Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Payday Loan Businesses

If he has exacted usury Or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:13)

There are more Payday Loan Stores in Illinois than any other state in America. And there are more of these stores in America than there are McDonalds. They are often located in low-income areas, and low-income individuals who have bad credit, are high-risk lenders, and are desperate for cash are their main customers.

That said, what are Payday Loan Stores?

Think about it this way: Most Americans (61%) live from paycheck to paycheck, or have some sort of fixed income (like the elderly living on social security). While this income may be sufficient to cover basic needs and pay the bills, unexpected circumstances (like requiring emergency medical attention, or needing to fix a car) may stretch that pay check thin, so that paying that month's utility bill may be just out of reach (even though your next paycheck may only be a week or two away, you don't want to be late on your bill).

Not a problem! You can just go get a payday loan, where you can get cash immediately to pay that utility bill, and then pay off the loan once your next paycheck arrives in the mail. Then you're done. It's that simple*.

*Well, it might not be that simple, actually. In all likelihood, your interest rate is going to screw you over be in the triple digits. A national survey showed that "at most places the interest rates varied from 390% to 851% annually with the average being 474%." Compare payday loan interest to what the average person pays for their credit card: 15-30%.

But don't worry. If you're unable to pay off your monthly payment on your payday loan (three out of four borrowers can't afford to repay their loans at the end of the two-week period), you can take out another payday loan to temporarily hold you over... repeat ad infinitum. The goal of the payday loan industry is to help Americans pay their bills on time! keep people paying ridiculous amounts of money for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, because interest is so high, it can take years to pay off a loan of a mere 250$ . A year later or two, a person may have ended up paying a couple thousand dollars, without much hope of an end in sight because they keep needing to take out loans. This is often how payday loans work out. For low income individuals, those already in debt, and for those with fixed incomes, payday loans can be devastating. Far too often, people end up going bankrupt, becoming homeless, etc, because they were desperate for quick money or were misled by these businesses.

Check out how many locations there are in the Chicago area alone: [link]

How is it that these things are even legal..? I wonder why there are so many of them in America-- but what do you think it says about America that there are so many of them? Do these businesses have the responsibility to not give instant loans, or are they merely filling in a demand?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Alphabet vs. The Goddess

How early do people pick up on gender differences? Why?

Earlier this year in one of my classes we read something that addressed one facet of the answer to this question in a small portion of a book called Alphabet vs. The Goddess. It explores the reason for why it is that worship of goddesses in world religions has declined so much over time and, more importantly, the author connects this to a change in the perception of women (and subsequent rises in misogyny, male dominance, and patriarchy) over time.

The author connects to these changes to the time when language transitioned from being spoken word to written word. He proposes that learning alphabetic literacy "rewired the human brain," and consequently, "reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one" with its sequential ordering, structure, and symbolic characters. There's some further explanation/applications given at this site (trends during pagan polytheism vs. the rise of Christianity vs. the Dark ages).

What's interesting about this is that it was not the change from right brain to left brain dominance/use causing people to be more misogynistic. Given the fact that females on average have a tendency to use their left brain more dominantly than men, there is actually nothing biological that makes the left hemisphere of the brain particularly 'masculine,' nor did the switch itself shape peoples' outlooks to be more misogynistic.

However, through analyzing the mythology of different cultures worldwide (mythologies earlier than the invention of writing), researchers have found that male characters have long and consistently been distinguished by having strongly left-brained traits, while female characters are associated with right brain traits, contrary to our biology.

In essence, as society began to shift towards being centered on the written word, which reinforced use of the left brain, the sex that was associated in mythology with having left brain traits was favored and seen as dominant. Today, this imbalance between the use of left and right brain is considered to be lessened because of the invention photography and television and increased importance of visuals in other parts of our lives.

Regarding how early one buys in to gender roles or how, mythology is really interesting because it is made up of the 'stories' that societies base their culture and values on (in the media, in books, in what we consume). These stories take a significant role in influencing the way we see things. And although scientific reality is often contradicted, these myths ultimately can shape how women and men are perceived in society, and can start affecting members of any society at a very early age in very subtle ways.

What are your thoughts? What similarities/differences are there in today's world to the past? What connections do you see to anything?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Standardized Testing as Business

Linked to previous.

Another interesting (and somewhat concerning) aspect of Standardized Testing is the fact that, at the heart of it, it's a business. And that's not to make a claim about the design of the tests being 'corrupt,' 'greedy,' or 'evil' or something-- it just means they have to follow business rules.

In 2001, education assessment consultant Nina Metzner talked about some of the problems with the standardized testing after millions of students' exams had scoring issues:

"There was a lack of personnel, a lack of time, too many projects, too few people."

The problem with this? This was before No Child Left Behind, legislation that expanded the pressure on the standardized testing industry by 50% by mandating schools test students more often in order to evaluate a school's success or failure.

Combine this with 6-week testing grade deadlines, and according essay-grading time contraints (one essay per 2 minutes). On top of that is the high demand for employees (which may be hired despite failing qualifying tests) to perform the mind-numbing and difficult task of putting consistent and accurate scores on hundreds of thousands of tests with guidelines that suck. The nature of the work as evaluating individual students' work (with fairness) is at odds with the job's business side (time limits and attempts at standardization). If standardized scorers don't conform to groupthink, they will not get anything scored or agreed upon that follows the highly-centralized business's standards, even though they are evaluating very diverse student input.

While the massive holes in the scoring process are not necessarily the result of 'bad intention' so much as an understandable disaster resulting from a combination of education and business, claiming standardized tests are actually standardized and scientific could not be more fraudulent. And sometimes these tests determine whether or not students get their diploma or not, or if a school passes or fails.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Standardized Testing vs Education & Variability

Recently I read a book about standardized testing. The author was a person who worked in the industry for 15 years in a number of different positions, participating in and supervising the scoring of written english/reading tests. It deals with a lot of the flaws within scoring "standardized" tests, pointing out how test scoring is not only designed poorly, but used to evaluate the wrong things at high stakes (i.e. schools under No Child Left Behind).

What I found most interesting about the process was that the criteria used to judge student responses to open-ended questions. Not only can the rubrics be too vague and subjective, they can also be far too strict and end up evaluating unimportant things. As a result, the scoring process can be very inconsistent and may result in matching written responses to the rubric's description rather than the score the written response deserves.

One example was of a 4th grade essay that was graded with a rubric emphasizing the correct use of the 5-paragraph form above any other writing criteria. As a result, an essay that was completely mechanically written ("The most important thing to me is my cat because she is fun. She is also loving. She is soft.") had to be scored higher than an essay that was impressive and very descriptive, but did not follow traditional 5-paragraph form.

What was, I thought, a particularly striking part of the book was when the author wrote:

"While rubrics are written by the best intentioned of assessment experts an classroom teachers, they can never--never!--come remotely close to addressing the million different ways [kids] answer questions. If nothing else, standardized testing has taught me the schoolchildren of America can be one creative bunch" (6).

The last phrase I didn't expect to hear at all. Thinking back to when I've taken standardized tests when I was younger, I never gave open ended questions much thought. I thought the assessments asked for very straightforward things. However, once you give a test to hundreds of thousands of little kids, things get muddy. How is a scorer supposed to get inside the head of the kids taking the tests to know what they were thinking if they took a different approach? If they answer in a creative (or just confusing) way that doesn't quite fit in the rubric, how is it scored? This can be disorienting to scorers. New, unique examples they come across while scoring can end up changing the way they grade several times within the same grading process, because they set a new precedent.

Also, the fact that we put value in to standardized tests (used to evaluate schools, test one before college, and determine who gets their diploma in some states) is rather concerning, considering the scoring of these tests essentially requires scorers to try and get thousands of student responses to fit in convenient little boxes. But the reality is that sometimes peoples' responses don't fit anywhere! As such, some scorers may have to resort to marking down 'incorrect answers' so much as 'different ones,' even different ones that are brilliant. It's interesting to see how literally standardized testing is opposed to diversity and creativity-- and "standardization" itself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jevon's Paradox

Jevon's Paradox is the observation that once something increases in efficiency, it ends up using more resources, and it's somewhat interesting.

One example of the paradox is the invention of the computer. Before widespread use of computers, they were marketed as shortening work weeks and reducingthe use of because they were capable of doing work more efficiently. But instead of shortening work weeks and simplifying the work process, people ended up working the same amount of time, but doing much more work. Also, the amount of paper used after the invention of computers has increased dramatically, because it's extremely convenient to find and print articles and essays out in order to physically work with something that is neat (font vs. handwriting).

Another example is making food less unhealthy and then marketing it as 'fat free' . People often don't buy 'diet' food so they can eat the same amount of it with less calories. Often people will use it as an excuse to eat more of it-- and perhaps so much more of it it's even worse for them than eating the original thing.

A final example is the invention of tasers. Initially, tasers were intended and marketed for the purpose of lessening police shootings. However, it has been found that in many cases police shootings do not go down (although a significant amount have), and more importantly, instances of police brutality have increased.

The overall trend is that as efficiency of resources increase, use of those resources also increases. As items become more efficient to use, they become less costly to use, and may end up being used much more. Supply and demand. It's simple, but... what does that say about our current attempts to lower the amount of energy we use by creating green energy alternatives? Even if we make our technology put out less CO2 and use less costly energy, is it possible that our technological innovations meant to cheapen and lessen our energy use lead to us using up more energy than ever before? I don't know much about environmental technology, but what if that technology has the opposite effect on the environment in the long run? Is there more we have to do than improve energy efficiency? [link]