Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fwd: Why the Border Wall May Not Matter, School Suspension Disparities, and More

Brookings scholars and free newsletters can be helpful and uplifting.  I usually just read further in if the subject is of interest.  Almost everything in the future, near or far, is a bit questionable but predictions can vary according to one's knowledge and intent in writing.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brookings Brief <>
Date: Sat, Mar 25, 2017 at 6:35 AM
Subject: Why the Border Wall May Not Matter, School Suspension Disparities, and More

A guide to the French election, how Trump's budget hurts educational TV, and negotiating strategies for Trump's administration.
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The Brookings Brief
March 25, 2017
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New this week

Undocumented immigration from Latin America will slow to a crawl. As part of the Spring 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, economists from the University of California San Diego find that weak labor-supply growth in Mexico and other Latin American countries will cause young, low-skilled workers to stop crossing the border entirely by 2050—even without the implementation of Trump's border policies. Read a quick roundup of the latest economic research presented at the BPEA conference this week or read all six papers in full.

A brief guide to the French election. This week, candidates took part in the first televised debate of France's presidential election, arguing over the EU, security, and more. With just one month left before the first round vote, Philippe Le Corre provides a handy guide for getting to know the top contenders. 

Racial disparities in school suspensions. An analysis of data from California schools finds that African-American students continue to be suspended at a higher rate than other ethnic groups. Listen to Tom Loveless discuss his findings and explore the full 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education to also see what foreign exchange students think about U.S. schools and how American students are performing on international assessments.

How the Trump administration can start negotiating from strength. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reschedules his NATO meeting with foreign ministers, Bruce Jones and Will Moreland explain how the session can set the stage for renewed security cooperation among trans-Atlantic partners. They highlight a recently released bipartisan national security strategy that concludes a policy of building "situations of strength" with allies—especially in Europe—will best serve U.S. interests.

What Trump's budget means for Big Bird. Sesame Street itself may survive proposed budget cuts, but Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine explain what children from disadvantaged backgrounds miss out on when they lose access to educational programming. 

What our experts are reading

Impressive interactive: Tax Credits under the Affordable Care Act vs American Health Care Act: An Interactive Map (@davidmwessel)

This is a thoughtful overview from Tanvi Misra on pros/cons of Baltimore's decision to raise its min wage to $15/hour (@berubea1)

Heartening example of the potential of online learning for refugees (@MaysaJalbout)


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Some thoughts

I sat next to an interesting man yesterday on our flight.  As I talked with him, I realized that I had several thoughts I wanted to put down on a blog page.

What is the most common reason people abandon meditation?

Right up near the top is the feeling that I must be a failure at meditation because I keep finding my mind wandering.  Actually, finding that you have wandered into an issue or story of interest is the whole point of mindfulness meditation.  Each time you notice such a wandering, you are increasing your awareness of where you have allowed your attention to settle.

Secrets of a long marriage

John Gottman, PhD, is the best known researcher of marriage.  He has several books, including "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work".  I have a marriage of 56 years and my seat partner asked me what is the secret of having a long marriage.  First, I don't really know.  Second, it is probably luck.  Third, both Lynn and I dated many people before we met so we had experience.  Fourth, she is really smart and I appreciate that, even when she uses her intelligence to show me wrong, again.  Fifth, we argue frequently.  Gottman says that showing contempt is a major factor in separating couples.  It seems as though we never feel contempt for each other.  Sixth, I think anyone can love anyone if they try steadily.

Who to read on the subject of Buddhism?

There are many excellent authors.  I usually cite Jack Kornfield as a good place to start.  In my limited experience, Americans will do better if they read an American author of current times rather than an Asian.  Asians may have very different ideas of what life is about, what happiness is and how one should behave.  I recommend the book "Buddhism or Bust" by Garfinkel or "After Buddhism" by Batchelor if you are looking for some background on current Buddhism and its history.  Listening to "The Higher Self" by Deepak Chopra also proved very valuable.  Nothing about expanding one's ideas and range of thought has to damage or limit or change one's fundamental beliefs and feelings about life or death or ultimate things.

What value is there to being mindful?

Working at focusing on a single point of attention for 10 timed minutes increases one's awareness of the use of the mind.  What good is that?  It improves the ability to note when you have gotten off the subject without meaning to.  It improves the ability to note that you are tending to switch to angry thoughts or sad thoughts when you didn't mean to or want to.

Garson O'Toole's list of sources of quotation misattribution

I acquired the ebook "Hemingway Didn't Say That" by Garson O'Toole, a man who specializes in checking out who really said various quotations.  What got me turned on was his explanation of the various ways misattribution happens.  I have mentioned that I get a lift reading the chapter of the Old Testament called "Ecclesiastes".  It is beautifully pessimistic and says, "Face it, Pal, you are going to die.  Not only that, but after death, you and all your good works will be forgotten."  You may not like to read statements like that but I do.  In exploring this odd piece of writing from more than 2000 years ago, I learned that the attribution of authorship to the son of King David was a strategy more common in pre-trademark and marketing times.  The idea is I could attribute my writing to some famous and important person in order to garner attention and retention of what I write.  I recommend the book for the excellent discussion of how what one person says or writes comes to be considered the work of someone else.

Friday, March 17, 2017

How am I doing?

We used to have a children's book, maybe the one called "Where Did I Come From?" or the one called "It's So Amazing!".  It showed a lineup of males from young boy through old man.  I was impressed at how accurately the artist captured the features we use to distinguish a man's age.  I often tell myself that I am primed by nature and seconded by the media to know that a trim, muscular body is the best one, the optimal one.  Nature and the media tell me that even when that picture is wrong.

We don't expect babies to be born looking like Mr. Universe with muscles all standing out.  We might think we want old men to look the same way.  The photographic essay "Old Age is Not for Sissies" shows some very impressive men in their 80's who do look like Mr. Universe types.  

I might be able to exercise more, eat more protein and lift heavier weights.  I might be able to look several decades younger than I am but why should I?  I am very confident that I won't look very good at age 145.  I will almost certainly be very deteriorated and probably yucky.  I am already rather wrinkled and wasted.

A certain amount of maintenance and self-care makes sense.  A little respect for myself, my body and social customs can assist me in keeping what I have in pretty good shape.  But trying too hard to look like I am in my 20's seems mistaken.  When you do meet someone in their 60's or older who looks 30, you immediately think of vanity, surgery and fear.  I guess I can do a little cost/benefit thinking.  If walking and some weight lifting feels good, doesn't hog up too many of my hours or dollars, that expenditure could be worthwhile.  

I have observed what many older people before me probably found, too.  If I pay attention to someone else, what I know of that person and what they are doing with their lives, I can often have more fun joking or lifting their spirit.  It is more uplifting than getting the same old wolf whistles from others.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

That's not what I meant!

I have explained previously that I have difficulty keeping a good relationship between my fingers and my brain.  I type on a keyboard for my blog and do many other things by typing.  My error rate, the probability that I will strike the wrong key, one I didn't want to strike by accident, is too high.  Keep in mind that I am thinking of what I do when I write for my blog or for an email to a friend: compose ideas in my head, create words that seem likely to express the ideas and type those words.  I type to create, not to provide a typescript of handwritten or previously made documents.

I wrote about my history in typing in this blog post:

But I was about 10% younger then and I have matured somewhat.  I have typed a heck of a lot since then.  Peter Vishton assures me that if I do any activity enough, I will improve at doing it.  Maybe I have improved.  I find the prospect of careful observation, timing and analysis of my typing, boring.  I find the rapid correction of misspellings and fat fingering (nipping a neighbor key as well as the targeted one) fun.  I guess if I could accept that I am never going to be a champion typist or executive secretary and so forgive the backspacing, the retyping and re-retyping, I might be even happier.

I am interested in error and error analysis since those subjects can lead to interesting discoveries.  I know that it is the modern American fascination with IMPROVEMENT that can lead to isolating the most common errors and then working on ways to lessen or eliminate them. That is certainly a common and worthwhile approach.  But there are other directions, too, as there usually are:

Freudian [how come so many of my errors have to do with calm?  Am I too stressed?]

Structural [many of my errors seem to relate to using my outer fingers, not the index fingers.  Does that call for a new keyboard design?]

Inventive [I often have trouble with the word 'analysis'.  Can I invent a new spelling of a word that leads to fewer typing errors?]

Dr. Kaufman and some others have expressed being impressed by my "dedication" to writing daily.  What they often don't realize is that it is fun.  Of course I like it when you get tickled by what I write.  But when you are too busy, I still get all sorts of fun.  I began this post at 8:30 and it is now 10:16.  What the heck?  Nearly two hours to write 445 words. I just used Excel to find I have been typing about a word every 15 seconds.  Slow!  Very slow!  But I have written to friends, checked all sorts of things on Google and learned a bunch.  I make errors but normally I am not entering crucial data, like instant stock orders (where 20,000 shares was mistyped as 2,000,000,000) and desired airplane descend angles (where a pilot meant angle of descent but set the wrong gauge, the speed of descent).  Look up big deal typos and fat-fingering.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Traffic both ways

I am listening to "Outsmart Yourself" by Peter Vishton, one of the Great Courses.  Their courses can be purchased in CD or DVD format and can be streamed to a computer, tablet or phone.  I haven't found a good way to fit Great Courses into my life except while driving around town on errands.  So, if a course is so visual that it is only sold in DVD - video format, I don't try to watch it.  The few times I have tried, I haven't gotten to the material.  


Vishton is a psychology professor and he tries hard to get recent research that is applicable to a typical difficulty most people have.  He organizes the course around "tips", clues that allow better living.  For instance, one of his tips, backed up by some research, is that you may be more creative in your thinking if you are standing up rather than sitting.  He goes so far as to hypothesize that mathematicians may be good at solving complex problems because they often work standing at a blackboard.

In discussing the various ways that our brains work, Vishton emphasizes that the notion of the brain being in charge of the body is being modified.  It is clear that actions and uses of the body influence the brain.  So, traffic and influence travel both ways: from the brain and into the brain.  The book "The Brain that Changes Itself" by N. Doidge, MD and his follow-up volume make body and activity influence and modification of the brain clear and interesting.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Just seeing old books

We cleared out our books in about 2008.  We were getting swamped by them, piles stacked here and there unable to fit on the over-crowded shelves.  About the same time, came into our awareness.  They offer the Kindle, I think, at first for about $450.  I read with disbelief that the little book-like object could get books WITHOUT being connected to a computer or other connection.  The best explanation seemed to be an analogy to a cellphone call, except getting a book file, instead of a conversation.  Not only that but the price of a book was about half of a paper book.  Not only that but the print could be enlarged if needed.

So, we got rid of about 500 books.  

At the same time, though, Amazon was developing its algorithms and practices aimed at being sure I learned about books that might interest me.  Over time, they get to know me very well and sometimes, I don't resist.  The Secret Life of Fat and The 10,000 Year Explosion are current examples of books that have genuinely increased my awareness and knowledge.

These days, I can run into a title of interest that is too old and specialized to be in Kindle form yet.  I check Google Books and Barnes and Noble for electronic files of older books of interest but usually if Amazon doesn't have it in e-form, nobody does.  A good book may cost $50 in special eform and 1 cent in a used copy. Plus, the university and the local library are very good at finding a copy of anything, getting it here and loaning it.

In preparing for today's talk about teaching teachers, I needed to find my dissertation.  I have a copy online but I thought I would look up the one paper copy I still have from 1968.  Seeing it and looking through the list of references again showed me an effect of having books from one's earlier years around.  The books, their covers are souvenirs,  objects that stir remembrance.  In my mind's eye, I can see books that I used over and over.  I know some of their content but that is not the point.  The physical book, like the face of a friend, recalls scenes from the time of its acquisition, its use, my steady dependence on it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


The evidence had piled up more than 10 years ago and it is even higher now.  Yes, everything changes but yes, there are continuities and reliable patterns.  Some of those deal with myself and similar ones deal with yourself.  I have heard of the Socratic and ancient Greek admonition to "know yourself" but I have also heard of the Buddhist principle that there is no self.  I fall back on the French principle "C'est moi", It's me.  

The place to start understanding is with me.  My thinking, my feelings, my impressions, my memories, my worries, my impulses.  Isn't that rather self-centered?  Yes, it is so it is quite important to remember that there is you and others, that we are not alone and we are steadily influenced and guided and inspired and frightened by others.  However, our perceptions of others are us, again.  My perception of what you are thinking is, once again, mine.

It can be frightening, annoying and/or depressing to go through Prof. Herman's exercise of grasping, recognizing and accepting that what I see comes from my retina and optic nerve, what I hear comes through my ears and my hearing nerves, and what I feel emotionally comes from my brain.  Since I am such a big part of me and my experience, it does make sense to be aware of what my very large and complex set of unconscious processes and drives is doing, at least to whatever extent is possible.

You know, Mrs. Clendaniel, that I am going to get to my central topic somehow and you are, of course, correct.  The evidence and the centrality of me for myself and I combine to make MEDITATION valuable and increasingly understood worldwide to be valuable.  Are you real manly?  You may be inspired to know that Navy Seals and Army Rangers and Russian special forces all practice meditation because after all, in tight, dangerous and frightening situations, yourself is the main thing you've got.  Are you quite feminine?  You can perceive more of your emotions and allow yourself to be more complete when you are more aware and more accepting of your whole self: mind, body and spirit.

The most common experience that shuts people down and away from meditative training is mental refreshment.  Often people try to concentrate on their breathing or a point on the wall.  If they are more advanced and a bit braver, they try to just let their thoughts flow and watch the flow.  That is riskier because when you think of last night's snack, you may be stuck on the idea of a snack right now and then berate yourself for sinning and so sink right back into normal thinking instead of improving mind awareness.

But mental refreshment, one's attention, works like our eyes, with constant refreshment.  The Wikipedia says about eye movement:

Therefore, these random eye movements constantly change the stimuli that fall on the photoreceptors and the ganglion cells, making the image more clear.[10  

Our vision needs and gets continuous refreshment with tiny, rapid and unperceivable movements.  So with our attention.  A living mind will always jump to new angles, views and subjects.  Don't let that stop the training of bringing the mind back to your chosen focus any more than you would cease training table manners because the kid dropped his fork.

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