Shorting The Long Tail

March 20, 2007

img_7569.jpgTom Slee’s criticism of The Long Tail continues with 9.3-The Short Head Part 2, 10-The Paradise of Choice, and 10.1-A Short Note.

But let me give credit where credit is due. The access methods that Amazon has built into its site are very impressive and increasingly sophisticated. As examples I looked for two obscure songs: Ken Boothe’s 1972 “Freedom Street” and Fontella Bass’s “To Be Free” (I couldn’t remember the title and had to browse) and found both quickly, complete with sound sample; I also tried to cheat by looking up “The The” – a band with the worst possible name in a Google-dominated world (try finding them) – but Amazon tracked them down.

I would like to thank Tom for mentioning “The The” which tweaked some long unused neurons in my brain and caused me to go listen to a bunch of stupid little music clips. The album “Infected” sounds most familiar but its hard to tell from short clips.

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Didn’t NY City recently consider a ban on crossing the street while talking on a cell phone or listening to an iPod? How ’bout filming a video podcast while driving.

Lindsay: Why do you have your blinker on?

Howard: You never know when I’m going to turn.

Educating RAD

March 20, 2007

img_7447.jpgEducation is like potholes…. everyone is an expert. Most articles on education make me chuckle. This is followed by head scratching until I am distracted by something worthwhile to photograph.

First, most of us have some form of education. Been there, done that. We have a reference to work with to judge any kind of claim.

So a claim I hear from libertarians (normally American libertarians) is that public schools don’t work and that school vouchers should be issued to allow the free market to do its magic. My gut reaction is that this is a false claim and after a quick chuckle I try to understand why. It may be that, as a product of the Canadian public school system, backing this claim implies that I’m dumber than I should be. I think we naturally object to claims that logically imply that we suck.

Beyond the “I’m not as think as you dumb I am” defence, I think libertarian (i.e. free market) principles do not apply to a handful of special cases. Policies involving children, with education being a subset, are of this type. Now I’m not saying that education vouchers are evil and that their adoption will result in the degradation of society as we know it. I’m just saying that when it comes to policies involving children, my free-market-is-best assumption is not automatically applied.

A second type of idea that I hear is what I call a “Nurture Assumption” claim. The “Nurture Assumption” is an idea by Judith Rich Harris that is outlined in her book with the same name. The assumption is that a child’s personality is influenced by the home environment (i.e. siblings, parents, and parenting methods) and by the school environment (i.e. teachers and curriculum). Judith Rich Harris claims the Nurture Assumption is false. Fifty percent of our personality traits are the result of genes (independent of household/family environment) and fifty percent are the result of socialization… zero from authority figures (parents and school). The fifty percent not from genes is due totality to peer socialization.

So all types of people make the false Nurture Assumption when applying their own belief systems to education. Many progressives, for instance, dedicate their lives to promoting a curriculum that teaches evolution and prevents the mention of intelligent design. We fret about zero tolerance policies, prayer in the classroom, and over-reaching political correctness. To quote Johnny Rotten <or fill in your favorite rebel>, “WHO CARES”. Kids will absorb this information, but the opinions they form will be the result of peer dynamics. Its not the medium, its not the message, its peer groups baby. Peer groups.