend. To qualify, a worker had to submit to a home inspection by Ford’s sociological department and allow inspectors to interview his family and friends. Reasons a man might fail such an inspection included debt, having a wife that worked outside the home or being an immigrant who did not speak enough English.

Ford also had an honor roll for employees with the best inspection scores, but even that status was precarious. According to company notations, one worker was booted off the roll for “selling real estate.” Another was dropped for being “drunk” and having a “Polish wedding.”


The author talks to professor Angela Vergara about how company towns sought to influence worker behavior.
Health care and cellphones

Although few employers provide housing nowadays, workers still rely heavily on employers to provide another basic necessity: health insurance.

While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act places some informational barriers between your employer and your health care provider, employers still choose which insurers and wellness programs to offer workers. And they send a pretty clear message about how they want us to behave outside of work.

My employer-provided health insurance, for example, uses a “health engagement model,” which charges higher premiums and deductibles unless you agree to fill out a lengthy questionnaire and commit to change two things about your identified lifestyle failings.

Admittedly, no one interrogated my friends on whether my wedding was excessively “Polish.” But the questionnaire did ask, “How many servings of cookies, cakes, donuts, candy, soda or packets of sugar do you eat daily?” I mean, come on. My cake intake is a private matter between me and my supermarket cashier.

Another necessity of modern life is a cellphone – which college students apparently preferred to food in an experimental study involving “modest food deprivation.”

But beware the company-issued cellphone or laptop. Not only does it set up the expectation that you are always on call, all of the information on those devices technically belongs to the company. Even apps you might download on your personal phone to punch in to work can track your location.

The nanny employer

Historian Christopher Post observed that company towns all had one thing in common: None of them had a town council. The company was the government.

And in that sense, all of us live in the company town when we go to work each day.

Unless you happen to work in a unionized setting – and most of us don’t – the workplace is the most command and control environment in our lives. The company gets to decide who is worthy of the most coveted perks, and how best to dangle them.

Which is why I find employer efforts to use workplace benefits to control our personal decisions so grating. Some days, you just want to go home, crack open a beer, and eat cake in front of the television – without worrying whether your boss will approve.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

 

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