Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When Will Asia Regain Its Dominance?

Actually the more interesting question is how we in the West should respond to it. Luckily Hans answers that question too. I agree with him that we should embrace it. More wealth in Asia is not only good for Asia, it's good for Asia's trading parters. And to answer my original question, July 27th, 2048.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Best Way to Learn

Here's a quote from friend and wife of a professor of economics:
It's really great to learn from someone who loves what he's talking about and loves the person he's talking to.
That's from her new blog, Lessons Learned Over Dinner. It's dedicated to learning about economics from conversations with her husband. I love the idea of a blog dedicated to learning from your spouse. Also personal experience and conversations with others, most bloggers want others to hear what their spouse has to say.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Borrow Money

I recently came across the company Virgin Money. They act as the middleman between friends who want to borrow/loan money. The goal is the make the contract clear and legal to keep your friendships friendly. All money goes through Virgin and they even help navigate complicated usury laws. Although using this company is probably better than a deal on the back of a napkin, it's still a loan and the borrower can still default. This is why I think it isn't good for friends or family to loan each other money. That is what banks are for. If the professionals don't think your loved one can pay the money back, it's likely they're better off not taking it. That said, it doesn't mean we shouldn't be willing to give our money away. My wife and I have always agreed that if someone we love asks us for a reasonable loan, we would give them the money as a gift without any expectations of repayment. If we aren't comfortable giving it away, then we wouldn't. If we money comes back great. If not, we'd be glad to have helped.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Worthwhile Sentences on Suggestions

From Science Daily: "The idea that simply being more supportive is better for your marriage is a myth. Often husbands and wives think, 'If my partner really knows me and loves me, he or she will know I'm upset and will know how to help me.'"

From Tyler Cowen: "check the non-fiction Return carts, to see what other people have been reading."

From Clay Shirky: "Behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity"

From Steve Landsburg: "As any historian could tell you, no society has every pulled itself out of poverty without putting its children to work."

From Bryan Buckley (privately in response the previous article): "Just because you have good intentions doesn't mean you're doing something noble."

From Justin Wehr: "Treat your world view as nothing more than a default position -- a starting point from which to assimilate contradictory evidence."

From previous worthwhile sentences.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Effect of Plastic Surgery on Crazy Actors

I recently added the blog Neatorama to my daily reading and came across this:
Some actors appear to be underplaying their characters, consciously making them cool, without affect. If you can’t move your face, why not create an undemonstrative character? Others have taken the opposite approach: On two cable dramas starring actresses of a certain age, the heroines are brassy and expansive, with a tendency to shout and act out, yet somehow their placid foreheads are never called into play. Usually, when a person reenacts a stabbing or smashes a car with a baseball bat, some part of the face is going to crease or bunch up. Not so with these women. As though to compensate for their facial inertia, both perform with stagy vigor, attempting broad looks of surprise or disappointment, gesticulating and bellowing. If you can’t frown with your mouth, they seem intent on proving, you can try to frown with your voice.
Or maybe they'll start hiring the actors who naturally look young, like um, me. So if this surgery won't help them act, who would be so crazy and vain as to get the work done? Only celebrities are that crazy:
People always ask me: why are movie stars so crazy? There are a number of reasons: emotional people are attracted to the arts, insecure people desire fame, money changes you, etc. But one factor I think doesn't get enough attention is how painful the process of being an aspiring actor can be. You're shown enormous and relentless amounts of disrespect, paid a pittance, and have no job security at all -- if you're lucky enough to even get jobs. After a few years, who would put up with this? I'll tell you who: crazy people -- the ones who stick around despite being constantly treated in a way no sane person with self-respect would put up with. Now this doesn't say persistence = success in acting. Sorry, the volume of insane people is too high and the number of positions for stars is too low. But many who succeed will have this quality because it's almost essential in order to survive the "tournament" of Hollywood.
If it's true for the competitive world of acting, does it also explain our representatives in Washington?

Friday, March 26, 2010

This is Your Brain on Puberty

What every high school teacher has at one point at one point thought:
Learning happens in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a key role in acquiring memories. From a cellular perspective, learning takes place when the connections between nerve cells are strengthened. Interfere with those stronger neuronal connections, and a brain can have trouble laying down new memories. Which, apparently, is what happens in adolescence. At least in mice.

Scientists used a variety of methods to study the brains of pubescent female mice. And they discovered that a particular protein, a kind of GABA receptor, for those of you keeping score at home, crops up in the hippocampus during puberty. These receptor proteins interfere with neuron communication and thus prevent the sort of synaptic strengthening these young animals need to learn.
Perhaps we should end education at 5th grade, put teenagers to work, than give them option of getting a good education in their 20's. It would definitely show them the value of that education.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Throw All the Bums Out

I've recently heard vote against all incumbents in Congress, according to the FiveThirtyEight blog, that's a bad idea:
But here's why the instinct to just throw all the bums out seems rational but is potentially counter-productive if not irrational: Even with significant turnover, the notion that members of Congress will be independent of the influence of special interests is a fantasy. In fact, just the reverse is likely to happen: In a Congress full of rookies, the interest group community will have greater influence because it has longer institutional memory and control over information. That's not just speculation: Studies of state interest group communities tend to show that they are more influential in so-called "citizen legislatures" where members serve part-time (see , and that states with term limits only tend to further strengthen interest groups.
I agree they are mostly bums, but nothing changes if they are simply replaced by more fresh-faced bums. If you want a different system, vote for a different type of candidate. Might I suggest the Libertarian Party.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Things I Hate

Inspired by Penelope Trunk's own list of things she hates, I've decided to do my own. Here are some highlights from her three lists: She hates people who won't change, people who think their problems are unique and a lack of hate. Here's my list:

1) Settling. Life's too short to be decent.

2) Related to number 1, not liking your job. Few people in America have a real limitation in job choice. You spend at least forty hours a week at work, that's a fourth of your life. Unless this job is a stepping stone to the job you really want, quit. There are even benefits to quitting before you have another job: you're more motivated to get another one.

3) Being "too busy". We all have the same twenty four hour day. You never fail to do something because you don't have the time. It's always because it's not a priority, but that's okay. Once you come to terms with this, you'll feel less guilt and more contentment.

4) Stopping progress. Whether it's wanting to keep useless jobs (think elevator operator) or fearing change completely, preventing progress is preventing improvement. Your preferences don't trump everyone else's.

5) Saying "I have a mortgage". Like I said in #3, we all have to make choices. If you chose to own (and not everyone does), be sure it is a blessing not a curse.

6) Commenting on my blog not via my blog. Although I appreciate comments from emails, Facebook, and Google Reader, it divides the community of readers. There is a reason I don't write this in a Word document, it's you (and me a little). Trust me, all bloggers get excited when someone posts a comment. I just want everyone to hear what you have to say.

7) Stopping on escalators. When you stop walking on the escalator, you are slowing down yourself and everyone behind you. If you want a break from walking, lean against wall or find a bench. There is no reason why stopping on an escalator is different from stopping in the middle of a hallway.

8) Not taking advice. People who think they have nothing to learn from others clearly have a lot to learn from others. Whether it's about politics, economics or improvisation, no one has learned everything they can. But if you read other people's blogs, you probably already knew that.

9) Not responding to messages. Technology is supposed to connect us together. That only works if people actually use it as a reliable way to communicate. If someone emails, calls, or contacts you in any way, you have a social obligation to contact them back. No excuses (see #3).

10) Relentless positivity. I try to stay optimistic on this blog (the Internet is mean enough), but sometimes you have to be negative. For example, don't be afraid to make a list of things you hate.

11) Making an amoral issue black and white. There are wide ranges of preferences in the world, not everyone wants the same things you want, Most issues are unclear, no matter how loud you shout.

12) Hating people. The main difference between my list and Penelope's is that mine are focused on actions, not people. It's okay to hate things you see. There are a lot of terrible things in this world. It's not okay to hate people. Not to discount individual responsibility completely, but we are all a result of our environment. If there is one thing I've learned from having a wife in social work, it's that dysfunctional people come from dysfunctional homes. This doesn't excuse them, but it helps us pity them.

Anything you'd put on your list that I'm missing?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform has Passed

It seems clear that there will be a heath care bill and I can't honestly say I care either way. I think economist Greg Mankiw says it best:
One thing I have been struck by in watching this debate is how strident it has been, among both proponents and opponents of the legislation. As a weak-willed eclectic, I can see arguments on both sides. Life is full of tradeoffs, and so most issues strike me as involving shades of grey rather than being black and white. As a result, I find it hard to envision the people I disagree with as demons.

Arthur Okun said the big tradeoff in economics is between equality and efficiency. The health reform bill offers more equality (expanded insurance, more redistribution) and less efficiency (higher marginal tax rates). Whether you think this is a good or bad choice to make, it should not be hard to see the other point of view.

I like to think of the big tradeoff as being between community and liberty. From this perspective, the health reform bill offers more community (all Americans get health insurance, regulated by a centralized authority) and less liberty (insurance mandates, higher taxes). Once again, regardless of whether you are more communitarian or libertarian, a reasonable person should be able to understand the opposite vantagepoint.

In the end, while I understood the arguments in favor of the bill, I could not support it. In part, that is because I am generally more of a libertarian than a communitarian.
Generally the elderly, poor, and sick will be better off, at least for the recent future, at the expense of the young, rich, and healthy. It could be worse, it could be better.

Give Haiti Trade, Not Aid

I've discussed the problems with foreign aid before. International aid can help (and hurt) for a while, but long term improvement needs something more foundational,

The long term solution isn't to convince the U.S. Trade Representative to drop barriers to exchange, it's to drop the U.S. Trade Representatives all together. Imagine how many lives could have been saved if Haiti had been given an open opportunity to produce, trade, and escape poverty.

Update: Trade is good for our friends and our "enemies".

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Good Thing Paying Taxes is a Pain

I just got done filing my taxes for the year. It was more painful than I remember. Apparently, that's not a bad thing:
The question of whether it should be easy or hard for people to pay their taxes is, to an extent most people don’t realize, an ideological one. Dating back to John Stuart Mill’s 1848 Principles of Political Economy, there has been an understanding that a less visible tax system may have a tendency to fuel the growth of government. The less the goose feels the plucking, after all, the more feathers the pluckers can collect.Government officials know this quite well. In 1942, discussing proposed changes to how the federal government collected taxes at a Senate hearing, treasury official Randolph Paul wondered aloud, regarding income tax withholding, whether “if we cut down the squawking under this method we could raise the individual tax rates?” Withholding was instituted, the squawking was cut down, and taxes indeed have risen as a share of GDP.
The article even describes how toll booths that collect fees easier collect more fees. The more painful paying taxes is, the more we are willing to pay. There is even a good argument for moving election day closer to tax day; since it's currently as far away as it can get.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Texting Etiquette

One of the main things keeping me from being a full fledged Generation Y is texting. It's costs too much and honestly I just don't have enough friends. So I've often assumed my frustration with texting in public was because I don't fully understand it. What should and should not be socially acceptable? Here's a good rule of thumb:
If you're in a situation where you'd excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, you should also excuse yourself before reaching for your phone. Otherwise, go ahead without asking. Either way, don't play with your phone longer than you'd stay in the bathroom.

Timing of the Industrial Revolution

Tyler Cowen recently did a request for requests. I asked him this:
Why did it take so long for humans to have the Industrial Revolution?
He was gracious enough to give a thorough answer:
That's a reader request from the especially loyal Harrison Brookie. First, you might wish to go back and read the MR reviews and debates of Greg Clark's Farewell to Alms,

More generally, extended periods of economic growth require that technologies of defense outweigh technologies of predation. They may also require that the successful defender, at the same time, has good enough technology to predate someone else and accumulate a sizable surplus. Parts of Europe took a good deal from the New World and this may have mattered a good deal.

Building a strong enough state to protect markets from other states is very hard to do; at the same time the built state has to avoid crushing those markets itself. That's a very delicate balance. China had wonderful technology for its time and was the richest part of the world for centuries but never succeeded in this endeavor, not for long at least.

England was fortunate to be an island. Starting in the early seventeenth century, England had many decades of ongoing, steady growth. Later, coal and the steam engine kicked in at just the right time. English political institutions were "good enough" as well and steadily improving, for the most part.

Christianity was important for transmitting an ideology of individual rights and natural law. As McCloskey and Mokyr stress, the Industrial Revolution was in part about ideas.

There are numerous other factors, but putting those ones together -- and no others -- already makes an Industrial Revolution very difficult to achieve. It did happen, it probably would have happened somewhere, sooner or later, but its occurrence was by no means easy to achieve. The Greeks had steam engines, proto-computers, and brilliant philosophers and writers, but still they did not come close to a breakthrough.

One question is how long the Roman Empire would have had to last to generate an Industrial Revolution and don't mention the Eastern Empire smartypants.

If you are asking why the Industrial Revolution did not occur in the Mesozoic age, or other earlier times, genetic factors play a role as well.
I tell my high school students that the Industrial Revolution is second only to learning to farm when thinking about human history. If that's true, then this answer is important. If I'm understanding Tyler correctly, it took humans a while to figure out how to make a government strong enough to defend property rights (especially from the outside), but weak enough to allow the market to work. I also agree that religion, perhaps in the form of the Protestant Reformation was an important step in understanding human liberty. That also helps explain why England as an island was more likely to begin this revolution.

Other interesting suggestions from the comments of Tyler's post are the importance of the printing press in saving and spreading ideas and how cheap manual labor in the form of slavery may have delayed it (I don't buy the second one).

Emergency Rooms are not the Problem

From the always interesting Freakonomics blog:
The overutilization of emergency rooms is often cited as a dangerous symptom of America’s broken healthcare system. But a new Slate article from Zachary Meisel and Jesse Pines offers a rosier picture of emergency room usage, and dispels several pervasive myths. They write that E.R. care represents less than 3 percent of healthcare spending, only 12 percent of E.R. visits are non-urgent, and the majority of E.R. patients are insured U.S. citizens, not uninsured, illegal immigrants. Meisel and Pines also point out that E.R. visits don’t necessarily cost more than primary care visits: “In fact, the marginal cost of treating less acute patients in the ER is lower than paying off-hours primary care doctors, as ERs are already open 24/7 to handle life-threatening emergencies.” Ultimately, Meisel and Pines believe that emergency rooms are functioning as they’re supposed to, as “an always-available resource to alleviate pain, make sure your baby is not truly ill, and patch you up after a nasty fall is vital, even if it turns out that your condition wasn’t as serious as you feared.”
In 2001 Milton Friedman suggested the ideal way to improve US healthcare:
reverse past actions: repeal the tax exemption of employer-provided medical care; terminate Medicare and Medicaid; deregulate most insurance; and restrict the role of the government, preferably state and local rather than federal, to financing care for the hard cases.
But he admits that this is politically impossible. Instead he suggests:
A more radical reform would, first, end both Medicare and Medicaid, at least for new entrants, and replace them by providing every family in the United States with catastrophic insurance - i.e., a major medical policy with a high deductible.
Maybe we should rely more on emergency rooms, not less. Related: Thirty Thoughts on American Health Care, Part I and Part II.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sick Day's Impact on Education

I took a sick day today. Couldn't really talk, which is fairly important to teaching high schoolers. Were my students negatively impacted? The research says yes:
The authors estimate 10 additional days of teacher absence reduce mathematics achievement of fourth-grade students by 3.2% of a standard deviation. They employ an additional instrumental variables strategy to bolster the case for a causal interpretation of results. Instrumental variables results indicate the impact of unexpected teacher absences on student achievement is larger than the impact of anticipated absences.
I feel a little better that I stayed an extra hour yesterday to be sure the students were able to complete the work scheduled. This study is also for elementary school, which is probably more dependent on teacher attendance. Though I did have to reschedule my AP US History debate to Monday. Then again, it's pretty safe to say if you class can get done all the work it needs to when you are absent, especially for multiple days, you're probably not a very good teacher.

Emptying the Bottle: Late-March '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
If you'd like to follow my shared items live, subscribe.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Everyone's A Little Bit Racist"

A touchy subject I know, but I think it's important to discuss. I don't want to down play it, we all know America has a long and trouble history with race. However, since I saw the musical Avenue Q, I've been considering the benefits of talking about our prejudices. It's well known that it's harder to tell people from unfamiliar races apart. There's even evidence that the more true you find racial prejudices, the funnier those types of jokes are to you. I'll paraphrase my favorite line from the musical: If we all could just admit that we are racist a little bit, it might help us get along.

So I found a test online from Harvard University that measures whether you unconsciously prefer white people over black. I am not a racist, but I do apparently have a slight preference for white people (based on this very simple test). It's good to know. Hopefully I can use this overcome emotion with reason. I hope you get a chance to take the test. Click here, then "demonstration", then "go to demonstration tests", then "I wish to proceed". It's the one labeled Race Implicit Association Test (IAT).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obama, the Center-Left Pragmatic Reformer

Columnist David Brooks has a wonderfully written article about the misjudgment of Obama from the political left and the right. Here are my favorite lines:
The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book “The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market.
Brooks goes on to describe Obama's views on health care, education, finance, and foreign policy with those assumptions in mind. It seems odd that when I seen the nation disapproving more than approving of our President, that I've grown to appreciate him more. My sunny disposition was solidified when he said this about the health care reform debate:
I don't know that those gaps can be bridged, it may be that at the end of the day, we come out here and everybody says, 'Well, you know, we have some honest disagreements.'
and this:
The question that I'm going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time we could actually resolve something? And if we can't, then I think we've got to go ahead and make some decisions, and then that's what elections are for.
It's not about good vs. evil. It's an honest disagreement about the role of government. The Democrats should do what they feel is best and the Republicans should do the same. Then the voters will decide who did what they wanted.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pessimist's Light at the End of the Tunnel

Other comics I like from Luke Surl:

New "I want you" poster

They remind me of xkcd, just less nerdy.

Subscribe to them here.

Improving Democracy

I have been clear in my complaints about the failings of democracy and offered up some possible solutions. Economist Steve Landsburg has some great ideas of his own:
Divide senatorial constituencies according to the alphabet, so that instead of a senator from Alaska and a senator from Wisconsin, we’ll have a senator for everyone whose last name begins with AA through AE. The point being that it’s easy to think up earmarks and pork barrel projects that will benefit the citizens of Alaska at everyone else’s expense, but not so easy to think up pork barrel projects that will benefit everyone whose last name happens to begin with Q.

Give each voter two votes to cast in every senatorial election. You get one vote to cast in your own state and one to cast in the state of your choice. Again, this forces senators to answer to broader and more diverse constituencies, diluting the power of localized special interests.

This one’s not in the book but should have been: Give each senator a personal budget so that once he;s voted for $X billion worth of spending, he’s not allowed to vote for any more spending until he gets re-elected. This pits his various sub-constituencies against each other, so that the New York Senator who lobbies for subsidies to New York City is sure to get a negative earful from upstate.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Danger of Daylight Saving Time

Be safe today:
On average, there were 3.6 more injuries on the Mondays following the switch to daylight saving time compared to other days, and 2,649 more days of work were lost as a result of those injuries.
Apparently the time change results in an average of 40 minutes less on the Sunday night they switched to daylight saving time. One more reason to get rid of the government's control of time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Church of Improv

Here's Zach Ward preaching the "Yes and" gospel at a local Tedx Conference. I don't necessarily agree with his world view, but I think he explains the practical benefits to improvisation well.

Speaking of, I'm teaching another Improv 101 class starting April 12th 19th. Also, you can still see me perform every Friday for free. I'm also doing a double header this Saturday at 7:30pm (March Madness) and 9:30pm (Pound for Pound).

Difference Between a Right and a Want

Friend, and fellow graduate from Clemson University's economics program Tate Watkins, recently started blogging. He asks this important question: what makes something a human right? Health care, education, and even high speed internet have been described as rights that all governments should seek to provide. But whether you go the US Constitution or inspirations for it, I find no mention of the products or services that should be provided to citizens. There was even intense political debate over whether the federal government should provide the supply of money. It wasn't even done until the 1860's. Democracies weren't created to provide a basic standard of living for everyone. They were created to ensure the right to pursue that living standard. Governments are meant to protect our basic liberties and forcing the purchase of certain products, even when they are beneficial, is just doing the opposite. How do you determine what a human right is? Ask the father of liberty, John Locke: “Man... hath by nature a power.... to preserve his property - that is, his life, liberty, and estate - against the injuries and attempts of other men.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Another Benefit of the Gas Tax

Here's an interesting argument for a gas tax from good friend Justin Scott; to decrease the world's production of plastic. Here's a map of continent sized floating patches of garbage:

One of these is predicted to weigh over 3 million tons and is responsible for not only killing marine life, but also releasing poisons into our food supply. Scary to think plastic has only been around for a hundred years, so we don't fully understand what the environmental impact is going to be. I'm not one to be a pessimist, but it's hard when you see these photos of a bird's stomach.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why People Like Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity and Other Wingnuts

I recently heard the term "wingnut" in this interview with the author of a similarly named book. It describes right and left wing demagogues who use fear to convince audiences that the other side has sinister motives. It then struck me, why do people allow themselves to be controlled like this? Like many of our problems, I think it has to do with control:
According to one school of thought, this tendency to exaggerate the strength of our adversaries serves a specific psychological function. It is less scary to place all our fears on a single, strong enemy than to accept the fact our well-being is largely based on factors beyond our control. An enemy, after all, can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated.
Whether it's about the Soviets, Chinese, or the Democrats, it's all about controlling our fear.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Invest in a Entrepreneur

Here's my idea for investing in dedicated students (which apparently even Milton Friedman supported), but that's pretty risky. Instead, try investing in businesspeople directly:
Three entrepreneurs are offering a share of their life’s income in exchange for cash upfront and have banded together to form the Thrust Fund, an online marketplace for such personal investments.

Kjerstin Erickson, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate who founded a non-profit called FORGE that rebuilds community services in Sub-Saharan African refugee camps, is offering 6 percent of her life’s income for $600,000.
I'm not suggesting you take your savings out of a 401(k), but the here's the place where you can if you want. Hat tip to Justin Wehr's shared items.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Resolved Conflict Fosters Intimacy

Those people who I feel proud to call good friends are beyond valuable. They celebrate with you and mourn with you. Without them, we would all need more professional counseling. In fact, the Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker claims that people are the most addictive thing on the planet. It's not just social interaction that we need, it's real in depth conversation. According to psychologist Wray Herbert, happy people have less small talk and more meaty conversations. It seems obvious that close relationships improve our lives, yet many of us don't have enough of them. It is because intimacy is scary. You have to be vulnerable and may even have to have conflict. It is that willingness to give and receive negativity that results in good relationships. This is shown in four different studies.
Study 1, participants read vignettes in which another person was experiencing a negative emotion. Participants reported they would provide more help when the person chose to express the negative emotion. In Study 2, participants watched a confederate preparing for a speech. Participants provided more help to her when she expressed nervousness. In Study 3, self-reports of willingness to express negative emotions predicted having more friends, controlling for demographic variables and extraversion. In Study 4, self-reports of willingness to express negative emotion measured prior to arrival at college predicted formation of more relationships, greater intimacy in the closest of those relationships, and greater received support from roommates across participants' first semester of college.
So go out there and be vulnerable, be honest, and make real friends.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Good Day for Democracy

I mentioned recently how little political importance I place on voting in the United States. However, I view the recently election in Iraq very differently. I haven't been that supportive of the war for various reasons, but the over 60% turnout in their recent election is very encouraging. Nation building may not be worth the cost, but there seems to be some benefit. The Iraqi people have come out in higher numbers than most first world countries despite, or possibly because of, the threat of violence. These voters and politicians are their founding fathers of Iraqi democracy. Their individual votes may not determine the outcome, but they signal the success of a citizen supported government. This is a good week for all of us who desire a government accountable to the people.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-March '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
If you'd like to follow my shared items live, subscribe.

Learning by Teaching: Ban on Preemptive War

Came across this while teaching World War II in my AP US History class. The Ludlow Amendment, first proposed in 1935, would have required a national vote on any declaration of war by Congress, unless the US had attacked. Here's the exact wording:
SEC. 1. Except in the event of an invasion of the United States or its Territorial possessions and attack upon its citizens residing therein, the authority of Congress to declare war shall not become effective until confirmed by a majority of all votes cast thereon in a Nation-wide referendum. Congress, when it deems a national crisis to exist, may by concurrent resolution refer the question of war or peace to the citizens of the States, the question to be voted on being, Shall the United States declare war on ________? Congress may otherwise by law provide for the enforcement of this section.
I like the idea and the clarity of the wording. Despite harsh criticism from President Roosevelt, the bill almost passed with a vote of 209 to 188.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Science of Humor

Attempting to take the fun out of everything, here's some interesting ideas from Daniel Elkan:
"Humour seems to be a product of humans' ability to make rapid, intuitive judgements" about a situation, followed by "slower, deliberative assessments" which resolve incongruities
But it's not just a gut reaction, it's something deeper:
Yet humour is a far more complex process than primeval pleasures like sex or food. In addition to the two core processes of getting the joke and feeling good about it, jokes also activate regions of the frontal and cingulate cortex, which are linked with association formation, learning and decision-making.
And here's why sense of humors are different:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, personality also appears to play a key role in humour. Mobbs has shown that people who are classed as extrovert and emotionally stable have increased activity in reward areas of the brain during exposure to funny stimuli.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Posture Affects Perspective

Sitting up straight makes you more confident:
Specifically, participants were asked to think about and write down their best or worse qualities while they were sitting down with their back erect and pushing their chest out (confident posture) or slouched forward with their back curved (doubtful posture). Then, participants completed a number of measures and reported their self-evaluations. In line with the self-validation hypothesis, we predicted and found that the effect of the direction of thoughts (positive/negative) on self-related attitudes was significantly greater when participants wrote their thoughts in the confident than in the doubtful posture.
It seems logical to take this in the opposite direction as well. Perhaps praying in a submissive position, kneeling or bowing, will make you feel more humble.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Can Reach the Top Shelf, or Pay Someone To

In honor of my newborn nephew (of my tall brother-in-law), here's something in his favor:
I have reported previously that tall people have an edge on the labor market, and about some speculation why this would be the case. One theory is that they are better at performing some tasks because they are tall, or at least appear to because height is associated with strength and health.

Petri Böckerman, Edvard Johansson, Urpo Kiiskinen and Markku Heliövaara use a Finnish survey and find that smaller people are doing more strenuous work, while taller people typically have jobs where they sit. The height premium does vary with the strenuousness of the job, after controlling for all sorts of indicators that typically determine wages. Would this mean that the wage premium does not come from actual strength used, but rather from intimidation? That would surprise me from Finns, who seem to be leaders in equal opportunity. Is it that they are healthier, as my original post seemed to indicated. May be, but this data had no other indicators of health.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Worthwhile Sentences on Perspective

From Justin Wehr: "Test for whether you truly understand something: Can you explain it to a 10 year old?"

From Scott Sumner: "Happiness isn’t based on anything you achieve, but rather the anticipation of future happiness."

From ScienceDaily: "people who achieve greater social status are more likely to be able to experience life as rewarding and stimulating because they have more targets for dopamine to act upon"

From Eric Barker: "If you're a natural Casanova are you likely to be less ambitious?"

From Tara Parker-Pope: "Vacations do make people happy, but we found people who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness, and afterward there is hardly an effect.”

*Past worthwhile sentences.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Involvement is Consumption, Not Production

I mentioned before that I don't necessarily encourage political involvement and that voting is more like cheering than playing. Here's the numbers on why your vote doesn't and never will count:
On average, a voter in America had a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.
However, I have voted, but for my own reasons. Here's another for the list, it makes me happier:
So find two university psychologists in new research that looks for the first time at the link between political activity and wellbeing. Malte Klar and Tim Kasser started by interviewing two sets of around 350 college students, both about their degree of political engagement and their levels of happiness and optimism. Both times, they found that those most inclined to go on a demo were also the cheeriest.

So there's a link – but can politics actually make a person happier? In the third study, the academics took a bunch of students and divided them up into groups. The first were encouraged to write to the management of the college cafeteria asking for tastier food. The next lot wrote asking the cafe to source local or Fairtrade products. They were then tested on their wellbeing, and the group who had involved themselves in the political debate were far and away the strongest on the "vitality" scale: they felt more alive and enriched than those who merely complained about the menu.

There are many fascinating aspects to this . First, the activist-students didn't necessarily care about food ethics, but just taking action made them feel better. Second, sending a memo is hardly the most engaging political action – and yet it had a big impact on those taking it. Third, the study flies in the face of the popular wisdom that happiness resides in creature comforts and relative affluence. Perhaps activism gives people a sense of purpose, or of agency or just a chance to hang out with other people. Most likely it does all of the above.
Fun fact: John Tyler the tenth president, never voted, even in his own election.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Importance of Social Networks in a Job Search

We've all heard it before, but here's statistical proof:
We find that contacts' current employment rate has statistically significant effects on unemployment duration: a one standard deviation increase in the network employment rate reduces unemployment duration by about 8 percent; as a benchmark, a one standard deviation increase in own wage at displacement is associated with a 10 percent lower unemployment duration.
Every job that I've had I got through someone I know. From my first job at McDonald's 10 years ago to my current job teaching high school, a contact has helped me at least get an interview. This suggests that we should look out for our contacts, because we are a huge part of their employment. This could also be another unexpected benefit of going to college, having friends who have jobs. It's also another reason why missionary dating (not what you think) can be so important. Who we know greatly influences our future income and sadly the poor are limited in their social sphere. On the bright side, Facebook and other social networking sites should help connect us more and keep transitional unemployment lower.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Early-March '10 Links

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