Pennies vs. dollars

If you ran a company, would you yell from the rooftops on reports that your devices outsold the competition? Suppose that you’re an investor, does market share impress the hell out of you? Assume that you’re a Wall Street trader. Do you go gaga over number of units sold?

Consider Samsung and Apple. Both sell mobile devices, with both increasing sales quarter by quarter. Well, consider this: Apple makes more money (as in profits) on the sales of its mobile devices than Samsung, LG, Nokia, Huawei, Lenovo, and Motorola—combined!



The better takeaway from the above chart is that there are really only two players in this market. They’re the only companies that recorded net revenues; the rest actually lost money.

Now, back to bad maps

Apple does a lot of things well. Geography is not one of them. Let’s compare two photos of my environs, essentially Port Gardner Bay and a portion of Puget Sound.

First Apple:

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 1.17.31 PM


Note the island in the center. We call it ‘Hat Island,’ although it has a more formal name, which you’ll find in the photo from Google Earth. Oh, and Langley is not on Hat Island.

Here’s Google Earth of roughly the same area:

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 1.19.05 PM


If you set out in a boat for Gedney Island (Hat) expecting to find Langley, you’ll be sorely disappointed. As you can see from Google’s map, Langley is on Whidbey Island.

Come on, Apple.

Speaking of bad brains…

Digby reminds us that the Republicans have been looney for a very long time. She has this whacko excerpt about Tom DeLay when he was still running the House:

DeLay went on to recount a recent experience he had in which he spent four hours “on a conference call with the Lord” during which God told DeLay that he is to write a book called “Shut It Down” about the need for Constitutional revival.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Bad brain?

Are Republicans more biased than liberals? Chris Mooney evidently thinks so, and he’s written another book (The Republican Brain: the science of why they deny science—and reality) suggesting that the phenomenon may have something to do with heredity. Here I’m citing a post by Josiah Neeley rather than the book itself, which I have not read.

I’ll quote Neeley below, who, by the way, rejects Mooney’s thesis:

…there is a great deal of psychological research establishing that, pace Aristotle, man is not only a rational animal but is also a rationalizing animal, particularly when it comes to politics. When confronted with evidence that goes against their pre-existing beliefs, people do not response by objectively evaluating it. Instead, they tend to respond emotionally, attacking or dismissing contrary however possible, while credulously accepting any evidence or authorities that seem to support their view. Anyone who has spent time arguing politics on the Internet will not be surprised at this finding.

As it happens, according to Neeley, the study that Mooney helped design at Louisiana State University—ostensibly to bolster his conclusion that conservatives are more biased and less susceptible to dissuasion by inconvenient facts—undermines his own argument. Neeley:

The LSU study failed to find any correlation between political ideology and the tendency to engage in motivated reasoning on non-political subjects. While the book doesn’t report findings as to openness, correspondence with Everett Young confirmed that higher openness to experience was not associated with lower motivated reasoning.

If openness to experience doesn’t mean openness to contrary evidence, then Mooney’s whole argument for why conservatives are more biased must fall by the wayside. That, at any rate, is the conclusion his co-author seems to have come to. “My feeling at the conclusion of this study is that motivated reasoning is not a psychological-ideological phenomenon,” says Young. “That is, conservatives and liberals do not differ in their level of motivated reasoning as a result of the inherent psychology that makes them conservative or liberal.”

However, Republicans are still wrong.

The bribe

The federal government attaches sticky strings to its principal education programs, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The strings are an inducement, a carrot, a cudgel. In reality, they’re bribes; and if your state or school district is strapped for cash, as most are these days, you not only plug your nose as you take the money. You may find yourself painting lipstick on the pig, as much to assuage one’s guilt as to rationalize the corrupting quid-pro-quo.

So it is with Washington state’s political leaders, who jumped into the federal bed, strings and all, in exchange for much needed dollars. As a result, children and their teachers have been subjected to a cruel testing regimen that does nothing to improve education while surely stifling whatever intellectual curiosity existed before kids entered their first classroom.

The reformist premise is that public schools are forever “in crisis,” their alleged failures responsible for the decline in civilization and national fortunes. With each new crisis claim comes a program or initiative promising to bring educational nirvana.

After all, have you seen the latest test scores? Our kids are flunking. Repeat. Reform. Repeat. Reform.

In her latest book, Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch systematically debunks the crisis claims. Take test scores. She looks at the 2010 PISA results (a test given randomly to children within the OECD).

First, the scores of American fifteen-year-olds had not declined. In reading and mathematics, the U.S. scores were not measurably different from earlier PISA assessments in 2000, 2003, and 2006. In science, U.S. students improved their scores over an earlier assessment in 2006.

More important, and we should always keep this in mind, test scores track poverty rates. The higher the level of poverty the lower the test scores. Thus, Massachusetts, which has a relatively low poverty rate, records better results on PISA, whereas Mississippi, with high percentages of poor people, does worse.

Yet, even with higher poverty rates than other western industrial nations American students do well against their international peers. Here’s Ravitch:

Second, American students in schools with low poverty— the schools where less than 10 percent of the students were poor— had scores that were equal to those of Shanghai and significantly better than those of high-scoring Finland, the Republic of Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia. In U.S. schools where less than a quarter of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (the federal definition of poverty), the reading scores were similar to those of students in high-performing nations. Technically, the comparison is not valid, because it involves comparing students in low-poverty schools in the United States with the average score for entire nations. But it is important to recognize that the scores of students in low-poverty schools in the United States are far higher than the international average, higher even than the average for top-performing nations, and the scores decline as poverty levels increase, as they do in all nations.

Writing for the New York Times, Frank Bruni throws his two-cent hat into the reformist ring. He’s touting a “bold” initiative in Colorado that requires voter approval, as he begins with broad, unthinking strokes:

If there’s a key to this nation’s sustained competitiveness, it’s education. And if there’s a key to the kind of social mobility that’s integral to our country’s cherished narrative, to its soul, it’s giving kids from all walks of life teachers and classrooms that beckon them toward excellence. But like all aspects of American policy making these days, the push to improve public schools bucks up against factionalism, pettiness, lobbies that won’t be muted and sacred cows that can’t be disturbed. Progress that needs to be sweeping is anything but.

Amendment 66, as the ballot measure is called, enjoys unusual support from a disparate array of interests, including the Walton family, which heavily funds education reform efforts, especially charter school initiatives, and two national teachers unions. U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan, according to Bruni:

…has said that the success of Amendment 66, which is what voters will weigh in on, would make Colorado “the educational model for every other state to follow.”

While it’s easy to see why corporate reformers back the initiative, what’s in it for teachers and their unions? Here’s the bribe part, and I’ll quote Bruni:

Part of what rallied the unions to the overhaul, which many unionized teachers initially resisted, is its infusion of an extra $950 million annually into public education through the 12th grade, a portion of which could go to rehiring teachers who lost jobs during the recession and to hiring new ones for broadly expanded preschool and kindergarten programs.

Increase spending, by all means, but remove the strings. Also, get smarter about public education.

Finnish schools, perhaps the best in the world, have no charters or”Teach for Finland,” Ravitch’s slam against Wendy Kopps’s Teach for America. There are no standardized tests in Finland. Teachers, among the best prepared in the world when they start their careers, actually spend less time instructing students then their American counterparts. As for funding, all education in Finland is free, or, if you prefer, completely subsidized by the government. Yet, per-pupil spending in Finland is far less than in the U.S.

Education spending internationalSo, if we wish to talk about reform and eliminate the bribes, we might look at the Finnish example. Do a search on this blog using the term ‘Finland’ to find more. Here’s a start.

Always a darker side

Angela Merkel is not happy. Nor are her European counterparts as they learned that the U.S. has been monitoring and capturing their electronic transmissions, including cellphone calls, for over a decade. What possessed them to believe that their communications, however ordinary, were private? This is the U.S., after all, and we do as we damn well please. Meanwhile, we ordinary Americans present a collective shrug, since we’ve come to embrace the Internet, especially social media that allow us to share our most mundane activities. But at what cost? Who cares?

Here’s a line from a piece (subscription may be required) in the New York Review of Books, written by Sue Halpern:

But while we were having fun, we happily and willingly helped to create the greatest surveillance system ever imagined, a web whose strings give governments and businesses countless threads to pull, which makes us…puppets.


A movie made in Everett

Some scenes in the TV series Twin Peaks were filmed in the North Everett neighborhood, which has rows of older, stately homes that fetch a pretty penny when offered for sale. Now we have another film, going by the title The Architect, featuring some of those houses. The movie is:

…about a married couple who wants [sic] to move into a new house. They hire an architect played by [James] Frain who doesn’t make the house of their dreams.

Instead he makes his own, and that’s where the tension begins.

The director seeks local residents for extras. Unfortunately, the cut-off age is 55. Missed it by that much.

Frain played a conniving Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors, deliciously so.