Sunday, April 27, 2008

Korean youth and Ivy League universities

...This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul who applied to selective American universities won admission.

“Going to U.S. universities has become like a huge fad in Korean society, and the Ivy League names — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — have really struck a nerve,” said Victoria Kim, who attended Daewon and graduated from Harvard last June.

Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges.

How do they do it? Their formula is relatively simple. They take South Korea’s top-scoring middle school students, put those who aspire to an American university in English-language classes, taught by Korean and highly paid American and other foreign teachers, emphasize composition and other skills crucial to success on the SATs and college admissions essays, and — especially this — urge them on to unceasing study.

Both schools seem to be rethinking their grueling regimen, at least a bit. Minjok, a boarding school, has turned off dormitory surveillance cameras previously used to ensure that students did not doze in late-night study sessions. Daewon is ending its school day earlier for freshmen. Its founder, Lee Won-hee, worried in an interview that while Daewon was turning out high-scoring students, it might be falling short in educating them as responsible citizens.

Still, the schools are highly rigorous. Both supplement South Korea’s required, lecture-based national curriculum with Western-style discussion classes. Their academic year is more than a month longer than at American high schools. Daewon, which costs about $5,000 per year to attend, requires two foreign languages besides English. Minjok, where tuition, board and other expenses top $15,000, offers Advanced Placement courses and research projects.

And, oh yes. Both schools suppress teenage romance as a waste of time.

“What are you doing holding hands?” a Daewon administrator scolded an adolescent couple recently, according to his aides. “You should be studying!”

Students do not seem to complain. Park Yeshong, one of Kim Hyun-kyung’s classmates, said attractions tended to fade during hundreds of hours of close-quarters study. “We know each other too well to fall in love,” she said. Many American educators would kill to have such disciplined pupils.

Both schools reserve admission for highly motivated students; the application process resembles that at many American colleges, where students are judged on their grade-point averages, as well as their performance on special tests and in interviews.

“Even my worst students are great,” said Joseph Foster, a Williams College graduate who teaches writing at Daewon. “They’re professionals; if I teach them, they’ll learn it. I get e-mails at 2 a.m. I’ll respond and go to bed. When I get up, I’ll find a follow-up question mailed at 5 a.m.”

South Korea is not the only country sending more students to the United States, but it seems to be a special case. Some 103,000 Korean students study at American schools of all levels, more than from any other country, according to American government statistics. In higher education, only India and China, with populations more than 20 times that of South Korea’s, send more students.

“Preparing to get to the best American universities has become something of a national obsession in Korea,” said Alexander Vershbow, the American ambassador to South Korea.

Korean applications to Harvard alone have tripled, to 213 this spring, up from 66 in 2003, said William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions. Harvard has 37 Korean undergraduates, more than from any foreign country except Canada and Britain. Harvard, Yale and Princeton have a total of 103 Korean undergraduates; 34 graduated from Daewon or Minjok.

This year, Daewon and Minjok graduates are heading to universities like Stanford, Chicago, Duke and seven of the eight Ivy League universities — but not to Harvard. Instead, Harvard accepted four Korean students from three other prep schools.

South Korea’s academic year starts in March, so the 2008 class of Daewon’s Global Leadership Program, which prepares students for study at foreign universities, graduated in February.

One graduate was Kim Soo-yeon, 19, who was accepted by Princeton this month. Daewon parents tend to be wealthy doctors, lawyers or university professors. Ms. Kim’s father is a top official in the Korean Olympic Committee.

Ms. Kim developed fierce study habits early, watching her mother scold her older sister for receiving any score less than 100 on tests. Even a 98 or a 99 brought a tongue-lashing.

“Most Korean mothers want their children to get 100 on all the tests in all the subjects,” Ms. Kim’s mother said.

Even while at Daewon, Ms. Kim, like thousands of Korean students, took weekend classes in English, physics and other subjects at private academies, raising her SAT scores by hundreds of points. “I just love to do well on the tests,” she said.

Their average combined SAT score was 2203 out of 2400. By comparison, the average combined score at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire boarding school, is 2085. Sixty-seven Daewon graduates had perfect 800 math scores.

Kim Hyun-kyung, 17, scored perfect 800s on the SAT verbal and math tests, and 790 in writing. She is scheduled to take nine Advanced Placement tests next month, in calculus, physics, chemistry, European history and five other subjects. One challenge: she has taken none of these courses. Instead, she is teaching herself in between classes at Daewon, buying and devouring textbooks.

So she is busy. She rises at 6 a.m. and heads for her school bus at 6:50. Arriving at Daewon, she grabs a broom to help classmates clean her classroom. Between 8 and noon, she hears Korean instructors teach supply and demand in economics, Korean soils in geography and classical poets in Korean literature.

At lunch she joins other raucous students, all, like her, wearing blue blazers, in a chow line serving beans and rice, fried dumpling and pickled turnip, which she eats with girlfriends. Boys, who sit elsewhere, wolf their food and race to a dirt lot for a 10-minute pickup soccer game before afternoon classes.

Kim Hyun-kyung joins other girls at a hallway sink to brush her teeth before reporting to French literature, French culture and English grammar classes, taught by Korean instructors. At 3:20, her English language classes begin. This day, they include English literature, taught by Mani Tadayon, a polyglot graduate of the University of California at Berkeley who was born in Iran, and government and politics, taught by Hugh Quigley, a former Wall Street lawyer.

Evening study hall begins at 7:45. She piles up textbooks on an adjoining desk, where they glare at her like a to-do list. Classmates sling backpacks over seats, prop a window open and start cramming. Three hours later, the floor is littered with empty juice cartons and water bottles. One girl has nodded out, head on desk. At 10:50 a tone sounds, and Ms. Kim heads for a bus that will wend its way through Seoul’s towering high-rise canyons to her home, south of the Han River.

“I feel proud that I’ve endured another day,” she said.

The schedule at the Minjok academy, on a rural campus of tile-roofed buildings in forested hills, appears even more daunting. Students rise at 6 for martial arts, and thereafter, wearing full-sleeved, gray-and-black robes, plunge into a day of relentless study that ends just before midnight, when they may sleep.

But most keep cramming until 2 a.m., when dorm lights are switched off, said Gang Min-ho, a senior. Even then some students turn on lanterns and keep going, Mr. Gang said. “Basically we lead very tired lives,” he said.

Students sometimes report for classes so exhausted that Alexander Ganse, a German who teaches European history, said he asked, “Did you go to bed at all last night?”

“But we’re not only nerds!” interrupted Choi Jung-yun, who grew up in San Diego. Minjok students play sports, take part in many clubs and even have a rock band, she said. Ambassador Vershbow, who plays the drums, confirmed that with photographs that showed him jamming with Minjok’s rockers during a visit to the school last year.

There are other hints of slackening. A banner once hung on a Minjok building. “This school is a paradise for those who want to study and a hell for those who do not,” it read. But it was taken down after faculty members deemed it too harsh, said Son Eun-ju, director of counseling.

the full story

Saturday, April 26, 2008

sexual abstinence until marriage in the US

US lawmakers are investigating whether to cut government funding for health education programmes that promote sexual abstinence until marriage.
The move follows a report earlier this year from America's leading health agency, the Center for Disease Control, which revealed one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease.
Planned Parenthood estimates that two thirds of teenagers will have experienced sexual intercourse by the time they leave school.
And with some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year, America has one of the highest teen birth rates in the developed world.
"This national programme which has wasted $1.5bn (£750m) of tax money is a failure and our teens are paying the price," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.
State governments receive federal money they must match to fund abstinence programmes.
At least 17 states have opted out of the system and others have suspended funding while Congress investigates whether such programmes work.
Critics say there is no evidence that they delay sexual activity and teenagers who have taken a vow of virginity are less likely to use protection if they break their promise.

The row over abstinence education is part of a much wider debate in the US about "family values".
Many conservatives are concerned that "American values" are being eroded.
But their opponents believe that the conservatives have an overly influential political voice, particularly within the current Bush administration.
For liberals, the campaign to roll back the abstinence programmes is part of a broader struggle against what they regard as reactionary elements in the US government.
If Congress does decide to cut government funding for abstinence programmes, they will still continue. Many enjoy public support and will likely find money elsewhere

the full sory

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Humans on earth

Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.
The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday. The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age. "This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said in a statement. "Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA." The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Previous studies using mitochondrial DNA -- which is passed down through mothers -- have traced modern humans to a single "mitochondrial Eve," who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The migrations of humans out of africa" to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal.

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa, who appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

The researchers led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, and Tel Aviv University concluded that humans separated into small populations before the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.

Eastern Africa experienced a series of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago, and researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing into small, isolated groups that developed independently.

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, said: "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction?"

Today, more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the globe, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The full story.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Boy or girl?

There are various theories on how to influence the sex of a baby. Here is a link.

What I found amazing was the following:
...No matter how silly some of these techniques seem, spare a thought for the French in the 18th century. It was widely believed that if a man tied off his left testicle, a boy would be more likely. The theory was based on the mistaken belief that sperm from each testicle were sex-specific.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A course on Facebook at Stanford

A group of students at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley have turned their attention towards a unique course that blends popular culture with the more time-worn principles of psychology.
The Psychology of Facebook is the brainchild of Professor B J Fogg, a pioneering persuasion psychologist who founded the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford. He says: "When Facebook came along I was one of the developers at the launch and what struck me was how there was this new form of persuasion. This mass interpersonal persuasion." Professor Fogg says the pivotal moment came when he watched an application on the site go from "literally zero to more than a million users in a week".
He recalls that it was to do with music sharing and buying tickets and that that was when he had his "oh my gosh moment". It was quickly followed by a light bulb moment.
It's Thursday afternoon and the sun is splitting the sky above the adobe-coloured Cordura Hall, the venue for Professor Fogg's Psychology of Facebook course. Outside there's a rag tag collection of people dodging the searing heat.
As we wait for the technology to click into place that allows another 700 students to tune in online, Professor Fogg declares that his goal is to help everyone to become a world class expert on the psychology of Facebook. But this is no one trick pony according to the Professor. "What we learn here isn't just relevant to Facebook. The psychology that drives Facebook relates to other online success stories, including those blockbusters yet to be invented." "There is something enduring about what we are studying," he declares, "whereas if you are learning how to programme a Facebook application, that then could change in 30 days from now. In fact it probably will; so that knowledge breaks."
Today the focus is on the use of profile pictures, the photograph on the front page of every Facebook entry.
The other strand to Professor Fogg's persuasion theory has to do with motivation and outcomes, questioning why users post a certain type of picture and why they constantly change them or not.
To illustrate his point he conducts a class experiment asking people to write out how they want to be regarded based purely on their profile mugshot. The findings are revealing: "Fun, outgoing, nature loving."
Professor Fogg says this random sample proves that behind even the innocent act of posting a profile picture, the psychology of persuasion in managing your image or the impression you give off is at play. And he stresses that albeit unconsciously, Facebook's unbridled success lies in getting users to to do the work for them with friends persuading friends to post pictures, comments, or upload applications. "I would say they were lucky and have been responsive to users but I don't think they are persuasion masterminds."
"Facebook right now stands out from the crowd. Can they continue? So far with its fifty million plus users they're doing a pretty good job."

The full story

Lugo is elected president of Paraguay

It is the first time if my lifetime that there is a change of the governing party in Paraguay.

Former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo has won Paraguay's presidential election, ending more than six decades of rule by the Colorado Party.
With results declared in most polling stations, Mr Lugo has 41% of the vote. His main rival, Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado Party, has 31% and former army chief Lino Oviedo 22%.
Mr Lugo brought together leftist unions, indigenous people and poor farmers into a coalition to form the centre-left Patriotic Alliance for Change.
Mr Lugo's victory brings to an end one of the longest periods of continuous rule by any party in the world - the Colorado Party has been in power since 1947. Inequality and corruption are persistent problems and poverty remains widespread, particularly in the rural areas, with many are forced to leave the country in search of work.
The switch in power is also the latest in a series of election triumphs by leftist, or centre-left, leaders in South America.

the full story

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Avoiding painful memories

Low doses of a commonly-used anaesthetic could prevent the formation of painful memories, say researchers. The University of California scientists found that sevoflurane gas stopped patients remembering "emotive" images, New Scientist magazine reported. Scans showed it interfered with signals between two key areas of the brain.

It is hoped the work could eventually help eradicate rare instances of anaesthetised patients remembering the full horrors of their surgery. While anaesthetic drugs are mainly used to make patients fall unconscious before operations, their effects on the body are frequently far more complex.
The Californian researchers, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were investigating the outcome of much lower doses of the gas than those used prior to surgery. They treated their volunteers either with the anaesthetic, or a placebo gas, and then showed them a series of photographs. Some of these had everyday content, such as a cup of coffee, while others had images designed to provoke a far more powerful emotional response, such as a bloody severed human hand. One week later, the volunteers were asked to recall as many of the images as they could. Those given the dummy gas remembered approximately 29% of the powerful images, and 12% of the others. However, those who had received sevoflurane could remember just 5% of the "emotive" images and 10% of the others.

Brain scans revealed that the gas appeared to interfere with impulses between the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain known for their involvement in the processing of emotion and memory. "This study reports the discovery of an agent and method for blocking human emotional memory," the researchers wrote. They added that understanding how drugs could stop this happening might provide clues to "intraoperative awareness" - rare instances in which the memory-disrupting qualities of anaesthetic drugs fail and patients can recall the experience of undergoing surgery. While this suggested that the gas could prevent the acquisition of new memories following painful events, it does not point to any effect on pre-existing memories, good or bad.

Dr Anthony Absalom, from Cambridge University, said that other anaesthetic drugs had been found to interfere with memory formation. "If a patient is having an uncomfortable or distressing procedure but not a general anaesthetic, sedative drugs not only make them more relaxed, but help them not to remember it afterwards. "The same is true in intensive care settings, where patients can spend long periods with tubes into their lungs." He said that it was unlikely that anaesthetic drugs could interfere with memories that had already been formed. However, he agreed that it could improve understanding of what happens when patients claim to remember operations even though they have been fully asleep. "Approximately one in 5,000 patients reports remembering details of operations, and it's a struggle to understand why - but this kind of research might help," he said.
The full story

Monday, April 07, 2008


Why is it that intelligent people believe in such things?

Clinton's people

A very useful -and didactic- comment about Hillary's campaign, from the Daily Koss site (Bolds are mine).

The post-mortems of the Clinton campaign, if they are to be useful, will have to explain why Hillary Clinton allowed Mark Penn to become her Svengali (or Rasputin?). Furthermore, a full explanation of Bill and Hillary will need to explain why on her two signature executive endeavors—the Clinton health care effort and her Presidential campaign—they allowed people totally unsuited to the task to become Hillary's Svengalis.

As some will remember, the Clinton health care plan was headed up by business consulting guru Ira Magaziner. Brad DeLong had this to say about Magaziner's contribution to the Clinton health care debacle:

His second flaw was that he thought like a management consultant. A management consultant's principal goal is to win a debate in front of his employer, the senior decision maker, the "Principal." You win a debate by making intellectual arguments, controlling the flow of information to the senior decision maker, walling-off potential adversaries from the process, and winning the confidence of the Principal by telling him things that he likes to hear: that he is smart, that his goals can be achieved, that the nay-sayers just don't grasp the issues. But that's not how you develop a policy.

It's also not how you win an election. As a candidate or an office holder, you need people around you who can and will tell you what you don't want to hear, and to whom you'll listen when you don't like what you're hearing. She has tremendous talents, but based on her two biggest leadership challenges, it looks like Hillary Clinton is too susceptible to the charms of people who tell her what she wants to hear rather than what she needs to hear.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Axelrod and Penn

Yesterday's resignation of Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn should raise questions as to what kind of activities of those who do polling are compatible with their polling work and which are the ones that create conflict of interest. I hope that this discussin will take place.

An interesting piece on Axelrod and Penn (chief strategists of Obama and Clinton), appeared on March 16 in the NYT.

...Axelrod's essential insight — the idea that has made him successful where others might have failed — is that the modern campaign really isn't about the policy arcana or the candidate's record; it's about a more visceral, more personal narrative.

Mr. Penn, on the other hand, is a pollster, and pollsters tend to look at campaigns as a series of dissectible data points that either attract voters or drive them away. Mrs. Clinton's relentless focus on pragmatism and specificity, as well as her willingness to shift slogans, are not simply a result of her own personality but also of Mr. Penn's strategic outlook, which values testable ideas and phrases over more sweeping imagery and themes.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Stanford Undergraduate Admissions 2008

The Office of Undergraduate Admission announced that 2,400 students have been selected for admission to Stanford University's Class of 2012. Of that total, 738 were admitted in December through the university's restrictive early action program.
The students were selected from 25,298 candidates, the largest applicant pool in Stanford's history.
"The competition for admission to Stanford this year was unprecedented," said Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid. "Because of the large number of applicants, we were able to admit just 9.5 percent, the lowest admission rate in Stanford's 117-year history. As expected, the academic strengths, talent and impact outside the classroom of this group is astonishing. They are distinguished on a global scale."