Squeaky bum time

by Daniel on April 30, 2010

In the immortal words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Premier League is reaching the crucial last two weeks. Manchester United and Chelsea are separated by a single point – Chelski have the advantage, but have a tougher game against Liverpool tomorrow, while Man U face Sunderland. Arsenal lost hope last week, but Fulham are going to appear in the Europa League final after thrilling wins against Juventus and Hamburg. Meanwhile, having beaten one of the most astonishing teams in history with a virtuoso tactical display, Jose Mourhino’s Inter Milan face Bayern Munich in the Bernabeu for the Champions’ League.

Of course, any passing Americans are welcome to explain why this is all terribly boring because Everton never really had a chance.

Two views of the economics debate

by Henry on April 30, 2010

“Hendrik Hertzberg”:http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg/2010/04/debate-british-style.html on the Brown-Cameron-Clegg faceoff yesterday.

bq. Mainly, though, I was struck by how superior this event was to its typical American counterpart, in a number of ways:

* The crispness and clarity of the debaters.

* The businesslike, non-preening moderator, David Dimbleby—the Brits, it seems, still have a Cronkite.

* The audience, which listened attentively and respected what I assume was a request to refrain from applauding or hooting or otherwise behaving like a mob or a claque.

* The fact that neither Cameron nor Clegg went medieval on Brown for his ridiculous “bigot” gaffe—not that doing so would have benefitted them, given British manners.

* The near-total lack of obviously rehearsed zingers. (Emphasis on obviously.)

* The fact that none of the candidates appeared to be a sociopath, a delusionary, a demagogue, or a serious neurotic. They all seem to be relatively decent people.

“Patrick Dunleavy”:http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/election/?p=1882

bq. The dominant feeling was just how bad the House of Commons is as a preparation for government leadership. Parliament teaches MPs to emote, not to reason very well, not to argue, but just to have feelings and find ways of projecting this to others – in short to emote. The acme of a good Commons performance is to emit the maximum number of units of emotion (let’s call them emoticons for short) in any given time period. In the final Prime Ministerial debate David Cameron solely concentrated, and Nick Clegg mainly concentrated, on maximizing the number of emoticons they emitted. You kind of lost count of the number of time they said “What I think is that…”, with a kind of verbal double-bold, large font sign around the I. It doesn’t really matter in the Commons if you are apparently solipsistic, you see – a level of self-absorption that might look a bit mental in other occupations is par for the course amongst top politicians. Nor does it matter what on earth the basis of your emotion or feeling is, just to underscore that you really do feel it. David Cameron’s advocacy of ‘Time for an (unspecific) change’ made the overall vagueness and lack of any intellectual or factual or evidential grounding to what he said really rather starkly apparent. David, it seems, wants what we all want, only he really wants it. When Brown or Clegg pressed him for anything detailed by way of an answer, a kind of ‘disbelief face’ crept over him – his expression said that he just could not believe that a responsible politician could behave in such a bad taste way in public.

I don’t know which of them is right or wrong (I only watched about 2 minutes of the debate myself, having a paper to write on urgent deadline), but found the dissonance interesting. Also Hertzberg’s suggestion that we would be much better off taking a lesson from a Swedish debate that he once saw, where the leaders had briefers behind them with stacks of paper, whom they could mutter to in order to get information as needs be (a sort of open book exam). Also, “this bit from Charlie Brooker”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/29/tv-debate-songs-of-praise-charlie-brooker (via Ian McDonald).

bq. According to some polls, Cameron won, or at the very least tied with Clegg. Which is odd, because to my biased eyes, he looked hilariously worried whenever the others were talking. He often wore a face like the Fat Controller trying to wee through a Hula Hoop without splashing the sides, in fact. Perhaps that’s just the expression he pulls when he’s concentrating, in which case it’s fair to say he’d be the first prime minister in history who could look inadvertently funny while pushing the nuclear button.

American readers may wish to be informed that the “Hula Hoop” in question isn’t “this”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hula_hoop but “this”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hula_Hoops.

Early Lessons

by Harry on April 30, 2010

Thanks partly to James Heckman’s work there is suddenly a great deal of interest in High/Scope Perry PreSchool in Ypsilanti. Perry Preschool was an intervention with an experimental design, study of which is continuing, nearly 50 years after it started. The results are remarkable. The children involved were mainly African-American, and all poor, all with low IQs, and the initial idea was that the right kind of early education would raise their IQs and, indeed, they gained an average 15 IQ points. But the gains faded, rapidly, which is a common story. However, later follow ups have continued to show that the kids who went to the preschool have done much better than the control children with respect to various bad outcomes — they have higher incomes, higher graduation rates, lower levels of involvement with the criminal justice system, etc. (The findings have recently been replicated for Head Start by David Deming (pdf)).

Emily Hanford has made a remarkable radio show about it, with American Radio Works. Full website here. Listen here. Transcript here. It’s radio at its best — she has interviewed some of the original teachers, describes the social science clearly but meticulously, and interviewed Heckman on what the implications are. A great resource — I’d recommend using it with college students, and even with high schoolers (not, perhaps, with pre-schoolers, though maybe I should give that a try).

And it’s well worth reading Hanford’s account of why, in the end, she chose not to seek out the subjects of the study.