Photo of the day

An In Focus gallery of Red Bull photo contest winners.  Y’all know I cannot resist a great wave photo:

Stuart Gibson’s photo of Sean Woolnough on a wave in Namotu Island, Fiji, was a finalist in the Spirit category. “Sean Woolnough and I were in Fiji for big swell and the wind went dead, so while we still had amazing conditions, we jumped in a Fijian long boat. This is more of a tow wave, as you can see — paddling this wave doesn’t end well. The island jetski was out of action so we thought we’d give it a go. I dropped Sean at the top of the reef, and the ocean went flat, like someone had turned off the tap. It takes a big set to light this slab up, and as Sean sat patiently I saw a big lump coming. I started yelling, but he had no reference as to where he was on the reef so he waited and paddled for this first wave of the set. He just missed it, and when I looked back, this deep blue lump just started draining out, almost sucking him under the wave. He took one big duckdive and got under the breaking lip. On a normal wave this is fine but this thing didn’t have a back — the reef drops to 200m out the back of this place so when it breaks it really folds. The wave had just too much power and sucked him back over the falls, it’s pretty much a surfer’s worst nightmare position, so many people claim this is photoshopped, but it certainly is not!” (© Stuart Gibson/Red Bull Illume)

Action bias in pregnancy, soccer, and foreign relations

So, earlier this week, I listened to a really entertaining new podcast from Slate and WBUR on health called the checkup.  This edition focused on myths of pregnancy and childbirth.  What I found most fascinating is that bedrest during pregnancy is still widely prescribed despite absolutely no evidence that it does anything to improve the conditions it is supposedly treating.   Pretty amazing, huh?  So, why in the world do doctors regularly prescibe a treatment that in all likelihood does more harm than good?  (Not suprisingly being stuck in bed can easily lead to depression).  Short answer, is that there is no known effective treatment for symptoms of pre-term labor.  And here’s the thing– if you are doctor or a pregnant woman you want to do something.  It’s human natue to want to do something (anything!) when faced with a difficult situation.  Its just so hard to sit back and do nothing even if science and common sense (i.e., I’ll drive 10 minutes out of my way to avoid a traffic jam I know will take 5 minutes) dictate that this is the best approach.

Same day I listened to this, for some reason I came across a 5-year old Shankar Vedantam piece on how this “action bias” on authorizing the Iraq War where he also pointed out the fun finding on how detrimental it is to soccer goalkeepers facing a penalty kick:

Economist Ofer Azar recently came up with a novel way to study the insidious nature of the action bias. He examined whether soccer goalies were more likely to stop penalty kicks when they dived to the left, dived to the right or stayed in the center of the goal. In a study of 286 penalty kicks faced by elite Israeli goalkeepers, Azar found that goalies had the best chance of stopping a kick when they remained in the center — partly because when they dived to one side, they left themselves with no chance of stopping a kick aimed at the other side or a kick aimed dead center. And even when they correctly guessed the direction of the kick, they still had only a 1-in-4 chance of stopping a goal.

Despite the clarity of the evidence, Azar found that goalies dived to one side or the other 93 percent of the time.

Lesson?  Next time you think you just have to do something, you probably really shouldn’t.

Rich liberals– send your kids to public schools

Loved this rant from Slate’s Allison Benedikt.  Here’s the great intro:

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murdererbad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad.  [emphases in original] So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

I’m judgmental and a quasi education policy wonk.  And I largely agree.  And here’s why:

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! … I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

I went to a great, rich public  school.  My wife, however, went to a pretty poor one in rural NC where there were no AP classes and less than 10% of her classmates went on to four-year college.  She was smart, however, and had smart middle-class parents who valued education.  End result?  Like me, a Duke BA and Ohio State PhD and a pretty okay life.

Now, this may all be easy for me to say– where we live in Wake County the public schools are good.  That said, my oldest goes to (at least according to one source) the poorest middle school (somewhere around 50% on free/reduced lunch) in the district.  Does this mean the quality is not as good as some others?  Absolutely.  But his school needs students like David there and families like ours involved, or it would be far worse.  Meanwhile, my professor friends routinely seem to do all they can to pull their kids out of these neighborhood schools with medium levels of poverty and place them in “magnet schools” where the population their child will be educated with is richer, whiter, and generally more privileged (yes, I do judge them).  These schools often actually have high poor/minority populations from the local neighborhood, but by all accounts, there is very little mixing between the magnet and local populations.

Likewise, I’ve seen my friends completely stress over which high school their child will go to and I quietly nod, etc., when I really want to yell… “seriously, your kid is a professor’s kid with 99th percentile intelligence on standardized testing.  I think they’re going to do okay.”  We could use more kids and families with this background at the troubled schools; not more at the best ones.

Okay, readers with kids in private school– tell me I’m wrong.

Video of the day

I heard this clip on a Fresh Air episode about late night TV the other day.  Really pretty amazing.

Map of the day

Via Amazing Maps (of course).  Today’s countries mapped onto Pangaea.  My kids will love this.

Embedded image permalink

It pays to be a political hack

About those political hacks who got huge promotions and pay raises for jobs they are on their face entirely unqualified for, the AP has done a little digging.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory says a pair of 24-year-old campaign staffers landed senior-level jobs in his administration because they were the most qualified applicants, beating out older candidates.

But the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, where Matthew McKillip and Ricky Diaz got big promotions and raises after only a few weeks of government service, has been unable to provide any evidence their positions were ever advertised to other potential applicants or that other candidates were considered.

In response to a public records request from The Associated Press, the state agency indicated there were no job postings or written skill requirements for the high-paying positions awarded to the young Republicans…

McCrory insists McKillip and Diaz got their positions on merit, not politics.

“They got promotions,” McCrory, a Republican, said in an Aug. 15 interview with WNCN-TV in Raleigh. “They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too. But frankly, these two young people are very well qualified and they are being paid for jobs at which that’s the pay rate for that job.”

A review of job descriptions for similar government positions posted online by the Office of State Personnel show McKillip and Diaz don’t meet the academic or experience requirements to qualify for even entry-level positions in the areas they now oversee. Their pay also exceeds the listed maximums for the most senior listed positions.

And, in a bit of a throwaway at the end, that just shows how stupid it is to insult the people who cover you every day…

In January, McCrory hired Blannie Cheng Garrett, now 28, as a deputy secretary of commerce and as his adviser on jobs and the economy at a salary of $110,000 a year.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Garrett has a bachelor’s degree in international politics. After earning her law degree in 2010, she worked two years at a Raleigh firm where she focused on corporate taxes and private equity transactions.

She does not list a degree in economics.

Honestly, I get that politicians are going to hire and promote many persons for entirely political reasons in jobs that are political appointments (though, the big raises for the position are a bit rich).  That’s just politics.   But don’t insult our intelligence by pretending for even a second that these were the most qualified people for the job.

Video of the day

For some reason, the good people at Oral Roberts University thought it would be a good idea to release a bald eagle in their chapel.  It was not.

More here.

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