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United States is Number One in Coronavirus Cases

United States is Number One in Coronavirus Cases

USA! USA! U! S! A!!!!!!!!

That’s right. The United States of America, with one-fourth the population of China, has surpassed China’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

President Trump isn’t bothered by that. Here’s what he said yesterday:

I think they [Americans] think we’re doing a really good job in terms of running this whole situation having to do with the virus. I think they feel that myself and the administration are doing a good job. … There was a lot of fear and a lot of good things are happening.”

A lot of good things are happening. The mortality rate is, in my opinion … way, way down. That takes a lot of fear out. It’s one thing to have it. It’s another thing to die. When I first got involved, I was told numbers much higher than the number that seems to be.

Yesterday over 200 Americans died of COVID-19.

Heckuva job, Orangei!

Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Americans are justly proud of their system of higher education. This is not surprising since it’s generally held in higher esteem than our K-12 schools whose performance, we are told constantly, lag those of peer countries. For instance, US institutions of higher learning in the United States generally dominate the top spots in most international rankings of universities. Something to cheer about, right?. Or is it?

The problem is that the metrics used by US News & World Report, the Times, the Shanghai Rankings et al to judge the quality of universities exclude the most fundamental one, namely, the quality of teaching, especially in subjects relating to Science, Technology Engineering and Math? The answer to how well they teach is arguably a better determinant of whether the world class reputation of US universities is deserved.

An international research team headed by Prashant Loyalka of the Stanford Graduate School of Education went in search of an answer, or a partial one anyway, insofar as it applies to computer science programmes from four countries which, together, produce 50% or more of the world’s computer science graduates annually. The results were presented in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. A summary by the lead researchers is here.

In brief, a statistically valid sample of final year undergraduate CS students in the US, China, India and Russia at a cross section of universities and colleges in each country, took a 2 hour standardized test developed by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit testing and assessment organization. The test was designed to determine how well students understood computer science concepts and principles and was administered in the language of each student. In order that the US results were not skewed by international students attending its universities, the test was only administered to students who gave English as their sole or primary language.

The results were stunning to say the least. American students in regular college and university programmes far outperformed students from the other three countries also attending regular schools. In fact, these American students by and large performed on a par with Chinese, Indian and Russian students enrolled in elite schools. Meanwhile, the average American student enrolled in an elite CS programme in the US far outperformed students at Chinese, Indian and Russian elite schools. The difference in performance between students from the other three countries was statistically insignificant.

Even more impressive is that freshmen American students generally entered their CS programmes with less math and science preparation than their peers in China and Russia and about the same as Indian students. All of which suggests that US undergraduate computer science programmes hold a strong qualitative edge and add substantial value compared to those of the other nations. Interestingly, the worst performers were China’s universities, often flagged as emerging power houses, since their students started their CS programmes better prepared in math and science than the others yet performed no better than Indian and Russian students and well short of Americans by the end.

This is very good news, at least for the parents of US students who are studying computer science since it suggests they are getting their money’s worth. The study also has labour market implications since it indicates that American CS graduates from regular undergraduate programmes only have direct competition from students in the other three countries who attended elite schools.

However, some caveats apply. This is just one STEM subject and more research is needed to examine whether American students receive the same high quality instruction in other programmes (one of the subjects of the team’s continuing research). But for now at least, if not three cheers then certainly one and a half are warranted.

China’s Prehistoric Pornograhy

China’s Prehistoric Pornograhy

3,000 years ago you couldn’t turn on your computer and Google porn. Back then you had to seek out what was scratched into red basalt outcroppings.

The Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs in the Tien Shan Mountains

From Slate:

The few scholars who have studied the petroglyphs think that the larger-than-life hourglass figures that begin the tableau symbolize females. They have stylized triangular torsos, shapely hips and legs, and they wear conical headdresses with wispy decorations. Male images are smaller triangles with stick legs and bare heads.

The etchings were made 3,000 years ago, so it’s kind of hard to see what’s going on. The ink drawings of the etchings provide the explicit details:

Sixteen images, ten females and six males are about to begin copulation. I learned a new word today…

Ithyphallic is archeology-talk for “erect penis,” and nearly all of the males have one. A third set of figures appear to be bisexual. Combining elements of males and females, they are ithyphallic but wear female headwear, a decoration on the chest, and sometimes a mask. They might be shamans.

 

Buying American More Important Than Ever

Buying American More Important Than Ever

“Products made in China are cheap through the exploitation of the workforce. Every time we shop, we are driving the nail further into the coffin of American manufacturing jobs.” – Representative Joe Baca

To its great credit, ABC News in 2011 highlighted an important issue in this struggling economy that most Americans have thought little about. The series was titled: “Made in America” and began by demonstrating how clueless most of us are about where the stuff in our house, our driveway and garage and our workplace is made.

Selected families volunteered to have ABC news crews remove from their houses anything not made in the US. Predictably, the result was both funny but also quite poignant as nearly all of them found pretty much all their furniture out on the street and the occupants expressing shock, yes shock, that so little was American made.  In fact it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Most Americans simply don’t think about where their goods are made. They’re used to seeing their TVs made in Korea and everything else in China and to be honest they’re much more interested in the lowest price than where their wares are made. Yet, according to Dianne Sawyer, the ABC News anchor, studies suggest that over 10,000 new jobs would be created if every American spent an extra $3.33 on American-made goods.

With so many Americans unemployed this is one thing those of us fortunate enough to have a job and a half-way decent income can do to help a significant number of Americans in the manufacturing sector who might otherwise lose their jobs and we might even, perhaps, create some employment if enough of us make the effort. 

In our house we’ve always had some awareness of the value of buy-American (well, excluding the kids I have to say) and in 2011 we decided to do some things we might otherwise have put off or spread out a bit.  Unfortunately, we started the year on a misfire by thinking we were buying a US-made car in our new Ford Fiesta only to discover later that the thing is made in Mexico – something I could have ascertained easily enough with a quick Google check. Apparently, there’s even a sticker that tells you the US-made content. Duh! Well, at least it’s a US company!

Undeterred, we bought a US-made Shaw rug for our living room, and a cherry bookcase made right here in Seattle by McKinnon Furniture to go with two other lovely pieces we bought from the same company several years ago. In replacing two outside light fixtures and installing a third, we eschewed cheaper foreign-made alternatives and used, instead, handsome new hardware from Vermont-based Hubbardton Forge that we ordered on-line. We have two indoor light fixtures from the same firm for our entry and dining room.

And you can find US-made stuff where you least expect it. New Balance still makes some of their athletic shoes in the US and I bought a pair to add to the three I have already.  A particularly pleasant surprise was Juicy Couture’s cute and fashionable plain hoody jackets, made in America, which featured prominently in our girls’ birthday and Christmas presents.  And North Star Trading Company of Whidbey Island, Washington was the source for two pairs of beautifully made sheepskin bedroom slippers (with rubber soles, I might add, that allow you to walk outside in them!). And this doesn’t include the craft items we bought on the Oregon Coast and in Seattle this year.

Buying American is an issue that transcends political affiliation, race, gender, age or religion. It’s something we can all do for our country at a time when so many are suffering economic hardship. Of course, we can’t roll back the clock to 1960 when only 8% of our goods were foreign-made. But if we remind ourselves of the importance of buying American, where this is an option, and make it an integral part of our buying habits, together we will be performing a valuable service to our fellow Americans, to the larger economy and ultimately to ourselves.