Thursday, December 21, 2006

Recent Education Recommendations 

Countries that do a good job of educating everyone to a high level by the end of high school typically delay education until after five, or delay regimentation until middle school.  The idea that we should start and end education earlier would simply allow corporations to have more people to use as productive capacity, while providing little in the way of rewards to citizens.  Although you can push young children to perform by throwing time and money at them, there is little relationship, at least in the US, with 12th grade outcomes.  I'd venture that the more you push them when they’re young, the less they'll do when they’re older.

Life isn't about working - obviously a value judgement - nor is education necessarily about acquiring skills for work.  Most children might enjoy playing a bit more, and in the process might wind up better educated.  Some adults, most even, might want to enjoy their lives a bit more, rather than getting on the work treadmill sooner, as well as develop knowledge of a less than commercial nature.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Religion and Science

Landes, a Havard economist, has argued that the rise of Europe was partially based upon the belief that the sciences improved religion, unlike much of the rest of the world, for which science was considered antogonistic. Newton, and many of the mathematically minded of his day, proved god by finding order in the universe. Einstein's statement that "God does not play dice...", has more to do with the concept of an ordered universe than any belief in God.

In comparison, think about the period of the Spanish Inquisition, which drove out much of Spain's intellectual capital and hastened its descent from empire. Italy persecuted the sciences; of note is Galilleo. The list goes on. Northern Europe's belief that science did not interfere with god allowed both to flourish, as opposed to much of the rest of the world, where science was suppressed to foster religion. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What Religion Are You?

Reading the science blogs, I came across someone writing about a test from BeliefNet, the Belief-O-Matic, which attempts to classify a person's beliefs into a religious grouping.  The results for my tests are below:
1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (99%)
3. Liberal Quakers (86%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (83%)
5. Nontheist (79%)

I would agree to my beliefs as matching the site's definition of Secular Humanism, but the test weights values as well, and assumes atheism has no particular humanitarian bent.  According to the weighting, my liberal and humanitarian values would classify me as fitting the more liberal religions.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Income Inequality in the U.S.

The old Ricardan idea that income inequality drives growth has already been debunked, but gets repeated as economists' dogma.  From numerous studies, income inequality correlates with lower growth, although the relationship is equivocal in the developed countries.  Using basic statistics on OECD data, one finds that the correlates of the GINI coefficient (high income inequality) are lower educational attainment, imprisonment, and worse health care outcomes.

It simply reflects the grotesque abuses of an unequal and plutocratic society, where those in power have decided to reward themselves most heavily.  In other words, the powerful keep all the rewards for themselves, while using economic ideology to justify their corruption and avarice.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are Mac Users Liberals?

I own an iMac, but also have PC for work.  I'm a programmer.  I've used supported, and deployed Windows application for years, but in 2002 I felt like I needed something aesthetically appealing, hence, my iMac G4, as well as something different, hence, OS X.  My next computer will be a 24" iMac.

My politics can be described as leftist, progressive, and very liberal.  I voted for Nader in 2004, and voted for the Natural Law Party in 2000.  I didn't vote the other day because I am registered to vote in Inwood (northwest Manhattan), although I now reside in Murray Hill (Midtown East).  Regardless, it didn't matter since I knew that the Democrats would take almost everything in New York.

As for Mac users leaning left, it is likely some degree true when you consider the demographic of a Mac user, educated and moderately affluent.  Also the creatives seem to be urban animals, and large cities are the hubs of liberal politics.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Problem: Career Women or Traditional Society

Societies that are more gender neutral tend to have better social outcomes for their participants, but the US was never one for equality, and certainly not since the religious right and the corporate plutocracy has taken hold.

I guess, the issue of men out-earning women is more likely a problem for a traditional couple, and the problem might be more related to women's independence than any problems caused by income disparities. I'm getting married in the next couple of months - we're both first time married in our mid-forties - and although I earn twice as much as my partner, she is more educated than I, we met when I was unemployed and making zilch. For myself, and I'm sure I have the material to argue for the improvement in one's quality of life (sexual satisfaction, income, etc) deriving from relationships with career women, a woman with a career seems a boon.

Anyway, the question I would pose, which seems to escape most, is to ask whether the problem is caused by a woman having a career or because it conflicts with traditional society.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Hideout of His Own

We often see articles bemoaning the feminization of men, but the real
problem is the cultural resistance to a more egalitarian culture.
Gender divided cultures in the developed world, such as our own, tend
to be economically unequal, overworked, and ill-educated. Within our
culture, masculine people, men and women, tend to be less-satisfied
with their sex lives, as well as tend to divorce more often. There
really isn't much to recommend the masculine lifestyle, and
alternatively, androgynous and feminine ones have much to offer to
both men and women.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why I am Anti-American

As an American, I feel fully justified in being anti-American. Most Americans have an unquestioned belief that America is a good place, but don't really compare it with the rest of the developed world. On average Americans are ...

  • stupider (PISA/TIMSS)
  • more often poor
  • incarcerated
  • shorter-lived (OECD)
  • longer-working (OECD)
  • economically unequal (OECD, Gini coefficient)

Add to this that America, the country, is one of the most violent, authoritarian countries in the world - most Americans believe that US foreign policy supports democracy, when in fact, it more often supports military and authoritarian governments - and that in and of itself justifies hatred of America, if not of Americans; a more thorough understanding of US history would conclude that the US is instrumental in creating the terrorist threat.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Death of Liberty After 9/11

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

If the World Were 100 People

There would be... 

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 from North and South America
8 Africans
52 would be female
48 would be male
70 would be non-white
30 would be white

59% of the entire world's wealth would belong to only 6 people
And all 6 people would be citizens of the United States
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death
1 would be near birth
1 would have a college education
And 1 would have a computer

-- W. H. Auden, "The Ascent of F6"

Acts of injustice done
between the setting and the rising sun
In history lie like bones,
each one.

-- W. H. Auden, "The Ascent of F6"

On Economic Liberalism

My own personal research on income inequality and growth shows and inverse relationship between inequality, human capital investment, and growth, but that human capital investment, for developing , countries, leads to both lowered income inequality and higher growth. Along these lines, Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize recipient in economics, writing in Development as Freedom, notes that one of the
flaws in India’s development is a lopsided focus on free markets, and while not a proponent of Chinese-style government, he notes that China has raised the base of human ability, and he forecasts some positives from this aim. He also writes about democracy, and that there are no famines in democracies. Together, this points to the value of free markets, but in those countries where there are large investments in raising the quality and ability of human capability. This seems equally true when one considers democracy and voting.

Negative Action

I would find it hard to even justify the support of big-time sports in college, let alone paying the students competing in them.

From The Game of Life, a review encompassing top-tier public and private school’s athletics:

  • Athletes have lower SAT scores and attain lower grades, and their involvement in sport does not justify their lower performance. Students with extracurricular activities attain higher grades while spending more time on those activities.

  • Most sports teams actually lose money, and although some schools earn money, many of those only seem to do so because the colleges and universities provide direct and indirect monetary support, either as funding for support activities, or by providing services directly.

  • Athletes give very little as alumni. A review of top donors would find high academic performers, those with incomes over $150,000, and those admitted as children of alumni, as the strongest contributors.

  • Additionally, removing support for athletics would not negatively effect minority enrollment.

Personally, I feel anger when I see that my alma mater, Rutgers University, expending so much energy on football and its ilk. The school’s money would be so much more effectively spent on academic activities, and I assume Rutgers’ slide in college rankings indicates the decreasing emphasis on the intellectual life that should be its
primary focus.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Three Scenarios of the Future

About two years ago, in 2003, The Brian Lehrer show asked listeners to send in three scenarios for the future, and I, along with many others, e-mailed Brian's show with our predictions. Although I hate to admit to having been wrong, it's obvious that my negative, dystopian vision is the scenario that triumphed. In my defense, the style that it was written in is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and that it expresses more optimism than an actual prediction.


The US population realizes that the Republican agenda only serves the wealthy and connected, so everyone votes for the Greens. We become a humane and educated civilization, focused on ridding the US of its evils, as well as working toward a more equitable society for all.


The Republican agenda becomes deeply ingrained, and besides US conquest of the world, the Bush administration formally implements a special incentive for economic growth - no taxes for the wealthy - amnesty for any CEO convicted of a crime, and classification as treasonous any criticism of the present administration.


The US population realizes the folly of the Republican agenda, its militarism and money-serving ideology, and proceeds to bypass major media and moneyed interests, to replace the Republican agenda with one more equitable and productive.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ceding the Moral High Ground

Occasionally, noted pundits claim the conservative movement is about values, but I believe almost all liberals are value driven, and this is particularly true among the far left - although often not Democrat-party aligned - but the American debate is typically, at best, practical and materialistic, so liberal values are often expressed as the positive ends of liberal policies. The reason that many of us have the concerns we have are that we have higher moral concerns, and as a rule, most of us are:

  • Against the war
  • Environmentally concerned
  • Humanitarian (gay rights, women's concerns, race issues)
  • Egalitarian (concerned with inequality, poverty, power abuses)

I could go on, but obviously liberals have taken a moral high ground, although some conservatives have taken an equivalent moral high ground, although many would disagree since the most vocal Republicans are by their nature of the low moral ground, e.g., only concerned with money and business.

Freakomonics - Vaunted but Flawed

Although I generally avoid books on the NY Times bestseller lists, my interest in economics and statistics led me to read Freakonomics. I found it an enjoyable, easy and quick read. Since my undergraduate was in lab psychology, I have strong abilities in economics, e.g., International Economics Honor Society member, and in finance, e.g., disturbed the curve in my first MBA-level course in finance and scored highest in large classes for tests of mathematics, the application of statistics and economics to social issues was both intriguing and something I did quite often. My own dabbling in such relationships finds interesting correlations between GINI coefficients, economics outcomes with various national cultural qualities.

As with The Bell Curve, the book was insightful and flawed, even more so than the former, since it often assumed correlation was causation, and the breadth of its tested variables was less than comprehensive.

Einstein: Atheist and Activist

Although most educated people are aware of Einstein's greatest equation, E=MC^2, few know of his intense social activism. In the creation of the myth of Einstein a belief in god is proposed, when in fact, Einstein was a humanitarian and an atheist.

Religion and Social Dysfunction

A recent article in the journal Religion and Society noted significant correlation between religiosity, as the percentage of the population believing in a god, and social dysfunction. How many honest and humane people wonder if America's extreme religious and rightist philosophy could have a positive social impact. I for one did.

That wonder has been laid to rest.

The Economics of Not So Innocent Fraud

I was doing a bit of research, and being obliged to truth, no matter how ugly, I decided to research some issues on political affiliation. Although I had at times read that education increased with Republican voting - an exit poll, a questionable source - I found a Pew study that showed income and Republican values go hand-in-hand. Although this seems commonsensical, it contradicted my sense that educated people are typically liberal, although IQ correlates with income at 0.3, a relatively low degree. Alternatively, the most educated people, i.e., professors, are more often affiliated with the Democratic party, rather than the Republican, by a 7 to 1 ratio.

Regardless, it did make me question myself, and I was reminded of Galbraith's The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth For Our Time, that many people in power, both corporate and political, believe in fallacies that are self-rewarding. For those that enjoy economics, the book is a very worthwhile but slender read.

Piracy versus Corporate Control - The Larger Issue

I have not followed this closely, and I do generally adhere to using purchased music only, although I will admit to pirating a few songs that were otherwise not easily available.

My concern is not with the issue of sharing licensed products, which really does seem like theft, but the egregious control exercised by corporations over patents and copyrights. As an educated person, you have likely noticed that corporate control over the US government has become contemptuously strong. The constriction of intellectual freedom is not inherently fair, and although stealing music seems inappropriate, one might consider it a growing rebellion against the age of corporate plutocracy. At one time, the law did allow one to copy media for personal use, even to transfer recordings to another person, provided it wasn't for money, so the idea that it is now wrong is at least partially the effect of corporate pressure and propaganda. It wasn't a crime until Congress made it one, after the issue had already been out for several years.

Power User View

I am a VBA programmer for Excel and Access on Windows, and my technical background includes stints as desktop/server support, project management, and departmental IT management, but all with Windows. Several years ago, before the switch ads, I purchased an iMac with OS X, partially for aesthetics and partially for novelty; I upgraded it to 1Gb RAM a few months ago. Counter to the hype, I would often hang my iMac, and although the software availability is greater for PC's, I've found Mac software much more appealing. Obviously I am not a gamer. My technical background means I have the knowledge required to secure a wireless network, setup firewalls, and avoid viruses/phishing, so my biggest issue with my iMac is speed in everyday use.

Generally, the Mac versus Windows debates hovers around several issues, e.g., ease of use, speed/power, installed base, total cost of ownership. There are others, but the reason that Intel in Mac matters is primarily power. The move to Intel reduces one of the largest single complaints about Mac's, that they are slow. Recent tests tend to show Windows outperforming Apple's PC's, even for vaunted design applications, and now with Intel processors inside, that criticism is muted. I think kudos should also be given for the ease at which they've ported/recompiled OS X on Intel. Since the base OS is UNIX, it might translate into easier upgrade paths for Mac OS X users, besides the increased power Mac users will enjoy. It has simply made a great product better.

No Mention of Intelligence or Poverty

Although many people are quick to point out the supposed benefits to religion, few people mention its relation to intelligence, or at least, lack thereof. Generally, the highly intelligent are not religious, and I have heard from some religious spokespeople, that their ranks are coming from the least intelligent. Considering America's dismal performance on international comparisons of academic abilities, i.e., TIMSS- 12th grade (near adult, when it really matters), one could wonder if the swing to the right had more to do with ignorance than with any supposed benefit.

From my own, non-academic, statistical analysis, educational performance seems to be related to levels of economic inequality, such that countries with higher Gini coefficients, measures of economic inequality, have lower TIMSS performance and lower IQ. The US has the highest Gini coefficient in the developed world. Additionally, you could recognize that religion is seemingly the salve to poverty. China's rural poor are turning to Falun Gong, and in some ways, something similar is happening here, such that the rural and economically disenfranchised are turning to god.

I have not vetted the following for veracity, but following are links supporting the the IQ correlation:

IQ by Religiosity (Country)

Intelligence and Religious beliefs - Studies (redundant)

Schwarzenegger versus Clinton

Women have often voted for males who were womanizers, Kennedy and Clinton, in particular.  But both were appealing, and certainly not abusive, unlike Schwarzenegger.  The crux of the difference, is that Arnold is a Republican, and the media is controlled by Republican interests.  Also, considering what seems to be a swing to traditionality, and some denigration of female style, a recent NY Times Week in Review article asked if the French were too feminine, implying that masculinity was required for preventing terrorism.

The Illusion of Wealth

I would find it hard to even justify the support of big-time sports in college, let alone paying the students competing in them.

From The Game of Life, a review encompassing top-tier public and private school’s athletics:

  • Athletes have lower SAT scores and attain lower grades, and their involvement in sport does not justify their lower performance.  Students with extracurricular activities attain higher grades while spending more time on those activities.
  • Most sports teams actually lose money, and although some schools earn money, many of those only seem to do so because the colleges and universities provide direct and indirect monetary support, either as funding for support activities, or by providing services directly.
  • Athletes give very little as alumni.  A review of top donors would find high academic performers, those with incomes over $150,000, and those admitted as children of alumni, as the strongest contributors.
  • Additionally, removing support for athletics would not negatively effect minority enrollment.

Personally, I feel anger when I see that my alma mater, Rutgers University, expends so much energy on football and its ilk.  The school’s money would be so much more effectively spent on academic activities, and I assume Rutgers’ slide in college rankings indicates the decreasing emphasis on the intellectual life that should be its primary focus.

A Response to Sanctions on Syria

Loretta Napoleoni, writing in Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks, details the financing behind terrorist organizations, little of which is state financed.  The fund-raising activities of such groups are often via goods and drugs smuggling, activities likely to flourish if the legitimate economy of Syria is sanctioned.  Sanctioning, which works among the developed economies of Europe and North America, is useless when dealing with developing and rogue states, and putative measures actually increase the potential activities for terrorist funding.  The current administration's attitude of confrontation and denial must give way to a more enlightened and effective style, utilizing coalition and aid, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of resistant group support.

What’s Going on with Reading?

Appreciation of reading, as well as education, isn't decreasing because parents aren't instilling an appreciation of it.  If one looked at the facts, one can see that young children do fine academically, but several studies, as well as research presented in Freakonomics, show that adolescent children are more influenced by their peers, and turn away from education as they enter junior high school.  Cutting through the self-important belief that parents, teachers, and schools matter, one sees that fourth graders are responsive to parental influences, but adolescents are primarily affected by their peers.

What's to blame?  I can offer several possibilities, one being the effects a grossly unequal society; high economic inequality correlates with low measures on tests comparing academic abilities between countries.  Why this is so is subtle, but it could relate to a culture which primarily appreciates education as a path to make money.  Other causes, include, a culture devoid of quality of life concerns, and one that values working, but not leisure.  Additionally, the push to regiment education in young children drives children away from education as they enter adolescence, such that increases in 4th grade academic performance are matched with decreases in eighth grade academic performance; American 12th grade performance, as compared internationally, is a joke.  And then there's explosion of media culture.

Like much of the focus on education in general, the root causes, hence, the provided solutions, are incorrect and inappropriate.

A Journey — if You Dare — Into the Minds of Silicon Valley Programmers

My responses in a NY Times comment section for the book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson ...