Family Feud And Economic Data

Family FeudI was watching Family Feud and during the “fast money” sequence, one of the questions was “Name something that goes up every year in America.” The contestant said, “Inflation.” Steve Harvey commented something along the lines of, “You’ve got that right.” The survey said “0”! That didn’t surprise me. Most people don’t think about inflation unless it is out of control. And it isn’t out of control. In fact, it has been decades since it’s been out of control. Inflation is only something that the rich care about now. Harvey is worth an estimated $100 million, so I can see where he might be concerned about inflation.

Of course, inflation does not go up every year. In fact, it has been going down for years. This is one of the many examples of things that everyone knows that just isn’t true. Here is the FRED data since 1980:

Inflation - 1980-2015

The second contestant answered “taxes.” As I discussed about the legacy of Ronald Reagan, it is true that we at the bottom of the income scale have seen our taxes go up even while those at the top go down. But in general, taxes have not gone up as you can see in the following graph. Although there is one thing worth noting: individual taxes have gone up while corporate taxes have done down.

Total Federal Taxes as Percent GDP

The survey said “33”! So that probably makes taxes the number one answer. Family Feud is a game of perceptions, of course — not reality. There are a lot of things that do go up every year. Population goes up every year. In general, GDP goes up. But there is one thing that definitely goes up each year that I’m sure was not reflected in the survey: inequality. Here is the Gini Coefficient:

Gini Coefficient

A big part of the problem in the United States is that as a people, we don’t really know what’s on. Our taxes stay the same, but we think they are constantly going up because a bunch of rich people — whose taxes are going down — say very loudly that taxes are sky high. Meanwhile, more and more money gets funneled to those at the top and few people engage with this, and most of those who do claim that it doesn’t matter.

Best Teachers Not Necessarily the Smartest

Pasi SahlbergFinnish primary school teacher education programs that lead to an advanced, research-based degree are so popular among young Finns that only one in 10 applicants is accepted each year. Those lucky students then have to study for five to six years before they are allowed to teach a class of their own…

Last spring, 1,650 students took the national written test to compete for those 120 places at the University of Helsinki. Applicants received between one and 100 points for the subject exams taken to earn upper-secondary school leaving diplomas. A quarter of the accepted students came from the top 20% in academic ability and another quarter came from the bottom half. This means that half of the first-year students came from the 51- to 80-point range of measured academic ability. You could call them academically average. The idea that Finland recruits the academically “best and brightest” to become teachers is a myth. In fact, the student cohort represents a diverse range of academic success, and deliberately so…

Indeed, the University of Helsinki could easily pick the best and the brightest of the huge pool of applicants each year, and have all of their new trainee teachers with admirable grades.

But they don’t do this because they know that teaching potential is hidden more evenly across the range of different people. Young athletes, musicians, and youth leaders, for example, often have the emerging characteristics of great teachers without having the best academic record. What Finland shows is that rather than get “best and the brightest” into teaching, it is better to design initial teacher education in a way that will get the best from young people who have natural passion to teach for life.

The teaching profession has become a fashionable topic among education reformers around the world. In England, policy-makers from David Cameron down have argued that the way to improve education is to attract smarter people to be teachers. International organizations such as the OECD and McKinsey & Company, Sir Michael Barber for Pearson, and in the US, Joel Klein, former New York education chancellor now working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, have all claimed that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. These are myths and should be kept away from evidence-informed education policies and reforms.

A good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers. Successful education systems are more concerned about finding the right people to become career-long teachers.

—Pasi Sahlberg
Q: What Makes Finnish Teachers So Special? A: It’s Not Brains

H/T: Pasi Sahlberg: Finnish Teachers Are Not “the Best and the Brightest”

FBI Foils Another of Its Own Terrorist Attacks

John T Booker JrThis most recent case of John T Booker Jr is just amazing in being like pretty much every other FBI arrest of a home grown terrorist: it starts and ends with the FBI. John Eligon at The New York Times managed to report on the whole thing as though he were totally unaware of the FBI’s history regarding these things, Two Kansas Men Charged in Suicide Attack Plot at Fort Riley. Actually, there is just one man: Booker. The other is a friend who allegedly knew what Booker was up to. But this case is even more sad than usual. Booker, who is just 20 years old, is clearly mentally ill.

Early last year, he began making very public statements about wanting to commit Jihad. The FBI was well aware of this and had created a five-page report on him date 20 March 2014. He had signed up for the army, but apparently the FBI put an end to that. On 26 March 2014, he checked himself into a mental hospital. On 1 April 2014, Jana Winter at Fox News reported, FBI, Military Hunt Ex-Army Recruit Suspected of Plotting “Fort Hood-Inspired Jihad.” But the FBI didn’t think it was too big a deal because Booker had neither car nor guns. What he did have, however, was a death wish.

FBISo in October 2014, the FBI sent an undercover agent to talk to Booker, who was, as he had been for years, still talking about Jihad. But just as impotent as ever, the FBI decided to set him up with what he needed to carry out his fantasy suicide plot. So without a hint of irony, Eligon reported, “Mr Booker agreed to let the informants make the car bomb and planned to drive it onto the base to detonate it, killing himself in the process, the complaint said.” So really, the extent of Booker’s involvement was his suicide.

The first indications of Booker’s behavior come around a year and a half ago — about the time of his 18th birthday. This also happens to be around the time that psychosis tends to start in people. Booker was very clearly a young man who needed psychiatric help. When he went to get help, the authorities seemed to have determined that he was not a threat to himself or anyone else and so he was released. But looking at his statements, I don’t see a young man who is really engaged or violent. I just see a young man who is suicidal. For example, “I am going to wage jihad and hopes that i die. I want to be with my lord so bad that I cry but I will miss you guys I am not going to lie. I wish I could give you guys more but I am just a guy who is so very poor. I am telling you I am so broke that my pockets are soreJ I cannot wait to go to the Prophet Muhammad’s(S) door and prank Isa bin Maryan and party so hard that it will rock Jannah to its core.”

But there was one government agency that cared about Booker: the FBI. They were there to listen to him and pretend to make his dreams a reality. The FBI did what actual Jihadists do in Palestine: find depressed or otherwise disaffected young people and get them to perform evil acts as they commit suicide. We should be better than this. John T Booker Jr deserved to get the help that he needed, not to be used as a pawn for the FBI to justify its budget. And US media should be wise to this game that the FBI plays. The New York Times headline should have been, “FBI Foils Another of Its Own Terror Plots.” And they might write another article, “Mental Healthcare Still Not Easily Available.”

Crowdfunding Sites Show True Colors

IndiegogoCrowdfunding sites are showing themselves to be moral cowards. GoFundMe refused to allow a campaign for officer Michael Slager who shot Walter Scott in the back last weekend. It has a policy against campaigns “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.” That is their right, of course.

But I find this troublesome for a couple of reasons. First, people are innocent until proven guilty — in theory at least. I think it is wrong to assume someone’s guilt in this way. If GoFundMe had been around in 1997, I assume it would have allowed the parents of Ron Goldman to campaign to get money for their civil case against OJ Simpson. But it wouldn’t have allowed Simpson to campaign for money for his original defense. So I think there is an implicit hypocrisy in this policy.

The other problem I have is that I don’t see why it is wrong to allow people who perpetrated heinous crimes (much less those who have simply been accused of it) should be denied the right to raise money for their defenses. I realize that one can always do it on their own. Certainly George Zimmerman managed to do that. But I have a problem with private companies making these kinds of decisions. These companies are, after all, nominally disinterested. And I think that the claim (made too often by liberals who should know better) that the First Amendment only applies to government restrictions is rather too limited a reading of rights in the modern world.

But now, after initially allowing it, Indiegogo Removes Fundraisers That Supported SC Police Officer. The company now claims that a review of the campaigns found that they did not meet their standards. I suspect that their decision is actually just a matter of a huge social media campaign focused on Indiegogo to forbid the Salger campaigns. And that strikes me as a very bad thing.

I don’t know all the details about Michael Slager’s shooting of Walter Scott. But I think I made my position pretty clear on Thursday, Police Lie Even When Cameras Aren’t Around. It is hard to see it as anything but a methodical, cold blooded murder. But that makes it all the more important that we treat this case carefully and that we don’t rush to legal judgement. I want Slager tried and properly convicted. What’s more, I would like this case to change the system. The way things are, if Slager and Scott had been fighting over the taser, the law would have stated that it was legal for Slager to kill Scott. I think that’s a much bigger problem than that Slager seems to be a psychopath.

In the United States, prosecutors have almost unlimited resources in a criminal case. So the best that Slager would ever get is a fair trial. I have no problem with him getting a fair trial. And I have enough confidence in the criminal justice system to think that he will be convicted in a fair trial. The recent cases of police officers apparently getting away with murder has not been a matter of them having great representation. It has rather been that the prosecution has had no interest in convicting them. That will still be the case with Slager regardless of his representation.

As it is, there were a total of seven Indiegogo campaigns for Officer Slager. The most successful one had only raised $1,500, “and six others received little to no funding.” It wasn’t as though Slager was racking in the cash. So the push to shutdown his campaigns had basically no practical consequences on him. But it did have practical consequences on Indiegogo and how it deals with people who are trying to raise money for unpopular causes.

Shame on GoFundMe. Shame of Indiegogo. And most of all, shame on us.

Morning Music: The Dead Milkmen

Beelzebubba - The Dead MilkmenThere is a genre of punk rock that I like to think of as “fun.” The best example of this was Ramones. But even more fun are The Dead Milkmen. I’ve never been exactly a fan of the band. But I always enjoy listening to them. And let’s face it: we really can’t get enough of that kind of music. Music doesn’t need to be profound or challenging. Sometimes (Most times?) it just needs to be entertaining.

And let’s not forget that punk was fundamentally a reaction against the polished substancelessness of the popular music of that time — most especially disco. The funny thing is that the best disco music was itself fun. I still think “Disco Inferno” is one of the funnest and funniest songs ever recorded — especially when you consider that the phrase “burn baby burn” is a reference to something as serious as the Watts Riots.

Here is a joyous song and The Dead Milkmen’s most famous, “Punk Rock Girl.” The lyrics are very funny. The Beach Boys sing “California Dreaming.” They want to name their daughter Minnie Pearl. And when the record store doesn’t have Mojo Nixon, they think it needs some fixin’. Brilliant stuff.

Anniversary Post: Apple I

Apple IToday, the Apple I is 39 years old. The company itself was started just ten days earlier. It’s interesting that in the public consciousness, Apple is Steve Jobs. Yet the first Apple computer was not built by Steve Jobs. In fact, I don’t think that Steve Jobs ever built a computer. He was the sales guy — the PR man. The Apple I was built by Steve Wozniak. So was the Apple II. Wozniak was the tech guy of the company for as long as the company couldn’t afford to hire tech people from outside.

Apparently, a year earlier, Wozniak had attended a computer club meeting. He was so inspired that he decided to build his own computer. And a year later, he had. Forgive me for not thinking much about the non-technical aspects of business, but I just don’t think that Jobs’ “idea” of selling the computer was all that brilliant. But he’s the man who everyone remembers. And he’s the man who every know-nothing uses (along with Bill Gates) as examples of entrepreneurship and why we need to keep Mitt Romney’s taxes low.

The Apple I was a pretty basic unit. It came with 4 KB of memory — which could be expanded to 8 KB on board or 48 KB with expansion cards. I know, this sounds like nothing. But the truth is that with 48 KB, there are some pretty decent user applications that can be created. In particular, I’ve run totally acceptable word processors and spreadsheets on computers of that quality. But the biggest thing that limited all computers of that age was the video. The Apple I had a 40×24 character display. It looked something like this:

On March 5, 1975 Steve Wozniak attended
the first meeting of the Homebrew
Computer Club in Gordon French’s garage.
He was so inspired that he immediately
set to work on what would become the
Apple I computer. Wozniak calculated
that laying out his design would cost
$1,000 and parts would cost another $20
per computer; he hoped to recoup his
costs if 50 people bought his design
for $40 each. His friend Steve Jobs
obtained an order from a local computer
store the Byte Shop the affordable
computer store in Mt View California
for 50 computers at $500 each. To
fulfill the $25,000 order, they obtained
$20,000 in parts at 30 days net and
delivered the finished product in 10
days. Apple went on to be one of the
biggest computer companies in the world
by stealing innovations of other
companies and suing any competitors. Now
people buy Apple products because of its
brand, even though better products at
cheaper prices are widely available.

Happy anniversary Apple I!