Video of the day

Not a racist?  There’s an app for that.  Thanks to Big Steve.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal photos of the week:

A baby dolphin earns its jumping stripes as it swims alongside its mother and leaps out of the water next to her.  The dolphin calf was virtually stuck to its mother's side as they swam  before simultaneously jumping a metre out of the water near the  Sao Miguel Island of the Azores region, Portugal
A baby dolphin earns its jumping stripes as it swims alongside its mother and leaps out of the water next to her. The dolphin calf was virtually stuck to its mother’s side as they swam before simultaneously jumping a metre out of the water near the Sao Miguel Island of the Azores region, PortugalPicture: Sascha Losko/Solent

A day in school cuts

This is just small local news, that nobody pays attention to, but it is exactly the consequence of the actions of our legislature:

The Alamance-Burlington school system announced last night that a $4.9 million budget reduction leaves school officials with the task of cutting more than 60 jobs and increasing class sizes by one student.

17 teaching positions, 35 teacher assistants, two assistant principals, three directors and four student-support psychologists will be eliminated. No layoffs will be required; all of those who were in these positions will have retired.

There will also be more than $1.6 million in cuts for class room supplies, technology and staff and teacher training.

Alamance-Burlington joins a growing list of school districts that have been forced to make difficult cuts as the 2013-14 school year approaches.

– See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2013/08/13/tracking-the-cuts-the-dismantling-of-our-public-schools-2/#sthash.cFui3UeV.zZ6QcmBk.dpuf

Yet, the Republicans insist they didn’t actually cut education funding.  I assume the people of Burlington, NC have suddenly decided they’re against public education.

OMG– people can find out my kids live at my house!

A “friend” just posted this completely fearmongering blog post/news segment that “bad guys” can find the metadata from your cell phone to find out where your kids live!  And they can even find out their schools!!  (Because, it’s not like there’s not a school tied to an address).  Or, yes, every parent’s worst fear– your kids’ favorite fast food restaurant.

My question– is there evidence of even a single case where somebody has stalked a young child (I’m not talking about chatting up a 14-year old) they simply saw a photo of on social media and actually abducted and/or harmed that child?  And, even if there was that single case, I’m going to assume my children are in much greater danger simply from the fact that we drive around Cary, NC (oh, no, you know where they live!) in an automobile every day.  Some parents, really, really, need to get a grip.

You can buy happiness (or not)

Really enjoyed this Cass Sunstein summary and critique of the latest happiness research from social scientist team, Dunn and Norton.  As I’m sure I’ve written about before, they emphasize spending money on experiences, not material goods, to increase your overall happiness.  Apparently they’ve got a new book out and experiences over commodities is the most important of their give general principles for happiness.

One reason for the difference is that people tend to adapt to commodities. After a while, they do not much think about them, treating them instead as part of life’s furniture. A nice car or a nice house may be wonderful at first, but after a relatively short period it is simply a background fact. (Consider in this light the striking finding that, while both men and women experience a remarkably large increase in happiness during and immediately after the time of marrying, their happiness returns to its pre-marital state after a year or two.) Novel experiences, by contrast, provide the basis for valuable memories that endure, and that can help to define the texture of a life. It is tempting to think that a two-week trip to Paris is pretty short, but if the vacation is terrific it will have a lifelong effect. In your mind, you will keep coming back to it.

I’ve got to say, with the school year fast upon us, people keep asking me how my summer was, and my mind instantly goes right to Topsail Beach, and I think– pretty damn good.  You also get anticipatory effects.  Like the fact that I’m really excited to go back to the beach for a few days for Labor day weekend.  We could buy some pretty nice things for the money these beach trips cost, but I cannot think of anything that would actually bring me as much lasting enjoyment.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a bit more lately even before reading the Sunstein piece because I have a friend who’s going into debt to renovate his kitchen (which I hear about the latest developments most every day).  I cannot help bu think– are those granite countertops and fancy cabinets really going to make you even one tiny bit happier after you’ve adjusted to them?  Honest answer– probably, because it’s what his wife really wants and keeping one’s wife happy is an absolute key to happiness.

Anyway, Sunstein concludes with some thoughtful critiques of this research:

In my view, however, the most serious questions for Dunn and Norton lie elsewhere. One of them involves causation. Are people happy because they give to others, or do people give to others because they are happy? Do people buy experiences because they are happy, or are they happy because they buy experiences? Are happy (and wealthy) people unusually likely to pay now and to consume later? Ideally, we would answer such questions with randomized controlled trials, involving similarly situated people who differ only along the relevant dimension. As good social scientists, Dunn and Norton are aware of this point, but some of their (plausible) conclusions go beyond what the evidence clearly demonstrates.

There is also the persistent fact of human diversity. Many people love their homes and hate to travel. Some people tire of socializing and don’t want to spend a ton of time with their friends (even if they really like them). Dunn and Norton think that a lot of people are making mistakes with the use of their money. They are undoubtedly right. But it is important to acknowledge that, in defying their principles, and in choosing to fix up a home, to pay later, or to consume immediately, people might not be mistaken, but might instead be responding to their own preferences and constraints. What seem to be errors may well be sensible judgments in light of the circumstances.

If you actually enjoy reading my occasional posts on the social science of happiness, you really owe it to yourself to read the whole Sunstein post.  If, you’re one of those people who say, “ugh, Steve and the happiness again,” much like I say “ugh, Yglesias and the parking again,” well then, heck, you probably didn’t make it this far.

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