Monthly Archives: March 2015

Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire

Go to previous slideGo to next slide
Matthew Holland, a third-year student at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, is participating in a program that allows him to skip the bar exam and go directly into practice.

CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

For decades, law school graduates have endured a stressful rite of passage, spending the first 10 weeks after classes end taking cram courses in the arcane details of the law before sitting down for the grueling, days-long bar exam. Those who do not pass cannot practice law, at least in nearly all the states and the District of Columbia that consider the exam the professional standard.

But that standard, so long unquestioned, is facing a new round of scrutiny — not just from the test takers but from law school deans and some state legal establishments. Some states, including Arizona, Iowa and New Hampshire, are exploring or have adopted other options, questioning the wisdom of relying on a single written test as the gateway to legal practice.

The debate over the exam is not new, but it broke out in the open after the results of last summer’s exam were released in the fall, showing that the 51,005 test takers had the poorest results in nearly a decade.

Many law school deans, bristling from criticism that they are replenishing their ranks with less academically qualified students as the number of law school applicants has fallen sharply, began to openly question the mechanics of the bar exam.


More than 3,000 students took the bar exam at a convention center in Tampa, Fla., in 2007.CreditZach Boyden-Holmes/St. Petersburg Times, via Associated Press

About 80 law school deans last November jointly asked, for the first time anyone remembers, for details on how test questions were chosen and scored. The situation was already touchy after remarks made the previous month by a top bar exam official, who defended the results as indisputably correct, and then, in what the deans viewed as verbal dynamite, labeled the test takers as “less able” than their predecessors.

Indicators “all point to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013,” said Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the nonprofit organization in Madison, Wis., that constructs and scores the professional entrance exam.

Stephen C. Ferruolo, dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, said that it was the test, not the students. He asked the bar testing agency in December for details about the test to assure that it was fair and reliable.

Otherwise, he maintained, the exam “is an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.”

Ms. Moeser has denied requests for additional information.

The exam is an indispensable safeguard against unqualified practitioners, she said in a telephone interview, noting that “it is a basic test of fundamentals” that has “no justification other than protecting the consumer.”

But critics have long questioned not only the expense and time devoted to taking the exam but also whether clients benefit from an admissions standard that is largely based on rote memorization.

The bar exam “does nothing to measure lawyering skills,” said Kristin Booth Glen, a law professor and former dean of the City University of New York School of Law, which trains public interest lawyers, “and only shores up the guild mentality that there should be a barrier to prevent the legal market from being flooded during times when fewer jobs are available.”

All states but one, Wisconsin, require passing the bar exam to become a licensed lawyer, but bar associations in states including Arizona and Iowa have been exploring alternatives. The Iowa State Bar Association proposed an in-state “diploma privilege,” similar to neighboring Wisconsin’s, that would allow graduates of local law schools to skip the bar exam and begin practicing immediately.

The bar exam does not test Iowa-specific law, and almost all graduates pass it on the first try anyway, said Guy R. Cook, a personal injury lawyer and former president of the state bar association who headed a commission recommending the changes. Studying for the exam heaps more debt on graduates already mired in law school loans, the commission found, and deters them from practicing in lower-paying rural areas.

The Iowa Supreme Court rejected the proposal last year, but asked for recommendations, due at the end of March, for more efficient and economical ways to handle the exam and the admissions process.


Courtney Brooks and John Burwell Garvey, professors at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times

“Innovation is always hard,” Mr. Cook said of the initial defeat.

One reason that change is hard is the differing interests in the legal industry. State bar associations control the admissions process, in part by using the testing tools, which include a lengthy multiple choice test, that they buy from the bar examiners conference. The conference, which has scored the exam since the early 1970s, reported almost $20 million in annual revenue, nearly 85 percent of which came from exam sales, according to its most recent tax filing in June 2013. Outside lawyers and legal academics can earn extra money by helping prepare exam questions.

Eliminating or curtailing the current bar exam would give law schools more leeway to create programs and conduct testing that determines who becomes a lawyer. The schools say the exam’s outsize importance forces them to devote more resources, including bar-specific courses, to prepare graduates for the crucial test rather than focusing on legal principles or hands-on law practice.

At the University of San Diego, Professor Ferruolo said that the academic gap between last year’s test takers and their predecessors was so small that the school was trying to figure out what went wrong so it could help its students more effectively. Last summer, 73 percent of students passed the bar exam, down from 75 percent the previous year. They had admissions scores only one percentage point lower than the previous class, he said.

On the other side of the country, Nicholas W. Allard, the dean of Brooklyn Law School, took exception to the testing agency’s hands-off response after the school’s bar passage rate fell nine percentage points last year among graduates with the same law school entry scores as those who took the test in 2013.

The testing agency is “tone deaf,” he said, and compared it to Lily Tomlin’s comedic telephone operator Ernestine, who “blithely dismissed any complaints about service saying: ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.’ ”

The bar examiners conference, he recently said, “is the phone company of Ernestine’s time — powerful, inscrutable and resistant to change.”

State legal establishments, too, have expressed concern that an all-or-nothing test helps narrow the lawyer pipeline. About one-third of states allowed diploma waivers for decades before the bar exam became standard, and some are re-exploring their options.

Arizona, for example, has decided to allow students to take the bar exam in their final year of law school so, as with Iowa’s proposal, they will not need to spend as much time and money on test preparation.

California tests students enrolled in unaccredited law schools after their first year of studies. Students must pass the “baby bar,” which measures their knowledge in contracts, criminal law and torts, before they can continue their legal education. Last month, the New York City Bar Association urged establishing a committee to explore allowing bar admission based, at least in part, on supervised learning.

New Hampshire has such an alternative licensing model. Its University of New Hampshire School of Law allows second- and third-year students to participate in a kind of apprenticeship where they learn basics like taking depositions. Those accepted to the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program create portfolios of their written work and record their oral performances, which are reviewed by state bar examiners after each semester. Those who pass the review can skip the bar exam and go directly into practice.

The program, which was supported by the state’s legal community, was not put in place quickly, though, said John B. Garvey, the program’s director. Exploring alternatives began in 1992 and, including several years as a pilot, the program took 17 years to be fully adopted.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Law


Tags: ,

The Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking

A year after banning students from taking notes on laptops, a professor reports on the results

Careers-Taking notes in class

The moment of truth for me came in the spring 2013 semester. I looked out at my visual-communication class and saw a group of six students transfixed by the blue glow of a video on one of their computers, and decided I was done allowing laptops in my large lecture class. “Done” might be putting it mildly. Although I am an engaging lecturer, I could not compete with Facebook and YouTube, and I was tired of trying.

The next semester I told students they would have to take notes on paper. Period.

I knew that eliminating laptops in my classroom would reduce distractions. Research has shown that when students use their laptops to “multitask” during class, they don’t retain as much of the lecture. But I also had a theory, based on my college experience from the dark ages—the 70s, aka, before PowerPoint—that students would process lectures more effectively if they took notes on paper. When students took notes on laptops they barely looked up from their computers, so intent were they on transcribing every word I said. Back in my day, if a professor’s lectures were reasonably well organized, I could take notes in outline format. I had to listen for the key points and subpoints.

Some of the students I teach are journalism majors. For them, taking notes by hand is an enormously helpful skill since journalists often have no choice but to take notes on paper. You can tape an interview, but transcribing tapes is inefficient when you’re on deadline, and you’re not going to pull out a laptop in somebody’s office or in the middle of a protest and start typing. Now, if you’re interviewing people over the phone, you might type as they talk, but if you try typing every single word your interview subjects say, you end up not really listening to them.

In laying down my no-tech note-taking decree, I explained that it would help students engage in the lectures and also pay off later in their careers. I use PowerPoint in my visual-communication course but only to outline the lecture and show examples of designs. I told students they would need to listen to what I said about each slide and selectively write down the important points. I said I believed they would remember more of my lectures by taking notes on paper.

It turned out my theory was right and now is supported by research. Astudy published last year in Psychological Science showed that students who write out notes longhand remember conceptual information better than those who take notes on a computer. “Whereas taking more notes can be beneficial,” the article’s abstract reported, “laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

The researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, wanted to learn if students could recall more factual and conceptual information from notes taken longhand or from those typed on a laptop. Mueller and Oppenheimer did a series of studies using 327 students on three campuses. They gave some students laptops and others pens and paper. The students watched TED talks and were told to take notes as they normally would in class.

In one study, students were tested 30 minutes after the lecture. In another they were tested a week later and allowed to study for 10 minutes beforehand. The students were asked questions about facts (“What is the purpose of adding calcium propionate to bread?”) and concepts (“If a person’s epiglottis was not working properly, what would be likely to happen?”).

Students tested right after a lecture tended to answer factual questions equally well regardless of how they took notes, but students who handwrote their notes did consistently better on conceptual questions. What’s more, when students were tested again a week later, the longhand note takers performed consistently better on both factual and conceptual questions.

The researchers found that students who used laptops were inclined to try to take notes verbatim—even when they were told not to. The longhand note takers took selective, organized notes because they couldn’t write fast enough to get everything down. As a result, they processed lectures more deeply, which allowed them to retain more information and even understand it better.

After my first semester without laptops, I gave my students a questionnaire to find out how they felt about taking notes longhand. My survey was of course unscientific. Still, I was heartened by the results: Roughly 86 percent of the 95 students who responded said they felt they paid the same or better attention in the class without a laptop in front of them. About 52 percent said they paid more attention. A third of the class said they always took notes longhand, which surprised me.

When I asked the open-ended question “Did you take notes differently because you had to write them down? If so, how?” I got a variety of responses ranging from “Yes! I couldn’t get everything down! I can’t write as fast as I can type!” to “I learn from writing things down, so it helped me a lot.”

Their answers reinforced the note-taking study. The students who tried to transcribe my lectures, even without a laptop, hated taking notes longhand. The students who figured out how to take selective notes liked it.

Interestingly, test scores in my visual-communication course have gone up since I gave laptops the boot a year ago. Now I coach students on how to take notes longhand to help those who have not used that muscle much, because I am convinced that while laptops have a lot of good uses in the classroom, note taking is not one of them.



Why Does Hair Change Colour And Turn Grey?

| by Rodney Sinclair

photo credit: Men generally have more grey hairs than women. crumpart/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Most of us find our first “greys” by the time we turn 30, usually at the temples, then later, across the scalp. While many people find the salt and pepper look appealing, others go to great lengths to conceal these locks.

The grey hair “rule of thumb” is that by the age of 50, half of the population have lost the colour in 50% of their hair. When researchers tested this rule, they found that 74% of people aged between 45 and 65 had grey hair, with an average intensity of 27%.

Generally, men have more grey hair than women. Asians and Africans have less grey hair than Caucasians.

What Determines The Colour Of Hair?

Hair colour is produced by cells known as melanocytes, which migrate into the hair bulb as the hair follicles develop in utero. The melanocytes produce pigment that is incorporated into the growing hair fibres to produce hair in a bewildering array of natural shades.

Hair colour depends on the presence and ratios of two groups of melanins: eumelanins (brown and black pigments) and pheomelanins (red and yellow pigments). While variations in the ratio of these pigments can produce an large number of colours and tones, siblings often have strikingly similar hair colour.

Hair colour varies according to body site, with eyelashes being darkest because they contain high levels of eumalanin. Scalp hair is usually lighter than pubic hair, which often has a red tinge, due to the presence of more phaeomelanin pigments. A red tinge is also common in underarm and beard hair, even in people with essentially brown hair on their scalp.

Hormones such as melanocyte-stimulating hormone can darken light hair, as can high levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which are produced in pregnancy. Certain drugs such as those to prevent malaria can lighten hair, while some epilepsy medications can darken it.

Siblings often have strikingly similar hair colour. hans905/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Blond children tend to see their hair darken around the age or seven or eight. The mechanism for this is unknown and probably not related to hormones, as the darkening precedes puberty by a number of years.

New parents often find the first coat of their baby’s hair is darker than expected. It is not until this first hair is shed and replaced, at around eight to 12 months of age, that you get a clear indication of their hair colour.


Human hair growth is cyclical. During the anagen phase, hair grows continuously at a rate of 1cm per month. Anagen can last three to five years on the scalp and produce hair that grows to between 36 to 60cm in length.

At the end of the anagen phase, the follicle turns off, hair growth stops and remains off for the three months. Towards the end of this resting (telogen) phase, the hair is shed and the follicle remains empty until the anagen phase of the cycle restarts.

Pigment production also turns on and off in rhythm with the hair cycle. When pigment cells turn off at the end of one hair cycle and fail to turn back on with the onset of the next, hair becomes grey.

Losing Colour

Genetic factors appear to be important in determining when we turn grey. Identical twins seem to go grey at a similar age, rate and pattern, however we’re yet to identify the controlling genes.

There is no evidence to link the onset of greying to stress, diet or lifestyle. Certain autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo and alopecia areata can damage pigment cells and induce greying. However, these conditions are uncommon and can explain only a tiny fraction of greying.


Don’t worry, stress won’t turn your hair grey. frankieleon/Flickr, CC BY

Early greying occurs in premature ageing syndromes such as Hutchinson’s-progeria andWerner syndrome, where every aspect ageing in the body is accelerated. Premature greying can also be seen in people affected by pernicious anaemia, autoimmune thyroid disease or Down syndrome.

So, why doesn’t pigment production turn back on?

At the end of each hair cycle, some pigment-producing melanocytes become damaged and die. If the melanocyte stem cell reservoir at the top of the hair follicle can replenish the bulb, this keeps pigment production going. But when the reservoir of stem cells is exhausted, pigment production stops and the hair turns grey.

Scientists have long known that in order to prevent hair from going grey they would need to either prolong the life of the melanocytes in the hair bulb – by protecting them from injury – or expand the melanocyte stem cell reservoir in the upper or top region of the hair follicle so they continue to replace lost pigment cells.

A group of French scientists have identified a new series of agents that protect hair follicle melanocytes from damage at the end of the hair cycle. This enables pigment production to restart as soon as the next hair cycle begins.

The agents work by mimicking the action of an enzyme called DOPAchrome tautomerase. This enzyme is the naturally occurring antioxidant in the hair bulb that protects melanocytes from oxidative damage. By duplicating the effects of DOPAchrome tautomerase, melanocyte metabolism and survival improves.

The new agents are being formulated into a product that can be applied as a spray-on serum or shampoo. But they won’t re-colour grey hair or bring back the dead cells that produce hair colour. Instead, they protect your melanocytes.

So for those who cannot find it within themselves to embrace the salt and pepper look, new options are on the horizon.


Tags: ,

A Sheriff And A Doctor Team Up To Map Childhood Trauma

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell (left) and Dr. Nancy Hardt, University of Florida.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell (left) and Dr. Nancy Hardt, University of Florida.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

The University of Florida’s Dr. Nancy Hardt has an unusual double specialty: She’s both a pathologist and an OB-GYN. For the first half of her career, she brought babies into the world. Then she switched — to doing autopsies on people after they die.

It makes perfect sense to her.

“Birth, and death. It’s the life course,” Hardt explains.

A few years ago, Hardt says, she learned about someresearch that changed her view of how exactly that life course — health or illness — unfolds.

The research shows that kids who have tough childhoods — because of poverty, abuse, neglect, or witnessing domestic violence, for instance — are actually more likely to be sick when they grow up. They’re more likely to get diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. And they tend to have shorter lives than people who haven’t experienced those difficult events as kids.

“I want to prevent what I’m seeing on the autopsy table,” Hardt says. “I’ve got to say, a lot of times, I’m standing there, going, ‘I don’t think this person had a very nice early childhood.’ ”

Back in 2008, Hardt was obsessing about this problem. She wanted to do something to intervene in the lives of vulnerable kids on a large scale, not just patient by patient.

Hardt’s Map Of Medicaid Births

The deep blue and red spot on the left shows the Gainesville area’s most dense concentration of babies born into poverty — to parents on Medicaid.

Medicaid birth map

So, by looking at Medicaid records, she made a map that showed exactly where Gainesville children were born into poverty. Block by block.

Right away she noticed something that surprised her: In the previous few years, in a 1-square-mile area in southwest Gainesville, as many as 450 babies were born to parents living below the poverty line.

It just didn’t make sense to her — that was an area she thought was all fancy developments and mansions.

So Hardt took her map of Gainesville, with the poverty “hotspot” marked in deep blue, and started showing it to people. She’d ask them, “What is this place? What’s going on over there?”

Eventually she brought the map to the CEO of her hospital, who told her she just had to show it to Alachua County’s sheriff, Sadie Darnell.

So Hardt did.

And, to Hardt’s surprise, Sheriff Darnell had a very interesting map of her own.

Darnell had a thermal map of high crime incidence. It showed that the highest concentration of crime in Gainesville was in a square-mile area that exactlyoverlaid Hardt’s poverty map.

“It was an amazing, ‘Aha’ moment,” says Darnell.

“We kind of blinked at each other,” Hardt says. “And — simultaneously — we said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ ”

The hotspot is dotted with isolated, crowded apartment complexes with names like Majestic Oaks and Holly Heights. The first time she visited, on a ride-along with Sheriff Darnell’s deputies, Hardt tallied up all things that make it hard for kids here to grow up healthy.

Dr. Nancy Hardt's free "clinic on wheels," parked in December at an apartment complex in Gainesville, Fla., gets about 5,000 visits from patients each year.

Dr. Nancy Hardt’s free “clinic on wheels,” parked in December at an apartment complex in Gainesville, Fla., gets about 5,000 visits from patients each year.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

There’s a lot of poorly maintained subsidized housing. Tarps cover leaky roofs. Mold and mildew spread across stucco walls. Sherry French, a sergeant from the sheriff’s office, says lots of families here have trouble getting enough to eat.

Hardt added hunger to her list and substandard housing. And she noticed something else: almost a total lack of services, including medical care.

She mapped it out and determined that the closest place to get routine medical care if you’re uninsured — which many people here are — is the county health department. It’s almost a two-hour trip away by bus. Each way.

This was a problem a doctor like Hardt could tackle. She would bring medical care to the hotspot, by rustling up a very large donation: a converted Bluebird school bus, with two exam rooms inside.

Hardt organized a massive crew of volunteer doctors and medical students from the University of Florida, where she teaches, and raised the money to hire a driver and a full-time nurse.

The “clinic on wheels” first made it out to the hotspot in 2010, parking right inside one apartment complex there. Patients could walk in without an appointment and get treatment free of charge, approximating the experience of a house call. Today, the mobile clinic gets an average of 5,000 visits from patients per year, in under-served areas all over Gainesville.

Physician assistants and undergraduate care coordinators treat patients in the mobile clinic parked at Majestic Oaks, a low-income apartment complex in Gainesville.

Physician assistants and undergraduate care coordinators treat patients in the mobile clinic parked at Majestic Oaks, a low-income apartment complex in Gainesville.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

But the clinic is really just one piece of the puzzle.

Because after the day that Hardt and the sheriff matched up their maps, they kept digging into the data. And, a few years later, Hardt made some new maps. They showed that the crime in the hotspot included the highest concentration of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect in Gainesville.

Childhood Trauma Maps

The reddish pink spots on these maps of the Gaineseville area, indicate an increased density of reports of child abuse and neglect (top map) and domestic violence (bottom). Deep blue indicates the highest concentration.

two maps of crime

That revelation brought Dr. Hardt back to her original mission — to head off bad health outcomes in the most vulnerable kids. So she teamed up with Sheriff Darnell and other local groups and grass-roots organizers from the neighborhood. They collaborated to create the SWAG (Southwest Advocacy Group) Family Resource Center, right in the Linton Oaks apartment complex.

The SWAG Center opened in 2012. Kids can come play all day long. There’s a food pantry, free meals, a computer room, AA meetings. A permanent health clinic is slated to open up across the street next week.

All the resources here are designed to decrease the likelihood of abuse and neglect by strengthening families.

“I think we knew it intuitively — that health issues are associated with crime, [and] crime is associated with health issues and poverty,” Darnell says. “But seeing that direct connection literally on a map … it helped to break down a lot of walls.”

Child abuse and domestic violence are still serious problems, but there has been a small drop in the numbers of such calls over the past few years, according to the data.

Hardt says that investing in families and health now can help kids grow up healthy — and save money in the future.

“Conservatives or liberals, everybody gets that,” she says. “That we have limited resources and we need to really spend them wisely. I think the maps — the hotspot maps — just tell us policywise, where we need to be going and what we need to be doing.”

Hardt’s next goal is to make more people aware of the links between health and early education. Last summer, the county got a new superintendent of schools. Hardt has been to visit him three times already — maps in hand.

This story is part of the NPR series, What Shapes Health? The series explores social and environmental factors that affect health throughout life. It is inspired, in part, by findings in a poll released this month by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


Tags: , , , ,

How to Use Credit Cards Like the Wealthy

It seems like the wealthy wouldn’t have a need for credit cards since they can pay for everything with cash, right? Well, the wealthy didn’t get that way by leaving money on the table. They know that by using credit cards they can get big cash back for every purchase they make, up to 6%. But this strategy is not limited to the wealthy. All you have to do is use the right card for purchases that you’re going to make anyway. If you pay off your balance every month, you won’t be charged interest rates or late/penalty fees.

Those who want to maximize their earnings know to have a few “specialty” credit cards that give them the most cash back in different categories and to use those cards specifically in those categories, then have a general purpose card with a high base cash back rate they can use for everything else. For example, you can use a credit card that gives 6% cash back from supermarkets to do your grocery shopping, one that gives you 3% back on gas every time you fill your tank and one that gives you 2% on all purchases for everything else.

Best for Grocery Shopping: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

To maximize your earnings at the grocery store, get the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. With this card, you’ll earn 6% cash back at supermarkets (for up to $6,000 in purchases annually), as well as 3% cash back for gas, 3% back at select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else. You’ll also get a $150 bonus when you spend $1,000 within the first three months, as well as a generous 0% intro APR for the first 15 months of card membership. This card does have a $75 annual fee, but it’s more than worth it for most cardholders. It placed first in our Cash Back Card Analysis.

Best for Gas: BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card

If you commute every day or spend a lot of time in the car, you should get a card that gives you the most rewards on gas. The aforementioned Blue Cash Preferred card is a great choice for gas as well, since it gives 3% back for unlimited gas purchases. But for those that want to avoid that card’s $75 annual fee, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 3% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on groceries (for the first $1,500 combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter) and 1% cash back on everything else with no annual fee. In addition, you get a 0% intro APR for the first 12 billing cycles, as well as a $100 bonus when you spend $500 within the first three months. Another way to make some extra money is to link your card to your Bank of America account so you’ll get an additional 10% cash back when you redeem your rewards directly into this account.

Best for All Other Purchases: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Citi Double Cash Card

For those who want the convenience of one high cash back rate for all their purchases, or who just want to maximize cash back for purchases that fall outside of specific categories, there is the Citi Double Cash Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus. Citi Double Cash gives you an effective 2% cash back on everything you buy with no annual fee.  We say “effective” because it gives you 1% back when you make the purchase and the other 1% when you pay for it (and for the math nerds, if you redeem for a statement credit instead of a check, you actually get 1.99% back).  Still, for most people, especially the wealthy who are sure to pay their full balance every month, this is 2% cash back, the highest base cash back rate we’ve ever seen for a consumer card.

For those who want to spend their rewards on travel purchases, you can’t beat Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. This card gives you effectively 2.2% cash back to spend on travel, which is the most overall rewards from any travel rewards card that we reviewed. It also offers 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months, which basically equals $440 in travel expenses. Redemption is simple, you can simply apply your reward points as a statement credit against any travel purchase (hotel, air, rental car, etc.) so it really is like cash back to spend on travel. We should note that it does have an $89 annual fee but it’s waived the first year.

Best for Those With Less-Than-Perfect Credit:  Capital One Venture and Capital One Quicksliver

The cards we’ve mentioned so far require excellent credit (usually considered having a credit scorearound 750 or higher). But you can still get the benefits of a top-end card if your credit is merely “good” (usually around a 700 credit score) or average (around 650).  If your credit score is “good,” theCapital One Venture card will give you almost exactly the same benefits as Barclaycard Arrival Plus mentioned above. You can get the equivalent of a $400 intro bonus to spend on travel if you spend $3,000 on your card within the first three months.  You’ll also get 2% cash back to spend on travel for every purchase with no limits.  If you’re not sure you want to redeem your rewards for travel, Capital One Quicksilver will give you a straight 1.5% cash back on everything plus a $100 intro bonus when you spend just $500 within the first three months.

For those with merely “average” (a credit score of around 650 or higher) credit, the Barclaycard Rewards Mastercard can make you feel wealthy, giving you 2 points per $1 spent (effectively 2% cash back) on gas, grocery and utility purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent (effectively 1% cash back) on everything else.  Considering this card also has no annual fee, it’s our top pick for those with average credit.


Tags: ,

Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence

There seems to be wide support for the idea that we are living in an “age of complexity”, which implies that the world has never been more intricate. This idea is based on the rapid pace of technological changes, and the vast amount of information that we are generating (the two are related). Yet consider that philosophers like Leibniz (17th century) and Diderot (18th century) were already complaining about information overload. The “horrible mass of books” they referred to may have represented only a tiny portion of what we know today, but much of what we know today will be equally insignificant to future generations.

In any event, the relative complexity of different eras is of little matter to the person who is simply struggling to cope with it in everyday life. So perhaps the right question is not “Is this era more complex?” but “Why are some people more able to manage complexity?” Although complexity is context-dependent, it is also determined by a person’s disposition. In particular, there are three key psychological qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity: 

1. IQ: As most people know, IQ stands for intellectual quotient and refers to mental ability. What fewer people know, or like to accept, is that IQ does affect a wide range of real-world outcomes, such as job performance and objective career success. The main reason is that higher levels of IQ enable people to learn and solve novel problems faster. At face value, IQ tests seem quite abstract, mathematical, and disconnected from everyday life problems, yet they are a powerful tool to predict our ability to manage complexity. In fact, IQ is a much stronger predictor of performance on complex tasks than on simple ones.

Complex environments are richer in information, which creates more cognitive load and demands more brainpower or deliberate thinking from us; we cannot navigate them in autopilot (or Kahneman’s system 1 thinking). IQ is a measure of that brainpower, just like megabytes or processing speed are a measure of the operations a computer can perform, and at what speed. Unsurprisingly, there is asubstantial correlation between IQ and working memory, our mental capacity for handling multiple pieces of temporary information at once. Try memorizing a phone number while asking someone for directions and remembering your shopping list, and you will get a good sense of your IQ. (Unfortunately, researchshows that working memory training does not enhance our long-term ability to deal with complexity, though some evidence suggests that it delays mental decline in older people, as per the “use it or lose it” theory.)

2) EQ: EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ relates to complexity management in three main ways. First, individuals with higher EQ are less susceptible to stress and anxiety. Since complex situations are resourceful and demanding, they are likely to induce pressure and stress, but high EQ acts as a buffer. Second, EQ is a key ingredient of interpersonal skills, which means that people with higher EQ are better equipped to navigate complex organizational politics and advance in their careers. Indeed, even in today’s hyper-connected world what most employers look for is not technical expertise, but soft skills, especially when it comes to management and leadership roles. Third, people with higher EQ tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are more proactive at exploiting opportunities, taking risks, and turning creative ideas into actual innovations. All this makes EQ an important quality for adapting to uncertain, unpredictable, and complex environments.

3) CQ: CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist. It has not been as deeply studied as EQ and IQ, but there’s some evidence to suggest it is just as important when it comes to managing complexity in two major ways. First, individuals with higher CQ are generally more tolerant of ambiguity. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity. Second, CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art (note: this is of course different from IQ’s measurement of raw intellectual horsepower). Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.

Although IQ is hard to coach, EQ and CQ can be developed. As Albert Einstein famously said: ““I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, and has previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. He is co-founder of His book isConfidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt.


Tags: ,

The Convict Settlement of Australia

Roderick Cameron explains how, during the 50 years that followed Governor Phillip’s landing at Botany Bay in 1788, convicts and free settlers turned New South Wales into a flourishing colony.

Women in England mourning their lovers who are soon to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792. National Library of AustraliaWomen in England mourning their lovers who are soon to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792. National Library of AustraliaWhen, in 1776, America declared her independence, England lost Virginia as a convict settlement. The Gold Coast was tried as an alternative, till transportation there was discovered to be the equivalent of a death-sentence; and, within a few years, English gaols became dangerously overcrowded. Captain Cook’s voyages suggested a solution of the problem; and Lord Sydney at the Home Office selected Botany Bay. Before Cook’s discovery of Australia’s Eastern shores, the whole vast Australian continent appears as an unfinished coast line, winding its vague way northwards towards the Gulf of Carpentaria, the uncharted spaces filled with dots. Cape York, still awaiting a name, lies doubled back, like a broken finger, against the Northern Territory; while the geography of Victoria and New South Wales is still a matter of speculation. Neither the Spanish nor the Dutch had shown any enthusiasm over their discoveries; and Dampier, describing New Holland in 1698, observes that the only pleasure he derived from his voyage was “the satisfaction of having found the most barren space on the face of this earth.”

It was, presumably, in a somewhat doubtful frame of mind that Governor Phillip set sail for the new colony, with a small fleet of eleven ships, six of which were convict-transports, the rest being a man-of-war, its tender and three supply ships. After a voyage that lasted exactly eight months, Botany Bay was sighted in February 1788; and, if one has oneself seen this forbidding country, it is not difficult to imagine the feelings of the men on board. Occasional spirals of smoke rising from native fires among the endless gum-trees were then, as now, the only signs of life in a desolate landscape that has never changed. Since Botany Bay proved too shallow an anchorage, the ships were forced to lie nearer the Heads, at the mercy of the great waves rolling in against them; and, during his search for a more suitable refuge, Governor Phillip discovered, to the north, the world’s most perfect natural harbour, calling it Sydney in honour of the Secretary of State, though Captain Cook, when he passed it by, had named the opening Port Jackson.

Many of the eight hundred male and female convicts had died on the outward voyage; more than a third of their number were ill with scurvy and other diseases; and they must have presented a sorry sight as they struggled with the hoary bush, hacking and sawing, the shouts of the two hundred soldiers who guarded them rising above the crash of trees. It is hostile, hard and cruel—this Australian bush. Everything that grows in it is tough.and spiky and will wound you if you touch it. Over low-growing plants and shrubs tower the gums, with their sun-refusing foliage, like dark, hardened flakes of rubber. The harsh sun pours down on them, and they stand up peeled and dry, incapable of tempering the glare. Indeed, their long curved leaves seem to intensify the light, reflecting it as it slides off their pointed ends, as from a thousand mirrors, to splinter on the ground below—a ground so dry that it echoes at every step with the sound of cracking twigs.

Once the bush had been conquered, and the land cleared for cultivation, the alarming discovery was made that none of the new settlers knew anything of farming—except for a single man, a servant in the Governor’s suite. Without his advice their labour would have been completely fruitless. As it was, the farming in which they engaged was of the very rudest kind. Even a highly experienced man could have done little to direct so many. The officers and soldiers might be smart enough on parade, but they were completely useless at farm work; while the convicts devoted all their ingenuity to robbing the stores or picking one another’s pockets. Only a trifling crop was raised; and to increase their difficulties, everything they used had to be imported; for no plant they found in Australia could be, or ever has been, coaxed into edibility; no animal indigenous to Australia yields milk fit for human consumption, and no native tree has ever been persuaded to bear better fruit.

Such were the inauspicious beginnings of the new Australian settlement. “Enterprise and dexterity,” writes one of the early settlers, “are, undoubtedly, valuable qualities in one who proposes to strike out for himself a new existence in a new and rough country; but the skill and nerve not to mention the frankness of the promising youngster who boasted of having picked his mother’s pocket while both were spectators at his father’s execution are not precisely those calculated to adorn or profit a rising community.” The Home Office, nevertheless, persisted in their hopes that the convict element, when reformed, would become the nucleus of its new domain. The first settlement had, perforce, a somewhat ephemeral air. The Governor occupied a canvas building. Behind him were encamped those women convicts whose innocence, according to his view, still deserved protection; and in front of him he set up the commissariat store, which he judged equally in need of his personal surveillance. While the officers lived in marquees, the convicts ran up wattle and daub huts, thatched with cabbage tree palm or rushes. Yet slowly the colony grew; and, when next we catch sight of Sydney, it is a white town set amid gardens and orchards. Pleasant villas push their way out into the scrub; so little is there to indicate a foreign clime, one might almost imagine oneself on the outskirts of Brighton or Cheltenham. The only concession to geography are the verandas that relieve the simplicity of private houses, and the brilliant caged parrots which adorn almost every window.

Lachlan Macquarie, appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1810, fresh from a successful army career in India and a short governorship in Ceylon, was exactly the type of man that growing Australia needed. A nabob, who arrived in this harsh new world with all the paraphernalia of his rank, he made astonishing progress during his twelve years of governorship. Besides constructing some two hundred buildings—from cottages to guard-barracks for a thousand men—he left New South Wales with three hundred miles of turnpikes and carriage roads. Macquarie was responsible, moreover, for the creation of eleven townships, most of them raised from the wilderness; and it is interesting to remember that he employed a convict-architect—Francis Howard Greenway, who had previously practised in Bristol. Extravagant, unable to resist the temptation of buying works of art, Greenway had run deeply into debt and been adjudged a bankrupt. Tried, and sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment for concealing his effects at bankruptcy, he had been transported to Sydney in the year 1814.

Owing to the shortage of skilled labour, it was the practice in the convict settlements to grant artisans, accountants, and farm labourers, providing that their conduct warranted it, what was called a “ticket-of-leave”. Since few of the convicts were desperate characters, it was a practice widely adopted, and meant that the convict chosen was, to a great extent, free. Although not allowed to quit a particular district without the Governor’s permission, he was at liberty to behave, to all intents and purposes, as if he had been pardoned. Emancipation was the next step up the ladder—freedom granted when his sentence had run out or he had received a direct pardon. No pardon, however, could be granted unless the wrong-doer had served at least a part of his sentence. To the colonists themselves, this supply of labour was an inestimable boon. It also relieved the treasury from the expense of maintenance, separated the convicts, and associated the better-conducted of them with reputable families.

Twenty years after the original settlement, the first object upon which the visitor’s eye alighted in an Australian town was its gaol, or “factory”—an imposing two-storied edifice built of brick. The census of 1833 gives the population of New South Wales as just over sixty thousand, twenty-five thousand of whom were convicts; and it was still a common sight to pass chain-gangs of silent, grey-clad labourers clanking along with a straddling gait, their close-cut hair covered with leather caps—each x marked with his number and the name of his station in large letters on his back. The disproportion of the sexes in the total population was remarkable—some forty-five thousand men as opposed to fifteen thousand women. This led to the habit of using the female “factories” as marriage markets; and in the Mitchell Library in Sydney there is an account of a visit paid with matrimonial intentions by a respectable farmer. At the entrance of the factory he was received by a dignified matron with a large bunch of keys, who conducted him to the central yard where fifty or sixty young women were lined up for his inspection. They were dressed in grey duffle with white mob caps, under which protruded, untidy wisps of short-cropped hair. As he passed down the ranks, the poor creatures saluted him with curtsies. Not a word was spoken. The farmer does not tell us whether or not he found a wife, but one gets the impression that he did not much enjoy his visit.

From the yard he was taken round to see the several courts, the solitary cells, the hospital and dormitories; and in one of the yards he was shown the more troublesome and notorious characters. The visiting-surgeon of the establishment had just found it necessary to prescribe half-rations, and a gende treatment of ipecacuanha, to a ferocious giantess who had let fly at him with a fine display of Billingsgate oaths. In another yard, he came across a group of women with their illegitimate children. They were sitting in an open shed sheltering from the sun, while they watched over some wooden cribs in each of which lay three or four babies, stowed away, head to tail, like sardines; others were curling about like a litter of kittens in a basket of straw. Another part of the prison was devoted to laundry work, with squads of women up to their elbows in suds, some displaying their thick ankles as they spread the linen over the drying lines.

As he was escorted along the avenues of solitary cells, there was a great unlocking of massive doors, in one of which a woman was carding, while in another a woman was combing wool. A third cell was opened and found to be in complete darkness. “It seemed empty,” writes the farmer, “so I passed within the door better to examine its contents. It looked like the den of a wolf, and I almost started back when from the extreme end of the floor I found a pair of bright, flashing eyes fixed on mine. Their owner arose and took a step or two forward. It was a small, slight and quite young girl—very beautiful in feature and complexion—but it was the fierce beauty of the wildcat.” At no period of his life, confessed the honest fellow, would he have “shared for half an hour the cell of that sleek little savage.” As the heavy door slammed in her face, and the strong bolts shot in the groove, the turnkey informed her visitor that this was one of the most refractory and unmanageable characters in the prison.

In 1840, we find that twenty-one thousand convicts were assigned to private service; and a further census taken in 1849 shows a free population of two hundred and forty-three thousand versus four thousand convicts. Meanwhile, free grants of land having been offered to encourage settlers, the population had swelled and the new colony was expanding. Tasmania was discovered, and a road wound its way over the Blue Mountains to the interior. Melbourne was founded, then Adelaide. At last, Australia has become the compact land mass familiar to us in our atlas. Once she established herself and her commercial future had been assured by the production of magnificent wool, the colony developed national pride, and began to display some sensitiveness on the subject of her humble origins. As the result of a petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, transportation was temporarily suspended in 1840, and finally abolished in 1850. Backed by the clergy, the Colonial Council had managed to convince the authorities at home “of the moral and social evil inherent in a penal colony and of the degradation attached to it in the opinion of mankind at large.” The “Hashemy”— “that Floating Hell,” as popular orators called her, with her “cargo of moral poison”—was the last convict-ship to drop anchor in Sydney Harbour. Exactly sixty-one years had elapsed since Governor Phillip had planted the Union Jack on precisely the spot where this last shipment of convicts now landed.

“Convict,” thenceforward, was a word seldom heard in New South Wales. The transportee was referred to as “a pensioner of the Crown,” an “old Hand,” a “Government Man,” or was merely described as having been “sent out.” These euphemisms were employed not so much for the benefit of the actual offenders as to spare the feelings of their descendants. Macquarie, with his liberal rule, had shown the way. Officers of the garrison were continually complaining of having to dine at Government House in the company with convicts, “dubious characters that one would avoid in the street”; and Macquarie was even accused of preferring their company. They may, indeed, have been more amusing, more nimble-witted than many officials and free colonists. A settler newly arrived in Sydney, say in the year 1840, must have been curious, and perhaps uneasy, regarding the degree of influence exerted on the social system by the numerous body of affluent emancipists; and here is a contemporary account by Colonel Mundy, Deputy Adjutant-General in Australia, author of Our Antipodes, of the situation as he knew it.

“It seems almost incredible (writes Colonel Mundy) that, living in the very midst of this community—in many cases in equal and even superior style to what may be called the aristocracy—possessing some of the handsomest residences in the city and suburbs— warehouses, counting houses, banking establishments, shipping, immense tracts of land, flocks and herds, enjoying all the political and material immunities in common with those possessing equal fortunes, of the more reputable classes—they are, nevertheless, a class apart from the untainted.

There is a line of demarcation by them peremptorily impassable. The impudent and pushing, and these are few, are repelled. The unobtrusive and retiring are not encouraged. Their place on the social scale is assigned and circumscribed. They have, humanly speaking, expiated their crimes, whatever these may have been, the nature of them has, probably, never passed beyond the record of the Superintendent’s office. They belong indeed to the common flock; but they are the black sheep of it. They are treated with humanity and consideration, but in a certain degree they are compelled to herd together.

The merchants and men of business generally meet them on equal terms in the negotiation of affairs in which their wealth, intelligence, and commercial weight sometimes necessarily involve them. They do not presume on this partial admission to equality, but fall back into their prescribed position when the business which has called the two orders into temporary contact has been completed. Official juxtaposition does not bring with it any plea for social intimacy… As I write this,” continues the Colonel, “there passes my window a well-known individual of this class in a smart new barouche, with a showy pair of horses caparisoned in plated harness, and a coachman and page in livery and laced hats.”

The brand was bound to wear out in the course of time; in fact, this is precisely what has happened; for it would be difficult at the present day to trace any family among Australia’s seven and a half millions whose ancestors are known quite definitely to have been convicts. Many of them, I am told, disabled by the hardships they had endured, died without issue.

Thus began the immense development of the post-convict period. Sydney grew from an outpost into a large modern city. Macquarie had rechristened her streets; Sergeant-Major’s Row became George Street after the King, and Windmill Alley Castlereagh Street. A town with Sydney’s future, he argued, could not go through life with so plebeian a nomenclature. There were, of course, frequent reminders of the Governor himself; while, beyond George Street, spread a network of streets named after royal dukes, Clarence, York, Kent, Essex, Cambridge and Cumberland. From an obelisk, erected in Macquarie Place, the mileage was measured, and new thoroughfares radiated out into the fast developing hinterland. The monotonous bush, subjected to the axe, took on a more gracious aspect. Rivers, banked with willows, meandered through rolling fields, and cattle grazed in rich pastures.

Driving today around the country, through the early grants developed by Australia’s leading families, one is astonished by the number of charming old houses, churches and inns. Since ships still took three months or more to reach Australia from Europe, building fashions were necessarily slow to change; and, well on into the Victorian era, the colony was still living fifteen or twenty-five years behind the times. Instead of the bad taste that had begun to manifest itself in English domestic architecture, we see Ionic colonnades of golden-yellow stone, six-panelled doors and twelve-panel windows. The sun filtering through circular bays falls on stone-flagged floors. Handsome cornices frame white plaster ceilings. From the shade of white porches we look out on to cloud-capped plains. As new townships extended in an ever-widening circle, explorers investigated the interior, and brought back reports of the excellent grazing in the great central deserts. Gold was discovered. Convicts became a thing of the past, a legend almost, a subject for humour. Australians today rarely speak of them. They have simply been forgotten. It is only the visitor who shows a certain curiosity.




%d bloggers like this: