The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

In praise of B students

Research (and life experience) suggest strongly that kids who get straight As in school may not actually have the best preparation for real life:

The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. For example, at Google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance. (Of course, it must be said that if you got D’s, you probably didn’t end up at Google.)

In a classic 1962 study, a team of psychologists tracked down America’s most creative architects and compared them with their technically skilled but less original peers. One of the factors that distinguished the creative architects was a record of spiky grades. “In college our creative architects earned about a B average,” Donald MacKinnon wrote. “In work and courses which caught their interest they could turn in an A performance, but in courses that failed to strike their imagination, they were quite willing to do no work at all.” They paid attention to their curiosity and prioritized activities that they found intrinsically motivating — which ultimately served them well in their careers.

Straight-A students also miss out socially. More time studying in the library means less time to start lifelong friendships, join new clubs or volunteer. I know from experience. I didn’t meet my 4.0 goal; I graduated with a 3.78. (This is the first time I’ve shared my G.P.A. since applying to graduate school 16 years ago. Really, no one cares.) Looking back, I don’t wish my grades had been higher. If I could do it over again, I’d study less. The hours I wasted memorizing the inner workings of the eye would have been better spent trying out improv comedy and having more midnight conversations about the meaning of life.

I've known all of this since first grade, when I realized that getting straight As would require me to do hundreds of pointless math problems every night for six months. Around that time I encountered the Terrible Trivium in The Phantom Tollbooth and the pieces fell into place. (For the record, I do arithmetic on paper just fine—and I also have Microsoft Excel to do it for me.)

Long weekend

The Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed yesterday with the Peoria Symphony, which involved two 3-hour bus rides and two complete runs-through of Händel's Messiah. Coming up this week, we have two full rehearsals, two community outreach events, and two more performances next weekend.

Then after a committee meeting Monday, I'll actually have...one night off.

So there's a lot going on this month.

But today, I need a nap.

Walker and the continued depravity of the Republican Party

Right-wing radio host Charles J. Sykes, a personal friend of outgoing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, says enough is enough:

The Wisconsin GOP’s lame-duck power play was not the death of democracy. But it was bad enough: petty, vindictive, and self-destructive. It was, as the saying goes, worse than a crime. It was a blunder.

And for what?

In its arrogant insularity, the Wisconsin GOP became a national symbol of win-at-all-costs, norms-be-damned politics. Cut through the overwrought rhetoric and what did the Republican legislators actually accomplish? Not really a whole lot; certainly not enough to justify the political damage they’ve inflicted on themselves. They have managed to energize the progressive base, expose themselves as sore losers, and undermine crucial democratic norms. And in return … they got extraordinarily little.

A strong argument could be made that Walker—and people like me who supported him—helped shape our divisive and toxic political environment. Walker has an opportunity here to redeem his reputation.

He should think about how the country is eulogizing President George H. W. Bush. One of the defining moments of Bush’s political career was his last: the way he responded to his bitter defeat. The letter he left for his successor, Bill Clinton, was not merely gracious but an important affirmation of the continuity of America’s democratic norms. “Your success now is our country’s success,” he wrote. “I am rooting hard for you.”

Today that generosity seems wildly discordant. For the moment, the Trumpist style of smash-mouth, red-versus-blue, play-to-your-base politics is ascendant. What’s happening now in Wisconsin, and similar moves in Michigan, will only escalate the cycle of hyper-partisanship. Polarization is likely to get worse before it gets better.

"...because I was not a Progressive Democrat." Seriously, dude, you encouraged him and now you're recanting? Thanks, I guess.

No smarter than the average bear

It turns out, trying to demonstrate that canis lupus familiaris are smarter than other similar animals winds up proving the null hypothesis instead:

If you are convinced your dog is a genius, you may be disappointed in the conclusions of a study just published in the journal Learning and Behavior.The study finds that dogs are cognitively quite ordinary when compared to other carnivores, domestic animals, and social hunters. “There is no current case for canine exceptionalism,” the authors conclude.

Nevertheless, systematically reviewing the animal cognition literature, British psychologists Stephen Lea and Britta Osthaus found dogs to be unremarkable in their cognitive capabilities compared to wolves, cats, dolphins, chimpanzees, pigeons, and several other species. For example, dogs seem no better at learning associations—such as between a behavior and a reward—than other species. Similarly, dogs can spatially navigate within small spaces, but other species can, too. And while dogs have an excellent sense of smell, the “pig’s olfactory abilities are outstanding and might even be better than the dog’s.”

On the other paw, having dogs appears linked to longer and healthier lives for dog owners. Take that, Wilbur!

His bone spurs must have been bothering him

President Trump took an entire motorcade from the White House to Blair House:

President Trump traversed a wide political chasm Tuesday evening when he personally welcomed George W. Bush, his occasional foil, to Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

But the actual distance was just 250 yards — a route Trump and his wife Melania traveled in the presidential parade limousine, with a motorcade of at least seven other vehicles.

White House aides declined to comment when asked why the Trumps chose to take a motorcade and whether it was related to security.

In her autobiography “Becoming,” former first lady Michelle Obama wrote that the Secret Service sometimes requested she or her husband “take the motorcade instead of walking in the fresh air” to Blair House for security reasons.

A search of Internet archives found at least six occasions when President Obama walked from the White House to Blair House. The search did not immediately find any times he took a motorcade, other than when he and Michelle left Blair House after spending the night on Inauguration Day in January 2009 and traveled to St. John’s Church for a prayer service.

Here's a satellite photo of the vast distance between the two buildings:

I can totally understand why he needed to drive.

What's he doing?

Eddie Lampert's hedge fund proposes to buy Sears for $4.6 bn:

The bid from Lampert’s ESL Investments includes about 500 Sears and Kmart stores, headquarters and distribution centers, and Sears brands and businesses including Kenmore, DieHard and Sears Home Services.

“ESL believes that a future for Sears as a going concern is the only way to preserve tens of thousands of jobs and bring continued economic benefits to the many communities across the United States that are touched by Sears and Kmart stores,” Lampert’s hedge fund said in the letter sent to Sears’ investment banker Wednesday and filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The $4.6 billion offer includes up to $950 million in cash that would be funded by a new loan and a $1.8 billion credit bid, in which ESL would swap Sears debt it holds for ownership of a newly formed company. Other financing includes an estimated $1.1 billion from taking on Sears’ obligations to honor Sears Home Services protection agreements, gift cards, and loyalty program points.

ESL’s offer would also depend on its ability to secure financing and the Bankruptcy Court’s approval.

Others interested in acquiring Sears’ assets have until Dec. 28 to submit bids under the timeline approved by the Bankruptcy Court. If other bids come in, the auction would be held Jan. 14.

Why, though? He's just going to kill it anyway.

An example of why Rauner lost

Crains' Springfield, Ill., correspondent provides a vignette showing why Bruce Rauner couldn't get anything done in his one and only term as Illinois governor. A bill the governor supports got lost in the shuffle between the Illinois House and Senate, prompting him to send a nasty letter to the press before sending it to Senate president John Cullerton. Why didn't the governor just use his legislative liaison office? Rich Miller explains:

[T]he governor's office employs a large number of people who get paid to lobby legislators. If this issue was so all-important to Rauner, then why not have one of his liaisons contact Bush in the months before the veto session began?

I made similar remarks on my blog, and [Rauner adisor Mischa] Fisher reached out to say it was not the "role of the executive branch to shepherd legislation back and forth between the two chambers."

Um, yes, it is. "Why even have legislative liaisons if you're not going to use them?" I asked. "To communicate the governor's position on legislation as it moves through the two chambers," Fisher replied.

Did he not realize that this is exactly what I was talking about? There was zero communication with the Senate until the final hours of the veto session. Fisher replied that "making sure it wasn't lost is what the governor's letter is intending to do."

J.B. Pritzker beat Rauner by half a million votes last month and will be sworn in January 14th. Rauner will "return to private industry," in the parlance of politics. Pritzker, one hopes, will be able to get a bill passed before the end of his first term.

Why Chicagoans might feel down lately

I complained this morning that we haven't had much sunlight so far in December. Just now, the Illinois State Climatologist reported that November's weather sucked too:

It was a cold and snowy November in Illinois.

  • The statewide average temperature for November was 1.8°C, which is an impressive 4°C below normal, ranking November 2018 as the 8th coldest on record.

Looking at meteorological Fall (Sept, Oct, Nov), temperatures for the season ended up near normal in southeastern Illinois, and between 1-2°C below normal as you head northwest toward Rockford and the Quad Cities.

And it was gloomy.

We might see sun later today. Updates as events warrant.

Detecting Alzheimer's in a novel

Researchers used the Iris Murdoch's last novel to quantify how Alzheimer's first signs show up in language:

As [neurologist Peter] Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep — an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”

Researchers also found the use of specific words decreases and the noun-to-verb ratio changes as more “low image” verbs (be, come, do, get, give, go, have) and indefinite nouns (thing, something, anything, nothing) are used in place of their more unusual brethren. The use of the passive voice falls off markedly as well. People also use more pauses, Garrard says, as “they fish around for words.”

For his analysis of Murdoch, Garrard used a program called Concordance to count word tokens and types in samples of text from three of her novels: her first published effort, Under the Net; a mid-career highlight, The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker prize in 1978; and her final effort, Jackson’s Dilemma. He found that Murdoch’s vocabulary was significantly reduced in her last book — “it had become very generic,” he says — as compared to the samples from her two earlier books.

Apparently there's a movie about Iris Murdoch too.