All posts by Jim Zellmer

“But top universities are also crucial for induction into the luxury belief class”

Rob Henderson:

Take vocabulary. Your typical middle-class American could not tell you what “heteronormative” or “cisgender” means. But if you visit Harvard, you’ll find plenty of rich 19-year-olds who will eagerly explain them to you. When someone uses the phrase “cultural appropriation,” what they are really saying is “I was educated at a top college.” Consider the Veblen quote, “Refined tastes, manners, habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility, because good breeding requires time, application and expense, and can therefore not be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up with work.” Only the affluent can afford to learn strange vocabulary because ordinary people have real problems to worry about.

The chief purpose of luxury beliefs is to indicate evidence of the believer’s social class and education. Only academics educated at elite institutions could have conjured up a coherent and reasonable-sounding argument for why parents should not be allowed to raise their kids, and should hold baby lotteries instead. When an affluent person advocates for drug legalization, or anti-vaccination policies, or open borders, or loose sexual norms, or uses the term “white privilege,” they are engaging in a status display. They are trying to tell you, “I am a member of the upper class.”

Affluent people promote open borders or the decriminalization of drugs because it advances their social standing, not least because they know that the adoption of those policies will cost them less than others. The logic is akin to conspicuous consumption—if you’re a student who has a large subsidy from your parents and I do not, you can afford to waste $900 and I can’t, so wearing a Canada Goose jacket is a good way of advertising your superior wealth and status. Proposing policies that will cost you as a member of the upper class less than they would cost me serve the same function. Advocating for open borders and drug experimentation are good ways of advertising your membership of the elite because, thanks to your wealth and social connections, they will cost you less than me.

Unfortunately, the luxury beliefs of the upper class often trickle down and are adopted by people lower down the food chain, which means many of these beliefs end up causing social harm. Take polyamory. I had a revealing conversation recently with a student at an elite university. He said that when he sets his Tinder radius to five miles, about half of the women, mostly other students, said they were “polyamorous” in their bios. Then, when he extended the radius to 15 miles to include the rest of the city and its outskirts, about half of the women were single mothers. The costs created by the luxury beliefs of the former are borne by the latter. Polyamory is the latest expression of sexual freedom championed by the affluent. They are in a better position to manage the complications of novel relationship arrangements. And if these relationships don’t work out, they can recover thanks to their financial capability and social capital. The less fortunate suffer by adopting the beliefs of the upper class.

In 2029, the Internet Will Make Us Act Like Medieval Peasants

Max Read:

Paradoxically, the ephemerality — and sheer volume — of text on social media is re-creating the circumstances of a preliterate society: a world in which information is quickly forgotten and nothing can be easily looked up. (Like Irish monks copying out Aristotle, Google and Facebook will collect and sort the world’s knowledge; like the medieval Catholic church, they’ll rigorously control its presentation and accessibility.) Under these conditions, memorability and concision — you know, the same qualities you might say make someone good at Twitter — will be more highly prized than strength of argument, and effective political leaders, for whom the factual truth is less important than the perpetual reinscription of a durable myth, will focus on repetitive self-aggrandizement.

K-12 tax & spending climate: Entitlement Liabilities Are a Graver Threat to the Next Generation of Americans Than Climate Change

John Phelan:

On January 31, 1940, Miss Ida Fuller received a check for $22.54. She was the first person to retire under the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) scheme, better known as Social Security. At the time of her retirement in 1939, she had paid just $22 in Social Security taxes. Ms. Fuller lived to be 100, cashing over $20,000 worth of Social Security checks.

If she had only paid $22.54 in contributions, where did the $20,000 Ms. Fuller received in Social Security payouts come from? It came, as it does now, from the taxpayers of the day. As of 2019, your employer deducts 6.2 percent of your wages up to $132,900 a year, matches this amount, and sends it to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA deposits this with the Treasury, which spends it and receives Treasury bonds in return. This is the fabled trust fund that guarantees Social Security.

But these Treasury bonds are simply IOUs redeemable against the income of tomorrow’s taxpayers. When one of the Treasury bonds held by the SSA falls due for payment, the Treasury can only get the funds to meet this liability by taxing, borrowing (taxing the taxpayers of tomorrow), or printing money (imposing an inflation tax). In each case, what really guarantees Social Security is not the money you paid in but the earnings of today’s or tomorrow’s taxpayers.

Asians are doing too well – they must be stopped

Lionel Shriver:

Riddle: when is discrimination against a historically disadvantaged racial minority perfectly legal? Answer: when they do too well.

The first ruling on the Students for Fair Admissions suit against Harvard University is in. A federal judge in Massachusetts concluded last month that for America’s be-all-and-end-all university to discriminate against Asian applicants in order to serve the all-hallowed goal of ‘diversity’ is constitutional. (Or strictly speaking, if you can follow this logic, the university did not discriminate against Asians by discriminating against them.) The reasoning: ‘Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process.’ The decision has already been appealed, and the case is likely to land in the Supreme Court.

For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.

An Open Letter to the Asian American Community

874 Harvard Students:

November 11, 2019

To the Asian American “Community,”

Today was the walkout and rally to defend all immigrants along with the DACA and TPS programs that have been under constant attack by the current administration. 

The Asian American Womxn’s Association (AAWA) co-organized this event with Act on a Dream, an organization that pours immense labor into advocating for immigrants’ and undocu+ rights, both on campus and beyond. Many organizations across the university also contributed to the walkout by co-sponsoring and students from across the College and the graduate schools chose to actively show their support in a conscious walkout from class. 

During the planning process, active efforts were made to reach out to the Asian American organizations at the college, including Asian American Association (AAA), Chinese Students Association (CSA), Harvard Korean Association (HKA), Taskforce for Asian and Pacific American Studies (TAPAS), South Asian Association (SAA), South Asian Women’s Collective (SAWC), Harvard Vietnamese Association (HVA), Harvard Philippine Forum (HPF), Khmer Student Association (KSA), Asian American Brotherhood (AAB), and South Asian Men’s Collective (SAMC). Of these organizations, only TAPAS, HPF, and KSA co-sponsored the walkout.

The majority of organizations contacted did not respond to AAWA’s co-sponsorship request, and the few that did delivered the disappointing news that there was not enough support for immigrant rights on their board. This is not without consequence. In doing so, you have outed yourselves as non-safe spaces for undocu+ people within the Asian American community.

This response is unacceptable, and quite frankly, extremely disappointing. There are about 1.7 million Asian undocumented immigrants in the United States. This number represents 1 out of every 6 undocumented immigrants in this country, and also means that 1 out of every 7 Asian immigrants is undocumented. ICE raids and deportations on Southeast Asian refugee communities have ramped up since 2017. Of the estimated 35,000 intercountry adoptees without citizenship, 20,000 are Korean Americans. Many of your Asian American peers, staff, co-workers, tutors, professors, and friends on campus are among those impacted, as well as our friends and families beyond these gates.

The Art of Losing Friends and Alienating People

Laura Lippman:

As a friend, I frequently break the first rule of fiction: I’m all tell, no show. I’m not going to remember your kid’s birthday, or even yours, despite Facebook’s helpful nudges. When you’re in a crisis, I won’t know the right questions to ask. I blame my Southern parents for placing so many topics in the forbidden zone. I grew up being told it was rude to discuss age, income, health, feelings. I often think that’s why I became a reporter.

I have a list in my head of all the friends I let down. It’s not long, but it’s longer than I’d like, and it’s probably longer than I know. Most of those friends have forgiven me, but I never lose sight of my failures. It’s like a stain on a busily-patterned rug; once you know where to look, your eye goes there every time. I know where to look. I am aware of my misdeeds. Every friend who has ever called me out on being a bad friend had me dead to rights.

But this does not apply to Charley, who enumerated my flaws only when I demanded that she do so. More than a decade ago, she retreated, seemingly done with me. I pursued, asking what I had done wrong. She ticked off my sins: Self-centered, shallow, superficial, materialistic. I was taken aback and a little defensive, but I could see her side of things, so I apologized. And it wasn’t a mealy-mouthed if-you-feel-offended-then-I’m-sorry apology. It was full-throated and sincere, a mea culpa that was all mea. Later, I found out she had gone through a huge crisis at about the time of our break and I thought that explained everything.

Beware Warren’s ‘Madisonian’ Plan for Public Education

CJ Szafir and Cori Petersen

Of the Wisconsin school districts with an achievement gap, Madison’s is one of the worst. According to 2018-19 Forward Exam scores, only 34.9% of Madison students are proficient in English, well below the statewide average of 40.9%. But in Madison only 10% of African-American students are proficient in English, compared with 57.2% of white students. Only 79% of African-American students graduate from Madison public high schools within five years, compared with 94% of white students.

Those who graduate aren’t necessarily better off. Parents say there is no accountability when the district graduates students it has failed to educate. “Yes our black kids are being left behind,” says Jewel Adams, whose son graduated from La Follette High School in 2016. “They are getting passed along without the knowledge they need to be passed along with.”

The racial disparity in Madison extends to school safety. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty recently examined emergency calls to 911 originating from Madison public schools and found that black students are more likely than whites to attend dangerous schools. Brandon Alvarez graduated in 2018 from La Follette, where there was one 911 call per seven students from August 2012 to May 2019. His sister started high school this year and he advised his parents to take advantage of Wisconsin’s open-enrollment program and send her to school in another district. “I told my dad it wouldn’t be a good idea for my sister to go to La Follette,” says Mr. Alvarez. “She should go to a district that focuses more on academics and is safer.” Mr. Alvarez drives his sister to high school each day in neighboring Monona Grove.

Despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

The School District Administration is planning a substantial tax and spending increase referendum for the fall, 2020 election.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Education and Economic Growth Policies

Oliver Bullough:

The story does not begin with trusts, but with credit cards, and with Governor William “Wild Bill” Janklow, a US marine and son of a Nuremberg prosecutor, who became governor in 1979 and led South Dakota for a total of 16 years. He died almost eight years ago, leaving behind an apparently bottomless store of anecdotes: about how he once brought a rifle to the scene of a hostage crisis; how his car got blown off the road when he was rushing to the scene of a tornado.

In the late 70s, South Dakota’s economy was mired in deep depression, and Janklow was prepared to do almost anything to bring in a bit of business. He sensed an opportunity in undercutting the regulations imposed by other states. At the time, national interest rates were set unusually high by the Federal Reserve, meaning that credit card companies were having to pay more to borrow funds than they could earn by lending them out, and were therefore losing money every time someone bought something. Citibank had invested heavily in credit cards, and was therefore at significant risk of going bankrupt.

The bank was searching for a way to escape this bind, and found it in Janklow. “We were in the poorhouse when Citibank called us,” the governor recalled in a later interview. “They were in bigger problems than we were. We could make it last. They couldn’t make it last. I was slowly bleeding to death; they were gushing to death.”

At the bank’s suggestion, in 1981, the governor abolished laws that at the time – in South Dakota, as in every other state in the union – set an upper limit to the interest rates lenders could charge. These “anti-usury” rules were a legacy of the New Deal era. They protected consumers from loan sharks, but they also prevented Citibank making a profit from credit cards. So, when Citibank promised Janklow 400 jobs if he abolished them, he had the necessary law passed in a single day. “The economy was, at that time, dead,” Janklow remembered. “I was desperately looking for an opportunity for jobs for South Dakotans.”

When Citibank based its credit card business in Sioux Falls, it could charge borrowers any interest rate it liked, and credit cards could become profitable. Thanks to Janklow, Citibank and other major companies came to South Dakota to dodge the restrictions imposed by the other 49 states. And so followed the explosion in consumer finance that has transformed the US and the world. Thanks to Janklow, South Dakota has a financial services industry, and the US has a trillion-dollar credit card debt.

History as a giant data set: how analysing the past could help save the future

Laura Spinney:

Turchin set out to determine whether history, like physics, follows certain laws. In 2003, he published a book called Historical Dynamics, in which he discerned secular cycles in France and Russia from their origins to the end of the 18th century. That same year, he founded a new field of academic study, called cliodynamics, which seeks to discover the underlying reasons for these historical patterns, and to model them using mathematics, the way one might model changes to the planet’s climate. Seven years later, he started the field’s first official journaland co-founded a database of historical and archaeological information, which now contains data on more than 450 historical societies. The database can be used to compare societies across large stretches of time and space, as well as to make predictions about coming political instability. In 2017, Turchin founded a working group of historians, semioticians, physicists and others to help anticipate the future of human societies based on historical evidence.

Civics: Legacy Media and Presidential Candidate Coverage.

Musa al-Gharbi:

Members of the press need to rethink their instinct to write endless Trump stories. That doesn’t mean a more aggressive posture; the alignment between the press and Trump’s ‘resistance’ has been part of the problem: In terms of endorsements and direct financial support, reporters and media organizations rallied behind Clinton’s candidacy (and against Trump’s) in a manner that was unlike any other contemporary election cycle. 

Studies by Pew and the Harvard Kennedy School show that, even after the election, press coverage has remained critical. Even if journalists might argue that his record doesn’t allow for more positive stories, this non-stop negative coverage has not lowered supporters’ esteem for the president. 

Instead, it seems to be contributing to greater polarization around the media itself. According to a recent poll by the Columbia Journalism Review, Americans have less confidence in the press today than any other major social institution—including Congress and the White House. Scaling back the obsession with Trump would almost certainly help restore some of that trust. 

How military drone technology is quietly creeping into policing, business, and everyday life

Jon Askonas:

Gorgon Stare and several other programs like it allowed American forces in Iraq to continuously surveil cities in their entirety, unblinkingly and without forgetting. After an IED attack, analysts could look back over the video to find the insurgents who had placed the bomb, and then further to find all of the places they had visited. Analysts could also cross-reference this data to other intelligence or surveillance, and build up lists of likely insurgent hideaways. Algorithms could trace individual cars or people over time, and even highlight suspicious driving activity for further investigation, like cars that did U-turns or followed other cars. Operators of the system could do this work in real time as well, coordinating with troops on the ground to pass on fresh intelligence or transmit the live images.

The tactical impact was tremendous, both on its own and as part of a new way of doing counterterrorism. Big data analytics, persistent surveillance, and massive increases in computing power enabled more sophisticated ways of “attacking the network” of the enemy by fusing intelligence from all kinds of sources. Social media, cell phone intercepts, captured documents, interrogations, and Gorgon Stare’s aerial surveillance could be used to build a nigh-inescapable net — even if every so often, innocents got scooped up as well.

When Admissions Adviser Rick Singer Called, This School Said, ‘No, Thanks’

Jennifer Levitz and Douglas Belkin:

One day in 2012, an admissions director at Occidental College got a surprising email. William “Rick” Singer proposed that the school reconsider an application from an academically challenged daughter of a wealthy family.

He wanted the school to overturn her rejection, and he suggested the parents would give the school money above and beyond tuition.

“Are you kidding?” an incredulous Mr. Singer wrote about her not being admitted. “We can create a win-win for both of us.”

Vince Cuseo, the admissions official at the small California liberal-arts school, gave a simple response: No.

Mr. Singer, the admitted mastermind of what federal prosecutors have called the largest admissions-cheating scandal in the country, had reason to be hopeful. He had made inroads into brand-name colleges and universities around the country scores of times, exploiting higher education’s focus on money and willingness to give extra consideration to wealthy applicants.

“we know best” pushback

Brentin Mock:

The tree-planters met stiff resistance: Roughly a quarter of the 7,500 residents they approached declined offers to have new trees planted in front of their homes. It was a high enough volume of rejections for such an otherwise valuable service that University of Vermont researcher Christine E. Carmichael wanted to know the reasons behind it.

She obtained data that TGD collected on the people who turned them down, and then visited Detroit to interview staff members and residents. What she found is that the rejections had more to do with how the tree-planters presented themselves and residents’ distrust of city government than it did with how residents felt about trees. Carmichael’s findings (with co-author Maureen H. McDonough) were published this week in the journal Society and Natural Resources.

The residents Carmichael surveyed understood the benefits of having trees in urban environments—they provide shade and cooling, absorb air pollution, especially from traffic, increase property values, and improve health outcomes. But the reasons Detroit folks were submitting “no tree requests” were rooted in how they have historically interpreted their lived experiences in the city, or what Carmichael calls “heritage narratives.”

It’s not that they didn’t trust the trees; they didn’t trust the city.

In China, genetic testing can determine if people are descendants of emperors. What good is that?

Wee Kek Koon:

Genetic testing has been popular for a while now and China has jumped on the bandwagon. To set itself apart from global competitors, Chinese DNA-mapping service provider 23Mofang claims that it can determine if its clients are the descendants of Chinese emperors. Could any Chinese person actually take pride in having imperial antecedents?

While there were a handful of great kings and emperors, the vast majority China’s many monarchs were of middling quality and presided over their realms with various levels of incompetence. Some were downright imbecilic, which goes some way towards explaining the frequent dynastic changes in the country’s long history.

People in modern times continue to attach importance to the descendants of eminent men and women, as if these ancestors, like the fattest hogs in a stud farm, had passed down the most desirable traits to them. Even in the most liberal democracies, names of certain political families still enthral the voting public, a phenomenon perhaps borne of a combination of the age-old fascination with “blue blood” and the present-day obsession with a “brand”.

Higher Education’s Enemy Within

Jose Cabranes:

American higher education seems to be in a permanent state of crisis. Almost monthly, a federal court has occasion to reprimand some college or university for improperly chilling speech, even as some students continue to complain that campuses are too friendly to the wrong kind of speakers. Many institutions have cut back on faculty hiring, even as the cost of tuition grows. Two basic, and mutually reinforcing, phenomena are behind the chaos on campus.

First, colleges and universities have subordinated their historic mission of free inquiry to a new pursuit of social justice. Consider the remarkable evolution of Yale’s mission statement. For decades the university said its purpose was “to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.” The language was banal enough, but nevertheless on the money. In 2016, however, Yale’s president announced a new mission statement, which no longer mentions knowledge. Instead, Yale is now officially “committed to improving the world” and educating “aspiring leaders”—not only through research, but also through “practice.”

Second, American colleges and universities have been overwhelmed by a dangerous alliance of academic bureaucrats and student activists committed to imposing the latest social-justice diktats. This alliance has displaced the traditional governors of the university—the faculty. Indeed, nonfaculty administrators and activists are driving some of the most dangerous developments in university life, including the erosion of the due-process rights of faculty and students, efforts to regulate the “permissible limits” of classroom discussion, and the condemnation of unwelcome ideas as “hate speech.”

How did the university lose its way? How did this new alliance of activists and administrators supplant the faculty?

Though there are many factors, they all point back to a far-reaching intellectual confusion that pervades the nation’s campuses, from dorm rooms to classrooms. Too many in higher education are unwilling or unable to maintain a distinction that lies at the core of the liberal democratic project, and at the center of the West’s intellectual tradition: the distinction between inquiry and action, speech and conduct.

Transparency in Madison’s $500M+ Taxpayer Supported K-12 School District: Open Records Suppression edition

Scott Girard:

An anonymous Madison School District resident is suing the district over its refusal to provide records in response to 26 requests made over a three-and-a-half month period earlier this year.

The John Doe is being represented by attorney Tom Kamenick, the president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. The lawsuit filed Nov. 14 in Dane County Circuit Court asks the court to mandate the release of the records and award Doe at least $100 for each of the 48 counts it alleges against the district in addition to attorney fees.

According to the lawsuit, between July 10 and Oct. 31 Doe filed requests seeking documents related to administration’s weekly updates with board members, curriculum plans, school improvement plans and the annual seclusion and restraint report, among other topics.

Despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

The School District Administration is planning a substantial tax and spending increase referendum for the fall, 2020 election.

Ed Treleven:

The records requested between July and October have included such things as the “weekly update” document provided by the district to School Board members; School Improvement Plans for the 2019-20 school year; the district’s K-12 sequential curriculum plan; the “Inequitable Distribution of Teachers Report,” all reports regarding notification and reporting following use of seclusion or physical restraint; annual licensure certifications; among other documents.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the state open records law clearly states that no request can be denied because of anonymity, and that the district’s denials “are clearly illegal.”

“It may be that the district is relying on a case decided a few years back in which a court agreed that a custodian could deny a request from a known harasser,” Lueders said. But that does not give MSD the right to reject anonymous requests.”

He said the district should admit it was wrong and settle the lawsuit, “otherwise taxpayers will be on the hook for legal costs that should never have been incurred.”

A record number of students took the SATs in 2019. Here’s how they did.

Chris Stewart:

Over 2.2 million students in the class of 2019 took the SAT, an increase of 4% over the class of 2018, according to the 2019.

[…]

Almost a million students in the class of 2019 took the SAT on a school day, up from nearly 780,000 in the class of 2018. This means 43% of the class of 2019 took the SAT on a school day, compared to 36% of the class of 2018.

[…]

In the class of 2019, 46% of SAT School Day test takers were from high-poverty public schools, compared to only 22% of students who tested on a weekend; 46% of SAT School Day test takers were underrepresented minorities, versus only 32% of those who tested on weekends; and 45% of SAT School Day test takers were first-generation, compared to 30% of weekend testers.

An interview with Madison School Board Member Ali Muldrow

David Blaska:

Blaska parried: “Your friend Ananda Mirilli … accused me of creating the system she is trying to undo. … [But] the system we have is so great that people are trying to get in illegally … because they know you can succeed in America if you work. I’m afraid we’re telling kids … it’s the teachers fault, it is the system’s fault, you are a victim therefore you cannot be expected to be accountable for your actions.”

Rather than address the substance, Ms. Muldrow announced that she had just been triggered, the default mode of social justice warriors everywhere.

“I want to correct you,” Ms. Muldrow lectured. “Ananda’s name is pronounced “Ah-NAHN-duh.”

Blaska speaks Wisconsin, apparently, which defaults to a flat-A pronunciation.  Wisconsin pronounces Aunt, for example, as “Ant” instead of “AWEnt.” My bad. Apparently, I had just disrespected a Latina immigrant from Brazil by mispronouncing her name. Blaska blames his Midwestern parents, who apparently have been de-listed from the Greatest Generation.

B-Flat or be square

Blaska had committed a micro-aggression and Ali must scold him: “You also called her ‘my friend’ and that is a flattening of our relationship. Ah-NAHN-duh is a fellow school board member, elected the same time I was.”

“You’re not friends?” Blaska sputtered. (Ali and Ah-NAHN-duh did campaign as a team, with both their names and likenesses on the same signage.)

Muldrow: “I think it just flattens a multi-dimensional relationship.”

Blaska apologized. “The last thing I want is to flatten a multi-dimensional relationship.” 

Ali Muldrow notes and links.

Somewhat related: Peter Thiel on the end of the Computer Age:

The Myth and Magic of Generating New Ideas

Dan Rockmore:

The key here isn’t fitness—it’s just a feeling of being free, of forgetting for a moment that we are bound by gravity and logic and convention, of letting the magic happen. For me, perhaps it’s that my ideas just need to be jostled into the right place. Jogging jogs them. But there are mathematicians who try to alter their brain chemistry a little more directly. The Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős was notoriously prolific, someone to whom the magic tricks seemed to come enviably easily. So, what was his secret? His friend Alfréd Rényi, a fellow-Hungarian, once said, “a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.” And both men were caffeine enthusiasts. But Erdős was a person of extremes, and he also fuelled his ideas through a don’t-try-this-at-home technique: he used stimulants such as Ritalin and Benzedrine for much of his career. At one point, a friend, worried about Erdős’s health, challenged him to go off the drugs for a month, and Erdős agreed, but when the experiment was over he said that, on the whole, mathematics had been set back by his weeks of relative indolence.

Whereas Erdős sought hyper-focussed vigilance, other eminent mathematicians have found a hazy drowsiness to be the most fertile state of mind. Poincaré described lying in bed in a half-dream state as the ideal condition for coming up with new ideas. The philosopher and mathematician René Descartes famously loved to lounge in bed in the morning and think (I suppose to give evidence that he was). It was on one such morning—as the story goes—while dreamily watching the path of a fly flitting around on the ceiling, that he came up with the xy plane of Cartesian coordinates.

Cold Welcome for Veterans on Campus

Rob Henderson

Veterans who first serve in the military and then attend elite colleges learn to navigate both moral worlds. On campus we learn to blend in, even at the cost of feeling betrayed. We keep our love for America to ourselves. We don’t want to give veterans a bad reputation. We want to make friends. We try to understand campus protesters, to see where they’re coming from. Maybe their grievances are a bit overblown, but still, they’re young. They’re still maturing. Just like we were when we volunteered our lives for this country. Just like our friend was when he hanged himself after returning from his second deployment. 

In truth, many of the rich kids at elite colleges love American values, too. But they know that loving the Constitution and its first two amendments marks one as working-class or low-status, and that being against those things codes as educated. So they rail against those values to distinguish themselves from one crowd and fit into another.

This Veterans Day we can reflect on the sacrifices made by those who volunteered to defend the United States. But let’s also find time to consider that these sacrifices were undertaken to defend values that our ruling-class-in-waiting seeks to undermine. Many students at elite colleges are duping themselves, too. They don’t realize that they are protected by the very principles they despise and the people to whom they condescend.

Against Economics

David Graeber:

There is a growing feeling, among those who have the responsibility of managing large economies, that the discipline of economics is no longer fit for purpose. It is beginning to look like a science designed to solve problems that no longer exist.

A good example is the obsession with inflation. Economists still teach their students that the primary economic role of government—many would insist, its only really proper economic role—is to guarantee price stability. We must be constantly vigilant over the dangers of inflation. For governments to simply print money is therefore inherently sinful. If, however, inflation is kept at bay through the coordinated action of government and central bankers, the market should find its “natural rate of unemployment,” and investors, taking advantage of clear price signals, should be able to ensure healthy growth. These assumptions came with the monetarism of the 1980s, the idea that government should restrict itself to managing the money supply, and by the 1990s had come to be accepted as such elementary common sense that pretty much all political debate had to set out from a ritual acknowledgment of the perils of government spending. This continues to be the case, despite the fact that, since the 2008 recession, central banks have been printing money frantically in an attempt to create inflation and compel the rich to do something useful with their money, and have been largely unsuccessful in both endeavors.

We now live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash. Falling unemployment no longer drives up wages. Printing money does not cause inflation. Yet the language of public debate, and the wisdom conveyed in economic textbooks, remain almost entirely unchanged.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: If a Wealth Tax is Such a Good Idea, Why Did Europe Kill Theirs?

Greg Rosalsky:

Normally progressives like to point to Europe for policy success. Not this time. The experiment with the wealth tax in Europe was a failure in many countries. France’s wealth tax contributed to the exodus of an estimated 42,000 millionaires between 2000 and 2012, among other problems. Only last year, French president Emmanuel Macron killed it.

In 1990, twelve countries in Europe had a wealth tax. Today, there are only three: Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. According to reports by the OECD and others, there were some clear themes with the policy: it was expensive to administer, it was hard on people with lots of assets but little cash, it distorted saving and investment decisions, it pushed the rich and their money out of the taxing countries—and, perhaps worst of all, it didn’t raise much revenue.

UC Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, whose research helped put wealth inequality back on the American policy agenda, played a part in designing Warren’s wealth tax. He says it was designed explicitly with European failures in mind.

He argues the Warren plan is “very different than any wealth tax that has existed anywhere in the world.” Unlike in the European Union, it’s impossible to freely move to another country or state to escape national taxes. Existing U.S. law also taxes citizens wherever they are, so even if they do sail to a tax haven in the Caribbean, they’re still on the hook. On top of that, Warren’s plan includes an “exit tax,” which would confiscate 40 percent of all a person’s wealth over $50 million if they renounce their citizenship.

WC President Landgraf Responds to Cancellation of The Foreigner

The Talbot Spy


The following email was sent to the Washington College community yesterday evening by President Kurt Landgraf to respond to criticism that the liberal arts institution had censured freedom of artistic expression by cancelling a student production of the play entitled “The Foreigner.”

Dear Campus Community,

Last Friday, we announced a decision to cancel two scheduled public performances of “The Foreigner.”  This play—written in the 1980s and frequently produced at educational and professional institutions across the country—centers on a group of people who feel “othered” by society in various ways, including premarital pregnancy, neurological differences, and age. Over the course of the play, these individuals build a community together through listening, learning and, humor, but their bond is threatened by the xenophobic anger and self-proclaimed entitlement of two other characters. In the climax of the play, the community of disenfranchised protagonists rises up to easily defeat the bigoted antagonists (who reveal themselves as members of the KKK). It is through the portrayal and defeat of these villainous characters that the play conveys its message about the evils of xenophobia, the dangers of “othering,” and the importance of empathy.

The Single Reason Why People Can’t Write, According to a Harvard Psychologist

Glenn Leibowitz:

“Why is so much writing so hard to understand? Why must a typical reader struggle to follow an academic article, the fine print on a tax return, or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?”

These are questions Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker asks in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They’re questions I’ve often encountered –and attempted to tackle– throughout my career as a business writer and editor. Whenever I see writing that is loaded with jargon, clichés, technical terms, and abbreviations, two questions come immediately to mind. First, what is the writer trying to say, exactly? And second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader?

For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

The Union Routs Students in Chicago

Wall Street Journal:

This social-justice dressing is intended to compensate for the deficits in accountability. Under the new contract, a joint union-school board committee will be convened to “mitigate or eliminate any disproportionate impacts of observations or student growth measures” on teacher evaluations. So instead of student performance, teachers will probably be rated on more subjective measures, perhaps congeniality in the lunchroom.

Chicago students are among the few to demonstrate improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress over the last several years, and one reason is reforms instituted by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to hold teachers accountable. Another reason is an expansion of charter schools, which enroll about one in six students.

The new union contract caps the number of charter-school seats, so no new schools will be able to open without others closing. This was a top union demand, and Mayor Lightfoot didn’t even put up a fight. Maybe the union should anoint her its honorary president.

Google and Privacy

Anonymous:

After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent. Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?

The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?

So much is at stake. Data security is important in any field, but when that data relates to the personal details of an individual’s health, it is of the utmost importance as this is the last frontier of data privacy.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Google services, including Madison.

Edgewood president disappointed by Madison Plan Commission delay

Nicholas Garton:

An Edgewood High School official said the school is “extremely disappointed” with the outcome of the Madison Plan Commisson’s decision to further delay a decision on whether the west side Catholic school can have its master plan repealed and move toward hosting athletic events at an on-campus stadium. 

On Monday, the Plan Commission was unable to execute a vote on Edgewood’s proposal to repeal its master plan. Members of the commission voted 3-2 against allowing Edgewood to back out of its plan. But commission Chair Ledell Zellers declined to cast a vote, so the four-vote majority necessary to prevail wasn’t met. 

The Plan Commission ultimately decided to refer Edgewood’s proposal to the December 9 meeting.  

Failing 15% of the time is the best way to learn, say scientists

Phoebe Weston

When learning something new, people naturally look to challenge themselves but the task should be too easy or too difficult, lest they get bored or give up.

Despite a long history of research, it is unclear why particular difficulty levels might be best for learning. 

However, scientists from the University of Arizona say they have now found the “Goldilocks zone” – with their data suggesting people who fail 15 per cent of the time learn the fastest. 

Researchers created machine-learning experiments in which they taught computers simple tasks like categorising patterns or arranging numbers. The computers learnt fastest when they got 85 per cent of answers correct, according to the paper published in Nature Communications

“We show theoretically that training at this optimal difficulty can lead to exponential improvements in the rate of learning,” researchers wrote in the paper. 

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Income & Public Spending

Phil Gramm & John F. Early:

Never in American history has the debate over income inequality so dominated the public square, with Democratic presidential candidates and congressional leaders calling for massive tax increases and federal expenditures to redistribute the nation’s income. Unfortunately, official measures of income inequality, the numbers being debated, are profoundly distorted by what the Census Bureau chooses to count as household income.

The published census data for 2017 portray the top quintile of households as having almost 17 times as much income as the bottom quintile. But this picture is false. The measure fails to account for the one-third of all household income paid in federal, state and local taxes. Since households in the top income quintile pay almost two-thirds of all taxes, ignoring the earned income lost to taxes substantially overstates inequality.

The Census Bureau also fails to count $1.9 trillion in annual public transfer payments to American households. The bureau ignores transfer payments from some 95 federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, which make up more than 40% of federal spending, along with dozens of state and local programs. Government transfers provide 89% of all resources available to the bottom income quintile of households and more than half of the total resources available to the second quintile.

How top health websites are sharing sensitive data with advertisers

Madhumita Murgia and Max Harlow:

Some of the UK’s most popular health websites are sharing people’s sensitive data — including medical symptoms, diagnoses, drug names and menstrual and fertility information — with dozens of companies around the world, ranging from ad-targeting giants such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Oracle, to lesser-known data-brokers and adtech firms like Scorecard and OpenX.

Using open-source tools to analyse 100 health websites, which include WebMD, Healthline, Babycentre and Bupa, an FT investigation found that 79 per cent of the sites dropped “cookies” — little bits of code that, when embedded in your browser, allow third-party companies to track individuals around the internet. This was done without the consent that is a legal requirement in the UK.

Google’s advertising arm DoubleClick was by far the most common destination for data, showing up on 78 per cent of the sites tested, followed by Amazon, which was present in 48 per cent of cases, Facebook, Microsoft and adtech firm AppNexus.

More South Korean academics caught naming kids as co-authors

Mark Zastrow

The number of South Korean academics accused of naming children as co-authors on research manuscripts — even though the children did not contribute to the research — continues to grow. An education ministry report details 11 university academics who named high-school or middle-school-aged children on papers that the children allegedly did not contribute to. Nine of these are newly identified, bringing the total number accused to 17, and the total number of papers affected to 24, since the practice was first exposed in late 2017.

Five of the nine newly identified academics named their own children on papers, said the report. One named a child of an acquaintance, and the others had no special relationship to the children. It is thought that in some cases, the children were named on papers to boost their chances of winning university places, for which competition in the country is fierce. The papers the ministry has identified as problematic stretch back at least as far as 2007.

The Rising Threat of Digital Nationalism

Alaska Kapur

Fifty years ago this week, at 10:30 on a warm night at the University of California, Los Angeles, the first email was sent. It was a decidedly local affair. A man sat in front of a teleprinter connected to an early precursor of the internet known as Arpanet and transmitted the message “login” to a colleague in Palo Alto. The system crashed; all that arrived at the Stanford Research Institute, some 350 miles away, was a truncated “lo.”

The network has moved on dramatically from those parochial—and stuttering—origins. Now more than 200 billion emails flow around the world every day. The internet has come to represent the very embodiment of globalization—a postnational public sphere, a virtual world impervious and even hostile to the control of sovereign governments (those “weary giants of flesh and steel,” as the cyberlibertarian activist John Perry Barlow famously put it in his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996).

But things have been changing recently. Nicholas Negroponte, a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, once said that national law had no place in cyberlaw. That view seems increasingly anachronistic. Across the world, nation-states have been responding to a series of crises on the internet (some real, some overstated) by asserting their authority and claiming various forms of digital sovereignty. A network that once seemed to effortlessly defy regulation is being relentlessly, and often ruthlessly, domesticated.

From firewalls to shutdowns to new data-localization laws, a specter of digital nationalism now hangs over the network. This “territorialization of the internet,” as Scott Malcomson, a technology consultant and author, calls it, is fundamentally changing its character—and perhaps even threatening its continued existence as a unified global infrastructure.

The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, or, Downward Mobility

Kenneth Anderson:

The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing – and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one.  It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else.  It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor.  So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do.  It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work.  Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.

The New Class has always operated across the lines of public and private, however, the government-university-finance and technology capital sectors.  It is not a theory of the government class versus the business class – as 1990s neoconservatives sometimes mistakenly imagined.  As Lasch pointed out, it is the class that bridges and moves effortlessly between the two.  As a theory of late capitalism (once imported from being an analysis of communist nomenkaltura) it offers itself as a theory of technocratic expertise first  – but, if that spectacularly fails as it did in 2008, it falls back on a much more rudimentary claim of monopoly access to the levers of the economy.  Which is to say, the right to bridge the private-public line, and rent out its access.

PhDs: the tortuous truth

Chris Woolston:

Getting a PhD is never easy, but it’s fair to say that Marina Kovačević had it especially hard. A third-year chemistry student at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, she started her PhD programme with no funding, which forced her to get side jobs bartending and waitressing. When a funded position came up in another laboratory two years later, she made an abrupt switch from medicinal chemistry to computational chemistry. With the additional side jobs, long hours in the lab, and the total overhaul of her research and area of focus, Kovačević epitomizes the overworked, overextended PhD student with an uncertain future.

And yet she could hardly be happier. “I think I’m exactly where I need to be,” she says. “I love going to work each day. I have lots of things to do, but I’m not stressed. I can’t imagine anything else that would bring me this much joy.”

Information wants to be free

Alice Herman:

For individuals and organizations seeking state records, Wisconsin law is clear: the state guarantees public access to government business, barring “exceptional cases,” and identifies a lack of transparency as “generally contrary to the public interest.”

Despite the fact that the public right to state information is baked into Wisconsin legal code, freedom of information advocates say that state agencies frequently block or otherwise delay records requests.

“I would say that in recent years, we’ve seen more bad faith assertions of reasons to deny access [to public records],” says Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (and an Isthmus contributor).

To address the issue of transparency in government, Tom Kamenick, a former counsel for the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), has founded a law firm specifically to handle open records cases in the state.

“The way the law’s written is pretty good among the states. Our definition of what’s covered by a record is quite broad, there’s very few exceptions to it similar to when it comes to meetings. A lot of governmental bodies are covered by open meetings law … but the enforcement is difficult,” says Kamenick. Many states — including Illinois, Connecticut and Hawaii — have created state commissions to handle records disputes. Wisconsin possesses no such organization, and furthermore, says Kamenick, “the attorney general and district attorneys can bring lawsuits but they rarely do, so it’s up to individuals to enforce it with lawsuits, which doesn’t happen often.”

Pity the poor avocado-eating graduates University-educated millennials have absorbed elite values but will never enjoy the lifestyle

Mary Harrington:

For young people, home ownership is now an unattainable dream for all but a few, and so in 2017 when Aussie millionaire Tim Gurner said that millennials would be better able to buy homes if they spent less on avocado toast, the BBC calculated that it would take 67 years of renouncing avocado toast on a daily basis to save enough for a property in London at today’s prices. Why, then, would young people be so grimly devoted to the EU when a house price crash would benefit them at the expense of all those selfish Brexit-voting oldies?

Countless articles have rehearsed the classinsecurities of the “left behind” Brexiters. Generally these unfortunates are depicted fulminating over pasties and ale in shabby market towns and grim post-industrial cities outside the London area. The object of their antipathy is the shiny “elite”, plugged into a promise-filled, multicultural urban life and the knowledge economy, seemingly buoyant in the new, frictionless modern world.

Vote on Edgewood master plan, whether to allow games on athletic field, delayed again

Emily Hamer:

After a lengthy meeting Monday, the Madison Plan Commission again put off a decision on whether to allow Edgewood High School to repeal its master plan, which would open the door for the school to host games on its athletic field.

The Commission failed to get enough votes to pass or reject Edgewood High School’s request to repeal, and instead unanimously decided to delay until Dec. 9, when more members are expected to be present for a vote.

Commission members initially voted 3-2 to keep the master plan, but the measure needed at least four votes to pass. Five members of the commission were absent.

The Lonely Burden of Today’s Teenage Girls

Mary Pipher and Sara Pipher Gilliam

Many girls report that their mothers are their best friends. The close-knit family unit has, for the most part, rebounded as divorce rates have dropped to a 40-year low.

But girls today aren’t as self-sufficient as their counterparts in earlier decades: They are less likely to possess driver’s licenses, work outside the home or date.

They are also more solitary. Research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project shows that, since 2007—the dawn of the smartphone era—girls have dramatically decreased the amount of time they spend shopping, seeing friends or going to movies. We found that many girls spend their Saturday nights home alone, watching Netflix and surfing social media.

Civics: From Surveillance Communism To Surveillance Capitalism And Beyond

John Torpey

Having acquired the freedom to protest openly, one of the first things the East Germans did was to descend upon the headquarters of the Ministry for State Security, universally known by its German acronym, the Stasi.  The Stasi was the “sword and shield of the party,” as its motto had it, and was widely hated for its frightening control over people’s lives. Everyone knew, or at least thought, that the Stasi was spying on ordinary East Germans all the time, and that they had to constantly be on their guard about what they could say and where.  To many people, the secret police were the essence of Communist rule.

When they stormed the Stasi’s headquarters in the Normannenstrasse (another nickname for the Stasi), they discovered miles of files on individuals who were the subjects of the Stasi’s attention.  At first there was much destruction of files, but it then dawned on the outraged citizens that they would want to understand what the Stasi had done during the forty years of the GDR’s existence and that they would need the files in order to do so.  This led to the creation of an agency charged with helping people sort through the files and hence to “come to terms with the past.” The Stasi agency was first headed by the charismatic pastor and dissident Joachim Gauck, who would later become President of the re-united Federal Republic of Germany.

500 Years Later, The Spanish Conquest Of Mexico Is Still Being Debated

James Fredrick:

Five-hundred years ago, two men met and changed much of the world forever.

About 500 Spanish conquistadors — ragged from skirmishes, a massacre of an Indigenous village and a hike between massive volcanoes — couldn’t believe what they saw: an elegant island city in a land that Europeans didn’t know existed until a few years before.

“It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before,” wrote conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo.

The date was Nov. 8, 1519. Bernal’s leader, Hernán Cortés, walked them down a causeway leading into the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, and was greeted by this land’s most powerful man: Emperor Montezuma II. (Montezuma was Mexica, but the term Aztec is often used to denote the triple alliance of civilizations that made up his empire.)

According to Cortés, Montezuma immediately recognized the divine right of the Spanish and the Catholic Church to rule these lands and he surrendered his empire.

But according to historian Matthew Restall, author of the book When Montezuma Met Cortés, this is simply wrong.

Is Automated Journalistic Writing Less Biased? An Experimental Test of Auto-Written and Human-Written News Stories

&angang Wu:

By administering an online experiment, this study examined how source and journalistic domains affect the perceived objectivity, message credibility, medium credibility, bias, and overall journalistic quality of news stories among an adult sample (N = 370) recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) service. Within the framework of the cognitive authority theory, the study found auto-written news stories were rated as more objective, credible (both message and medium credibility), and less biased. However, significant difference was found between a combined assessment condition (news stories with source and author information) and a message only assessment condition (news stories without source and author information) in the ratings of objectivity and credibility, but not bias. Moreover, significant differences were found in the objectivity and credibility ratings of auto-written and human-written news stories in the journalistic domains of politics, finance and sports news stories. In auto-written news stories, sports news stories were rated more objective and credible, while financial news stories were rated as more biased. In human-written stories, financial news stories were rated as more objective and credible. However, political news stories were rated as more biased among human-written news stories, and in cases where auto-written and human-written stories were combined.

“that while we are still debating the philosophical question of data sovereignty, the world just rolls over us.”

Guy Chazan:

Angela Merkel has urged Europe to seize control of its data from Silicon Valley tech giants, in an intervention that highlights the EU’s growing willingness to challenge the US dominance of the digital economy.

The German chancellor said the EU should claim “digital sovereignty” by developing its own platform to manage data and reduce its reliance on the US-based cloud services run by Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

“So many companies have just outsourced all their data to US companies,” Ms Merkel told German business leaders.

“I’m not saying that’s bad in and of itself — I just mean that the value-added products that come out of that, with the help of artificial intelligence, will create dependencies that I’m not sure are a good thing.”

Commentary on the Madison School District 2020 Superintendent Search

Scott Girard:

The full report was not made available to the public Monday night, but was expected to be posted Tuesday afternoon.

Board members voted to accept a leadership profile that will be used to help develop interview questions and screen candidates with a 6 to 1 vote, with Nicki Vander Meulen voting against, having requested more time to read the full report before making that choice.

The profile includes qualities like seeking a visionary team-builder who has experience with diverse populations and an understanding of MMSD’s commitment to high levels of academic achievement for all students. Other parts of the profile included a background as an educator, student-centered and personal qualities like confidence, dedication, sincerity, honesty and organization.

Hill said the district needs to make itself stand out to the “small pool” of candidates who fit the profile and have experience in a district at least as large as Madison.

“Lots of districts are looking for the same people,” Hill said. “The competition is much higher at this particular point.”

Notes and links on previous taxpayer supported Madison School district Superintendent searches.

Commentary on a planned 2020 Taxpayer supported Madison K-12 School referendum

Logan Wroge:

If a new operating referendum is passed, the School Board could then permanently raise property taxes over the next four school years, potentially using all $36 million of authority.

In 2016, voters passed a $26 million operating referendum, which similarly was phased in over four years, ending in 2019-20. Over the four years, the School Board raised property taxes by about $22 million, or about $4 million short of its full authority.

Without the additional money from an operating referendum next year, there could be a $10 million funding gap if certain costs, such as the employee salary schedule, are maintained, district officials have said.

A $36 million operating referendum could raise property taxes on an average-value house by $198 over four years.

The district began gathering input on the referendums in September, and it will continue to do so through next month. A report on the feedback is slated to be given to the School Board in January.

Madison K-12 Achievement Data @ LaFollette 2020 Referendum Presentation

Scott Girard:

A report from the district’s Research and Program Evaluation Office presented Monday to the School Board indicated people who have attended one of the 31 sessions, some targeted to specific buildings or communities and some for the general public, have agreed the district has targeted areas of need in the $310-315 million proposal being discussed now. That would add an estimated $69 per $100,000 of property value to a tax bill.

“We’re not seeing at this point any major red flags that would cause you to shift course,” district executive director of research, accountability and data use Andrew Statz said. “We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Government Tax, spending and borrowing practices.

Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li

Local governments borrowed for years to create jobs and keep factories humming. Now China’s economy is slowing to its weakest pace in nearly three decades, but Beijing has kept the lending spigots tight to quell its debt problems. 

In response, a growing number of Chinese cities are raising money using hospitals, schools and other institutions. Often they use complicated financial arrangements, like lease agreements or trusts, that stay a step ahead of regulators in Beijing. 

“Whether it is a financial lease or trust, they are just all tools for local governments to borrow,” said Chen Zhiwu, director of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong. “Officials stop one today, and they come up with another tool tomorrow.”

“That’s why China has been talking about curbing local government debts for many years and it’s still not solved,” Mr. Chen said.

Increasingly these deals are going sour, as they did in Ruzhou, and the loans are going unpaid. Lenders have accused three of Ruzhou’s hospitals and three investment funds tied to the city of not paying back their debts.

Madison, which has long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K – 12 school districts is planning a large referendum for 2020.

How Washington keeps America sick and fat

Catherine Boudreau and Helena Bottemiller

Take NIH. In 2018, the agency invested $1.8 billion in nutrition research, or just under 5 percent of its total budget. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service spends significantly less; last year, the agency devoted $88 million, or a little more than 7 percent of its overall budget, to human nutrition, virtually the same level as in 1983 when adjusted for inflation. That means USDA last year spent roughly 13 times more studying how to make agriculture more productive than it did trying to improve Americans’ health or answer questions about what we should be eating. 

Nutrition science has become such a low priority at NIH that the agency earlier this year proposed closing the only facility on its campus for highly controlled nutrition studies — a plan that is on hold after pushback from outside groups.

Civics: Staff shields Governor Tony Evers’ emails from public access

Amanda St. Hilaire:

Governor Tony Evers’ office is denying open records requests for his emails. The governor’s attorney says the decision saves taxpayer resources; transparency advocates say they’re worried about the erosion of the public’s right to know.

“If you want to see what government is up to, you have to see the emails that they are sending,” Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders said. “I don’t think [this denial] is a legal interpretation of our open records law.”

Civics: Unsustainable California

Joel Kotkin

The future, if Sacramento gets its way, likely will resemble Jerry Brown’s old “era of limits” on steroids. It will become more expensive to get around, even in electric cars that rely on what are already among the country’s highest rates, almost twice as high as competitors like Texas, Arizona, Washington and Oregon, electricity that is rightfully seen as often unreliable as well. Our ability to buy housing, particularly the family-friendly variety, will also be restricted by a planning regime that seeks to cram most into small apartments.

This future appeals to some predictable voices, like The New York Times and The Atlantic, which see the fires on the urban edge as a reason to pack more people into our already congested, unaffordable cities. But these observations fail to distinguish between the heavily wooded areas on the hilly fringes of the metropolis — which are indeed fire-prone — and largely flat expanses of rangeland adjacent to both the Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin. If we don’t find safe places to build the kind of housing most people, notably families, need, our diminished housing choices will accelerate the rising tide of people and companies leaving the state.

These ruinous policies are not necessary. They are based largely on intense “virtue-signaling,” which might also provide the basis for Gavin Newsom’s eventual run for the White House. But he may consider what the rest of the country might think about the kind of bifurcated, dystopic society California now presents; it certainly did not help the failed presidential candidacy of Kamala Harris and was bad enough to keep the disaster that is L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti out of the presidential sweepstakes.

Title VII Disparate Impact Liability Makes Almost Everything Presumptively Illegal … It Gives the Federal Bureaucracy Extraordinary Discretionary Power. But What Does It Do to the Rule of Law? And Who Benefits?

San Diego Legal Studies RPS Submitter andGail L. Heriot:

Abstract: In Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went far beyond prohibiting intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. According to the Court, it also presumptively outlawed job actions that have a “disparate impact,” regardless of whether the employer had an intent to discriminate.

The evidence that this was a misinterpretation of both the text and Congressional intent is overwhelming. Up until 1991, Griggs would have been an excellent candidate for an outright and explicit overruling. But the Civil Rights Act of 1991’s backhanded recognition of the disparate impact cause of action makes that more
difficult than it otherwise might be.

This article discusses various ways in which disparate impact liability has been bad policy and various arguments for its unconstitutionality.

Elizabeth Warren’s Education Plan Is Exactly What We Need — If Our Goal Is to Make the Achievement Gap Permanent

Chris Stewart:

Finally, a Democratic presidential candidate brave enough to focus less on classroom instruction and more on factors outside of schools; a candidate informed enough to know there is nothing wrong with teaching and learning that won’t be fixed by big-budget infrastructure upgrades along with housing grants and health care.

For unions, this must feel like Christmas. For Democratic school reformers, Pearl Harbor.

Especially since Warren’s fiscal generosity ends where reform begins. Her plan would end the federal Charter School Program, a source of support for charter school expansion. It’s a baffling choice, given the popularity of charters with parents of color and Democrats; they often have waiting lists to get in and they provide urban students with an opportunity to learn at higher levels than neighboring district schools.

I’ll never understand how a plan to limit choices for families living in low-opportunity education deserts is a winner in a political campaign. Further, why would any leader attack annual testing that produces the data that civil rights groups use to illustrate the disparities disadvantaging students?

I’ll stop here and admit that Warren does present something of a solution: She wants to balloon taxpayer support for “sustainable community schools,” an old idea cynically renewed by the American Federation of Teachers and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which have strategically proposed these feel-good district schools as an alternative to charters.

Warren’s plan states, “Studies show that every dollar invested in community schools generates up to $15 in economic return to the community,” and to prove it she links to an article in neaToday, a National Education Association publication. That article elevates as a model the Milwaukee’s Community Schools Partnership, a United Way-backed project to develop community schools, but looking at their schools raises questions.

For example, there’s Auer Avenue Community School, where fewer than 5 percent of students are proficient in math or reading; Hopkins Lloyd Community School which scores 7.6 points out of 50 in English and 5.9 out of 50 in mathematics; and Browning Elementary, which gets one star (out of five) from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction because it “fails to meet expectations.” And, ironically for Warren, who bemoans segregation, these schools she touts are not just separate and unequal, they’re hypersegregated (for example, Browning Elementary is over 95 percent “economically disadvantaged”).

What Know-It-Alls Don’t Know, or the Illusion of Competence

Kate Fehlhaber:

To investigate this phenomenon in the lab, Dunning and Kruger designed some clever experiments. In one study, they asked undergraduate students a series of questions about grammar, logic and jokes, and then asked each student to estimate his or her score overall, as well as their relative rank compared to the other students. Interestingly, students who scored the lowest in these cognitive tasks always overestimated how well they did – by a lot. Students who scored in the bottom quartile estimated that they had performed better than two-thirds of the other students!

This ‘illusion of confidence’ extends beyond the classroom and permeates everyday life. In a follow-up study, Dunning and Kruger left the lab and went to a gun range, where they quizzed gun hobbyists about gun safety. Similar to their previous findings, those who answered the fewest questions correctly wildly overestimated their knowledge about firearms. Outside of factual knowledge, though, the Dunning-Kruger effect can also be observed in people’s self-assessment of a myriad of other personal abilities. If you watch any talent show on television today, you will see the shock on the faces of contestants who don’t make it past auditions and are rejected by the judges. While it is almost comical to us, these people are genuinely unaware of how much they have been misled by their illusory superiority.

Sure, it’s typical for people to overestimate their abilities. One study found that 80 per cent of drivers rate themselves as above average – a statistical impossibility. And similar trends have been found when people rate their relative popularity and cognitive abilities. The problem is that when people are incompetent, not only do they reach wrong conclusions and make unfortunate choices but, also, they are robbed of the ability to realise their mistakes. In a semester-long study of college students, good students could better predict their performance on future exams given feedback about their scores and relative percentile. However, the poorest performers showed no recognition, despite clear and repeated feedback that they were doing badly. Instead of being confused, perplexed or thoughtful about their erroneous ways, incompetent people insist that their ways are correct. As Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man (1871): ‘Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.’

Madison schools drop winter reading and math test for elementary and middle school students

Logan Wroge

Given this, it was decided the winter MAP test is something the district doesn’t really need, Peterson said.

Instead, district officials want to move to more formative assessments, which generally cover shorter time frames of learning, can come in more informal manners, such as asking students by a show of hands if they understand a concept, and gives a teacher a better ability to determine what areas individual students needs further help on, Peterson said.

“We’re working to continue to build up information that teachers can use right away in their classrooms,” Peterson said. “While testing fatigue plays in the background, that’s not a driver of what this decision was.”

Related: “THE DATA CLEARLY INDICATE THAT BEING ABLE TO READ IS NOT A REQUIREMENT FOR GRADUATION AT (MADISON) EAST, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE BLACK OR HISPANIC”

The Chinese Government Cannot Be Allowed to Undermine Academic Freedom

Sophie Richardson

There are now approximately 350,000 students from China at American universities. While many have great experiences, some have to deal with the surveillance and censorship that follows them to campus. Over the past several years, Human Rights Watch has documented the unique threats these students face. Our research has revealed Chinese government and Communist Party intimidation ranging from harassment of family members in China over what someone had said in a closed seminar to censorship by US academic institutions that did not want to irk potential Chinese government partners. One scholar said a senior administrator had asked him “as a personal favor” to decline media requests during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, fearing that any criticism could have negative consequences for the university’s profile in China.

Even when campus debates take an ugly turn—such as when students from the mainland tried to shout down speakers at a March 2019 event at University of California, Berkeley, addressing the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, or in September when unidentified individuals threatened Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law as he arrived for graduate studies at Yale—schools appear reluctant to publicly respond to these threats against free speech. In mid-October, students at the University of California, Davis, tore down other students’ materials supporting Hong Kong protesters, yet in the ensuing days searching the school’s website for “Hong Kong” yields only information about summer internships—not unequivocal support for peaceful expression.

“The age of AI

Frontline:

FRONTLINE investigates the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, from fears about work and privacy to rivalry between the U.S. and China. The documentary traces a new industrial revolution that will reshape and disrupt our lives, our jobs and our world, and allow the emergence of the surveillance society.

Higher Education’s Enemy Within An army of nonfaculty staff push for action and social justice at the expense of free inquiry.

Jose Cabranes

First, colleges and universities have subordinated their historic mission of free inquiry to a new pursuit of social justice. Consider the remarkable evolution of Yale’s mission statement. For decades the university said its purpose was “to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.” The language was banal enough, but nevertheless on the money. In 2016, however, Yale’s president announced a new mission statement, which no longer mentions knowledge. Instead, Yale is now officially “committed to improving the world” and educating “aspiring leaders”—not only through research, but also through “practice.”

Second, American colleges and universities have been overwhelmed by a dangerous alliance of academic bureaucrats and student activists committed to imposing the latest social-justice diktats. This alliance has displaced the traditional governors of the university—the faculty. Indeed, nonfaculty administrators and activists are driving some of the most dangerous developments in university life, including the erosion of the due-process rights of faculty and students, efforts to regulate the “permissible limits” of classroom discussion, and the condemnation of unwelcome ideas as “hate speech.”

How did the university lose its way? How did this new alliance of activists and administrators supplant the faculty?

Though there are many factors, they all point back to a far-reaching intellectual confusion that pervades the nation’s campuses, from dorm rooms to classrooms. Too many in higher education are unwilling or unable to maintain a distinction that lies at the core of the liberal democratic project, and at the center of the West’s intellectual tradition: the distinction between inquiry and action, speech and conduct.

A Centenary for Free Speech

Ilya Shapiro and Michael T. Collins:

Americans may take free speech for granted, but they couldn’t do so a century ago. Courts convicted newspapermen, pamphleteers and politicians for nothing more—and sometimes less—than trying to sway the public against U.S. involvement in World War I. On Nov. 10, 1919, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of antiwar protesters under a law that made it a crime to “hinder” the war effort. But a dissent in Abrams v. U.S. laid the foundation for today’s robust protection of controversial speech.

The idea that speech could pose a “clear and present danger” to the government, and thus lacked First Amendment protection, came from a quartet of 1919 cases, three of which were unanimous. In March, in Schenck v. U.S., the court, led by archprogressive Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., upheld the convictions of pamphleteers who encouraged draft-dodging. A week later, Frohwerk v. U.S. upheld the conviction of a newspaperman who criticized U.S. involvement in foreign wars, while Debs v. U.S. affirmed the conviction of Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs for denouncing the war in a speech. (Debs went on to receive 3.4% of the 1920 presidential vote from prison.)

In October the court in Abrams upheld another antiwar protest conviction—but this time not unanimously. Like Charles Schenck, Jacob Abrams was a socialist who had distributed antiwar pamphlets. His group criticized U.S. military support for the anti-Communist White movement in the Russian Civil War. As socialists of the time often did, the pamphleteers urged a general strike in New York, on grounds that workers were making weapons to use against their Bolshevik comrades.

Search warrant overrides 1M users’ choice not to share DNA with cops

Kate Cox

Law enforcement agencies around the country have for the past few years eagerly latched onto consumer-facing DNA sites as a rich repository of information to help them close cases. Many of those sites have been allowing users to adopt privacy settings and restricting what data they allow police to access, but a first-of-its-kind search warrant may blow those users’ data banks wide open.

Police in Orlando, Florida, obtained a warrant this summer to search DNA site GEDmatch and review data on all of its users—about a million people, The New York Times reports. Privacy advocates are now concerned that police will continue to get broad warrants for DNA sites, including larger peers such as 23andme or Ancestry that have much larger pools of user data.

Want to Raise Successful Boys? Science Says Do This (but Their Schools Probably Won’t)

Bill Murphy:

Now researchers say that mistake leads us into a three-pronged, perfect storm of problems:

1. We overprotect kids, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers—which ultimately increases their likelihood of real health issues.

2. We inhibit children’s academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.

3. When they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy paradigm, we over-diagnose or even punish kids for reacting the way they’re naturally built to react.
Start With the Boys

News flash: Most boys are rambunctious. Often they seem like they’re in a constant state of motion: running, jumping, fighting, playing, getting hurt—maybe getting upset—and getting right back into the physical action.

Except at school, where they’re required to sit still for long periods of time. (And when they fail to stay still, how are they punished? Often by being forced to skip recess—and thus they sit still longer.)

It’s not just an American issue. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document whether boys actually achieve less in school when they’re restricted from running around and being physically active.

Censorship is bad even when it’s done by private companies

Philippe Lemoine:

There are many reasons to oppose state censorship, but the people who argue that it’s okay for big tech companies to suppress content for ideological reasons on their platforms oppose it on the ground that it prevents the marketplace of ideas, which they believe maximizes the probability that people will discover the truth and settle on it through rational debate, from working as it’s supposed to. The problem is that, if that’s why you oppose state censorship, and to be clear I think it’s a good reason to oppose it, there is nothing about the state that makes censorship bad when it originates from the government but unproblematic as long as it comes from private companies. Indeed, while it’s true that the government can distort the marketplace of ideas, so can private companies.

For instance, if Google makes it harder to find right-wing content, it stacks the deck in favor of the left, because people are more likely to be only exposed to left-wing content. Similarly, if Twitter hides content by conservatives and/or promotes content by liberals, the former are less likely to be heard. Big tech companies don’t even have to completely suppress right-wing content to distort the marketplace of ideas. Even a pro-liberal/anti-conservative bias that comes way short of the systematic suppression of right-wing content would introduce a distortion. Of course, as long as big tech companies are biased in the relevant way, it doesn’t matter which ideologies are penalized by it, it will distort the marketplace of ideas all the same.

The people who defend big tech companies argue that it’s not the same on the ground that if people are unhappy about what those companies do, they can always stop using them and use other platforms instead, whereas people can’t opt out of the government. If the state bans the expression of certain views and you express them anyway, it can use violence to compel you to stop and imprison you, but Google or Twitter can’t do that. However, since the companies in question are de facto monopolies, it’s not actually true that if you’re unhappy with big tech companies you can just use another platform. Moreover, even if it were true, it would be irrelevant.

First, it’s not always true that, if you’re unhappy with big tech companies, you can always stop using it and use another platform instead. For instance, if you’re a journalist and you want to promote your work, there is simply no viable alternative to Twitter at the moment. No other microblogging platform comes even close to having the number of users Twitter does, and most of the alternatives are hotbeds of extremism, so that anyone who joins them is thereby disqualified in polite company. People who reply that, if Twitter were so bad, a viable alternative would have emerged are just missing the point. Of course, it’s possible that, if Twitter’s behavior were really egregious, it would lose its dominant position to other platforms, but its monopoly power means that it can get away with a lot without endangering that position. Again, for bias to distort the marketplace of ideas, it isn’t necessary that Twitter completely suppress certain viewpoints.

College Ranking Metrics Should Include Academic Freedom

Mohan J. Dutta, Richard Ashford and Shampa Biswas:

Does the standing of your college or university have anything to do with the state of academic freedom on your campus? The global ascendance of the metrics industry — which is primarily based on the collection and aggregation of data to create rankings — has increasingly led to conditions where select performance indicators drive college and university administrators’ decisions and actions. Yet those indicators are systematically disengaged from the question of academic freedom, the foundational cornerstone of college life.

Consider a recent prominent example. In late summer 2014, the University of Illinois retracted a job contract from American studies professor Steven Salaita — one both he and the institution had already signed — after tweets that he posted critiquing the atrocities perpetuated by Israel in Gaza generated considerable donor pressure on the institution. As Salaita fought the university’s decision, academics throughout higher education institutions in the United States and abroad mounted a massive campaign to support him and the principle of academic freedom. Petitions circulated. The university’s decision to unhire Salaita became the cornerstone of this campaign.

Nearly 80,000 California retirees are receiving $100,000 or more in pension pay, new data show

Transparent California:

The number of California retirees collecting a public pension of $100,000 or more hit an all-time high of 79,235 last year, up 85 percent since 2013.

That’s according to an analysis of 2018 pension payout data posted on Transparent California — the state’s largest public pay and pension database.

Those receiving pension payouts of at least $100,000 accounted for nearly 20 percent of the $51.7 billion total payments made last year, which is also an all-time high, according to the data.

“The only reason public pensions are an issue of public concern is because of the costs they impose on taxpayers,” explained Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“The data show that one out of every five dollars paid out by California’s public pension funds last year went to someone who is drawing an annual pension of at least $100,000,” Fellner said.

Their colleges closed — but their student loans didn’t disappear. Then, they sued.

Dawn Rhodes

“I didn’t realize what accreditation was until we didn’t have it anymore,” said Emmanuel Dunagan, of Bellwood. “We got one email about the loss of accreditation. The way it was worded, and I’m an intelligent person, you would not have understood it without having it explained.”

Mahone left school in July. RJ Infusino, of Wood Dale, withdrew from the Schaumburg campus in September. Dunagan finished his two remaining classes before the school closed in December 2018.

“It was madness,” Infusino said. “I didn’t have a good understanding of whether I’d be able to graduate. I’d already spent close to four years on this and to not get my degree would have been a waste of time.”

The House Education and Labor Committee has been investigating the Dream Center collapse for several months.

A new type of genetic profiling promises cleverer, better-looking children.

The Economist:

Debate about using science to create “bespoke” human beings of one sort or another usually revolves around the ideas of genetic engineering and cloning. People worry about these for two reasons. One is practical. The tinkering involved could end up harming the resulting individual. The other is a more visceral dislike of interfering with the process of reproduction, perhaps best encapsulated in the phrase “playing God”.

There is, however, a third way that the genetic dice which are thrown at the beginning of human life might be loaded—and it does not involve any risky tinkering. It is a twist on the well-established procedure of in vitro fertilisation (ivf). The twist would be to decide, on the basis of their dna, which of a group of available embryos should be implanted and brought to term.

Meritocracy’s Waterloo?

Wall Street Journal:

Social-justice organizations last week threatened the University of California with a lawsuit unless it halts the use of standardized testing in admissions, claiming the tests discriminate against minorities. Who knows what success they may have before a sympathetic judge. But the issue may be settled sooner as the political mood in the UC moves against testing. This shift could have baleful nationwide consequences.

Standardized tests have been a target of the left for decades, but in 2018 something changed. Dozens of colleges, most significantly the University of Chicago, have been dropping their standardized-test requirements. The number of students who take the SAT and ACT has been holding steady because enough schools still use them. Yet the UC is by far the largest university system in the country, and if it throws out testing the admissions landscape would fundamentally change.

Several UC regents are on record criticizing the test as unfair to the underprivileged. Governor Gavin Newsom, who appoints most regents, said last month that tests exacerbate “the inequities for underrepresented students.” A UC faculty task force will give recommendations early next year.

Joshua Wong: ‘We used to play laser tag. Now we face bullets’

Sue-Lin Wong:

Another thing that bores him? The media. Although Wong’s messaging is always on point, his appraisal of journalists in response to my questions is piercing and cheeky. “In 15-minute interviews I know journalists just need soundbites that I’ve repeated lots of times before. So I’ll say things like ‘I have no hope [as regards] the regime but I have hope towards the people.’ Then the journalists will say ‘oh that’s so impressive!’ And I’ll say ‘yes, I’m a poet.’ ”
Raised in a deeply religious family, he used to travel to mainland China every two years with his family and church literally to spread the gospel. As with many Hong Kong Chinese who trace their roots to the mainland, he doesn’t know where his ancestral village is. His lasting memory of his trips across the border is of dirty toilets, he tells me, mid-bite. He turned to activism when he realised praying didn’t help much.

“The gift from God is to have independence of mind and critical thinking; to have our own will and to make our own personal judgments. I don’t link my religious beliefs with my political judgments. Even Carrie Lam is Catholic,” he trails off, in a reference to Hong Kong’s leader. Lam has the lowest approval rating of any chief executive in the history of the city, thanks to her botched handling of the crisis.

Gold Fever! Deadly Cold! And the Amazing True Adventures of Jack London in the Wild

Richard Grant:

Questing for gold, what he found instead was inspiration and material for one of the most successful literary careers of all time. His best-known Yukon book, The Call of the Wild, has been translated into nearly 100 languages, and will be released in February as a movie starring Harrison Ford as a Klondike gold prospector. Such is the enduring power of the story—a dog named Buck is kidnapped from California and thrust into the frozen wilds of the Far North—that this is the ninth time that the 1903 novel has been adapted for film or television.

Techniques including computer-generated imagery enabled the latest filmmakers to shoot the entire production without leaving California, and it’s hard to criticize them for not using authentic Yukon locations. In summertime, the advantages of 20-hour daylight are offset by horrendous swarms of mosquitoes, among other challenges. In mid-winter, when much of the story takes place, the sun doesn’t reach the horizon and temperatures plunge to 50, 60, or even 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In that kind of weather, as Jack London discovered, even the strongest whiskey freezes solid, and a man’s spit turns to ice before it hits the snow.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Property Tax Assistance

Joe Tarr:

City property taxes for their home are about $5,000 a year. “That’s a whole chunk of our total income, because our only income is Social Security,” he says.

But then they discovered a little-known city program for people in their situation. The “property tax assistance for seniors reverse mortgage loan program” allows seniors to defer paying their property taxes.

Property owners are eligible if they are 65 or older with less than $30,000 in assets and meet income guidelines (currently $52,850 for a single person or $60,400 for two people). When people qualify, a lien is placed on the property, meaning the property taxes will be paid when the owner sells the property or dies and their estate is settled.

The city charges an annual interest rate for the loan — depending on borrowing costs, between 2.5 and 6.5 percent.

Madison’s taxpayer supported school district is planning a substantial referendum for 2020.

Elite Colleges Reconsidered

Erich Prince:

Yale students, if they’re still anything like they were when I graduated a few short years ago, likely aren’t overly concerned with the college admissions scandal that dominated the news this past spring, even as Lifetime releases its TV-movie based on the events and Felicity Huffman walks free after having served her eleven days in jail. Instead, Yale students will be focused on their classes, fulfilling their language requirements, agonizing as early as November about their plans for the following summer, and scrambling to join the various clubs that, like so many activities on campuses, require a surprisingly vigorous application process. For the newly arrived freshmen, who are, by now, probably starting to feel a bit more at home on campus, there is also probably still that lingering sense in the back of their heads that they made it: that they were admitted from the record 36,829 who applied for a spot in the class of 2023 to a school considered among the most prestigious in the world.

Life expectancy for American men drops for a third year

Aimee Picchi:

Unlike other industrialized countries, the U.S. is seeing a plateau or decline in life expectancy, making it an outlier since higher health expenditures are typically tied with longer lives. One theory attributes that to different health outcomes for rich and poor households, an issue that has been exacerbated by rising income inequality in the U.S.

Wealthier Americans are more likely to live into their 70s and 80s than people in the middle class and the poor, according to a September report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In other words, being poor can be hazardous to your health.

And that can lead to significantly different life expectancies, according to a recent Harvard analysis of 15 years’ worth of IRS data. Men who are among the richest 1% of Americans live almost 15 years longer than those who are in the poorest 1%, the Harvard analysis found. The gap was about 10 years for the richest versus poorest women.

“Theoretically All Children Are Equal. Practically This Can Never Be So”: The History of the District Property Tax in California and the Choice of Inequality

Matthew Gardner Kelly:

Background/Context: Dealing mostly in aggregate statistics that mask important regional variations, scholars often assume that district property taxation and the resource disparities this approach to school funding creates are deeply rooted in the history of American education.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article explores the history of district property taxation and school funding disparities in California during the 19th and 20th centuries. First, the article documents the limited use of district property taxation for school funding in California and several other Western states during the 19th century, showing that the development of school finance was more complicated than standard accounts suggest. Then, the article examines how a coalition of experts, activists, and politicians worked together during the early 20th century to promote district property taxation and institutionalize the idea that the wealth of local communities, rather than the wealth of the entire state, should determine the resources available for public schooling.

Locally, Madison taxpayers have long spent far more than most K-12 school districts, while tolerating disastrous reading results.

Make private, public, and charter schools play by the same rules

Joe Henderson:

Charters and private schools are here to stay in Florida, and that’s just the way it is. That’s not a bad thing. But the rules that apply to public schools sometimes don’t apply to the other schools.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, wants to change that. She filed SB 632 that would make private and charter schools operate by the same standards as traditional public schools. Private schools would also face stricter requirements for academics, testing, and building requirements.

“I don’t care where they want to send them,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “But at least have the same requirements. … It makes for a better education system.”

That seems fair to me, but it prompted this retort from Erika Donalds. She is a charter school operator, and her husband, Byron Donalds, is a GOP state lawmaker.

The DNA database used to find the Golden State Killer is a national security leak waiting to happen

Antonio Regalado:

private DNA ancestry database that’s been used by police to catch criminals is a security risk from which a nation-state could steal DNA data on a million Americans, according to security researchers.

Security flaws in the service, called GEDmatch, not only risk exposing people’s genetic health information but could let an adversary such as China or Russia create a powerful biometric database useful for identifying nearly any American from a DNA sample.

GEDMatch, which crowdsources DNA profiles, was created by genealogy enthusiasts to let people search for relatives and is run entirely by volunteers. It shows how a trend toward sharing DNA data online can create privacy risks affecting everyone, even people who don’t choose to share their own information.

“You can replace your credit card number, but you can’t replace your genome,” says Peter Ney, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at the University of Washington.

NAEP 2019: Mississippi improvement more impressive under closer examination

Matthew Ladner:

While last week’s NAEP news was glum nationwide, Mississippi students performed relatively well. You have to dig into the details to see just how well.

First, a bit of backstory.

Mississippi is one of the nation’s poorest states and has the largest African-American student population in the country. The state has ranked at or near the bottom on NAEP scores for many years. Over the past decade, policymakers have adopted several K-12 policies familiar to Floridians: A-F letter grades for schools, a strong emphasis on early literacy, a charter school law and an education savings account program for students with disabilities.

The state’s choice sector went from non-existent to nascent in recent years, although it’s not yet at a scale where it can play more than a complimentary role to the public education system. Yet based on this year’s NAEP, as seen in this crosstab of student race/ethnicity on fourth-grade reading, something seems to have gone very right.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues to address its long term, disastrous reading results by granting thousands of mulligans to elementary reading teachers.

Teacher Mulligans, continued: The latest report on reading was really bad. Here are some possible solutions

Alan Borsuk:

Mississippi got a lot of attention when the NAEP scores were released. It was the only state where fourth grade reading scores improved. Mississippi is implementing a strong requirement that teachers be well-trained in reading instruction. Massachusetts did that in the 1990s and it paid off in the following decade.

Wisconsin passed a law in 2012 to promote better teaching of reading and it hasn’t paid off. Advocates suggest that is because the law hasn’t been taken seriously enough by the state and by college-level teacher training programs. Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look.

The Wisconsin Department of Public instruction, long lead by our new Governor, Tony Evers, has waived thousands of elementary teacher reading content knowledge requirements (Foundations of Reading, based on Massachusetts’ best in the States MTEL requirement).

You can fool some of the people all of the time

The Economist:

In 2001 jonathan haidt, a psychologist at New York University, published a paper in Psychological Review delightfully entitled “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail”. He argued that when people make moral decisions, they are influenced by emotion, or what might also be termed intuition. They may think they are weighing evidence but in fact their decisions are made in the blink of an eye. The reasons they give afterwards merely reflect these emotions, like a dog wagging its tail.

Others have taken similar views. “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions,” wrote David Hume, a philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, in 1739. But the lessons of Mr Haidt’s essay are particularly apt at a time when lying has come to define politics more than usual.

Related: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

The woman who reshaped maths

Leila McNeill:

When 46-year-old Hilda Geiringer arrived in New York with her daughter Magda, she must have felt relieved. The year was 1939. And Geiringer, as well as a talented mathematician, was a Jewish woman from Vienna.

For six years, she’d been seeking an escape from the Nazi threat in Europe. In that time, she’d fled to Turkey, been stranded in Lisbon and narrowly escaped internment at a Nazi camp. Her arrival in the US should have opened a new, and far better, chapter.

But it brought other challenges.

The first woman to teach applied mathematics at a German university, Geiringer was known as an innovative thinker who applied her mathematical insight to other sciences. But in the US, she struggled for decades to regain her status in the field.

This wasn’t because of Geiringer’s talent, or lack thereof: she was part of an early vanguard in 20th-Century applied mathematics at a time when the field was trying to find institutional legitimacy and independence from pure mathematics. With crucial contributions to mathematical theories of plasticity and to probability genetics, Geiringer helped advance the field of applied mathematics, laying fundamental groundwork which many parts of science and engineering rely upon today.

Parenting : Who is it really for?

Derek Sivers:

Since my son was born five years ago, I’ve spent at least thirty hours a week with him, just one-on-one, giving him my full attention. But I’ve never written about parenting before because it’s a touchy subject — too easily misunderstood.

So why am I writing about it today? Because I realized that the parenting things I do for him are also for myself. And that’s an idea worth sharing.

Here are the things I’ve been doing for my son since he was born:

Colleges Should Not Have to Have Food Pantries

Bridget Huber:

One of the first lessons Jalyn Wharton learned her freshman year at Kennesaw State University was how to stretch a pizza so it would feed her for a week. It wasn’t the only time she’d had to ration food. When she was in high school, her family became homeless and Wharton would sometimes eat less to make sure her younger siblings got enough. Even as her family bounced between hotels and friends’ houses, Wharton stayed focused on school. Everyone told her education was her path out of poverty. She finished high school with honors and was thrilled to get into Kennesaw State, a research institution with 35,000 students near Atlanta, Georgia.

It was a relief to finally start college, Wharton says, but there were new obstacles. “I wasn’t really a resident here, or a resident of anywhere,” she says. Because she’d had no permanent address while her family was homeless, she couldn’t prove that she qualified for in-state tuition or a state scholarship. She couldn’t afford books or campus housing, which started at about $600 a month for a room, so she moved into a cheap hotel. Her family, now living in Indiana, pulled together enough money to pay for the room and to have a large pizza delivered once a week. “I was trying to remain positive, because this is what I needed to do to get where I want to go. This will help me stop the cycle of poverty, ” Wharton says. She was scared to admit how much she was struggling, and felt pressure to set a good example for her siblings. So she told herself: “You’re just going to tough this out.”

Wharton felt alone, but it has become clear in recent years that’s she’s no outlier; in fact, food insecurity and housing instability are defining factors of today’s college experience for a significant number of students. A recent survey of nearly 86,000 students found that 45 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, meaning they had limited or uncertain access to food. Fifty-six percent had been housing insecure in the previous year—that is, they were unable to pay full rent, lived in overcrowded conditions, or experienced other instability. Seventeen percent had been homeless at some point during the year. Despite a lack of representative national data, the evidence has continued to mount, and a steady stream of news stories has documented what it looks like on the ground: students sleeping in airports and in their cars, taking “hunger naps” when they can’t afford to eat, trading tips on how to keep their homework dry when living in the woods.

A.I. and the Future of Cheating

Matt Bartlett:

No matter whether you were a straight-A student at university or more a student of beer pong, it’s extremely unlikely that your positive memories of college took place in an examination hall. Beyond being generally miserable, exams exacerbate anxiety and other mental health issues, and do a poor job of assessing skills like critical thinking and creativity. Time-pressured tests are used as the key filter for several prestigious professions and universities and, some argue, for no apparent good reason.

Given this sad state of affairs, it should be positive to see supervised exams and tests fall slowly out of vogue. Headmasters and professors have urged that more flexible, less time-pressured assessments like essays and written assignments should replace exams. Singapore, the world leader of exam-based education, has abolished exam rankings (albeit only for primary grades). At the same time, online education has surged, with enrollment in online courses quadrupling over the last 15 years.

Survey finds 3 in 4 voters oppose Supreme Court allowing race in college admissions

College Fix:

A survey of voters nationwide by the Marquette Law Poll, a project of the Catholic university’s law school, finds that three in four voters (77 percent) oppose Supreme Court decisions that “[d]ecided colleges can use race as one factor in deciding which applicants to admit.”

The breakout of responses is even more surprising: A full majority are “strongly” opposed (56 percent), while just one in five is “somewhat” opposed (21 percent). Only 4 percent of voters “strongly” favor the use of race in college admissions, and another 11 percent “somewhat” favor it.

Leaked document reveals that Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto plans for private taxation, private roads, charter schools, corporate cops and judges, and punishment for people who choose privacy

Cory Doctorow:

Tomorrow, Toronto’s City Council will hold a key vote on Sidewalk Labs’s plan to privatize much of the city’s lakeshore in the name of creating a “smart city” owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Today, the Globe and Mail published a summary of Sidewalk Labs’s leaked “yellow book”, a 2016 document that lays out Sidewalk Labs’s vision for Toronto and future projects in Detroit, Denver, and Alameda.

The plan lays out a corporate-owned city similar to Lake Buena Vista, the privately owned municipality established by the Walt Disney Company on a massive tract of central Florida land that contains the Walt Disney World resort.

The plan calls for the creation of privately owned and regulated roads, charter schools in place of publicly administered schools, the power to levy and spend property taxes without democratic oversight, a corporate criminal justice system where the cops and judges work for Sidewalk Labs, and totalizing, top-to-bottom, continuous surveillance.

Torontonians who decline to “share” information with Sidewalk Labs will not receive the same level of services as those who do.

Sidewalk Labs says that the document does not reflect its current ambitions.

Gaggle Knows Everything About Teens And Kids In School

:

All of it is monitored by student surveillance service Gaggle, which promises to keep Santa Fe High School kids free from harm.

Santa Fe High, located in Santa Fe, Texas, is one of more than 1,400 schools that have taken Gaggle up on its promise to “stop tragedies with real-time content analysis.” It’s understandable why Santa Fe’s leaders might want such a service. In 2018, a shooter killed eight students and two teachers at the school. Its student body is now part of the 4.8 million US students that the for-profit “safety management” service monitors.

A college student whose middle school used Gaggle told BuzzFeed News that the tool taught them that they would always be watched. “I feel like now I’m very desensitized to the threat of my information being looked at by people,” they said.

Using a combination of in-house artificial intelligence and human content moderators paid about $10 an hour, Gaggle polices schools for suspicious or harmful content and images, which it says can help prevent gun violence and student suicides. It plugs into two of the biggest software suites around, Google’s G Suite and Microsoft 365, and tracks everything, including notifications that may float in from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts linked to a school email address.

“STATES ARE MOVING AWAY FROM BAD NEWS TESTS”

Joanne Jacobs:

States are moving away from requiring students to show they’ve mastered the content in core courses, writes Fordham’s Adam Tyner, who co-authored a new Fordham study on end-of-course exams (EOCs).

Mississippi, which requires students to pass a U.S. history exam to earn a diploma, is considering dropping the requirement. “Even New York, where the high school Regents Exams have been central to raising high school standards, is debating whether to keep them,” writes Tyner.

Wisconsin school choice advocates sue education department for timing of test score release

Scott Girard:

“This Court should declare the Defendants’ conduct unlawful and permanently enjoin its future occurrence,” the plaintiffs wrote. “The Defendants can easily comply with state law by ensuring that when they publicly release qualifying school choice data, they release all of the data to everyone at the same time and do so without any ‘spin.’”

DPI and State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor are named as defendants in the lawsuit. In an emailed statement, DPI spokesperson Benson Gardner said the department released all of the data publicly at the same time on Sept. 12.

“The department provided complex assessment data to the news media one day earlier simply to allow them lead-time to write their stories, including in-depth print articles,” the statement read. “The department followed the law in the public release of this information.”

The embargoed news release did include aggregated data on the choice program, which the lawsuit alleges shows “a deliberate attempt to shape the news narrative of the assessment results so as to make public schools appear in a more positive light and choice schools appear in a more negative light.”

K-12 Tax & SPENDING Climate: The Emerging Millennial Wealth Gap

Reid Cramer, Fernaba R. Addo, Colleen Campbell:

The Millennial generation is on a much lower trajectory of wealth accumulation than their parents and grandparents. Dramatically so. Their generational balance sheet, tabulating assets and liabilities, is historically poor. Despite its dramatic emergence and real world consequences, the Millennial wealth gap has received scant attention to date. This publication is an attempt to address that. By examining the data, identifying trends, and exploring the underlying dynamics of the generational distribution of wealth in America today, the authors included in this volume have committed to participating in a constructive policy discourse to address the misalignment between public policy and the lived experience that threatens to undermine the potential of an entire generation. It is time to incubate large-scale policy interventions to respond to the economic vulnerability of the Millennial generation and create new pathways to progress. Absent a concerted policy response, the troubling disparities in wealth and opportunity will persist for years to come.

Breaking: The Bookworm Bookstore to Close

The Beijinger:

After almost two decades in the business of providing the city’s book enthusiasts with food for thought, beloved Sanlitun institution The Bookworm will close its doors on Monday, Nov 11

A statement issued via the bookstore’s official WeChat account on Tuesday afternoon describes how, “Despite our best efforts, we appear to have fallen prey to the ongoing cleanup of ‘illegal structures,’ and we have not been able to secure an extension of our lease,” adding, “This is particularly disappointing given that, despite many challenges, at this time The Bookworm remains a thriving business with stronger, more diverse links to the wider Beijing community than ever before.”

According to the announcement, management is currently attempting to find a new location, but for now you can support the store by heading in and buying books at a  “heavily discounted” price.

The closure marks the end of a rich chapter in Beijing’s literary history. Over the years, countless expats and locals climbed the store’s iconic staircase, lured inside by one of the venue’s many events or the warm glow of the red lanterns in their dining area. As well as providing a welcoming space for bibliophiles, The Bookworm stood as a beacon of hope in an era where countless independent bookstores and established publishing houses have long since fallen under the axe.

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I Got Access to My Secret Consumer Score. Now You Can, Too.

Kashmir Hill:

Every so often, journalists lament these systems’ inaccessibility. They’re “largely invisible to the public,” The New York Times wrote in 2012. “Most people have no inkling they even exist,” The Wall Street Journal said in 2018. Most recently, in April, The Journal’s Christopher Mims looked at a company called Sift, whose proprietary scoring system tracks 16,000 factors for companies like Airbnb and OkCupid. “Sift judges whether or not you can be trusted,” he wrote, “yet there’s no file with your name that it can produce upon request.”

As of this summer, though, Sift does have a file on you, which it can produce upon request. I got mine, and I found it shocking: More than 400 pages long, it contained all the messages I’d ever sent to hosts on Airbnb; years of Yelp delivery orders; a log of every time I’d opened the Coinbase app on my iPhone. Many entries included detailed information about the device I used to do these things, including my IP address at the time.

What Admiral Grace Hopper really meant when she said, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”

Ron Evans:

If all we do is restrict biohacking completely, like “No man’s land. You can’t go there”, then it’s going to be done elsewhere. It’s like saying, “You can’t do computing on the internet, because you might transfer an internet virus.”

So one extreme means we remain in ignorance, and then it’s like The Demon-Haunted World of Carl Sagan – we don’t understand what’s going on, and it’s affecting us.

The other extreme is every human for themselves with no control and no care over the implications (which I think has been a very common attitude in tech). This is poorly interpreting Grace Hopper’s, “Ask forgiveness, not permission.”

First of all, many people don’t know that Admiral Grace Hopper said that; the attribution. But also, they don’t realize what she was talking about.

For Sale: SAT-Takers’ Names. Colleges Buy Student Data and Boost Exclusivity

Douglas Belkin:

Jori Johnson took the practice SAT test as a high-school student outside Chicago. Brochures later arrived from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

The universities’ solicitations piqued her interest, and she eventually applied. A few months later, she was rejected by those and three other schools that had sought her application, she said. The high-school valedictorian’s test scores, while strong by most standards, were well below those of most students admitted to the several schools that had contacted her.

“A lot of the rejections came on the same day,” said Ms. Johnson, a 21-year-old senior film major at New York University, one of three schools that accepted her out of 10 applications. “I just stared at my computer and cried.”

The recruitment pitches didn’t help Ms. Johnson, but they did benefit the universities that sent them. Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns.

Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field.

The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities.

That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells. Colleges say the data helps them reach a diverse pool of students they might have otherwise missed.

Microsoft Japan tested a four-day work week. Productivity jumped by 40%

Kari Paul:

Microsoft tested out a four-day work week in its Japan offices and found as a result employees were not only happier – but significantly more productive.

For the month of August, Microsoft Japan experimented with a new project called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, giving its entire 2,300 person workforce five Fridays off in a row without decreasing pay.

The shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings, happier workers, and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%, the company concluded at the end of the trial. As part of the program, the company had also planned to subsidize family vacations for employees up to ¥100,000 or $920.

“Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot,” Microsoft Japan president and CEO Takuya Hirano said in a statement to Microsoft Japan’s website. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time.”

US debt surpasses $23 trillion for first time

Niv Elis:

The federal government’s outstanding public debt has surpassed $23 trillion for the first time in history, according to data from the Treasury Department released on Friday.

Growing budget deficits have added to the nation’s debt at a speedy rate since President Trump took office. The debt has grown some 16 percent since Trump’s inauguration, when it stood at $19.9 trillion. It passed $22 trillion for the first time just 10 months ago.

Of the $23 trillion figure, just under $17 trillion was in the category of debt held by the public, which is a more useful gauge of the debt the government has to pay down, and the number typically used in calculating the nation’s debt burden. The other $6 trillion comes from loans within government bodies.

Separating ‘gifted’ children hasn’t led to better achievement

Jo Boaler:

When New York City’s mayor began a move to revamp the program of selective schools last year, a public outcry ensued, and the issue has yet to be resolved.

Objections echoed those in the San Francisco Unified School District, which six years ago began in earnest the elimination of advanced mathematics classes until after 10th grade. Parents created Facebook groups to oppose the changes.

Many believe that children learn more effectively in schools or classes with similar learners, but are they right? It is a question that has long intrigued and divided people. When learners show different achievement levels, should we teach them separately or together? I have spent my career studying this question and, although the logic of separate classes seems strong, evidence leads us in a different direction.

For instance, after San Francisco Unified de-tracked math, the proportion of students failing algebra fell from 40 percent to 8 percent and the proportion of students taking advanced classes rose to a third, the highest percentage in district history. Until 10th grade, students take the same mathematics classes. From 11th grade on, students can choose different pathways.

Related: 2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”.

A Racially “Woke” Agenda Is Now Hardwired in Public Schools

George Leef:

Many college professors and administrators are eager to turn their students into ideological clones of themselves in hopes of ensuring that the U.S. will have the kind of governmentally controlled, collectivistic society they desire.

Sometimes their “success” in that becomes spectacularly evident, such as the furious, vitriolic attack by the Oberlin College community against a small bakery in town over its alleged racism – for trying to prevent an underage black kid from stealing wine. That supreme exercise in “wokeness” led to a lawsuit and $33 million jury verdict against the college. (I recommend “O Oberlin, My Oberlin” by retired professor Abraham Socher for a comprehensive study in the way zealous leftists have come to dominate the school.)

Unfortunately, the job of academic leftists in training young activists is getting easier and easier. That is because public schools are doing more and more to condition students to accept a wide array of leftist notions — notions that make them highly receptive to further leftist teaching and calls for them to act against perceived enemies of the social justice agenda.