Saturday, July 31, 2010

Know Thy Spouse

In yesterday's post about how men and women view fighting differently, my wife was nice enough to give her thoughts. This was the GoogleChat conversation we had during it:
me: [link to my comment]
Traci: ew, i dont like the sweetie thing
me: haha, i was trying to think of a nice name what wasn't sexual
me:[link to my second comment]
Traci: im not responding
me: haha, i love you
Traci: your definition of fight is different than mine
me: say that then and explain it, because i disagree
Traci: nah
me: haha, then we will never improve!
Traci: you just want me to comment, you dont really want to improve
me: haha, i might post this chat on my blog
Traci: i was just typing that you weren't allowed to but then i erased it
me: now i have to
Views of conflict aside, nothing better for a marriage than knowing and accepting each other.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Applying Preference for Change in Marriage

In a recent post considering what core belief makes conservatives and liberals different, I argued that change is the best measure. Liberals embrace change and conservatives are weary of it. It resulted in a great discussion that ended with the question of whether this idea is practically helpful. Taking that as a challenge, I found a clear example of where the conservative/liberal views of change are both true and helpful, in marriage.

It is a fairly common understanding that women are more liberal than men, by a margin as wide as 12%. If we then apply the preferences for change, it helps explain common marital disagreements. Pop culture and my own marital experience confirm the idea that women are more satisfied in marriage when things are improving. For example, for my wife, our marriage is doing well if we are regularly dealing with our problems. If we aren't fighting, we probably aren't growing. For me, I feel like our marriage is doing well if we don't fight at all (my wife has taught me the folly of this idea, hence this earlier post).

Women, who are on average more liberal, are optimistic about the change the next fight will bring. Men, who are on average more conservative, are worried about the change the next fight might bring. I think both perspectives can be true. For many couples fighting leads to future baggage and more fights. For others fighting leads to dealing with past baggage and less (or at least healthier) fights. I'm curious, have other couples seen this to be true?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Burqa Ban Limits Liberty

Spain is considering a ban on burqas, something France and Belgium have already done. There is distinction between freedom from influence and freedom from force. Understandably the veil is a representation of the barrier many women experience, it is still a choice. Like all choices there are repercussions. Liberty by definition is the power to do as one pleases and legal limits, no matter how good the intentions, don't expand liberty.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Economics of Wedding Photography Startups

For my wedding anniversary last year good friend, Erin Scott, took some pictures of me and my bride around D.C. I like this one so much it made my Facebook profile:

You can see the rest here at Starting a small business is a tough task for anyone and photography startups are no different. You don't want to charge too much, you are relatively new after all. You don't want to charge too little, people will assume you're not very good. You can't shadow another local photographer without them worrying about competition. So here's a unique suggestion from economist Tim Harford:
You really have two options. One is to take photographs at friends’ weddings. You don’t need permission from a rival photographer, you just need permission from a friend.

But I have a more radical suggestion. To win business you need to demonstrate confidence in your expertise. Tell prospective clients that you will pay them for the privilege of taking photos at their wedding, and that you’re confident you’ll make money anyway because they will want to buy your prints. Not only does this scheme give them some compensation if you prove to be an amateurish snapper, but more importantly it sends a signal of your self-confidence. A true incompetent would never be able to afford such a deal. I only hope you are as good as you say you are.
And as you can tell, Erin is as good as I say. Thanks again Erin and happy anniversary Traci!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why I'll Probably Never Vote for a Republican

Last year I explained why American liberal's fear of markets will probably keep me from voting for most Democrats. However, as Obama's approval rating is plummeting, I'm actually growing more frustrated with American conservatism. Though the words liberal and conservative have muddled definitions, there is a clear difference in my understanding of them, how they view change. Liberals embrace the hope of the future, expecting that there will be improvement. Conservatives, embrace the successes of the past, worried about the repercussions of that change*.

The situation in America is uniquely convoluted. If conservatives are afraid of change, then the Founding Fathers were liberals. However, they set up a conservative Constitution meant to keep national policy stable. Both ideologies are perfectly logical, but the pessimistic conservative worries me more. Though some change has been harmful, most of American history has been positive change. Conservatives are afraid to roll the dice, worried that the change will be harmful. But by attempting control and not allowing some risk, we miss out on the great things that change can bring. It is that control that worries me most about conservatives. Coercion of others is one of the great threats to our humanity.

Conservatives, because they fear change, are less likely to tolerate things they don't prefer (think immigration and drugs). They need more categories for things they dislike and things they find morally reprehensible. Sadly, this is also true for many American liberals (think environmental laws and gun restrictions). But it is the conservative distrust of the new and different that can lead to social division like nationalism and racism. Although conservatism is useful in dealing with situations we don't fully understand, it also limits growth by being afraid of new things. The liberal argument fails when things are fine the way they are. The conservative ideology fails when our current path continues to be beneficial. I believe both of those are true, so I'll continue to be weary of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

*Economist F. A. Hayek's essay Why I Am Not a Conservative was helpful in the formation of several ideas articulated here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Answering My Own Questions, Third Edition

Here's part one and two and here are some more interesting questions with interesting answers:

1) How many people have walked on the moon?
Twelve. All men, all Americans, all between 1969-1972.

2) How much can wrongly convicted criminal get?
Recently in NC a man received almost $1.5 million for being falsely imprisoned for 19 years.

3) Why do public restrooms have a gap in the front of the toilet seat?
Wikipedia suggests that it might has once been required by OSHA in the early 1970's. It could also be to prevent standing men from urinating "dribbles" on the seat. Another suggestion is that the gap prevents genitalia from touching the seat, which could spread disease.

4) How many presidents have served more than one term?
From Washington to Bush, 20 out of 43 served more than one term.

5) Which American owns the most land?
Ted Turner owns 2 million acres in 12 states. That's as big as Rhode Island and Delaware put together. He also created the show Captain Planet.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Improv and Sightseeing in New York City

As I mentioned a while back, this weekend I head to NYC. I'll be performing in the 12th Annual Del Close Marathon. Marathon is not a exaggeration, it's a name. The festival runs from Friday to Sunday in three locations with shows day and night. Here are my performance slots:

The 708: Sat 12:00 pm at Hudson Guild Theatre
Mister Diplomat: Sun 2:30 pm at UCB Theatre

If you're in the area ticket information will be released soon on the website. Also, my wonderful wife has agreed to accompany me. Any non-improv touristy suggestions for us?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Late-July '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
To follow live and to see comments, subscribe via Google Reader.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Don't Fear China, Celebrate with It

I've posted before on why trade deficits are actually investment surpluses and why Chinese government subsidies actually benefit us. However, after reading this mediocre argument for why we shouldn't fear China, I've decided eradicating fear isn't enough. America should not only not fear China, it should celebrate the amazing progress its made in the last decade. Here's Tyler Cowen first on how far China has to come:
CHINESE labour is still pretty cheap, at least by Western standards. To give an example, the minimum wage in Shenzen—a very active economic area—is still only $160 a month and in other parts of China it runs even lower. It’s not that all Chinese wages are so low but overall China is a much poorer country than most people think. It’s not even close to having the average wages of, say, Mexico.
And here he his again on why we should look forward to more gains:
If Chinese wages are rising, it is because Chinese workers have shown that they are more productive. All the capital investment in China is yielding dividends in terms of greater output per worker and that’s good for virtually everyone.
We benefit from increases in Chinese production in the same way they benefit from production in the US. China is now going through our Gilded Age. Huge national economic growth that will eventually bring up even the poorest citizens. Progress will happen faster for them thanks to the developed world leading way. As I've mentioned before, they are predicted to catch up around 2048. Good for them, good for us.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Moral Math

In yesterday's explanation for why I'm weary of corporate charity and how we can improve it, I hinted at something that has bothered me for a while. When people do one good thing, they often let themselves off the hook for other good things. Not until I came across this article did I have the vocabulary to articulate what I meant:
The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we're probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier -- and often more likely -- to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.
We see everyday when people pull up to their organic food store in a Hummer or when we feel better about leaving energy efficient light bulbs on longer. But it also has less innocent repercussions like:
a study showing that voters given an opportunity to endorse Barack Obama for president were more likely to later favor white people for job openings.
In another experiment shoppers were given the option to shop at either:
online stores that carry mainly green products or mainly conventional products. Then they played a game that allowed them to cheat to make more money. The shoppers from the green store were more dishonest than those at the conventional store, which brought them higher earnings in the game.
This is connected to my skeptical attitude toward charitable giving in general. It seems the best way to avoid this mental trap is either to account for everything you do, so you can accurately weigh the costs and benefits, or simply make your kind acts second nature so they stop being accounted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where Charity Meets Profit

The Dirty South Improv Theater, where I perform and teach, is well known for supporting the local community of Carrboro-Chapel Hill. From the annual Y Laugh fundraising campaign to special shows for non-profits like a used-bicycle collective and a youth mentor-advocate program. For all of this month, 20% of the ticket sales will go to the local Boys and Girls Club. The reason behind any business doing this is two fold: 1) as a form of advertising and brand image, 2) support causes the boss feels are worthwhile.

I've always questioned both of those motivations. The first feels like a deceptive way to convince the public your product is valuable. For example BP recently announced it would donate any revenues from collected oil in the Gulf to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Any energy spent making it seem like your company is good, is energy not spent actually making your company good. The second motivation also makes me uncomfortable because if the bosses want to donate money, they should pay themselves more and do it. Why involve the company, the employees, and the stock holders?

My question was recently answered when Tyler Cowen shared an interesting research finding. When customers at an amusement park were asked to buy pictures of themselves on a roller coaster only 0.5% paid the $12.95 asking price. Next they allowed customers to pay what they wanted. Sales went up to 8.4%, but the average payment was only $0.92. Later they were told that half of the $12.95 went to charity. This barely changed the amount of payers. Finally, the two ideas were put together. Customers could pay what they wanted, but half would go to charity. Suddenly, 4.5% of the customers bought a photo, nine times the original number, each paying an average of $5.33.

Charitable donations increased and so did profits. Not counting any loss due to consumer guilt, it was a net gain for all. Businesses made more and looked good doing it. Charities got more and people felt better giving it. This also allows the boss to give to his desired charity with a positive impact on his company. Until I can convince theater owner Zach Ward to change the pricing, you can still go see shows all this month and donate any extra at the door. This weekend marks the end of our two special sketch shows, Harvey Wallbanger and We Need A Hero.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts on the Gulf Oil Spill

I've talked before about the gulf oil disaster when answering a reader's question about boycotting BP. However, I decided to hold off on my full evaluation until the leak had been stopped (hopefully) and the situation could be measured. Let me first say I underestimated how big a deal the issue would be. When I first heard about it I filed it under "overblown scary news" category and moved on. Here we are 3 months and 2.5 million gallons of oil a day later and it has become the worst man made oil spill in American history. Like anything newsworthy, the disaster in the Gulf is not always correctly considered. So here are 4 things to consider: Perspective, Incentives, Accidents, and Options.

Perspective: There has been somewhere between 93-184 million gallons leaked from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As breathtaking as that number is, the US pumps 2 billion (that's 2,000 million) barrels of oil off the coast per year. Though the costs of offshore drilling are now seen as enormous, they are only a small percentage of the benefits. This is a strong argument against Obama's struggle to put a moratorium on offshore drilling.

The other important fact to recognize is that oil naturally seeps into the ocean, although never in such large amounts at one time. The amount of the spill is less than the the amount naturally leaked all year. This does not mean the crisis isn't real, but it does mean zero contamination is not the goal.

Not only does oil naturally seep into the ocean, it also spills in other ways. Shipping oil from nation to nation ends in 4 times the amount leaked from drilling. Also, runoff from car and boats results in over 12 times more ocean oil than leaks in extraction. These numbers are different after such a large spill, but it's worth noting just how rare drilling spill like this are and what impact ending US drilling could have.

Incentives: The primary problem is not corporate or regulatory, but property. Everybody owns the ocean, so nobody owns the ocean. For this reason markets cannot be fully functional. The solution to this is messy and can't be fleshed by me and certainly not in one post. The good news is that there are some markets. For example BP has already been punished. Like I linked in June, it has lost 1/3 of it's value in the stock market, which is probably a farily good assessment of how much the crisis will cost them. It's a good reminder that we certainly don't want small businesses running oil drilling. We don't want companies without deep pockets causing big problems.

Accidents:  Sometimes incidents like this are just calculated accidents. No matter how much you want to blame someone, it may just be a risk we were willing to take. That is probably not the case here, because it seems obvious that BP did not correctly assess the cost and benefits of leaks and cleanup. The reason why is probably some combination of bad corporation and government incentives. This accident idea is shown nicely in this satirical Onion video entitled: Truck Accident That Killed Rafters in Canyon Sparks Truck-Canyon-Rafter Reform Debate

Options: More regulation from Congress won't solve the problem because the original laws weren't being enforced. Also, most oil in the world isn't produced by companies but by nations. For those two reasons, "green energy" isn't the solution. Solar, wind, etc are years from profitability and it's well known that biofuels are largely a disaster. Not only are the crop subsidies destructive to market allocation, they are extremely destructive of natural resources. The growing of sugar cane and corn encourages farmers to cut down valuable forests. It also adds to the Gulf's "dead zones" created by fertilizers washing into the ocean.

Oil, comparatively, has been one of the most important products in human history. It helped with deforestation when it replaced wood as the primary energy source. Despite oil's bad press this century, it was one of the most important resources two centuries ago. Fossil fuels powered the industrial revolution that brought humanity out of continual poverty. Though not as safe to produce as nuclear (earlier post), it is safer than coal. Speaking of nuclear power, my biggest fear is that the spill will become my generation's Three Mile Island resulting in heavy regulation that harms workers and consumers for decades.

Outrage like this can lead to bad ideas like the dispersant that has mostly been effective in getting the problem out of sight, while actually hindering real cleanup efforts. The solution is not easy and it is not complete. No matter what we do there will still be millions of oil in the water for a very long time. What I'd like to see is the US government enforce the legal obligations BP and it's affiliates have. Paying for the cleanup, lost wages, and other legal obligations. Then, and this is easier said then done, I want a simplification of the oil regulatory system. One less reliant on hard working and honest regulators. Although the public anger over the spill is appropriate, I'd like to see if harnessed correctly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Takeaways from Madison's Montpelier, Part IV

This is the fourth and final post in a series about my experience at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison. These are in response to a week of tours, discussions, and lectures. Here are the first, second, and third posts transcribed from my personal and like this one are not necessarily ideas endorsed by the Center for the Constitution. Here is part four of my takeaways:

One of the primary purposes of an educator is to challenge student's upbringing. Show them what they cannot learn at home.

Madison put a large emphasis on prudence. Here's a humorous example of it in practice.

One of the professors asks his students on the first day: "what percentage of my job is to change you?" Most say very little. He then responds with: "what if you're a jerk?" That convinced me that even if students do not want me to change them, I should.

Educators often spend an exorbitant amount of energy on convincing their students they are knowledgeable. Does that teach our students that you can get to a level where you don't need to learn anymore? Perhaps we should teach them that adults don't know what they are doing most of the time, but that they still manage to function.

A lecturer pointed out that it is an American rarity that we fly our flag so much. This question from the UK seems to corroborate that.

One way to draw young students into the content of history is to start each day with "once upon a time".

In any social science (but economics specifically), teachers should give their students the vocabulary tools required to describe the world.

Every elementary school teacher has at one time felt like a babysitter. Every high school teacher has at one time felt like a prison guard.

James Madison's famous wife, Dolly, looks an awful like the woman from the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Something I appreciated from the week's lecturers is they treated us like academic equals. I felt pulled up. I need to do that for my high school students.

In the long run, there are few jobs more influential than a very good public high school teacher. I see 150 students a year for 90 days for 90 minutes each day. That's is both encouraging and terrifying.

When you find a truth do you simply say "huh, interesting" and move on to your next task? Truth, because it is hard to find, should change our world view.

Many people are clever, but few are wise.

History remembers people in one sentence. Positive example: James Madison was the father of the Constitution. Negative example: John Payne Todd (Madison's step-son) was a drinker, a gambler, and one reason why Dolly Madison had to sell the family home.

America was founded on disagreement. The Constitution was built on conflict (internal and external).

One reason why this week had such a strong impact on me was the combination of fact and fiction. Hearing the content was helpful, but hearing the personal stories and seeing and standing where they happened made the ideas come to life.

When I say the word America, what does your mind's eye imagine? Mine is the eastern seaboard, public speakers, and the American military. Not sure how to interpret those three things together.

Something I did not fully grasp, or more accurately realized I did not fully grasp it, was citizenship. Americans have a looser understanding of that word than most of the world. I think I have an even looser definition.

Part of the experience of the week was meeting new people. More than race, age had a larger impact on who I was drawn to. All the people I met were fabulous, but I am naturally drawn to my generation. I am an agist.

If you can't govern yourself, you can't govern others. This is a problem for voters and politicians.

There is value in concern for your family. There is value in concern for your community. There is value in concern for your country. There is value in concern for your world. When the two conflict, who do you side with? It's either the first or the last. I think the difference in your decision is the difference between a liberal and a conservative.

The Leviathan, or a strong central government, used to be seen as the solution to man's troublesome nature. Today democracy, or the wisdom of the masses, is seen as the best tool. I think there is a third solution, with more of an emphasis on governmental competition and less on educated voters.

All teachers should find ways to get back behind a desk every so often. The National Endowment for the Humanities offers a wide range of options, but there are plenty out there.

And finally, I am very thankful for all of staff and participants who made the week so worthwhile I had to split it into four posts. I'm slowly being convinced we should use the blogosphere for our daily learning and trips like this to give us that regular push forward.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Benefit of Real Conversations

The research says you should skip the small talk:
The happiest subjects spent 70 percent more time talking than the unhappiest sub jects, which suggests that “the mere time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happi ness,” says co-author Matthias Mehl, a psy chologist at Arizona. The happiest subjects also participated in a third as much small talk and had twice as many in-depth conversations as the most unhappy participants.
Hopefully this blog helps with this.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Culture of the Industrial Revolution

A while back I posted Tyler Cowen's answer to my question about why the Industrial Revolution happened when it did. Although his list is exhaustive, he didn't mention this one:
the wide adoption of Bourgeois values was critical. By that, she means that once innovators and capitalists were looked up to or were considered gentlemen, an economic transformation towards industrialization could happen.
Not surprisingly, there is a correlation between the cultural appreciation for entrepreneurs and past economic growth. Now, what does the recent backlash against CEO's mean for future growth?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reasonableness of God

Within the PCA, the denomination to which I am a member, Tim Keller is well known. He is a bestselling author and pastor at a large church in NYC. He was invited to speak at the Googleplex as part of the Talks@Google series. Though it is long (42 minutes), this talk is one of the best I've ever heard on the topic of logic and religion. Take it from someone who doesn't like to invest too much time into something, this is worth it:

I would love to hear responses from believers and non-believers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From Anger into Pity

If you've had friends, family, or even acquaintances, then you've surely had tough relationships. We are regularly being treated poorly by those around us. The worst is that most pain comes from those who claim to care the most. Strangers can only do so much damage. It is the people we trust that hurt us the most. This can often lead to anger and bitterness for not being given the dignity that every human deserves. The anger is both understandable and justified, but often not fully informed.

People who hurt others are often hurt themselves. A great example from the school system is bullies. A recent study found that bullies have poor social skills, are overly negative toward others and themselves. They are also more likely to grow up in a home with conflict and do poorly academically. The most interesting part, is that they share all of these traits with their victims. Perfectly happy people do not enjoy inflicting physical and emotional harm on others.

Knowing this can help us when interacting with difficult people. It doesn't excuse their action, but it helps explain it. Turning our anger into pity helps us to forgive them and possibly reconcile with them. If you've ever held bitterness towards some person or group, and I have, then you know how much damage that it can cause for you. And finally, if you're honest with yourself, then you have to admit you're not only on the receiving side, but often on the giving side of pain as well.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Start School Later

So far this summer has been everything I wanted. More learning, more improv, and most of all, more sleep. During the school year classes starts at 7:48 in the morning, which means because of my commute, I have to leave around 6:45. Maybe it's because I perform late on the weekends or maybe because I still allow myself to sleep late on Saturday, but that's early for me. Apparently, it's also too early for my students:
Beginning at adolescence, kids have what’s called a delayed sleep phase, where they start sleep later and sleep later in the morning. And they need plenty—about nine-and-a-quarter hours a night.

The researchers evaluated 201 Rhode Island high school students whose school pushed back its start time from 8 to 8:30. The kids completed a sleep habits survey before and after the time change.

After the delayed start, the percentage of students who said they got at least eight hours of sleep a night jumped from about 16 to 55 percent. Class attendance improved, and there were fewer visits to the health center for fatigue-related complaints. Plus, the number of students who said they felt unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated dropped significantly.
This seems especially good when you consider half of being a morning person is genetics and that there are a lot of positive correlations with being a night owl.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fear of Zombies and Democracy

You probably already know about my interest in zombie attacks and democracy's failures. It wasn't until I recently that I realized these two preoccupations are related. The threat of zombies, like that of any democratic government, is in the masses. In the world of the undead, one zombie is not a threat, but they have strength in numbers. The problem with democracy is similar. Large numbers of diverse people with special interests trying to decide exactly what they want from government. Voters are easily influenced, or infected, by their biases and can quickly turn against their fellow citizens.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-July '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
To follow live and to see comments, subscribe via Google Reader.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What is the Ultimate Animal?

In my continuing series, Difference Between Humans and Animals, I've been trying to understand what does and what does not make humans unique. I've discussed many surprising animal abilities, but I haven't stopped and considered which is the best survivor? A recent article in the NYT times has convinced the answer may be none other than the common gray squirrel:
behind the squirrel’s success lies a phenomenal elasticity of body, brain and behavior. Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body, roughly double what the best human long jumper can manage. They can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they’re facing. Squirrels can learn by watching others — cross-phyletically, if need be. In their book “Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide,” Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street, said the authors, “and then it crossed the street behind them.”
Not only are they communal, they are also selfish:
But the squirrels don’t just bury an acorn and come back in winter. They bury the seed, dig it up shortly afterward, rebury it elsewhere, dig it up again. “We’ve seen seeds that were recached as many as five times,” said Dr. Steele. The squirrels recache to deter theft, lest another squirrel spied the burial the first X times. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth.
But perhaps their greatest strength, is that world's most dangerous predator, man, doesn't consider them a threat.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Improvisation and the Suggestion

At the top of almost any improv scene the players will get a suggestion from the audience. Sometimes a location, sometimes a relationship, and sometimes just a single word. TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, well known in the subculture that is improvisation, don't take a suggestion before they do an hour long scene, or what they call "perfect" plays. Instead they tell the audience “Trust us, this is all made up”. Here's why:
Dave: Because we think more of the audience. They know that just because they give you a suggestion doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily improvised. We set out to do something different. I think they trust us enough to know that we’re doing this right now. And if they don’t believe us, getting a suggestion isn’t going to help that.

TJ: It’s kind of liberating, too. Like, if you ask for a location and get "kitchen," then you start making breakfast. Without that suggestion, you go right to your partner, because it’s the only thing you've got. Dave’s my suggestion every night.
I don't necessarily agree. Perhaps that is true for his Chicago audience, one mostly made up of thousands of other improvisers. For most improv across the country audiences want to be involved in the process, both through their laughs and their suggestion. That said, every time I see them I am inspired to make my own performances more theatrical. You can see for yourself in their improv scene turned movie Trust Us. Though let me caution you not to judge their improvisation based on the movie alone. Filmed improvisation is never the same as seeing it live. Their is no risk and, like I said earlier, no participation. To see live comedy, you'll have to come to the theater.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Economic View of Past, Present, and Future

In a 25 minute lecture to the Federal Reserve, economist Steve Landsburg lays out a great description of life before and after the Industrial Revolution. This was too good to just put in a links list and a a must watch if you truly understand the world you live in. It's followed by a worthwhile Q & A session.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Takeaways from Madison's Montpelier, Part III

This is the third post in a series about my experience at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison. The week included readings, lectures, tours, and groups discussions. Here are the first and second posts transcribed from my notes from the week. Just a friendly reminder, these ideas are mine and are not necessarily those endorsed by the Center for the Constitution. Here is part three of my takeaways:

Both because of structural changes by states and the increased power of political parties, the electoral college does not function like it was originally intended. Though I have no idea if there is a politically feasible was to fix it.

When a court rules, it's labeled an "opinion". That's important when understand the fallibility of the judiciary.

Federalism, that is division of power between the parts and whole, existed in Old Testament Jerusalem with the twelve tribes.

The Constitution was meant to restrict the government's ability to be swayed by the people's "passion".

Nowadays people complain about the partisan griping in Washington, DC, longing for the days when American politicians were more harmonious. Although it may be measurably worse, that is hard to measure, that harmonious time never existed. One of the first meetings of our nation's leaders to discuss the federal government's duties had to take a day off because things got so intense.

It is important to note, most (probably all) of the drafters of the Constitution were frustrated with it. It was built on compromise.

Key to understanding anything: What is the relationship of the parts to the whole?

Do not be fooled by false options. Sometimes the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Counterintuitive teaching is not only interesting, it's Biblical. Jesus himself is regularly quoting using this format: "You may heard this, but the truth is this".

In any discussion, ask yourself if the opposite is also true.

Originally the founders were afraid of a overly powerful legislature. Overtime, it has the executive and judicial branches that have increased their power the most. Look at how often the legislature simply looks the president for leadership. This has occurred because the people love the presidency, and the presidents allow it.

When the executive does the job the legislative branch, it fails to do it's own job effectively.

The power to declare war rests with Congress, from Madison's perspective, to prevent the executive from grabbing more power during a time of crisis. This balance fails when we have quasi-wars: Vietnam Conflict, War on Drugs, War on Terror, etc. This is partially discussed by John Yoo on the Daily Show.

James Madison is the only American to make the executive powers and then use them. For this reason alone we should pay more attention to his presidency.

Every "great" president is one that stretched the bounds of his position.

Though James Madison thought building more roads and canals would unite the country to great benefit, his last act as president was to veto that legislation on the grounds that is was unconstitutional. Today the Supreme Court is seen as the only branch required to make such decisions.

In our loud times, we can' appreciate a quite leader. We praise the showman, not the workman.

One of the speakers for the week emphasized the original role of impeachment as a punishment for politicians overstepping their bounds. Sadly, it has mostly been used for petty crimes (not following a contrived law or lying under oath).  Crimes should be punished legally. Constitutional matters should go the Senate. However, impeachment can't be used correctly unless the people understand the Constitution.

James Madison was a politician that learned and changed his mind. Do we want our politicians to be learning on the job? Jon Stewart certainly doesn't when he plays competing sound bites.

If James Madison was born today, which party do you think he would join? The automatic answer for me was the Libertarian Party, which would probably agree with him on issues the most. However, I don't think he would join a party of government opposition that is so in the minority they cannot participate realistically in government. There is some wisdom from him there.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Saying there is a trade off between government and freedom is a false choice. Here's a quote from Stephen Colbert that puts it nicely: "I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq."

As I sat in what I called "nerd camp" I had to ask myself, and the group, if what we were doing really mattered. Sure 40 teachers were convinced of the benefits of Constitutional presidencies and together we may convince 4000 students, but that is just a fraction of the voting public. The group decided it does matter, because America has a lot to gain from learning what we have to teach.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Say "Yes"

The key to improvisation is accepting the reality created and adding to it. It's helpful in a scene, but also in life:
There are people who prefer to say 'yes,' and there are people who prefer to say 'no.' Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain.
That's from Keith Johnstone. I'll be thinking about this a lot this week as my Improv 101 class continues and my Youth 201 starts. It's interesting to see me convince adults to play more and kids to play less.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Pricing Me Into Museums

As much as I like the idea of museums, I've never really liked going to them. Finally, I understand why:
Bruno Frey and Lasse Steiner claim it can attract casual visitors by asking for an entrance fee that depends on the time spent in the museum. This would allow for a cheap "sneak peek," and true lovers would pay much closer to their marginal utility.
I would love to see a lot of museums for a short amount of time. I walk fast and I'm picky with what I like. This would get me giving more money to more museums all the while learning more and feeling better about it.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Different Types of Libertarians

I remember when Ron Paul came to Clemson's campus a couple of years ago. I got to meet him and a his supporters. I realized during his speech that there was a huge variety of people there. This cartoon describes it perfectly:

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works

David Brooks nails it on the head:
In a culture that generally celebrates empowerment and self-esteem, A.A. begins with disempowerment. The goal is to get people to gain control over their lives, but it all begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.

In a culture that thinks of itself as individualistic, A.A. relies on fellowship. The general idea is that people aren’t really captains of their own ship. Successful members become deeply intertwined with one another — learning, sharing, suffering and mentoring one another. Individual repair is a social effort
Don't deal with the symptom, deal with the person:
In a world in which gurus try to carefully design and impose their ideas, Wilson surrendered control. He wrote down the famous steps and foundations, but A.A. allows each local group to form, adapt and innovate. There is less quality control. Some groups and leaders are great; some are terrible. But it also means that A.A. is decentralized, innovative and dynamic.

Alcoholics have a specific problem: they drink too much. But instead of addressing that problem with the psychic equivalent of a precision-guidance missile, Wilson set out to change people’s whole identities. He studied William James’s “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” He sought to arouse people’s spiritual aspirations rather than just appealing to rational cost-benefit analysis. His group would help people achieve broad spiritual awakenings, and abstinence from alcohol would be a byproduct of that larger salvation.
This is also useful outside of the specific problem of alcoholism.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Attraction, Love, and Patterns

In a blog I recently come across, You Are Not So Smart, posted on how in relationships opposites don't attract, they repel. Not only are we drawn to those who are like us, but we become more like them the longer we are together. The whole post is worth reading, but here's the money quote:
What most people call falling in love is really falling in pattern
Although my wife and I are very different, compared to people outside our community, we are very similar. I love my wife, but I also love myself. Perhaps the two are more related than we'd like to admit.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Early-July '10 Links

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