Uncommon Sense

June 11, 2021

Betcha Didn’t Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 12:59 pm

It seems that Asian-Americans are getting some time in the spotlight and it also seems as if people still don’t know how to handle that. The biggest problem is thinking of them as a monolithic block of people when they can trace their ancestry back to myriad countries and cultures.

One misconception repeated ad nauseum I can clear up. It is that “Asian students” are like the best, ever. Like many an academic meme, this one has reasons that are not what people think. In a study about why Black students at US Berkeley were doing so poorly in Calculus I classes, a survey was taken of the faculty as to why.

Go ahead and see what you come up with for reasons why UCB Black calculus students did so poorly.

<insert Jeopardy theme music here>

Every faculty member surveyed was wrong.

The reason was actually that almost all of the Black students were trying to succeed on their own. A project that taught those students how to form groups and study in groups resulted in the GPA of Black and Asian students in third semester calculus being identical.

So, back to the original question: why are Asian students such great students?

Whatever you answer, you are probably wrong.

An extensive study of high school students in Wisconsin and Northern California finally winkled out the reason. Are you ready? The reason Asian students are so good is cultural, is not that they are smarter, is not . . . etc., it is: time on task. In other words, they outwork the competition. When a white high school student gets an after-school job, for every hour at work, there is exactly one hour of study that is lost. Not so for Asian students, who often are required to work in family businesses.

So, the reason students of Asian background outcompete others (White, Black, Brown, etc.) is that they espouse that good, old fashioned Anglo-Saxon work ethic. Which, I suspect is why they are despised so. (WTF?)

Interestingly enough, after several generations of being American, the Asian Student Effect wears off. Third and fourth generation Asian-Americans are fully acculturated and behave just like all of the other Americans. Shows you the power of American culture.

There is a cultural effect. When White kids whine to their parents that they are “no good at math” or whatever, they often get sympathy in the form of “Oh, Sweetie, I wasn’t either.” Recent Asian-American students don’t get that, they get that they are now expected to work harder. But this is not the major contributor to student success; good old-fashioned hard work is.

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

June 7, 2021

Duh . . .

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
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Bob Odenkirk recently lamented that: “Soon people won’t remember Breaking Bad.” Odenkirk played slimeball lawyer Saul in that TV series, which was a smash hit, certainly amongst working and retired chemistry teachers (the main protagonist was a high school chemistry teacher facing a fatal disease and looking for a way to care for his family after he dies and finds it in making crystal meth).

I am a bit surprised at Odenkirk’s lament however in that television shows have as a primary objective to make you forget the previous show you just watched. They want your full attention focused on what you are watching now and not mulling over things you watched in the previous show. Then it is “lather, rinse, repeat” and soon all is forgotten.

This is why I argued that TV was a poor medium to base school lessons upon. All teachers are taught that after a “film” (remember films?) or video is played that there be a discussion of various topics associated with what was viewed. Many providers of such “educational materials” supplied guidelines for such discussions, even in accompanying pamphlets/books. Do you remember ever having one of those Q&A sessions after such a “showing”? What I remember coming after those movies was a bell signally it was time to move to the next class.

And, yes, I am somewhat of a curmudgeon when it comes to education but this is not a “we shouldn’t be using these new fangled technologies” lament. It is, rather, we should be using them correctly. Video should only be used for educational purposes when viewing what is going on is very important and, yes, discussion is needed. Just as a reading assignment given to students that is not mentioned again or discussed in class will rapidly be forgotten as being “unimportant.”

June 5, 2021

Meditation: It’s a Business Opportunity, I Guess

There seems to be an entire cottage industry devoted to teaching one how to meditate. Once again, something that is simple and straightforward needs teachers, books, workbooks, seminars, retreats, paraphernalia, and on and on, all quite reasonably priced, of course (Not!).

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday — unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Sukhraj Dhillon

Allow me to explain meditation and how to do it, where to do it, etc.

Have you ever been alone with your thoughts? Sitting on a park bench or waiting for a bus, or peeling potatoes while making dinner? Just you and all of the things running through your head.

Meditation is being alone without your thoughts.

You do not need to be sitting, standing, squatting, or running. You do not need to be in any special place. You do not need a focus for your non-thoughts.

You just need to allow your thoughts to drop away so that you are not thinking things consciously.

That’s it.

No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can meditate and it is quite refreshing.

Oh, there is one technique I employ. Some of my thoughts are quite tenacious and do not just fall away easily. For those I use a shooing motion with my hand, much as if you would shoo away a bothersome fly. That’s it.

All of my mediation secrets in one place, and for zero dollars!

Enjoy.

June 4, 2021

Ever Wonder What Proofreading a 550 Page Book is Like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 1:38 pm

If you have, you probably are stranger than I thought you were.

The photo shows what a printout of the layout on this book looks like. The stack is twice as high as the book will be thick because there is one page printed per sheet of paper where the book will have two pages printed on each sheet. But still. . . .

The painful thing is this is my book and it is a collection of posts from my archery coaching blog. So, I wrote those posts once before (or twice, if they were adapted from a magazine article), then I had to read them to see if they were fit to go into this compilation, then I had to edit each one (350+ of them), then I had to lay out the book, adding photos, captions, photo references, etc. And now I have to proofread the layout.

You know the saying that a lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client? Similarly in writing: a writer, shouldn’t edit his own work, certainly not copy edit it, and well, proofreading is something we do do. All publishers want authors to proofread the final galleys so that is there are any mistakes they can blame the author (no, not really, but it is a quality control measure).

The problem is that our publishing company, Watching Arrows Fly, has a staff of two. And the other one don’t wanna do no stinkin’ proofreadin’.

Mind you, I have always been a “do-it-yourselfer,” but . . . I am tired.

“Call it a day, you should.” Shut up, Yoda!

June 3, 2021

W.C. Fields, a Great Comedian/Philosopher

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:20 am
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I was reading a blurb for a book featuring some of W.C. Fields great lines. Fields created a persona of being a lush, which would not fly now (but did in my youth, thank you Foster Brooks). The blurb writer did not include my favorite Fields quote, which was his take on “spirituality.” I believe it went “Everybody ought to believe something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

I think comedians are modern day court jesters, and since we govern ourselves, they send their barbs toward all of us. I miss George Carlin. There was none better at that role.

June 1, 2021

Spirituality: Are You In or Out?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:39 am

I was reading a post on Medium just now (Can Religions Be Objectively Disproved? (first posted October 19, 2020). Here is a taste:

Even if science continues to dramatically outperform spirituality in explaining and predicting reality, it may never be possible to fully disprove the idea of a spiritual realm.

The idea of spirit is so indefinite that no matter how far we explore with science, it can always wiggle down into deeper crevices. You can’t grab hold of it for long enough to say whether it’s there or not.

And you know what? I think that’s OK. There’s no need to eradicate the idea of spirit. A lot of people seem to need it in one way or another. (Later the author states: “The magic of spirituality adds texture and meaning to the lives of many.”)

I just don’t see how people can claim that “spirituality” is harmless. First it harms the individual, when feeling powerless they appeal to the imaginary for help.” That may feel “good,” having someone/something to appeal to but doesn’t result in actual help. Appealing to real people who might help is far more productive.

It is also harmful in the dogmas embraced by various spiritual organizations. These lock in people’s thinking in ways that aren’t helpful.

And if need “spirituality” to add meaning to their life, they are indeed sad human beings. When has embracing fictions as reality ever lead to a more meaningful life?

May 30, 2021

Abraham and Isaac Rewound

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am
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The story of Abraham and Isaac is well known. In summary it is: according to the Hebrew Bible, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. After Isaac is bound to an altar, a messenger from God stops Abraham before the sacrifice finishes, saying “now I know you fear God.” Abraham looks up and sees a ram and sacrifices it instead of Isaac. (Source: Wikipedia)

I did a Google search and the first hit that came up is from a children’s book of Bible stories (they tell these to children?). This is what came up: “Abraham and Isaac is an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice. This heart-rending story is one of the greatest tests of obedience, faith and trust in God found anywhere in the Bible. Abraham passes the test and renews God’s promise that he will become the father of many nations.”

But. . . .

Some things just don’t make sense.

First, Yahweh doesn’t need to test anyone about anything because He is omniscient, that is He already knows the outcome. So, why is He bothering?

Abraham knows that Yahweh is omniscient, so he goes ahead with the plan because he knows that Yahweh knows that he is loyal, true blue, faithful, etc. and wouldn’t make him sacrifice his beloved son for no good reason. In other words, Abraham trusts that Yahweh won’t make him go through with it. So, Abraham trusts, that is has faith, that he will not have to sacrifice his son, so he is going through with the plan, knowing . . . knowing that Isaac will survive.

Next, Yahweh knows that Abraham knows all of this, because He knows everything, so why is this play acted out?

Apparently, the only sound reason is the Isaac is a little shit and needs to be taken down a notch or two. He is not told what is going on. He has to carry the faggots to be used to burn the “offering” not knowing that he is the offering. When he gets tied down to the altar (on one of the altars in the hills where child sacrifice was practiced, I presume, also the altars in the hills that were railed against when the Hebrews turned monotheistic) Isaac begins to twig to the fact that he is the sacrifice and experiences the fear of god (and his appointed regent on Earth, his father). Being saved at the last minute by an angel probably left him with a much better mindset, now knowing what will happen to him if he doesn’t get his act together.

This “lesson” is totally in line with the other lessons in the Bible, where stoning to death is the common treatment for any kind of disobedience. (Obedience is the main theme of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.) Got a rebellious teenager? Take him (of course, him) to the gates of the city and have your friends and neighbors stone him to death. Your bride has a ruptured hymen which you don’t discover until you are married? Take her out and stone her to death. These lessons are like the U.S. West’s practice of leaving coyote pelts stretched out on wire fences as a lesson for the remaining coyotes (and about equally effective).

At the time this story (and it is a fictional story) is set, neither human sacrifice, nor child sacrifice had been banned and were still practiced, “in the hills.”

As to this being “an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice” well, this is what you get when you allow spin doctors to sign up in a religion. The only sacrifice was that of the ram. Abraham isn’t demonstrating extreme obedience because everything goes as he wishes. And Isaac getting the shit scared out of him isn’t even mentioned.

And, really, they tell this story to children? Amazing. I guess you have to just accept that anybody who will spin the drowning of millions of men, women, and children as a story of hope will say, and unfortunately do, anything.

May 24, 2021

It is a Dirty Word! Don’t Use It!

The dirty word is “redistribution.” To the wealthy this means “rob from the rich and give to the poor.” This means “take from the deserving and give to the undeserving.” This is an abominable thing, redistribution, they say.

Of course, they have been doing it for the past 40 plus years now, and now that they have succeeded, they are, as they say, pulling the ladder up so no others can use it. The wealthy of course have been using every tool at hand to redistribute earnings from the less rich to the more rich. They have manipulated tax laws, labor legislation, social media, you name it in their quest to become even richer than they were. They have used some of their newly acquired wealth to double down and now “own” much of the legislatures and judiciaries in the U.S. Those bodies will not act in any way before running their possible actions by the rich and powerful, aka “donors.” (When the rich ask each other whether they are “donors” they are not talking about organ donations, they are talking about political donations, aka bribes.)

A recent study, however indicates that the strategies employed by the rich to get richer are counter production. They looked at an example for which there was enough data, starting in 1989, though 2019, and found that:

“Downward redistribution appears to make everyone quite a lot wealthier, faster – especially (no surprise) the bottom 80%. Economic activity, annual spending, increases even faster. Taking the leftmost bars as an example: with an annual 1.5% downward transfer, greater spending would have resulted in a 549% total wealth increase, versus actual 421%. (To put that 1.5% downward transfer in context: the compounding annual growth rate on a passive wealth holder’s 60/40 stock/bond portfolio over that thirty years was about 7.5%. That’s all unearned income, received simply for holding wealth.)

“Most of that extra wealth growth would have gone to the bottom 80% (wealth growth of 527% vs. actual 295%), while top-20% wealth growth would also have been slightly higher than actual (526% vs. 499%). The top-20% share of wealth would have remained unchanged, versus the actual share increase, from 61% to 71%.

“With 1.5% in downward redistribution, 2019’s total consumption spending — a pretty good index or proxy for GDP — would have been 52% higher. Total wealth would have been 16% higher.” (Source: How Redistribution Makes America Richer, www.nakedcapitalism.com, May 24, 2021)

Of course the wealthy deny such findings as they conflict with their worldview, “Reality, pfft, what is it really?’

May 22, 2021

The Scary Side of AI

Filed under: Morality,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
Tags: , ,

Efforts to create artificially intelligent (AI) computer systems is still in its infancy. I was intrigued at first but now I am concerned.

The most basic concept is to create computer systems that can “learn” as opposed to the “normal” process of programming in code all abilities desired from the system.

So far, nothing scary here.

Now that we have created systems that are somewhat adept at “machine learning” we have discovered, hey presto, that we often do not know what these systems have learned or how they did the learning of it. The systems don’t report back, “telling” us how they did it and what they are capable of doing.

Recently a system was created to “model” the entire universe. Much to the creator’s surprise the model, after proving itself faster and more accurate than previous systems (of all types), also showed abilities it was never “taught” to calculate. The “teaching” is the supplying of datasets that would lead the system to make up general rules which it would then apply. But it was showing abilities that weren’t predicted from the datasets that were supplied.

The scary part is there is a responsibility disjoint here. Such a system, which are more and more being used for facial recognition and for application (job, college admittance, etc.) evaluations, were it to go awry, there is nobody responsible for making the system the way it is. “I didn’t program it to do such a thing,” will be heard around the world.

But the “programming” of these systems is not in the previously understood form of written code but in selecting the datasets to feed the beast, as it were.

Recently face-recognitions systems were shown to be vastly more erratic when looking at faces of people of color than the mainstream (white Americans, or Chinese citizens). One system showed no response to the face of a black woman . . . until she donned a white mask (like a V mask) then it recognized there was a face present to analyze. The system showed high accuracy for white male face recognition, lower for white females, much lower for black and brown men, and even lower for black and brown women.

Right now these systems are being implemented willy-nilly by private companies and authoritarian governments. Clearly there is a role to play for regulation of such system, like a test sequence of faces that a system must recognize to a high degree, but there is little in the way of inducement for the implementers to seek out such “safety standards,” at the moment.

So, apartment buildings are implementing “face recognition” entry locks to keep out the riff-raff, of course, but they also have interior cameras which recognize the faces of the people in the halls and report rules infractions to the building’s management. Big Brother is here, now.

There are few laws and almost no privacy protections built into our system, certainly not governing these new “frontiers.”

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