Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Increasing Educational Opportunities

The College Board published recommendations on increasing college education rates, all of which are unlike the current US model of education as punishment. In the US we have seen zero-tolerance policies, impoverishment of education opportunities of lower classes via property-based tax policies, and a system that disproportionately favors the gifted and affluent.

The 10 Recommendations

The commission believes that American education is the nation’s greatest strength and most powerful force for advancing the common good in America. To once again return America to its place as the global leader in educational attainment, the commission recommended the following 10-part action agenda:
  1. Provide a program of voluntary preschool education, universally available to children from low-income families, such that all children at or below 200 percent of the offi cial poverty line have a chance to enter school ready to learn.
  2. Improve middle and high school college counseling by meeting professional staffing standards for counselors and involving colleges and universities in college planning.
  3. Implement the best research-based dropout prevention programs, which include early identification of those students who are at risk of dropping out and subsequently providing them with a safety net.
  4. Align the K–12 education system with international standards and college admission expectations so that all students are prepared for future opportunities in education, work and life.
  5. Improve teacher quality and focus on recruitment and retention an education system can only be as good as its teachers.
  6. Clarify and simplify the admission process; a transparent and less complex process will encourage more first-generation students to apply.
  7. Provide more need-based grant aid while simplifying the financial aid system and making it more transparent; to minimize student debt and at least keep pace with inflation, make financial aid processes more transparent and predictable, and provide institutions with incentives to enroll and graduate more low-income and first-generation students.
  8. Keep college affordable by controlling college costs, using available aid and resources wisely, and insisting that state governments meet their obligations for funding higher education.
  9. Dramatically increase college completion rates by reducing the number of dropouts, easing transfer processes and using “data-based” approaches to improve completion rates at both two- and four-year institutions.
  10. Provide postsecondary opportunities as an essential element of adult education programs by supplementing existing basic skills training with a new “honors GED” and through better coordination of existing

Monday, September 05, 2011

A response to The Appraisal: Is Co-op Living Worth the Hassle?

The post: The Appraisal: Is Co-op Living Worth the Hassle?:

We live in a condominium, not a co-op, the difference being a condo is generally easier to buy and sublet than in co-ops, albeit a higher cost with lower maintenance. That said, we do have issues with the horrible state of some of our fellow residents' windows; as a condominium, the building does not enforce standards common to co-ops. As for the benefits, typically common to condominium and co-op, we have staff covering doors, the grounds - the condominium has a block-size green area with playground - and maintenance, along with on-site services for packages and dry cleaning.

As to #1's criticism, my feeling is that he is correct, but with further thought, it is equivocal. Living in the city, I have a minimal commute, 20 minutes each way, unlike those in the suburbs. As mentioned, we are provided numerous services at low cost, allowing me to avoid the suburban drudgery of home maintenance. We actually enjoy having less space, and that combined with the city's 'walkability', means that our carbon footprint is very small; New Yorkers are very 'green'. We do not need a car, so we do not have the expenses and drudgery associated with maintaining one, nor the car's exhaust; we rent when needed. Many of the benefits of city-based condo/co-op living become less expensive as one moves to Brooklyn or Jersey City, although in some ways less desirable; New York is loved for its vibrancy, its diversity, and its arts.

As for agreeing with #1, long-term home value probably increases slightly faster in the cities, although ownership itself is not necessarily a good financial choice. Neither choice of location makes much sense, except if you are smart enough to buy on the down-cycle and sell before the market inevitably crashes. Either way, tying up hundred's of thousands of dollars in a home is not the best use of the money, and New York's high cost only means an even larger amount tied up in an investment that simply matches inflation.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Experience versus Science

Regarding incontrovertibility, studies gathered in PubMed might have their flaws, but the opinions of other's are even more flawed. Personally, I accumulate knowledge, so a new study only adds to my existing understanding; I'm not one to simply take a single study as proof, but it seems that many people are willing to trust their experience, even when the bulk of the evidence is against it.

My undergraduate focused on lab study design, and I am very aware of the pitfalls of single studies, or even collections of studies. I am not confused by conflicting facts, since there is little in the world that is simply black and white. One needs to distill generalizable information from the seemingly conflicting information, and when it comes to medicine, one needs to be even more careful about the self-interest of the authors and publishers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When Conscience and the New Marriage Law Collide

As with many others, I expressed my outrage at the idea that the people unable to perform their jobs as civil servants because it would require condoning marriage equality:

Admirable for their ignorance and bigotry?

I truly admire people that risked their lives to save Jews, or march in the Civili rights movement. There are many others throughout history that have risked their lives for truly noble causes.

I admire people of courage that move humanity forward, not these people. All manner of hatred has been cloaked in the Bible - Anyone remember the Inquisition, slavery, or the repeated slaughter of Jews? - and nothing, least of all the Bible, can justify such ignorant bigotry.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Political Economy of the Lesser Depression (A Response)

Responding to Paul Krugman's post, I wrote the following:

People avoid the analysis of motives, at times calling it paranoid, but in fact it is essential. Why would anyone be surprised that politicians are influenced their donors income interests, let alone their own.

A VP starting a war claims security reasons, but would you ignore that the company he was the CEO of will increase its revenue, making him millions? Obama is beholden to the big-money interests, and seems to have done well fund raising. Does anyone need to be told that some of his 'donors' are benefitting from the crisis.

The absurd irrationality of policy decisions would indicate that reason is not the driving motive, but the interests of the powerful and the wealthy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rethinking a Gift to Jeter (My Odd Response)

Rethinking a-Gift-To-Jeter

It is unlikely I would ever attend a typical sporting event. I actually despise the majority of major team sports in the US, and the reasons mostly emanate from the harm that sports impose on college via low academic abilities and biased admittance policies, and on cities via stadiums and tax breaks, as well as the slavish stupidity men devote to following sports. Personally, I occasionally watch sports, i.e., rowing, cycling, running, and track and field, but they are activities I have or do engage in, and I watch the Olympics.

To me, it is like asking if an ignorant man does an ignorant thing, do I think he is ignorant. It is all stupid; he should have taken the money.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is College Worth It?

A response to a post in a long line of articles regarding the value college:
For economic reasons, an undergraduate is worth it because you can't get a master's degree otherwise.  With an increasing number of people with 4 year degrees, and the growing divide between degreed and non-degreed, as well as the increased risk of off-shoring, a young person today needs to be more qualified than ever.  A master's degree is no guarantee of a job, but it certainly correlates with better outcomes.  A better question might be to ask if a master's degree worth it, and even that is often dubious.

As for the non-economic reasons, continued education correlates with many positive outcomes in life - with the awareness that some positive aspects are correlates of higher incomes and intelligence - and extending education as long as possible is a social good, particularly since modern life is more complicated than ever.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Does Facebook Help or Hinder Offline Friendships?

A response to an article in GadgetWise on the NY Times:

It enhances them, but my observations are primarily of introverts to middling like myself, in which relationships have been fostered and advanced, old wounds healed, and friends recovered. As for the others I don't know, the extroverts and the people that have 1000+ friends, or those that use it for business, I imagine they think life is better for it as well...

The Twitter Trap?

A response to an article titled The Twitter Trap:

First Post

It is how you use technology, and in that vein, how you teach your children to use it.

I find Twitter a fast way to get at authors that I read regularly, to reduce the advertising I would have to weed through scanning newspapers for good articles. I still read long-form articles and books, and have both an iPad and Kindle, but I typically use RSS an Twitter to scan titles and synopses for material to read. Can you see the value of scanning the top level before diving in, particularly with the profusion of material and sources?

As for the other values of Twitter, fun for the witty - brevity as the soul of wit - and diversity. You can come across others outside of your comfort zone, or wade into a lively round of repartee.

Second Post

The number of people remembering entire books was likely very small, since literacy itself is a modern phenomenon.  Progress really has made knowledge more accessible, and literacy greater.  Rather than lament the loss of a few 'freaks' ability to remember texts, one can appreciate that no one needs to do that any longer, no longer needs to waste enormous time and energy to store a single source.

My father had several slide rules for his works with computers in the 50's and 60's, but one should realize how few people could do those kind of calculations, and how inaccessible higher math was to most people.  Now almost all people can do the kind of calculations that at one time took an engineering degree.

This is progress.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

There are comments posted in response to a NY Times article correlating religion with educational and economic attainment.


Some of the correlation is related to immigration policy, in that many people are in this country partially because of the preference for educated labor, hence Hindu's and Buddhists high education level.  It likely also explains the high showing for Orthodox Christians, and even to some degree, Jews.  As a personal note, I work in technology, where much of the staff is foreign-born, hence large numbers of Indians (Hindu), Eastern Europeans and Russians (Christian Orthodox/Jewish/Secular), or East Asian (Secular/Buddhist).

Besides, there has always been a fairly strong inverse correlation between education/intelligence and religiosity, and particularly fundamentalism, and in this case, American Protestant Fundamentalism.


As for the lower-income, higher-education relationship, again, it is based on immigration policy, such that educated immigrants are paid less for the same level of education, and this may be related to a whole slew of factors. At a minimum, there are barriers to non-native English speakers and the ability to rise higher in organizations. My perception is that management is often composed of highly-educated native Americans, while staff is more often composed of highly-educated immigrants.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

MLK, Correctly Quoted

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is Fitness All in the Genes?

A response to an article in the NY Times Well section, Is Fitness All in the Genes?:

As for fitness being some desirable goal, it is better to be active. Many people do not have the capacity to find fitness enjoyable, and the goal for everyone should be activity that he or she can enjoy and continue with, be it strength training, martial arts, volleyball, or any number of non-aerobic activities.

Also, this is news? I was an ACE-certified personal trainer in the early 90's, been working out for 25 years, and I have read a great deal of popular and academic material. A memorable quote from a sports medicine journal regarding fitness was that "seventy percent (70%) of aerobic capacity is how well one chose one's parents."

I regularly row on ergometers - I have not been on the water for 20 years - and someone recently told me they wanted to be as fit as me. Who knew? Yes, I measure over the 95th percentile on treadmill tests, but I tend to think that people see me as a bit of an oddball, more than admirable. Rowing itself, like most aerobic sports, is predictable by numerous physical traits, almost all of which are fixed and largely genetic. People need to understand that, since it will impact their feelings of success and exercise adherence.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Companies (A Response)

Two responses to the Jay Goltz post in the NYT, The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Companies:

Response 1

Pfeffer is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford GSB. In The Human Equation, he lays out 7 principles of successful companies, two of which are obviously relevant:

  • Selective hiring of new personnel
  • Extensive training

The entire list:

  • Employment Security
  • Self-managed teams and decentralized decision making
  • Relatively high compensation contingent on organizational performance
  • Reduced status distinctions
  • Extensive sharing of financial/performance information

Response 2

Evaluations can be very arbitrary.

In one former position at a major bank, I was rated excellent year after year by various 'handlers'; I was never really managed. Well, a competing bank bought one of the trading desks, and then the management went with them. I was still excellent with the replacement managers, but my most senior supporter was shipped off to Europe to manage technology there, and I was left with the other senior person in the department. For her, I was just dead wood of the prior environment, and I hated almost everything about the new manager's style. Instead of being a 5/5, I became a 3/5, a 'six'. It took a year or two, but eventually I was laid off during a merger.

Social Scientist Sees Bias Within (A Response)

Two responses to the NYT's Social Scientist Sees Bias Within:

Response 1

I went through the recommended posts to see if my premise based on facts, that openness (big-five) correlates with intelligence and 'liberal-ness', was repeated, and found it was, as well as the occasional flip-side, that business people are typically conservative. Gee, smart people identify as liberal or independent, and conservatives are typically middle class and concerned with money.

Although intelligence and personality explain much of the difference, it doesn't explain why the US is so politically and socially backward, as compared to other developed countries.

Response 2

Your weakness is your strength. It is what you make of it.

Rather than looking at the distribution of political stances as a problem, one could try to see it as a positive feature, provided you are a conservative. My sense is that greatness, e.g., Nobel's in Economics or Einstein, is not the province of the common view but the iconoclast. Great thinkers attack their professions bad assumptions, they make new science, and they make their name on not being with the status quo.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

NYT's Taking Aim at Public Workers

A response to the NYT's Taking Aim at Public Workers

Income inequality is a large part of why American's are worse off when compared to the rest of the developed world (read the The Spirit Level), and that is largely driven by low taxes on wealth and low unionism. Although not entirely a solution, a unionized workforce would fare much better, but it seems the attack on public sector employees is a ploy to drive the wedge down deeper, to divide the less affluent from their money. In a short-sghted way it would reduce costs, but then again, only by beggaring thy neighbor. We would still have the same problems as before, or large deficits, gross income inequality, poorer healthcare, lower educational attainment, and a generally less good quality of life. Rather than reducing public sector employees, we should be trying to increase unionism and decrease income inequality.

Out-of-Sync ‘Loners’ May Secretly Protect Orderly Swarms

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