Spring Semester 2018: about to start and…

Ok, some academic stuff is on my mind…not all of it serious.

I just finished the book The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein (New York Times book review is here). It talks about the issues involving K-12 teaching from the founding of the country up until the later years of the Obama administration, and ends with an epilogue which has some interesting suggestions.

What I was struck by is how many of the current issues we are having really have been around for a long time. Controversies: how educated should the teachers be? (and yes, often, they were not and still are not “the brightest”) How well paid should they be? (missionaries or well paid professionals?) How should teachers be evaluated?(whims of the administrators, local school boards/parents, “value added test them to death?, “peer review”?) How should teachers be obtained and trained (converts? straight from teacher education programs?) What should be emphasized? (academic stuff, or “being a good citizen”) When it comes to who is best for a certain group of students: teachers who know how to control a class room but have poor mastery of the academic material?

Obviously, a thorough study would have to be volumes of very big books, and this is just one 280 page one, but IMHO, well worth reading. Bottom line: it was not necessarily “better back then”, at least not in every aspect.

The tough social issues (racism, sexism, the feminization of the teaching profession) are not dodged.

Current academia
Yes, there has been quite a bit of “mission creep” in academia. The number of administrators have gone up over the years I’ve been teaching at the college level, and so has the number of “very important issues” that the “professors have to be educated on”. And there are have been trends such as “assessment”, and yes, these new duties (piled on top of the old ones) really do not add a thing to student learning. And there is the old “do more with less” mentality which tends to spread us a bit thin.

Here is a small thing: I teach mathematics and yes, that means I don’t have to grade a ton of essays. That means that adding a couple of extra students to my section doesn’t increase my work load that much. But you can increase the class size to the extent that one never gets to know any of them and leads to a more “assembly line” type of class, at least for the larger sections.

And what makes it very though is a wide variation between the student abilities in a given class: a 2 standard deviation in the math ACT of a given section can make it difficult to keep the better students interested while not blowing away the lower end of the class. (and yes, the ACT is reasonably predictive).

Math related humor

I chuckled when I saw this posted in a science group:

Now I can say that even the most dedicated, hetero male mathematicians love women but yes, mathematicians tend to see mathematical patterns in many (all?) places.

Riddle me this: Many years ago, I met a girl in high school that I was sweet on; this was in one of those 1 week summer camps. Once she wore tight pants and showed panty lines that looked a bit like …well…this.

(this isn’t her; this photo was taken from cheekygenie)

And..of course I liked them…but I also thought of a mathematical graph: of a branch of the secant function!

Of course, a parabola is really a better fit.

Workout notes: this one didn’t go well…I was thinking about running 10K but..on the track..I resorted to 2 miles of “jog a lap, walk a lap” then “jog 2 laps, walk a lap” and that workout took..28 minutes! The second mile, though it included more jogging, was the same time as the first. Then I walked 2 more miles in 27:36 (yes, my “all walking” pace was faster than my “walk/jog” warm up) then 2.2 more miles on the treadmill (every 2 minutes: .5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, then .5 miles at 6, .6 at 5 (to 2.1) then .1 at 0.5; total time was just under 32 minutes for 2.21 miles of hill walking)

So, bad day, but still 10K. The body is sputtering a bit; the old “cold as hell outside but I gave blood” bit. It is almost as if I have a mild cold, sans the cough, runny nose, blah, blah.


January 17, 2018 Posted by | books, education, mathematics, running, spandex, walking | , , | Leave a comment

SJWs and Alt-right: two sides of the same ignorant coin?

Like many, I’ve been wondering “how did Trump ever get elected” and I’ve considered the factor that “maybe Trump was a pushback against political correctness” conjecture.

And I asked myself “what role might I have played in this”?

Now don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of people who would have supported Trump “no matter what” and it is difficult, if not impossible, to convert a conservative into a liberal. Genes are in play here.

But..does it appear that liberals, in an attempt to be “fair” to minority groups with less power, refuse to acknowledge tough truths? I had very similar questions along those lines 35-40 years ago! (yes, I can recommend the book Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond)

But yes, I’ve seen justice minded liberals deny facts that they don’t like. Here is an excellent example of that (denying crime statistics)

Don’t like a statistic: say it is false and call it XXX-ist!

Another example: take the issue of race and IQ.
Fact: in the US, different racial groups score differently (e. g., Mexicans score lower than non-hispanic whites)
Fact: IQ IS relevant (albeit imperfect) in terms of measuring intelligence (yes, I know; it is a 1 dimensional measure of a complicated thing, but it is meaningful; e. g. someone with an IQ of 95 won’t be an engineer or lawyer (statistically))
Fact: intelligence, or the potential for intelligence, is heritable.

So what happens: the alt-right people improperly combine these facts to argue that, say, in a meritocracy, you’d expect Mexicans to do worse than whites (as a group). You see: as a group, Mexicans just aren’t smart enough to compete and only affirmative action, which gives unfair advantages, can make things look a bit more level.

The SJW liberals don’t like the conclusion that Mexicans are inferior so they deny one or more of the above facts! Reason: they believe that if the above facts are true (and they are), the conclusion that Mexicans are inferior would be correct!

That is, the SJWs and the alt-right agree on the logic; they don’t accept the same facts.

(disclaimer: I am Mexican and, no I don’t feel that we are inferior in any way)

The problem is not with the “facts” but on how you use the facts. To see what is going on, see this article in, of all places, The American Conservative.

TL;DR argument: the potential for intelligence is determined by genes. This is individual. Example: there is nothing anyone could have done to make me as smart as Steven Hawking. But outside forces effect gene expression (say: fetal alcohol syndrome). So if a group of people lives in worse circumstances (say, inferior nutrition, prenatal care, early childhood education), that could well show up in the group IQ measurements and that can change with time (as it did with the East German/West German example).

So, the “group mean IQ being low means that group is inferior” is not a valid conclusion.

But the denying of facts never helps.

We are seeing something like that going on with the reaction to a Steven Pinker video.

The 8 minute video is worth watching: (I got this from Jerry Coyne’s website)

I can see the the effect on bright students. They go through their educations and are either never told relevant facts, or told that these facts are wrong and believing those facts is xxx-ist. They then find out that those facts are, well, facts…and the student feels betrayed and lied to (and rightfully so).

Rule of thumb: do not rule out a hypothesis because it “fees bad”.

And by the way: the above is what I mean about “political correctness”. Political correctness is not “basic politeness”, as some claim.

By the way, read Pinker’s book Blank Slate.

January 14, 2018 Posted by | books, politics/social, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Trump, sleaze and a changing presidency?

I am having a belly laugh over the popularity of the Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury. No, I don’t see the book as especially credible (the author doesn’t have a reputation of accuracy and the content appears to be mostly gossip) and it is my guess that the author wrote it for the money (and it is working, though Wikileaks has published the pdf of the book online).


1. Trump has not reacted well to the book and is drawing well deserved ridicule for his reactions.

2. Trump has achieved much of his political success by doing exactly what the book is doing to him! Isn’t that ironic?

What can I say…maybe that is the way the game is played these days? Figure out who your opponents are and then try to slime them with any sleaze you can make up?

There is a long term downside though. I remember when Blagojevich ran for reelection as Illinois governor. I am embarrassed to say that I voted for him. Oh, I heard the criticisms but I dismissed them as partisan sleaze …and I had no idea these criticisms, this time, were the truth! So, I’ll do my part and try to keep my criticisms principled (and yes, temperament and deportment are qualifications for the office, IMHO).

And has Trump really changed the nature of the presidency? Yes, I like thoughtful presidents (Obama, Clinton, the first Bush) but Trump appears to be a lazy figurehead who runs his mouth but runs little else.
Now some liberals are touting …Oprah??? OMFG. Yes, she certainly won’t be any worse than the conman we have in office right now..and she is rich, popular and knows the “show-biz” game inside and out.

But at this rate, we’ll find our office of the Presidency reduced to something symbolic…and this makes Congress more important than ever.

January 8, 2018 Posted by | books, politics/social, social/political | | Leave a comment

White Rage by Carol Anderson

I bought this book on a whim (while browsing through a book store). And while I think that this review is a fair one (the author is more of an advocate than scholar in the book, and a couple of conclusions are speculative, at best), I am glad that I read it.

First for the claims: I was skeptical about the claim that the “absent black fathers” was “debunked”. However, the book contains many resources and I can say that such a “bumper sticker claim” about black fathers is way too simplistic; the actual situation is far more complicated. I highly recommend surfing to this well researched, very even handed Daily Kos article referenced by the text.

And while it is undeniably true that the Contras in Nicaragua were financed, in part, by drug money from the United States and that our government was well aware of this, claiming that the crack epidemic was deliberately created by our government (to provide a funding source for the Contras) strains credibility.

However there is much in the book that is all too credible and informative. The stories about what happened to black families that attempted to move into white neighborhoods in northern states was disgusting and heart breaking.

The author takes our society to task for huge educational gaps that are in place, largely due to underfunding mostly black school districts (not only in the south) and our federal government’s indifference to it, even while extra emphasis was placed on education for everyone else during the “Sputnik scare” era.

Some of this, I knew. But what I found out is that my civil rights history education is inadequate; I basically leaned this stuff at a high school/college freshman level and no further.
Here is one example: I knew about the marches, boycotts, sit ins and some of the famous court cases. What I didn’t know was the very well thought out strategy that the NAACP used with regards to education: they said “ok, you say separate but equal”, ok, we will go along. Now you have to prove “equal”” and of course, it was NOT equal…not even close. And the NAACP could prove it in court..and it was economically impossible to set up two equal systems of education. That put the segregationists in a bind; some took extreme steps of shutting down their public education system completely. But overall, the NAACP prevailed.

So, this book was part of a much needed “education refresher” for me.

One other note: the book embarrassed me a bit. My feeling is that, well, anti-black prejudice is due to perceived black underachievement (that is, poor blacks are hated because they are poor). It turns out, well, a lot of people really do not like black people, matter how how successful.

January 4, 2018 Posted by | books, politics, politics/social, racism, social/political | Leave a comment

What Happened by Hillary Clinton: my take

The tl;dr take:

1. This won’t change your mind about Hillary Clinton. If you despised her before, you’ll feel the same way after the book. If you loved her before, you’ll still love her. If you thought “ok, decent policy wonk but not really charismatic”, well, you’ll leave this book with the same opinion.

2. I was disappointed: I expected it to be more of “I should have opened X field offices in Pennsylvania and spent Y in ads in Wisconsin” and perhaps a bit more introspection. There was some introspection, but it was scattered throughout. On the other hand, I did learn that what sort of breakfast egg dishes she likes, that she likes an occasional hamburger, that she likes kids, that Justice Ginsberg does planks twice a week and yes, that she (Hillary Clinton) wears yoga pants. Seriously (page 19 for the yoga pants mention)

3. I’d say that about 2/3 of the book is worth reading. The best section is the one called Frustration, which features the 5 chapters Country Roads, Those Damn Emails, “Trolls, Bots, Fake News and Real Russians”, Election Night, Why. I was expecting most of the book to be like this section. It did give a nice summary of the issues of e-mails, Russian meddling, how the press handled things and some of the prevailing headwinds. The chapter “Sweating the Details” in the section “Sisterhood” is good too. And she flat out admitted that much of the country simply does not like her.

4. I’d say that she is finished running for elective office; she really did burn some bridges and say a few things sans a politician’s filter. Here is a beauty: (page 276; she is describing people in Appalachia)

But anger and resentment do run deep. As Appalachian natives such as author J. D. Vance have pointed out, a culture of grievance, victimhood, and scapegoating has taken root as traditional values of self-reliance and hard work have withered. There’s a tendency toward seeing every problem as someone else’s fault, whether it’s Obama, liberal elites in the big cities,
undocumented immigrants taking jobs, minorities soaking up government assistance–or me.

5. And yes, about the “basket of deplorables” remark: she admits that it was a political mistake to make that statement, but she stands by the actual logic of the statement (about half of the Trump supporters fall into that category). Actually, I do too, but it is an interesting statement to least from a politician not named “Trump”.

6. Oh yes, she really doesn’t like Trump. She does take shots at Sanders, Comey, the press, etc. But she really doesn’t like Trump.

7. Above all, this book is, without apology, aimed mostly at women; I’d say at educated, upper middle class women.

More detail: the book is not a linear time progression. It starts out describing the inauguration and her decision to attend (later to go home and put on a fleece top and yoga pants). Chronologically, it skips around quite a bit.

Much of the early part of the book is a bit like NBC’s Olympic coverage: human interest stuff (what she eats, when she wakes up, day to day stuff…kids, grand kids, relations between her staff, etc.).

She does get onto issues, including Black Lives Matter, Mothers of the Movement (black victims of gun violence), Police (yes, she talks about the massacre of police officers), climate change, and the lead in the Flint water supply (and wonders if advocating for poor blacks in Flint cost her votes in Michigan). She also talks about NATO and some of the complexities of foreign policy.

She does have some beefs though:

1. Press coverage. They seemed to be fixated on her e-mail problems (way overblown) and that ate up much of her press coverage; it hurt her ability to talk about issues. It also blotted out coverage about other things, such as he bus tour. She also pointed out that Trump appeared to send the press a “new rabbit to chase” almost daily; that appeared to keep the press from drilling down on his honest to goodness issues.

2. Russian interference: she goes into this in detail; the main issue is not only did they hack into the DNC and into her Podesta’s e-mails, but they also strategically planted fake news and gamed the social media and search engine algorithms so that these stories appeared on the feeds of likely undecided voters living in battleground states.

3. Bernie Sanders: she took shots at his unrealistic “we could have this or that” claims and ridiculed the idea that if we could somehow just get the PACs out of business, his proposals would be popular NATIONWIDE; he seemed to disregard regional differences in attitudes. She resented the implication that she was somehow crooked.

4. She flat out admit that the history of “Clinton scandals” (mostly untrue) dogged her and made people ready to believe new “non-scandals” about her. And on page 399

Moreover I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people–millions and millions of people, decided they just didn’t like me.


5. Introspection: she said that she should have not used the line “we are going to put a lot of coal miners out of work” even though it was quoted out of context.

Here are her full remarks, with the most relevant parts in bold:

Look, we have serious economic problems in many parts of our country. And Roland is absolutely right. Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities.

So for example, I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

So whether it’s coal country or Indian country or poor urban areas, there is a lot of poverty in America. We have gone backwards. We were moving in the right direction. In the ’90s, more people were lifted out of poverty than any time in recent history.

Because of the terrible economic policies of the Bush administration, President Obama was left with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and people fell back into poverty because they lost jobs, they lost homes, they lost opportunities, and hope.

So I am passionate about this, which is why I have put forward specific plans about how we incentivize more jobs, more investment in poor communities, and put people to work.

She did discuss her “basket of deplorables” remark on page 413 and noted that she wasn’t talking about all Trump supporters but “about half of them”. She then goes on to provide data (from polls) regarding the attitudes of Trump supporters to back up her claim of accuracy!

She does not pull punches about those who overlooked some of Trump’s ugly statements either.

Getting back to introspection: she acknowledges that perhaps, when listening to angry voters, she jumped straight to proposed solutions instead of listening to the venting to assure the voter that she “got” and “felt” the depth of their anger and pain …first.

6. Resentments: I’ve discussed her stated, well resentments about some of Trump’s supporters. She also took shots at “my way or the highway” activists, shots at those who attempted to “disrupt” her rallies (she made a point to put the word in italics (page 203). About the woman’s marches: she approved of them but wondered where that passion was during the election itself and why some did not vote. She resented Sander’s bumper sticker depth of policy, the press, the timing of the Comey letter (which probably DID cost her the election), the Electoral College and…

7. Being a woman: I’d say that the underlying thread of her book is about being a female and the disadvantages that brings from sexism (e. g. her being a female is one reason to be against her), misogyny (on page 114-115 she explains the difference between the two). She complains about the extra time a woman (in the public eye) has to spend on make up. And yes, she acknowledges that she lost the white women’s vote and especially the non-college educated white woman’s vote.

8. Yes, she discusses race and thinks that she did suffer some backlash from those who resented having a black president for 8 years.

9. She did discuss campaign strategy just a bit and pushed back on the narrative that she didn’t campaign enough in the former “blue wall” rust belt states.

Clearly, there is much more in the book than what I said, but hopefully, you’ll get a sense of whether you want to read it or not.

Update: here is a fact check of her book (it comes out pretty well) She also mentions a Facebook meme that I not only saw but passed around (Bernie and the pony) and a Facebook group that I belonged to (Pantsuit Nation).

December 24, 2017 Posted by | 2016, books, hillary clinton, politics, politics/social, social/political | | Leave a comment

Longish run/walk and Bishop Spong…


I started this run/walk 45 minutes later than planned because I had to scramble to find my winter stuff. It was 27 F a the start! It then warmed into the mid to upper 30’s and there wasn’t much wind. So the day it self was sunny and pleasant.

The workout went fine, though I was disappointed in my return leg: 1:31 out, 1:33 back; both times via Tower Park and the Goose loop. The way back is downhill and I like to do that faster than the way out. Not today; I got very sore and heavy legged. I did run sort of hard on Thursday though.

There were other runners out; one lady told me that she knocked off 18 miles; I also saw Mat.

I finished with a slowish 3 mile cool down walk; that felt a lot like what one feels during an ultra walk.

Later: Barbara took me to Indian buffet and then to the UU Church to hear a lecture by Bishop Spong. He was an entertaining enough speaker and he gave some Bible basics. Most of what he talked about can be found in Rogerson’s book in greater detail. I can recommend the lecture part; he IS worth seeing.

The “questions” session was ..well, what one would expect: a forum for the lonely to have a captive audience. πŸ™‚ Here Bishop Spong got a bit out of his element; there is far more to Trump than “white male anger” (try: economics). In fact, I’d defy someone to name a constituency that is NOT angry. Everyone is angry and only OUR anger is justified. πŸ™‚

He also talked about his “word salad” deity concept; that was rather hollow and unconvincing. Interestingly enough, Spong emphasized the Jewishness of the Gospels and mentioned that the idea of God was that “there is neither Jew nor Greek…” Interestingly, I think that Jews are as exclusive as anyone else; the Jewish Bible is full of stories of Jews killing others for worshiping other deities.

April 9, 2016 Posted by | books, religion, social/political, walking | | Leave a comment

Welcome to 2016!

Workout notes: 8.3 course in 1:31:10 (about 1:30 slower than last week; but it was 24 F (12 F colder) and I ran a reasonably tough 8 two days ago). I was 43:49 at Heading, 1:22, 46:06 for the last 4+ (10:00 from the Park exit to home).

There were some trees down: a big one that I ran under and a smaller one I ran around (on the way up from the bridges to Cornstalk) and one I stepped over on the way down from Cornstalk to the lower park entrance.


I didn’t feel that good until mile 3 or so.

Then we got take out from Jerusalem restaurant and Tracy came over to watch Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.


Though ND moved it well, at times, they were outclassed 44-28. Ohio State had it all: running, short passing, deep threat. But ND didn’t embarrass themselves the way that Iowa is doing in the Rose Bowl (down 35-0 to Stanford at the half).

My goal for 2016: aside from my usual “one marathon or longer” goal, I’ll need to get to work on professional stuff. I don’t want to stagnate. I’ve got 3 ideas to work on, and I need to do it next week. One idea will just result in a dumb blog post that might help with calculus teaching; one will be an exploration of a “long shot” idea and the third is the mostly likely to pay off as a research paper.

Also, I want to read more books; I have one that I want to finish and I need to read some more substantial stuff. My brain is getting lazy.

January 1, 2016 Posted by | books, Friends, mathematics, running | Leave a comment

Reaction to Trump: It isn’t mere bigotry ….

Workout notes Though I got some very good news on the personal front yesterday, I am still having trouble sleeping. As of right now, it has not affected my physical abilities.

But I got to the weight room early: 5 sets of 10 pull ups, rotator cuff exercises
incline: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 8 x 150 (strong).
dumbbell bench press: 10 x 70
dumbbell military press: 2 sets of 12 x 50 (seated, supported), 1 set of 10 x 40 standing.
dumbbell row: 10 x 70, 2 sets of 10 x 50.

abs: 2 sets of 12 twist crunches, 2 sets of 10 yoga leg lifts, moving bridge recoveries.

Swim: warm up 100’s: 8 x 100 on the 2, 200 (leaky goggle stop), 6 x (50 drill, 100 swim), 100 pull, 150 back, 2 x 25 fly.
Weight: 183 after swimming.

Donald Trump, Muslims and bigotry

Let me make this clear: I find nothing positive about Mr. Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims coming to America”. But it appears that Mr. Trump “not caring” about what the “politically correct” critics are saying is playing well.

Now many have said that this is because the people who support Mr. Trump are bigots. Now true, *some* are. But I’d like to propose something else, and I am not talking about “fear”. After all, I have more to worry about from a drunk or texting driver or a garden variety mugger than I do from a terrorist. The statistics are clear on that.

I think it is more this: when one thinks of “Muslims” overseas wanting to come here, these are the images that come to mind:



Hey, if “they” hate the USA and they don’t like free speech, why do they want to come here?

And there is this:

The values of the Muslims in these videos ARE incompatible with American values!

Do you want to see people rioting over cartoons? Do you want to see clerics issuing a call for someone to be murdered for writing a book? I sure as hell don’t want that here.

So yes, on the whole..on a world wide basis, Islam DOES have a major problem with these issues. To not admit as much is to be dishonest.

Nevertheless, that might not apply to those who want to come HERE. After all, we have Muslim neighbors and coworkers who are working hard and contributing to society, and we should welcome even more like these.

I think that the issue is that humans are emotional and our minds make very quick, crude approximations. After all, a Muslim in Turkey or Indonesia might not have that much in common with a Shiite Persian mullah or some Sunni from Saudi Arabia. People wanting to come to the US should be judged on a case by case basis, with no religious test applied.

And as far as Muslims in the US: the issue is complex. I can recommend the book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam written by Professor Akbar Ahmed (he spoke at Bradley University a few years ago; we was a guest of the Muslim Student group on campus). It is well researched, well written and unflinchingly honest.

December 9, 2015 Posted by | books, swimming, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

Racism: difficult subject to discuss honestly

The recent events involving the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement has put the issue of racism on my mind. It is not my intent to comment on the Ferguson or on the Staten Island deaths but to talk about racism in general. One can find data here.

But racism is a very hard topic to discuss (as Attorney General Holder pointed out) for many reasons. One reason, of course, is that there is a fear that saying the “wrong” thing can have catastrophic consequences; even a Harvard Ph. D. and a Nobel Laureate scientist can get taken down. So, it sure appears that some dialogues consist of someone in authority posturing about how super ethical and non-racist they are.

I went to one “Day of Dialogue” (perhaps 15-18 years ago) and my break out group included a Dean, who mostly bloviated on and on about how wonderful his department was. Talk about a waste of time.
And to many, what passes for public discussion on race is really just…well, liberal propaganda:

It’s obvious that there is no real race dialogue. The black community is rather monolithic in its repeating of liberal thoughts. The white community is split between liberal and conservative. Sixty percent of white America is somewhat conservative.
Black and white liberals agree with each other. If there is to be a real race dialogue, I believe it has to be between the black community and white conservatives.
The more conservatives are maligned or threatened, the farther away they will move. Their wealth goes with them. District 150 is a perfect example. It is incumbent on the black community to be reaching out to them. If I’m drowning, I can’t wait for a hand to show up. My hand has to go up and hope someone is there.
I envision a real race dialogue occurring between these two groups, who have the same Creator. There is one common denominator between the two β€” the church. White sitting next to black and not debating, not trying to win but simply be heard. The main obstacle right now is everyone is preaching to their own choir. We need to listen to each other.

Note: this guy isn’t the most articulate person, but I believe he represents a widely held point of view.

Another difficult thing is that racism is often equated with hate. I am sure that some of it IS a distrust of “the other”; after all, 50,000 years ago, we may well have been fighting with other tribes and bands over that life saving water hole or hunting ground. I can easily see some xenophobia coming from our hard wiring (which does NOT mean that we shouldn’t work to overcome it…we should!)

However I think that it is entirely possible that at least some racism is NOT driven by hate but rather by our tendency to think inductively. Humans tend to go by what they see, and our views tend to be local. I’ll give you some examples:

Say “Indian” and I tend to think of a merchant, a medical doctor or engineer; my vision of India is a country where everyone walks around with laptops. Of course, that is wildly untrue; what has happened is that the Indians I’ve encountered have all been professionals; many are highly intelligent and intellectually accomplished.

Say “Asian” and what do you think? Many think “excellence in engineering and mathematics”; witness this spoof (0:20-0:22)

I still remember my Chinese office mate at the University of Texas telling me “you know, there are a lot of stupid people in China! Really, we have stupid people too!”. That is why some of the scenes in the book/film The Sand Pebbles (Richard McKenna’s book) in which the (white) American sailors thought that the Chinese were too stupid to understand the basics of engineering struck me as very…odd.

Now think “typical NBA” or “typical NFL” player and you’d probably conjure up a black guy. Yes, 68 percent of the NFL is black, and 78 percent of the NBA is black. From that, one might (erroneously) conclude that the average black male is significantly stronger and more physically dangerous than other males of the same age which can lead to catastrophic interactions with the police in the event of an altercation.

Think about it: in the Eric Garner choking death, the police wrestled him to the ground with a chokehold. I remarked that this scuffle was tame compared to what I did in Judo competition. A friend reminded me that I was an in-shape 21 year old who was trained, ran, lifted weights…and Mr. Garner was an obese middle age man with asthma..certainly not an athlete in a martial sport. Police protocols should deal with the actual public that they serve and not with outliers in health and youth.

Then we also have some factors that seem, well, just taboo to bring up; and an honest discussion of the issues should involve some freedom to discuss the taboo ideas. If such freedom is taken away, then such a discussion is just seen as propaganda.

One factor is that the situation is simply not symmetric. In OUR country, there was no white slavery and no legalized segregation against white people. This point is brought home very well here:

Another factor is that blacks and Hispanics commit disproportionately more crime (example: here are murder statistics from 2011). Hence, wouldn’t it just be “common sense” to be more suspicious of black males? Well, the answer is “no” for several reasons. One is probabilistic: suppose 1 percent of the males in group X committed violent crime and 2 percent in group Y committed the same crime. Then those in group Y would be twice as likely to commit that crime, yet if one just randomly stopped a male in group X, the probability that they weren’t criminal would be 99 percent; it would be 98 percent for group Y.

Another reason: one has to understand what the crimes are about. In poor black communities, the police are not trusted to take the concerns of the citizens seriously. This is for several reasons, not the least of which is if one calls the police, the police are likely to investigate the caller for something trivial in the caller’s past. Hence, much of the violent crime is retaliatory in nature; “taking the law into one’s own hands” (vigilantism). See Stephen Pinker’s book Better Angels of our Nature for more details.

Another factor is that it is just plain difficult to put yourself into someone else’s lives. If you’ve been treated well by police, it is easy to say, “hey, don’t do anything wrong and you have nothing to fear from the police”. Of course, that is completely untrue; witness this non-life-threatening but humiliating experience


Keep in mind this is an accomplished professional whose story could have been checked in a few minutes… (and my African American friends have told me that they have encountered similar). Even former Republican Representative JC Watts recounts being pulled over for a merely “driving while black” in his book What Color is a Conservative. Many people simply refuse to believe that this happens at a significantly higher rate to a specific group of people because…well, it hasn’t happened to them or to someone they know.

And, much more tragically, there is this. Watch the video; the police pulled up and shot this kid within two seconds, and he was such sitting on a park bench!

Another taboo idea is the fact that minorities underachieve intellectually both in educational outcomes and on standardized tests. This IS a source of embarrassment to minorities; J. C. Watts says (in his book) that the tendency for liberals to “lower the bar” for blacks was one of the reasons he wasn’t a liberal. Leonard Pitts has a candid column on this topic and Law Professor Stephen Carter talks about his experience (and some embarrassment) of receiving affirmative action in his book Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby.

So, I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to think “well, black and brown people not doing as well in this country might reflect an uncomfortable reality that there are inherent differences in IQ, at least statistically.” After all, aren’t most countries in Africa and Latin America (and Mexico) third world countries?

I don’t think it is necessarily hateful to bring this up. In fact, I brought up similar thoughts in private discussions when I was an undergraduate. Fortunately, my good friend was a history major and he obtained some good resources for me to read. Later on, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel gave an excellent, well researched answer to such honest questions.

As far as the IQ issue goes, I can recommend this Ron Unz article in The American Conservative. Consider the following:

Consider, for example, the results from Germany obtained prior to its 1991 reunification. Lynn and Vanhanen present four separate IQ studies from the former West Germany, all quite sizable, which indicate mean IQs in the range 99–107, with the oldest 1970 sample providing the low end of that range. Meanwhile, a 1967 sample of East German children produced a score of just 90, while two later East German studies in 1978 and 1984 came in at 97–99, much closer to the West German numbers.

These results seem anomalous from the perspective of strong genetic determinism for IQ. To a very good approximation, East Germans and West Germans are genetically indistinguishable, and an IQ gap as wide as 17 points between the two groups seems inexplicable, while the recorded rise in East German scores of 7–9 points in just half a generation seems even more difficult to explain.

Bottom line: social factors CAN explain differences between group means in things like IQ tests.

Conclusion I suppose that what I am getting at is that I really don’t like the climate in which honest debate is stifled. It is possible for good people to disagree on things, and it is possible for good people to hold honest but erroneous views. But how can an erroneous view be dealt with if people don’t feel free to ask the honest question?

Sure, I get it: no one wants to be a captive audience to blatantly racist and hateful rants. But not all racism comes from hate; it can be a combination of unhelpful evolutionary instincts (we are NOT blank slates!) and being fooled by our tendency to go by what we see in our own little bubbles and our own tendency to reason inductively.

And yes, many who might say that they want a discussion really don’t; what they want is a sympathetic ear for their grievances, some of which are genuine and some aren’t. It is sometimes hard to tell which is which.

Example: in the early 1990s, I was driving north on I-55 in southern Illinois when I was tailed for 10 miles by a Illinois State trooper car. I could see the guy talking on his radio repeatedly. Eventually, he pulled me over and my then wife pulled behind him; then he realized that I wasn’t really a suspect for anything. So, was it merely my beat up car with Texas plates or did my race play a contributing factor?

Interestingly enough, when I posted this, I got a very interesting comment; it said, in part:

The Illinois State Police is the most professional police department in the state of Illinois.
To say they profile is rediculous. (sic) I’m sure you got pulled over because of your history with the Illinois State Police and the officer knew that upon seeing your car.

He called me “paranoid”. I go back to “this doesn’t happen to people I know, so something must be wrong with you” belief that many stubbornly hold. I seriously doubt that the person making this comment has the mental agility (and ability) too see beyond what seems obvious to him.

Of course, stupidity and criminality comes in all flavors; one can always find despicable people in any large enough group. And hey, none of us are perfect, least of all me!

December 14, 2014 Posted by | books, racism, social/political | , , , | 1 Comment

A few (of many) reasons an honest discussion of race in the US is very difficult

Workout notes: easy untimed 5 mile walk (Cornstalk)

I remembered Attorney General Holder saying this:

In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation’s first black attorney general told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department the nation remains “voluntarily socially segregated.”

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared.

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country “have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace,” but he noted that “certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

And yes, it is true. In my *opinion*, the reasons are many.

For one: when the subject is highly emotional, it is easy to forget to both speak and reason carefully. For another: quite frankly, many don’t have strong logical and reasoning skills. They know how they feel, but they often don’t articulate clearly or precisely.

So, typically, one of two things happens:

1. People, often white people, say what is on their minds and, to be blunt, much of what they think is obviously true is either erroneous or a grossly incomplete understanding of what is going on. But instead of being engaged in a respectful manner, they are shouted down (often by while liberals) as being racist and ignorant. So they leave thinking that what they believe is actually true, but too…well…uncomfortable to say in polite company.

2. People, often racial minorities, deny uncomfortable truths (e. g. that violence occurs at higher rates in poor, minority communities, or that college entrance tests have predictive power, at least on a statistical level) than it does elsewhere.

So, attempts to have a “dialogue” often end up with white liberals pontificating about how non-racist they are and people politely listening to minorities griping …and then leaving without a thing being changed.

My guess: this is an unfortunate side effect of humans being hard wired to reason inductively. Example: you watch a major college basketball team and notice that most teams are predominately black. So the mind forms the erroneous conclusion: “blacks are good at basketball”.

As far as books that discuss race issues honestly, I can recommend:

Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature; this isn’t about race but about human violence. It gives a detailed discussion of why violence rates in poor black communities are so high.

Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations Though the book is over 20 years old, it has plenty to say about what is going on today.

William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears: this book discusses some of the reasons social pathologies arise and made accurate predictions about the rise of social pathologies in white blue collar communities.

November 27, 2014 Posted by | books, social/political | | Leave a comment