Monday, June 7, 2010


Steven Johnson describes his new book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, which sounds tremendously interesting. Add it? Add it to the Infinitely Long Reading List.

It seems immigrants have a lower level of unemployment than native-born citizens.

Consumer credit increased in April.

From a very good review of The Shallows, there’s this very interesting little tangent I wanted to comment on:
Worse, there are some recent signs of loss. While math scores have held steady over the past decade, verbal scores have declined. Between 1992 and 2005, something called “literary reading aptitude” dropped 12 percent. A testing skeptic might doubt the worth of any such findings, but it does seem to be the case that something real is being measured, and that whatever it is, it is slipping. Clumsy statistics are not foolproof evidence, and neither are the dumbing-down anecdotes any reader can supply. But they are not nothing.
Now, I’m hardly an expert on the literature on charter schools and their performance on tests, but it seems to me that nearly every time I read an article about the latest miracle charter school (which cites evidence of improved test scores), the exact phenomenon that Gitlin describes is exaggerated—you have miraculous jumps in math scores and flat scores in reading. Now that’s good as far as it goes, but it leads to many more questions than it does answers. To wit, is it—as Gitlin and Carr suggest—that this has to do with our digital media culture? Or, indeed, does it have something to do with the way we’re educating the youth? It seems to me that every time we hear about the need for improved education, it’s immediately followed by a call for more scientists and engineers to keep up with the hordes of students China and India et. al. are producing. (Which leads me to yet another tangent: why do we only hear about China and India when it comes to successful development stories and threats to the future? It seems to me that Brazil is running a very strong third place to these two countries—what exactly are they doing that we should be worried about?) Now, scientists and engineers are nice, but you also need those liberal arts people and what have you. People, in other words, who can understand, synthesize and create new prose arguments, among other skills. So it would be nice if we could figure out what exactly is going on here and how to make it better.

Speaking of development, here comes the news that India is planning on putting more people on welfare. But there’s a twist on why…the twist is that the Indian government doesn’t know how many people are poor in India—that it is, in fact, underestimating the poor in India:
India is plowing ahead anyway. The Planning Commission, which advises the central government on economic policy, said in April it is taking steps that would increase the national poverty rate to 37.2% of the population, from 27.5%. That will increase the official tally of the poor by about one-third, bringing it to roughly 408 million.

Some Indians say even that enormous figure, which is based on a poverty income threshold of $10 per person per month in rural areas and $13 in cities, is far too low. They point to government-appointed panels that have pegged the realistic poverty rate as high as 77%, based on a daily income of about 45 cents per day.

So, I was about to do one kind of rant about this Washington Post article re: Arizonans worried about their state’s image, but then this part of the lede caught my attention:
When state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) travels outside Arizona, she hears the same question over and over: "What's wrong with your state?" She notes Arizona's new immigration law, its ban on ethnic studies classes and its prohibition on creating animal-human hybrids.
You may remember the human-animal hybrids thing from one of George W. Bush’s State of the Unions, in which he took a brave stance against a practice that approximately no one was interested in pursuing (mind you, this was years before Splice, and I’m certain the Adrien Brody/human-animal hybrid sex scene will do more than any law to discourage human-animal hybrid experimentation.). So why the obsession with human-animal hybrids among right-leaning polities? …I have no idea! Does anyone know why?

This is good. So, there’s the jailed mayor of Cancun is trying to run for reelection in Mexico. Here’s the Washington Post with several depressingly hilarious details:
Aware that he was under investigation since January, Sánchez made a series of political ads before his arrest, calling himself a victim of political enemies, denying all charges and vowing to fight on. "This is a political lynching," said Sánchez, whose staff tweeted his protestations of innocence as he was being hauled away. The election is July 4.

Many Mexicans say they would not be especially shocked to learn that a Cancun mayor has a slush fund -- in fact, five of the city's previous seven mayors have been involved in corruption scandals. "That kind of money in any politician's account is petty cash," wrote an editorialist at the Mexico News.

More sensational than the charges of graft is the accusation that Sánchez attended a clandestine summit last year in Acapulco with the heads of the top mafias. The warring cartels sought to negotiate a truce to end the bloodshed that has left more than 23,000 Mexicans dead, according to testimony from a confidential informant known in court papers only as "Lucifer."

Lucifer said Sánchez attended the meeting, alongside unnamed elected officials and police commanders, in the company of cartel leader Arturo Beltrán Leyva, known as "the Boss of Bosses," who was shot dead by Mexican marines in a swank luxury high rise during a raid by authorities late last year. Beltrán Leyva was infamous for the pleasure he took in beheading his enemies.

Well, the hilarious part is that he’s making ads proclaiming that he’s “here for you” in that he is “here” in prison several hundred miles away.

Kreminology returns in deciphering a photo of Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran.

Who’s a better representative of L.A.: John Wooden or Paris Hilton?

The IMF is recommending greater EU centralization.

Smarter children have more books when they’re growing up sez a study:
Thus it seems that scholarly culture, and the taste for books that it brings, flows from generation to generation largely of its own accord, little affected by education, occupational status, or other aspects of class ... Parents give their infants toy books to play with in the bath; read stories to little children at bed-time; give books as presents to older children; talk, explain, imagine, fantasize, and play with words unceasingly. Their children get a taste for all this, learn the words, master the skills, buy the books. And that pays off handsomely in schools.

Even a relatively small number of books can make a difference: A child whose family has 25 books will, on average, complete two more years of school than a child whose family is sadly book-less.

These are the World Cup stories I need to see more of: the referee of the England-USA match is apparently spectacularly bad. So spectacularly bad that he received this rant from a club president:
"He's a crook, a scoundrel ... just a shameless bastard," Belluzzo said at the time. "He must be in someone's pocket. If I met him in the street, I would slap him. What he did was unbelievable and he was helping Fluminense. He should be driven out of football.”
Somewhere David Stern is composing a prayer that basketball coaches don’t become similarly motivated.

The New Republic’s soccer blog is a nice read.

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