a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Doctor Science - Joplin
. . .[Jeff] Masters calls it "The most remarkable audio I've ever heard of people surviving a direct hit by a violent tornado". What's notable about it to my mind is how it's *not* like a movie. Yes, people are crying, screaming, praying. But they're also taking care of each other while they're all crammed together in the store's walk-in fridge, trying to make sure no-one is being crushed. Speaking of love.
Echidne of the Snakes - Med school admissions in milieu of reform (by Skylanda)
Be careful out there.
. . .As it stands today, medical students take four years of undergraduate courses (in any field, though including the core science courses), then complete two years of pre-clinical studies, two years of clinical rotations, and a minimum three-year residency. Of these minimum eleven years of study, you may be surprised to know that fully half (the undergraduate and pre-clinical years) are only tangentially related to what a medical student ends up doing with their life; the rest are an amalgam of requirements and hoops that largely defy any utility to the task of medicine. . .
Catherine Rampell - Once Again: Is College Worth It?
. . .in my experience, it is often the burn of the residency years that fundamentally shapes many physicians’ attitudes toward work, burnout, reimbursement, and debt. You cannot repay what young physicians endure during residency; most take it back the only way they can – monetarily. . .
"I come at this from the perspective of a bio teacher who gets those pre-meds in their first few years. And, yes, who's one of the "executioners" in the weed-out classes. I couldn't agree more with what you say here.
Time and again, I'd see bright, kindly students come in with "Doctor" written all over them. And then they'd get a "C" in O_Chem and be toast. O-Chem which, as you say, they are never going to use in their professional lives. Meanwhile, society has lost yet one more person who would have made a good doctor. . .The weed-out course work very well at weeding, but they're getting rid of the orchids . . ."
"I was lucky - I went through pre-med as a "post-bacc", that is, I already had a degree and just needed to fill in science classes, at a big state school. I went through with a cohort of like minded people - we were older, pragmatic, supportive, and went through it together...I cannot imagine going through that in a cut-throat environment as a 19 year-old. The competition is just so unnecessary, as I very well found out - not only philosophically unnecessary, but literally unnecessary: all of us who stuck it out did well at the admissions process, without torturing ourselves or each other along the way."
. . .Lots of people (~48%) would have changed their major, or done an internship, or started looking for work sooner while enrolled. Did you notice what category of regrets got the lowest share of responses?
Wishing they hadn’t gone to college.
I wonder if that points to the possible desirability of something like a 30-100K all-you-can-learn-buffet, i.e. flat-fee pricing instead of billable units.
Reihan Salam - Garett Jones and Lane Kenworthy on Taxes, Scandinavian Exceptionalism, and Much Else
"Scandinavian-Americans are about 50% more productive than Scandinavians. That’s pretty close to the naive tax-based prediction of Prescott–his rule of thumb, mentioned in his Nobel speech, is [loosely] that a 1% rise in taxes causes a 3% decline in labor supply. I suspect Prescott is wrong about that 3% estimate—surely labor laws and generous unemployment benefits are part of the difference. . ."
. . .this suggests that Danes and Swedes *might* do better under a more work-friendly tax regime, with “do better” understood as “engage in more productive economy activity,” which is of course different from doing better in some spiritual sense. . .
This seems to me remarkably weak tea. Indian-Americans are more productive than Indians, but no one is suggesting that India's low taxes (~20% of GDP) compared to the US (~30%) has anything to do with that. . .except, perhaps, you could argue that an oligarchic, rentier-based economy, with light taxes on the rich, will do worse than a middle-class based economy, with moderate taxes on the rich.
It seems to me that a good political order is one where everyone has some amount of freedom/security, no matter how poor, and where everyone faces some level of discipline/accountability, no matter how rich. The flaw in laissez faire-royal libertarianism
is that it leads to a system of insufficient freedom/security for the poor, and insufficient discipline/accountability for the rich. Socialism is worse, it leads to a state where no one has freedom/security, and where the mechanisms of discipline/accountability are arbitrary and unpredictable. Which is why both socialism and royal libertarianism do not work, while the mixed economy, depending on the specifics, can work.
comment to Reihan Salam's "Megan McArdle and Kevin Drum on the Impact of Marginal Tax Rates"
Kevin Drum has been reading a survey of the literature on the elasticity of taxable income. He draws conclusions that Karl Smith suggests are basically right. Megan McArdle draws different conclusions, which I endorse. . .
Nick Kristof - Raiding a Brothel in India (and comments)
Rick Perlstein - Hubert Humphrey, America's Forgotten Liberal
"Given the record poor economic performance over the past decade with asset inflation bubbles and massive malinvestment and the worst decade of job growth in the nation's history, one must conclude from the above that taxes were hiked drastically soon after 2000, while in the early 1990s tax rates were slashed to produce a huge boom in extremely productive investment that led to record high employment."
. . .Segregationist Southerners threatened to walk out, a move that could have paralyzed the entire fragile Democratic coalition and handed the White House to the Republicans. The Democrats’ first presidential defeat in 20 years might have been laid at the feet of this ambitious 37-year-old. . .
Felix Salmon - The Fed’s secret giveaway to European banks
. . .“To those who say this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights,” he thundered from the convention podium, “I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
The motion carried. The Southerners walked out and ran Strom Thurmond for president. When Harry S. Truman won nonetheless, Democrats were on their way to becoming the party of civil rights. . .
. . .Liberal policy, he said, must stress “common denominators — mutual needs, mutual wants, common hopes, the same fears.”
In 1976 he joined Representative Augustus Hawkins, a Democrat from the Watts section of Los Angeles, to introduce a bill requiring the government, especially the Federal Reserve, to keep unemployment below 3 percent — and if that failed, to provide emergency government jobs to the unemployed.
It sounds heretical now. But this newspaper endorsed it then, while 70 percent of Americans believed the government should offer jobs to everyone who wanted one. However, Jimmy Carter — a new kind of Democrat answering to a new upper-middle-class, suburban constituency, embarrassed by industrial unions and enamored with the alleged magic of the market — did not. . .
One thing I find infuriating is the way the political system meekly accepted the premise in the AIG counterparty bailout that contracts are sacred, and must never ever be modified or disrespected in any way, or else the whole capitalist system breaks down, yet completely abandoned that principle of the sacredness of contract when it came to government and union worker pensions. My view is that if we can modify government and union pensions (and I think we should be able to, if the circumstances warrant), we should have been able to modify the contracts of AIG counterparties, and made the bailout selective and conditional, rather than an no-questions-asked open-ended raiding of the government till.
Atul Gawande - Cowboys and Pit Crews
. . .When I was in medical school, for instance, one of the last ways I’d have imagined spending time in my future surgical career would have been working on things like checklists. Robots and surgical techniques, sure. Information technology, maybe. But checklists?
They turn out, however, to be among the basic tools of the quality and productivity revolution in aviation, engineering, construction—in virtually every field combining high risk and complexity. Checklists seem lowly and simplistic, but they help fill in for the gaps in our brains and between our brains. They emphasize group precision in execution. And making them in medicine has forced us to define our key aims for our patients and to say exactly what we will do to achieve them. . .
(via Ezra Klein
Karl Smith - Corporate Governance and the Plutocracy
. . .Investors with an interest in actually allocating capital are a key part of this whole capitalism thing. That almost necessitates a concentration of wealth. . .
I guess my two questions for Karl Smith is that 1) Einhorn, the hedge fund manager in the piece, seems to favor shorting as a key money-making strategy. Shorting is a zero-sum activity that's not insurance, so how can it increase welfare? 2) The hedge fund model seems to depend on promising investors a 15-20% return, in exchange for exhorbitant fees. How can that be possible, for a scalably large number of people, using honest means, when the underlying economic growth does not justify those returns? And what are the potential dangers of a system that seems to be based on managers overpromising, attracting lots of capital based on those promises, then (inevitably) either under-delivering or rent-seeking?
Jared Bernstein - This Excess Capacity You Keep Talking About…What is It?
An interesting post by Bernstein, but doesn't seem to answer, at least in so many words, the question of how much money we are leaving on the table, i.e. What are the range of estimates of the gap between what is and what could be?
Karl Smith - You Can’t Overwork Yourself By Smoking Joints and Watching Too Many Episodes of Jersey Shore
. . .This is why it makes no sense to say that a recession is inevitable because we overconsumed. Because we bought too much it is now inevitable that we work less? Why does that make fundamental sense? Surely something is going wrong. Shouldn’t we be working more to pay for all the stuff we bought? . . .
Tyler Cowen - Open entry schools, the university as forum
. . .If we consumed too much then shouldn’t we need to work extra hard? Why is society working less? What about spending too much money implies that the natural reaction is that people should go home and sit on the couch?. . .
I’ve been reading the fascinating A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander et.al., a book which I recommend to all urbanists, all architecture fans, Jane Jacobs fans, and Hayekians. . .(The book is in large part about how the organization of space and construction shapes spontaneous orders.). . .
Ta-nehisi Coates - Evolutionary Psychology
". . .Our society has become OBSESSED with data, and in particular quantitative data, in a way that often leads to misleading conclusions. . ."
One on my favorite essays on the theme of too much reverence for numbers is John Bogle's "Don’t Count On It! The Perils of Numeracy"
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Arthur Silber - Once Upon a Time...
I keep trying to do some writing; so far, I have to stop after a little while and go back to bed. And now one of the cats seems to have some ailment, too. Thanks to the generosity of readers, I can afford to get her some medical attention once I'm able to make the trip to the vet. I hope to do that in the next few days . . .
William Greider - Secrets of the Temple (1989)
. . .Once again, I'm deeply grateful to those who made donations, especially since the cats are also beneficiaries of your kindness. Sadly, the medical attention I myself require will forever be far out of reach financially. (And if Wendy's situation should cost more than several hundred dollars, that could be a problem, too. For the moment, I'll assume it's a relatively simply problem. But we'll find out soon.)
I hope to be able to do some work in the near future. I'll be back as soon as possible. My enormous thanks for your generosity and patience still another time.
. . .Conservative critics decried it as the advent of socialism, but the core of Keynesian politics was quite different. What Keynes proposed was not class conflict, but reconciliation. His economic prescriptions suggested the terms for peaceful resolution. . .
Daniel Kuehn - Some Keynes links
. . .Keynes (and Eccles and the others) provided the political community with a unifying principle for economic decisions: everyone rides in the same boat. Given the complex relationships of the modern economy, everyone will prosper together, or, ultimately, everyone will languish. Capital will not collect its rewards unless labor gets its due. Workers cannot be healthy if producers are sick. Savers cannot reap profit if no one is able to borrow their savings and use them productively.
Enlightened self-interest required cooperation, a negotiated sharing of rewards. . .Fierce political struggles between labor and management and other competing interests continued, of course, after Keynes, but his ideas were a moderating influence. . .
This generous political spirit - the truce implicit in Keynesian doctrine - closely resembled the practical principles by which Franklin Roosevelt governed. Despite the fractious politics and FDR's derisive attacks on Wall Street's "economic royalists", the true spirit of the New Deal was conciliatory and collaborative. He was remembered as labor's champion, but Roosevelt was also supported by important elements of Wall Street, including leading investment bankers. FDR's many reforms were, in a sense, a series of "new deals" worked out with various sectors of the economy, both the injured and the prosperous. His bargains did not, put an end to conflict, but they did lower the intensity. . .
-Giovanni Dosi talks about the confluence between Schumpeter and Keynes at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website. I think this is very important. Some people see Keynes as saying "saving is bad and spending is good". I think that's a strange way to look at it. I see Keynes as saying "investment is good and investment doesn't always match up with savings". The latter perspective, which stresses animal spirits, etc. - this sort of view of Keynes that is more common at the Institute for New Economic Thinking - is quite commensurate with a Schumpterian entrepreneurial view of the economy.
Amos Oz, Brigitta van Rheinberg - How to Cure a Fanatic (2006)
. . .Oz argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a war of religion or cultures or traditions, but rather a real estate dispute—one that will be resolved not by greater understanding, but by painful compromise. As he writes, "The seeds of fanaticism always lie in uncompromising righteousness, the plague of many centuries.". . .
Glenn Harlan Reynolds - Sunday Reflection: From 'just-in-time' to 'just-in-case?'
. . .A new subdiscipline called "resilience engineering" looks at how systems can be made more resistant to failure, and better able to recover when they do fail. That kind of thinking, it seems to me, is relevant to all of us, not just engineers. . .
Jim Toedtman - Budget Wisdom in the Classroom
As I have for years, I spent a week of teaching and listening at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., this spring. I've assured my bosses that this was my continuing search for the Fountain of Youth, a popular undertaking in Florida and at AARP.
Clive Crook - A Timely Proposal From Martin Feldstein
Megan Mcardle - Capping Tax Expenditures: The Right Solution for the Wrong Reasons
Kevin Drum - Chart of the Day: Where the Debt Comes From
This year, I also found wisdom. . .
. . .Most made sizable defense cuts, others closed tax loopholes and added or raised taxes, including higher gasoline taxes and a new 5 percent sales tax, even when they were warned that it could drive the cost of a Big Mac sky-high. They didn't cut education, protected the environment and didn't touch Social Security.
Here's the bottom line: Faced with the same options that have paralyzed Washington, the students worked to find success. They weren't selfish. The new taxes, for example, would affect them disproportionately. But the cuts were across the board, evenhanded and sensible. The human consequence of budget balancing was very much on their minds. "I don't think we should throw grandmas out on the street or deny the elderly health care services," said Victoria Priester, a senior from Jacksonville. . .
. . .At the end of the day, there was a role reversal: The students had some lessons to teach.
. . .If you want to save America from a crushing future debt burden, you need to repeal the Bush tax cuts, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and stop pursuing austerity policies that will slow down economic recovery.
Jane Mayer - Charges Against the N.S.A.’s Thomas Drake
Once we've done that, then it's time to talk about Medicare. But the other stuff comes first. . .
. . .Steven Aftergood . . .believes that the trial may also test whether the nation’s expanding secret intelligence bureaucracy is beyond meaningful accountability. . .
Talat Masood - Patience, Not Punishment, for Pakistan
. . .Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, laments the lack of consistency in leak prosecutions. He notes that no investigations have been launched into the sourcing of Bob Woodward’s four most recent books, even though “they are filled with classified information that he could only have received from the top of the government.” Gabriel Schoenfeld, of the Hudson Institute, says, “The selectivity of the prosecutions here is nightmarish. It’s a broken system.”
. . .Tamm questions why the Drake case is proceeding, given that Drake never revealed anything as sensitive as what appeared in the Times. “The program he talked to the Baltimore Sun about was a failure and wasted billions of dollars,” Tamm says. “It’s embarrassing to the N.S.A., but it’s not giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. “I think it’s outrageous,” he says. “The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.”
. . .To be sure, Pakistan’s India-centric policy is harmful and counterproductive. The present crisis provides an opportunity for the Pakistani military to give up this strategically misguided obsession. India should also use this window of opportunity to step forward and normalize relations with its neighbor, instead of gloating over Pakistan’s misfortunes.
Obama - Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa
The killing of Bin Laden proves once and for all that the Pakistani military cannot look the other way as Afghan Taliban gather in Pakistan. Failing to act with full force against Islamist extremists at home is no longer an option. However, the United States needs to show greater understanding and patience while Pakistan undertakes this necessary strategic shift. . .
. . .Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.
Matt Yglesias - Open Educational Resources
Let me be specific. . .
. . .the purpose of libraries is to make human knowledge as widely available as possible, something for which digital media are ideal. But we haven’t had the kind of deliberate public focus on this that our ancestors put into library building.
Brad Delong - The Fourth Online-Learning Revolution (2010)
Brad Delong - Keeping the Fourth Online-Learning Revolution from Flaming Out into Disaster (2010)
Kevin Carey reports, however, that this is quickly changing thanks to a little-noted Obama administration initiative:
. . .The open-resource movement has been under way since the 1990s, with free content distributed by institutions including Carnegie Mellon and Yale Universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But there has never been an effort to promulgate OER’s on a $2-billion scale. . .
Neal: ". . .People, and especially students, are weaselly creatures. I was a student, I know people who have students, and I am a father to students. They are weaselly creatures. The danger to the value of an on-line education is the pretending that the weaselly factor does not exist. The embedded nature of what was learned in the face-to-face accountability is replaced by what? I know how my children skitter and skate through the "inter-web net-tubey" thing and there is very little of value that remains after the interaction. Quick solutions seized from here and there, on-line boards and chats for the "smart" persons answer, "cut and paste", done, and on to another round of COD4."
But that's implicitly assuming an assignment which the student didn't care about, done merely as an offering to oblige the professor. What about an assignment that a student did care about?
Shani O. Hilton - Black Ladies, Just Like the Other Ladies
peenerbambina: "This kind of crap pisses me of in such a spectrum of ways. Of course, in the nasty racist arsehole way, but also because it is BAD SCIENCE and BAD SCIENCE can make GOOD SCIENCE look STUPID because it is all called SCIENCE. . ."
Katie Toms - Borat review (2006)
'Do you think that women should be educate?' . . .'But government scientist Dr Yamuka has proved women have brain of squirrel'. . .
Gershom Gorenberg - Political Memory in the Mideast
. . .the either-or argument about 1948 versus 1967 is deeply misleading. Both years are part of Israeli-Palestinian history. But history isn't made of rock. . .When Israel pursues a peace agreement based mainly on the 1967 issues of dividing territory, it has a better chance of resolving the 1948 issue of refugees. . .
Daniel Levy - Obama Gets Real on Israel
. . .In those 20 years of talks, from the Madrid Conference through the Oslo Accord up to Abbas' negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, both the 1967 and the 1948 issues were on the table. The Palestinians sought a state next to Israel and a resolution of the refugee issue. . .
. . .At the time of the Abbas-Olmert talks, as Bernard Avishai has reported, the two sides were still dickering about the number of refugees going to Israel, but it was clear that they would be the "exceptional cases." . . .
. . .But once Netanyahu took office, unwilling to continue the talks where his predecessor left off. . .Abbas finally gave up on negotiating. He hopes the United Nations will impose a two-state solution. . .
. . .All this might please [Netanyahu's] ally in recalcitrance, Ismail Haniyeh. I can't figure out why [AIPAC] should be happy. . .
. . .in addressing Hamas, the president got his emphasis wrong. He focused on Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist, and while deeply regrettable, that position belongs in the context of a solution rather than as a precondition -- Israel, for instance, has not recognized the right to Palestinian statehood on the 1967 lines or any Palestinian fundamental rights for that matter. Obama would have been better advised to emphasize the need for all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to adhere to international law, notably the inadmissibility of terror or attacks on civilians. . .
Josh Marshall - Fool on the Hill
Douglas Hofstadter - The Prisoner's Dilemma and the Evolution of Cooperation
(from Metamagical Themas
. . .strategies featuring massive retaliation were less successful than TIT FOR TAT with its more gentle policy of restrained retaliation. Forgiveness is the key here, for it helps to restore the proverbial "atmosphere of mutual cooperation" (to use the phrase of international diplomacy) after a small skirmish.
"Be nice and forgiving" was in essence the overall lesson of the first tournament. Apparently, though, many people just couldn't get themselves to to believe it, and were convinced that with cleverer trickery and scheming, they could win the day. It took the second tournament to prove them dead wrong. And out of the second tournament, a third key strategic concept emerged: that of provocability - the notion that one should "get mad" quickly at defectors, and retaliate. Thus a more general lesson is: "Be nice, provocable, and forgiving."
Strategies that do well in a wide variety of environments are called by Axelrod robust, and it seems that ones with "good personality traits" - that is, nice, provocable, and forgiving strategies - are sure to be robust. TIT FOR TAT is by no means the only possible strategy with these traits, but it is the canonical example of such a strategy, and it is astonishingly robust. . .
Some people add "straight-forward" to this enlightened self-interest Rule of thumb
, i.e. "Be nice, provocable, forgiving and straightforward".
Dorothy L Sayers - Further Papers on Dante (1957)
(via A matter of eternity: selections from the writings of Dorothy L. Sayers chosen and introduced by Rosamond Kent Sprague.
. . .The thing that Liberal Humanism finds it most difficult to understand or cope with is the riddle of the evil mind, practising a purposeless malignity for its own sake. The love of evil is sub-rational, as the Divine charity is super-rational; and the golden mean of reason is as incapable of the one as the other.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Harun Najafizada (BBC) - Pakistan suicide blasts: Carnage in Shabqadar town
The Taliban says it carried out the deadly attack on a paramilitary training academy in the small town of Shabqadar in north-western Pakistan, which left at least 80 dead. . .
. . .People found it hard to digest that this had actually happened to them. They said they are used to listening to the news from across Pakistan - but they never thought they would be in the firing line. . .
. . .There is a mosque close to the scene of the blast and the mullah began preaching before Friday prayers. His speech was broadcast across the town on loudspeakers. But not once did he mention the bombing that had taken place only hours earlier. . .
. . .even as a series of yellow coffins carrying the bodies of some of the young paramilitary recruits were brought out of the academy, he never once touched upon the suicide attack. . .
been a while since I'd read Charles Peter's Tilting At Windmills column, and I'd forgotten how good it was:
Charles Peters - Tilting At Windmills Jan/Feb 2011
Finally, an audience!
Charles Peters - Tilting At Windmills May/June 2001
The members of the Foreign Service owe a great debt to Julian Assange. He got their cables read. . .
Several years ago, in testifying before the commission investigating 9/11, then CIA Director George Tenet was asked why nothing was done in response to a cable that reported one of the 9/11 terrorists had entered the United States. Tenet confidently replied, “I know that nobody read that cable.” And you can be sure when Hillary Clinton recently praised the quality of the leaked cables, she did so because she had just read many of them for the first time—and only because of WikiLeaks. . .
Take a load off, Army
One of the problems with our educated elite’s failure to serve in the military is their ignorance of the problems of the average soldier, and their resulting inability to pressure the Pentagon to take remedial action. A study by a Navy research committee in 2007 found that Marines carried loads of ninety-seven pounds. In the Army, according to Hal Bernten of the Seattle Times, upon whose reporting I rely for this item, the load is seventy to eighty pounds. Yet the Army Science Board recommends that soldiers carry no more than fifty pounds.
The consequences are not surprising. Thirty-one percent of combat evacuations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been for musculoskeletal, connective tissue, or spinal injuries. Of these, about 80 percent do not return to combat duty. An example is Spc. Joseph Chroniger, who returned from Iraq “with bone spurs in the vertebrae in his neck caused by a degenerative arthritic condition.”
Chroniger is only twenty-five years old. “What’s it going to be like,” he asks, “when I’m fifty or sixty?” . . .
One important issue, on which I'm not sure what I think, is the appropriate mix in education of freedom and discipline/accountability. One thing I find interesting is that accountability in the form of more testing seems to be the trend in the US, while in India the trend seems to be in the other direction, with, for example, films like 3 Idiots
, Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
, novels like Five Point Someone
, criticizing (appropriately, in my view) India's exam-heavy system.
Some essays excerpts, some on the `liberal' side of the issue, some on the `conservative' side:
Amy Chua (USAT)- Here's how to reshape U.S. education
. . .Our society's need to ignite "mommy wars" is especially odd because anyone can see that there are many ways of producing happy, healthy children — and clearly no one right formula. . .
Richard P. Feynman - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (1985)
. . .Interestingly, Asia is already looking West. Education in Asia is still too stifling, rote and high-pressured. In China, for example, kids often study from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., grades are publicly posted, and a child's future can depend on a single exam. . .
. . .Seeing these educational shifts in Asia, some Americans are taking a self-congratulatory stance. . .Such complacency is misguided. As every American knows, we have serious child-rearing problems in this country, and on the whole these are problems of too little structure, not too much. . .
This is a way to combine East and West: more structure when our children are little (and will still listen to us), followed by increasing self-direction in their teenage years. . .
. . .So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books. There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it’s amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil — why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it. . .
Monte Davis (OMNI Magazine) - Richard Feynman interview (1979)
. . .They can recite, word for word, without realizing that those. . .words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand. . .
. . .I said, “That’s how it looks to me, when I see you teaching the kids ‘science’ here in Brazil.” (Big blast, right?)
Then I held up the elementary physics textbook they were using. “There are no experimental results mentioned anywhere in this book, except in one place where there is a ball, rolling down an inclined plane, in which it says how far the ball got after one second, two seconds, three seconds, and so on. The numbers have ‘errors’ in them — that is, if you look at them, you think you’re looking at experimental results, because the numbers are a little above, or a little below, the theoretical values. The book even talks about having to correct the experimental errors — very fine. The trouble is, when you calculate the value of the acceleration constant from these values, you get the right answer. But a ball rolling down an inclined plane, if it is actually done, has an inertia to get it to turn, and will, if you do the experiment, produce five-sevenths of the right answer, because of the extra energy needed to go into the rotation of the ball. Therefore this single example of experimental ‘results’ is obtained from a fake experiment. Nobody had rolled such a ball, or they would never have gotten those results! . . .
. . .Finally, I said that I couldn’t see how anyone could he educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything. “However,” I said, “I must be wrong. There were two students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. . .
. . . Then something happened which was totally unexpected for me. One of the students got up and said, “I’m one of the two students whom Mr. Feynman referred to at the end of his talk. I was not educated in Brazil; I was educated in Germany, and I’ve just come to Brazil this year.”
The other student who had done well in class had a similar thing to say. And the professor I had mentioned got up and said, “I was educated here in Brazil during the war, when, fortunately, all of the professors had left the university, so I learned everything by reading alone. Therefore I was not really educated under the Brazilian system.”. . .
. . .Feynman: Right. I don't believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it's no more complicated than humans can understand. I had a calculus book once that said, "What one fool can do, another fool can." What we've been able to work out about nature may look abstract and threatening to someone who hasn't studied it, but it was fools who did it.
There's a tendency to pomposity in all this, to make it all deep and profound. . .
. . .Look at the equations for the atomic and molecular forces in water, and you can't see the way water behaves; you can't see turbulence.
OMNI: That leaves the people with questions about turbulence--the meteorologists and oceanographers and geologists and airplane designers--kind of up the creek, doesn't it?
Feynman: . . .With turbulence, it's not just a case of physical theory being able to handle only simple cases--we can't do any. We have no good fundamental theory at all.
OMNI: Maybe it's the way the textbooks are written, but few people outside science appear to know just how quickly real, complicated physical problems get out of hand as far as theory is concerned.
Feynman: That's very bad education. The lesson you learn as you grow older in physics is that what we can do is a very small fraction of what there is. Our theories are really very limited. . .
One thing I know nothing about is how much progress has been made in fields like turbulence over the past 30 years.
Ben Carson interviewed by Robert H. Schuller for the "Hour of Power" (2010)
. . .she prayed and she asked God to give her the wisdom to know what to do to help not only me, but my brother to achieve academically.
And God gave her the wisdom, at least in her opinion. My brother and I didn't think it was that wise, but it was to turn off the TV set. Let us watch only two or three TV programs during the week and with all that spare time, read two books a piece from the Detroit Public Library and submit to her written book reports. We didn't know that she couldn't read so, and she would take the reports and she would put little check marks on them and act like she was reading them, but interestingly enough and the real crux of the matter is, we had to do it. She was not a person who allowed us to have our own way. . .
. . . I initially started reading books about animals because I loved animals. After I exhausted all the animal books in the Detroit Public Libraries, I went to plants and then I went to rocks, because we lived in a dilapidated section of the city near the railroad tracks and of course, what is there along the railroad tracks ... rocks.
So I would collect rocks, bring them home, get my geology book out and study the rocks. Still in the 5th grade. . .
One interesting thing in terms of freedom/discipline is that they were compelled to read and write book reports, but had complete freedom in choosing what to read.
Siegfried and Therese Engelmann - Give Your Child A Superior Mind (1966)
. . .Recognize the Threat of the Learning Situation
C.S. Lewis - The Parthenon and the Optative (1944)
Look at learning from the child's point of view. One day she identifies the letter K and you praise her. A few days later, she says “K” and you nod. A few days later she says “K” and you reply, “Yes, but what sound does it make?” What has happened? She said it just as well as she ever had, but now, for some reason, the answer wonʼt do. When you ask a child to learn, youʼre asking her to abandon responses that are known and experiment with ones that are unknown. You are asking her to change her world when she would rather dig her nails into it and hang on. The potential rewards for her sacrifice are praise and a strong sense of accomplishment.
The promise of rewards must overbalance the inevitable threat of the learning situation. Until it does, the child will not be an eager learner. She cannot appreciate the rewards of learning until she's experienced them. Therefore, you must push her. Only about one out of ten children would learn much if the decision to learn or not to learn rested with them. They would go along with the learning situation until they felt threatened. Then they would decide that learning was not for them after all. Despite the common-sense assumption offered by many educators, children are not good judges of what they can learn or when they are ready to learn it. . .
. . .5. Give the child plenty of free time. Weʼve stressed the point that the most active environment is the one that produces the greatest learning gains. Please don't interpret this to mean that you should ride herd on your child all day long. Mothers who do this aren't actually providing an environment with greater vistas of learning. They're sifting many dimensions out of a rich environment and funneling everything through an oversimplified, artificial medium — Mother. . .
Let the child work out rules for handling life, not simply the child-mother phase of it. . .Formal lessons should not consume more than one to one and a half hours of the child's day. In the remaining time, he should be free to think, to play, to be a child.
. . .I have tended to use the Parthenon and the Optative as the symbols of two types of education. The one begins with hard, dry, things like grammar, and dates, and prosody; and it has at least the chance of ending in a real appreciation which is equally hard and firm though not equally dry. The other begins in `Appreciation' and ends in gush. . .
C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory (1942)
. . .well-meaning educationalists are quite right in thinking that literary appreciation is a delicate thing. What they do not seem to see is that for this very reason elementary examinations on literary subjects ought to confine themselves to just those dry and factual questions which are so often ridiculed. The questions were never supposed to test appreciation; the idea was to find out whether the boy had read his books. It was the reading, not the being examined, which was expected to do him good. And this, so far from being a defect in such examinations is just what renders them useful or even tolerable. . .Tell the boy to `mug up' a book and then set questions to find out whether he has done so. At best, he may have learned (and, best of all, unconsciously) to enjoy a great poem. At second best he has done an honest piece of work and exercised his memory and reason. At worst, we have done him no harm: have not pawed and dabbled in his soul, have not taught him to be a prig or a hypocrite.
But an elementary examination which attempts to assess `the adventures of the soul among books' is a dangerous thing. What obsequious boys, if encouraged, will try to manufacture, and clever ones can ape, and shy ones will conceal, what dies at the touch of venality, is called to come forward and perform, to exhibit itself. . .meanwhile no one has found out whether the boys actually understand the words the author wrote, for that is only the `coarse fringe'. Yet that could have been tested with tolerable accuracy by any number of people and the boys would have been spared doing spiritual gymnastics under their examiners' eyes. The old kind of examination was better.. . .
Of course we meet many people who explain to us that they would by now have been great readers of poetry if it had not been `spoiled for them' at school by `doing' it for examinations of the old kind. . .It may be so: but why should we believe that it is. We have only their word for it; and how do they know?
. . .An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks forward to marriage or a general to victory. He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just in so far as he approaches the reward that be becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward. . .
C.S. Lewis Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955)
. . .poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship. . .
. . .If he is an imaginative boy he will, quite probably, be revelling in the English poets and romances suitable to his age some time before he begins to suspect that Greek grammar is going to lead him to more and more enjoyments of this same sort. He may even be neglecting his Greek to read Shelley and Swinburne in secret. In other words, the desire which Greek is really going to gratify already exists in him and is attached to objects which seem to him quite unconnected with Xenophon and the verbs in mi. . .
. . .the curious thing was that despite all this cruelty we did surprisingly little work. This may have been partly because the cruelty was irrational and unpredictable, but it was partly because of the curious methods employed. Except at geometry (which he really liked) it might be said that Oldie did not teach at all. He called his class up and asked questions. When the replies were unsatisfactory he said in a low, calm voice, "Bring me my cane. I see I shall need it.". . ."Lessons" of this sort did not take very long; what was to be done with the boys for the rest of the time? Oldie has decided that they could, with least trouble to himself, be made to do arithmetic. Accordingly, when you entered school at nine o' clock you took your slate and began doing sums. Presently you were called up to "say a lesson". When that was finished you went back to your place and did more sums - and so forever. All the other arts and sciences thus appeared as islands (mostly rocky and dangerous islands)
R.K. Narayan - A Writer's Nightmare (1988)
Which like to rich and various gems inlaid
the unadorned bosom of the deep
-the deep being a shoreless ocean of arithmetic. At the end of the morning you had to say how many sums you had done; and it was not quite safe to lie. But supervision was slack and very little assistance was given. My brother - I told you he was already a man of the world - soon found the proper solution. He announced every morning with perfect truth that he had done five sums; he did not add that they were the same five every day. It would be interesting to know how many thousand times he did them. . ."
. . .in Mathematics, whatever could be done my mere reasoning (as in simple geometry) I did with delight; but the moment calculation came in I was helpless. I grasped the principles but my answers were always wrong. . .
. . .I still had to pass "Responsions", which involved elementary mathematics. To prepare for this I returned after Christmas for one last term with Kirk - a golden term, poignantly happy under the approaching shadow. At Easter I was handsomely plowed in Responsions, having been unable as usual to get my sums right. "Be more careful", was the advice everyone gave me, but I found it useless. The more care I took the more mistakes I made. . .
. . .That I never passed Responsions is certain, but I cannot remember whether I again sat for it and was again plowed. The question became unimportant after the war, for a benevolent decree exempted ex-servicemen from taking it, Otherwise, no doubt, I should have had to abandon the idea of going to Oxford. . .
Dorothy L Sayers - The Lost Tools of Learning (1947)
. . .My mind refuses to work when it encounters numbers. . .
. . .There was a fashion in the elementary school in which I read to prescribe a book in which the sums were all about English life. The characters in the problems were all John and Joan and Albert, and the calculations pertained to apples and the fares of hansom-cabs. In those days we saw apples only in coloured picture-books and we never understood what hansom-cabs meant. We were used to dealing in mangoes and jutkas and bullock-carts, and the payments were not in farthings or pence, but in rupees, annas and pies. While wrestling with the problems in this book I was always racked with the thought that perhaps I could solve the sums if they dealt with Indian life. Fortunately, in answer to this prayer, we soon had sums dealing with the interminable transactions of Rama and Krishna. But I soon found that this did not make things easier for me. . .
. . .Every time I did a sum I turned to the last section with trembling and prayer, but I always found there a different figure from what I had arrived at laboriously. The disappointment reduced me to tears. A sense of hopeless frustration seized me each time I referred to the answers in the printed book. I sometimes wished I had been born in another world where there would be no mathematics. The whole subject seemed to be devised to defeat and keep me in a perpetual anguish of trial and error. . .
. . .To this day I have no idea what it is all about. . .Anyway, one got out of high school with a feeling of escaping from a concentration camp, the greatest virtue of university education seeming to be that unless one chose one need not go near mathematics. . .
. . .I don't think years have improved my outlook or equipment in regard to mathematics, although as a grown-up I am not supposed to give out my real feelings in the matter. . .
`No School Today.'
. . .It is all nature's balance, the child's aversion to school and its elders' zeal for it. No one can object to it. But what I really find objectionable is the adult's horror at the thought that a child should hate its school. With devoted parents, school is an obsession. They are dismayed at the attitude they see in their child. I know a parent who started a separate establishment twenty miles away from his working place because he wanted to put his child in school. Four-year-old Ramu was to all appearances enthusiastic about the scheme. He liked the change and the new satchel and books bought for him. The first day Ramu went to the school he insisted upon standing all the time in the veranda and watching other children going through their drill and games in the quadrangle. Next day he was persuaded to enter an infant section but he insisted upon his father's coming up and taking his seat beside him in the classroom. They prodded and persuaded and made him go to school every day: each day it was a trial of wit, strength and patience between him and his parents. Thus he attended the school for a few weeks an suddenly one Monday morning announced his unshakable resolve, "I won't go to school." His father was nearly in tears when he reported to me, "I have taken a house on seventy-five rupees a month only for his sake, although it means driving back to my factory twenty miles every day. I wouldn't mind any trouble or expense if only Ramu could be made to like his school." They were very kind there: they even tried to tempt him with chocolates and toffee, but that didn't work. It seems Ramu told his teacher, "My father has ordered me not to eat sweets. They will do me harm." I told the father, "Why do you despair? This is probably a child's happiest stage, when every nook and corner at home looks rich. mysterious and soul-satisfying; no school-room, however well=organized. however psychological or well-behaved the teachers might be, could ever compare with the quality of the home. It's the best period of one's life to be home in." In this respect all schools are deficient. Until we adopt the view point of a child and reorganize our educational system, our schools will continue to repel children. They may overcome it, get use to it or resign themselves to it - but love the school, never.
My Educational Outlook
My educational outlook has always differed from those of my elders and well-wishers. . .I am not averse to enlightenment, but I feel convinced that the entire organization, system, outlook and aims of education are hopelessly wrong from beginning to end; from primary first year to Ph. D., it is just a continuation of an original mistake. . .
In my boyhood, the teacher never appeared in public without the cane in hand. . .a cane in his right hand while the left held a pinch of snuff between the thumb and forefinger. He took a deep inhalation before proceeding to flick the cane on whatever portion of myself was available for the purpose. I really had no idea what I was expected to do or not do to avoid it. I could never imagine that a simple error of calculation in addition, subtraction or multiplication (I never knew which) would drive anyone hysterical. . .
. . .I notice nowadays a little girl at home always playing the school-game in a corner of the veranda, but never without a flat wooden foot-rule in hand, which she flourishes menacingly at the pupils assembled in her phantasmagorical class-room. On investigation, I found that the cane, being discredited, has yielded place to the foot-rule, especially in `convent' schools. The foot-rule, has the advantage over the primitive birch of mauling without marking (which could count as an achievement in torturing technique) and it also possesses the innocent appearance of a non-violent pedagogic equipment. . .
. . .at higher levels of education, torments to a young soul are devised in subtler forms progressively; admissions, textbooks and examinations are the triple weapons in the hands of an educator today. In June every father and son go through a purgatory of waiting at the doors of every college. Provision of seats planned in a grand musical-chair-manner keeps every applicant running frantically about, unless, as in certain well-geared technical colleges, the parent could make a bid in the style of a competitor at a toddy auction of old times. . .Those who cannot afford it have to queue up in the corridors of colleges, hunt and gather recommendations, plead, appeal canvas and lose weight until they find (or do not find) their names in the list of admissions. At the next stage the student will once again queue up, beg, beat about, and appeal - for textbooks this time (especially if it happens to be a `Nationalized Textbook', which may not be available until the young man is ready to leave the college).
Finally the examination. In a civilized world the examination system should have no place. It is a culmination of all sadistic impulses. Learned commissions and conferences meet and speculate why young men are always on the verge of blasting street lamps and smashing furniture. It technical language it is known as `student indiscipline.' It has always amused one to note the concern the problem causes and how it always ends in woolly, banal resolutions such as: students should be given compulsory military training, asked to perform compulsory rural service, and compulsory what not. Students should keep out of politics (a great many others ought to keep out of politics too; in any case, it's too late to suggest this as students were inveigled into politics not so long ago in our history). The real wrecker of young nerves, however, is the examination system. It builds up a tension and an anxiety neurosis day by day all the year round, all through one's youth, right into middle age (for some). I remember the desperate nervousness that debilitated me from January to April every year. After four decades, I still jump off my bed from nightmares of examination. I feel convinced that the examination system was devised by a satanic mind. The anxiety and sleeplessness, the gamble over possible questions, the hush-hush and grimness of the examination hall, the invigilators (the very word has a Grand Inquisitorial sound) watching like wardens at the gallows, the awful ritual of breaking open the seal of the examination papers, the whole thing now appears ridiculously ritualistic and out of tune with a civilization in which man is capable of taking a stroll thousands of miles above the earth towards the moon.
If I became a Vice-Chancellor, my first act would be to abolish all secrecy that surrounds question papers. .. I would add a postscript to every question paper: `If you cannot answer any of the above questions, don't despair. Remember your examiners are not infallible and may not do better if placed in your predicament. Your inability to answer will in no way be a reflection on your intelligence. We apologize for the embarrassment. Also, remember if you expect a first class and do not secure even passing marks, don't rave against your examiner, he is also a human being subject to fluctuating moods caused by unexpected domestic quarrels or a bad digestion just when he is sitting down to correct your papers; also, not being an adding machine, occasionally he may slip and arrive at 7 while totalling 8 and 3. Please forgive him.'
At a certain university in America I met an advanced soul. He taught Political Science. One month before the annual examination, he cyclostyled (or `xeroxed') the questions and distributed them among his students, who thereafter spent nearly twelve hours a day in the library in the `assigned reading room.' I described to him our habits of hiding the questions till the last moment. He remarked `Why on earth keep the boys in the dark over questions that after all concern them?' I explained , `We believe in mugging up, on an average 200 pages per subject, and fifteen subjects in a year. One who can demonstrate that he can recollect three thousand pages in the examination hall will be considered a first-class student in our country, although he need not understand a word of what he reads, or remember a syllable of what he has read after the examination. The whole aim of our education is to strain the faculty of memory. . ."
`Your system must have been devised before Caxton, when there was no printed book, and handwritten books were chained and guarded. Memory is not so important today. Our need is for more libraries and multiple copies. The only condition I make for my boys is that they spend at least six hours a day in the library a month before the examinations, while writing their answers I permit them to refer to the books. My only condition is that they should write their answers within the given time.'
In my college days, I had a professor of history, who said, `It's a pity you have failed. If you didn't know the answer, you could have written any answer you knew; if you didn't know anything of the subject, you could have just copied the question paper. If you couldn't do even that, you could have told me and I would have given you marks.'
`I didn't know you were an examiner, sir.'
`What a pity, they ought not to keep it a secret. All our troubles are due to it. After all, you have listened to my lectures for a year and that's enough.
I had another professor from Scotland who taught us English; an enlightened soul, who marked a minimum of 35 per cent on all papers, and raised it on request. He was accessible, and amenable to reason and even to bargaining, He would ask, `What marks do you expect to get?'
`Sixty, sir'. He would pick up the answer paper, glance through it, shake his head ruefully. `I have given you the minimum, of course, but I'll raise it to 40.'
`Sir, please make it 52, I want at least a second class.'
`All right. I hope your interest in Literature is genuine'.
Oh, but for this noble soul, I'd never have passed in English.
Here is an instance of memory without intelligence. A story of mine called `Attila' has found its way into Pre-University Prose in a certain university. I had a chance of learning how questions on the story were answered. A few answers were just line-by-line reproductions of the original, but nowhere could I see that they had realized the story was about a dog. . .
`R.K. Narayan was a romantic poetess who died in 1749.'
Long after getting his BA Degree, a person met his old teacher and confessed, `I am sorry, sir, I never till today that Lady Macbeth was a woman.' Another teacher was asked, an hour before the literature paper, ` Is King Lear a tragedy or comedy, sir?'
I mention these without comment. If our educational system is not to continue as a well-endowed, elaborately organized, deep-rooted farce, remedy must be found immediately. I dare not end this on a note suggesting crisis, as before the ink on this sentence dries, academic experts and ministers of education are likely to pack up and leave for New York, Rio de Janiero, or Toronto, in accordance with the almost superstitious believe among our leaders (in all fields) that when there is a crisis at home the thing to do is to buy a round-the-world air ticket and leave.
That I, whose experience of teaching is extremely limited, should presume to discuss education is a matter, surely, that calls for no apology. It is a kind of behavior to which the present climate of opinion is wholly favorable. Bishops air their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw. Up to a certain point, and provided the the criticisms are made with a reasonable modesty, these activities are commendable. . .
. . .My views about child psychology are, I admit, neither orthodox nor enlightened. Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic--the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. The Pert age, which follows upon this (and, naturally, overlaps it to some extent), is characterized by contradicting, answering back, liking to "catch people out" (especially one's elders); and by the propounding of conundrums. Its nuisance-value is extremely high. It usually sets in about the Fourth Form. The Poetic age is popularly known as the "difficult" age. It is self-centered; it yearns to express itself; it rather specializes in being misunderstood; it is restless and tries to achieve independence; and, with good luck and good guidance, it should show the beginnings of creativeness; a reaching out towards a synthesis of what it already knows, and a deliberate eagerness to know and do some one thing in preference to all others. Now it seems to me that the layout of the Trivium adapts itself with a singular appropriateness to these three ages: Grammar to the Poll-Parrot, Dialectic to the Pert, and Rhetoric to the Poetic age. . .
The Sayers essay is very popular with home-schoolers. I'd be interested in what education reformers think of it.
Saturday, May 07, 2011
Raffi Khatchadourian - Bin Laden: The Rules of Engagement
During the Second World War, an American infantryman could shoot an S.S. officer who was eating lunch in a French café without violating the Law of War, so long as he did not actively surrender. . .
Kevin Drum - Afghanistan, Pakistan, OBL photos
. . .A status-based target can become a non-combatant (that is, illegal to kill) only if he is wounded to the point where he no longer poses a threat, or if he is in the process of surrendering. . .[Holder]: if bin Laden “had surrendered [or] attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that, and therefore his killing was appropriate.” In such a circumstance, the law suggests that the onus is on the target to immediately revoke his combatant status. Soldiers do not have to wait. . .
There are specific reasons for keeping things classified, and the fact that something "could" incite violence or might be used in a way that makes life more difficult for the White House isn't one of them. That's little more than an all-purpose excuse that can be used for keeping anything classified. . .
. . .Embarrassment doesn't usually cause people to back down. . .
I believe the photos should be partially blacked out or blurred, then released. I believe the video of the funeral should be released.
The shifting accounts of the raid are absolutely fine with me, and it seems to be inevitable and unavoidable with any combat operation or terrorist incident or natural disaster. If you go back and listen to the press briefings in the week after 9/11, you will be struck by the government officials telling us things, with calm self-assured certainty, that we now know to be completely untrue. The good thing is that the mistakes were corrected in 1 or 2 days rather than 1 or 2 weeks. I think the WH made a mistake in clamming up and saying that they were no longer going to discuss details. Clean silence may appear more dignified than messy truth, but I believe that the appearance of dignity is highly overrated.
Perhaps the relevant maxim to remember this week is "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence" Or d-squared's
slightly sharper version.
The downward spiral in Pakistan, and what might arrest it
Sambit Bal - Can India match Pakistan's grace and hospitality? (2005)
During a casual conversation a couple of weeks ago, a senior member of the Indian team revealed his worst fears about Pakistan's oncoming tour of India. . ."I just hope," he said, "we, as a nation, are able to reciprocate in kind to the manner Indians were treated in Pakistan when they toured last year."
It's a fear palpably felt by every Indian who set his or her foot in Pakistan during those magical days. Like us, he had seen doors and hearts open, he had felt the warmth and goodwill which was too spontaneous to have been a put-on, he had seen the Indian flags flying proudly in the stands, seen pictures of Indian revellers on the streets of Lahore, and like us, he too is left wondering if India can match the grace and the hospitality. . .
. . .The red carpet from the state and the cricket administration was expected, but the surge of goodwill on the streets, in the shops, at homes, in taxis and restaurants wasn't part of a grand design. It just happened. One thing led to the other. A better explanation of this can be found in Malcolm Gladwell's acclaimed book Tipping Point, which explores the phenomenon of little things making a big difference.
It perhaps took small things - a boy painting himself in the national colours of India and Pakistan, someone stitching two flags together, the first few dispatches filed by Indian journalists - that got the emotions stirring and in no time a spirit of brotherhood had spread across on both sides of the border. It was special, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To expect a repeat might be a sure recipe for disappointment. But still, we have a right to expect, for what happened then was wonderful. . .
. . .Has India slipped even before it could get moving? That's a bleak view that does not take into account the power of the human heart. What happened in Pakistan last year wasn't expected. It wasn't planned. It wasn't powered by propaganda. What is needed is a few little lights to kindle a giant flame. Let's invest in hope. It's a better feeling than dread.
It seems to me that the Indian cricket tour of Pakistan in 2004 was one of high points, if not the high point, of the Musharraf era. Since then it seems to have a been a long, relatively slow, downward spiral in Pakistan. The middle class protests against Musharraf were am ambiguous moment, which could have had a better outcome if Musharraf had accepted the judicial rulings against him with restraint. Then came unalloyed disasters: the assassination of Bhutto, the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team, 26/11, assassinations of moderate politicians.
What might start to reverse the trend? It's probably disingenuous for an Indian-American to offer "friendly" advice to Pakistan, but anyway, it seems to me the main issue is Kashmir, and the main task for Pakistani leaders seeking to lead their people somewhere other than the abyss is to affirm the legitimacy of the Kashmir issue, and affirm the legitimacy of Pakistanis fighting for Kashmiri rights, while at the same condemning, and opposing, with some firmness and resolve, terrorism & violence as a legitimate means of fighting for those rights.
I think the first step in achieving peace in Kashmir has to come from Pakistan, and it has to involve a comprehensive and sustained attempt to delegitimize terrorism and violence as a means of fighting for Kashmiri rights. This will be difficult, as the legitimacy of violence and terrorism in Kashmir has sunk deep roots in Pakistan since at least 1989, and probably since soon after the 1979 killing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
After Pakistan has taken dramatic, irrefutable steps to delegitimize violence and terrorism in Kashmir, and it becomes crystal clear that Indian concessions on Kashmir do not represent a caving in to terrorism and violence, the burden of responsibility shifts to India. In terms of what a final deal should look like, I guess I agree with the ideas of Stephen P. Cohen, P.R. Chari & Hasan Askari Rizvi: The Kashmir Dispute: Making Borders Irrelevant
I suppose it's possible for India to make the first move on Kashmir, and if Manmohan Singh decides to do that, I for one will support him, but without a determined attempt by Pakistani leaders to fight terrorism and violence as an illegitimate means for pursuing Kashmiri rights, it's not clear that any overtures from India are going to accomplish anything in terms of stopping the madness, the denial, and the downward spiral, that seems, from an outsider's perspective, to be afflicting Pakistan today.
Matthew Yglesias - Safe Haven Myth Should Die With Bin Laden
. . .surely the fact that Osama bin Laden turns out to have been hiding out in a walled compound near a city thirty miles up the road from Islamabad featuring a professional cricket team, a field hockey stadium, and a medical school ought to prompt us to reconsider the obsession with the idea of “terrorist safe havens.” . . .On the one hand, no location on earth is actually safe from a United States military . . .On the other hand. . .Trying to physically conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.
I agree we shouldn't invade and occupy a country just to carry out counter-terrorism operations, but to me the raid shows the extreme importance of having a good working relationship with the police of any country where terrorists live. This was an operation where there was every incentive to get it right, yet it still came close to going wrong. This type of raid is appropriate for Bin Laden, and possibly Zawahiri, and no one else, it seems to me.
The next alternative to this type of raid is bombing. We now know, thanks to the courage of the SEALS who carried out this operation, what that would have meant: 1 HVT killed, one grown son of HVT killed. 2 courier/bodyguards killed, and 18
women and children non-combatants killed. One man as guilty as a man can be, a few more somewhat guilty men, and more than a dozen innocents. Suppose those women and children had been Americans. Would we consider that an acceptable outcome?
The rejoinder, is that if you are a terrorist combatant, trying to kill as many Americans as possible, by any means available, how dare you make the choice to surround yourselves with wife and children, instead of sending them somewhere safe? I think this has some validity, nevertheless, it's still our bombs that are killing these non-combatants.
So if raids and bombs are both, deeply, deeply, unsatisfactory, the final alternative, besides patience and watchful waiting, is to have a good working relationship with the Pakistani police force. This seems to me the only way to achieve the routine, frequent arrests of terrorists necessary to defeat a terrorist network.
Andrew Sullivan (quoting Daniel Larison) - In Defense Of Pakistan As An Ally, Ctd
A quote from a Pakistani, I can't remember where it came from: "We didn't know where OBL was. If we had known, we would have arrested him, like we did with KSM". I think this is true, nevertheless the inability of the Pakistani establishment to effectively investigate the location of OBL, along with their inability to effectively investigate the killing of Benazir Bhutto, along with their inability and flat unwillingness to investigate 26/11, suggests a deep reluctance of the Pakistani establishment to get to the bottom of any terrorist incident, for fear of what they might find.
Anthony Shadid (NYT) - Protests Across Syria Despite Military Presence
Obama administration officials say that while some figures in the Syrian leadership, Ms. Shaaban and Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa among them, seem to favor at least some reform, hard-liners in the leadership are ascendant. . .
. . .But officials say the ire of France and, in particular, Turkey, which had emerged as one of Syria’s closest allies, has worried the Syrian leadership. So has the threat of international action. On Friday, the European Union decided to impose a travel ban and a freeze of assets of 14 Syrian officials, though Mr. Assad was excluded. . .
This Stormy Dragon
comment is untrue and possibly unkind, but also funny:
Doug Mataconis - Pakistan Claims It Did Its Part To Catch Bin Laden
David Coombs - A Typical Day For PFC Bradley Manning at Fort Leavenworth
Kevin Drum - Good & Evil Banks, Good & Bad Customers
Of course they did their part to catch him. Think how much harder the operation would have been if the ISI had built OBL’s mansion in a remote location instead of a conveniently accessible suburb!
This is yet another example of a fee that (a) most people don't really know much about, (b) most people don't think they'll ever incur, and (c) generally gets paid by people in some kind of distress. In the modern banking industry, that makes it a perfect target for a huge increase. . .Unfortunately, I don't really know what the answer to this is. I have a visceral aversion to doing business like this, but I also understand why they do it . . .
Matthew Yglesias - The Case For A Public Option For Small-Scale Savings
Would it make sense for one of the big tech companies, Google or even Microsoft or Yahoo, to get into the banking or credit card business, or specific areas of those businesses?
Update: Or Apple, I suppose. IBank? ICard?
Kevin Drum - Federalize Medicaid
Kevin Drum - Ed Reform Backlash
I used to be receptive to the idea of standardized tests, not so much on grounds of teacher accountability, as that they're, in theory, potentially democratizing i.e. It doesn't matter whether you go to an elite school, you can still take the same test as any elite student. I've since become more skeptical of them, because in reading biographies, you keep coming across instances of exams & tests being hindrances rather than helps, e.g. C.S. Lewis was a mathematical illiterate, and unable to pass even the simplest test in maths, something which would have prevented him from attending Oxford, save for a special last-minute test exemption for returning WWI veterans. And (as described in Leonard Mlodinow's Euclid's Window
), Einstein, while obviously scoring high in math & physics, had a a consistently hard time in other subjects, such that at one point he became embittered and dropped out of high school for 6 months, until his father urged him to go back to (a different) school. If Albert frickin' Einstein - precisely the sort of genius standardized tests are supposed to help - found compulsory standardized tests more hindrance then help, what exactly are compulsory tests good for?
I guess the idea I find attractive in education is Minimally Invasive Education
, i.e. "ask them what they want to do, and then advise them to do it". Standardized tests would have a role in such a system, not so much as a way to hold teachers accountable, but as an opportunity for students to demonstrate some competence in a field they wanted to pursue.
Karl Smith - Ham and Eggs in the Jobs Report
Found Smith's categorization of jobs interesting: traditional industrial heart (mining, utilities and manufacturing); sponge (retail and hospitality); golden children (education, health, professional services, business, finance, insurance and real estate); construction; and government.
Most of Noahpinion's
"What I learned in econ grad school" (Part 1
& Part 2
) went over my head. It did, however, remind me of John Quiggin's "What next for macroeconomics?"
post, with 2 comments from d-squared:
"I dunno. . .I probably ought to write my own “whither macro” post, but I don’t think I agree with this one. It’s still very agent-centred rather than institutional. . .
. . .What we’ve got here are a bunch of institutions which write contracts with each other for fixed nominal values, and then interact with the real economy. I think it makes more sense to treat these as black boxes which do stuff (and then to try and understand the feedback system which operates within them) rather than to start with the psychology of the elves who work inside them. . .
. . .My practical example of this would be the real estate boom; if I were starting to explain this I would have as my building blocks the rental yield, the competitive equilibrium in the market for loans with competition on price and collateral, the need for certain kinds of institutions to earn a target level of nominal yield in order to maintain regulatory solvency, etc etc etc
. . .Basically as far as I can see, the problem with macroeconomics was too much abstraction . . .
. . .Up until 2006, the housing “boom” was simply a reflection of what had happened to interest rates and reflected a combination of downward-stickiness in rents, combined with quasi-arbitrage between the yield on bonds and the rental yield on property. After 2006, house prices kept rising to levels where the rental yield was well below the bond yield, and this marked the “Minsky moment” at which the boom became a bubble. In early 2007, the rental yield moved below the cost of mortgage financing, and we had the “second Minsky moment” at which the crash was inevitable . . .
. . . .the above paragraph, btw, is an example of how I think macroeconomics should be done. We know that rents are sticky in a downward direction, and the reasons why don’t have much to do with agent rationality – they’re a reflection of the way in which contracts are written and in which property investment is financed. We know that there is quasi-arbitrage between bond yields and property yields, and I would also argue that if you’re going to investigate this you are going to get further by getting a load of deep and detailed information about the real estate investment industry than by making stylised models of expectations.
The last Krugman post on the size of the output gap
was on January 19. What are the updated figures (or more accurately, the updated range of estimates)? How much money are we leaving on the table, and since people like having more money, or so I've heard, how much support is there among the American people, and among American elites, for closing the output gap?
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Campbell Robertson and Kim Severson (NYT) - Storms’ Toll Rises as Scale of Damage Becomes Clear
The death toll, including those who were killed by storms earlier in the week in Arkansas, reached 333. On Friday evening, Alabama emergency officials announced that the state’s death toll had reached 232. . .
. . .echoing the volunteers who have come in such high numbers that they are being turned away in some areas, Mr. Obama turned the focus toward the work ahead.
“We can’t bring those who have been lost back,” he said. “But the property damage, which is obviously extensive, that’s something that we can do something about.”. . .
Slobodan Lekic (AP) - NATO dismisses Gadhafi cease-fire proposal
Protesters Brave Live Crackdowns in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia
Syrian Army Splits over Deraa Repression
NATO Strike on Command Center kills Qaddafi Son
A Gay Girl in Damascus - My father, the hero
NATO says it wants Moammar Gadhafi's forces to end their attacks on civilians before it considers the Libyan leader's cease-fire offer. . .
. . .hours before Gadhafi proposed the truce, his forces indiscriminately shelled the besieged port city of Misrata, Libya, killing several people.
"All this has to stop, and it has to stop now," the NATO official said, adding that a cease fire must be "credible and verifiable."
(via Saheli Datta
Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .
We had a visit from the security services. . .
. . ."What are your names?"
They tell him. He nods. "Your father," he says to the one who threatened to rape me, "does he know this is how you act? He was an officer, yes? And he served in ..." (he mentions exactly and then turns to the other) "and your mother? Wasn't she the daughter of ...?" They are both wide-eyed, yes, that is right,
"What would they think if they heard how you act? . . .
. . .time froze when he stopped speaking. Now, they would either smack him down and beat him, rape me, and take us both away ... or ...
the first one nodded, then the second one.
"Go back to sleep," he said, "we are sorry for troubling you."
And they left!. . .
Mike Konczal - Testimony Concerning Assembly Bill 935, the California Foreclosure Fee.
. . .I'm deeply unhappy (which can frequently be read as: murderously angry) that I'll certainly die ten to fifteen years earlier than I might if I had regular medical care, but I'm pretty much resigned to that. If I manage to make it to the beginning of May, I'll be 63. . .
. . .But damn it, there are some things I want to write about. I have been able to make some notes about two new essays, and I'm hoping I can actually devote time to them in a day or two. . .
My great thanks to all of you once more. . .
Mike Konczal - Huffington Post’s Amazing Article on the Interchange Battle
. . .There’s a well documented conflict between the interests of those managing foreclosures and actual investors. Mortgage servicers managing troubled debt get paid fees when properties go into foreclosure and make more money when loans go into foreclosure as opposed to when they are modified. . .
Scott Sumner - Comments on Brink Lindsey
. . .[W]hat galls merchants about swipe fees is that they have no ability to negotiate over them as they do with other costs of business. . .
Krugman - The Intimidated Fed
In an earlier study I found that if one excluded size of government, the country with the world’s most market-friendly policies was actually Denmark. So if Brink is right, you’d expect tiny Denmark to be an entrepreneurial hotbed. . .
. . .So Denmark isn’t just the most free market economy, and the most egalitarian, and the most civic-minded, and the happiest. It’s also the most entrepreneurial. And is has the world’s best restaurant. Thank God the weather will always be awful. Oh wait. . .
. . .the Fed has more or less explicitly indicated what it considers a Goldilocks outcome, neither too hot nor too cold: inflation at 2 percent or a bit lower, unemployment at 5 percent or a bit higher.
But Goldilocks has left the building, and shows no sign of returning soon. . .
Question for econ pros: How much consensus is there among economists about the theory/concept of the "Output Gap"
? Do Baker/Galbraith agree with Kruglitz/Chin agree with Summers/Romer agree with Mankiw/Taylor agree with Lucas/Prescott agree with Fama/Cochrane about the size of the output gap? If not, by how much do they disagree?
If the Fed is refusing to close the output gap because of inflation fears, doesn't that mean that the US Treasury should be indicating a willingness to absorb a lot more of the inflation risk, rolling over nominal Treasury bonds with TIPS bonds? Recognizing that a lot of senior citizens are leery of finding good investments, might it even make sense to issue THIPS (Treasury Health-Care-Inflation Protected Securities)?Karl Smith - Worse Than Inflation, CtdBrad Delong - An
Unrealistic, Impractical, Utopian Bold, Courageous & Serious Plan for Dealing with the Health Care Opportunity (June 2007)
the mother of all Health Savings Account proposals. . .
. . .the mother of all public-health and subsidize-preventive-medicine proposals. . .
. . .single-payer above 20% of income . . .
Of the three parts of the plan, I think the most important is the single-payer above 20%. How much would it cost if the federal government paid every (justified) claim above 20% of income? What about 30%? 40%? 50%? 60%?
How about if you used wealth instead of income?Brad Delong - Conceding the Principle
. . .for Reinhart and Rogoff it is always 1931 and we are always Austria--that fiscal policy is too dangerous to use for stabilization policy because government credibility is always shaky. . .
If this is the case shouldn't Reinhart & Rogoff be an advocate of very aggressive monetary policy, both because fiscal policy is ruled out and because of reduced real debt burdens?Orwell - The Road To Wigan Pier (1937)
Paul Krugman - Bionomics (1997)
. . .Everyone who saw Greenwood's play Love on the Dole must remember that dreadful moment when the. . .working man beats on the table and cries out, 'O God, send me some work!' This was not dramatic exaggeration, it was a touch from life. That cry must have been uttered, in almost those words, in tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of English homes, during the past fifteen years. . .
A Bit of Fry and Laurie - Creamy Olde England
Standard economic theory offers reasons to believe that markets are a good way to organize economic activity. But it does not deify the market system, and it even offers a number of fairly well-defined ways in which markets can fail, or at least could be helped with government intervention. And that, for some conservatives, is just not good enough. . .
. . .The economy is an ecosystem, like a tropical rain forest! And what could be worse than trying to control a tropical rain forest from the top down? You wouldn't try to control an ecosystem, wiping out species you didn't like and promoting ones you did, would you?
Well, actually, you probably would. I think it's called "agriculture.". . .