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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shakespeare Folio Found in Calais -- More Evidence of Shakespeare's Catholicism

Today's Washington Post reports that a librarian in Calais, France discovered a Shakespeare Folio on the library's shelves.  It was missing a few key pages, and as a result had been miscatalogued as an 18th century compilation of Shakespeare's plays.  In fact, it clearly was one of the original 1623 Folios, of which only 232 -- now 233 -- are known to exist (Washington Post's "223" is wrong here, although I'm not 100% sure of the exact number).

It's missing about 30 pages, and has seen better days.

But nevertheless, it provides us one more link between Shakespeare and the Jesuits.  Eric Rasmussen, a famous Shakespeare scholar, has this to say:

“[I]t clearly came from the college of Jesuits in Saint-Omer, founded in the late 16th century during Queen Elizabeth’s reign when it was illegal for Catholics to go to college. . . .  People have been making some vague arguments [about Shakespeare's possible Catholicism] but now for the first time we have a connection between the Jesuit college network and Shakespeare. … The links become a little more substantial when you have this paper trail.”

The Folio is inscribed with the name "Neville," which is taken to be code for the name of the owner of the book.  The New York Times writeup (from which the Washington Post writeup mostly derives) says that Rasmussen posited that the inscription meant that the book was brought to St.-Omer in the 1650s by Edward Scarisbrick "a member of a prominent English Catholic family who went by that alias and attended the Jesuit college" (quote from NYT, not Rasmussen).

I'm not a Catholic by any stretch of the imagination, but I tend to root for underdogs.  So I rooted for soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth and the Protestants during the reign of Bloody Mary, but I also rooted for Mary Queen of Scots, Edmund Campion, and the Catholics during the almost-equally bloody reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Since Shakespeare's writing career took place largely during Elizabeth's affirmatively anti-Catholic reign, I like to think of him as a subversive underdog during that time.  It adds another perspective to the reading of the plays.

Of course, we know next-to-nothing about Shakespeare's actual life, so any guesses about his religious beliefs are sheer speculation.  

This isn't quite the same as arguing that Shakespeare's works were written by someone other than Shakespeare.  That's a very different kind of argument, although it also stems from the scarcity of any verifiable biographical information about Shakespeare himself.  The authorship argument is difficult to make simply because the other candidates for authorship are so weak -- for example, the best one seems to be the Earl of Oxford, but he was dead before Shakespeare wrote many of his plays, and some of those plays clearly contain references to things that happened after Shakespeare's death.

I can't help noting (since nobody seems to have done so yet), that Sir Henry Neville has recently been put forth as an authorship candidate by James Goding and Bruce Leyland (code breakers) and Brenda James (Shakespeare scholar).  Proponents of this theory will doubtless consider the inscription "Neville" highly significant.  (On quick look, I see no evidence that Neville was Catholic, although of course he might have been just as Catholic as Shakespeare).

The Shakespeare-as-Jesuit argument also finds support in the plays here and there, and on the notion that one "William Shakeshafte" -- a person who might have spent time with Edmund Campion on his 1580 mission -- might have been the young William Shakespeare.

Connections to Shakespeare and the Jesuits can be found in the following sources:

Will In the World, by Stephen Greenblatt (an overrated and derivative, but very accessible, popular work by a famous Shakespeare Scholar)

Shakespeare and the Jesuits, by Andrea Campana (I haven't read it, and nobody's reviewed it, but it appears to contain a detailed review of the "evidence)

Here's a picture of the thing:





Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gap insurance and vehicle warranty scam

I don't usually finance cars, so I haven't really seen one of these "finance" sales guys in action, until recently, when I decided to finance a car for my daughter.  I think I've been offered extended warranties in the past, but I always decline.  It always seems smarter to self-insure on the small stuff.  And of course, I'd never encountered "gap insurance" before.  Gap insurance is just insurance that you buy in case you total your own car, and the insurance company will only pay the "value" of the car, as opposed to the remaining loan amount.  That presumably has some value at the outset of a car loan, since (as they will tell you), the car loses considerable value the minute you drive it off the lot.  But if you're making payments of (e.g.) $300 or more towards the principal, the amount of the loan should be less than the value of the car by the end of the first year or so.  So by then, you're losing money, since you paid a few hundred dollars for the gap insurance.  And remember, your recovery is just going to be the difference between the loan amount and the value of the car; i.e. at most, if you're lucky enough to total the car within the first year, you'll get two or three thousand dollars back on your investment.  If your investment in gap insurance is $700, you're basically betting that there's a better than 1 in 5 chance that you're going to total your own car in the first year, and that your insurance will only pay something less than the loan amount.  I think most of us can beat those odds.

In other words, gap insurance -- at least actuarily speaking -- is a complete ripoff even if you don't put any money down.  It's an even bigger ripoff if you put money down.  The only time it might make sense is if you are literally planning to total your new car.  Still, I don't advise you to do that just because you got suckered into buying gap insurance.  Certainly, if you were to total your car by driving it through the showroom window of the dealership that sold you the gap insurance, there would be some poetic justice.  But I don't recommend doing that, and it's quite possible that exclusions would apply.

The guy I had didn't tell me what the gap insurance cost.  Instead, he first showed me what my monthly payment would be without any extras.  Or at least that's I thought he was showing me.  It was about $330 for an $18,000 loan.  Without doing any calculations, that sounded ok.  In fact, I had told my daughter the number would be a bit over $300 for a 5-year 1.9% loan; since $300 over 60 months would take care of the $18,000 principal.  The guy agreed it would be a bit more than $300, and that's when he came up with the $330.  I didn't really have any basis for questioning that; I didn't have a calculator.  He said that for only $30 more a month, I could have both an extended warranty and gap insurance.  But that was math I could do -- $30 a month over 60 months is $1800, which is more than I wanted to pay.

In the end, I seemed to have "bargained" him down to a deal where it would only be $15 a month more than the original $330, with an even better warranty, and the gap insurance.  I confirmed with him that this meant I was paying $900 for both of them, and that actually sounded ok to me. The gap probably wasn't worth much of anything, but maybe an extended warranty would be a good idea.  The guy said that he was losing money off of the deal, but he had to make his quota.

As I looked at the documents (I had to sign about a million of them), I noticed that the gap insurance was marked at $700, and the warranty was at $1198, which seemed disturbingly high.  I asked about it, but he pulled out his calculator again and somehow managed to convince me that I was only paying $900 for it.  In the course of this, the guy told me he had reduced my rate from 1.99 to 1.90, and that this is what had made the apparent difference.  It didn't look or sound quite right -- after all, the papers said $1198 plus $700, but I'd been in the dealership for about 5 hours. I'm sorry, I was beaten down, and totally off my guard.  Of course, I had trouble accepting the obvious because that would mean that this guy -- who had become a good friend of mine during this process -- was lying to me.  The shop had already closed by now and I just signed the documents, assuming I had a right of rescission.

I finally got out of there, and of course, this issue kept me awake much of the night.  In the morning, I figured out what had happened.  The payments at 1.9% over 60 months should have been $314, not $330 (you can check this on any car dealer website's rate calculator).  I have no idea where the initial $330 came from, but that was clearly the "anchor," and it allowed me to apply my math skills to decide that I was getting a pretty good deal.  After that, I never really looked back, even with the cold, hard numbers staring me in the face.

Really sad that someone as suspicious as me, and as sensitive to being ripped off as I am -- and (can I say it?) as educated, smart, and mathematically-inclined as me -- can still get taken in this way.  But car salespeople -- and loan salespeople -- are professionals.  They do this stuff for a living, day in and day out.  

Notice that even though I was smart enough to realize right off the bat that gap insurance was almost totally worthless, he STILL managed to sell me $700 worth of gap insurance by appearing to roll it in with a good deal on a warranty.  I know many of you are thinking I must be some kind of idiot, but I'm telling you, if it could happen to me, it could probably happen to you.  There's a lot of psychology involved -- not to mention trickery and obfuscation -- and in the end, I think it could happen to almost anybody, unless of course you've gone into the negotiation having read something like this.

The other lesson is to always ask if there is a rebate or other dealer incentive on the car.  I usually do, but I forgot this time.  I felt like I got a pretty good deal, but it was only in the financing process that I realized that part of what I thought I had "bargained" so hard for was a rebate.  Of course, the salesman said he was losing money too.  Sad how all my good (if somewhat new) friends are lying to me nowadays . . . .

I went in the next day and undid the loan deal.  I was afraid they would try not to let me (as far as I can tell, there is no 3-day right of rescission in Virginia for this kind of thing, although the contract itself said I could cancel it for a $50 fee), but I think they need to be careful about how they deal with seemingly irate customers.  They got me back to the finance room, and the guy redid the paperwork without any complaint.  Of course I was nice about it, although I had a nasty letter in reserve that I would have pulled out if I had gotten any trouble out of him.

I doubt they would have let me give the car back, but they didn't want that scene playing out in their showroom either.

I sort of feel like I should report the whole thing, maybe to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Better Business Bureau, or the FTC.  But I gave back the evidence that I had (i.e. the contract he had drawn up).  In any event, they'd defend by saying the price was on the document, and they are selling a product for that price, and that many consumers think it is worth it.

Anyway, I figured if I write it up here, maybe it will help someone else out one day.  I seriously doubt that there's anything specially dishonest about the particular guy or dealership I dealt with; I wouldn't be surprised if they are all like that, and all use similar tricks.  That's how the successful ones make their money, after all.

And here's the scene from Fargo that I always think of when I visit a car dealer.  I.e. it's what they are doing when they say they are going off to talk to their "manager" of "boss" to approve some deal or other.  In this case, Jerry Lundegaard wears down and screws over a vigilant customer who specifically said he didn't want the ripoff undercoating:


Customer: We sat right here in this room
and went over this.
Jerry: Yah, but that TruCoat...
Customer:  I said I didn't want any TruCoat.
Jerry: Yah, but I'm saying, that TruCoat, you
don't get it, you get oxidation problems...
Customer:  You're sitting there talking in circles
like we didn't go over this already.
Jerry: Yeah, but this TruCoat...
Customer: We had a deal for $______.
Darned if you didn't tell me you'd get me
this car without the sealant for $______.
Jerry: All right, I'm not saying I didn't.
Customer: You called me and said you had it.
"Ready to make delivery" you says.
And here you are and you're
wasting my time and my wife's time.
And I'm paying $______ for this vehicle here.
Jerry: All right.
I'll talk to my boss.
See, they install that TruCoat
at the factory. There's nothing we can do.
But I'll talk to my boss.
Customer: These guys here. These guys.
Customer: It's always the same. It's always more.
Jerry: [pretending to talk to his "boss"] You goin' to the Gophers on Sunday?
Salesman: Oh you betchya.
Jerry: You wouldn't happen to have an extra ticket?
Salesman: You kidin'!?
[Jerry returns to the customer]
Jerry: Well, he never done this before. But seeing as it's special circumstances and all, he says I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat.
Irate customer: One hundred... You lied to me, Mr Lundegaard. You're a bald-faced liar. A... fucking liar!
Customer's wife: Bucky, please.
Irate customer: Where's my goddamn check book? Lets get this over with.


* * * *

I guess everybody knows that car salespeople -- and the dealerships that profit from their work -- are little better than crooks and liars.  Still, I hope this post helps at least one person from falling into the "gap" insurance trap. Whether you want an extended warranty or not is up to you, 

   




Monday, November 17, 2014

Red Reign Wikipedia Entry -- Missing

Not too long ago, it was possible to read about the documentary "Red Reign: The Bloody Harvest of China's Prisoners" on Wikipedia.  But now it appears that the page never existed. I'm showing my work below (i.e. the wikipedia result, the wikipedia deletion log result, and the wayback machine result).

The basic theme of the documentary is that the Chinese Government is participating in (1) the killing of prisoners whose crime seems to be their membership in the peaceful Falun Gong sect, (2) the harvesting of their organs, and (3) the sale of those organs to foreign patients, not necessarily in that order.

You can, and should, watch the trailer for Red Reign here on Youtube.

Here's how one commenter on Hulu summarizes the process:

"Basically the Chinese government arrests the Falun Gong practitioner, tortures them until they confess to a capital crime, then they are incarcerated doing slave labor until the people who purchased their organs arrives, then the Falun Gong has their organs removed and put in the buyers. The buyer is told the prisoner was going to be executed anyway. 70 M practitioners. 2-4 M in slave labor camps. 2000 liver transplants in 2005 according to Chinese government statistics. If this is true, it certainly is an argument not to buy 'Made in China.'"

And here's a user review from IMDB, where it got 8.5 stars:

"A hard to watch must see if you care enough to make ethical decisions. Not exactly the best documentary production but none-the-less the topic and subjects make for compelling watching and listening. It made me think twice about doing any business or travel to China. Have suspected these types of human rights violations existed but had no idea how systemic they are, nor how complicit the rest of the world is in ignoring or even participating in them. The poem at the end is an ominous reminder of the issues that can arise if we ignore these atrocities! I was discussing the 40,000 children that are stolen or go missing in China every year the other day and we where left wondering why the government and the people do nothing about that issue. This documentary helps understand why that issue too is not addressed. Public opinion is so depressed and controlled that there is no internal willingness or pressure to change. If you are particularly sensitive to human suffering you probably should avoid watching this movie."

Here's piece about it on NaturalNews.  I see the piece has a link to "real time streaming" of the movie, but I didn't click the link.  Sorry, I don't completely trust the site, because it has a number of ads.  If you test the link and it works, let me know!

But you can definitely watch it on Amazon or Hulu, both of which seem like safer bets:

You can watch the film on Amazon Instant here.

You can watch the film on Hulu here.

Here's an interview with Masha Savitz, the writer-director, who incidentally does not have a wikipedia entry either.

The main protagonist, David Matas, has a Wikipedia entry, which mentions his work in this area, but the entry doesn't mention the film.  Here's what it says:

"David Matas is the co-author of Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China, which alleges that since 2000 the Chinese government has been systemically harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners. He is also counsel for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and is co-author of "Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress".
In 2009 David Matas was a signatory to a letter that opposed the appointment of Professor Christine Chinkin to a UNHuman Rights Council fact finding mission regarding the potential that Israeli and Hamas engaged in war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza War on the basis that Chinkin signed a letter prior to the fact finding mission that Matas claims showed that she "concluded that Israel was acting contrary to international law."[4] Chinkin was not dismissed from the fact finding mission and went on to help produce the Goldstone report.
He presented various papers on the legal issue of prosecuting war criminals in Bangladesh.
In 2010 David Matas was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work related to the investigation of organ harvesting crimes against Falun Gong practitioners in China.[5]"

http://redreignfilm.com/watch-now/ has this to say:

"Red Reign examines the shocking evidence of forced organ harvesting of China’s prisoners of conscience, the practitioners of Falun Gong.

"Falun Gong, a spiritual practice rooted in Buddhism and introduced to the public in 1991, was banned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1999. Hundreds of thousands of practitioners were arrested, imprisoned and brutally tortured if they did not recant their beliefs of ‘truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.’ In 2006, a report by human rights lawyer David Matas, as well as David Kilgour, a former member of the Canadian Parliament, alleged that Falun Gong prisoners were being killed in order to harvest their organs for the lucrative government-run transplant business.

"Filmmaker Masha Savitz zeroes in on the efforts of the Nobel Prize nominee David Matas, who wrote the book ‘Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong.’ Featuring interviews with Matas, David Kilgour, victims of the Falun Gong persecution and several doctors who share chilling transplant testimonies, as well as a filmmaker whose film on the topic was effectively quashed by the CCP in Canada, Europe, and the US, Red Reign makes a stunning case. An international story of tangled politics and economics intentionally suppressed by the Chinese, Red Reign shows how a large scale persecution of a minority people can still happen in our modern day society."

-------

I have no idea whether the documentary is true or not, in whole or in part.  The allegations are horrifying.  It would be very interesting to know why it's not on Wikipedia anymore.  Was it merely a victim of a  systematic wikipedia purge of  publicist-created entries, or -- more sinisterly -- was the Chinese government behind it?  And if the Chinese government was behind it, where was our government in all of this?

 Here's what wikipedia says today, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/red_reign:



The deletion log provides no useful information:



Clicking the option to search Red Reign in existing articles yields this page:




And the wayback machine just tells me that the page still exists.  I thought it was supposed to give me information about what the page looked at "way back" then.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Sound in Google Chrome With Windows 8.1 -- FIXED!

I'm not a computer person so usually when things go wrong I just live with them until its unbearable. I'll start by saying that this happened after I downloaded the latest version of Google Chrome, which I find really irritating -- it gives me a whole new overlay, and the button bar at the bottom -- which includes Internet Explorer, as well as any document I happened to be working on -- isn't accessible anymore.  I don't really know whom to blame -- it might be one of those "features" of Windows 8.1 which seem to suck but really are great if you understand them, or it might be something like that for Google Chrome.

Anyway, apart from the interface annoyances, I soon realized that Google Chrome wasn't giving me any sound.  Googling around showed two possible solutions.  First, it could be that my audio "mixer" for Chrome is muted.

I checked this by clicking on the little audio icon in the lower right.  Of course, this isn't visible on my Chrome interface, but I got to it eventually (I move back and forth by clicking in the upper-left hand corner of the screen).

Here's what it looks like now (you get to this by clicking the circled audio icon in the lower right, then clicking on "Mixer"):

Not sure why it doesn't show Google Chrome.  It did before.  But it showed it as working, even when it wasn't working.  Anyway, that wasn't the problem.

Looking a bit more, I found people telling me to disable Adobe Shockwave, and then to install the latest Adobe flashplayer.  Here's a link to a YouTube Video with that advice:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-n4FGyKJWY

That worked for me.  In short:

In your Chrome browser bar type in chrome://plugins



Then go down the the Adobe shockwave player and disable it.  The arrow shows my existing setup, where it is disabled, i.e. greyed out.

Then go to http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ and download a flash player.  It might take you to this page:


The adobe site may tell you -- as it did me -- that you already have flash player installed with Google Chrome, but that it's disabled (thereby confirming that you successfully disabled it).  You can ignore that.  You can also uncheck the McAfee box.  Just download the latest version.  I.e. click on the Install now, and the click on the downloaded .exe file.

Anyway, that's what worked for me. I now have sound in Google Chrome again.





Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fight Global Warming With Crosswalk Courtesy

I think I'm about one in twenty -- about 5% of the pedestrian population -- on this issue.  The issue is simply this:

We all know that a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right of way.  Examples include when there is a stop sign and the car has stopped for the stop sign, and also when there is a traffic light, and the driver is making a right or left turn across a crosswalk.  Consider the second case for a minute.  Yes, you're the pedestrian.  You've got the right.  You've even got a little white symbol of a walking man on your side.  Your light is green.  The car is trying to make a turn essentially into your right of way.  Assume you're not part of a stream of pedestrians; in fact, there's no one behind you and you know it.  What do you do?

Most people -- like I said, about 95% of them -- simply walk at their own pace, and let the driver wait.  If I'm carrying something heavy or am otherwise hindered, I do that too.  But usually, I pick up my pace.  Sometimes, I even run, especially where it's clear that the car has chosen to wait for me rather than turn ahead of me.  Why do I do that?

There are at least seven reasons:

1) I'm giving the driver a gift of time.  Maybe only a second or two, but it's a gift all the same.  That time is something the driver can himself enjoy later, as he wants.

2) More importantly, I might be improving the driver's health.  If the driver is late for something, and his blood pressure is high, then he'll get some relief from seeing that I have decided not to exercise my "right" to make him even later.

3) I myself am gaining time too.

4) And perhaps I'm improving my own health as well.  Picking up the pace in a crosswalk often reminds me that it would be better for me to walk faster anyhow.  This is in turn has both health benefits and additional time savings benefits.

5) I'm fighting global warming.  The longer a car waits in traffic -- or needs to apply the brakes -- the more gas is used, to no purpose.  If I can contribute to less gasoline use, I'm happy to do so.  And of course, this is another gift to the driver.  It saves him money.

6) If enough people start doing this, it could even begin to make a difference.  If all of the millions of people in the United States started acting this way on a daily basis, we could multiply these benefits many million-fold.  And if all the billions of people in the world were to do so, we'd multiply the benefits a billion-fold.  Sometimes I think that when I speed up to help out a driver, the next time that driver is a pedestrian in the same situation, he will pass on the courtesy to another driver, and so on.

7) Finally, after thinking a bit about benefits 1-6 that I've bestowed on others or received for myself, I'm feeling pretty good about myself.  That has both long-term and short term benefits.  In the long-term, I'm less stressed, and in the short-term, thinking about what a good person I am helps me to have a better day.

So why don't more people do this?  I don't really know.  There are some people who have physical disabilities that likely make doing this a bad idea.  But most of the people I see exercising their right to walk slowly across the crosswalk are young and healthy.  Maybe they just haven't analyzed the issue.

BTW if you google crosswalk courtesy, it's all about how drivers need to be more courteous to pedestrians.  You'd think there was a war going on, to read some of those posts.  It could be that the people who take their time walking across crosswalks feel that they are somehow exacting revenge on some long-ago rude driver who did not give them the right of way.

Anyway, if you're like me on this one, please let me know.

If you're NOT like me on this one (i.e. one of 95%, and without a disability), I'd love to hear why. Until I hear from you, I'll go on thinking that I'm morally superior to about 95% of the population.

If this post has changed your mind and your future conduct about this issue, I'd love to hear that too.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Homework-performance correlation

Good article available by link in today's Washington Post by Alfie Kohn on the studies relating to the impact of homework on learning/performance in kids.  The article came out in 2012, but for some reason there's a link in today's paper, and only as I was writing this did I realize that it was a 2012 article.  I might have blogged about it back then for all I can remember.

Anyway, the upshot is that by now it's agreed that homework does absolutely no good in all of elementary school, but now the dispute is whether there is any benefit of homework in high school.  And a 2012 study by Adam Maltese et al was trying to say that there was some benefit.  Here's a cite and link to that study:

Adam V. Maltese, Robert H. Tai, and Xitao Fan, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?  Evaluating the Association Between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math,” The High School Journal, October/November 2012: 52-72.  Abstract at http://ow.ly/fxhOV.

Now that I think back, I didn't have any homework in elementary school, and I did fine.

Here's the abstract of the study:

"Even with the history of debate over the merits of homework, there are significant gaps in the research record regarding its benefit to students. The focus of this study is on the association between time spent on homework and academic performance in science and math by assessing survey and transcript data from two nationally representative samples of high school students collected in 1990 and 2002. Using multiple linear regressions and controlling for students’ background, motivation, and prior achievement, we investigated how much variance in science and math course grades and achievement test scores could be explained by time spent on homework in those classes. The results indicate that there is no consistent significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades, but a consistently positive significant relationship between homework and performance on standardized exams."

The article reaffirms my belief that people need to have licenses before they do studies.  What a waste of time and money for no useful results at all! 

I would have to read more closely to understand how they controlled for background, motivation, and prior achievement. 

As Kohn describes it, the studied focused on math and science homework, and it relied on two large preexisting datasets -- from the National Education Longitudinal Study [NELS] and the Education Longitudinal Study [ELS] -- in which thousands of students are the single question of how much time they spent on homework per day.  From that, the authors apparently are able to use statistical tests to determine whether there's a correlation between that number and student grades or standardized test performance.

Kohn point out an immediate problem that the authors seem to sweep under the rug.  One of the studies came back with "37 minutes" and the other came back with "60 minutes", even though (apparently) the same question was asked of the same basic dataset.  I haven't read far enough to understand how the authors did or didn't deal with this.

But the bottom line of even this study is that it found no correlation between homework time and grades, and it found an extremely tenuous connection between homework time and a tiny increase in standardized test scores.  Somehow, the authors still seemed to think that the study supported assigning homework (just doing it smarter), but Kohn disagrees.

Anyway, I find the whole debate to be very off-base.  It's a bunch of people who are not scientists trying to do science.  Real scientists are pretty bad at this kind of science themselves -- just witness all the debates about clinical studies in the pharmaceutical area, not to mention all the cases of falsified data, selection bias, etc. etc.  But the bottom line is that this is just a stupid way to approach the question of whether homework benefits kids or not. 

One of the major problems that I don't think this study can possibly answer is the simple fact that "slower" kids need more time to figure things out.  If everyone is really "doing" the homework, the students who do MORE of it might well be the slower kids.  Obviously, a lot of slow kids give up and do less.   But that's my basic point -- some kids are naturally faster than others at picking things up, and doing stuff like homework.  That shouldn't be controversial -- a large percentage of kids are diagnosed with ADHD.  An untreated kid with ADHD might take several times as long to do a simple homework assignment as another kid.  Either that or he or she won't do it.  Also, in my life, I've encountered some very impressive people who were clearly slower than me, but took more time to figure things out, with the result that they were just as successful (or more) in school than me. 

And we all know kids who were extraordinarily quick -- kids who could get high every day and still pull in straight A's.

So none of this high level statistical crap is going to get us anywhere with this problem.

The only way to really do it would be to get in the minds of the kids themselves.  I.e. follow them in school, figure out how they learn, etc. etc.  The best way to do that is for those of us who are reasonably self aware to think back on our own experiences, and then report back.  We are the ones who are best able to figure out how to control for different variables.

I myself was reasonably smart, but probably had a kind of ADD that caused me to get distracted on homework such that when the going was tough, it took me a long time to work things out.  The same ADD probably caused me to miss key points in class, that I had to make up for at home.  And as a result I often got help from my older brother on math, physics, and chemistry.  As I think about it, I probably would have been much better served if the school had just had a mandatory study hall of some sort, where students did their "homework" under supervision/tutelage of more advanced students.  In other words, there would be a set time for doing the homework, and the kids would work during that period and at the end of it would be done.  And then the "advanced" students could report back to the teachers on what concepts kids were having trouble with. 

Anyway, I'm getting a bit distracted from my topic right now.  What I'm saying is that for me, homework was not an efficient use of time.  But I do remember that there were many times when I didn't understand what was going on in class, and it only became clear through doing the homework, often with the help of my brother.  So at least in my case, the homework was an integral part of the classes -- if I hadn't done it -- or had done less of  it, I would not have succeeded in those classes.  In fact, I would have failed them.  But I'm sure there were other kids who understood what the teacher was saying all along, and could do the homework in just a few minutes.

And of course my nature was that I was competitive enough that I wanted other kids to think I was smart, so I didn't want to show up in class not knowing anything.  And if someone had asked me how much time I spent on homework, I probably would have lied and underestimated, with the idea that if I gave a real number, the questioner would think I was slow.

From the discussion above, you can see that there are just too many variables going on for the question "how much time do you spend on homework" to do any good in trying to figure out a correlation.  Still, I think it's a question worth exploring, but really, as I just said, it ought to be through a really careful and informed "study" of a set of truly self-aware individuals.  Yes, I realize that that's the opposite of a "scientific" study.  But liberal-arts academics have long ago proved themselves absolutely incapable of making any good use of scientific studies.  
 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I'm feeling nonplussed

I now know why I never knew for sure what "nonplussed" meant.  It  now has two diametrically opposed meanings.  Worse, it might be impossible to tell which meaning was intended from the context.  

Today's WashingtonPost had an article about a hawk that had collided with a drone.  Here's the end of the article, a quote from the drone operator:

“Equipment is fine. The reason it dropped was entirely because my first reaction was to reduce throttle to reduce any risk to the hawk. It fell straight down,” Schmidt said in an e-mail. “The hawk seemed completely non-plussed; he flew off without any signs of damage.”

Here's what Google gives for the definition:

non·plussed

nänˈpləst/Submit
adjective

1.    1.
(of a person) surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.
"he would be completely nonplussed and embarrassed at the idea"

2.    2.
NORTH AMERICANinformal
(of a person) not disconcerted; unperturbed.


So was he completely unperturbed, or completely surprised and confused?  I'll never know - the video stops on impact.

Lesson:  Stay away from this word.