Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fareed Zakaria and Anderson Cooper defend a liberal education

Fareed Zakaria discussed his new book today (“In Defense of a Liberal Education”) with Anderson Cooper. Fareed has an op-ed summarizing the book in the Washington Post today, here. Fareed argues that, while both the US and Sweden have lower test scores on “stem” subjects, the soft skills in liberal arts education are critical for entrepreneurs.  The most critical of these seems to be critical thinking, which Fareed didn’t mention by name.

They discussed the career of Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and particularly Mark Zuckerberg, who had been a psychology major and had studied classics in prep school.  I remember a friend in college saying that, we needed to “go back to the classics.”  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Some lessons from a visit to St. Mary's City, MD

Yesterday, I did make a “re-visit” to St. Mary’s City, in the southern part of the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, in Maryland.  It takes a long time to get there from northern Va., and seems to be about 70 miles from Arlington, farther than I had thought.
There is an eight-minute short film “The Story of St. Mary’s City” which explains how this colony , settled in 1634, provided an early experiment in both religious toleration (between Protestants and Catholics) and race relations, as a black person was elected to the assembly.  But the Capitol moved to Annapolis in 1690. It gets relatively forgotten compared to Colonial Williamsburg. 
The settlers actually learned survival skills from the natives, who wanted the settlers to help them build alliances to protect them from other tribes.

The outdoor area provides an idea of the kinds of skills one would have needed to live in this world.  People did not bathe, for example, and dealt with BO.  Much of the economy centered around tobacco, a no-no today, but there was also corn.  A lot of the hardware skills involved seamanship.
All of this matters to one of my screenplays. 
There is a major Episcopal Church on site, with art work demanding wage fairness, as if by Barbara Ehrenreich or maybe Elizabeth Warren.

 Nearby, there is Point Lookout, with the ruins of a Civil War POW camp.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

George Will's column on inequality today seems to answer both Charles Murray and (even) me! (as well as Thomas Piketty)

George Will’s Washington Post column on p A19 Sunday “Combatting inequality has a price” almost sounds like an executive summary of my 2014 “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (check Amazon). In fact, I’ll note my own press release on Wordpres, here. The Post column has a more innocuous title online, “Social inequality’s deepening roots”, here. Will has also effectively answered Charles Murray’s 2012 book “Coming Apart” (March 14, 2012 on books blog), which indicates that libertarians are concerned about falling social capital. 
Although some readers will be taken back by Will’s opening by saying that some career women will take on dogs when they can’t find worthy husbands. Back in the 1950s, a Lady’s Home Journal article had asked, “Whom would you rather have a college degree, you or your husband?”  In those days, not going to college meant a greater chance of becoming front lines infantry.
The heart of the column occurs near the end, where, after explaining meritocracy (as John Stossel used to characterize it) when compared to inherited aristocracy or nobility (or chivalry) George Will quotes Joy Pullman, saying that although some individuals have advantages they personally did not earn, “very often someone else did earn them – by, for example, nurturing children in a stable family.”  I thought about Luke and Jack Andraka, both in the news recently for their accomplishments (and Jack’s book, “Breakthrough”, reviewed March 18 on Books). Both got to their level or academic and science innovation achievement before they could have any personal sense of what a decades-long stable marriage (mixing complementarity with continued intimacy)  means – and that would be true for all accomplished teens.   So, yes, that’s very clear in my own history.

So, there is natural tension between freedom – and the innovation, raising living standards for everyone that goes with it – and equality and “fairness”.  Government should not do too much about it (although I think, for example, it should do something about pre-existing conditions in health insurance, and here I disagree with the libertarian right).  Socialization matters:  brilliance can sometimes go very wrong without it.  Giving back – and let it be personal sometimes – because a moral expectation, more than just a convenient choice to feel good (yesterday’s post), as it does help restore the idea that stability and fairness matter, and giver the less advantaged a reason to believe they can do better under the system. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Notes from a community assistance event at a local church

Today, I “did my time”, so to speak.  I did volunteer for the Community Assistance event at a local church in Northern Virginia (link). 
Over three hundred people, mostly but not entirely minorities, queued up, to enter a sanctuary, be invited to dinner by the number, and then pick up food and clothing staples according to documentation they carried.  There was a somewhat bureaucratic procedure.
I worked in the stairwell, as they entered the church, and then later in the clothing dispersal, handing out tickets, and, for a while, assisting in finding donated clothing that fit. Thursday I had done some unpacking of groceries (rather like preview night on Army KP). 

There was a band performance.  For example it performed Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off".  
A wore a nametag, and one client tried to draft me into a conversation, “Are you good!” by name.  It seems as though eagerness to interact is actually valued by people, and reticence is read as personal disapproval and can add to tension.
This is something you have to do to find out what it  is about, and you have to want it to be a regular part of life.
It’s not clear how much volunteer labor charities really “need”.  Would people go hungry or would they fold without regular volunteers?  Some require a minimum commitment and do training.  But they really don’t talk about “need” this way.  They let it stay ambiguous.  You can really see this kind of thinking with issues like sponsoring political refugees.

Before the event, the church circulated an essay on volunteering by one of the participants by email.  It mentioned (with a religious, Christian perspective) the idea of personal "right-sizing".  That''s an ethical concept that seems to follow just from logic.  There was no proselytizing during the event. 
One of the ideas seems to be just that a social structure alone, even if bureaucratic, encouraging committed volunteerism, is it self somewhat socially stabilizing.  Charles Murray talked about this in his book “Coming Apart”.
There are some statistics on which states have the highest percentage of volunteers and do the most volunteer hours (per year – the websites don’t say which term).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, as fed by the Census Bureau from specific sample surveys, here.

Volunteering America has more details here
Note: The blue sign illustration came from a tire pressure facility at a gas station. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Could mandatory voting even work in the US?

There’s a lot of scuttlebutt over President Obama’s raising the issue of mandatory voting laws, mentioning Australia, as in the USA Today story by David Jackson here.  Obama’s idea, besides electing Democrats, seems to be reducing the effects of corporate campaign contributions, now protected by the Supreme Court.

It’s hard to see how the fines could be enforced, given the weakness of registration in some poorer communities (especially minority).  There is still the idea that registration is week unless volunteers get active (which Obama’s campaign found out in 2008 and 2012).  There are some who say the Supreme Court’s ruling last year on state voting laws still needs and antidote. 

But a more interesting question concerns getting people to work 16 hour days as election judges.  The pay is horrible, and you get up at 4 AM.  Most of the workers are “retired”.  There’s even talk of making it a duty comparable to jury duty.  Why not train and pay them adequately?  I’ve done it three times. 

While we’re at it, what about voting rights and representation for those who live in the little federal colony of the District of Columbia? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Environmental film festival stirs debate on rights of cyclists v. cars -- I say, a bike is a vehicle and obeys the same rules

I must admit that I missed the showing of “Bikes vs. Cars” (link), by Swedish director Fredrik Gertten, opening night of the DC Environmental Film Festival; it’s also at SXSW in Austin, TX, and I don’t see indication of when a DVD or vOD will be available. 

Above is a short film “Vulnerable on the Open Road” where five pro cyclists discuss their experiences with motorists.  Lucas Eisner, Craig Lewis, Kristen Peterson, Timmy Duggan and Mike Friedman all speak. Two of the cyclists show scars from surgery from accidents.  Peterson expresses the view that everyone should be expected to bike as much as possible.  The video comes from “People for Bikes” and “Skraikh Labs”.

There is a video from “Cyclist View”  (new site) on “The Rights and Duties of Cyclists”.  Note the tip that often a cyclist should stay near the center of the lane and control it, unless it is really wide enough for the bike and a vehicle (that is, with three feet of clearance).  It’s also important that cyclists ride in the same direction as traffic, obey all signals, and follow the same laws as vehicles.
Drivers cannot see cyclists coming from the wrong direction, especially when making right turns, in time.  And they cannot see cyclists at night without the proper flashing lights. 

To say that everyone should switch to bikes and give them preferences is another matter, though.  But it would be nice to be able to bike quickly to spontaneous demonstrations.   

Note the Wall Street Journal story Thursday "Forget the family car, city households take the family bike", especially in Copenhagen. Denmark, link here.  I've flown over the flat trails in the Netherlands canal and windmill country north of Schiphol.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Debate over teacher privacy and student progress assessment intensifies with litigation

Emma Brown and Moriah Balingit have a major story in the Washington Post on Monday, March 16, 2015 about the visibility of teacher classroom performance, “Parent sues for release of teacher evaluation data”, in Loudoun County, VA; online the title is “Virginia pushed into debate of teacher privacy vs. transparency for parents”, link here
All of this links back cases in California releasing individual teacher data.  But some states, like Indiana and Arkansas, have laws masking the identification of individual teachers. 
Performance on the SOL’s is only one factor. Improvement in a student’s performance in the next year is another measure.

When I attended high school, teachers were perceived as having “power” in determining which kids made it, by the tests they gave and the way they graded.  I wonder how many test and exam questions I can remember now.  How about naming the eight parts of the Elizabethean theater (including the proscenium doors).  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The arguments from the "communitarian Left" get personal, for me at least

Here we go again.  In the New York Times on Sunday, 0p-ed columnist Ross Douthat (“For Poorer and Richer”) pits Charles Murray of the “libertarian right” (“Coming Apart”, books (March 14, 2012) against Charles Putnam’s “Our Kids”, where Putnam represents “the communitarian left”, link here .
The adjective “communitarian” is interesting, because it conveys the idea that one problem is that a lot of people on the fence, the “divergents” like me, don’t want to “belong” to someone else’s world, at least until we’re good at living in it, and (right-thinking) competitive and even charismatic at it.  I don’t want to be dragged into the world of families and kids now when I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) have my own first.  Putnam's ideas, as reported here, comport with recent columns on Vox Media (by Ezra Klein and others) that giving the poor money really does help them. And it also agrees with the position that most street people really do benefit from some personal attention.  Now that I ponder it, it seems that Murray, too, had criticized the unwillingness of a lot us to "belong". 
But the most interesting idea is that the “right” has outlined a cultural permissiveness for itself, including the sexual revolution, maybe gay rights, but certainly explicit content (as to sex and even violence) in entertainment media, and then told “the poor” that “you” are such because you just aren’t good enough.  

Update: March 17

Michael Gerson talks about Putnam's book on p A17 of the Washington Post March 17, "Poverty and 'Our Kids': Families are strained, and kids feel the fallout", titled online simply "The effects of inequality on America's kids", link here

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The debt ceiling: it's back

The Federal debt ceiling goes back into force on Monday, March 17, 2015, after a year’s suspension.  And the federal treasury will use its emergency borrowing powers until October or November of this year.  The Wall Street Journal has a “Politics and Policy” page on the matter here


Remember all the arcane debates on prioritization of payments, and even the GOP “denial” that the US would miss payments at all.  On the other hand, back in June 2011 John Boehner had suggested that we should start means testing seniors getting Social Security and Medicare because “we just don’t have the money”.  We went through this twice, in the Summer of 2011 (with Wolf Blitzer monitoring Obama abd Boehner), and early in 2013.  The second go round, some law professors from California did weigh in on the how Social Security Trust Fund really works, providing reassurance seniors would still get their payments.  But in the meantime, churches were talking about helping hands and radical hospitality when the government couldn’t pay its bills.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Is indulgent parenting responsible for narcissism, and weaker social capital?

Ruben Navarrette has an interesting op-ed today on CNN, “Narcissists aren’t born, they’re made”, and he blames bad, indulgent parenting, link hereI’m reminded of Rick Warren’s idea, “It isn’t about you”.  Or it isn’t your responsibility, until it is.
There are differences in some of the personality disorders subsumed:  narcissistic, schizoid, solitary. 
I could take issue with the claim that narcissists take too many chances, and leave the rest to pay for it. Some do, of course.  Look at driving habits, even road rage.  But evasion of risk – a certain form of cowardice – can come out of narcissistic intentions.  Remember the whole issue of the draft in the 1960s.  Today’s generations barely know that.
I think the comments about celebrity culture, and the illusion that anyone can make himself famous, or that any opinion one has ought to be expressed, are certainly interesting.  Content is only valuable when others will be impacted by that, so that implies that in some level of personality, one has to be prepared to care about others, and the impact of something on them even in a local sense, before speaking.  One needs to have skin in the game.
Ruben also speaks about a global sense, about concern over sustainability and about others outside the immediate family or peer group.  Yet, one can’t care about others at a distance until one cares locally first.
There is something toxic about excessive self-preoccupation, or its being OK.  That extends in interrelated areas:  paying one’s dues, sharing the burden of tedious or regimented work, to dealing with people “as they are”, to being open to real new relationships, sometimes, finally, to being able to sustain relationships.  It’s hard to draw boundaries among these. Yes, volunteerism does address these things, even if the bureaucracy behind it sometimes is pushy. There’s something about letting go, of accepting the fact that one’s own turn ends and a future generation must take the torch.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Climate change in higher latitudes is accelerating, but could this still be "natural"?

Yesterday, I first saw this alarming article on Think Progress, through Facebook, by Joe Romm, predicting a rise in temperature in the Arctic by 1 degree F per decade starting in 2020.   This is based in part on a paper from the US Department of Energy here. There is an “arctic acceleration” which means that the North Pole area warms about twice as fast as mid-latitudes.
The end result at md-latitudes so far seems to be more extreme weather events.  Heat waves may be longer and lead to bigger storms, and high-end tornadoes in areas that don’t usually have them, as well as derechos.  We don’t seem to be having bigger Atlantic hurricanes, but the Pacific typhoons sound like another matter.  Winters may not be as long, but very severe cold snaps, ice stoms and blizzards will still occur at lower latitudes. Wildfires will be harder to control.
The trend toward bigger heat waves started in the 1980s. On the other hand, the late February arctic cold waves has precedence in the East, as with similar periods in 1958 and again 1960, when I was in high school – the “three consecutive white Wednesdays” in March 1960.
Yet, the climate seems perturbed as much as ever in the past 1000 years.

Yet the Cato Institute redistributed an article by Richard Linden from the Wall Street Journal (March 4), insisting that increased climate variability (as in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2005) is itself natural.  At one time, we had a snowball Earth. But even if it is "natural" (like baldness), the world will have to deal with the consequences.  
Lessons from astronomy are interesting.  Mars may have had an ocean (Smithsonian article), and lost it because the planet isn’t big enough to keep a thick atmosphere and a magnetic field.  If Mars were maybe twice as massive as Earth, it might be relatively mild in climate with a thick atmosphere, and we might have neighbors to get along with.  Venus might have experienced runaway global warming as recently as a billion years ago.  Maybe it really did have life at one time

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lawsuit against DC town-home owner and family occupant(s) by new neighbor raises questions about second hand smoke, as well as even bigger potential new zoning issues

On Monday, March 9, 2015, ABC affiliate WJLA7 in Washington DC reported on a lawsuit against an owner of a rowhouse in Washington DC by a new neighbor, resulting in at least a temporary injunction that the owner not smoke (either cigarettes, or anything else, since marijuana is now legal in DC in small amounts) in his own home (actually a sister's see details below on March 11), due to a second-hand smoke problem.  The suit seeks $500000 in damages.  Observers fear that there will be a wave of copycat suits.
It was not clear if there might be a structural problem (like a hidden hole or passage) allowing smoke to migrate between units.  Maybe smoke aerosols or carbon monoxide can get through the walls.
One thing that is curious is that, of this morning, WJLA has not yet posted the story, and neither has any other major news outlet in Washington.
However, no-smoking policies, even inside units, are becoming more common in apartments and even condominiums (I’m not sure about townhomes). However, among the many properties I rented (or owned, in Texas) I never encountered a restriction, although I don’t smoke.  I have lived in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Minnesota.  It's important to note in the recent DC case, the unit was apparent owned outright as a townhome, with a plot of land in front and in back of the unit, as is often the case with brownstones or rowhouses.  
Smoking could become an issue with guests. While no one who has stayed with me has ever smoked, imagine if this issue comes up with, say, housing political asylees,  Or in new low cost housing projects for low-income people or even the homeless. 
I found a couple of links about no smoking policies in condos and apartments, here and also here.
It is common for hotels to have no smoking rooms, and even to be entirely no smoking.  In fact, smoking rooms disturb me now (mainly in the South), and it is irritating if there is not a no-smoking room. 
William Mitchell College of Law (St. Paul, MN) researched the problem of smoke movement among units.  There is more support for banning smoking in common areas than in individual units.

I’ve covered zoning problems on this blog before.  There are numerous issues where there is at least a hypothetical possibility that an individual tenant’s or unit-owner’s activity, while lawful, could attract unwanted attention or danger to a building as a whole, especially in “today’s world” with its tensions.  

Update: later Tuesday

The WJLA story of home occupant Edwin Gray is here (the story says that it is a family home, below).

Update:  March 11, 2015

The Washington Post has a detailed story in the Metro section, p. 1, by Keith L. Alexander here,  dated March 10 online. The story implies that Gray's sister, Mozella Boyd Johnson, actually owns the home and is a co-defendant. The plaintiffs are a couple Brendan and Nessa Coppinger, both attorneys (she is an environmental attorney); they have one small child and another on the way.  The plaintiffs say they tried to work with the defendants outside the court system first.  The engineering information available now suggests that there could be cracks in the walls, and there could be chimney damage.  The defendants say this damage could have occurred because of the plaintiffs' renovation.  The plaintiffs say they would have helped with the cost of repairs.

To illustrate a point, I looked for a couple cracks in my "own" home.  The picture above shows a settling crack in the bathroom.  If there were a separate living unit behind it, second hand smoke could pass through.  I think this crack appeared in the 2011 earthquake.

Above is a ceiling crack.  It has been there for at least ten years (before the quake).  If there were a living unit above it, smoke might come through (in fact, there is an attic).  This is an "estate" home, and the details is a matter I'll take up soon on a Wordpress blog; I guess I should get to that for my own disclosure purposes. Normally, people think of a "family" home as belonging to the occupants, but that isn't always technically true (and it isn't in my case).
The Post story mentions previous litigation in Orange County, CA (where earthquakes could add to second-hand risk), and New York City.  How impervious normal sheelrock and other wall materials is to trace amounts of toxic gas (like carbon monoxide) as opposed to colloidal particulate material sounds like a good question.

It did indeed take unusually long for this story, with the potential for setting major precedent in residential use and zoning policy all over the nation. to appear online (in detail)  after the initial reports on WJLA.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Washington DC's new streetcar lines may never open at all

News sources in Washington DC report that the new streetcar line on H Street NE may never run at all.  That’s the gist of a WJLA7 news story here.

NBCWashington reports that the entire project is in jeopardy, with only a small portion (H Street) likely to open.

The H Street project is important since the area is targeted for real estate development as NorthEast DC attacks its former blight.  It would provide additional service between areas served by Orange and Blue lines.  There would seem to be less reason to extend it to Georgetown, although Georgetown, for mysterious reasons, never got a Metro stop (the closest is Foggy Bottom).

Street cars were common in Washington until the 1950s, when tracks were pulled up. My own mother used them to commute to work in the 1930s after moving to Washington DC and living in the Y. 

Michael Laris reports on the issue for The Washington Post, here.   It seems that facts are lacking on resolution of safety incidents in testing.
Washington DC could consider constructed dedicated bus lanes, to supplement service (especially late at night, when Metro is down, or to handle track work). Other cities have them, like Cleveland (Euclid Ave. which gets it right).  But in the older DC areas getting right of way is very expensive.  Plans for light rail on Columbia Pike in Arlington were scraped, but the area badly needs an efficient bus line, but right of way would be difficult to purchase in this older neighborhood. 

A local LGBT paper, the Washington Blade, supports (in an op-ed by Mark Lee) ending the trolley completely, here. The new DC Eagle, on Benning Road, is near the end of the Trolley lone, but is best served from the Minnesota Ave Metro (Orange Line), which itself needs a lot of work (GLBT blog, Feb. 28). 
Second picture is from H Street fair in September 2012. 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Local governments "fine the poor" to balance their budgets; At Selma, Holder speaks about erosion of voting rights by Supreme Counrt

The New York Times reported, in a few stories today, that a number of states and local governments are trying to get by on “fining the poor”.  This is an outgrowth of the attention to police profiling of African Americans, particularly in Ferguson MO, in traffic and street stops, and perhaps the “broken windows” theory.  A typical story today in the NYT is by Campbell Robertson, Shaila Dawan and Matt Apuzzo, “Ferguson became a symbol, but bias knows no border”, link here

One solution would be to force local law enforcement departments to consolidate into large units.  You don’t need a country police department and a separate department in every town, and a separate sheriff’s department. 

The problem certainly calls to mind the whole issue of civil asset forfeiture, and its abuse. 

Eric Holder, speaking at Selma Saturday, said that voting rights for African Americans are gradually being eroded by state laws that require identification and restrict voting hours, link here.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Both sides "spin signs" on the Obamacare King v Burwell oral arguments

The Cato Institute, in a brief posting by Ilya Shapiro, offers a very blunt statement about “King v. Burwell”: do you take English language text seriously, that is, the preposition “by”.  If the Court follows the law and defends liberty, it will, and then let Congress and the people deal with the needy.
Vox Media has issued a number of articles explaining how a GOP “win” on the Court (now unlikely) , would hurt mostly red states, and would probably turn GOP’s own constituencies against them.  Obamacare wouldn’t go away, but the red states would feel the pressure to start their own exchanges (especially Texas and Virginia).  Here’s a sample piece by Ezra Klein, link

Forbes has been critical of the Vox coverage, here, in a piece by Michael F. Cannon. Forbes offers a lot of detail here that some visitors will want to study closely. 
Here’s the text of the oral argument before the Supreme Court yesterday, link. 

And the Scotublog has many papers on the meaning of the arguments, here
There is an absolute minimum of four votes to uphold Obama’s position.  It sounds likely that Kennedy and Roberts will allow the looser reading of the law, with a 6-3 or at least 5-4 “win” for the “progressives”.
I understand Cato’s position, in a sense.  But we’ve seen the opposition to “court made law” backfire.  I don’t think Cato would object to the Court’s activism in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas.

In the meantime, if Obama really loses, will we see “gofundme” pleas for peoples health insurance in red states?  Is this really, personally, a responsibility “of the people”? 

Update: March 8, 2015

The New York Times has a draconian editorial "What ending health subsidies means", link here.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Police profiling and "pocket picking" of Africa Americans in Ferguson was real (DOJ)

A Department of Justice report on the incidents in Ferguson, MO last year indicated that Ferguson police were profiling African-American residents, apparently in large part to earn spare income for city coffers and police themselves.
African-Americans would be ticketed for minor offenses ("traffic stops") or no offenses repeatedly, and then picked up for “failure to appear”.  The practice would drive some people deeper into poverty, reinforcing a vicious cycle.
Mark Strassmann has a report on CBS here.
But Alexis C. Madrigal had a long article in the Atlantic back in August 2014, here
The unfortunate reality is that without the vehement protests, which did destroy the property of some people and cause injuries, around the country, especially Ferguson, last year, the practice of profiling and targeting by police would still be going on now. 

Update: Later March 4

Vox (German Lopez) reports on the shocking conduct of some members of the police department, with their emails, here.  African-American residents report living under siege.  The Vox article embeds the DOJ report text.  

Update: March 5

Despite the scathing reports by the DOJ on systematic profiling, forensic evidence suggests that Michael Brown did not have his "hands up" when shot, and may have been approaching Wilson; DOJ doesn't find evidence to charge Wilson with civil rights violations individually; CNN link here

Monday, March 02, 2015

US has a plan to mitigate earthquakes from fracking

RYOT News reports that the US Geological Survey has a plan to stop or alleviate earthquakes from fracking, especially in Oklahoma and Texas, but questions whether oil companies will cooperate, link here.  
It points out that Oklahoma had more quakes than any other state in 2014.  The most severe were of magnitude 5 or so, but a few homes were destroyed.  Construction standards anticipating quakes are not implemented in the southern plains. And quakes tends to get more severe with times
On the other hand, re-engineering wells may reduce the risk of quakes.  

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Debate on differences in learning patterns by gender continues

The “Sunday Dialogue” in the New York Times, on p. 8 in the Review Section, contains a sequence of letters to the editor on “How to Educate Boys”, link here There are a number of responses to readers to a posting to a California university professor, Sean Kullerton.
One point that gets made is that girls are more likely to go into math and science when schooled in gender segregated education, and boys may be more likely to take up areas like music, arts, communications.  Boys seem more likely to be curious about learning computer coding skills early, some learning object oriented languages like java as early as 12, giving an enormous advantage for future employment, even part-time work to support college.
But, up until the early teen years, girls mature faster than boys, both sexually and in terms of brain development, sometime being almost a year ahead.  This may be an evolutionary adaptation, that there is some biological advantage in a more primitive society to being able to have children earlier (which gets exploited in some authoritarian parts of the world).  Boys seem to catch up in brain development at around age 13 or 14.  It seems also that some kinds of activity, like music and even coding, may speed development up somewhat.  Mark Zuckerberg may be on to something when saying students should learn coding young.
As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out (“The Outliers”) what time of year a kid is born can affect his or her progress.  Boys who are six or eight months older when they start school than their peers may have real advantages.   Growth occurs in spurts, and rapid changes can occur in just a few months. 

Update: March 8, 2015

Libby Nelson on Vox writes "5 reasons boys are falling behind at school" here