Monday, April 27, 2015

Rare, surprising, interesting, and depressing event

A Rare event.

This past weekend, I was listening to the NPR radio broadcast of This American Life.

This is not something, I ordinarily do, as I generally find the show enormously precious, supercilious, predictable, and (not infrequently) subject to poor journalism*.

I was just too busy working on a stained glass design to get up and change the radio station.

A Surprising Event.

The first 'article', (Do Ask, Do Tell., of the show, The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind,
was interesting to me.  It also appeared well researched, and seemed significant.

An Interesting Event

The gist of the article was that it was possible to change peoples minds on significant issues -- specifically gay marriage and abortion -- by engaging them one on one in an interview or conversation.

These changes in opinion came about not through 'reasoned' arguments, but by appeals to emotional connection (for example, the interviewer is gay and politely raises the issue should they have a chance for marital happiness, or the interviewer is a young woman who wrestled with having an abortion).

If the interviewer was personally involved, the change in opinion appeared to be long term -- for example is if the conversation about gay marriage was conducted by a straight person, a change of opinion seemed less likely to be long term.

This appears true, regardless of the subjects conceptual frame work -- that is a devout Catholic can be swayed by appeal to the personal, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Unlike most such stories, this article was coupled with a study -- a seemingly rigorous study which attempted to verify these results (which surprised the researchers) by running it twice.  And the researchers admit that they believe that the counter example -- anti choice interviewers reporting on abortion regret -- would probably also work.

So to first order, I accept the results. 

This has tactical information of use -- the technique is expensive but works -- and adds more ammunition to my argument for the return of the political machine structure of politics.  But let that pass.

A Depressing Event

I rather guess, that some would find this story uplifting in a 'Here we can see the importance of actual humans interacting' way.

I supposed I would fall into William James' tough minded mental make up (see Pragmatism,Lecture I. The Present Dilemma in Philosophy), so this does not appeal to me.

For the same reason, I have a profound dislike of 'human interest' reporting or argument on important issues -- I feel it devalues the important underlying principals, as well as the roll of fact and thinking.
And it seem to emphasize that we tend, either positively or negatively, to make decisions the basis of what is immediate -- that there is an inability to "picture the death of the blameless hero Hippolytos, with out seeing it enacted before my eyes",** without seeing the carnage of a chariot accident.

Most importantly, in the realm of public discourse, I think it constricts meaningful discussion and debate. I would like us to be more easily convinced by statistics, duty, ideals,  and reason. 

I should like to think we can understand that a suffering or situation is wrong, even it we have no emotional tie to the vicitm  -- indeed we should be able to do it even if we have a negative emotional tie.

In the end, that the information on changing minds provided is not easily actionable is merely somewhat discouraging when considered as practical problem.

What it says about the limitations of most decision making is, however both alienating and depressing to me.

* OK I also find Ira Glass' voice grating.
** Mary Renault, The Praise Singer

Hubble: A funny thing happened on the way to 25 years.

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbitIt is said that sometimes having a good memory can be a curse -- though a curse of whom is not made clear.

In all the traditional (cheap) journalism about the Hubble -- reports on how it changed our view of the universes, opened in vistas of the imagination, and so forth -- there is very little memory.

For example, not a lot of reporting on the  mocking it received at first (justifiably in my opinion) due to its initial problem with a poorly ground primary mirror, or its delay in construction.

Those points are fairly minor historical issues.

What I remember is that by the early 1980's, the degree of hostility I recall being expressed by many of the astronomers (particularly the optical astronomers ) in my department (the University of Minnesota Department of Physics and Astronomy).

The repeated complaint was how much better it would be to spend money on ground based astronomers -- just think about how many conventional (that is my sort of researcher) studies could be funded was the complaint. (I side note, the same object was raised about the weather satellites, that is one could spend the money better on more weather balloons.)

There were an interesting set of symptoms on display -- envy of success, an hostility to supporting other's research, and an inability to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative change.  I don't imagine* that the behaviors are changed.

I wonder how many people would own up to their positions today? I do know of some who still dismiss the work -- primarily as it is not their sort of research.

*Read I am dead certain.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

We are becoming Pakistan.

My brother, with some justice, dislikes casual use of the word treason, pointing to the strict definition in the constitution under Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall
consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their
enemies, giving them aid and comfort
I would argue that Clive Bundy (Year After Denying Federal Control, Bundy Still Runs His Bit Of Nevada : NPR) comes pretty close, by the active use of force and the threat of force to constain and intimidate the Federal government.  In so doing, he is stealing my land and my resources.

I say my because as a willing citizen, I must acknowledge partial ownership in this American republic, both the good and the apalling.  And I want my agent, the Federal government to manage the lands we own for the benefit of greatest number of the republic's population/

Instead of this,
Indeed, the BLM has pretty much stopped managing or
patrolling a vast, southeastern corner of the state ...
because of safety concerns.
Which means, in the words of former local national park superintendent, Alan O'Neill, 

"In other words, anybody that doesn't want to follow
any federal laws or regulations can do so if they have
enough firepower with them," O'Neill said.
This is an example of the apalling I have to take ownerhsip of -- I am being forced to forego my right to a bully, because my agent -- the Federal Governement and the President are not acting for me.

 We are becoming Pakistan.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fair enough

Daily Show Welfare Queens

 Jon Stewart: Kansas is America's Welfare Queen

This puts me in mind of my favorite proposal of mine:

No state shall
receive more funds from the federal government then it pays in taxes.

Fund will be withheld to the state until the imballance is addressed. 

The priority of this withholding (that is which funds will not be paid first) should be:

  1. Agricultral Payments
  2. Highway Construction
  3. Non emergency water projects
  4. Perparation of federal lands for bid
  5. Airport construciton
  6. Small business administration funding
  7. Aid to police forces
  8. Defence basing
  9.  ....
    99. Scientific research

  100. Medical Funding

  101. Direct income transfers to private persons

As a matter of policy, this is a terrible idea.  But it might be salutory.

Last of the First

I don't generally discuss much family information here, but this event has some historical interest.

My Great Aunt, Alfreda Moscow (nee Goldman) died yesterday (7 April 2015) at the age of 103.

She was the last, first-generation member on either side of my family alive.* 

In general, this first generation cohort had many of the most interesting and defining experiences of becoming American**.  I believe this is particularly the case for American Jews.

We may all have had such bridges temporary bridges to the past known to us.

Just to remind you, when she was born:
  1. The Panama Channel was not completed
  2. The Bronx still had dairy farms.
  3. More people spoke Yiddish as a first language than any of the Scandinavian languages.
  4. There were 46 states in the Union.
  5. There were quotas on the number of Jews allowed into major universities.
  6. United States as a matter of founding principal chose not to have a large standing military.
  7. Women did not have the right to vote in most states of the Union.
She is survived*** by her son, Alan Moscow, and her nephew (my father), Jerome Ronald Saroff, and her neice (my aunt), Nadene Barish (nee Saroff). 

*    By first-generation, we mean those members of an immigrant family born
      in the United States.

**  Many if, not all, of these challenges and experiences are repeated to day
      in the life the current generation of native born Americans with foreign
      parents. Although from contemporary reporting on the immigration
     experience (particularly NPR), you wouldn't know that.

***At least, I do not have a complete list of all my father's cousins. 
     She had a number of sisters and a brother.