Monday, April 30, 2012

That stuck with me

From Children Are Unfeeling Sociopaths by Tim Cavanaugh
They showed us a movie of the Velveteen Rabbit when I was in first or second grade, and while I was – just as Watson says – not terribly interested in the love story between the boy and the stuffed animal or the magically transformed rabbit or whatever it was, there was one aspect of the story that was fascinating: the idea that a stuffed toy could be so infected with deadly germs that it had to be incinerated. That stuck with me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience

Brilliant; I love it. From Miguel de Cervantes:
A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.
I view proverbs and adages as forms of cultural coding to facilitate rapid communication and decision-making. Cervantes' is a crisp rendition of the idea.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What must an educated person know?

From Quora, What must an educated person know? by Josh Kaufman.

A lot of guff but also some interesting candidates including:
The ability to define problems without a guide.
The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
The ability to quickly assimilate needed data from masses of irrelevant information.
The ability to work in teams without guidance.
The ability to work absolutely alone.
The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
The ability to discuss ideas with an eye toward application.
The ability to think inductively, deductively and dialectically.
The ability to think, speak, and write clearly.
The ability to reason critically and systematically.
The ability to conceptualize and solve problems.
The ability to think independently.
The ability to take initiative and work independently.
The ability to work in cooperation with others and learn collaboratively.
The ability to judge what it means to understand something thoroughly.
The ability to distinguish the important from the trivial, the enduring from the ephemeral.
Familiarity with the different modes of thought (including quantitative, historical, scientific, and aesthetic.)
Depth of knowledge in a particular field.
The ability to see connections among disciplines, ideas and cultures.
The ability to pursue life long learning.
The ability to understand human nature and lead accordingly.
The ability to identify needed personal traits and turn them into habits.
The ability to establish, maintain, and improve lasting relationships.
The ability to keep one's life in proper balance.
The ability to discern truth and error regardless of the source, or the delivery.
The ability to discern true from right.
The ability and discipline to do right.
The ability and discipline to constantly improve.
Information-Assimilation – how to find, consume, and comprehend information and identify what’s most important in the face of a problem or challenge.
Writing – how to communicate thoughts and ideas in written form clearly and concisely.
Speaking – how to communicate thoughts and ideas to others clearly, concisely, and with confidence.
Mathematics – how to accurately use concepts from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics to analyze and solve common problems.
Decision-Making – how to identify critical issues, prioritize, focus energy/effort, recognize fallacies, avoid common errors, and handle ambiguity.
Rapport – how to interact with other people in a way that encourages them to like, trust, and respect you.
Conflict-Resolution – how to anticipate potential sources of conflict and resolve disagreements when they occur.
Scenario-Generation – how to create, clarify, evaluate, and communicate a possible future scenario that assists in decision-making, either for yourself or another person.
Planning – how to identify the necessary next steps to achieve an objective, account for dependencies, and prepare for the unknown and inevitable change via the use of contingencies.
Self-Awareness – how to accurately perceive and influence your own internal states and emotions, including effective management of limited energy, willpower, and focus.
Interrelation – how to recognize, understand, and make use of key features of systems and relationships, including cause-and-effect, second and third-order effects, constraints, and feedback loops.
Skill Acquisition – how to go about learning a desired skill in a way that results in competence by finding and utilizing available resources, deconstructing complex processes, and actively experimenting with potential approaches.
The ability to make connections between all the knowledge you possess.
The ability to communicate an idea.
The ability to think independently - independent of emotions and the influence of others.
The ability to determine the relevance and intellectual worth of information.
An awareness of different thought styles and their applications to different problems.
The ability to constantly learn through reading, experimentation, observation and conversation.
The ability to determine where the answer may be found - which resource, what academic field or which expert.
The ability to understand and analyse data.
The ability to assimilate information quickly - speed reading, determining relevance and understanding the relevant information.
Awareness of your knowledge and experiences.
The ability to value all perspectives.
The ability to actively research any curiosities you may have and not just wonder about them.
The ability to challenge prevailing assumptions.
The ability to make connections between knowledge and a problem. Seek to solve a problem through deliberate application of knowledge (theories, concepts ) rather than gut instinct.
The ability to re-organise information into new pattern.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Has the American dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro

A debate at the Cambridge Union in 1963 between James Baldwin and William Buckley, Jr. on the motion "Has the American dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro."

A period piece that seems to belong to another age and yet all the issues with which we wrestle today are there in one form or another in this archival relic of two generations ago.

How wonderfully civilized is the whole event. A respectful exchange of ideas, an attentive audience. Articulate. Insightful. Much truth from all parties. The elegance of structured arguments in contrast with the passion of human arguments. Notice the close attention being paid and the sustained focus. No fidgeting, whispering, texting, disrespect.

I have always heard very positive things about Buckley as a writer and speaker. I am not seeing it in this performance. Command of language - absolutely. Effective rhetoric - I am not so sure. And yet, he does also make some telling points. Baldwin and his partner David Heycock had the better of the evening. What a treasure to come across this.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

He . . . was concerned that trashy novels were corrupting people’s minds

From John Ray's book reviews in the article, Tomb raiders Some concerns are evergreen. Champollion (1790-1832) -
Champollion was also a poet, pamphleteer and a tireless correspondent. He was interested in the education of the poor, and was concerned that trashy novels were corrupting people’s minds. He could be a bitter satirist, and carried on a running feud with the Catholic Church. He triumphed but overwork killed him at the age of 41. All of this is brought out by Robinson with verve, elegance and perception.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spending down the capital that its forerunners accumulated

From Is Europe Melting? by Walter Russell Mead. He articulates the common core issue in North America, Europe, Japan and even China.
But it is hard to avoid the impression that, despite the considerable assets the continent still has, this European generation is living off — and spending down — the capital that its forerunners accumulated. And at some point one begins to wonder just how much is left in in the family trust.
When you are spending more than you produce, as almost everyone currently is, that is sustainable only to the extent that that excess spending is creating the capacity for increased future productivity. If excess spending has no positive impact on future productivity, which is definitely the current case for Europe and Japan, and quite probably for North America and China, then the mathematics of the equation will come down like a hammer with no good outcome for anyone.

The only way out is to reduce the spending so that it falls in to line with what is being produced or to change where the money is being spent so that it does in fact increase future productivity. There is pain to be experienced by either route but only one route is pain that leads to gain. In either case, powerful or vocal oxes will be gored.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

An article (Europe Caught in Vise as Austerity Weakens Economy by Jack Ewing and Liz Alderman) in the New York Times begins with the following, rather remarkable, opening paragraph.
Citizens from Prague to Paris to Amsterdam have made it abundantly clear in the past few days that they are tired of the economic austerity forced on them by the euro zone debt crisis.
It would be easy to sound preachy and Franklinesque (Neither a borrower nor a lender be . . .) but that is not my intent. I am simply struck by the unstated sentiment that there is a choice involved in this issue. People are tired of the consequences of overspending and they wish to return to a more pleasant set of circumstances - but where are those circumstances to be found? No one knows. In the meantime, whether one is tired of economic austerity or not, it would appear that there is nothing else credible on the menu.

Monday, April 23, 2012

There are some striking similarities between the religious doomsday of the past and today’s technology-created doomsday.

There is an interesting article, We fear that science will wipe us out, in ScienceNordic.
There are some striking similarities between the religious doomsday of the past and today’s technology-created doomsday.
I will have to ponder what the connection might be between that article and the observations offered by Chesterton in my post earlier, The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps

From And the Winner Isn’t ... by Ann Patchett. Stating the obvious but the obvious so often needs to be stated.
Let me underscore the obvious here: Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

The History of English in 10 Minutes

The History of English in 10 Minutes - prety clever if you onky have ten minutes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I scorn to change my state with kings

From Sonnet #29 by William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Two thoughts. First is: Don't the first nine lines sound like so much of the public discourse today? People bemoaning their sorry state when virtually everyone is dramatically better off than they were thirty years ago and unimaginably better off than a hundred years ago. Everyone has a sad song and that sad song is always about what more they want and how unfair it is that they fall short of their manufactured desires.

Then there is the solace of the last five lines. In his sonnets at least, Shakespeare seems to offer that the antidote to melancholia is passionate connection with another person.

I follow that train of thought with the observation that one of the distinctive features of the past fifty years has been everyone becoming materially far better off but perceiving themselves as being worse off. At the same time, we have seen more and more people becoming disconnected from one another; fewer intact families, lower and later marriage rates, higher relationship turn-over, etc. Is there some connection between our eroding capacity to become passsionately enthralled with another person and our own melancholia, our self-manufactured sad songs? Is it possible that we need to lose ourselves in another in order to gain all the things that we have?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Education . . . cannot forgo either authority or tradition

From Hannah Arendt in, I think, her essay Crisis in Education.
The problem of education in the modern world lies in the fact that by its very nature it cannot forgo either authority or tradition, and yet must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition.
I think Arendt was speaking of the contrast of an adult's world of authority and tradition with that of the world of children where authority and tradition are still being created. That was of course an unavoidable logical reality in 1961 just as it would be today.

What has made the matter worse in the intervening years is that under the pressue of change (social, technological, economic, governmental, etc.) the adult world of authority and tradition has iteself eroded. Teachers and schools cannot necessarily look to receive children that come from family units that are either well versed in the concept of authority nor necessarily respectful of traditions. So whatever the logical reality was that Arendt was pointing out in 1961, it is now magnified many times over.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Midway upon the journey of our life

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy.

Powerful opening lines full of pathos and portents:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A stray curate who was too helpless even to find his way to the Church of England

From an essay, The Dragon's Grandmother in his collection, Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton. One of the reason's I believe I enjoy Chesterton so much is his simultaneous ability to concisely evoke an image, feeling or scene paired with his entertaining capacity to digress.
The man had come to see me in connection with some silly society of which I am an enthusiastic member; he was a fresh-coloured, short-sighted young man, like a stray curate who was too helpless even to find his way to the Church of England. He had a curious green necktie and a very long neck; I am always meeting idealists with very long necks. Perhaps it is that their eternal aspiration slowly lifts their heads nearer and nearer to the stars. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that so many of them are vegetarians: perhaps they are slowly evolving the neck of the giraffe so that they can eat all the tops of the trees in Kensington Gardens. These things are in every sense above me. Such, anyhow, was the young man who did not believe in fairy tales; and by a curious coincidence he entered the room when I had just finished looking through a pile of contemporary fiction, and had begun to read "Grimm's Fairy tales" as a natural consequence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place.

From an essay, The Red Angel in his collection, Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton. Always a lovely antidote to contemporary enlightened nonsense.
I find that there really are human beings who think fairy tales bad for children. I do not speak of the man in the green tie, for him I can never count truly human. But a lady has written me an earnest letter saying that fairy tales ought not to be taught to children even if they are true. She says that it is cruel to tell children fairy tales, because it frightens them. You might just as well say that it is cruel to give girls sentimental novels because it makes them cry. All this kind of talk is based on that complete forgetting of what a child is like which has been the firm foundation of so many educational schemes. If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. One small child in the dark can invent more hells than Swedenborg. One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them. There is just as much difficulty in saying exactly where pure pain begins in his case, as there is in ours when we walk of our own free will into the torture-chamber of a great tragedy. The fear does not come from fairy tales; the fear comes from the universe of the soul.

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it—because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
At the four corners of a child's bed stand Perseus and Roland, Sigurd and St. George. If you withdraw the guard of heroes you are not making him rational; you are only leaving him to fight the devils alone. For the devils, alas, we have always believed in. The hopeful element in the universe has in modern times continually been denied and reasserted; but the hopeless element has never for a moment been denied. As I told "H. N. B." (whom I pause to wish a Happy Christmas in its most superstitious sense), the one thing modern people really do believe in is damnation. The greatest of purely modern poets summed up the really modern attitude in that fine Agnostic line—

"There may be Heaven; there must be Hell."
There may be Heaven . . . Time's Revenges by Robert Browning.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lester Breslow, Who Linked Healthy Habits and Long Life, Dies at 97

Lester Breslow, Who Linked Healthy Habits and Long Life, Dies at 97 by Douglas Martin.

Surely there must be a word for an unintentionally self-affirming headline. "Dies at 97", marvelous.

I also like it for his list of behaviors to follow which would materially increase one's chances of a long life.
Do not smoke
Drink in moderation
Sleep seven to eight hours
Exercise at least moderately
Eat regular meals
Maintain a moderate weight
Eat breakfast
Not dissimilar to the short list of behaviors associated with financial well-being.
Complete high school on time
Get married and stay married
Get employed and stay employed
Save money, whatever amount
Have children only in wedlock
Lists of behavior so simple and yet so hard for most to achieve.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house no more

From G.K. Chesterton's essay, The Dragon's Grandmother in Tremendous Trifles.

Touches on a train of thought I pursued briefly the other day having to do with the balance we attempt to strike between the efficiency that comes with predictability, reliability and the excitement and refreshment that comes from innovation and the unexpected. We need both the reliably expected and the unexpectedly new. Chesterton, "Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world?"
It seemed to me that he did not follow me with sufficient delicacy, so I moderated my tone. "Can you not see," I said, "that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of 'The Dragon's Grandmother,' in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, defy another kind, 'parcere subjectis et debellare,' etc. Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and giants had two heads. But your modern literature takes insanity as its centre. Therefore, it loses the interest even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious; that is what makes him a lunatic. A man who thinks he is a piece of glass is to himself as dull as a piece of glass. A man who thinks he is a chicken is to himself as common as a chicken. It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. Therefore, these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extraordinary and the tale ordinary—so ordinary—oh, so very ordinary."

I saw him still gazing at me fixedly. Some nerve snapped in me under the hypnotic stare. I leapt to my feet and cried, "In the name of God and Democracy and the Dragon's grandmother—in the name of all good things—I charge you to avaunt and haunt this house no more." Whether or no it was the result of the exorcism, there is no doubt that he definitely went away.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Any collection of printed words is quite enough to suggest infinite complexities of mental ingenuity

Oh, Mr. Chesterton. Always a delight. From an essay, What I Found in My Pocket in his collection, Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton.
Such at least has hitherto been my state of innocence. I here only wish briefly to recall the special, extraordinary, and hitherto unprecedented circumstances which led me in cold blood, and being of sound mind, to turn out my pockets. I was locked up in a third-class carriage for a rather long journey. The time was towards evening, but it might have been anything, for everything resembling earth or sky or light or shade was painted out as if with a great wet brush by an unshifting sheet of quite colourless rain. I had no books or newspapers. I had not even a pencil and a scrap of paper with which to write a religious epic. There were no advertisements on the walls of the carriage, otherwise I could have plunged into the study, for any collection of printed words is quite enough to suggest infinite complexities of mental ingenuity. When I find myself opposite the words "Sunlight Soap" I can exhaust all the aspects of Sun Worship, Apollo, and Summer poetry before I go on to the less congenial subject of soap. But there was no printed word or picture anywhere; there was nothing but blank wood inside the carriage and blank wet without. Now I deny most energetically that anything is, or can be, uninteresting. So I stared at the joints of the walls and seats, and began thinking hard on the fascinating subject of wood. Just as I had begun to realise why, perhaps, it was that Christ was a carpenter, rather than a bricklayer, or a baker, or anything else, I suddenly started upright, and remembered my pockets. I was carrying about with me an unknown treasury. I had a British Museum and a South Kensington collection of unknown curios hung all over me in different places. I began to take the things out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up

From George Orwell in his Collected Essays.
To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're liable to fool ourselves

From Carl Sagan in Blues for a Red Planet from Cosmos
Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

But he will be well paid

And there you have it all summed up.
As long as men are liable to die and are desirous to live, a physician will be made fun of, but he will be well paid - Jean de la Bruyere

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stakes, Seriousness, and Success

Can you have altruism when you do not give up anything? The context is a nominally "conservationist" group who are seeking to push through paths to connect a series of greenspaces and parks. The actual objective is to increase park utilization rather than conservation, but that is a separate argument.

What has intrigued me has been the motivation of this external group. Are they pursuing this for money, for fame, for altruistic purposes? They would argue that it is for altruistic purposes, for the greater good. However, none of them live in the neighborhoods that will be affected by this change in park usage. These changes are likely to affect all sorts of material circumstances including trash in the parks, traffic in the neighborhoods, property values, personal security, etc.

People in the neighborhood are almost uniformly opposed to the initiative. But, in thinking this through from a logical perspective, I have stumbled upon this question: No matter how nice the end goal might be, can you truly be acting altruistically if you have nothing material at stake? If you don't have anything at stake, ought you to be involved at all?

From that speculation it was just a short cognitive hop to the litany of policies and programs which have been pursued, virtually all of which have had respectable, if not even admirable, goals. Head Start is a poster child of this type of thinking. Help poor children by attempting to level the playing field by enriching their learning environment so that they are able to start school not so far behind their wealthier peers. A great goal. But thirty years of effort and measurement of results indicates that it has not made any difference. We keep spending the billions because we like the goal, even though we know we aren't achieving the goal. Virtually all of these type of feel-good initiatives are sponsored by individuals who do not have anything at risk in the outcome, have little direct knowledge of the circumstances of the problem and virtually all of these programs fail, sooner or later.

None of these thoughts are particularly original, other than perhaps in the sequencing of them.

So perhaps the lesson to be learned is that no initiatives ought to be undertaken unless the sponsors have something materially at stake in the outcome. If that were the conclusion, then we would be back at the age-old adage "the gods help those who help themselves", a heuristic stretching all the way back 2,500 years ago to the Greeks.

Sometimes it seems as if each generation has to learn and then to relearn the accumulated wisdom of the best before being able to make its own contribution to the future.

In the meantime, we also have a reinforcement of the learned pattern of sociological activities - if people don't have anything at stake, they usually aren't serious about it. If they aren't serious, they usually don't succeed.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

And what they dare to dream of, dare to do

From James Russell Lowell's Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration July 21, 1865.
Many loved Truth, and lavished life's best oil
Amid the dust of books to find her,
Content at last, for guerdon of their toil,
With the cast mantle she hath left behind her.
Many in sad faith sought for her,
Many with crossed hands sighed for her;
But these, our brothers, fought for her,
At life's dear peril wrought for her,
So loved her that they died for her,
Tasting the raptured fleetness
Of her divine completeness:
Their higher instinct knew
Those love her best who to themselves are true,
And what they dare to dream of, dare to do.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Uncertainty and risk largely get written out of history.

From A Crisis of Civilization by the always erudite and insightful Walter Russell Mead. Our blinkered and linear reading of history predisposes us to always forget that in the past, our present was their future and they had no way of seeing how it would turn out. Uncertainty and risk largely get written out of history.
It is all beginning to look very 1890s again: Economic inequality, class struggle, collapse of once stable institutions and employment patterns, financial market instability and recurring currency crises.

125 years ago there was a lot of doubt about what industrial society would look like. The fear that society was dividing irretrievably into classes of haves and have-nots, with the vast majority of humanity toiling in industrial semi-slavery for the benefit of a few was rampant. Some thought this condition could last; many others thought the toiling masses would rise against the haves.

That working class mobilization would decline as the factory workers became better off, moved into the ‘burbs and bought cars, was not on the program, but that is what happened. That the economic storms and privations of the late Victorian period and the global crisis caused by World War I and its aftermath would ultimately give way to decades of stable prosperity did not strike many observers as inevitable or even probable in 1893 or 1921.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Productivity and Diversity

From The “Out of Africa ”Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development by Quamrul Ashrafy and Oded Galorz.
Consistent with the predictions of the theory, the empirical analysis finds that the level of genetic diversity within a society has a hump-shaped effect on development outcomes in the pre-colonial as well as in the modern era, reflecting the trade-off between the beneficial and the detrimental effects of diversity on productivity. While the intermediate level of genetic diversity prevalent among the Asian and European populations has been conducive for development, the high degree of diversity among African populations and the low degree of diversity among Native American populations have been a detrimental force in the development of these regions. This paper thus highlights one of the deepest channels in comparative development, pertaining not to factors associated with the dawn
of complex agricultural societies as in Diamond’s (1997) influential hypothesis, but to conditions innately related to the very dawn of mankind itself.

The hypothesis rests upon two fundamental building blocks. First, migratory distance from the cradle of humankind in East Africa had an adverse effect on the degree of genetic diversity within ancient indigenous settlements across the globe. Following the prevailing hypothesis, commonly known as the serial-founder effect, it is postulated that, in the course of human expansion over planet Earth, as subgroups of the populations of parental colonies left to establish new settlements further away, they carried with them only a subset of the overall genetic diversity of their parental colonies. Indeed, as depicted in Figure 1, migratory distance from East Africa has an adverse effect on genetic diversity in the 53 ethnic groups across the globe that constitute the Human Genome Diversity Cell Line Panel.

Second, there exists an optimal level of diversity for economic development, refl‡ecting the interplay between the conflicting effects of diversity on the development process. The adverse effect pertains to the detrimental impact of diversity on the efficiency of the aggregate production process of an economy. Heterogeneity increases the likelihood of mis-coordination and distrust, reducing cooperation and disrupting the socioeconomic order. Greater population diversity is therefore associated with the social cost of a lower total factor productivity, which inhibits the ability of society to operate efficiently with respect to its production possibility frontier.

The beneficial effect of diversity, on the other hand, concerns the positive role of diversity in the expansion of society’s production possibility frontier. A wider spectrum of traits is more likely to be complementary to the development and successful implementation of advanced technological paradigms. Greater heterogeneity therefore fosters the ability of a society to incorporate more sophisticated and efficient modes of production, expanding the economy’'s production possibility frontier and conferring the benefits of increased total factor productivity.

Higher diversity in a society’s population can therefore have conflicting effects on the level of its total factor productivity. Aggregate productivity is enhanced on the one hand by an increased capacity for technological advancement, while simultaneously diminished on the other by reduced cooperation and efficiency.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The one most responsive to change

Quoted in Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth by Oded Galor and Omer Moav.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. - Charles Darwin
An excellent quote but it turns out to be a misattribution that arose in the past couple of decades. The original is of course:
In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.
Which says essentially the same thing but the misattribution has a lilt to it that makes it more attractive. Probably because of the distant Ecclesiastical bell it rings (Ecclesiates 9:11):
The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not by our circumstance but by our disposition

From Success and Happiness by Phil Bowermaster. The article actually focuses on the chicken and egg conundrum of happiness and success; which leads to the other? In doing so though, the author quotes the first First Lady, Martha Washington:
I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When men are doing the screening, the bias against women with photos goes away

From Too Much Transparency in Resumes? by Phil Bowermaster. I have come across similar odd evidences of female on female discrimination in other studies. I wonder what is going on here, particularly given the absence of a mirror effect.
A very interesting piece in Harvard Business Review Blogs claims that women job candidates who include a photograph with their resumes actually hurt their chances of getting a job. Attractive women get the brunt of the bias, with single women discriminated against in particular. Unattractive women who include a photo are discriminated against less frequently than attractive women, but again do themselves no favors.

Bottom line: women who don’t include a photo with their resumes are more likely to get called in for an interview than women who do.

So the very practical takeaway is that women should avoid including a photo with their resumes. Guys, it doesn’t hurt you at all. In fact, if you’re good looking, it can give you a bit of a boost. Note that these trends apply when women are the ones screening the candidates; when men are doing the screening, the bias against women with photos goes away.

The clothes make the man

From Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat by Sandra Blakeslee.

Stipulated: Small sample size, college students, psychological research. But that said, interesting to see old adages ("the clothes make the man" first cited in the 1500s) reinforced by modern research.
If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.

It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.


But the deeper question, the researchers said, is whether the clothing you wear affects your psychological processes. Does your outfit alter how you approach and interact with the world? So Dr. Galinsky and his colleague Hajo Adam conducted three experiments in which the clothes did not vary but their symbolic meaning was manipulated.

In the first, 58 undergraduates were randomly assigned to wear a white lab coat or street clothes. Then they were given a test for selective attention based on their ability to notice incongruities, as when the word “red” appears in the color green. Those who wore the white lab coats made about half as many errors on incongruent trials as those who wore regular clothes.

In the second experiment, 74 students were randomly assigned to one of three options: wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat or seeing a doctor’s coat. Then they were given a test for sustained attention. They had to look at two very similar pictures side by side on a screen and spot four minor differences, writing them down as quickly as possible.

Those who wore the doctor’s coat, which was identical to the painter’s coat, found more differences. They had acquired heightened attention. Those who wore the painter’s coat or were primed with merely seeing the doctor’s coat found fewer differences between the images.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Progress can often be defined as the stuff that happens while humanity is preoccupied with everything that is going wrong

From Toward the Conquest of World Poverty by Steve Chapman.
Progress can often be defined as the stuff that happens while humanity is preoccupied with everything that is going wrong.
Matt Ridley documented this pretty thoroughly in The Rational Optimist. It is easy to overlook that much of the commentary in the daily news that so often is focused on grave problems, is actually pushed forward by individuals with a stake in addressing that problem, i.e. they are advocates rather than empirical reporters. The environment, economic development, over-fishing, child abuse, crime, etc. are all important issues but the factual truth on most is that things are better than they were recently and getting better faster.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fictional facts are forever counterfeit

From Word & Image; The Facts of Media Life by Max Frankel. Consciously obfuscating fact and ficition is the authorial equivalent of those trying to get something for nothing. Fact and ficition have different values and purposes and trying to pass the one off in the guise of the other is, no matter how artistically motivated, simple fraud.
What's wrong with a little mendacity -- so goes the theory -- to give a tale velocity?

It is unforgivably wrong to give fanciful stories the luster of fact, or to use facts to let fictions parade as truths. The authors of hybrid "factions" and "nonfiction novels" claim poetic license to distort and invent so as to serve a "higher truth" than -- sneer -- "mere journalism." But why then won't they create fictional names and characters and pursue their higher truths in imaginary plots? Why usurp the label of history while rejecting its disciplines?

The answer is that fiction and fact live in radically different emotional worlds and the fabricators greedily want the best of both. Fiction thrills by analogy, by the reader's knowledge that unreal plots can illuminate the deepest truths. Nonfiction excites by experience, by extending a reader's knowledge and understanding of reality. Why should not writers, editors, producers and publishers pretend, like carnival barkers, that fictions are facts? Because a reader who is lured into the House of Facts, poor sap, has paid to experience facts.
Facts, unlike literature, do not promise truth. They only record what has been seen and heard somehow, by someone, subject to all the frailties and biases of their observers and interpreters. Yet they must be defended, particularly in a society that values freedom, because by definition, facts can be challenged, tested, cross-examined. Wrong facts and the truths derived from them are always correctable -- with more facts. Fictional facts are forever counterfeit.

We build bridges based on what we can prove

We build bridges based on what we can prove. We build futures based on what we believe.