Too easy to forget, or not even realize at all

This post on Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem blog has a host of reasons to be thankful for the time and place that we live in.

Yes, life sucks sometimes. Yes, there are problems that need solving.

But, it’s good to take stock of how good we have it, because we too often forget it.

It’s good to remember just how much progress has been made in such a short period of time and where most of that progress has come from.

We hear about the shrinking middle class, yet suburban expansion of 2,500-3,500 square feet homes with amenities fit for a king continues. When I was a kid these were homes that the really wealthy lived in.

Urban renewal of hip apartments and luxury condos are also a thing in parts of my city that were forgotten and downtrodden as little as 15 years ago.

When I was a kid cruise vacations were relatively exclusive and trips to Disney were something you could afford, maybe, once every few years. Now, every year or two we hear about a new ‘biggest cruise ship ever’ being made and a key planning consideration about visiting a Disney park is when to go so that you aren’t shoulder-to-shoulder to folks squeezing yourself down Main Street USA.

Kid Rock for Senate?

I like the first part of his campaign statement:

“I believe if you work your butt off and pay taxes…”


But, I thought his statement fell flat in the second part:

“…you should be able to easily understand and navigate the laws, tax codes, health care and anything else the government puts in place that affects us all.”

Sure. Sounds good. But, that’s not a rallying call. I really thought he would say something like:

“I believe if you work your butt off and pay taxes, you should be celebrated, thanked and emulated, not told that you don’t deserve it and you need to pay more in taxes.”

Somewhere along the way we seemed to stop celebrating hard workers who not only produce things that are responsible for the unmatched standard of living we enjoy, but also pay most of the taxes.

There seems to be an attitude that hard workers aren’t responsible for what they produce and instead of being grateful for the record sums of taxes they pay, it is thought they should pay more.


The world may be too complicated for RCT’s, there are better feedbacks

Randomized controlled trials (RCT’s) are hot.

The general public knows common forms of these these as pilots (as in a pilot episode for TV series), test marketing, experimentation or trials.

Those in public policy circles leverage RCT’s to identify whether a policy or program works. A recent Freakonomics podcast, When Helping Hurts, explores the issue and how RCTs have been used to determine whether programs, like mentor programs for disadvantaged youth, help or not.

The podcast explored long-term research at such a mentor program that, to the chagrin of the researchers, didn’t appear to help and may have even hurt. Ouch.

The moral of the story was that things that sound good may not be, but that may be difficult to figure that out.

RCTs can help.

But, even RCTs are limited. A common limitation is the definition of success is often too limited.

Charter schools are often measured on whether they improve student test scores. That assumes a lot. For example, it assumes that test scores matter. It also assumes that schools can have an influence on test scores.

But, what matters most is always the individual students and the parents. Those are things schools won’t have much impact on.

A success measure that is normally overlooked when discussion school choice is whether parents were happy with their choice. If they were, it was a success, regardless of what happened to test scores.

This would also have been difficult to pull out of an RCT, because happiness is subjective.

We don’t need RCTs to figure out if we like McDonald’s better than Starbucks. What we have there is pure, old fashioned accountability from customer to corporate HQ. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than RCTs.

We also don’t RCTs to figure out if being polite is useful. We have accountability to help us figure that out. When you aren’t polite, you get the stink eye.

I think researchers get excited about RCTs because it gives them something to do and they don’t yet realize how limited their tool really is.





But, what if I’m wrong?

On the Huffington Post, Kayla Chadwick wrote a piece titled, I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people (HT: A Force For Good blog).

In it, she lists some things she is willing to do to help others, like paying an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac ‘if it means the person making it for’ her ‘can afford to feed their own family.’

In that respect, I was once like Kayla. I believed things were as straightforward as that.

But, in another respect, I wasn’t like Kayla. She also writes:

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.

By ‘these people’, she means folks who disagree with her.

That’s something I’ve always enjoyed, having discussions with folks who disagree with me.

It’s a good thing, too, because instead of assuming I was right about everything and anyone who disagreed with me was wrong, I listened and learned.

It wasn’t always comfortable and easy and and agreement wasn’t reached instantaneously and sometimes never at all.

But, I come away feeling comfortable that I understand my opponent’s argument and why I disagree with it.

I think that is very important, because if I stay bunkered in a way of thinking that leads me to support things that hurt the people that I wanted to help, then what good is it?

It might make me feel good that my intentions are pure and honest. It may also garner acceptance among others who think like me.

But, what does that matter, if I’m wrong? Is feeling good about myself and being accepted more important than actually helping the people I want to help?

I don’t think so.

That’s why I feel it’s important to not only listen to those who disagree with you, but gain an understanding of why they feel the way they do. That way you can clearly say why you agree or disagree and feel more confident that you are being true to your intentions, that is, helping (instead of hurting) the folks you want to help.

Asserting those who disagree with you don’t care about others isn’t an argument. It’s a fallacy. But, it serves the same purpose as bunkering yourself into your beliefs. It makes YOU feel better. Which, in my opinion, is even more selfish than the folks she criticizes.


Inside Soccer Playing Culture

One thing that gets overlooked in the discussion about how to improve the state of soccer in the U.S. is how much soccer is not a part of American culture.

I got to see first hand what a difference that makes when I attended a backyard quinceanara on my wife’s side of the family, last year.

I snapped this photo at the party:

kids playing soccer

The family is Mexican and Honduran, which are heavy soccer-playing cultures.

There was up to 12 kids out there kicking the ball around and they ranged in age from 3 to 20.

They didn’t play a soccer game like we know it, with goals and teams.

In this photo they were playing keep away. The guy with the ball would try to keep it, make a few moves to beat the defender and the closest guy to him would try to put pressure on him to stop him and try to get the ball.

A player possessed the ball for about 5 – 10 seconds, on average, then they’d pass it on to someone else and that pair would do the same thing.

Every now and then they’d do a 2-3 pass combo to attack an imaginary goal and shoot, but that wasn’t the main purpose of the game.

Notice the young kid with ball. He’s using the inside of his foot to control the ball and keeping it under his shoulders. He has basic technique down at a young age.

Another game they played was a simple 1v1. One guy had the ball, the other defended. The attacker tried to control the ball past the defender. The defender tried to keep the attacker from beating him and tried to get the ball.

After the attacker got past the defender or when the defender got the ball, they’d switch roles. I believe they kept score. A point for beating the defender. A point for getting the ball. They played best 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 5.

A few weeks later, my adult indoor team played against a Hispanic team. Before and after the game, their team spread across the field, paired off and played this simple 1v1 game.

These games worked well with the age differences while working on key fundamentals. The games were like simple versions of sports in our culture like 1-on-1 or 21 in basketball or ‘catch’ with a baseball or football.

All these games are fun and increase reps on fundamentals to where they become second nature.

I tried the first game with the 10 year soccer team that I coached. Here are some of the differences I saw.

Birthday party kids: Maintained their spacing well. Allowed them to move the ball around and have passing options available when the attacker’s dribbling options ran out.

American kids:  A herd of 3-4 chasing after the ball, knocking each other down to get it and often clogging up the attacker’s passing lanes.

Birthday party: Even the youngest kids had a fine 1st touch and played it away from pressure, kept the ball under their shoulders and stayed in an athletic position (shoulders over toes).

American kids: Many of the kids had a heavy first touch and often played the ball right to a defender. When they kept the ball, their next touch created a 50/50 when they kicked the ball out from under their shoulders and chased it. They too often reached for the ball with their foot, getting out of the athletic position and becoming unbalanced.

Birthday party: The closest guy naturally became the defender and started pressing to contain the attacker and wait for the mistake to tackle. It was almost like they were being switched on. As soon as the guy near them got the ball, they changed their stance to become more defensive and closed space to pressure.

American kids: The closest guy often avoided defending, moving away from the ball leaving a big gap for the attacker to play into and causing confusion among other players on who was going to defend. They wanted to be on offense only or wanted to be on the ‘good players’ team, so didn’t want to defend when the good players had the ball.  When they did defend, they dived-in for the ball, becoming unbalanced, and got beat.

Birthday party: The kids communicated passes, where to play the ball and moved around to be open for a pass.

American kids: Silent, staring at each other, standing like statues instead of moving around to get create open passing lanes.

The American kids aren’t beginners. Many have played for years.

But, they’ve played only in adult-led settings with kids in their 1 year age group and similar skill level, so they can feel competitive and successful. They haven’t discovered the game on their own they’ve had enough success with ‘boom and zoom’ soccer that they’ve had a difficult time understanding why they would want to play any differently.

I often hear these 10-year-olds brag about how many seasons they have played soccer, yet many don’t have the technical skill of the 6 year-old kids at the birthday party, because they haven’t put the reps in on their own.

Back to the party: After 20 minutes of soccer, the older kids moved on to running American football plays. Meanwhile, the younger kids got the soccer ball and kept trying to emulate the moves they saw the older kids doing a few minutes before, building their skills up.

I witnessed, firsthand, soccer being handed down through culture, without adults on the sidelines coaching every step and acting like every mistake is career-ending.

Their culture puts more focus in the early years on 1v1 skills. What little soccer is in our culture puts more focus in early years on big kicks and athleticism.

In their culture, they have refined their 1v1 skills by the time they turn 10. Most don’t even remember a time when they didn’t have those skills because they learned much of it from ages 2 – 7 by emulating their older family members and neighbors.

In our culture, that type of skill development often starts about age 10.


More education is ALWAYS good…not

According to this Bloomberg article, teen labor force participation in the summer has dropped from 70% in the late 80s to 43% last year.

They offer a variety of reasons why. One reason they provide is that they’re studying more:

Over the last few decades, education has taken up more and more of teenagers’ time, as school districts lengthen both the school day and the academic year. During the school year, academic loads have gotten heavier. Education is also eating up teenagers’ summers. Teens aren’t going to summer school just because they failed a class and need to catch up. They’re also enrolling in enrichment courses and taking courses for college credit.

In July of last year, more than two in five 16- to 19-year-olds were enrolled in school. That’s four times times as many as were enrolled in 1985, BLS data show.

That’s a big shift in one generation.

I think there might be a few reasons whys.

Parents are wealthier now, so kids don’t have to earn as much of their spending/college money on their own.

Minimum wage is higher, so there might be more ‘off the books’ employment of students.

Lots of folks have bought into the ‘more is ALWAYS better’ maxim of education. As a society, we find it hard to rationalize diminishing returns on things that sound really good.

Last decade, more home ownership was ALWAYS better. Through financial market distortions, we pushed well past the diminishing return curve to the point where many decisions simply didn’t make economic sense, until it blew up. It turns out it’s not a good idea to ‘own a home’ if you can’t actually afford to pay the mortgage.

Now we are doing the same thing with education. The result is college graduates with mountains of student loan debt with degrees that don’t have the earnings potential to pay that debt off.

The dynamics of real estate and education bubbles are similar.

Can’t afford to pay your mortgage? Don’t let that stop you. Being a home owner is a good thing! It will all work out. 

Want a degree in neolithic cultural approbation even though you will have no marketable skills? Don’t let that stop you. Having a college degree is a great thing!

In the real estate bubble, there were many distortions. A big one was government backing loans for ‘non-traditional’ (i.e. people who had not yet demonstrated the ability responsibly manage their finances) borrowers.

Oddly enough, in the education bubble, we have the same thing — government backing student loans with no tie to whether the degree provides the student with the earning potential to pay that loan off.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against home ownership, helping people buy homes, education or helping people get college degrees.

It’s just that I believe that ‘helping people buy homes’, means teaching them responsible personal finance.

With college degrees, it means teaching them to evaluate job market and earnings potential of their degree so they can make choices that make sense.

It’s all about rationalizing on the diminishing returns.

A couple good anti-bullying tactics

  1. Learning this old phrase: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
  2. Don’t give bullies the reaction they want.

Recent efforts are more focused on stopping bullying altogether.

When I was a kid, there was more emphasis on equipping kids on how to deal with bullies. The two tactics above worked well. I dare say, that on occasion, standing up to the bullies also worked.

News stories of kids who injure themselves, or worse, because of bullies, seem to subtly accept that bullying could result in such things.

Bullying should not result in such things.