Recent Articles

High ceilings and abstract thinking

I’m now living in house with 10 foot ceilings, almost two feet taller than the ceilings in my previous house. I now read that these new tall ceilings might affect the way I think.

Across several experiments, the researchers found evidence that high ceilings seemed to put test participants in a mindset of freedom, creativity, and abstraction, whereas the lower ceilings prompting more confined thinking.

In one test, for instance, participants in the 10-foot room completed anagrams about freedom (with words such as “liberated” or “unlimited”) significantly faster than participants in the eight-foot room did. But when the anagrams were related to concepts of constraint, with words like “bound or “restricted,” the situation played out in reverse. Now the test participants with 10-foot ceilings finished the puzzles slower than those in the eight-foot rooms did.

Another experiment asked participants to identify commonalities among a list of 10 different sports. Those in the high-ceiling group came up with more of these themes, and had their themes judged more abstract in nature, compared with participants in the low-ceiling group. Meyers-Levy and Zhu suspect this outcome emerged from the psychological freedom that comes with taller ceilings—a mindset that might also enhance creative thinking.

March 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

Urban-Suburban Donut changing

Inner urban areas are being repopulated and revived.

The long-standing urban-suburban divide in education, income, race and other characteristics is being turned on its head as college-educated Millennials crowd into U.S. cities, new research shows.

Putting urban neighborhoods under a microscope, a University of Virginia researcher has concluded that the traditional urban “donut” pattern — a ring of thriving suburbs surrounding a decaying city center — is being replaced by a new pattern: a thriving urban core surrounded by a ring of suburbs with older housing, older residents and more poverty.

March 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Lee Camp dismembers “Meet the Press”

Does “Meet the Press” deal with pressing issues? Lee Camp unloads:

March 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Elite College for Free, Without the Degree

How can you possibly attend elite colleges for free? You just walk into the classrooms and act like a student.

Here is the opening to this story, which addresses more than a few serious topics:

Between 2008 and 2012, Guillaume Dumas took courses at some of the best colleges in North America—Stanford, Yale, Brown, University of California Berkeley, McGill, and University of British Columbia, among others—without being enrolled as a student. He then went on to start a successful online dating business in Montreal.

For four years, the 28-year-old from Quebec lived the life of a wandering scholar, moving from one university town to the next, attending lectures and seminars, getting into heated debates with professors. Sometimes he was open about his unregistered status, but most of the time, fearing reprisal, he kept it quiet. To pay for his everyday expenses, he worked at cafes and occasionally earned money by writing papers for other students. He lived at co-ops or other cheap student housing, but at Brown, when funds got particularly low, a kind soul let him set up his sleeping bag and tent on the roof. At the end of all this, he never received a degree.

March 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Do it yourself political reporting

The City of St. Louis, where I live, will hold its primary elections tomorrow. As usual, reporting on many of the races is scant to nonexistent. Here’s a typical example of “reporting” on the elections, this from St. Louis Public Radio, and it provides almost no information about the positions of the candidates. You won’t find any meaningful information in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch either. Local TV won’t cover the candidates positions either. It’s amazing that citizens are being asked to vote in elections where it is so incredibly difficult to learn about the candidates. This is the way things are, year after year. This year I decided to do something about the problem.

Based on hundreds of signs appearing on front yards in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis (where I live), two of the Democrat candidates are especially active in the race for Alderman. The incumbent is Stephen Conway. Kevin McKinney is also vying for that office. Rather than rely on the sound-bite information on the yard signs and flyers, I decided to invite both candidates to my house to separately videotape 30-minute discussions of the issues with me. I posted both videos on my neighborhood website, and I have received considerable appreciation from my neighbors for providing this information. My role in offering to produce these videos was that of a citizen journalist. I wanted to do my part to make important information available to voters in an upcoming election.

This was a no-brainer, really. Simply post decent quality videos on YouTube where people can hear from the candidates in the privacy and comfort of their own homes.

March 2, 2015 | By | Reply More

Senator Elizabeth Warren warns us about the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Elizabeth Warren warns us about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as reported by the Public Citizen Consumer Blog:

Sen. Warren’s op-ed in the Post this week is a must-read, and a must-share: it explains how our country’s consumer, worker, and environmental protection laws could be undermined by a dispute-resolution clause in the TPP, currently being negotiated. More generally, the danger Sen. Warren describes is a potent illustration of how trade deals that may sound benign in terms of their general aims can contain some pretty radical giveaways to corporate interests.

Here’s a flavor:

[The Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, or ISDS] would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

March 2, 2015 | By | Reply More

We’re from the government. Trust us.

If I may make a gross over-characterization. Both people on the left and right trust the government, but in different respects. People on the right trust law enforcement and the military. People on the left trust government-run social programs. Both are victims (as we all are) of confirmation bias.

Here is a sad story of gross malfeasance by the CIA, and attempts to make the information public. The whistleblower in this case, Jeffrey Sterling could be facing a stiff sentence for allegedly revealing that the CIA handed (to Iran) valuable information regarding the construction of a nuclear bomb to Iran.

Also discussed is the equally sad story of reporter James Risen spending substantial time in prison for protecting his sources.

In light of this frustrating set of revelations, the question arises: How are citizens supposed to know what their government is up to? Barack Obama has continued and even increased crack-downs on whistle-blowers and surveillance on members of the press. How are citizens supposed to stay informed. What is the means to rope in irresponsible law-enforcement? Given this event and these trends, the “answer” is that citizens should simply trust their government.

March 1, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

Blank check war

From a mass emailing I received this morning from Rep. Alan Grayson:

So we had a hearing a week ago on ISIS (“we” being the House Foreign Affairs Committee), and the witnesses were three experts on U.S. policy in the Middle East, all dues-paying members of the Military-Industrial Complex. They were James Jeffrey, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at our embassy in Iraq; Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the Rand Corp.; and Dafna Rand, who was on the National Security Council staff. The White House had just released the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS, and I felt that I needed a good translator, so I asked them what the ISIS war authorization meant. Their answers were chilling: the ISIS war authorization means whatever the President wants it to mean. If you don’t believe me, just listen to them:
GRAYSON: Section 2(c) of the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force reads as follows: “The authority granted in subsection A [to make war on ISIS and forces ‘alongside’ ISIS] does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Ambassador Jeffrey, what does ‘enduring’ mean?
JEFFREY: My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one: “Whatever the Executive at the time defines ‘enduring’ as.” And I have a real problem with that.
GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?
BRENNAN: I have real problems with that also. I don’t know what it means. I can just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this. But more importantly, if you’re looking at committing forces for something that you are saying is either [a] vital or important interest of the United States, and you get in the middle of a battle, and all of a sudden, are you on offense, or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems? Wars never end the way that they were envisioned. And so I think that that’s maybe a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF.
GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?
RAND: Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness, it specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand.
GRAYSON: Dr. Rand, is two weeks ‘enduring’?
RAND: I would leave that to the lawyers to determine exactly.
GRAYSON: So your answer is [that] you don’t know, right? How about two months?
RAND: I don’t know. Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective, ‘enduring’ in my mind is not having a particular military objective in mind.

[More . . . ]

February 26, 2015 | By | Reply More

Owls are perceived to be more lazy than larks

Even if Owls work the same number of hours as larks, they are perceived to be lazier. That is the conclusion of this article:

The belief that getting an early start to the day is virtuous is widely held. In fact, finds a forthcoming study, it’s so pervasive that managers rate workers who get an early start higher than those who get in and stay late, no matter how many hours they work in total or how well they do their jobs. And it could explain why other research has found that workers who have flexible schedules have less successful careers.

The study, from researchers at The University of Washington, highlighted at the Harvard Business Review, will be published later this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. It finds support for the idea that managers have a “morning bias.” In other words, they buy into a common stereotype that leads them to confuse starting time with conscientiousness. They perceive employees who start later as less conscientious, and consequently less hard-working and disciplined, and that carries through to performance ratings.

February 25, 2015 | By | 3 Replies More