Wait But Why: “”
June 8, 2015
March 23, 2015
Infants in College: “Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. . . .
the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer. . . .
while keeping college-level discussions ‘safe’ may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them?
Or, put another way, how will they grow up?”
When this gets written in the New York Times, of all places, you know there’s truly a problem.
November 18, 2014
“Perhaps most concerning about the $15 proposal is that some businesses anticipated going beyond an increase in prices or a reduction in staffing levels. More than 43 percent of respondents said it was ‘very likely’ they would limit future expansion in Seattle in response to the law. One in seven respondents is even ‘very likely’ to close a current location in the city limits.
Yes, it it always sounds good to give people more free stuff, but once again, everything has a price. I asked a group of sixth graders what they would do. It only took them a few minutes to determine that their only choices were to; fire some employees, raise prices, or go out of business. They also concluded that people won’t come to your store if you charge too much. If sixth graders grasp this, what is wrong with our politicians?
Seattle is the first city in the country to pass a $15 minimum wage. Survey results suggested it will be the first city to find out why it was such a bad idea.”
The policy was voted in unanimously and fully supported by the Socialist city council member Kshama Sawant. Remember what Margaret Thatcher said about Socialism?
Filing this under “education” in the hopes that, well, you know…
November 14, 2014
Okay, listen up, performers in all venues. Sing, Theater, public speaking. Anybody with an audience, really. This is a bit long but it communicates something I’ve always wanted to say. If you don’t have an “audience” then you can skip this. But in one way or another most of us do. I think this can help.
When I talk about the level of planning and execution that it takes to work at a really high level, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Take four minutes and watch this amazing performance (h/t Matt for the link). Pay attention to his execution, misdirection (watch what he wants you to watch, then rewind and watch what he _doesn’t_ want you to watch). Then keep reading.
This performance represents hours and hours and hours of patient, slow, methodical practice. Every movement is thought out and carefully crafted. What you’re seeing looks spontaneous and natural, but every twitch, gesture, and facial expression is being executed purely on muscle memory. He’s probably done this sequence of actions five thousand times. And no, that’s likely not an exaggeration.
THIS is the kind of thing I always have in mind while planning a show. You have to think on several levels. What levels? I’m glad you asked:
1. Emotional/Entertainment (highest level): what is your purpose? Not just moment-to-moment, but overall. What do you want to leave the audience with? A feeling of awe? Of sadness? Of quiet reflection? Of anger? Of joy? Each of these is a legitimate goal depending on your purpose. But you will never be able to communicate what you’re trying to say unless you _define_ what you’re trying to say. And saying “we want it to be good/awesome/amazing” isn’t enough. You have to define exactly where the target is or you’ll never know if you hit it. There’s a difference between the emotion you feel during the last scene of Schindler’s List (Liam Neeson standing by Schindler’s grave) and the final image of Monster’s Inc (“Kitty!”). But you can be sure that each of those moments was chosen as a goal. An end-state. And the emotion that you felt as an audience member was carefully crafted and manipulated within you so that when that moment came you were able to experience it clearly. “Manipulated” in this case isn’t a bad thing. There’s an implicit agreement among creators and audience members that this sort of manipulation is okay. I like getting emotional at movies. It’s okay if I’m in on it. Often it’s so easy to lose sight of your target because you get lost in the details. Keeping your goal in mind is always, always, always the #1 thing.
2. Structural: this is the second level of execution. What are the structural elements required to reach your emotional end-state goal? Why is doing that movement or gesture or motion better than that one? This kind of knowledge and understanding comes with experience. With seeing a lot of things that don’t work and then trying something else and something else and something else until you figure out what does and then putting that thing that does work in your bag of tools to use later. With enough time, your bag of tools gets big enough that you can start to see commonalities when presented with a problem to solve. Even better, you start to see connections between things that you never thought existed and can reach into your experience and solve a problem in a unique way. Your bag of tools will look different from mine and that’s okay. This is called personal style, and is a reflection of the particular experience we’ve each been through. However, the accumulation of these tools represents a common language that we all speak, even if we’re not aware of it. Being cognizant of the tools turns you from emotional consumer into experience creator. In our culture that’s a powerful place to be.
So the structural level supports the emotional/entertainment goals (everything supports the emotional/entertainment goals). Just doing the song/move/moment/whatever in a vacuum may be cool, but you have to attach it to an overall scaffolding of elements that builds to a goal in order for the moments to be meaningful. This, in my experience, is where most people lose sight of the bigger picture when putting together a project. They often think that just putting flashy stuff in will be enough. But you need the meatier elements to be present so that the entire thing has substance. In the case of my own work, placing the cool Sing move at a certain point can be neat and make the audience yell, but putting it in a specific spot for the right reason, with the right timing, can absolutely drive the moment home. Having an amazing opening stage image relate to a relevant and focussed closing stage image (even if it’s a “YEAH!” jazz-hands moment) shows craftsmanship and forethought. It looks polished and professional.
In whatever you do, always think about each structural element and how it contributes to the larger picture. Flying buttresses are an important innovation, but people travel to Notre Dame cathedral to see the gorgeous Rose window.
Yet the window could not exist without the supports.
3. Physical (lowest level): Finally there is the physical level. Also known as “ya gotta have the moves”. Once levels 1 and 2 are nailed down, level 3 thinking means doing like this guy in the video and practicing, practicing, practicing. Every movement and gesture. Polishing until they’re all perfect, lead naturally into each other, and contribute together to build a structure that supports the overall emotion. If you don’t execute this level then the whole thing can either look amateurish or come crashing down. So get this part right. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong. And communicate this ethos to your participants. They need to know that the goal isn’t just good execution of the physical level, but good execution of the physical level in order to support the structural and emotional levels.
An audience’s time is one of the most precious things a performer can ask for. When 2000 people trust you with four hours of their time you become responsible for almost a year of irreplaceable human experience. Treat that sacrifice with planning, respect, humility, and (above all) practice and they’ll return your investment with attention and appreciation.
And somewhere, in all of that, everybody can be changed.
November 13, 2014
“On campuses across the country, hostility toward unpopular ideas has become so irrational that many students, and some faculty members, now openly oppose freedom of speech. The hypersensitive consider the mere discussion of the topic of censorship to be potentially traumatic. Those who try to protect academic freedom and the ability of the academy to discuss the world as it is are swimming against the current. In such an atmosphere, liberal-arts education can’t survive.”
When merely talking about the idea of censorship is censored due to the potential to “trigger” hypersensitive students, I think we’re entering some sort of academic end-phase.
October 24, 2014
Can’t Afford a House? Don’t Buy One: “When legislators and activists say that we need low-down-payment loans because most people couldn’t possibly save up for a 20 percent down payment, what they’re really saying is that people can’t actually afford to buy a house. Helping them to go buy one anyway is not a great idea; it will work out well for some, to be sure, but it will have tragic consequences for others, and for the housing market as a whole if there’s another downturn. We just spent six years learning, the very hard way, that you can’t borrow yourself rich. That knowledge is too expensive to throw away so easily.”
Remember in 2008 when everyone had just discovered that all those sub-prime and low/no-doc mortgages were the cause of our economic wreckage? Well:
The Center for American Progress: “We shouldn’t obsess about down payments,” said Julia Gordon, director of housing policy. “Research confirms that low-down-payment loans to lower-wealth borrowers perform very well if the mortgages are well-underwritten, safe and sustainable.”
Hello? Hello? History is calling and wants its lesson back. It was wasted on you.
October 17, 2014
In testimony before Congress Thursday, Dr. Frieden was not much more straightforward. His answers often sound like filibusters: long, rolling paragraphs of benign assertion, advertising slogans—“We know how to stop Ebola,” “Our focus is protecting people”—occasionally extraneous data, and testimony to the excellence of our health-care professionals.
It is my impression that everyone who speaks for the government on this issue has been instructed to imagine his audience as anxious children. It feels like how the pediatrician talks to the child, not the parents. It’s as if they’ve been told: “Talk, talk, talk, but don’t say anything. Clarity is the enemy….
You gather they see us as poor, panic-stricken people who want a travel ban because we’re beside ourselves with fear and loathing. Instead of practical, realistic people who are way ahead of our government.”
The language of government now is word-spew.
This is not about politics, and I wish that the people who keep saying it is would simmer down. It’s about public health, stopping a pandemic, and dealing with a threat in an intelligent way.
September 24, 2014
“But the clinching argument came from my daughter’s impassioned defense of camp counselors, and her outrage that someone glancing at résumés would believe that a 20-year-old who fetches coffee at Google is more impressive than one who spends days and nights nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring…
“What I do there matters.”
September 12, 2014
“My 5-year-old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was ‘gratefully.’ He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, ‘Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.’ I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell-tale signs of a ‘growth mindset.’ But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.
Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.
What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.”
Excellent stuff. I’m definitely a believer in praising students for their tenacity, patience, and ability to learn, and not for any sort of innate “smartness” that we may observe. I confess that my autodidactic polymathishness constantly struggles with the frustrating process of getting the old brain matter to learn something new (electronics and programming is really stretching me right now). It’s encouraging to see that effort does bear fruit, even when that fruit is slow-growing.
August 27, 2014
Let me explain. Or actually, in the case of Burger King’s planned acquisition of Tim Hortons, let my colleague Matt Levine explain, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am, and has already nicely summed things up:
The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”
What is he talking about? The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad.
This is a great deal for the U.S. government, which gets to collect income tax even though it’s not providing the companies sewers or roads or courts or no-knock raids on their abodes. On the other hand, it’s not a very good deal for said citizens and corporations, especially because our government has made increasingly obnoxious demands on foreign institutions to help them collect that tax. Both private citizens and corporations who have a lot of income abroad are deciding that they’d rather renounce their ties to the U.S. than deal with the expense and hassle of letting it tap into income that they have earned using some other country’s roads and sewers and police protection.
If there are two car dealerships next door to each other and one offers a car for 20% less than the other (all-in), which one are you going to patronize? Sure, the coffee, environment, and paint job might be better at the more expensive dealership, and that might be worth paying more for, but at some point– 10%, 35%, 50% (and there is a point)– the benefits of going to the higher-cost dealer are outweighed by the economic comparison.
People who are arguing against Burger King leaving the U.S. and reincorporating in Canada are essentially saying that they must continue patronizing the more expensive store, and they are using guilt-trip tactics to argue their point. It’s what we have come to expect from a less economically literate worldview. I’m glad that we’re finally seeing such effective pushback. I hope it’s not too late.
Do I want Burger King to leave the U.S., taking a lot of tax revenue from us? No way. But I sympathize with their plight (being a small business owner, boy do I sympathize). It’s absolutely worth it to be a part of the U.S. economic system and, yes, I think they do “owe” something on some level to that system. But when that system constantly demands more and more while other countries are offering them better rates? It’s a no-brained decision to eventually leave for other shores.
Dear taxing authorities: if you get greedy, eventually you’ll get nothing. There’s a lesson here– there’s a trend going on here. You need to learn it before you have no business tax revenue left.
Tax sanely. Spend wisely and responsibly. Be good stewards of the economic trees. And the Burger Kings, and all of his friends, may come back.
August 26, 2014
I just experienced existentially bad teaching tonight. I mean BAD. No context, no overview, no tell-them-what-you’ll-tell-them-then-tell-them-then-tell-them-what-you-told-them (the basis of great instruction). It was made even worse that the topic was an extremely complex and deep software suite. The students were completely lost and couldn’t even get the screen to look the same as the instructors (this program is really deep).
As an educator (and one that has been teaching more and more lately), this sort of thing has graduated from being an irritation and annoyance to being almost, I don’t know, a righteous cause for me. Sitting in class tonight (before I got up and walked out), I suddenly remembered every single bad teacher in my education career and wanted to pull them each aside and demand of them: WHY DID YOU FAIL US?!?!
Teachers: if you can’t prepare, if you can’t communicate, if you can’t create a framework of knowledge in someone else’s mind and then methodically, confidently fill that framework with information that can be recalled and utilized by the student later, then I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not teaching.
July 9, 2014
The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.
I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.
The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.
Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!
The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.
This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.
The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.
As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”
May 23, 2014
“We raise our children amidst constant preening, fawning, coddling, pampering, and congratulating, and then scratch our heads and wonder why they eventually enter adulthood so entirely unprepared for the rigors and challenges of the real world.
‘What?! I showed up to my job on time for a whole year, completed the minimum amount of work required, and performed at an overall standard, to slightly substandard, level — yet nobody’s handing me a ribbon or giving a lengthy speech heralding my many achievement?! Unacceptable! I’ve been bullied! I quit!’
We get them hooked on recognition and flattery at the age of three, and by the time they’re 23 they’ve become full-blown addicts. They develop a dependency on attention and affirmation, and can’t handle living in a universe that doesn’t stop to give them a cookie every time they complete some minor, routine task. This attention-seeking, ‘hey, notice me!’ mentality can lead them down a dark path towards resentment, jealousy, depression, and Snapchat accounts.”
May 4, 2014
“We are all born with boundless curiosity, but as we grow older, a battle springs up between what Kashdan calls the ‘anxious mind and the curious spirit’. Our instinct to explore is tempered by our desire to conform. We stop asking questions, because we learn that it makes us look stupid. We stop putting ourselves in positions where we are open to uncertainty — and therefore vulnerable. But in our pursuit of a secure and comfortable life, we lose sight of what really drives us. ‘It begins in compulsory education,’ says Kashdan. ‘When we train people to follow rules, we stop them listening to their own instincts. We stop asking, What am I excited by, what am I motivated to pursue?’
People with the greatest fear of the unknown — those of us who suffer from a ‘hyper-avoidance’ of distress — tend to be the least open, or curious. But cultivating a curious attitude can help to curb our general anxieties.”
April 28, 2014
ANOTHER university stops students from handing out Constitution | The Daily Caller: “Two students are suing the University of Hawaii for violating their First Amendment rights after administrator prevented them from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution — demonstrating a frightening lack of knowledge about the very legal document they were attempting to censor.
Students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone, members of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UH-Hilo, were prevented from handing out copies of the Constitution at a recruitment event in January. A week later, they were again informed by a censorship-minded administrator that their First Amendment-protected activities were in violation of school policy.
The students were told that they could only distribute literature from within UH-Hilo’s ‘free speech zone,’ a small, muddy, frequently-flooded area on the edge of campus.
Administrators further clarified their level of respect for students’ free speech rights, making comments like, ‘This isn’t really the ’60s anymore,’ and ‘people can’t really protest like that anymore,’ “
The administrators protested against The Man back in the 60’s. Now that they are The Man the would love everybody to just settle down and be quiet.
April 22, 2014
“A new Texas law requires public school students to decide a career track in eighth grade. It’s a sea change with challenges for schools — and some anxiety for kids.
Before this school year ends, nearly 400,000 eighth graders in Texas will have chosen to enroll in one of five specific areas of study adopted by state lawmakers under House Bill 5. There’s STEM, which stands for science, technology engineering and math; business and industry; public service; arts and humanities and a category with mostly advanced courses called multidisciplinary studies.
The choice eighth graders are required to make is huge. It will determine which courses they begin taking when they enter high school this fall.
It’s like being asked: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
But for real.”
April 12, 2014
More to a good life than college – KansasCity.com: “‘When you could pay your way through college by waiting tables, the idea that you should ‘study what interests you’ was more viable than it is today when the cost of a four-year degree often runs to six figures,’ wrote Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in an essay for The Wall Street Journal.
Our son worries about choosing the wrong path. No more are the 20s the years of do-overs.
‘We aren’t allowed to make mistakes,’ Silas says of his generation.”
April 3, 2014
The Amen beat and its repercussions for copyright. A really interesting 18:00 piece if you have time for it.
April 1, 2014
Transom » Radiolab: An Appreciation by Ira Glass: “Artists compete. Not head to head like athletes, but in their souls. Within the appreciation of our fellow artists is the tiny wince, ‘I wish I’d done that.’Ira Glass joins us again on Transom, this time for a loving and envious homage to our friends at Radiolab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. A radio master salutes his comrades. The great thing about Ira’s analysis is that it’s so detailed. He breaks down exactly what’s so good about Radiolab and why. You could almost learn the tricks and do it yourself. Almost. Honestly, though, you’d lose. It’s better sometimes just to appreciate.”
I’m a RadioLab addict and am always sad when there aren’t any in my feed (a tendency reinforced when I first discovered it a few years ago and mainlined probably 100 hours of the broadcast). If you don’t know this incredible show, you really do owe it to yourself to give it a listen.
February 28, 2014
Related: The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age (h/t Sean for the link)
“Many of my colleagues believe that if we just explain our plight clearly enough, legislators will come to their senses and give us enough money to save us from painful restructuring. I’ve never seen anyone explain why this argument will be persuasive, and we are nearing the 40th year in which similar pleas have failed, but “Someday the government will give us lots of money” remains in circulation, largely because contemplating our future without that faith is so bleak. If we can’t keep raising costs for students (we can’t) and if no one is coming to save us (they aren’t), then the only remaining way to help these students is to make a cheaper version of higher education for the new student majority.”
What can’t go on forever, won’t. Promises that can’t be kept, won’t be. Prepare accordingly.