Sunday, October 05, 2014

Disproving the disproof

Weird – Your Baby Could Have DNA From Past Lovers

It would be nice if "journalists" would quit writing about stuff they don't understand.  The study in this article doesn't say anything about babies having DNA from previous lovers.  It does say that a baby may inherit certain non-genetic traits from previous mates.  Okay, actually it says that this phenomenon happens in fruit flies, not necessarily in other types of animals.  I'm not even sure it proves that.

But, let's assume for a moment that it does prove that traits are passed from previous mates.  The thing that I find most interesting about this is pretty typical of a lot of science.  Specifically in this case, I'm talking about how science has "disproved" telegony, only to turn around and disprove its own disproof later.  This type of proving and disproving makes me wonder just how it is that there are so many people who have a kind of blind faith in science.  They like to say things like "Science is real."  And it is real, at least until it isn't any more.  And then science is hailed as having found yet another absolute truth, at least until it disproves it.  Forget about whether this new finding flies in the face of what was thought by scientists to be true in the past.  Scientists know stuff.

Now I'm not saying that the original idea of telegony was necessarily true.  I haven't read enough about it to have any idea how it is that folks like Aristotle thought it happened.  It's just that they thought it did happen, only to be "proved" wrong by science, and subsequently science itself proved that what it once disproved is at least a possibility in the "real" world of science.

The point of this all is that a lot of people who claim to be skeptical are anything but skeptical when it comes to science, apparently because science is "real."  And if anything, stories like this should point people toward the idea that science is deserving of skepticism at least at the same level as other things, such as religion.  In fact, I would argue that there is little, if any, real difference between science and religion, and in the future, as time permits, I intend to show not only how there is no significant difference between religion and science, but that the two are not mutually exclusive.  Unfortunately, in order to see the relationship between the two, one must have an open mind, something that is a truly rare commodity in today's world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weekly review September 14, 2014

It's time again for my (almost) weekly take on stuff I've heard lately.

Kids!

"I don't see why being overweight is such a big deal."  And, "I think they should just keep selling soda in the school vending machines.  We need it."  Thanks to a high school senior for those.  Then, to make it even better, when I tried to explain why soda is bad for you, and why being overweight should be a concern, this individual says, "You might as well just shut up.  I don't care.  I have an opinion, and facts are not going to change it."

Guns!

One of the advantages to working at a job that doesn't require a lot of thought is that I get to listen to a lot of podcasts.  At least, I keep telling myself that's an advantage, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tolerate my job.  One of the podcasts I currently listen to is "Common Sense with Dan Carlin."

As it happens, I agree with some of Mr. Carlin's philosophies.  In particular, I like that he thinks it's okay to change your mind when the information changes, something that some of his listeners don't particularly like.  But the other night, I listened him talking about how we should change laws in order to stem the apparent tide of mass shootings that have been occurring over the last few years.  It was an older podcast, and I don't think it's available for download any more.  At least, I don't see it on the list.

First, let me say that I agree with Mr. Carlin's basic idea: that changing our culture is the way to reduce the frequency of this sort of tragedy.  I just don't agree with Mr. Carlin's proposed method.  He suggests that rather than pass gun control legislation, we should instead pass laws with heavier punishment for using weapons in the commission of crimes.  It seems to me that we already do that, but he says punishments should be much harsher.

To back up this idea, Mr. Carlin points to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and the apparent success that has come about with harsher penalties for drunk driving.  Indeed, on the surface, it actually appears to have had a positive affect given the statistics cited on the MADD website.

At least one of these statistics is questionable, so I decided to take a closer look.  Here's the stat:
"In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980."
Well that sounds good, but implies that the cut is somehow related to the founding of MADD.  But, according to statistics on Wikipedia, the total number of highway fatalities over the same time decreased to 60 percent of the 1980 total.  At the same time, the number of vehicle miles traveled actually increased, with the result that fatalities per vehicle mile traveled is only a third of the 1980 figure.  Sounds more like vehicles are safer than they were in 1980 than anything else.

Of course, I may be biased on this point.  Working nights, I typically leave work shortly after closing time at the bars, and with relative regularity I see a driver that I would pull over on suspicion of impaired driving if I were a police officer.

This is not to say that everything MADD does is worthless, or anything like that.  And I'm not making the claim that drunk driving is okay.  I'm just saying that I don't really believe that there's been any kind of cultural change that has reduced how often people drive drunk as a result of stiffer penalties.

So, why am I against stiffer penalties for much of anything?  It's simple, really.  I don't think the difference between a 5 year prison sentence and a 10 year sentence is really much of a deterrent.  I actually believe that most crimes are committed without consideration of what the punishment will be.  I actually believe that most criminals are fairly certain they won't get caught, which makes the punishment moot when it comes to committing the crime, and locking people up costs too much.

On the other hand, stiffer penalties will lead to increased resistance, at least that's the way it seems, and in the case of stiffer penalties for illegal gun use, that increased resistance could make things worse.  Of course, that's merely speculation on my part.

This whole subject originally came to mind for me with this headline.  It's actually two headlines, because the original story wasn't quite right:

Utah teacher shoots herself in leg with concealed weapon
Teacher Hurt When Gun Accidentally Shatters Toilet

So here we are, a month into the school year, and a gun has accidentally been fired.  I don't really like the school's attitude, that "This just appears at this point in time to be an accident."  Seems to me to be a pretty big "just an accident," and one that was completely avoidable.  At any rate, perhaps we need to pass a law about carrying weapons in restrooms because I also happened on this:

Accidental shooting in Target bathroom never made public by HPD

Granted, this second shooting happened about a month ago, but somehow I'm just not feeling all that safe around the supposed "experts" carrying loaded weapons.  As if I needed yet another reason to not want to use a public restroom.

But, it gets worse than that.  Here are a few more accidental shootings from the past week.

Two injured in accidental shooting at Casselberry gun store
This shooting occurred because one of the people just had to show off their gun expertise.

Possibly accidental shooting wounds Oakland toddler
I can only guess what was going on here.

Teen injured in accidental shooting
Cuz, you know, guns are fun and awesome and stuff.

Woman charged with accidental shooting
And finally, the ultimate mix: guns and liquor.  Each of them fun and awesome on their own, but twice the fun together.

My point here is that more "responsible" gun carriers doesn't really equate with greater safety, like some folks would like us to believe.  And so, it does appear that Mr. Carlin from the podcast is right, that what we need is a cultural change.  In my opinion, though, that cultural change won't come from passing more laws and throwing more people in prison.  Instead, I believe the "cure" for this problem needs to come from education.  I don't mean gun safety education, because that won't work as is shown by the accidental shootings involving people who have been educated.  And I don't think that education in itself is the answer to everything.  I do, however, think that education could handle a lot of the societal problems we're experiencing.  And here's an educational idea that might be a pretty quick fix to so many people thinking they need to carry a gun.  Part of the training could involve actually being shot.  That way, at least people would truly understand the power, and responsibility, of wielding the weapon.  Then again, maybe not.

The Value of a Human Life

"ANY thief with a gun who steals my money deserves to die."
Yep, it sure sounds like we're really close to being enlightened.  Reminds me of the time that Ford did a cost-benefit analysis over recalling some cars that exploded on impact from behind, and decided that you really could put a value on human life.  And people were outraged over it.  I wonder if there's a minimum amount of that individual's money that would warrant death, or if (s)he is taking the ethical approach and not actually valuing human life at all.

Big Brother Never Forgets

I heard the story of a person who was picked up over 50 years ago because the person they were with was shoplifting.  This person was released, but FBI records still show the arrest, and apparently, some employers don't go any further than to see that an individual's record is "flagged."  Well, like the sign says at the NSA Utah Data Center, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."  Of course, one might assume that being arrested on suspicion but released without being charged actually isn't anything to fear, which is, apparently, not true.  At least there's a limit to how much data can actually be stored there… oh wait.  Originally the center was expected to house a yottabyte  of info, although some think it's more than that.  The actual storage capacity is classified, but the facility was built with future expansion in mind, as if a yottabyte isn't enough.  Our only hope may be that nobody will actually be able to figure out how to find anything in all that space.  But, it's more likely that they'll be able to find whatever they want… the problem will likely be in the interpretation.

Reality is better than fiction… Oh wait.

The New York Times Just Issued the Best Correction You'll Read All Week

So, I thought this was a bit funny, that the Times had misstated that Dick Cheney was the former president.  Then, I happened on this:

Cheney Says Iraq Would Be Stable If He Were Still President

And thought to myself that the news was turning out to be better than anything anyone could ever make up.  Of course, I was wrong.  Someone did make it up.

If it Looks Like War...

John Kerry: ISIS Action Is Not a War, It’s Counter-Terrorism

Yeah, it's not a war, just like Viet Nam and Korea weren't, well, until after the fact.  I'm not saying those were the same, other than this shows that the word games that politicians use haven't changed much at all.  Viet Nam and Korea were police actions.  But these days, politicians don't want to use that term because the term police is an unfriendly term for a lot of people so they had to come up with a different name, something more, well, "user friendly."

You know, I'm no expert on the subject, but I do try to stay on top of what's happening in the world, and this whole thing with ISIS is, well, troubling.  I really started thinking about it when ISIS began posting videos and pictures of executions and other atrocities they've committed.  The story that came down through the media and from the government claimed that these things were apparently recruitment tools.  Or, in some cases, meant to spread terror in the western world.  Only, the more I thought about that, the less sense it seemed to make.  To me, it seemed as if ISIS was egging us on, goading us into to doing exactly what we're going to do.

So now, it looks as if this is a win-win situation for ISIS and our own government, because just a month ago, I was reading about how "war-weary" Americans were becoming, only to turn around and see that now, a majority of Americans actually favor military action against ISIS, just in time for Obama to announce increased military action against ISIS.  It's almost enough to make me start to believe the video about how the ISIS videos were faked.  Well, not really.  It's probably just a stroke of great luck on the part of our government.  I don't believe they're actually smart enough to pull a coup like this off intentionally.  Assuming, then, that these videos were produced by ISIS, I don't think ISIS is so stupid as to think we wouldn't respond in the precise way in which we are, hence a win-win for our government and ISIS.  Not so much for the rest of us bag holders.

Book Review

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis

This book should be required reading for anyone considering a career in finance.  It may contain some inaccuracies, it may be biased, I don't really know, although I didn't think it was any of those things.  There were some comments to the contrary in the book reviews.  Certain details about the financial markets were, perhaps, simplified, but the differences between what I've observed versus the book's description are not material.  What this book does show is that having a good ethical grounding, and understanding the big picture in finance wasn't, and likely still isn't, the way to get hired by Wall Street.  It's a good read, doesn't require a background in finance to understand, and may provide some food for thought that would be useful before choosing a major in finance.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Weekly review August 23, 2014

Some stuff I've found around the internet this week.

Comments 
"Skepticism is never a good thing."
No, it's always a good thing.  By this, I don't mean people should not believe anything, I mean people should withhold judgment, which rarely happens anymore.  There is a significant difference between withholding judgment and disbelief.  Disbelief is on the same level as belief.  An example is atheism versus Christianity, or some other religion.  While this may not be the case with all atheists, many atheists believe there is no God simply because there isn't proof of God, and therefore, God does not exist.  Lack of evidence is proof of nothing.
"Politics is who gets what, when, and how."
Perhaps that is true these days, but why?  It is because that is what we, the people, have voted for it to become.  Sadly, though, this is the definition of a command economy, which I'm sure most people will agree is not what we want, which unfortunately demonstrates many people's lack of knowledge.  Of course, if it happens that you will be the recipient of the most, then a command economy is exactly what you want.  And that is what many people base their voting choices on.  Who will give me the most?
"The witnesses have said that he got hit while running away or his body jerked as if he was hit and then he turned around. This is consistent with the shot in his lower arm which could have easily caused his body to jerk."
Yet another example of internet sleuthing.  We watch altogether too many crime shows.  And what's wrong with that?  Too many people will decide that this is exactly what happened, all based on some nobody's speculation.

Twitter
"The DOJ might possibly consider studying whether #Ferguson cops are racist, but the FBI is definitely investigating #Anonymous."
This came from Twitter.  One of the problems with Twitter is the limit on the length of tweets, which lead to a lot of ambiguous statements being made, and this tweet is not an exception.  However, this tweet appears to imply that the tweeter thinks that there is some relationship between the DOJ studying the possibility of racism in Ferguson and the FBI investigating Anonymous.  Now, I'm not saying that racism isn't a problem in Ferguson; I honestly don't know whether it is or isn't.  Anonymous, on the other hand, has openly claimed to break the law, and attempted to effect change through intimidation.  It would be easy enough to construct an argument that Anonymous is a terrorist group, but I'll refrain from that here.

So, the big question here is whether the DOJ should investigate the possibility of racism in Ferguson, whether or not the FBI investigates Anonymous.

So, let's see what the results could possibly be.  First, I think we can agree that either racism is a problem in Ferguson, or it isn't.  So, let's begin by assuming that racism isn't a problem.  If the DOJ investigates and finds that racism isn't a problem, then some people will say that the DOJ itself is racist, fanning the flames of racism, producing a problem where no problem currently exists, because some people will set out to prove the DOJ wrong, and that the DOJ is racist.  If the DOJ finds that racism is a problem, even though it isn't, again, the finding will fan the flames of racism, with some demanding changes be made thus creating a problem where none currently exists.

Now if we assume that there is a problem with racism in Ferguson, then a DOJ investigation that concludes there is no problem with racism will certainly fan the flames of racism, driving some who believe it is a problem to make the problem more clear to the investigators.  And if the DOJ finds that there is a problem with racism, then some people who don't believe racism to be an issue will now become outraged that there is, in fact, a problem thus fanning the flames of racism again.

Still, there's that other possibility: that the DOJ chooses to not investigate racism in Ferguson.  That decision would, again, result in a similar effect to investigating and not finding racism to be a problem.  So, what the DOJ has to consider is whether the negative outcomes from conducting an investigation outweigh the negative outcomes from not conducting an investigation, and has nothing at all to do with whether they think racism is or isn't a problem in Ferguson.

It's entirely possible that I'm wrong on the outcomes.  But, it's also possible I'm right, and I think that people have demonstrated that, in a situation like this one, if the outcome isn't what a particular group wants, then it serves as the fuel for further unrest.  If I'm right, then the only possible outcome of a DOJ investigation is a bad one, no matter what the DOJ findings are, which makes this not a decision based on the likelihood of racism being a problem, but more of a political choice.  What would be the good of conducting this investigation?  I can't think of one.  Having said that, I have a sinking feeling the DOJ will conduct an investigation, and no matter what the findings, the outcome will be bad.
"QUESTION: What's the difference between a cop being suspended and a PAID vacation?...Seriously? #Ferguson #Anonymous #MikeBrown #OpFerguson"
This is, again, from Twitter.  I have to assume that this person is asking what the difference is between a paid suspension and paid vacation.  There are likely many bad assumptions that went into the crafting of this tweet.  Presumption of guilt comes to mind.  I say this because the tweet implies that police officers should be put on unpaid suspension, otherwise it's the same as a vacation.  Of course, that would be punishing the officer before guilt or innocence was established, but of course, that's okay if it's only police officers.  But really, for the most part, I doubt the officers that have been put on paid suspension feel much like they're on vacation.

News
‘Order’ from Mayor McAdams calls for closing all exits out of Salt Lake City
So, I read this article and thought "At least our local government has a decent sense of humor."  Then I read the lone comment:
"Not funny man, that could have set off a panic and in panic chaos and luteing happen, bad news dude. I wouldnt do that kind of “joke” ever again."
Sadly, it appears that in Salt Lake City, the government has a better sense of humor than the public.
UPDATE: As I was writing this, I checked the article again and thankfully a few more commenters have expressed similar sentiments to mine.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unquotable: Socrates

This quote is often attributed to Socrates:
"No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."
When I heard this the first time, I couldn't believe that Socrates would ever have said such a thing.  On further investigation, it turns out I was, probably, right.  The quote, from the translation on the Perseus Project, is this:
"It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord."
The popular quote as it is today, is actually paraphrased from the original.  And it turns out, the original isn't even the original.  Instead it is Xenophon reporting what Socrates said.  Moreover, it is a translation of what Xenophon wrote that Socrates said.  So, we can't know for certain that Socrates even said that.  And that's the case with most things Socrates may or may not have said since Socrates didn't write things down.

So, what's the big deal?  There isn't one, really, except that people are attributing a weak statement to a great philosopher.  And my biggest complaint is that it puts a restriction on our rights, which is really what made me think that Socrates never said this.  Everybody has the right to be an amateur.  In fact, in most things, most people will always be amateurs.  But taking a wider view this quote really seems to be saying that we should strive in all areas to reach our highest limit, otherwise we will never realize our full potential.  It isn't enough to say "That's the best I can do," or "I'm not very good at that."  Those kinds of thinking are simply careless in themselves, and thinking those things will result in never knowing what your true potential is.  And that is a disgrace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is science?

New Science Says Showing White People How Racist Something is Makes Them More Racist

Um, no.

So, I'm getting not just a little tired of studies that set out to "prove" what the studiers want to prove.  I was going to just ignore this one, until I read this in the comments section:
"Surprisingly, it turns out they only want to harass minorities."
Not surprisingly, this person thinks they know way more than they do know, and it is this kind of "knowledge" that gets under my skin.  In order to educate the less experienced people of the world, I'm going to admit to something that I probably shouldn't: No less than three times in my life, I've been taken and put in a holding cell where I could be kept for up to 24 hours without being charged "for my own protection."  I wasn't charged with a crime, I was only guilty of walking in a neighborhood where, being white, I clearly did not belong.  The police, it turns out, don't only want to harass minorities, so get over that.

If not for that comment, I would have let the whole article slide.  But, I can't now, so here goes.

First, this isn't "science" at all.  The studiers gathered some data and then interpreted it in a way that "proved" something.  It didn't prove much of anything, if it proved anything at all.  And let's get something straight right here, right now: In the vast majority of science, nothing is proven.  The only thing that happens is evidence is found to support hyptheses, which eventually become theories if the hypotheses are tested enough times, and science fails to disprove the hypotheses.  Do we understand the difference between proving something and failing to disprove something?

The claim in the linked article is that seeing more black mug shots lead people to be more inclined to want stronger penalties.  Of course, the subjects in the study, and the person running the study were all white, so the extension from the initial claim is that more black mug shots lead white people to be more racist.

It's actually silly that someone, an "expert," would even do this experiment.  I can say, without a doubt, that what this "proves" is that people feel less empathy towards people who are more different from themselves.  The more obvious the difference, the less empathy, and race is definitely an obvious difference in photographs.  That shouldn't surprise anyone, let alone some supposed psychology "experts."  Worse than that, though, is that us white folk are constantly being told that we can't empathize with "people of color" simply because we are white.  I have to wonder why I haven't seen a study that shows how well people of color empathize with white folks though.  Perhaps it is because no one really wants to prove that it works both ways.  What's the advantage to that?

So, why did they do this study?  As near as I can tell, it isn't to advance science or any other such thing.  This study was done to collect $35 per download, and, perhaps, to try to gain some sort of notoriety in this world where everyone seems to think they deserve to be famous.  As an added bonus, it gives "progressives" more ammo to fuel even more hatred that they claim they hate so much.  Get over it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

That's the news July 27, 2014

Yeah, here's my weekly take on recent news and blogs that have caught my attention, along with my own little bit of commentary.

America’s lost oomph

A while back, I wrote a response to another blog, which, among other things, claimed that American workers were more productive than ever.  I used some data that was given in the article, and another piece of data that was left out of the article, to arrive at the conclusion that American workers were not becoming more productive, and it actually appears that we are becoming less productive.  This article shows that I'm not alone in that assessment, among other things.  And while I agree with a lot of the points made in this article, I have to disagree with the author's conclusion:

"So the odds rise that America’s economy will continue to lumber along at an underwhelming pace, and Americans will have no one to blame but their leaders."

It isn't our leaders who are to blame; it's us, the people who give them power.

Bill Gates' Guru: 'I'm Not Impressed With Silicon Valley.' 'I Don't Have a Cell Phone.' 'I Never Blog.'

I think I love this guy.  Really.  But, I do have a cell phone, and I do blog.  The reason being that I don't have the luxury of spending a year or more writing a book, with the hopes that someone will publish it later.  The thing is, you can't really argue with what he says about technology: the paperless office never happened, and even as computers fit in smaller spaces and cost less, people demand more, with the net effect being that consumption is increasing.  And while I don't know for sure, I think landfills are filling faster.  It seems that when technological advances provide solutions to problems, they don't actually solve anything at all, because the problem isn't technology, but it's the people using it.  I, for one, would like to see a world less techno centric, and see people who are actually willing to change and behave in more sustainable ways.  I just don't think that will happen any time soon.

Warren Jeffs to Utah State Legislature: God is coming

Okay, so I only included this link because it's local (I'm in Utah), and because I challenge all those who think grammar isn't important to read, and actually understand, what Mr. Jeffs says in his writings.

Yum, McDonald's In Another China Food Safety Scandal

A while back, I read a story (unfortunately I don't remember where) that said we (the U.S.) were going to start shipping chicken to China for processing, after which it would be shipped back here.  I don't know why anybody thinks that's a good idea, except that it would somehow result in cheaper chicken.  I realize that the linked article isn't directly related, other than it involves food.  And I realize that it's one instance, and according to officials, one company.  And I realize scandals happen here all the time too.  For some reason, none of that makes me feel any better about sending chicken to China for processing.  Grocery shopping shouldn't be an adventure for thrill-seekers.

Russian Billionaires in ‘Horror’ as Putin Risks Isolation
"All this war and talk of war has the country’s business elite “living in a state of fear” and trying to get their money out of the country, Kryshtanovskaya said by phone."
Some people equate the situation with Russia to the Cold War, but this is looking more and more like some sort of prewar escalation.  In the Cold War, everyone knew what the consequences of war between the U.S. and Russia would be.  These days, nobody appears to even think that's a possibility, which makes it a big possibility in my opinion.

Slim chances seen for tax ‘inversion’ clampdown, analysts say

So, this is an example of why the U.S. should lower, or even eliminate, corporate taxes.  Of course, that may never happen because the American public, brilliant as always, thinks that Corporate America needs to be taxed more.  But, think for a minute about the old days when Soviet Russia tried to stem the tide of its best and brightest from leaving the country, and then tell me how it would be any different for the U.S. to try to stop corporations from reincorporating in another country.  Instead of trying to force someone to do something against their wishes, it's usually better to try to make it more attractive for that person, or corporation, to do the right thing.  To say that investors should only invest in businesses that pay American taxes is just foolish.  A corporation that has the ability to lower its tax rate and doesn't is likely not the best investment.

Confidence In Supreme Court Lowest Since Gallup Started Tracking It

I don't see this as any change in the Supreme Court.  It is more a change in the definition of "trust."  It isn't the Supreme Court's job to make politically popular decisions; it is their job to decide whether laws are constitutional or not, and the Constitution is, regardless of what people think, vague enough as to need interpretation, which then results in a difference of opinion about what it says.  That's the way it has always been.

But, the President, and other government officials, have steadily pried further and further into individuals' lives, putting the Supreme Court in the unenviable position of having to decide whether a politically popular law is constitutional.  Many people today think the government is responsible for protecting the individual.  I don't think that was ever meant to be the case.  The constitution was primarily meant to impose limits on the power of the federal government, something that people want to ignore and claim that they have rights, like the right to healthcare.

So, when the Supreme Court makes a decision, such as the recent decision about birth control, and a lot of people don't like it because it means that the government can't force the rest of the world to do what they want, we lose confidence in the Supreme Court.  Just because a majority of people like something does not mean it's constitutional.

Here's One Way to Ace a Public School's Standardized Test

Of course, the way to ace the test is to buy the textbooks that are sold by the test makers.  Ok, another alternative is to cheat.  Unfortunately, I lost a link to an article about the second way.  But, forget for a minute about whether poor schools can afford the books that the tests are based on, and just consider what it means for every kid to learn from the same books.  Some people, probably a lot of them, don't see a problem with that because "facts are facts."  But as I've said many times before, the world is not even close to as factual as many people believe it is.  Science hasn't explained most things; it is mostly theory that appears to our limited senses to be true.  History is subject to interpretation.  And the list goes on.  If kids are all taught the same "facts" then we can be pretty sure they will all arrive at the same conclusions, a kind of groupthink phenomenon.  I doubt anyone thinks that would be a good thing.  I think that standardized testing may have a place, but that's a subject for another time.  Standardized education is another thing altogether, and just an outright bad idea.  Diversity matters.

The Most Hyped Digital Currency Since Bitcoin Has Officially Launched

In last week's "That's the news" post, I made the comment that should bitcoin become popular enough, other virtual currencies, claiming to be better, were sure to pop up.  And sure enough, they are, or at least one is.  I'll be interested to see, when the competition between currencies begins to heat up, how the "insiders" try to get government to pass regulation in an effort to protect their interests against that competition.  Everybody is against regulation, except for that regulation that protects their own interests, and I don't think virtual currencies are any different.

Arizona execution takes nearly two hours to kill prisoner

Well, I'm against the death penalty, especially in light of the number of people who have been found innocent on death row.  I don't know the number.  I don't have to.  If the number is one, that's one too many.  This is foolish arguing about the most humane way to put another person to death.  And the claim that a firing squad or guillotine is more humane is ludicrous.  End the death penalty, and solve a lot of problems.

Of course, some people might say that our prisons are already overcrowded, and this would make the situation worse.  And I say, solve the problem, then, that is causing so many people in our country to end up in prison.  For one, there are people spending years in prison on simple drug possession charges, even as some states are making possession legal.  But the real problem is that we are not teaching our children in a meaningful way how to respect each other.  Somehow, "respect" has been translated into "like".  If I don't like someone, I don't respect them.  And property rights?  Many people don't respect others' property rights.  Thus, higher crime, either violence against others, or violation of others' property rights, i.e. stealing, or vandalism.  I'll bet there isn't one standardized test on how we should treat others.

Have We Reached Peak Bacon?

The rich can keep oysters, but BACON?!?  What am I supposed to eat?  That cheap chicken from China?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That's the news July 20, 2014

Here are some news stories that have caught my eye over the last few days, along with a bit of my own commentary.

Maryland Tested Kids on Material It No Longer Teaches, Guess What Happened?

Um, they didn't score so well.  Duh.  But what I find troubling about this is the following quote, originally posted here:
"Students’ scores had been steadily inching up until 2013, when there were sharp declines in reading and math scores, a slide that continued this year."
So, I guess they aren't teaching reading and math any more.  I don't know, but it seems to me that this is, perhaps, somebody trying to blame declining reading and math scores on common core testing.  If our education system were doing its job, then it wouldn't matter what questions were on the test; our educators would be teaching the subjects, and if they were doing a good job of it, the test results would reflect that.  Instead, it seems they are teaching the test.  Not a good idea at all.  If I were hiring someone, I wouldn't care how they did on any test.  I don't really care how the local schools do on any core testing.  What I care about is that kids know less and less about the subjects they are taking, while learning more and more about how to get a good test score.  Well, it probably won't take educators long to figure out how to teach the new tests well enough so that students can get really good scores so that everyone can feel good about how much they know.

States that workers want to escape from the most

This headline assumes, probably wrongly, that if an individual looks for a job in a different state, then they are trying to "escape" from their current state of residence.  Of course, there could be lots of other explanations for people looking outside of their current state.  Maybe they just want a change of scenery.  Or, maybe, as in the case of Washington, D.C., their states are so small that it is less of a commute to go out of state than it is to try to stay in state.  Or, perhaps, it's more to do with how a state is changing, as might be the case with North Dakota.  I don't know, but I suspect that there has been a large influx of oil workers there, while people who already live there might be looking to cash in on the oil boom before it goes bust.  I would be.  It might have been more informative if this article had addressed the net effect of people looking for work in a particular state versus those who are looking to leave.  But that didn't happen.

NASA scientists say they're closer than ever to finding life beyond Earth

This is just plain silly.  One doesn't have to be a scientist to arrive at the conclusion that we are, with every day that passes by, closer to finding life beyond Earth.  That is, of course, assuming that there will be a day when we actually do find life beyond Earth.
"But as the space telescopes launched by NASA get bigger and bigger, the odds of finding life will get better and better."
Yeah, if, and only if, there is life to be found, something that is, as yet, unknown.  But even if there is life out there somewhere, how will we know if we have found it?  It may not be anything at all like life here.

77% in developed world are happy but wish life was simpler, says poll

I'm getting just a little bit tired of headlines saying how happy we all say we are.  I don't think that's true at all.  Following a link provided in the article itself, provided me with exactly what I thought was the truth about how happy we are.
"The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being overprescribed."
So, we're increasingly happy, but we also take increasing amounts of antidepressants.  Awesome.  The thing is, people don't think they are inherently unhappy just because they're taking antidepressants.  For example, I listened to an individual taking Zoloft, which was originally prescribed to treat a skin disorder.  Of course, the skin disorder was probably linked to some psychological issues, but never mind the details.  The problem is that Zoloft treats the symptoms, but doesn't deal with the underlying problem.  But at least this one individual has no interest in treating the real problem; they are "happy" to take increasing amounts of Zoloft to control their skin condition, as well as manage their anger.  It's a friggin' miracle cure, well, as long as you're willing to take the pill for the rest of your life.  Of course, it's entirely possible that this same person could experience the same benefit from some other drug, like alcohol, but somehow that would be different, since alcohol is available without a prescription.  I don't really see the fundamental difference between the two.  They both make people "happy."

The second part of the article says that the majority of people wish their lives were simpler.  These same people insist that technology is the solution.  I had to laugh at that.  Technological advances do everything but simplify one's life.  I have yet to see a single example of how technology advances have simplified anything for individuals.  If you have one, let me know in the comments.  I'd love to hear from you.

A third part of the linked article talks about how people feel about globalization:
"People in emerging economic powers overwhelmingly agreed that globalisation was good for them (China 81%, India 71%, Brazil 68%). But in the richest nations there was a very different view: in France, only 24% of people approved of globalisation, a rate that inched up to 37% in the US and 41% in Britain."
Not terribly surprising.  The places where the masses see the greatest benefits of globalization, i.e. emerging economies, is where people think globalization is good for them.  At least their view of the world matches with their actions.  In the "richest" nations, people are less inclined to feel that way, and yet, nobody wants to cut off the supply of cheap imports.  Rich countries, it seems, want to have their cake and eat it too.  They seem to want to buy cheap stuff produced from the sweat of cheap labor elsewhere, and then get paid for relatively nothing in order to buy that cheap stuff.  I don't see any way that this can turn out anything but bad, although it may take a long time for that to happen.

The 'Biggest Fiscal Development' Of The Last 3 Decades Is The Stunning Slow Down In Healthcare Spending

Okay, this is probably one of the most misleading headlines ever.  First, the headline doesn't mention that the article is talking about federal spending, although I suppose that could be inferred from the use of the word "fiscal," even though fiscal doesn't just mean government.  Speaking of inferring, though, I would not infer that the article was really about the slow down in the growth of federal spending, which is slowing, while the actual spending is still growing.

Still, it seems as if a slowdown in the growth of spending must be a good thing, right?  Perhaps, but it isn't really good news at all.  According to the article:
"The CBO's new projections say federal spending on major healthcare programs — Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and federal subsidies for people buying insurance on the new Obamacare-established exchanges — will rise from about 4.9% of GDP this year to about 7.5% in 2035. The latter number is 2.2 percentage points lower than the CBO projected five years ago."
So, it's still growing at a rate faster then GDP growth, and that is still expected to continue.  All I can say about that is that people need to get way more productive than they supposedly are getting.  Of course, that in itself doesn't mean anything because if we become more productive, then healthcare costs will rise in direct proportion.  So really, this appears to be bad news, actually.  The slowing rise in healthcare costs is more a reflection of the slowing growth in GDP than anything good.  Of course, the article states that "experts" agree that Obamacare has contributed to this decrease, presumably because of the correlation of the slowdown in growth of medical care expenses and the rollout of Obamacare.  But, correlation does not equal causation, as I always say.  But if it does, then why on earth doesn't anyone else think that the healthcare expense trend has more to do with the weak economic growth we've been experiencing?  After all, there's some correlation there too.

Millennials Don’t Know What "Socialism" Means

No, they don't.  But, is the headline fair?  No, it isn't.  I have to wonder how well other generations would have fared when they were young and foolish.  I suspect not so differently.  I do have to say, though, that this new generation acts in a more overconfident way than previous generations, but that could be my own bias being that I'm from a previous, and clearly better, generation.  I do know I was overconfident when I was young; I thought I knew a lot more than I really did.  But, it also seems that I was more willing to listen when I was younger.  Millennials in general seem to be much more closed-minded than their predecessors, which I think is a bad thing.  That is, of course, unless one of their friends thinks of something, in which case, they'll gladly ditch their previous notions of the world.  I've lost count of the times that I've said something about the world repeatedly and been argued with, only to be told later, "I just figured out…" or, "I learned…" because a friend told them the same thing that I've been saying for years.  Well, perhaps it doesn't much matter; at least they eventually learned something, even if it wasn't from me.

New York Tries to Regulate Bitcoin Businesses Right Out of the State

I'm no expert on bitcoins, but I do know a thing or two about finance and economics, which doesn't really mean anything when it comes to virtual currencies.  At this point, I'm not sure I would even classify Bitcoins as a currency.  It's more like a commodity, and not a very useful one in everyday life since to spend Bitcoins, you need to find someone who will accept them in payment for something else, like bartering.  And the purpose of a currency is to create an efficiency in the market where buyers don't have to spend time looking for sellers who will accept what they have to trade.  And it seems that every transaction has to take into account the exchange value of the bitcoins into some other, more traditional currency.  I mean, how many bitcoins should I be willing to spend to buy, say, a car?  I don't know unless I know how many dollars I would spend on that car, and how many dollars I can get for my bitcoins.

But, let's just consider for a moment a world in which virtual currencies are the only currencies.  I use the plural since if bitcoins became that popular in use then someone else, probably lots of someone elses, would devise their own virtual currency.  From a market perspective, this might not be so bad since it would introduce competition where there doesn't seem to be much competition at all at the moment.  The system that is more secure, more anonymous, and more widely accepted wins.  But then, we aren't that much better off if there are a lot of choices for which currency to use.  Choices are normally considered good, but probably not so much when it comes to currency.

Anonymous transactions sound great, from an individual standpoint, since it may allow for tax free purchases, and even income tax free paychecks.  I'm all for tax cuts.  But, how does the government keep running?  Some people might think that it would be great if they didn't, or that it certainly wouldn't hurt much.  But, I suspect that there might be at least some good to keeping the government intact.  I'm just not going to go that far into it here.

In the end, bitcoin isn't really all that much different from gold, or some other commodity or currency for that matter that depends on someone else giving me at least the same value for whatever I'm giving them.  There is no "intrinsic value" to bitcoins just like there isn't an intrinsic value to any other currency.  It's value lies in the belief that someone else will give me a bitcoin of value for my bitcoin.  It is, in effect, fiat money, much like the dollar.  The only difference is that the government isn't in control of the supply.  Instead, it's business people who control it.  That somehow doesn't make me feel particularly good about it.

So, while I'm not a big fan of bitcoins, I'll be watching for new developments, for sure.  I really expect that government regulation is inevitable.  I don't care so much about that, though.  I just wish the government would butt out of my everyday life.