Archive for August, 2014

Cell Phone Addiction

Posted on August 29th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A new study finds that college students spend an average 8-10 hours a day on their smartphones—women are on the higher side—and warns of “smartphone addiction.”

Watching people’s behavior with their phones—their inability not to look at them while in an elevator on while stuck in traffic or walking down the street—I can easily believe that such a phenomenon exists….

You Can Comment Again

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Recently I was tinkering with the set-up of this blog, which is probably not a good idea, and I seem to have turned off readers’ ability to comment. Either that or I’ve been boring you all to tears.

Pretty sure I fixed it…at least the commenting part.

Is Harvard Grad Josh Barro a Complete Dick?

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the Times, he weighs in on his right to recline a seat on an airplane—and wonders why, if doing so is so offensive to so many people, no one has ever offered to pay him not to do so.

If sitting behind my reclined seat was such misery, if recliners like me are “monsters,” as Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard puts it, why is nobody willing to pay me to stop? People talk a big game on social media about the terribleness of reclining, but then people like to complain about all sorts of things; if they really cared that much, someone would have opened his wallet and paid me by now.

Here is the most charitable explanation of this argument: Barro is a student of economics, and economists are often stupid when it comes to interpersonal relations. Also, they tend to think that every problem is essentially financial.

Here is a somewhat less charitable explanation: Barro is just trying to be provocative in order to get a lot of hits. Judging from the (as of now) 2168 comments on his piece, he has succeeded.

Here is the least charitable explanation: Barro is an insensitive asshole.

On his own terms, there’s a perfectly rational explanation why no one has offered him money: Because doing so would create a moral hazard in which there is a financial incentive to act like a boor.

A more down to earth explanation would be that most people don’t think like economists; that they are uncomfortable with confrontation; that they don’t think they should have to pay someone not to be rude; and that if someone is enough of a jerk to fully recline his seat on a plane, he’s probably not someone you want to engage with.

You can probably guess where I stand on seat reclining; In the zero-sum game of airplane space, I don’t think it’s justifiable to add to your own comfort at someone else’s expense, regardless of whether the airline gives you “the right” to do so. (I would add that the discomfort of having someone recline into you is actually significantly greater than the comfort it provides the leaner, but that of course is subjective.) In any case, the facilitation of rude behavior by a corporation does not mean that behavior is morally legitimate.

That said, as a practical matter, some people insist on reclining. (Predictably, it seems to be mostly men.) So why not do this: If they lean back an inch, let it go. If they lean back entirely, politely ask them if they could put the seat up a little. If they won’t, hit them in the back of their head with a solid object, like a trophy or a lamp.

And don’t even get me started on the couple in the row behind me on my recent American flight who started listening to YouTube videos on a smartphone—without headsets—and then looked deeply offended when I politely asked if they could turn down their phone.

Larry Summers on Reading

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

He tells the Boston Globe that he likes fiction that is “a tad primitive, meat-eating and number crunching.” Art does imitate life!

Welcome to Pine Point

Posted on August 23rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I stumbled upon this piece of online storytelling at the suggestion of my friend Jim Ledbetter. In a number of different ways, both human and technological, it’s a remarkable piece of work–like nothing I’ve seen before online. You should check it out.

More on How We Read

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking a bit about that study, reported in the Guardian, showing that readers absorb less material when they read something on an e-reader than when they read a printed book.

Because I love printed books, my reaction was pretty much one of delight—I’m happy whenever something suggests that printed books aren’t going to become obsolete.

But of course, the issue has pretty profound educational implications. More and more textbooks are being delivered (and, theoretically, read) electronically. I’m sure that’s true of more and more course materials. Not to mention the larger phenomenon of online education. Will today’s students remember less of what they’ve learned than those who read print? Or will they just need to read things more times in order to remember them?

This is one of those things where Larry Summers’ push/rush to modernize universities starts to look not so smart, and more about his impatience with perceived avatars of the past than a real understanding of smart ways in which to advance learning. I wish Walter Isaacson had pressed him a little bit harder in his “conversation” with Summers and Drew Faust a few weeks ago at the Aspen Institute….

The Sexual Assault Backlash

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

You could predict this (in fact, I think I did): The Washington Post reports that men on college campuses accused of sexual assault are alleging that federal pressure has created an atmosphere in which they receive unfair publicity and unfair “trials.”

They fiercely dispute the validity of internal investigations that rely on a lower standard of proof for determining misconduct than what is required for a conviction of a sex crime. They also contest accounts circulating on campuses and the Internet that label them as sexual assailants or rapists.

A student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who was found responsible this year for sexual misconduct after an internal investigation he called biased, said: “I wasn’t given a fair trial or anything. It’s sad that this process can be abused and that the university can totally change somebody’s life, with very little evidence. . . . In the real world, rape and sexual assault are crimes punishable by going to jail — and rightfully so. Why is this left up to schools?

That last is a fair point. I’m pretty sure I wrote earlier that the federal pressure to impose rigid guidelines for handling sexual assault cases would likely force universities to involve local police departments more than they do currently. It’s interesting that some of that pressure might actually come from the men involved, who feel that they’re more likely to get a fair trial outside the campus system. What would a university do if a man accused of sexual assault insisted on going to the police?

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, one of the senators pushing legislation that would set up mandatory policies for how campuses handle allegations of sexual assault, tells the Post that she wants as many cases as possible to be handled in court—but disagrees that there’s a widespread problem of unfair treatment of the accused.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near a tipping point where the people accused of this are somehow being treated unfairly,” McCaskill said.

Many who have faced disciplinary sanctions disagree. They question the fairness of closed-door, internal proceedings that don’t follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as criminal courts. Usually, accused students must speak for themselves, with little or no help from an attorney. Some are filing lawsuits against schools.

That, I suspect, is something we will see more and more of—universities being sued. Which will in turn force them to involve external police departments more and more. Which is something that many victims of sexual assault apparently don’t want.

But I think that may be a good thing: The idea that you could accuse someone of rape but then say, I don’t want the police to handle the matter, let’s do this on the qt, creates a situation where you’ve departed from the rule of law. The police aren’t perfect about handling allegations of sexual assault, obviously. But at least they have well-defined and public standards; rape is against the law. I think that’s better than the shifting sands of a university bureaucracy and political hype.

I can well believe that the way many universities handled these matters in the past favored the accused. But now the pendulum has swung the other way. Neither situation is tenable. This has really become a fight about cultural and political power, and not about the administration of justice.

You Read Something on a Kindle. Do You Remember It?

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Guardian reports on a new study finding that people who read books on an e-reader remember them less well than people who read books on paper.

A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

I am both not surprised and also sort of delighted by this news.

Hilary Clinton Stabs Barack Obama in the Back

Posted on August 12th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In an Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, she turns on her former boss.

Clinton had many kind words for the “incredibly intelligent” and “thoughtful” Obama, and she expressed sympathy and understanding for the devilishly complicated challenges he faces. But she also suggested that she finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).

This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

For the sake of advancing her own political career—because you don’t eviscerate the commander-in-chief this way if you’re not running for president—Clinton has just made the last two years of Obama’s presidency significantly more difficult.

From a purely political point of view, I can see the argument for doing so. But I think this betrayal tells you a lot about Hilary. Nothing—not even loyalty—is going to stand in her way. Perhaps she feels she has reached the level where people owe loyalty to her and not vice-versa. Or perhaps she just doesn’t care.

I’m on Vacation

Posted on August 10th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In case you were wondering….