Bias of many types…and a walk

Today’s workout: end of “leisure” workout. I did my 8.1 cornstalk course in 2 hours (some rain…I didn’t get that wet) and then 2 more miles on the treadmill: 12:00/11:20 to get 23:20. I wanted to do at least a little faster than marathon pace.

RIP: BKS Lyengar, famous yogi and author of Light on Yoga.

Here he is in 1977 when he was in his late 50’s. What flexibility, strength, and body control!

Survivorship bias: this is the annoying tendency to see, say, a dozen successful companies, see what they have in common, and then conclude that what they have in common is what made them successful. Nope; you have to see how many companies did those same things and WERE NOT successful, among other things. From the article:

This is what Pomona College economist Gary Smith calls the “survivor bias,” which he highlights as one of many statistically related cognitive biases in his deeply insightful book Standard Deviations (Overlook, 2014). Smith illustrates the effect with a playing card hand of three of clubs, eight of clubs, eight of diamonds, queen of hearts and ace of spades. The odds of that particular configuration are about three million to one, but Smith says, “After I look at the cards, the probability of having these five cards is 1, not 1 in 3 million.” [...]

Smith found a similar problem with the 1982 book In Search of Excellence (more than three million copies sold), in which Tom Peters and Robert Waterman identified eight common attributes of 43 “excellent” companies. Since then, Smith points out, of the 35 companies with publicly traded stocks, 20 have done worse than the market average.

Depression I talked about depression in an earlier post. Here is some of what science knows about it right now:


See the subtle racism here? The idea is that this black Attorney General who has spoken out about race relations is somehow too “emotionally invested” or biased to be even handed. Why would a black Attorney General be any less evenhanded than a white one? And shouldn’t we be far more concerned with an Attorney General who did NOT see race relations as a problem?

Here: Kansas City police officer posts a snarky post about Michael Brown’s character (the dead teenager in Ferguson) and shows a photo of a young black man with a gun and money in his mouth. But this black man is some guy in Oregon…not Michael Brown. It is amusing that police officers everywhere are telling us to not to rush to judgement but… :-)

I suppose that given that we have 300+ million people in this country and a lot of police officers, a few are bound to be crackpots.

Racism in sports
Sadly, some African American athletes have racist stuff directed at them. Here is an example (Eddie Chambers, an elite boxer)

August 20, 2014 Posted by | boxing, racism, science, social/political, statistics, walking, yoga | , | Leave a comment

Sadly still relevant


August 19, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Comedy: John Oliver on Ferguson (Police militarization)

This is some of the best commentary that I’ve seen.

August 19, 2014 Posted by | humor, racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Why the Travon Martin case bothered me more than the Ferguson shooting case…

In the Travon Martin case, the kid was walking along when a thug and would be vigilante took it upon himself to hassle him. Had that idiot just minded his own business, Mr. Martin would be alive.

In the Ferguson case: sure, police misconduct is possible (likely?); but we don’t have all of the facts about the shooting.
But in this case, the person who was shot:

1. Robbed a store and intimidated the employee who attempted to stop him.
2. Openly defied the police when told to get on the sidewalk, and then scuffled (at least) with the officer.

Now, of course, neither of the above points excuses the police shooting him while he was not threatening anyone…IF that was the case. I am wondering: where was the taser?

But in the Ferguson case, the dead young man would still be alive had he not broken the law and acted like a thug.
In the Martin case, it was a thug doing the killing.

I suppose that I can relate to being the victim in the Martin case but not so much in the Ferguson case.

Ironically, this case is seen as being racial by more people than the Martin case, though this might be a result of the “after the fact” protests.

And when it comes to the police response to the protesters, I can relate more to the protesters than the police. This is NOT the case with the looters; the looters are opportunistic sociopaths.

August 18, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Yes, we should hold our police accountable, but they are far from the biggest threat…

Yes, I share the concern about the over militarized police (as expressed by this retired police officer)

And yes, credible accusations that a police officer shot and killed someone attempting to surrender should be taken seriously and investigated in a dispassionate manner.

And of course, there is a big problem when the police, who are supposed to be there to serve the citizenry, has poor relations with a large subpopulation of citizens.

But when it comes to the killing itself, well, Eugene Robinson claims that our outrage is selective, and he has a point.

Our population is about 62.6 percent white (non-Hispanic) and 13.2 percent black.

But look at the murder rates: (via the FBI)

Screen shot 2014-08-17 at 7.21.24 PM

Blacks are much more likely to be murdered than whites, and are more than TWELVE times as likely to be murdered by another black than by a white (whites are “only” 5.9 times more likely to be murdered by another white than by a black. )

What about law enforcement? We don’t have up to date data nor is it broken down by race, but look at the numbers that we do have:

Screen shot 2014-08-17 at 7.26.21 PM

Deaths due to “justified” homicide by law enforcement are dwarfed by the murder rates, regardless of race.

Again, this is not an argument that law enforcement treats everyone equally. I believe that minorities (especially African Americans) aren’t treated as well. And non-lethal mistreatment by law enforcement really sucks; remember they are supposed to be there to PROTECT us.

But being shot by the police is not nearly the biggest threat to life that anyone has (regardless of race); the sociopaths are far more dangerous.

Now one can argue (as Stephen Pinker does in Better Angels of our Nature) that the higher murder rate is due, in part, to the black population being underserved. For example, if someone steals something from me and I know the thief, I’ll file a police report and probably take it to court. But residents in poorer areas have far less confidence that their complaints would be taken seriously, hence “taking the law into their own hands”.

August 18, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Ferguson: why I despise people (ok, not really)

Let me make this clear: humans can be pretty awesome. For example: I am typing this on a computer. That took people doing the basic science, people doing the engineering, people doing the building and construction, and technicians keeping it all running. People create roads, build buildings, deliver the goods, invent medicines and deliver their benefits to all of us.

While the basic discoveries are made by the oh-so-rare geniuses, the discoveries still have to be engineered into something useful, then it has to be built and maintained, and all the while others need to get the basic necessities of life to allow for genius to flourish. And that is just a small bit of it; this is what I can conjure up during my current episode of disgust with the human race.

So about that disgust:

1. The police, apparently (still need evidence) shot someone who wasn’t directly threatening them or others AT THAT TIME. There may well have been a scuffle prior to that.

2. On the other hand, there appear to be an attempt to lionize the shooting victim. Evidently, this victim was far from a virtuous citizen:

This happened just prior to the guy getting shot. This is thuggery, period.

3. The local population (and then others) protested the police actions. I can understand that. However, there was looting.

Let’s make this clear: the looters were sociopaths who were taking advantage of opportunities. The protesters were taking a stand on principle. These are mostly two different populations; in fact, some stood guard against the looters. Shamefully, some have attempted to excuse the looting.

4. The police using the SWAT team stuff was shameful; that just inflamed things. I consider the initial law enforcement response to the protests to be incompetent.

Unfortunately, these are precisely the sort of situations when humans act tribally: the police shot and killed someone who (apparently) wasn’t a threat; that is clearly wrong EVEN if, say, this was a criminal attempting to surrender. On the other hand, many victims of police brutality are not good citizens, some indeed are thugs. The story “I’ve got a great kid but I don’t know if the police (or police wannabes) are going to kill him” simply doesn’t apply here. This is NOT a Trayon Martin case (where a kid was minding his own business where he was a accosted by a thug).

The looters are sociopaths and not victims, and yet some want to conflate them with the protesters. The latter group are acting with virtue; the looters are merely crooks.

5. On the other hand, some stubbornly deny that African Americans (and to a lesser extent, Hispanics) are treated differently by law enforcement. I don’t see how anyone can claim that but you hear it…and when you point this out, you are accused of “playing the race card.”

6. And, well, though I am not black, let’s just say that I become VERY docile around law enforcement, especially when they pull me over. Though this is bitter public commentary disguised as humor, well, there is a kernel of truth here too (obey the law, be polite, pull over immediately) . If you get aggressive with police, well, expect to lose some teeth. Show some sense people!

Oh well; I suppose that civilization is a hard thing for we humans to master.

August 16, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , , , | 1 Comment

A local perspective on Ferguson…

Brother Peacemaker is one of my regular reads. He lives in the St. Louis area and grew up within 6 miles (10 km) of the trouble area.
I especially value his writing because he is a computer person with a mathematics degree; hence he writes with a clarity of logic that I find appealing.

I highly recommend reading his take on Ferguson (and other incidents); he puts in a bit of background that I didn’t find in other articles.

August 15, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Stereotypes: what it like to see them

A long time ago, my wife took a trip to India. I had joked that India must be a land of people walking around with smart phones and laptops; after all, most of the Indians that I see are either business owners, medical doctors, engineers or professors.

Of course, India has quite a bit of poverty and illiteracy and my emotional reaction comes from the professionals that I see in the United States. I know that my eyes and emotions are lying to me.

And that brings me to this photo. I am no. 25, in the center. Yeah, I made an “attitude” pose, but in reality, I usually had more fouls that points during a game. I was pretty bad. :-)

But this is why I posted this: I am current Facebook friends with nos. 1, 22, and 5. 5 is Steve. He told me that he had a copy of this photo on his desk and one of his IRL remarked that we “had a lot of Asians” on the team.

Now this wasn’t a surprise; we were a team consisting of military and civilian defense worker dependents at Tachikawa Air Force base, which was about 40 miles outside of Tokyo, Japan. Many of the players had a Japanese parent; and though I did not, I too am a bit of a genetic “mutt”.

I was in 8’th grade at the time, and was to go to 9’th grade and part of 10’th in Japan. And yes, many of my schoolmates had Japanese ancestry, on at least one side of the family.

So….imagine my surprise later in life when I learned of the stereotype of “Asians are good at math.” (see: 22 seconds)

I never grew up with that. :-)

Oh sure, in graduate school, there were a LOT of Asian graduate students and some who did very well. But I never made that connection in my heart, so to speak.

I remember one of my Chinese grad school friends telling me “yes, Americans should know that there are plenty of stupid Chinese; you just aren’t seeing them in graduate school in mathematics!” I had to laugh.

And I can honestly say this after having taught college level mathematics for more than a quarter of a century: mathematical ability (and lack thereof) comes in ALL colors attained by humans; it is literally impossible for me to just see a student and tell if they are good at math or bad at it.

Now, if you are going to get on me for being too PC and ignoring things like Bayesian reasoning and statistical distribution of college entrance exam scores, remember that I am talking about the students that *I see in my classroom*; they have already passed through a sieve of some sort. I AM being honest and making no effort to be “PC”.

August 2, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | | 2 Comments

Interesting take on the recording of Donald Sterling’s racist thoughts…

While Mr. Sterling’s thoughts were reprehensible, this “recording without his knowledge” may have been a crime. And we are entitled to some privacy of what we say in private, are we not?

After all, isn’t there value in discussing our dark side with a trusted friend?

Marc Randazza discusses this at CNN.

I was alerted to this via his blog, which is well worth reading.

May 2, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Donald Sterling and being around black people

Mano Singham has an interesting take on Donald Sterling and his owning an NBA team:

On NPR this morning an analyst said that what was more interesting to explore than the racist comments was the contradiction between Sterling’s disdain for black people and the fact that his girlfriend is half black and half Mexican and that his players are majority black.

There is no contradiction. The idea that there is one stems from the misperception that racists avoid being near the people they dislike. To say that Sterling is a contradiction is say that the ante-bellum plantation owners who had racist views yet had black servants and slept with some of them were contradictions. In reality, it is perfectly consistent and all about demonstrating one’s power over people. What could be more satisfying to a racist than ‘owning’ someone, literally in the past and quasi-metaphorically now in the relationship between athletes and team owners in professional sports.

Racists have no problem with being in close proximity to those whom they think are inferior, as long as the latter know their proper place. In fact, you need them around in order to demonstrate your superiority. Sterling is in fact remarkably ordinary in this regard.

Now, I am not saying that they aren’t groups of people that I dislike; I certainly do. But I’d rather not associate with them…at all.
I suppose that I understand that I am not fundamentally “better” than those I dislike; I just don’t enjoy being around them.

April 30, 2014 Posted by | racism, social/political | | Leave a comment


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