Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part X

Conservative Wesley Smith claims it is our morality and what that means for our interaction with the rest of the natural world:
Humans, Smith argues, are the only moral creatures: they have innate moral worth and their well-being always takes precedence over the well-being of animals, who are amoral creatures. Humans do indeed have a moral obligation to promote animal welfare, but they are also entitled to use animals, particularly if the use of animals alleviates human suffering.
What's the difference between humans and animals? Perhaps it the fact that we are even asking that question gives us the right to use the animal kingdom for our benefit. My next question is, in value, how many animals make one human?

Here's part one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine of this series.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Popular Economics Blogs

One of the parts I'm most excited about in my AP Microeconomics course is getting students to read popular economics blogs and create their own personal blog. I've already discussed the numerous benefits to blogging, so here are a list of the most popular economics blogs that I've come across to get them (and maybe you) started. They are in no specific order:
Are there any worthwhile economics blogs I'm missing?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

No Representation without Taxation

Less famous than the original slogan, but this one is just as true. Here is a good example:
Low taxes, and the erratic collection of them, are common features of life in most of the Middle East. Among the Arab oil producers, for example, taxation accounted for only 5% of gross domestic product in 2002, rising to 17% in the non-oil countries – which is still very low compared with Germany (39%), Italy (41%) and Britain (37%).

The main reason, of course, is that many of them are rentier economies where the government has sources of income other than taxes. Oil is the classic example but there are others: Egypt benefits in a similar way from the Suez canal and several of the poorer Arab countries receive substantial rent in the form of foreign aid. Overall, slightly less than 20% of Arab governments' revenue comes from taxes.

Taxation is an often-overlooked factor in the internal politics of the Middle East: it helps to explain why undemocratic regimes stay in power for so long. Governments that have substantial non-tax income can buy themselves out of trouble by showering largesse on the population, often keeping prices low through subsidies (as happens in Iran).
The higher the taxes, the more accountability and control the people demand. Perhaps we should make our taxation more obvious.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Outsourcing Babies to India

Here's the story:
Reproductive tourism in India is now a half-a-billion-dollar-a-year industry, with surrogacy services offered in 350 clinics across the country since it was legalized in 2002. The primary appeal of India is that it is cheap, hardly regulated, and relatively safe. Surrogacy can cost up to $100,000 in the United States, while many Indian clinics charge $22,000 or less.
There is certainly some problems with the markets, such as buyers changing their minds and unforeseen health risks. But it seems most of the problems can be corrected by better and clearer contracts. And let's not forget that we don't all have the same choices or the same preferences. What seem like exploitation to one may be financial empowerment to another.

Hat tip to the Freakonomics blog.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Late-August '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Economics of Parking

In honor of the beginning of my AP Micro class, here's the return of a classic series:

For more posts like this, type "economics of" in the search bar on the right hand side.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tragedy, Comedy, and Me

These are two topics normally thought of as opposites, but actually it depends on the severity. A recent study in the journal Psychological Science claims that the violation of a moral standard is humorous if it is perceived as harmless, hypothetically, involving unfamiliar people to the listener. This explains why when two writers for the well known comedy site College Humor, Amir and Streeter, began a prank war, it was hilarious.

It started 3 years ago with Streeter simply splicing of disturbing audio into a friends music. The friendly contest continued with a fake blind date by Amir and then a fake audition by Streeter. Then all war broke out. First, Amir went on stage at the UCB (been there) before Streeter does stand up and tells the audience not to laugh. It's brutal. As revenge, Amir was contacted to fly to LA and be on Human Giant, a now canceled series on MTV. It turned out to be fake. Amir cried.

If that wasn't bad enough, next was a fake marriage proposal on the Yankee's Jumbotron, Streeter gets slapped by his girlfriend who apparently said yes. After that Amir is convinced he made a blindfolded half-court basketball shot for half a million dollars. And finally, the most recent part of the prank war is when Steeter is convinced that his parachute isn't going to open on his tandem skydiving jump. Convincing someone they are going to die, hard to top that.

So it seems gentle and absurd tragedy are both funny. It's the middle ground, when people aren't sure if you're kidding that makes them uncomfortable. Speaking of a variety of comedy, check out the Dirty South Improv Theater this Friday as the stars align and I'll performing in every show. Here's the schedule:

7:30pm - Harold Night: featuring Au Jus, my team The 708 and the new team (coached by me)
9:30pm - Best Show Ever: featuring Maximum Power and my two person team Pound For Pound
10:30pm - Mister Diplomat: featuring improv inspired by true stories from local celebrities

Want to learn more about comedy first hand, take my class!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New York City Trip in Pictures

Last month I mentioned that I was off to New York City to do some improv and sightseeing. Here's how it went. First thing was to take a cab, which my wife had never done. So I snapped a picture of her:

Traci's first cab ride
We stopped by my friend James' place, where we stayed, then headed to the UCB Theater for our performer passes:

UCB Theater
After seeing a couple shows we walked to Time Square. I felt like I was inside of a commercial.

"Buy something"
On Saturday, the last performance with full cast of  my Harold team rocked the house (new members soon).

The 708
Afterwards, we did lunch with an old friend of Traci's, who also got us discount tickets to the Museum of Modern Art:

After that, we headed back for an evening of improv. We decided not to wait in three hour line for the big Improvised Shakespeare show and instead caught a great set from Bassprov.

Fishing inspired improv
Sunday morning we met up with some fellow Clemson graduates and went to recently mentioned Tim Keller's church.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Next, we had maybe one of the best burger and fries ever had from the Shake Shack. The food in the city really was above average.

Then we went to my second performance with the fast, fun, and furious Mister Diplomat. But don't take my word for it. Here, here, here, here, and here are some live tweet verification of a sweet show.

suggestion: lockets
After dinner with James, he took us to my favorite site of weekend, the High Line Park.

Park built on an old elevated rail
A late night of dance party for Traci and talking impov shop for me meant we slept in a little later than we expected. Luckily, we were able to rent bikes in Central Park before it got too hot.

Bethesda Terrace
After getting vendor cart hot dogs, Traci and I worked our way downtown to check out Ground Zero. There was actually mass confusion at the area as tourists tried to figure out what there was to see. The stories are true, after ten years, there really is nothing there.

Ground Zero today
The last thing on our on our list was to take the Staten Island Ferry. It's a fast and free way to see the Statue of Liberty and get a good look at the city from the water.

Taken from the ferry
Overall the trip was great. I found it harder to get around than Chicago, but that may just be because it was my first visit as an a adult. I also learned one other thing. People take too many pictures on trips. I noticed tourists taking pictures of everything, from buildings to paintings. In this post only about half of the photos were mine, the others were found online either on Facebook or via Google images. As a perfect example of why my photography isn't nearly as good as what's online, here's a photograph of the Statue of Liberty I didn't take.

Now that's NYC

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Futility of Polls

In a now infamous poll from Pew Research Center, 18% of Americans claimed that President Obama is a Muslim. As shocking as those numbers are, it's a good reminder of exactly what opinion polls are, opinions. More than that, they are non-expert opinions. Even more than that, they are non-expert opinions on issues that are mostly opinion. What is Obama's religion? Are in for a double-dip recession? How likely is another major terrorist attack? All of these questions are are pure speculation.

In a democracy, I can understand the desire to know the opinions of the people, but we aren't a democracy, we are a republic. This is an important distinction in understanding sensitive issues like religion or the recent controversy over gay marriage in California. For the purpose of law, it doesn't matter what a majority of Californians voted for, the government is restricted by the Constitution. The courts claimed that limiting marriage in this way violated the right to equal protection and due process. Now, whether those clauses were interpreted correctly is a different matter.

Another final reason why I'm weary of pollsters is how important the wording of question are. For issues like gay rights there are red flag words that can get desired results. For example most Americans oppose same-sex "marriage", but half support "civil unions". Depending on which word is used, results vary significantly. This not only shows bias in pollster agenda, but just how blurry many political lines are. Opinion polls may be valuable for politicians trying to understand their constituents, but voters shouldn't concern themselves with them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Have Bad Taste in Entertainment

I like fast food. I like the music of Hanson. I like Zombie movies. I find myself frustrated with museums. I get bored by slow movies. And my favorite type of live performance is improv comedy. Though I certainly appreciate well made entertainment. I really enjoyed the National Museum of American History in DC. Shawshank Redemption ranks among my favorite movies. I even love the classic rock of The Rolling Stones. But when it comes down to what would I like to do with my spare time, it usually doesn't involve the classics. I say all that to gain the freedom that comes with admission. I have bad taste in entertainment. Now I'm off to finish watching the trailer for the new movie Monsters.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part IX

Here's what chimpanzee researchers in Uganda have been observing:
A band of males, up to 20 or so, will assemble in single file and move to the edge of their territory. They fall into unusual silence as they penetrate deep into the area controlled by the neighboring group. They tensely scan the treetops and startle at every noise. “It’s quite clear that they are looking for individuals of the other community,”
Here's why:
The objective of the 10-year campaign was clearly to capture territory, the researchers concluded. The Ngogo males could control more fruit trees, their females would have more to eat and so would reproduce faster, and the group would grow larger, stronger and more likely to survive.
For a series on the differences between humans and animals, this certainly sounds eerily like human behavior. The article linked above even discusses the similarities between the chimpanzee conflict and warfare among human groups that still live by hunting and gathering. But that similarity actually reveals a huge difference. Most humans don't hunt and gather anymore. Almost all people today live within the collaborative international community. This is not  a result of biological evolution, but cultural evolution. We have established clear property rights enforced by a social contract between billions of people. The last several decades have seen relatively unprecedented peace between groups. Something the animal kingdom cannot imagine.

Here's part one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight of this continuing series.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-August '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.

Lessons from the German Economic Miracle

In a recent comment a reader proposed that the post-WWII Marshall Plan was a great example of government stimulus leading to national prosperity. Based on my previous posts on foreign aid, you might guess I don't agree with the common assumption. Economist David Henderson also disagrees and claims economic growth was mostly due to three other factors:
The two main factors were currency reform and the elimination of price controls, both of which happened over a period of weeks in 1948. A further factor was the reduction of marginal tax rates later in 1948 and in 1949.
The article goes into a lot more detail, but here's his specific response to the Marshall Plan story:
Marshall Plan aid to West Germany was not that large. Cumulative aid from the Marshall Plan and other aid programs totaled only $2 billion through October 1954. Even in 1948 and 1949, when aid was at its peak, Marshall Plan aid was less than 5 percent of German national income. Other countries that received substantial Marshall Plan aid exhibited lower growth than Germany.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Real Power of the Market

Often the phrase "the market" is described as a god-like entity by its supporters (of which I am probably guilty) and a false god by its opponents. The always interesting Tyler Cowen puts it best in his Big Think interview:
So I think for the most part, markets and capitalists’ wealth help people become more of what they are, that’s something, in most cases, entirely acceptable. There are exceptions. There are people who are psychotics. And in a market economy, they can buy a gun, whereas back in the Stone Age, they only had a club and that make society worse. That’s a case where markets, I wouldn’t say they corrupted the psychotic, but they help a corrupted person be more destructive, but if you look at the world as a whole, do you see more production or do you see more destruction in market economies? I think it’s pretty clear what the answer is. You see a lot more production, you see a lot more cooperation, you see a lot more people striving after noble ends even if it’s just for their own happiness and the happiness of their families.
How does the market do it? Through the organization of its components, primarily human beings. This inherent market structure is shown in this video posted by the other writer of Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok:

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Economic Stimulus Package, Last Part

Two years ago I posted on why I didn't think the stimulus package would work, why I didn't think the very very first worked, and why I might consider it as a "temporal progressive tax". But since the Federal Reserve recently predicted the recovery is slowing down, it's worth one last look. In this NPR podcast (via Justin) one of my favorite economists Tyler Cowen puts it like this: there has never been a very good test of Keynesian stimulus and in fact, this last stimulus package has probably the best chance to test it. A year and half ago he predicted it wouldn't help, and that it wasn't worth the risk to spend a trillion dollars on an untested idea.

But here's the worst part, because the macro-economy is so large and so unwieldy, even though this stimulus hasn't ended the recession in the predicted amount of time, it proves nothing. Supporters can reasonably say it would have been worse without it. Although I can't say with completely certainty the stimulus package has done more harm than good, the opposite can't be proven either. And it seems the burden of proof should be on the party wanting to spend a billion dollars.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Even Addicts Respond to Incentives

This has important legal and relational implications.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Healthy Healthy Relationships

I've mentioned before how I think resolved conflict and dedication lead to rich relationships. But here's some evidence on the health benefits to them:
The benefit of friends, family and even colleagues turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking  habit. And by the study's numbers, interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity.
Here's why:
Social relationships are thought to help improve health either by buffering individuals from stressful situations or creating a norm of healthful behaviors.

"There's a pretty large literature linking social relationships to a variety of physiological processes that are linked to disease risk," Holt-Lunstad says. Social support has been linked to lower blood pressure, and a diverse collection of contacts is associated with better immune system functioning.
It seems the more healthy relationships you can foster, the better off you are (barring passion fatigue). So skip the gym today and go grab a smoke with a friend. And it's worth noting, although therapy is helpful, it isn't a replacement for real relationship.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Role of the Church in the State

Christianity, with over 2 billion adherents, is the largest religion in the world. It is also the fastest growing. Thanks mostly to Africa and Asia, there 25 million believers added each year. Yet in academic circles, religion is often relegated to the background or worse, ignored as myth and fairytale. Religion's importance is hard to ignore, but its role in a diverse democracy is even harder to understand.

For centuries Europe, one of the few places Christianity is shrinking, has decided to combine church and state, with devastating results (Crusades, Spanish  Inquisition, etc). But even today, the strong ties of European governments and their preferred religion have hurt both church and state. The British government, although it gives no direct funds to the Church of England, is much closer than most Americans would be comfortable with. For example, the Church of England gets 26 unelected members in the House of Lords (like our Senate). More recently, the United Kingdom's Big Society plan, though appealing in some ways, could tie the two financially even tighter.

Religious freedom, perhaps one of the United States' greatest exports, has allowed for a flourishing religious and secular society. Political institutions should not hinder or support Christianity (or any religion), because Christians have different perspectives on politics. So what is the role of the church in the state? In a lecture to to U.C. Berkley, Pastor Tim Keller (earlier) describes the role of the church as one that "shows us what human flourishing looks like", then we let the political debate begin.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Advertisements and Slightly Updated Design

You may not have been able to notice, but I've slightly changed the design of the blog. I used Blogger's new template designer. It's shockingly simple to use, much like Weebly, the old host for this site. It's allowed me to add a convenient social networking share tool beneath each post. It also makes it easy to add advertisements, which I've also placed at the bottom of the right column. This certainly doesn't require anything from my readers, seeing as how I don't expect to make any significant amount of money. My hope is that it will be enough to take my wife out to a nice restaurant on my blogiversary as formal appreciation for her patience with the blogosphere.

Series of Dangerous Ideas

Big Think has dubbed August a "month of thinking dangerously". They're posted one radical idea each day, some I've covered before. The ideas are in written or short video format and there is even a "Why We Should Reject This" part at the bottom of each idea. Here's the highlights so far:
  • Drug our Drinking Water: If lithium were added to all US drinking water—and the effect were the same as in Texas's highest-lithium regions—the national suicide rate would drop to 20,831, saving over 13,000 lives. 
  • Sell Your Kidneys: 4,540 Americans died waiting for a kidney transplant in 2008.
  • Erase Traumatic Memories: Researchers have already selectively erased memories in rats, and they have been able to dissociate memories from their negative emotions in humans.
I look forward to the rest of the month. Dedicate some time this entire site, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Worthwhile Sentences on Waste

From The Independent: "air conditioning guzzles 15 per cent of total American energy consumption"

From Stephen Dubner: "If you don’t miss a plane now and then you’re spending too much time in airports."

From Twitter: "i've found smartphones increase the opportunity cost of driving, tilt toward public trans."

From The Economist: "The list of innovations achieved by the pharaohs is as thin as the list of innovations achieved by British Rail or the US Postal Service.”

From historian Louis Menand: “War is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers."

From previous worthwhile sentences.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Last Names and Academics Revisited

Last year I tried to tackle a question with which I had no good answer: Why are students with a last names near the end of the alphabet on average worse. I've also since mentioned the possible political benefits. But here's a story I recently heard that may help explain. Historically, when immigration lines were long, families would change their last name to something near the front of the alphabet as a way to get in the front of the line. Families strategic enough to do that, would likely be strategic enough to become successful. Whether it was genetics or learned, it's possible this creativity was passed down through the generations. That said, I couldn't find any proof.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Congress is Bad for Business

Or at least when it is in session:
Stock returns are lower and volatility is higher when Congress is in session. This "Congressional Effect" can be quite large - more than 90% of the capital gains over the life of the DJIA have come on days when Congress is out of session. The Effect varies systematically with the public's opinion of Congress: returns are lower and volatility higher when a relatively unpopular Congress is active.
It suggests that government activity increases regulatory uncertainty. Hat tip to Freakonomics.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Morality During Hard Times

I just finished watching the movies The Book of Eli and The Road. Both take place in a post-apocalyptic world where people are desperately trying to stay alive. Even the heroes are forced to do things we might find morally reprehensible. However, the sobering reality is that these fictional movies aren't fiction for much of the world. Until the Industrial Revolution, man was always on the verge of starvation. There are also countless people in world today forced to make lose lose choices. Whether it's the Dark Ages, Darfur, or hurricane battered New Orleans, it seems our view of right and wrong become more liberal during hard times. The more desperate, the moral gray the lines become.

I assumed this was exclusively a bad thing, that is until I read this post about some governmental changes during the Great Recession. I've posted about the positives of this recession before, but didn't mention these. The federal government recently overturned a ban on internet gambling. California, marijuana is becoming increasingly legal and taxed. There are even some local airports loosening the alcohol restrictions in airports to make money. Maybe just the right amount of hardship can shift cultural norms closer to my preference.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Early-August '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.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

History Happened Here

We often forget that major historical events happened where normal people go about their everyday activities. I was recently pointed to a Russian blog that take old photographs and blends them with current ones. It's a helpful reminder that what happened in the past is not very far removed from the present. Here's the most recent post showing Berlin in during WWII and today:

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Standing of American Education

Here is a brave valedictorian speech, posted in its entirety (emphasis mine):
There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years . ." 
The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast -- How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" 
Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don't do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not

to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States. (Gatto)

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.
I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!
It seems we can all learn a lot from Erica's graduation speech than from mine. Perhaps we can learn even more from her "avant-garde tenth grade English teacher". Hat-tip goes to Steve Landsburg.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Tribute to the Upright Citizens Brigade

Today's the day I perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. You may remember them from their Comedy Central television series in the late 90's with the same name. In honor of my trip to New York, here's a couple of their famous sketches:

Upright Citizens Brigade
Board Meeting

Here's one about gaining confidence and another unfortunate fortune cookies.