Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- I'll join the seemingly long list of commentators who wouldn't ever have expected to cite David Brooks, but can't avoid it based on his latest column:
Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.
- Meanwhile, Katie Hyslop points out that the Cons are ensuring that arbitrary scarcity remains the norm when it comes to educational funding for First Nations - and that efforts to make such a basic service as Internet access available are being cut off:
Earlier this year Aboriginal Affairs announced they would no longer be funding internet connectivity for First Nations schools.

This not only threatens to cut kids in remote areas off from connection with an increasingly globalized world, according to Williams, but also prevents students from taking distance education courses or conducting online research.

"We would lose access to online library services, and that's really important, as in the elementary and secondary schools kids are asked to do research. Most of our schools have very, very poor libraries, if they have a library, and so now that, I think, is a basic service that kids are entitled to," she says.
While schools will be forced to reexamine their budgets in order to afford Internet fees, they'll have to take into account a 15 per cent holdback on targeted programming funds for First Nations education as of April 1. The government announced the holdback earlier this year, citing an uncertainty in funds for First Nations education thanks to the federal election delaying the budget.

"That means that there would be 15 per cent less money available to First Nations schools this year to implement programs such as parent involvement, support for teacher retention and recruitment, for language programming, for some of the literacy programming that we've put into place," says Williams, adding government hasn't said when, if ever, the 15 per cent will be restored.
- But at least offices outside the Cons' control aren't similarly looking to restrict the availability of information. And in fact, the PBO's new website discussed by Bill Curry looks like an excellent step in allowing Canadians to see how their money is being spent.

- Finally, Jim Stanford eviscerates the coalition supporting B.C.'s HST (and the "no" side of the current referendum) as being dishonest, unethical, and flat-out wrong. And the Conseil de Presse du Quebec much the same labels to two of the province's most recognizable right-wing names.

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