My wife has a funny personality quirk, and perhaps there’s now psychological support for how it works out in the end.
So here goes: she likes to argue at bedtime. Not even bedtime really … often at lights out, or 5-10 minutes after. She’s got something to get off her chest, and she’s going to do it.
I have no doubt that it annoys her greatly that I’m not usually game by that point in the day.
Anyway, that’s the skinny. But I’m not really interested in that.
What I am interested in is that, almost always, after a good fight … she falls deeply asleep rather quickly.
This is interesting because she has quite a lot of trouble falling asleep most other nights. And it’s important to me: I’d wish her a good night’s sleep no matter what went on the day before.
And it really doesn’t seem to matter much what I do: argue back, respond passively, concede defeat, even just roll over and say I’m tired and I can’t do this right now. If she comes to a boil, she falls asleep afterwards. If she doesn’t come to a boil, her sleep pattern is more normal (and not that great in the way that is common for people in middlle-age).
This behavior extends to anxiety as well. If she’s anxious at night, and can’t sleep … she’ll often fall asleep after some emotional outburst at, say, the neighbor’s dog, or the TV.
So now, there’s new research showing that if you have performance anxiety, the advice to calm down and focus really isn’t helpful. Instead, you need to pump yourself up emotionally.
… Author Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Business School. ‘When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.’
‘When you feel anxious, you're ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats,’ she said. ‘In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement.’
What I wonder, is if the excitement of the argument helps counteract the excitement associated with her anxiety? How else can I explain that sometimes she comes to bed pumped up (about me, about the kids, or whatever), and that when she pumps it up even further, she sleeps well?
Article: "Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement," Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, Harvard Business School; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online.
Nation’s Math Teachers Introduce 27 New Trig Functions
All Graduating Students Must Master Gamsin, Negtan, Cosvnx, 24 Others
The vXboy is 14 now, and decent at math. A couple of weeks ago he asked me to explain triangulation. I started with “Have they taught you sine and cosine?” He’d never heard of them. I’m not sure he understands triangulation, distance estimation, depth perception, or any of the related topics.
As part of the same discussion, I asked him if he knew how to use a compass to determine a baseline. Nada.
FWIW: Several years ago I was told that my state’s math curriculum eliminated the topic of commutativity. You know, that 3 times 4 is the same as 4 times 3. This has repeatedly created problems for college students in my classes (in fact, a marketing professor down the hall felt that one of our “brighter” students actually became abusive because he was so certain that commutativity did not hold – that student later got an MBA from us).
RM, a friend has two nursing jobs, but no health insurance. Some argue that this person somehow deserves health insurance.
I’d certainly like them to have health insurance, don’t get me wrong.
But I don’t fool myself that they deserve employer-provided coverage. Here’s my version of Landsburg’s argument (see his points 9 through 14).
Do note that this argument applies to a whole realm of human endeavors, and to your relationships as much as mine.
My friend gets a certain benefit from their job: pay, benefits, hedonic income, and so on. They also incur certain costs: mostly the opportunity cost of their time spent working, and the opportunity cost of foregone investment in other skills.
But, they took the job, and they continue to do it. This suggests the benefits exceed the costs.
Then there’s my friendship and the friendship of others. This also offers benefits. We don’t like to admit it, but there are costs too; mostly the opportunity costs of spending your time with someone else.
Next, note that almost all of us choose our jobs over our friends fairly readily. This suggests that the net benefit of time at our jobs is higher than the net benefit of time with our friends. If it didn’t, we’d skip work more. Instead … we skip relationships.*
And this is where my desire that my friend have employer-provided coverage crashes and burns. You see, I provide less to my friend RM than the employer does, and I want the employer to provide RM even more.
As a want, I think this is OK. But when I start to imply that RM deserves more from their employer I’ve cross the boundary into moral incoherence.
Think about it: in what moral universe is it OK for the people who do less to expect the people who already do more … to do even more?
I’ll give you a clue: this is the moral universe of prison wardens and toddlers.
What my friend RM really deserves is … better friends. Say, friends, that would provide health insurance. This is, perhaps, unrealistic. But the moral ground is a lot firmer under those friends who say, “I’d love to buy health insurance for you but I’ve got other expenses with higher priorities” than those who’d say “I’d love to expend my outrage at the employer you’re already generally choosing over me rather than my own money.”
* It’s a digression, but an interesting one, to think about how our employers get in that envious position. They do so by laying out quite a lot of cash for peoples’ time.
Here’s something I didn’t know. Claims that Americans don’t save enough for retirement are based on measures of retiree income that … don’t include most of their income.
Oy vey. How the heck does that work?
Big name insider Andrew Biggs and outsider Sylvester Schieber* have the reason.
The story is largely based upon data from the Current Population Survey … Data from the Current Population Survey, or CPS, form the basis of the Social Security Administration's Income of the Aged publication series—which is widely cited as showing that Americans' inadequate retirement incomes … But the CPS fails to count most of the income Americans … as well as significantly understating the percentage of current American workers who are saving for retirement.
The CPS measures the sources and amounts of income received by American households, including income from retirement plans. The Census Bureau's definition of income, however, includes only payments made on a regular, periodic basis. So monthly benefits paid from a defined benefit pension or an annuity are counted as income, while as-needed withdrawals from 401(k)s or IRAs are not.
Think about that: only regular, periodic, inflows and outflows get counted.
There are no windfalls that get socked away that get counted for retirement: no bequests, no big bonuses or commissions, no severance packages, not even lottery or gambling winnings.
And, all those big ticket purchases that seniors make with lump sums (because, after all, that’s the smart way to buy stuff): the cars, the condos, the vacations, the elective surgeries … don’t count either.
The scale of this nonsense is astounding:
For 2008, the CPS reported $5.6 billion in individual IRA income. Retirees themselves reported $111 billion in IRA income to the Internal Revenue Service.
Oops. We didn’t count 95% of that category.
The CPS suggests that in 2008 households receiving Social Security benefits collected $222 billion in pensions or annuity income. But federal tax filings for 2008 show that these same households received $457 billion of pension or annuity income.
Oops! We missed over half your income.
It gets worse:
Even that is not the whole story—because tax filings do not include distributions from Roth plans, since those distributions are not taxable.
Now that’s sneaky: let’s figure out a plan to help retirees lower their taxes, and then when they divert money in that direction, we won’t count it when declaring there’s a problem that didn’t exist before. Ummm … yeah … worked like a charm as near as I can figure.
Then there’s this:
Tax figures omit pension and IRA distributions to low-income retirees who do not file annual tax forms.
You mean that person I was talking to just yesterday, who has everything paid for, and on who on paper is considerably richer than me, and actually saves money from the income that’s so “meager” she doesn’t have to file taxes anymore … doesn’t get counted at all? But, she’s rich, right? So the government is going around saying we’re not going to count her on the positive ledger at all, but we will count her on the negative ledger, even though she’s clearly in the 1%? Wha wha what??
Well, maybe this is a new problem. Not so:
… The agency has known for nearly 20 years that CPS data ignored much of the retirement income paid out by pensions and IRAs, and that the underreporting of this income was a growing problem. The agency's own policy analysts have been increasingly forthright in pointing out the shortcomings of the CPS in measuring retirement income. … [emphasis added]
Nevertheless, Social Security Administration summary reports developed from CPS data continue to be published. They are widely cited as justification for expanding Social Security and shifting away from the 401(k) and IRA saving system that today produces more income for retirees than does Social Security. Based on this faulty data, activists propose enlarging Social Security, which itself is dramatically underfunded, currently operating in deficit, and facing depletion of its trust fund in fewer than 20 years.
* Biggs was formerly principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. He’s the inside guy. Schieber is the former chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board. He’s the outside guy.
She paraphrases Sagan to give a list of 9 things to do:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
And she paraphrases Sagan to give a list of 20 pitfalls to watch out for:
ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
statistics of small numbers — a close relative of observational selection (e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
post hoc, ergo propter hoc — Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
short-term vs. long-term — a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)
A few years ago I suffered a professional attack, that was then accepted by others. In retrospect, I see that it worked because the initiator used numbers 2, 7, 8, 9, 11, 18, 19, and 20 from the bad list, and its readers didn’t follow through with 1, 3, 7, and 9 from the good list.
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