Happiness is other people…

by MooshiMooshi

This is something I had been thinking about for a long time, so it is nice to see my thoughts pulled together more coherently than I ever could. The gist of this article is that we have bought into the idea that happiness is an inner quest to undertaken in solitude. And yet

Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.

And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.

The article goes on to make a point that I really agree with – our emphasis on self reliance even when it comes to happiness is causing us to ignore the very thing that will make us happy: other people. We push our children out, we push our elders away, when we become elders we proudly insist we don’t need to involve our kids. Long commutes and work hours make it hard to develop new friends when we are middle aged. Teens don’t get together any more – and I can attest to that one. While it certainly can be argued that unhappy people put less effort into social relationships and that is why they don’t have a good network of friends, I have also seen many examples of people who are depressed or anxious, but still part of a strong family or friendship network. It seems to me that people in that position have an easier time of it, because they have more support.

I’ve always found that I am happiest when I am part of a dense, full, social network of people who are physically present. I think that for the future, I am going to worry less about whether I should meditate or be mindful or surround myself with inspirational quotes, and instead focus more on keeping my relationships and building new ones.

Are you actively trying to build your social network, or do you think it really doesn’t matter?

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Will declining Midwestern universities increase geographic inequality?

by MooshiMooshi

Universities, especially the land grant universities, have long taken a leading role in developing local economies. This is increasingly important today, as regions compete to attract companies and professionals who work in the knowledge sector (think of the current Amazon competition, for example). Universities often function as a hub, nurturing and advising high tech startups and small companies that move research into production. Think of the roles played by Stanford and Berkeley in creating Silicon Valley, or Duke and UNC in creating the Research Triangle tech hub. Universities not only provide ideas and research for companies, but also in many cases sponsor major hospitals with state of the art facilities, healthcare outreach to the community, and provide sports and cultural events, all things that make a region more attractive to companies and educated workers.

Sadly, declines in funding for public universities, which are particularly important in the Midwest where there is less tradition of well endowed private universities, threaten all of this. This is something that has the potential to exacerbate geographic inequalities, since underfunded Midwestern public universities will end up having less and less ability to fill their roles as economic drivers. Is this another sign of the death spiral in the Midwest? Is there a solution?

The Decline of the Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens to Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies

Postponing ‘adult behavior’

by MooshiMooshi

This pretty much sums up my two teen boys. At 15 and 17, neither one dates, drinks, or drives. Their friends are all the same. They don’t even seem to have any interest in girls (or boys). I thought teens were supposed to be a hotbed of hormones. Was it something in the water?

Not drinking or driving, teens increasingly put off traditional markers of adulthood

Companies moving back downtown?

by MooshiMooshi

Are companies really moving back downtown?

The Washington Post is reporting that after years of corporate headquarters moving to the suburbs, the reverse is now happening.

As companies relocate to big cities, suburban towns are left scrambling

And of course, this means that opportunities for well paid jobs become even more concentrated in an handful of big cities.

I think there is another interesting quote, somewhat buried in the article.

… Years ago, IT operations were an afterthought. Now, people with such expertise are driving top-level corporate decisions, and many of them prefer urban locales.

“It used to be the IT division was in a back office somewhere,” Emanuel said. “The IT division and software, computer and data mining, et cetera, is now next to the CEO. Otherwise, that company is gone.

Perhaps this is why the current tech bubble feels less bubbley to me.
Do you notice either of these trends?

Taking down David Brooks

by MooshiMooshi

I usually try to tour the conservative websites each week to see what is being discussed (except for WSJ because of its paywall and Breitbart because it is just too icky). While I think there are better sites than RedState – it reminds me of Huffington Post with its generally breathless tone and overheated headlines – but sometimes they really get it and this takedown of the obnoxious David Brooks column really hit the nail on the head. It is hilarious. I find myself agreeing with much of it (ok, ok, not the school choice point which I think will lead to more stratification, not less, and in fact Stella Artois is a working class beer, in France anyway). After reading David Brooks smarmy column:

How We Are Ruining America

read read the RedState takedown and giggle.

David Brooks And The DOA Column: A RedState Autopsy

Families on disability

by MooshiMooshi

This article is about the rise of families living on disability benefits in rural areas, often several generations all on disability. I noticed in the article they say that the rise began in 1996. Isn’t that about the period that welfare reform was passed? Is it possible that welfare reform simply resulted in people moving to disability benefits? And why so concentrated in rural areas in the South? Perhaps because there are so few other safety net options in those areas? One might imagine that rural work is more dangerous, but at least with this family, the disabilities don’t seem to be related to rural work.

Sadly, I knew people like this back in my day, and there is one branch of my own family that would probably, if profiled, seem very similar. But, it just seems like there are more of them now.

Generations, disabled

One other thing – I know this is the difference between being a Totebagger and being a rural disability case, but I never saw ADHD as an excuse to do badly, the way this family does. We expect success from our ADHD kids, and the supports – the medication, the 504 plans, etc, are there to help them achieve success.

Learning myths

by MooshiMooshi

The general public buys into a lot of myths about how people learn, according to this study. Lots of people still buy into the idea of “learning styles” even though research does not support the idea at all. But most horrifyingly,

“More than 40 percent of respondents believed that teachers don’t need to know a subject area such as math or science, as long as they have good instructional skills. In fact, research shows that deep subject matter expertise is a key element in helping teachers excel.”

This may be one of the biggest problems with US education. if the public doesn’t believe that teachers need to know their subject, why should schools bother to hire teachers with expertise? If 90% still believe in learning styles, that is what the schools will give us.Schools just do what their constituents want. As the article says
“Public schools, in particular, are governed by school boards often composed of non-educators. They are subject to pressure from parents, too.”

You Probably Believe Some Learning Myths: Take Our Quiz To Find Out

I certainly see that in our district. That may be largely because it is a small district with highly involved parents – perhaps a larger district with more distracted parents would not feel the pressure as much. The problem is that even in our well educated district, the pressure on the schools is often not good pressure. Many parents, especially parents of elementary school age kids, want less rigor in the schools. Many parents that I speak with buy into the learning styles myth, as well as the right brain left brain myth. I have heard parents complain that a particular teacher is not respecting their little Johnny’s right brain orientation.

On a practical note, I have been aware for a while that research shows that active learning is better, even with simple tasks such as studying for a test. I constantly nag my kids, and my students too, not to simply read and reread the text. They should quiz themselves, work problems, or rephrase the text. Sadly, both my kids and my students resist.

Take the quiz. How did you do? Are you up on research into learning?

Why flying has gotten suckier

by MooshiMooshi

The current flying experience, in my opinion, totally sucks, and is much worse than say 8 or even 5 years ago. It is just as crammed and unpredictable as before, but now tickets cost a lot more, service to small and medium cities has been cutback drastically and in particular costs a lot more, and to add insult to injury, we now pay fees for almost every aspect of a “normal” flying experience. At some point, I assume, we will end up paying fees for being allowed to sit down. And yes, I pay the fees. If I am flying with a kid, I want to sit next to my kid because even though said kid would be fine alone, it is simply inconvenient to be separated. So I pay the fee to get an aisle or window seat, and I pay the fee to be allowed to choose. And since I would rather not be separated from my bag which has all my snacks and reading glasses, and work to be done, I pay for the priority boarding so I can get bin space. Boarding has turned into a stressed out competition. In the old days, one could relax and wait for your row group to be called. Now, it is a stampede, with everyone in a boarding group hanging by the gate, trying to be first in their group to get that bin space.

This is a great article explaining why this state of affairs is good for airlines.

“Calculated misery”: how airlines profit from your miserable flying experience

Although, they don’t really touch on the main reason why airlines have been able to do this: consolidation. The industry is so much a monopoly now that we consumers cannot vote with our feet.

I thought capitalism and free markets were supposed to IMPROVE things for consumers. But evidently not.

Do you guys think air travel will ever improve or will we end up paying an extra fee for the privilege of sitting?

Should you trust news reports about studies?

by MooshiMooshi

You know how everyone complains that studies get reported in the media which then get contradicted a year or two later? Well, it turns out there are reasons for this.

Study: half of the studies you read about in the news are wrong

It turns out that reporters tend to report on initial studies, which are more likely to be contradicted in one or more ways later on. In the world of science, inital studies are just that: initial.

Besides the attention grabbing headline, this article has a good critique of the reasons why initial studies tend to be reported instead of the later metareviews which are more likely to be correct.

This is a real problem. People learn about science mainly through the media, and if it feels like everything reported turns out to be wrong, people start distrusting science. If reporters were more careful to publicize the later, more complete studies, people might develop more faith in science. I think reporters, too, should spend more time explaining the process of science to their readers, rather than just pushing out headlines and brief explanations of what may be very small and very tentative studies.

Good science and financial reporters are in terribly short supply, And given the fragile state of the field of journalism these days, I don’t see it improving. But these are two areas that impact everyone. People have to make decisions about both science and financial information all the time, including when they vote. How can we improve public understanding?

Where the 1% attend college

by MooshiMooshi

Here is an utterly fascinating collection of data charts, showing where the types of colleges that the 1% attend vs the schools that the bottom 60% attend. It isn’t surprising that elite private schools do not enroll many of the bottom 60%. Near the bottom is a great chart showing the colleges with the highest mobility rates – the schools that propel students from lower income families into a higher income category, The chart shows the top 10, but you can type in the name of any school and get its position. My own employer came in at 75, which is not bad at all considering there are at least over 1000 schools on this list. We also have less than 1% enrollment of one-percenters, and 48% from the lower 60%.

The question that must be asked: why isn’t more charitable giving directed to the schools that are most successful at propelling lower income students into higher income categories? Charitable giving to universities is dominated by money going to the elites, which do not function well as engines of mobility. I think this idea of mobility as a measure of success needs to be more publicized, and donors who care about education should be encouraged to give to the schools that are already doing a good job at mobility.

Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.

Opinions? Should colleges be rewarded for helping more students move upwards?

The most important historical events of your lifetime

by MooshiMooshi

What are the most important historical events of your lifetime?

Time magazine published this poll in which people ranked the most significant historical events in their lifetimes. Not surprisingly, 9/11 came out on top. But it is more interesting when the rankings are broken out by generation. The Silent Generation has a very different list from the Millennials. For the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, wars and civil rights dominate. For Generation X and Millennials, we see Obama’s election, mass shootings, and bombings. Generation X saw the end of the cold war as very important, but it doesn’t even appear on the list for Millennials. Only Millennials list the most recent recession. Perhaps everyone else has lived through multiple recessions and just saw this as one more?

The list that is closest to my personal list would definitely be the Generation X one. I would probably replace the Challenger disaster with Sandy Hook (which does appear on the Millennial list) because that was so huge for me, whereas I wasn’t realy following Challenger. How about you? Do your picks for important moments in recent history match up with your official generation? Are there other events you think are important that were unnoticed?

Americans Rank These 10 Historic Events as Most Important in Their Lifetimes

U.S. healthcare

by MooshiMooshi

Along with all of today’s articles on the issues with increasing plan costs under Obamacare, came this article.

Why the U.S. Still Trails Many Wealthy Nations in Access to Care

Despite our stereotype that other countries with more socialized forms of medicine are morasses of long waiting periods and lack of access, it turns out that we are worse on those measures than many other countries. And we pay more to boot.

While Obamacare may not be the most perfect system out there (my own opinion is that if they put real teeth into the penalties, they would fix the rising plan costs in a hurry, but I digress), it is clear that our healthcare system is a mess and it was a mess before Obamacare, and that we need to be moving towards the models used in other industrialized countries (which doesn’t have to be single payer, by the way).

I have one pet theory: I think Americans value healthcare less, at least while they are healthy. Perhaps that is why healthy Germans, Swiss, and Canadians will pay more taxes or pay for their mandated plans, while healthy Americans simply won’t. That of course is what leads to the dreaded death spiral – if healthy people don’t participate in the system, only sick people are left, driving up costs. It seems like other industrialized nations have figured out how to get everyone into the system, but we haven’t.

Opinions?

Out of state students

Both MooshiMooshi and Rhode sent in posts for this topic.

by MooshiMooshi

Are cuts to public state universities forcing kids to go out of state?

This article, from the NYTimes, contends that increasingly, this is the case. The article discusses reasons why some states are sending so many students out of state, and the second article shows the data, state by state.

Public Colleges Chase Out-of-State Students, and Tuition

How Cuts to Public Universities Have Driven Students Out of State

In my experience, some states have traditionally sent lots of students out of state – CT and MA come to mind immediately. Even back in the 80’s, it was assumed in CT that many students would leave. Both states had relatively underfunded flagship public universities at the time, and little tradition of widespread public university education. The best students always went private. But other states, like CA, had a long standing tradition of public higher education. In the state where I graduated HS, very few students went out of state, and that appears to still be the case. But CA is now sending a lot of students out. And Illinois???

How is your state doing according to the data? If your state is sending a lot of kids out of state, do you agree with the reasons given? Do most students in your state go to public universities or do many go to private schools? And do you think we should continue to have state based public higher education systems? Or should everything thing be national, or even private?

* * * * * *

by Rhode

This article describes how public college students migrate. Did you follow the pattern of your home state? What about your kids?

The interesting backbone to this article is the reduction of state aid to public colleges. How does this affect you? Are your children’s colleges choices or how far the budget will stretch affected?

The broader question I have is what do you think about the reduction of state aid to public colleges?

At least in RI, the aid from the state is supposed to subsidize RI student costs, so that way our state public colleges are very affordable. In an odd twist, the cost to keep the lights on is the cost of out-of-state tuition, so the state aid basically fills the gap between “what the state thinks RI students should pay” and “what it actually costs to run the college”. I’ve never agreed with the model – it’s a catch-22. The college needs to recruit out-of-state students to keep the lights on, so the state thinks that the college doesn’t care about in-state needs, and then reduces aid, forcing tuition to increase across the board. If the college focuses on drawing in-state students, then programs may be cut because the college doesn’t have enough out-of-state tuition to keep the lights on.

What about your state? Is funding to public colleges decreasing? Do you think it’s important for states to fund public institutions? What about the federal government? Should more aid be given to reduce tuition costs across the board?

The unbearable hellishness of customer support

by MooshiMooshi

This article popped up in the NYTimes the other day. It is about how terrible phone and online customer support is, and more importantly, reasons why companies make their support so bad.

Having recently spent hours with Verizon trying to set up a kid-tracking service for our smartphones (the support tech never got the app to fully function, and she managed to delete my account in the process, despite assurring me she wasn’t going to mess up my account), and time today with the Marriott reservations (where I had to tell the machine bot screener what my question was, which of course it couldn’t parse, until I resorted to machine pidgin speak “reservation! cancellation! question!”, and then the agent had no idea what the cancellation policy on the booking site meant, and couldn’t even see the same rooms I was seeing), this is very much on my mind.

My most hated customer service companies are Verizon (totally, hands down) and any airline. My DH especially despises Apple, mainly because every time he tries to download a movie onto one of the kids Nanos, it fails and he ends up with customer service trying to make the download happen.

Who has the worst customer support in your opinion? Are there any that shine? (The small Linux-oriented company where I purchased my behemoth machine was fantastic when the laptop wasn’t charging properly, and I have had really good luck with Kindle support too). Do you have any particularly hilarious or horrifying customer support stories?

And, online support chat – yea or nay? I personally love it and always choose a chat over the phone. Much easier to follow, I can do other things at the same time, and I get a transcript.

 

Is there hope for weight maintenance?

by MooshiMooshi

The article on the study that followed the contestants from The Biggest Loser was huge last week. Basically, they found that all of the contestants they followed gained the weight back, sometimes more, despite their best efforts. The reason? Their metabolisms were lowered to the point where they couldn’t keep the weight off. And the lowered metabolisms appeared to persist over time.

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

Some of the followup articles are even more depressing. This article pretty much says that if you want to keep weight off after dieting, you are condemned to a near-anorexic way of life, and that nothing else works

So what hope is there for weight maintenance?

Anecdotal reports by people who have succeeded in keeping weight off tend to have a common theme: constant vigilance, keeping close track of weight, controlling what food is eaten and how much (often by weighing and measuring food), exercising often, putting up with hunger and resisting cravings to the best of their ability….

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Weight Loss

The takeaway for me is “Never get fat in the first place”. Maybe we are just a species evolved to exist at near starvation levels and that eating enough to be comfortable is unhealthy.

Am I being too bleak? Are these articles too bleak? Has anything worked for you?

Geography matters for the poor

by MooshiMooshi

The NYTimes has been doing a series on health and longevity among different groups, All of the articles have been interesting, but this one popped out at me: If you are poor, where you live has a big impact on your lifespan.

And it turns out you are much better off in large cities on the coasts.

According to the article, if you are wealthy, you can pretty much live anywhere without an impact on your lifespan. That isn’t surprising, since the wealthy live pretty much the same way, and have access to similar services, no matter where they live.

But if you look at the chart towards the end of this article, you can see that the places where poor people live longer are pretty much clumped on the coasts: For poor men, the longest lifespans are in NYC, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Newark, Boston. Poor women live longest in Miami, NYC, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Diego, Port San Lucie, Newark, Los Angeles, Portland ME, Providence.

Now look at the places where poor people have the shortest lifespans: Gary, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Little Rock and so on. Not a coastal city on the list, save possibly Honolulu which shows up for women but not men (what is with that?). Clearly something bad is going on in the middle of the country. The article mentions the drug abuse belt. But why is drug abuse so much worse in the middle of the country?

The positive takeaways from this article: first, average lifespans among the poor are still pretty good, but clearly should be better, especially among men living in the lower middle of the country. And second, poverty is not destiny: cities on the coasts are doing something right in terms of keeping poor people healthier. We need to figure out what that is.

The Rich Live Longer Everywhere.
For the Poor, Geography Matters.