Monday, September 10, 2012

Upon Further Review

This weekend, my lovely wife committed an act that any reasonable person would conclude was more than just cause to set divorce proceedings in motion: she sliced up the Review section of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal well before I had a chance to consume all its rich, readable goodness. She did have the decency to apologize for her horrific transgression and remind me that I could still access the as yet unread articles online, but still...

For those of you who don’t subscribe to the WSJ (sickos), it’s difficult to understand just how much those of who do look forward to each Saturday’s Review each week. The section is chock full of interesting essays, book reviews, and other miscellany articles. There’s usually so much good stuff that you don’t know where to start and need a whole weekend to ensure you take it all in.

Here are three examples from this past weekend’s edition that help illustrate this.

An excerpts from Robert Kaplan’s new book The Revenge of Geography:

If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don't read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government's aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.

As a way of explaining world politics, geography has supposedly been eclipsed by economics, globalization and electronic communications. It has a decidedly musty aura, like a one-room schoolhouse. Indeed, those who think of foreign policy as an opportunity to transform the world for the better tend to equate any consideration of geography with fatalism, a failure of imagination

But this is nonsense. Elite molders of public opinion may be able to dash across oceans and continents in hours, allowing them to talk glibly of the "flat" world below. But while cyberspace and financial markets know no boundaries, the Carpathian Mountains still separate Central Europe from the Balkans, helping to create two vastly different patterns of development, and the Himalayas still stand between India and China, a towering reminder of two vastly different civilizations.

An article about using electronic devices on airplanes called Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Planes?:

On Aug. 31, the Federal Aviation Administration requested public comment on its longstanding policy of prohibiting the use of personal electronics during takeoffs and landings. The restrictions date back to 1991 and were motivated in part by anecdotal reports from pilots and flight crews that electronic devices affected an airliner's navigation equipment or disrupted communication between the cockpit and the ground. Over the years, however, Boeing has been unable to duplicate these problems, and the FAA can only say that the devices' radio signals "may" interfere with flight operations.

To gather some empirical evidence on this question, we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren't supposed to.

Consider what these numbers imply. The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don't see that.

And finally an article called Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race' which explains that there is more and more evidence that parents should worry more about character instead of cognitive development when it comes to ensuring their the future success of their kids:

At the root of this parental anxiety is an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive skill—the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests—and that the best way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.

There is something undeniably compelling about the cognitive hypothesis. The world it describes is so reassuringly linear, such a clear case of inputs here leading to outputs there. Fewer books in the home means less reading ability; fewer words spoken by your parents means a smaller vocabulary; more math work sheets for your 3-year-old means better math scores in elementary school. But in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate group of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis.

What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character.

Those are just the three most obvious examples. There was plenty more to like with reviews of books on Paul Volcker, Phil Sheridan, and Dana Andrews. The Review section in Saturday’s WSJ has become a must read. Just make sure your wife understands that it’s not to become fodder for reuse until Monday morning.