Numbers, fraudulent and misleading…

Education: yes, if you base teaching performance on the test scores of their students, the teachers will cook the data any way that they can. Given a metric, people will seek to optimize the metric, regardless of end results.

A questionable pro-President Obama claim: This article claims a 22 point improvement in President Obama’s approval ratings:

President Obama’s approval rating has improved by 22 points in the Gallup poll since Republicans won control of Congress. Obama’s opposition to the Republican agenda is making the president more popular while destroying the myth of a GOP mandate.

Really? Well, his approval went from 39 to 50 percent, which IS nice. So where did “22 point improvement” come from? You see, his DISAPPROVAL went down so the difference (approval minus disapproval) went from -17 to +5. Okkkkaaaaayyyyy…

That is an interesting slight of hand. But Rep. Sessions (R-Texas) thinks that 108 billion divided by 12 million is 5 million and not 9000. He called it “simple arithmetic”. Hmmm, for him, not so simple? :-)

That’s ok; Fox News will probably back him up, and NPR will probably try to present “both sides” of this arithmetic issue “well, most math teachers say that the quotient is 9000, but some say 5 million so we’ll give BOTH SIDES an equal opportunity….”

March 26, 2015 Posted by | education, health care, political/social, politics | | Leave a comment

David Brooks was not completely wrong (nor completely right)

One way to raise the ire of some of my liberal friends is to look at the living habits of the poor and point out how deficient those habits are. Yes, there is data that points to the poor social values being correlated with poverty. Here is but one example, which is contained in a liberal article:

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Multiple-partner fertility is a formula for unstable families, and it’s really bad for children, which Edin acknowledges in the book.

Now there is always the danger of confusing correlation with causation and those that point out that better financial situation often cures many of the “value ills”.

There may be something else going on. On the average, poor people are dumber than wealthier people:

Poor people have I.Q.’s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics.

After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that I.Q. is largely inherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have I.Q.’s that are remarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those of fraternal twins who grow up together.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much.

The above article goes on to say that IQ might not be something that is completely fixed by our genes. Sure, some of it is; after all, there is NOTHING anyone could do to make me as smart as Stephen Hawking. But people can get smarter if the situation around them changes:

Intelligence does seem to be highly inherited in middle-class households, and that’s the reason for the findings of the twins studies: very few impoverished kids were included in those studies. But Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor and chaotic households, I.Q. is minimally the result of genetics — because everybody is held back.

“Bad environments suppress children’s I.Q.’s,” Professor Turkheimer said.

One gauge of that is that when poor children are adopted into upper-middle-class households, their I.Q.’s rise by 12 to 18 points, depending on the study. For example, a French study showed that children from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homes averaged an I.Q. of 107 by one test and 111 by another. Their siblings who were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests.

The upshot: our genetics establishes an upper bound for our IQs but the environment has much to say with how close to our upper bound we reach. For example: though no one could have made me into a Stephen Hawking caliber scientist/mathematician, had I had a worse upbringing, I might not have attained even the minor degree of success that I’ve had (and yes, it is very minor).

Also, there have been studies that show that IQs of entire groups of genetically related groups of people have diverged and then come back together in a short period of time (e. g. East and West Germans).

So, everything I’ve stalked about has been at the statistical average level.

However, where I think that Mr. Brooks has a point is at the individual level. Example: I know of a brother and sister that are only a year or two apart in age. Both had the same parents and the same upbringing; both got college degrees.

Yet one is successful (sister) and the other is indigent. They both got equal inheritance (substantial). One invested it and still has most of it, even in retirement. The other lost it in less than one year.

Sorry, but individual intelligence and the decisions that one makes matters, and too many liberals have trouble acknowledging that. True, the wealthy have a much greater margin of error in life; they can act very badly early and still reach the top of the heap (example 1, example 2) I do not pretend that the playing field is level; it would be delusional to claim that.

But one’s individual choices do matter, and many times the poor contribute to their own plight by poor choices, though I acknowledge that a higher stress life usually means more poor choices, and poverty is extreme stress.

This is one tough issue, and different sides of the political spectrum have pieces of truth.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | political/social, social/political | | 1 Comment

Low quality blogging…

Yep, I suppose that I just have nothing useful to say about anything of importance.
Well, that might not be entirely true; I have posted on a few mathematics blogs: I have one on college math teaching, one about the stuff I am currently working on and one for my undergraduate topology class (which I am about to update).

But as far as the issues: well, the zealots (of every stripe) will continue to be unreasonable about their pet issues, and not much will get done in Congress because the country itself is divided (the people who elected the Representatives and Senators). Very serious person X saying that “now Congress needs to compromise” isn’t going to change the minds of the Louie Gohmerts of Congress.

And, strangely, I care very little about the 2016 Presidential race; while I’ll certainly vote, I am planning on sitting out the election, so to speak. I am starting to care less and less.

Oh what the hell. Here is a goat.


Here is a politician with a cute butt.


1. Who is she?
2. Whose hand is she shaking?
3. Who is in the photo behind her?

January 27, 2015 Posted by | 2016, butt, political/social, politics | , | 1 Comment

Ridicule of bad ideas…

Bad idea One: if a large majority of Americans support something we should do it! That’s right: 80 percent of Americans (or those surveyed in this poll anyway) support a mandatory label law for a food that contains …..DNA. “Warning: contains…”

Bad Idea Two: If you have an optional field trip to visit a religious worship center (in your study of world religions), you should expect to have to obey the center’s dress code, even if what you are visiting is a Muslim mosque. If you don’t want to do this, then don’t send your kid on the field trip.

Bad Idea Three: extrapolating on what you see locally to make a global inference. Yes, last year, it was very cold in the midwest part of the United States. You can just look my my “winter sucks” posts last winter. But it was a very warm year; the warmest on record…globally.

hot globe cold illinois

I live right where one of the blue patches are. :-)

Bad Idea Four: Don’t trust a politician that tries to “change his spots”. Remember “Mr. 47 percent” Mitt Romney:

Now he is…well…worried about wealth inequality:

Of course, I’m not sure how reliable this thing is. After all, there must be some kind of technical glitch causing all the news sources I can access to report that Mitt Romney is effectively beginning his latest presidential run by declaring that

Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before.

Bad Idea Five: When your men’s basketball team is going into a road game having not won on the road all year (often against ordinary opposition) and is 6-12 overall, 1-4 in conference, missing key players with the flu and are playing a team with a higher RPI on the road, don’t expect them to win. When your women’s basketball team is 1-14 going into the weekend with two games against teams with better records, don’t expect them to win either.

Neither did. Bless the student athletes: they did play hard. The coaches are doing their best. But an athletic hole can be a nightmare to climb out of.

Yeah, we made both women’s games (at home) and watched the men’s road game on television.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Mitt Romney, political/social, politics, religion, science, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Political Correctness and Hate Speech…

First, a bit of fun. These are some interesting “have you ever thought about it this way” memes. I especially like 6, 12, 15 and 20. Here are a couple:



Ok, birth and deaths don’t happen in an instant but over a very brief time period, so overlaps are permitted. Ergo this meme is actually false. But I get its point.

Free speech and Muslim anger
I talked about this a long time ago and it has come up again. Basically: many European countries do NOT have U. S. style freedom of speech laws; certain kinds of “hate speech” are prohibited. So, if you are one group who isn’t (or your religion isn’t) protected by hate speech laws and another one is, you might well ask “why are they protected and why aren’t we?”

That is one my my conjectures to why we see Muslim unrest in Europe that we don’t see in the United States.

So, as Jerry Coyne puts so well on his website: The French free speech laws ARE hypocritical:

I am a hard-liner when it comes to free speech: I think that no speech should be banned or criminalized save speech meant to incite imminent violence. And I think Europe needs to truly embrace its democratic aspirations by decriminalizing “hate speech.” Yes, I’m aware that those laws come from a traumatic past and a sensitivity to newly-arriving cultural minorities. But it’s time to deep-six the hypocrisy that pervades the speech laws of Europe.

I am saying this because, though I thought my views were obvious, I’ve received several snarky emails this week from people who tell me that I’m a hypocrite because, as a secular Jew, I must surely agree with the French laws against anti-Semitic speech and yet defend the right to criticize Islam. One person, for example, sent me this cartoon:


(I posted this cartoon in an earlier post, in which I discussed this Vox article).

When you criminalize speech (especially speech which critiques ideas), you really set yourself up for problems.

Political Correctness gone awry: I have to admit that I kind of roll my eyes at the Vagina Monologues, though I’ve been to a few productions of them. My wife played the “Down There Lady”. (here and here)

I figured this was as PC of a play as there is, right? Well, via Randazza: not for some:

Mount Holyoke College cancels “The Vagina Monologues” because women who don’t have vaginas got their feels hurt. (source)

No. Fucking seriously.

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman…Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” the email, obtained by Campus Reform, said. (source)

This is the same All-women’s Mount Holyoke College that recently decided to admit men who “identify as women.” (source) That sorta makes sense to me, but it helps put the issue in context.

You can read more here.

A note for the clueless (like me): you are cisgender if you identify with your biological sex (e. g. are a biological male and claim to be a male).

I keep thinking of this:

January 17, 2015 Posted by | civil liberties, political/social, religion, social/political | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

shovel day: light stuff…good plows

Well, the Peoria plows came by and didn’t bury our sidewalks. Yeah!

It helps that it is cold and that the stuff is very powdery.

Workout notes Weights then a 5 mile treadmill run.
Run: 5.5 mph for first 5 min (at 0.5 elevation) then increased by .1 every 5 minutes.
50:20 for 5 miles.

Weights: pull ups: 5 sets of 10, with hip hikes and Achilles
bench: 10 x 135, 3 x 180, 1 x 180, 8 x 160 (rotator cuff)
military (dumbbell: 2 sets of 12 x 50 seated, supported). 1 set of 10 x 90 (each arm) Hammer machine (weight stacks)
rows: 3 sets of 10 with 110 (machine)
pull downs: 2 sets of 7 x 160 traditional, 7 x 100 low. Then 10 x 130 machine.
(super set the military presses, pull downs, rows).


John Boehner survived the challenge to his being speaker:

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to once again make John Boehner its speaker, handing the Ohio Republican the gavel for the third time despite a late challenge by dissatisfied members of his own party. Tuesday’s vote saw the most votes against a sitting speaker since 1923.

In the final tally, Boehner received the votes of 216 House members, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) got 164 votes. More than two dozen discontented Republicans, however, voted for other candidates, including 12 who unexpectedly backed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).

Boehner’s GOP caucus had unanimously chosen him as speaker just after November’s elections. However, he soon faced a rebellion from conservative members who were angry that Boehner pushed through a government spending bill in December that didn’t extract concessions from President Barack Obama on immigration or the Affordable Care Act.

I admit that this looks awkward:


Luck and fate
Cancer: it really appears that, aside from a few things that one can do (STOP SMOKING), getting cancer is mostly a matter of bad luck. Basically, a cell mutates and in the copy process, there is a mistake made in the reproduction.

And yes, at times I complain about the cold, the job, the clueless administrators. But it could be worse; read this which is written by a former academic who is still employed. Note the following:

Now, I’m in the wrong job. It crushes my soul one 8 to 5 day at a time. I regret every day I wake up and haven’t died in my sleep, and then I have to go on to work.

It will be two years this spring since I’ve read any book or article related to my research project. If I tell people about the project, everyone is so excited and supportive about it, but the truth is, I work 40 hours a week and have a hellish 60-mile commute each day. When I get home, I want to watch TV, play video games, and not do a damn thing related to thinking.

No one prepares you for what happens when you fail. I spent more than a decade never going to work, but rather going to teach, which was my heart’s passion.

I never thought I’d fail.

I never thought it would be me.

I do relate to this somewhat. It appears that our work piles on administrative duties, much of which is wasted time. So just when you think “Ah-HAH…time to work on this new idea” someone from some other department will want this or that or want you to do something or another. One has to learn to say “no” and to not volunteer for superficial stuff.

There just isn’t mental energy left over after the day is done.

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Peoria, political/social, politics, republicans, running, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

President Obama on Colbert: no one (not even Pres. O) is spared…:-)

Yes, the overly sensitive might not like this, but even Republicans will find laughs…

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, political humor, political/social | | Leave a comment

A challenge to my white conservative friends…

Workout notes: 18 F; ran my Cornstalk 8.1 mile course very slowly; stop watch was turned off. Then I did some McKenzie and light squats; 2-3 sets of weightless squats, then 5 with 45, 5 with 85. Depth (stretching) was the key.

No, that isn’t the challenge; my workouts are pretty easy.

Here is the challenge:
Imagine you live in a mostly African American neighborhood and you have an 18 year old son who, while a “decent kid”, has a bit of a temper and gets surly at times.

You live there for whatever reason; however the law enforcement of the area…well..sometimes they come off as if you don’t belong there and they would rather you weren’t there.

So your son leaves the house for a while.

You find out that while we was walking..jaywalking, a police officer yelled at him. He got into a scuffle…

Then he is shot dead by a black police officer.

You have people tell you that your son was trying to surrender at the time; others confirm this.

The DA is also black…he says “trust me; I’ll investigate this impartially” though you hear that he is raising funds for the accused officer’s defense.(*)

Then the mostly black forensic scientists give their findings and tell you to trust them….”the officer feared for his life and did his job” they tell you. So the DA goes ahead and does..well…a sham attempt at indictment.

So, in THIS situation, would YOU trust the process?

Remember: you are the people that says that government “can’t do anything right”. YOU (or your friends) are the ones that have trouble with Attorney General Holder impartiality.

So with things turned around, would you trust “the facts”?

(*) the DA’s situation was not really this; the fund that he was president of is actually a pretty good fund, but some in the media spun it in this way)

Note: I am NOT accusing the professionals who did the investigation of wrongdoing. I am merely attempting to point out how it might look to someone else.

December 2, 2014 Posted by | political/social, politics/social, running | , | 10 Comments

Blogging breakout: modern college teaching issues and feminism

My blogging usually goes down at this time of year; the academic semester is drawing to a close and issues crop up…and yes, football season is still going strong while basketball season is starting.

So a bit about college teaching:

There is often a “hot buzz-phrase” going around and one of those is “teach the students where they are”. Translation: “water your course down enough so that the slackers can get at least a C; preferably better”. But no, I won’t do that. For one, my courses are usually prerequisites for other courses. For another: in almost all of my courses, I have good students who benefit from a genuine course. Yes, I know; if one has an exceptionally good section, one can offer a better course. But college mathematics is a bit like, say, running: if the students don’t do the workouts, they won’t learn. The onus IS ON THEM.

And speaking of student responsibility: someone padded their resume/activity report/CV by producing this guide as to what to do when slacker/under prepared student does “X”. Hmmm, great idea…given that we might start with 70-80 students in a semester. (hat tip: College Misery).

Or, one could let the students accept responsibility for their actions. Nah. Oh yes, they have some teaching tips for you too. Oh dear. Remember: this is supposed to be college.


Hope for this winter: possibly not as snowy as last year?

Senator Tom Coburn warned of possible civil unrest if President Obama went on to issue executive orders about immigration. Well, see for yourself.

At the outset: let me say that I am for equal rights for everyone. And yes, as more women take non-traditional jobs, the work places should make “basic fairness” adjustments and provide equal pay for equal work. But I am for fairness to everyone (e. g. racial and religious minorities, gays, etc.) So I don’t use a label.

But like many who took a Time Magazine poll, the term “feminism” has a negative connotation for me. This is another reason why. And in some ways, I feel that some feminist positions demean women though I disagree a bit with the author’s criticism of programs to encourage women into STEM fields. Here is why: I think that many women who DO have the aptitude to excel in science, mathematics or engineering might try these fields with extra encouragement.

Of course, they might not like these fields at the same rate that males do…just for genetic reasons. But I’d like really throw out the welcome mat for those who might be inclined to try.

November 22, 2014 Posted by | civil liberties, political/social, politics, politics/social | , , , , | Leave a comment

President Obama and Immigration Reform

Presidents do have some latitude on how laws are enforced (e. g. they can direct that enforcement agents target this situation or that type of behavior). Here is a handy list of what is going on.

Now, of course, people can express their opinions on what they want Congress and The President to do…and personally, I am legitimately confused as to the proper course of action. On one hand, I’d like to see Congress pass something. On the other hand, I am not so sure that they can.

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, political/social, politics | | Leave a comment


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