Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prayer, Not Positive Thinking

You often hear people say that things are in their "thoughts and prayers". But apparently it's the latter that really makes the difference relationally. Here's the experiment:
In the first, they had a group of men and women pray for their romantic partner. It was just a single prayer for their partner’s well-being, spoken privately in a quiet room. Others—the experimental controls—also went into a quiet room, where they simply described their partner, speaking into a tape recorder.

Then they meaured forgiveness. When someone hurts you, it’s human nature to want to strike back, retaliate—or to withdraw from the relationship. The scientists defined forgiveness as the diminishing of these initial negative feelings, and when they analyzed all the data, the results were clear: Those who had prayed for their partner harbored fewer vengeful thoughts and emotions: They were more ready to forgive and move on.
That was another great find from Eric Barker. Here are two other articles about whether prayer actually increases the health of prayers and prayees (if that's a word).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Perhaps Advertising isn't a Waste

I discussed a while back my concern over the wasted resources that go into advertising. Perhaps I spoke too soon. Here's some research pointed out by a recent add to my blogroll, Economic Logic:
Benedetto Molinari and Francesco Turino point to a positive correlation between GDP and advertising in the OECD and try to rationalize this within the Neoclassical growth model. They find that the impact of advertising is rather through the labor supply. As individuals want to consume more, they need to work more to generate the necessary income. This increases GDP (8% for the US) and utility.
I also wonder if it decreases the costs in searching for the item you want. Then again, it seems just as likely that it increases them.

Friday, January 29, 2010

NutureShock by Curious Dad

I've mentioned before that mainstream media is too wordy and that blogs are a great substitute. Canadian blogger Curious Dad has recently posted a great example of this. He read the book NutureShock and did a series of five posts on what he thought was most interesting. I'll take it one step further and do one post on what I thought was interesting about what he thought was interesting:

1) Praise your kids less and their effort more
The book makes a convincing case that telling a kid they're just plain smart makes them think they don't have to try very hard to succeed -- that, indeed, trying too hard may actually show that you're not smart after all. It's much better for us, as parents, to praise a child's effort, teaching them that working hard pays off.
I told my classes on the first day that they would never hear me praise their intelligence, only their effort. No matter how much I encourage it, they aren't going to get any smarter, but they can always worker harder.

2) Send your children to bed an hour earlier
Basically, lack of sleep affects kids much more dramatically than it does adults. One study cited in the book found a sixth-grader deprived of just one hour of sleep a night performs about the same academically as a normal fourth-grader. And the book cites examples of school districts that, after pushing back their start times by an hour or so, saw their standardized-test scores soar.
I've also thought that tired parents make bad parents. You're better off sending the kids to bed early to spend the time with your spouse or catch up on your own sleep.

3) It's a good sign if you and your teenager fight all the time
That's because teenagers are expert liars and many find it easier to just nod submissively when their parents tell them what to do and then ignore them and sneak out after curfew. In contrast, a teenager who constantly puts up a big fight actually recognizes their parent's authority to make the rules and is trying to make a case for why they should be changed.
I find this to be true in my own life. Students who struggle in my class are the ones that have silent or absent parents. And even though my own mother and father weren't always great communicators, I knew they truly cared.

4) Talk to your kids about race
If you don't explicitly explain racial differences to your kids -- and why they don't matter -- there's a good chance they'll just assume their own race is best.
You're talking about it with your words/actions already. Might as well make it clear.

5) Educational TV may be worse than violent ones
In many educational TV shows, the book's authors argue, the main characters are pretty mean to each other for the first 28 minutes of the show -- then make up and learn the "moral of the story" in the last two. Preschoolers simply aren't sophisticated enough to interpret the first 28 minutes in light of how the story concluded. They just see mean behaviour and copy it.
Not sure if I buy it, but it makes a good argument for having discussions with your kids after they watch TV and movies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Only "Mostly Free"

According to the Heritage Foundation, the United States is no longer economically "free", but this year is only "mostly free". Before you cry Armageddon, we are still ranked #8 out of 179, though "socialist" Canada is ranked #7. Here's their reasoning for the drop in ranking:
Uncertainties caused by ongoing regulatory changes and politically influenced stimulus spending have discouraged entrepreneurship and job creation, slowing recovery. Leadership in free trade has been undercut by “Buy American” provisions in stimulus legislation and failure to pursue previously agreed free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Tax rates are increasingly uncompetitive, and massive stimulus spending is creating unprecedented deficits. Bailouts of financial and automotive firms have generated concerns about property rights.
Though I couldn't remember how to make a chart with the data in Excel to prove it, there is a strong correlation between economic freedom and GDP per capita. Luckily someone did it for me with the 2004 data:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

News in Snippets

I recently added a couple of different RSS feeds to my reader and I thought I'd share them with you. The first is from Big Think, a site with a great collection of articles and videos. They also post short summaries of articles they find throughout the web. Here are some highlights from the Ideafeed I've come across since I started reading:
Seven ‘Til
Scientists and Nobel Laureates have set the Doomsday Clock back by one minute because of positive arms control measures leaving humanity seven minutes from destruction. “The world has inched further away from doom and nuclear disaster, said a group of respected scientists that includes 19 Nobel Laureates. The symbolic Doomsday Clock has been moved back a minute, reflecting the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' more optimistic view of the world's chances of avoiding catastrophic threats such as nuclear attacks. The clock is now set at six minutes to midnight, with midnight representing a nuclear apocalypse, according to the group, which is based in Chicago, Illinois. ‘We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons. For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material,’ the scientists said in a statement Thursday. The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 and had been adjusted only 18 times before Thursday, the group said.”

Gitmo Suicides?
Doubts have been raised about the apparent suicides of three Guantanimo Bay detainees who had reportedly been taken to a secret location known as "camp no" just hours before their deaths. Harper’s magazine, which published details on the subject yesterday, “raises serious questions about whether the three detainees actually died by hanging themselves in their cells and suggests the U.S. government is covering up details of what precisely happened in the hours before the deaths on the night of June 9, 2006. In response to the magazine article, the Justice Department said Monday that it had thoroughly reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing. Harper's reported that the deaths of the three detainees, or the events that led directly to their deaths, most likely occurred at a previously undisclosed facility a mile or so from the main Guantanamo Bay prison complex. Harper's based much of its account on interviews with several prison guards who said they knew of the existence of the ‘black’ site and that they saw three detainees removed from Camp Delta several hours before the deaths were reported and said the prisoners were transported in a white van toward the secret site.”

Marijuana 101
School authorities face a dilemma now that marijuana is being prescribed to treat ADHD, legitimating its presence in lockers and classrooms across 14 states. “A high school student found to have marijuana in the classroom would seem to be a prime candidate for a little ‘talk’ with the vice principal – and maybe a trip to the police station. But around the country today, hundreds – perhaps thousands – of high schoolers are bringing pot to school, and they’re doing it legally. Not to get stoned, but as part of prescribed medical treatment. And they don’t have to tell school authorities about it. This is putting teachers and principals in a new and challenging position. In many counties and school districts, there are no clear guidelines – for school officials, students, or parents. ‘This is all just kind of starting to happen,’ high school principal Jeff Schlecht told the Ashland Daily Tidings in Oregon. ‘It does place us in an awkward position.’ For many students, the issue comes as no surprise. ‘I’ve known about this for four years,’ Ashland senior Wesley Davis, 17, told the newspaper. ‘Some of them have it for medical reasons, but others are just trying to get free weed and sell it, turn it around.’”
Another great source of daily snippets is the Best of the Moment feed from The Browser. Here are some examples:
The “Other” Imbalance And The Financial Crisis
"Brilliant", says Tyler Cowen. Crisis commonly blamed on global imbalances. But main cause was excess world demand for safe debt, met with flood of synthetic, fragile, triple-A paper

US Enabled Chinese Hacking Of Google
Chinese hackers got into Gmail through backdoor created for American authorities to survey email, just as they tap phones. Surveillance a major source of insecurity

Leviathan: The Growth Of The State
Long feature, strong on telling detail about how and why state sector has been growing around the world, weaker on strategies, arguments for reversing trend
A final feed worth checking out is from The Week, a regular digest of news. They have a great collection of political cartoons for each day. Instead of posting a couple here (because that may be copyright infringement), I'll just link to a couple:
All of these post a lot, but in small snippets. If they interest you subscribe, if not, stay tuned and I'll post or share the exceptionally interesting ones.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A World Without Scarcity

Imagine a world where you never go hungry, you never get sick, and you can build a house just by imagining it. At first it sounds like heaven, but C.S. Lewis uses it to describe his fictional version of hell:
What's the trouble about this place? Not that people are quarrelsome-that's only human nature and was always the same even on earth. The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it. That's why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there's no proper economic basis for any community life. If they needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses, they'd have to stay near where builders were. It's scarcity that enables a society to exist.
It's always challenging when you see a character in a book that reminds you of yourself. Later on this "hard-bitten man" is rebuked for trying too hard to improve people's lives in hell, while at the same time he ignores the benefits of heaven. Challenging stuff for a capitalist to hear.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Year's Resolution Evaluation

For a number of reasons, most of my New Year's resolutions have not been met. Here's the grade I give each of them:

Moderate exercise for 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
D= went well for the first week, not much to report after that

Drink 0-1/2 a soft drink daily in my home.
A= nearly flawless victory

Read the Bible every weekday.
F= not even close, but it's looking up for the future

Pray regularly.
C= average still isn't great

Clean the house for 10 minutes a day.
D= same as exercise, started off strong

I must admit failure, but not defeat. I still want to complete all of these goals and this short podcast Scientific American really help put things in perspective. Here's the highlights:
  • There are benefits in just thinking about them, even if you never actually meet them.
  • You're better off to be going backwards and catch yourself than be inactive.
  • Should have set more goals, like 45. Maybe next year.
Hopefully there's a better report next time, I don't want to negatively influence your self-control.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Late-January '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Economics of Gold-Digging

In response to an upfront marriage proposal from an attractive women, a rich man responded:
Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is plain and simple a crappy business deal. Here’s why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party, and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here’s the rub — your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity … in fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won’t be getting any more beautiful!
But don't worry, they might get together after all:
So in Wall Street terms, we would call you a trading position, not a buy and hold … hence the rub … marriage. It doesn’t make good business sense to “buy you” (which is what you’re asking) so I’d rather lease. In case you think I’m being cruel, I would say the following: if my money were to go away, so would you, so when your beauty fades I need an out. It’s as simple as that. So a deal that makes sense is dating, not marriage.
There seems to be no end to the things economics can ruin!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blogging and the Golden Age of Journalism

This weekend marked the two year anniversary of the creation of this blog. Early in January 2008 I started with goal of entertaining others "with my thoughts and ideas of the world" and "when those original ideas are sparse" to "post others thoughts and ideas". Since then I have attempted to accomplish that simple goal by posting 3.63 posts a week. At first I wasn't quite sure if I would even make it 30 days, since 80% of blogs don't. But blogging has become a part of daily life for me and millions of others worldwide. For that reason alone, it's important to ask what the benefits are. The following is my collection of the benefits of writing and reading blogs.

Benefits to me and other blog writers:

1) Useful as a log of interesting thoughts. It is short for web log after all. Not only is it helpful for me to work through ideas, but I can look back (and link back) to those old ideas. Linking to old posts within my new ones allows me to create a story of interconnected ideas which connects seemingly random thoughts into a web of consciousness (which is important for learning). This isn't just true for me, but also for academics in the research field.

2) Because there is a log of old ideas, there is no reason to rehash. I will never have to reexplain why Wal-mart is good or Blockbuster is bad. These post will always exist, I don't need to write another.

3) Receive immediate feedback. Some bloggers don't allow comments because they get unruly, but to do so is to miss out on an essential part of posting online. The back and forth of a lively post, like practicing a game of chess, sharpens your skills as a writer and holds you accountable as a publisher. It also allows you post ideas you are uncertain of (like my most controversial post) and learn from your loyal readers.

4) Because feedback exists, a blogging community is created. Whether it's keeping touch with old friends or meeting new ones, I am able to rely on my readers to encourage and challenge me.

5) Makes you think of things outside your daily life. This of course depends on the type of blog you have, but when they are idea based, it forces thoughtful engagement in the world around you.

6) Make you apply things inside your daily life. Blogging forces writers to apply personal experiences into something a stranger would want to read. We can't fully understand ourselves until we understand how people view us.

7) It gives my loved ones a break from hearing me talk. My wife especially appreciates the opportunity to decide whether or not she hears my rant on immigration. Before this blog, she would had to hear it first hand.

8) Blogs are the new homepage. is a static, unchanging list of places I am located online. My blog however, is where you would go if you really wanted to know who I am. Some might go as far as saying blogs are good for career, but probably only if you boss is Generation Y.

9) Writing is the best way to learn. This is why I have learned more about history in two years of teaching than in four years of college. Writing up my own lecture notes, although painstaking, has greatly increased my mastery of the subject. This is why I have my students write for homework.

10) It is good for your health:
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
11) Help people know what they want to do for a living. Whether it's history, economics or improv, blogging is a daily reminder that I love teaching.

12) Unlike the TV, radio and print, blogging is not a zero-sum game. When the New York Times gets readers, it's usually bad for the Washington Post. I write this post trying to convince you to write and read more blogs without a fear of losing readers. With rss feeds or delivery via email, the cost of following this blog is close to zero.

13) The only competition is for a reader's time and because of this, blogs are inherently democratic. Written by the people for the people. The best (and most concise) posts rise to the top and the worse remain lost in the sea of online information. The printing press revolutionized how much the average person could read, but the internet revolutionized how much the average person could write. This is perfectly explain by Clay Shirky in this short video.

14) Because the writers are average people, there is no requirement to publish. No one ever claims someone to be unqualified to be a blogger. This frees us from pressure to meet deadlines, sell advertising, or even double check our grammar.

15) Blogging is for you dammit (but you also have readers). You write about what you want, how often you want. As long as you don't get obsessed with readers, it will continue to be what it was when you started, a place for you. The benefit of readers is that they encourage you to keep writing. Each new subscriber is one more reason to write more and learn more. This is why I write a blog, not a Word document.

Benefits to you and other blog readers:

1) The search for information can gives you a buzz. Like animals in captivity, we would rather search for our food (information) ourselves. But like animals in the wild, we don't want to have to search too hard. Feed aggregators give us the control and convenience we desire.

2) Information without costs. No need to flip through a newspaper or be bumbarded by magazine ads, with rss feeds, blog posts literally come to you.

3) Piecing together the snippets of information you get from reading multiple blogs is in and of itself an intellectual journey. To consume the same variety of radio, TV and print would be extemely time consuming. The more you consume, the more you think, and thinking makes you happy.

4) With blogging you read people, not organizations. Unlike regular news organizations which give you a specific type of news or slant, most blogs are a collection of a variety of items from one respected source. I'm not only interested in the financial crisis, but I'm specifically interested in what Tyler Cowen and Mark Perry think of the financial crisis.

5) You can quickly become a blogger yourself. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading what other people find on the web. Google Reader Sharing is simple and fast. Let me know if you ever join.

There are also potential costs of blogging:

1) It does make you self absorbed. When you are regularly posting things in expectation that others will find them interesting, it inherently makes you more narcissistic.

2) Hurts long in depth reading. I read blogs everyday, but I only read about three books a year. I don't start reading real news online unless I've cleaned out my blog reader.

3) It could hurt your career. As much as I hate to admit it, I do have to edit myself. I intentionally do not mention my blog to my high school students. I know some will find it, but it's on their own. At least until the world is more forgiving for ideas put online, it's important to remember everything you write could be read by your next job interviewer.

4) I once heard a blogger say he was in too deep to quit. We must always allow ourselves the freedom to take a break or quit altogether, no matter how much we would miss it.

5) Time costs for the writer and the reader. I try not to spend more time writing a post than I believe my readers will collectively spend reading it. This post is a good example of how I don't always follow that rule.

That said, this is "the golden age of journalism":

I spend about 2 hours a day reading and writing. This is more time than ever, even in my hardest semester in college. But don't worry, blogging won't replace investigative reporting anymore than improv would replace live theater. If CNN, NPR, and the NYT report news, blogs disperse it. We are reading more than ever, and in part that is due to the power the internet gives to the individual. It's helpful to put fear of change in perspective. 2500 years before people declared the death of the printed word, Socrates was fearing the death of the spoken word:
The practice of writing, Socrates is certain, will introduce forgetfulness, for men will no longer rely on remembrance from within themselves, but will put trust in (mere external) marks. Such writing will provide the appearance of wisdom, not its reality, so that those who make use of writings will hear many things but not actually learn them, yet will imagine they know much, knowing in fact nothing.
Things are changing, but they are changing for the better. I'll close with a quote from popular blogger Andrew Sullivan:
Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.
I could have never predicted two years ago that blogging would be such an important part of my daily life. In some ways I find myself right where I started, wanting to learn more, but afraid that I may not be up to the task. For many blogging is a chance to discuss what they already know a good bit about: economics, politics, improv. etc, but it is also useful to write on topics we want to know more about and hope the commenter's keep us honest.

It is for that reason I've decided to continue this blog, but also start another one. As a Christian I believe it is important to understand the world we live in. The Bottlenecked Blog has helped me to do that, but in a very secular way. I have claimed to believe that the Bible is useful for understanding this world, but I rarely read it myself. That is why starting today I will also post regularly to Wanting Wisdom, a blog with the purpose of reading and applying scripture. The challenge is daunting, but the benefits are many.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Transportation that Caused a Pollution Crisis

And it's not the automobile:
The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents.Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well. The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure.
Now what will we use to replace the new pollution problem?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Problems with GDP

The always enjoyable Freakonomics blog recently posted about how GDP is a great measure of well-being in a society. For example, it correlates positively with life expectancy, adult literacy, good food, and self-reported "life satisfaction". However, they also make the point that GDP also measures other things:

Don't worry it's not all bad. GDP also doesn't fully measure how increases in technology have radically improved our lives. Think cell phones, Hulu and Double Stuffed Oreos.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Worthwhile Sentences on Understanding

From Bryan Caplan: "Linking views you don't like with Hitler is of course the ultimate political cheap shot. But as an economist, I don't mind buying cheap, especially if the quality is good."

From Oliver Stone: "You cannot approach history unless you have empathy for the person you may hate.”

From Smart Money: if we actually buy a green product, we appear to take it as license to act like jerks."

From the Meteuphoric blog: nothing makes an activity feel safe like a gargantuan authority calmly informing me of the risks of it. If the government’s advertising something, everyone knows about it, and if there’s no panic or banning, it’s probably safe.

From The Browser: "White liberals champion green values partly as a substitute for religion, which has largely lost its grip on them"

*Past worthwhile sentences.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Self-Diagnosed ADHD

The DSM-IV is a collection of currently recognized mental health disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. From stuttering to dementia, this manual gives a list of symptoms to help diagnose patients. I have suspected for a long time that I have ADHD, while at the same time questioned the validity of the disease disorder. In graduate school I worked for Clemson University's Student Disability Services and got the chance to attend the Western North Carolina Symposium on Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorders. In an effort to challenge these ideas I took the diagnostic criteria ( and attempted to diagnose myself (understanding the inherent flaws of doing so). It is divided into two categories and can be either 1 or 2 (ones that apply to me are bolded):
1) 6 (or more) of the following symptoms of inattention have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level:
  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books or tools)
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities
2) 6 (or more) of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level:
  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor"
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
The self-diagnosis says yes. My wife says yes. Even the name of this blog, Bottlenecked, suggests slowing down my brain so I can move forward.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Future Impact of the Great Recession

Registration for next year's classes began last week and my AP Microeconomics class, which got canceled due to budget cuts last year, was on the list and it couldn't come at a better time:
individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions. Moreover, we find that recessions have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ beliefs.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Evaluating Good Teachers

I've talked before about why I think I've already improved and why I think I'll keep improving as an educator. Teach for America has been collecting information about what good teachers have in common for 20 years and has recently released their findings. However, because the Atlantic article is an example of long winded newspapers, here are the highlights of the story:
First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
Here's some more on the benefits of planning:
The activities come in brisk sequence, following a routine the kids know by heart, so no time is lost in transition. In Teaching as Leadership, Farr describes seeing such choreography in other high-performance classrooms. “We see routines so strong that they run virtually without any involvement from the teacher. In fact, for many highly effective teachers, the measure of a well-executed routine is that it continues in the teacher’s absence.”
But what does a good teacher look like before they start teaching?
What did predict success, interestingly, was a history of perseverance—not just an attitude, but a track record. In the interview process, Teach for America now asks applicants to talk about overcoming challenges in their lives—and ranks their perseverance based on their answers. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleagues have actually quantified the value of perseverance. In a study published in TheJournal of Positive Psychology in November 2009, they evaluated 390 Teach for America instructors before and after a year of teaching. Those who initially scored high for “grit”—defined as perseverance and a passion for long-term goals, and measured using a short multiple-choice test—were 31 percent more likely than their less gritty peers to spur academic growth in their students. Gritty people, the theory goes, work harder and stay committed to their goals longer.
That was at least a little obvious. These next ones were not:
But another trait seemed to matter even more. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction”—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. These teachers “may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students,” the study suggested.

In general, though, Teach for America’s staffers have discovered that past performance—especially the kind you can measure—is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers. And the two best metrics of previous success tend to be grade-point average and “leadership achievement”—a record of running something and showing tangible results. If you not only led a tutoring program but doubled its size, that’s promising.

Knowledge matters, but not in every case. In studies of high-school math teachers, majoring in the subject seems to predict better results in the classroom. And more generally, people who attended a selective college are more likely to excel as teachers (although graduating from an Ivy League school does not unto itself predict significant gains in a Teach for America classroom). Meanwhile, a master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness.

The most valuable educational credentials may be the ones that circle back to squishier traits like perseverance. Last summer, an internal Teach for America analysis found that an applicant’s college GPA alone is not as good a predictor as the GPA in the final two years of college. If an applicant starts out with mediocre grades and improves, in other words, that curve appears to be more revealing than getting straight A’s all along.
This has given me a lot to think about, which apparently even doing that is a signal I'll improve.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-January '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Love at First Sight Depends on What's in Sight

So, if you can't get a date, get less charming friends. Here are some more Logic of Life videos:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Newspapers Should Look More Like This Post

It's often reported that newspapers are dying off and being replaced by cheaper online media. Although cost is one reason for the decline of printed news, another factor is length. As this Atlantic article describes, compared to online reading, newspaper articles are just too long. If fact, I agreed with the story so much I stopped reading it once I got the gist. Of course there is a place for longer in depth reading. The Economist, with it's medium length articles, is a good example. I could say more, but in honor of this post, I'll leave it there.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When Giving Reduces Happiness

Back in "aught eight" I posted what I believed to be one of my most controversial beliefs. That I didn't support giving to what many consider to be worthwhile charities, the most controversial of which was cancer research. I was then convinced (read the conversation in the comments) by my loyal readers of the efficient benefits of those donations. That post was inspired by a Stand Up To Cancer celebrity campaign I saw on TV. It wasn't until recently that I figured out why that bothered me so much:
Every year, 90 percent of Americans give money to charities. Is such generosity necessarily welfare enhancing for the giver? We present a theoretical framework that distinguishes two types of motivation: individuals like to give, e.g., due to altruism or warm glow, and individuals would rather not give but dislike saying no, e.g., due to social pressure. We design a door-to-door fund-raising drive in which some households are informed about the exact time of solicitation with a flyer on their door-knobs; thus, they can seek or avoid the fund-raiser. We find that the flyer reduces the share of households opening the door by 10 to 25 percent and, if the flyer allows checking a `Do Not Disturb' box, reduces giving by 30 percent. The latter decrease is concentrated among donations smaller than $10. These findings suggest that social pressure is an important determinant of door-to-door giving. Combining data from this and a complementary field experiment, we structurally estimate the model. The estimated social pressure cost of saying no to a solicitor is $3.5 for an in-state charity and $1.4 for an out-of-state charity. Our welfare calculations suggest that our door-to-door fund-raising campaigns on average lower utility of the potential donors.
Giving may be better than receiving, but not when we're giving out of guilt.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Let China Subsidize Us

Just last month the steel industry convinced the U.S. International Trade Commission that imports that are subsidized by the Chinese government are bad for America. They claimed that China was using predatory pricing as a way to gain more buyers overseas. It may not be obvious when you read articles like this from the Wall Street Journal, but low prices are good. I'd be happy to let any foreign government subsidize my purchases. Many worry about the effect these low prices will have on the domestic steel industry, but it's better to think of this as a transition and not a loss. American has gone from stone to bronze, agrarian to industrial, and from manufacturing to higher skilled (and higher paid) service industry. This is called creative destruction, or the means in which capitalism replaces older production with newer, better production. When governments try to prevent this improvement using trade tariffs, like we just did with steel, is like "doing to ourselves in peacetime what our enemies to do us in wartime".

Economics of war in Afghanistan

Here are some numbers to know:
In October, the Congressional Research Service estimated that in 2006 (the latest available figures), it cost $390,000 a year to sustain each American trooper overseas.
Here are some more:
an Afghan soldier in a high-combat area like Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan would now make a starting salary of $240 a month, up from $180. General Caldwell said that the Taliban often paid insurgents $250 to $300 a month.
Last ones:
"For 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources," Karzai told a news conference.
I report you decide.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"You See But You Do Not Observe"

In college I had the idea for an Improv Everywhere type situation to take place in a public computer lab. I would ask a stranger to watch over my stuff while I went to the bathroom, but instead of me coming back in a couple of minutes, some who looked and dressed kind of like me did. The trend could continue having the returning person become more and more different until the stranger realizes it. Sadly I never got around to it, because it would have worked:

Related: Previous post on awareness and the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Early-January '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently: