More than a billion people turn out for Climate March in New York City

Lots of people turned out yesterday for the so-called People’s Climate March in New York City, but certainly not as many as the headline above says. The point of my hyperbole is that estimating the size of crowds at rallies and marches is a tricky business, especially if the gatherings are political in nature. Sponsors of big political events are inclined to wildly overstate the turnout, while  folks on the other side of the political fence are inclined to pretend that hardly anybody was there. Meanwhile, the mainstream media have learned over the years to stick with general terms like “thousands,” without putting a specific number on it. And even if the event at issue is not political, crowd sizes often are greatly overestimated.  For example, organizers of the now-defunct Labor Day weekend On the Waterfront festival here in Rockford annually peddled laughably inflated estimates of 400,000 attendees. Since the Waterfront doings had nothing to do with politics, nobody  questioned the phony reports of turnouts. But I’m reminded of the time that somebody did, in fact, put the lie to crowd estimates at an ostensibly  non-political gathering. The occasion was Pope John Paul II’s first tour of America, in 1979, during which he celebrated outdoor masses in several big cities — including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.  Crowd estimates were progressively larger in each succeeding city the pope visited, as if it were a competition, and they finally topped a million in Chicago’s Grant Park. But alas, somebody went to the bother of examining aerial photos and using scientifically-drawn grids to prove that the Chicago crowd actually was as small as 65,000 — far, far fewer than the original estimate of more than a million. John Paul’s pontificate somehow survived the embarrassment of it all, and he endured for another quarter-century or so.  ...

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Is it a bad idea to give every kid a trophy?

I have mixed feelings about the question in the headline above, but teacher Molly Knefel SAYS the answer is no: The disgust that so many adults feel at the idea of everyone getting a trophy has to do with creating incentives. If everyone gets a trophy then no one will try hard; if everyone gets basic food and housing to survive, then no one will work. Of course, this isn’t true. A soccer team full of 10-year-olds who all get participation trophies won’t all sit down and stop playing soccer– the kids who are good at scoring points will still want to do so. But the kid who never scored a point will, for a moment, be recognized: You played soccer too. Instead, that kid is supposed to get the message: If you didn’t score a lot of points, no one gives a [bleep] about you. And if that makes you sad, or if you feel that it’s not fair, get used to it. The world is a sad and unfair place. Score more goals next time. This message has always felt at odds, to me, with the equally ubiquitous platitude that children are the future. If children are the future, then why are we so gung ho about preparing them to be treated...

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Believe it or not, we’re living through the greatest time in human history

Ezra Klein WRITES: The last 200 years or so have been, by far, the best in human history. Though pockmarked by tragedy, the story, on the whole, is one of relentless triumph: triumph over disease, over poverty, and over early death… What’s easy to forget, though, is that prior to the Industrial Revolution, human lives weren’t constantly improving. Living standard stagnated for decades and centuries. Mass starvation and disease often wiped out improvements in an instant. This is, Bordreaux says, the hockey stick of human prosperity; so named because if you graphed the living standards of the human race over time, they would mostly be flat until the exponential advances of the past 200 years. Klein also passes along this video of a lecture by Don Bordreaux for Marginal Revolution University:    ...

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This list is sure to include a few of your favorite pop-psychology myths

Do you believe there’s an epidemic of autism in America? Have you heard that opposites attract? Do you think dreams have symbolic meanings? How about the theory that music by Mozart can make your baby a genius? Well, these and other claims are disputed, if not refuted,...

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Certain ethnic and religious groups are more successful and prosperous than others

It might be considered politically incorrect to say so, but Americans of certain ethnic groups or religious backgrounds seem to prosper more than others, as we see HERE: Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure (roughly $90,000 per year in median household income versus $50,000). Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans are also top-earners. In the last 30 years, Mormons have become leaders of corporate America, holding top positions in many of America’s most recognizable companies. These facts don’t make some groups “better” than others, and material success cannot be equated with a well-lived life. But willful blindness to facts is never a good policy. Jewish success is the most historically fraught and the most broad-based. Although Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates. The most comforting explanation of these facts is that they are mere artifacts of class — rich parents passing on advantages to their children — or of immigrants arriving in this country with high skill and education levels. Important as these factors are, they explain only a small part of the picture. Today’s wealthy Mormon businessmen often started from humble origins. Although India and China send the most immigrants to the United States through employment-based channels, almost half of all Indian immigrants and over half of Chinese immigrants do not enter the country under those criteria. Many are poor and poorly educated. Comprehensive data published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2013 showed that the children of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese immigrants experienced exceptional upward mobility regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic or educational background… Merely stating the fact that certain groups do better than others — as measured by income, test scores and so on — is enough to provoke a firestorm in America today, and even charges of racism. The irony is that the facts actually debunk racial stereotypes. There are some black and Hispanic groups in America that far outperform some white and Asian groups. Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites. Cuban-Americans in Miami rose in one generation from widespread penury to relative affluence. By 1990, United States-born Cuban children — whose parents had arrived as exiles, many with practically nothing — were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to earn over $50,000 a year. All three Hispanic United States senators are Cuban-Americans. Meanwhile, some Asian-American groups — Cambodian- and Hmong-Americans, for example — are among the poorest in the country, as are some predominantly white communities in central Appalachia. Most fundamentally, groups rise and fall over time. The fortunes of WASP elites have been declining for decades. In 1960, second-generation Greek-Americans reportedly had the second-highest income of any census-tracked group. Group success in America often tends to dissipate after...

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