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A Wall Street Journal article derisively titled “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” has been making rounds of the blogosphere lately, with its premise that, based on a 2008 survey of economic knowledge, the left wing would flunk Economics 101. Supposedly, the left fumbles the most basic economic concepts.

Well, I am a Chomsky-reading, bleeding-heart leftist, and an economics major. I’ve never received a grade lower than an A in any economics course. So I feel I’m in a unique position to offer criticism from the left.

Firstly–and this is a criticism I have for economics in general–I disagree with the notion of breaking complex political issues down to simple cost-benefit calculations. Any policy assessment should be considered in the context of our values as a society. For example: it’s true that taxation is distortionary and may create disincentives toward work. For Chicago school economists, this in itself is a crime. However, in a broader social context, our society has chosen to value a more even wealth distribution and greater social services. We have made a trade-off, valuing social equality slightly more than economic efficiency.

So, it upsets me when survey respondents are deemed “unenlightened” for not playing along with the cost-benefit analysis of complex issues presented in a single sentence. The answer format of “strongly agree/agree/unsure/disagree/strongly disagree” is extremely shallow for those that see a more human element in those issues, who would prefer to answer, “Yes, but…” In other words, the bleeding-heart liberals.

Daniel Klein kindly supplies all eight of the questions that were asked in his survey and his idea of what constitutes an “unenlightened” answer; all the better to provide all the “Yes, but…” responses that I, if I had been a participant, would have liked to respond with.

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable. (unenlightened answer: disagree)

It’s true. If urban areas aren’t allowed to sprawl forever, housing will be more scarce and thus more expensive. This concept is extremely well understood in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada, where height and sprawl limits have made Vancouver the most “severely unaffordable” housing market in Anglophone countries, according to a recent study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg.

However, Vancouver is also a darling of international urban design circles for its sustainable and varied infrastructure. It is consistently ranked among the top five most liveable cities in the world, partly for its preservation of green spaces in the city at the expense of housing development. The survey statement is a very loaded question. The answer is yes, restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable, but I feel that it’s unfair to leave it at that.

Yes, but, restrictions on housing development have consequences beyond housing prices, like the nurturing of a more pleasant and sustainable urban infrastructure and a greater quality of life for a city’s residents. To end simply with the assertion that it makes housing less affordable is to leave out the real story.

2. Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services. (unenlightened answer: disagree)

Yes, it does. But it also increases the quality and reliability of professional services, and any good economist should know that a good and reliable service is more valuable than a mediocre or uncertain level of service. One can receive a lower quality service at a lower price, or a higher quality service at a higher price; they move together. Furthermore, it is well-established in economics that consumers prefer certainty over uncertainty, and that customers will pay a premium to make an uncertain situation less risky; this is the basis for the insurance industry. By forcing professionals to obtain licenses, it reduces the risk to consumers of hiring someone substandard.

This question is misleading and poorly phrased from an economic point of view. Consumers are not paying higher prices for the same services; consumers are paying higher prices for higher-quality services with an increased assurance of hiring someone competent. It is not the same product.

3. Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago. (unenlightened answer: disagree)

This one I will give to the authors; in general, standards of living around the world have risen in the last 30 years. There are a few arguments to the contrary with some countries (Chad, Sudan, etc) facing deep civil war and others that have been particularly exploited, but overall it’s hard to deny that living standards have risen.

4. Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree).

Yes. Every economics textbook and its mother points to rent control in New York City to demonstrate the effects of a price ceiling on supply. The argument is that at a lower-than-market price, more units of housing will be demanded than supplied, mutually-beneficial transactions will be prevented, and there will be a housing shortage. People who want housing will not be able to find it.

While the above is true, I think that it understates the alternative: the equilibrium rental rate pricing many potential consumers out of the market entirely. This is another serious problem facing my local housing market here in Vancouver, where the market price leaves many on the streets. Rent control or not, many people will find themselves outside the housing market. The question is whether we would prefer to cheap but high-in-demand housing, inefficient by economic standards, or expensive and efficient housing. Either way, some potential consumers are left out.

5. A company with the largest market share is a monopoly. (unenlightened answer: agree)

This question is very fuzzy in terms of its accuracy; either answer has legitimate justifications. A monopoly is usually thought of as a firm that occupies an entire market–in other words, they are the only producer supplying a particular good. The strictest economic definition characterizes it as such. In practice, what we refer to as “monopolies” in the real world are very rarely absolute. More liberal (pun intended) and just as legitimate definitions within economics characterize a monopoly market as a market in which one particular firm holds significant market power to set higher prices, arising in markets with little substantial competition. In economic theory, only a company that is the sole supplier of a good can be a monopoly; in practice, one particular firm with substantial market power can form an effective monopoly.

6. Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. (unenlightened answer: agree)

I’m not sure what definition of “exploited” the survey authors are using, but I find this assertion just shocking in its lack of empathy. Supporters of sweatshops argue that child labour is unavoidable in countries with populations so poor that children must work or their families will starve; that they are popular in poor communities because they offer higher wages than other options; that we can’t expect the labour standards of industrialized countries to apply to poorer countries quite yet.

I have many concerns about the ethics of paying a child $0.15 cents an hour to produce t-shirts that sell for $30 in developed countries. Surely there is room for a higher wage in that mark-up, at least enough to reduce a working day from 12 to 6 or 8 hours, or for investment in humanitarian aid and social programs that help families avoid depending on their childrens’ wages.

How is it not exploitation to not only expect long hours at low pay, but without the freedom to form unions, in ill-ventilated factories, and without access to clean water at work? Or with chained fire exits that have already led to several deaths? Or workers that are physically abused by their superiors? Or being forced to work mandatory 19-hour shifts?

Anyone who seriously argues that overseas workers for American factories are not being exploited is either ignorant or in denial, or has a serious flaw in their definition of exploitation.

7. Free trade leads to unemployment. (unenlightened answer: agree)

Economists will argue to death that free trade will lead to the loss of jobs that weren’t efficient anyway and will be more than redeemed by the creation of newer, better (more efficient) jobs in other industries. I am extremely skeptical.

NAFTA, for instance, has been devastating for poor Mexican farmers, who find their products priced out of the market by a flood of cheap imports from the heavily subsidized agricultural industry in the United States. Furthermore, many of the jobs in heavy industry created to balance the loss in agriculture have since been lost to China, where wages and production costs are even lower. Furthermore, some evidence points to a lowering of real wages and greater income inequality in Mexico since NAFTA. Overall, job creation estimates were exaggerated and job loss estimates were understated.

8. Minimum wage laws raise unemployment. (unenlightened answer: disagree)

Yes. In contrast to the issue of rent control, which forms a price ceiling, economists argue that the minimum wage forms a price floor, at which there will be a surplus of labour. More people will want to work at minimum wage than employers are willing to hire, and as the cost of hiring a worker increases (minimum wage goes up), employers will hire even less. It sounds very reasonable in theory.

Real-world measurements of this effect are split. Some studies show a minor effect of a decrease in employment with an increase in the minimum wage. Others argue that the overall effect of a substantial increase in the minimum wage forms a net force that is overwhelmingly positive. Recently, there has been strong consensus by many economists that a higher minimum wage does more good than harm for lower-income workers.

If I had been given this survey, I don’t know what I would have scored. I am familiar with the economic concepts behind all of these questions and how they work; working from what is technically correct at the conceptual level, I suspect that I would have correctly answered every question except numbers six and seven, on which I refuse to relent.

Yes, it’s true, most of the answers that the author gives to those questions are “correct” in the economic sense. But I, like many on the left, have difficulty circling “Agree” to an assertion that housing restrictions raise prices and leaving it at that. We are too busy thinking about everything else: “I agree that the statement is technically accurate, but I feel that it misrepresents the issue by reducing it to efficiency and there is so much more to the case at hand.” As an economics major and a leftist, I understand these concepts and how they work, and I have made a value judgement, a trade-off–that social equality means more to me than efficiency.

Is that unenlightened?

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This isn’t so much a post as it is a short rant.  About – what else? – the 2008 presidential race.

I understand that after the last eight years, we’re all starving for change.  Us Web 2.0 people probably feel that more than most, because we see how fast the world is changing every single day, and we’ve had a chance to experience that and be a part of it ourselves.

I like Obama.  I really do.  I appreciate what he stands for and what he does.

But why, internet folks, is this spilling over into hatred of Hillary Clinton?

Out of the first ten results I get by searching “Clinton” in Facebook Groups, six are ANTI-Clinton groups, including the first three.  The most disgusting of them all is the third, “Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich,” with 33,731 members at this time of posting.  Its description: “Dedicated to keeping Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office and in the kitchen.”

Do you know how sick I feel when I look at that, as a girl with high aspirations?  What kind of a world can I look forward to when I graduate, where a woman campaigning for the highest office in America is mocked for it and told to get back in her kitchen?

I could shrug it off more easily if it weren’t one of the top three groups to come up when I search her name on Facebook.  The top result, “Stop Hillary Clinton,” has 788,487 members, and gives no reason on the group’s page for hating her.

It’s not just the conservatives that join these kinds of groups.  “Stop Hillary Clinton” claims to be bi-partisan on the front page.  Digg, which is from my experience mostly liberal, has not dugg one pro-Clinton item to the front page in the last month.  I see at least half a dozen anti-Clinton items come in every day, while the top ten list is always filled with praises for Obama.  In the comments on the anti-Clinton items, anyone that makes a positive comment on her behalf is dugg down into the negative hundreds.  Digg, and similar online communities, have such a staunch pro-Obama/anti-Clinton stance that it’s dangerous for your reputation on those sites to dare support or even defend Hillary Clinton.  Most disturbing, misogynistic comments are the norm.

I like Obama, really.  If he became president I couldn’t complain, and if he follows through with what he’s promised it could be an inspiring four – or eight – years.

But the anti-Clinton bent that some of Obama’s supporters have been taking online, especially the misogynistic anti-Clinton bent, and especially on Digg, is frankly disturbing.  Not to mention distressing, to me at least, who has to see good, liberal-minded people taking to bashing a female candidate simply because she’s female, and not Obama.

I feel the same way about Obama as I do about Jesus.  Great guy, good message, but his more extreme followers are freaking me out.  If you support Obama, good for you.  Myself – he’s not my cup of tea.  I have my own reasons for it that I’ve devoted a lot of time and thought to.  If he’s elected and does a great job in office, I’ll be the first to change my mind.

So please support Obama (or McCain) as much as you want, but keep it clean, and not misogynistic.  Digg and Facebook seem to have a problem with that.

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First of all, I’d like to announce my participation in Blog Action Day this coming Monday!
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day
On “Blog Action Day”, October 15, thousands of bloggers will post about one topic – the environment – in many different ways. In the site’s last stats announcement, more than 12,000 blogs have been registered to participate, with a combined total of more than 11 million readers! If you want to include your blog, the banner on the right is linked to the site.

Speaking of the environment, pause for a brief thumbs-up to the IPCC and Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize!

And now I redirect back to my topic.

If you haven’t already done so, please read Gifted labeling: a force for good and evil, Part 1. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps to understand the controversy.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter:

I think that what being labeled “gifted” does for a student is separate intelligence from grades in their mind. This can be a force for good or for evil (hence the title) depending on how the student uses this information. The reason I used the flip of a coin to describe it before – it’s not actually that great of an analogy – is that there are typically two alternate results, both being “different sides of the same coin.” That’s why both good and bad results have been observed from informing kids of their giftedness, because it could easily go either way.

Result 1
We’ll start with the good result: the student is happier, or at least has a higher self-esteem after being told. There’s now a reason behind their always feeling different. If their identification means placement in a gifted program, there’s a chance for them to learn about themselves and meet other people like them – which is important for any gifted student. I can say that for myself and all the other gifted kids I knew at the time, being pulled out for the gifted program was the best part of our day, if only because we could hang out together and talk about things that other kids thought were weird. Almost like a support group.

For underachieving gifted students, being identified can be even more important. The separation of smarts from grades means that bad marks reflect their work habits, not intelligence. In means higher self-esteem and in some cases higher achievement, if they realize that they are capable of better if they tried for it. Again, placement in a gifted program should be ideal. Being surrounded by people like themselves can work wonders.

Result 2
The less desirable one: separation of grades and intelligence gives gifted students a new reason to slack off and be snarky about it. For this group, it means that there isn’t a reason to worry about grades anymore. If they really are as naturally gifted as everyone seems to think they are, they’ll do just fine, no need to sweat for anything. Additionally, knowledge of having a higher IQ than roughly 98% of the population (the traditional IQ-based definition of giftedness) will definitely inflate some egos and may create some precocious brats out of this group. Sometimes these people turn around in later life, sometimes they don’t. Their futures are much more uncertain than those of Result 1.

Sometimes, when identification doesn’t mean inclusion in an adequate gifted program or any program at all, students that might otherwise have been happy R1s can develop the traits of this other group. It’s not easy being a gifted kid with no one to talk to, and the lack of a support group might cause them to lose their motivation to achieve. That’s not always the case, but it happens, and with alarming frequency. Few gifted kids actually grow up into gifted adults.

Both of these results are the same sides of a single coin: the separation of intelligence from grades that being labeled “gifted” causes in one’s head. Calling them “results” might be inaccurate, because one can turn into the other over time… a better word might be “paths”. In the end simply telling a student that they’re gifted can change things for better or for worse. Regardless, I think kids should always be told of their giftedness anyway. It’s their right to know, and isn’t it worth it for the chance of making things better?

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When I started to write this, I realized that I wanted to say more than could fit in a single post. So, instead of trying to cram it in, I’ve divided it into two parts, the second of which will be posted on Wednesday or Thursday night. This first part will be mostly an introduction.

That said, there’s some controversy in the world of gifted education about whether or not to tell kids if they are gifted. The most mainstream article on the subject is Po Bronson’s in New York Magazine, The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids. It doesn’t explicitly mention an application with gifted kids other than the introduction, but it might as well. Even more recently, a Washington Post article, Labels Aren’t What Kids Need, takes the same stance and even cites the same Mindset theories of Carol Dweck. Both of these are against telling kids that they’re smart/gifted. On the pro side, Hoagies’ Gifted has the article Should we tell them they’re gifted?. Both the pro and con arguments are equally intriguing, and I highly recommend reading the articles linked – they’re not just applicable for gifted kids.

From the Washington Post article:

“What most parents don’t realize is that the gifted label can harm not only those who don’t receive it, but also those who do. Labeling can create what Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed’ mindset of intelligence — the belief that your intelligence is set in stone… In 1998, Dweck conducted an experiment in which she gave two evenly matched groups of elementary school kids the same nonverbal IQ test. When one group of children did well, they were told that they must have worked very hard to get their results. The students in the other group, meanwhile, were told that they must be very smart to have done so well.

Dweck found that as time went on, the kids who were told that they were smart ‘fell apart when they hit a challenge. They lost confidence in their abilities. Their motivation dwindled and their performance on the next IQ test dropped.’ By contrast, the children in the group praised for working hard tended to seek out challenges and persist at difficult tasks and ultimately learned more.”

…suggesting that telling children of their giftedness will discourage them from seeking out challenging situations and taking risks. Po Bronson’s article goes more in depth about the study, and Dweck concludes: “When we praise children for their intelligence… we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” Kids told that they are gifted will apparently try and keep up their “smart” image by doing the minimum amount required, no more.

On the other hand, the Hoagies’ Gifted article approaches it from a completely different angle:

“What are you going to tell your daughter when she comes to you in tears, saying that the other kids are all mean to her because they won’t talk to her? It’s not that unusual for a gifted 3 to 6 year old to have a good working vocabulary that is 5, 10, or 20 times larger than the vocabulary of a ‘normal’ child the same age. They won’t talk to her because they can’t, they literally don’t know 80-95% of the words. Without discussing her exceptional abilities, how are you going to explain that to her?

It isn’t a question of feeling different – gifted kids know that they’re different – it’s a question of how they feel about being different. If adults treat that difference as something to be hidden, the intellectually gifted child will learn that intellectual gifts are shameful and intellectual ability is to be hidden from others like a dirty secret. Since it is a central part of the way they experience the world, they will learn to think of themselves as defective and shameful, and grow up profoundly ambivalent about themselves and about being successful.”

This one tackles the child’s emotional and psychological well-being, which I think is much more important than achievement. There are too many case studies I’ve read of people who’ve gone through most of their lives – or at least adolescence and college – before they realized they were gifted, and thought, “That explains everything.” And if only they’d known, maybe they wouldn’t have always thought there was something wrong with them, tried to develop it, and have done something with it instead of wondering what was wrong.

Optimally, we want gifted kids to grow up with both a work ethic and a healthy psyche; to be iconoclastic and challenge-seeking, but also at peace with themselves and their differences. Fantastic idea, but likely unfeasible in our lifetimes. Getting around the political incorrectness of admitting some students can be gifted long enough to think of tackling their problems on a wider scale is far enough away on its own.

And that’s your quick introduction – stay tuned for part 2: why giving the gifted label is like flipping a coin (but not really)!

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EDIT: This post has been chosen as a finalist in the 2007 Edublog Awards! Thank you to all its readers! :)


Earlier today, a friend and former teacher of mine made a post (private on another blog, and therefore unlinkable) to his students about the seven ideas featured in the book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”, which reminded me about a post I had wanted to make for a long time. (Quick explanation of the above, said former teacher is currently teaching a special unit on Leonardo da Vinci to some grade eights at my former middle school and using blogs as a learning device – very cool!)

The things mentioned in that book are ubiquitous in literature about characteristics that separate creative giants from the rest of us (there is indeed such literature, and a fair amount of it), give or take a few points. These seven things plus others – which I will go into greater detail with later – are the attitudes that contribute if not lead into genius… and they’re so very ignored by schools and society in general!

This is how we kill each trait that may yield another Da Vinci:

1. Curiosita (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Intense and insatiable curiosity; constantly learning due to a desire to ask and answer questions
The Murder: In schools, for the most part, students learn only what the teacher decides they will learn. Student questions will often go unanswered if they lead away from the material (go off-topic), or if there are time constraints on what must be learned that leave no time for these questions in class.

2. Dimostrazione (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Constant testing of knowledge through experience and persistence; accepting of and learning from mistakes
The Murder: Except in the sciences (and sometimes even then), knowledge is simply given and expected to be absorbed rather than questioned and tested. On tests and labs, wrong answers cost the students their grades, therefore it becomes unacceptable to make mistakes. Mistakes are less about learning experiences and more about losing marks. Questioning societal norms is a very negative thing, even if they don’t make sense.

3. Sensazione (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Fully noticing and observing things with all senses, but especially sight (seeing things that others miss, seeing the details)
The Murder: Except in the sciences and a handful of other subjects, students are usually taught passively through the use of only one sense, listening, or maybe sight (diagrams, photos, etc.). Classrooms and assignments may be incredibly unstimulating to most (or all) senses.

4. Sfumato (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? An acceptance of ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty out of a realization that life is not black and white (also an art technique using shadow famous for its use in da Vinci’s paintings)
The Murder: A student’s answer is either right or wrong, usually with no middle ground tolerated. Standardized tests are mostly multiple choice, and in the case of an ambiguous result, students must choose the best possible answer, not a possible answer, even though more than one is really correct. Life and its problems have more than one right answer; multiple choice questions have only one best answer.

5. Arte/Scienza (From “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Interest in both the arts and sciences and interdisciplinary work that combines them
The Murder: High school courses are most often strictly defined as an “Art” or a “Science”, and they never mingle; interdisciplinary courses at this level are rare. In college, an undergraduate usually receives a either Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science, though there is more flexibility here than in high school. Scientists and artists have their own professional domains which almost never overlap.

6. Corporalita (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Keeping one’s body in good shape; attending to nutrition, fitness, and general physical well-being
The Murder: Physical Education programs – especially in the United States – are being severely cut, and obesity has been described as an epidemic. Junk food is readily available and sometimes may be the only option in a high school cafeteria. Fast food is cheaper and more convenient than healthier food ($4 for an entire meal at McDonald’s or $4 for a single, small-sized fruit bowl?).

7. Connessione (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Acceptance and appreciation for the interconnectedness of everything in life; interdisciplinary approaches and thinking
The Murder: Facts and concepts are taught in specific classes that are independent of each other, and students are moved from individual class to individual class without knowledge of how the two might be connected. Boundaries like that between art and science are rarely crossed or their connectedness even explained. Facts and ideas might be taught with no explanation of the links between them (ie, learning individual details and facts but not the big picture).

8. Drive, energy, intense focus (from various studies on creative genius)
What? Energy and desire to focus intensely on one’s work and interests (often the same thing); merging of work and play
The Murder: Each class is allotted a certain period of time that is inflexible. Despite the student’s interest in a particular class, they must conform to this schedule. Many schools have required curriculum that force a student to give up desirable or necessary electives for core classes they may not need. Students must go to school and all perform well academically, despite their individual talents and aspirations. Musicians and artists especially must break focus on their real interests to attend required academic classes, and may be too drained to work on their own by the end of the school day.

9. Confidence, willingness to take risks, and tolerance of failure (from various studies on creative genius)
What? Willing to continue on with creative work despite rejection; ability to sell oneself and one’s talents
The Murder: Many creative people must face multiple rejections until their idea is sold, and they must accept that if their idea or creative contribution is too radical, society may not yet be ready for it (many artists and writers have only been recognized after their deaths). However, as mentioned above, mistakes and failure are not tolerated in schools and this learned attitude may carry on throughout life. Instead of learning the value of taking risks, students are taught to fear any mistakes that might result. Students are often “babied” – all team mates get a ribbon or a trophy for “participation” – and do not gain the real-world skills they need to sell themselves.

10. Independence, introversion (from various studies on creative genius)
What? Willingness to spend lots of time alone working and honing skills; acceptance of possible isolation
The Murder: The social climate of high school severely discourages spending time alone, especially when spent “working”, and loners are isolated and considered antisocial and friendless. Refusing to conform and “sticking out from the crowd” is highly discouraged by peers and teachers. Creative individuals may have to accept that if the world is not ready for their ideas, they may find few people who understand and support them.

This is how we kill the spirits of our up-and-coming da Vincis. These ten things are the most commonly cited characteristics of highly creative people… and they’re heavily discouraged in the early years by the education system and social climate of adolescence. This is why we won’t see another da Vinci for a long, long time – or why, if we do, he/she would not have come from the system we currently have in place. At every turn schools and society are set on pushing back the most creative individuals. Their common traits are not welcomed nor encouraged, and certainly not nurtured. This must not persist, because I think the world is long overdue for another da Vinci-type right now.

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Since my cousin moved back to Vancouver from Manhattan, I’ve noticed that she has a strange, urban serendipity about her: every time she walks to a street corner, the light instantly changes in her favor. I’m not kidding about this; every time I walk with her downtown, she never has to wait for the ‘Walk’ signal. It comes on the second she approaches the curb, and with no conscious effort whatsoever on her part. And, since I first noted this in my cousin, I’ve been seeing the same crazy luck in both my aunt and her boyfriend – who, like my cousin, are self-proclaimed urbanites living in a very trendy part of downtown.

It was all a strange coincidence – until it started to happen to me, too. Whenever I approach a street corner downtown (this does not work in the suburbs), the light just seems to change in my favor, regardless of my intent to catch it. I used to have the worst luck with my timing downtown, always just missing the light I wanted. Now… well, I don’t think I’ve had to wait for a light to change in weeks. Even my friends are pointing out to me that I have the greatest luck with these things.

I have a theory about this urban serendipity. Cities really do have a pulse. That pulse becomes the pace of the whole city… and that pace is the speed at which each traffic light turns after the other. I think that people who spend a lot of time in the city, like my urbanite family members and now myself, start to fall “in tune” with the pace of the city. Over time, we just develop the perfect pace of walking that gets us between streets right as the lights turn, because it’s such a consistent rhythm.

(This kind of pulse isn’t something I see much of in the suburbs, but I think that it has to do with the lack of traffic and the length of suburban blocks. Suburban streets are more likely to be empty, so we tend to jaywalk more often. And, at least in my neighborhood, the blocks are much larger than those in the city, so it takes a long time to walk from one street to the other – long enough to distract someone from developing the rhythm a city would have.)

With or without the logical explanation for it, the idea of being “in tune” with a city – belonging to a city – is so romantic to me. There’s comfort in knowing and loving a city inside out so much that everything between the limits feels like home. My favorite expression of belonging and comfort in a city are the opening lyrics of “Under the Bridge” (1991), the most successful and best-known song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, the City of Angel
Lonely as I am, together we cry

“I drive on her streets ’cause she’s my companion
I walk through her hills ’cause she knows who I am
She sees my good deeds and she kisses me windy
I never worry, now that is a lie”

Then, later on in the song, is my favorite verse of music:

“It’s hard to believe that there’s nobody out there
It’s hard to believe that I’m all alone
At least I have her love, the city, she loves me
Lonely as I am, together we cry”

Lead singer and frontman of the Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, actually wrote the song about his former heroin addiction – and the full lyrics strongly hint but not explicitly confirm this (though Kiedis himself has). This song once almost lost the potential to become the hit it did because Kiedis had hid the lyrics due to their personal nature. I thought this was odd because Kiedis has sung some pretty wicked-crazy stuff over the years. And those are just the lyrics I don’t feel guilty linking to; some are so explicit I wouldn’t even dare – and some of the above are still pretty graphic. Point is, this is not a guy who’s afraid to put it out there. (Much too literally sometimes.)

Many other musical artists and writers have similarly paid tribute in some way to the cities they love. The cities that seem to get the most love are New York City and pretty much anything in California. Wikipedia has lists (linked in the previous sentence) of hundreds of songs dedicated to NYC, the state of California, cities in California, and even individual streets in California. New Yorkers and Californians really love their homes.

Yet there are hardly any songs (I found two, neither are known widely enough to have lyrics posted anywhere online) dedicated to my city of Vancouver, even though we’re ranked third internationally for quality of life. Canadian cities just don’t get the love they deserve.

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I usually try to save my links until Saturday, but holy crap.

BOSTON – An adjunct professor was fired after leading a classroom discussion about the Virginia Tech shootings in which he pointed a marker at some students and said “pow.” (Yahoo! News)

This just came to my attention via Digg. Listed in the page comments was the video of the professor defending himself (it’s actually part 1 of 4) on YouTube. I’ve only watched a small bit, but it’s there if you’d like to see it.

Here are a couple of things that just irk me:

“During the demonstration, Winset pretended to shoot some students. Then one student pretended to shoot Winset to illustrate his point that the gunman might have been stopped had another student or faculty member been armed.”

So clearly the students weren’t disturbed, and in fact were actively participating in the discussion. This wasn’t a professor just trying to freak out his students (if it ever was). In further support of that:

“Student Junny Lee, 19, told The Boston Globe that most students didn’t appear to find Winset’s demonstration offensive.”

I can’t imagine who would.

Also:

“He said administrators had asked the faculty to engage students on the issue. But on Friday, he got a letter saying he was fired and ordering him to stay off campus.”

Isn’t that just funny? If the whole thing wasn’t so pathetically horrifying, it would be.

In personal news, I get to teach my Social Studies class tomorrow morning – at least, for a little while. Today we were given a chart of the political spectrum, and if you recall from an earlier post of mine, I know my political spectrum. This chart that they gave us, I kid you not, was literally right-wing propaganda. Listed on the left side were traits of communism, and there was clear distaste for it (“Unjust conditions exist because power and wealth are not shared fairly”? That does not sound like an unbiased point). On the right side of the chart, however, the author did their best to represent rightism as the land of the free and righteous. I thought McCarthyism had for the most part ended (this is Canada, for God’s sake), but the chart we were given as a reference still seems to think that left = commies and right = freedom.

I approached my teacher about it and she agreed that the chart had a very unfair bias, but that it had come to her from another teacher and she wasn’t responsible. So, I told her, “Just give me ten minutes at the board, and I can give a better explanation,” and she offered to reserve time for me at the start of the next class. I’m also planning to highlight the difference between socialism and communism, since my classmates often use the terms synonymously, and the question has come up several times before.

Later on the same day, I get to give a speech in favor of a (Canadian) political party of my choice as part of a class project. I love these rare occasions when school and my interests blend!

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