Archive | July, 2022

I Wouldn’t Cry At Her Funeral

14 Jul

My neighbor died recently. She was eighty-something widow, mother of two sons, and several grandkids. I didn’t know much beyond that because she was crazy, raving b#&$h.

I recently looked back at one of my posts which talked about discovering people dead in their houses years after they died. Our neighbor Michelle had a stroke and somehow notified the ambulance hours after it happened. She lived alone, went out once a day at 3 pm, watered her plants in the backyard, got in her car, and came back at 4 pm (I’m guessing grocery shopping). She checked her mail occasionally, but otherwise, I didn’t see her.

Frankly, that was fine with me. I hadn’t talked to her in years. In fact, I deliberately went out of my way NOT to talk to her. Our neighborly relationship started off okay; saying hi while passing, mentioning when something was broken. However, it was obvious she was a person who focused on the negative. When I was smoking my pipe in my backyard, she asked me if I could smoke it on the other side. I obliged. But when I was smoking while working on my laptop, she came out and starting watering her plants. She decided to splash me with her hose… with my $2000 laptop on me!

To quote Bugs Bunny, “You realize, this means war.” This lead to escalation between us – passing insults, dumping crap on her windshield – eventually this led to me shouting at her which led to my wife shouting at her. After that, we just agreed, “Screw her. We don’t need her in our life. I smoked on the other side of the backyard and never talked to her again. If we had to communicate to her for some reason, we called her son. Interestingly enough, he came over to our house, introduced himself, and gave us his number… you got the impression he knew who his mother was.

We saw the ambulance; my wife found out from her son she had a stroke. We prayed for her recovery–even though I hated her–but she didn’t make it and died a week later. We didn’t ask to attend her funeral; frankly, I think the neighborhood is a better place without her. I think she had been waiting to die for decades.

I try not to hate anybody, but sometimes, someone just rubs you the wrong way. Michelle was not a person who got along to get along; as far as I could tell, she didn’t talk to anyone outside her family. Certainly no one else visited, apart from repairmen. She could have easily been someone whose body wouldn’t have been discovered for two weeks.

In our neighborhood, there was also one house that was always shuttered up. I mean metal shutters over the windows, signs to tell everyone to stay out, and so many security cameras that it was overkill. It had been that way since we moved in seven years ago. My theory was that it was a snowbird who got too old to travel back and forth (like my grandparents), but never got around to selling it. He must have died because they just recently renovated it and make it really amazing looking. Did his neighbors ever wonder if there was a mummified body in Mr. Paranoid’s house?

My point? Make your platitude your attitude! No… wait, ah, what about “Life is chaos, be kind?” There’s so much hate or reason to be angry in the world – it costs you nothing to be polite. Then maybe people will come to your funeral; maybe people will wonder where you are.

Statistics Ad Absurdum

13 Jul

In the 1970s, orchestras began using blind auditions, playing behind a screen so the jury that cannot see them. As a result, the number of women in orchestras increased five fold… except they didn’t. That “fact” was vastly exaggerated.

Memory is a funny thing – the first factoid you hear often sticks and becomes truth, whether not it’s disproven later. What amazes me is how often that “fact” gets blown out of proportion. Take the “blind audition” story; I had never heard this until I took our DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training at work.

Side note: My workplace does this training right. Compared to the horror stories I’ve heard, they’re not trying to shove a political agenda, or punish you for being white… just ways to be civil to each other. The only part that is “dicey” is the gender expression and identity section, but to be fair, we’re all trying to figure that out. How are we supposed to teach it?

So I’ve gone through this training around ten times–not because I was being punished, but because I work in the department that trains this. So I was asked to “produce” this class (handle the technical problems for this online class) as a favor for another trainer. Therefore, I’ve seen the video where they mention the “blind audition” research as an example of gender bias about ten times. This time, I decided to fact-check this.

The research was called “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians” by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, originally published in the September 2000 issue of the American Economic Review. You can read the original study here, but I’ll warn you, it’s 27 pages long. Even I didn’t feel like going through all of it, so if you feel like going through Andrew Gelman’s blog about it, he lays out the stats pretty well in a shorter form. The point is that they looked at nine different orchestras (the “Big Five” and four regional ones) and compared their hiring rates across fifty years of data, then saw how that changed when blind auditions were added. The end result? On p. 737 of the original study, before blind auditions, women were hired 10 percent of the time; after, 35 percent. So there was an increase… but certainly NOT five fold!

What I found more interesting–and Gelman doesn’t mention–is that the paper is 65 pages long. But wait, Marcus, you just said it was 27 pages long? The research is… the other half of the document is the 741 times (!) this article has been cited in other research. As someone who has written many, many research papers, this might explain the exaggeration. When you’re just referencing the results (like I’m doing now) in your own paper, you simplify. You don’t mention that the research found women were 25 percent higher to get to the next round of auditions, not hired. I didn’t mention it either… to make a point. When you simply copy the stats to make your point, it’s much easier to exaggerate.

So 25 percent becomes 35 percent, becomes fifty percent, becomes fivefold. Why? This is the telephone game writ large. Original research is read by other researcher and used in their research, which is read by a journalist who writes an article, which is read by a DEI trainer who decides to use it in a class. Along the way, it’s easy to forget the exact number. Or because 25 percent isn’t dramatic enough, you say 50 percent, although I’d prefer to believe that was simply the writer not going back to confirm their facts. Because people want to have hard facts to support your empirical view, that women tend to get hired less than men, and a slight increase doesn’t quite make your point, does it?

Now the research didn’t cover the numbers of applicants, rather they focused on the proportion, because “symphony orchestras do not vary much in size and have virtually identical numbers and types of jobs.” (p. 717) They don’t hire that many people per year. It did mention that almost all harpists are women and that the New York Philharmonic (as of 2000) had 35 percent women. Is it possible that less women are going into those jobs? After all, women only comprise of 3.4% of all construction trades. Now is that because, like higher math or construction fields, you have to deal with a lot of pricks who hit on you or say “girls can’t do X?” Quite possibly. Music majors were the biggest pricks I ever met in college; my theory is that the less jobs available in your career, the more competitive they have to be. Female nurses comprise of 75% of the workforce, elementary school teachers has a higher gender bias towards women.

Is it possible that different genders are favor different types of work? That working nights as a violinist is not conducive to women who want to have kids? Or am I exaggerating? 🙂 Let me know in the comments below.

Do I Care Who John Galt Is?

11 Jul

I just watched a very snarky video about Ayn Rand and how her writing still affects the modern GOP. As a Libertarian who has (gasp!) never read any of her works, I can say that she is both right–and wrong–at the same time.

The video was from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which I really love, despite Oliver representing a very left-wing stance that I completely disagree with. However, he provides well-researched and interesting topics that really get me thinking. In Oliver’s opinion, Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” is a glorification of selfishness which shows the true nature of those who like her writings, conveniently ignoring the facts that she was pro-choice, thought President Reagan was worthless, and thought Native Americans should have no rights.

Objectivism is based on the idea that human knowledge and values are objective: they exist and are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by one’s mind, and are not created by the thoughts one has. Now Wikipedia goes into great and soaring detail on what that means, and frankly, I have trouble understanding even this high-level view. However, I do remember that Ayn Rand stated that you either agreed with her completely or not at all, so frankly, I don’t bother learning objectivist epistemology.

That being said, as much as Oliver and his team snarked the hell out of Rand for being selfish, I have to ask… “How much do you actually care about other people?” This is my main objection to modern liberal thought; they talk a great game about saving the world, saving these people, raising up these things… but when it comes down it, they actually do very little. Rand is pointing out that if you get out of your own damn way with silly little things like morals and government interference, you can achieve greatness. If you need help to accomplish this, you are dependent and therefore subject to what rules that help comes with.

Interestingly enough, this is very similar to what Friedrich Nietzsche said. That to become the best you can be, to be a “Superman,” you need to get beyond good and evil and create your morals based on your most inner most desires. Unlike Rand, I have read Nietzsche and find him nigh impossible to get through. Why his philosophy spread at all was because an editor took out the end of every chapter (where the really profound stuff is) of all his books and published it as an abridged version. The rest is just Fred bitching about how stupid all the other philosophers are for not getting this simple premise… that he only reveals at the end of the chapter.

I like both of these philosophies, even though I don’t follow either of them. (Oh, and by the way, neither did Rand or Nietzsche.) Because I believe like the movie Wall Street (1987) taught us, “Greed is Good.” I believe man is inherently selfish; that’s important for survival as a person and a species. However, this is where you add in some Tanya (Jewish mysticism) or Buddhism or Taoism; it’s important to be selfish, BUT you need to balance it with selflessness. From a practical perspective, if you support those around you, they’re more like to support you in the future, because they understand the need to have help in the lean times. Similarly, if you give away all your money to the poor, but now you have to live on the street, you’ve done neither the poor or yourself any good. You have given the poor only temporary relief, while preventing yourself from providing for them in future. The greatest good, and greatest feeling of reward, is when you balance the two impulses. Then you can be monetarily successful and rich in good deeds.

John Galt actually gives the heroes of Atlas Shrugged hints on how to be successful and to reach the promised land. So even Rand’s characters couldn’t do it alone. But as I said, I’ve never read her works, so I could be ridiculously simplifying things. Maybe one of you have read it and can clarify it for me? Please put it in the comments below.

Silence Is Not Consent

7 Jul

When my students didn’t ask any questions, I would write “Qui tacet consentire” on the board, saying that if you didn’t speak up, I’d assume you agree with me. In real life, that’s rarely the case.

For those who didn’t take Latin in high school (including me), qui tacet consentire videtur means “he who is silent is believed to agree.” In legal terminology, this is known as the silence procedure and dates to time immemorial. In fact, it’s in the Bible:

If there is a virgin pledged in marriage to a man, and another man encounters her in the city and sleeps with her, you must take both of them out to the gate of that city and stone them to death—the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. So you must purge the evil from among you.

But if the man encounters a betrothed woman in the open country, and he overpowers her and lies with her, only the man who has done this must die. Do nothing to the young woman, because she has committed no sin worthy of death. This case is just like one in which a man attacks his neighbor and murders him. When he found her in the field, the betrothed woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.

Deuteronomy 22: 23-27 (BSB)

In American jurisprudence, the silence procedure is not acceptable. In the case of rape, just because the woman didn’t fight back mean that she wanted the sexual contact. Even in jurisdictions where this procedure is acceptable, you can still debate it. In fact, where I learned about this was from the movie (based on the play), A Man for All Seasons. In this case, Sir Thomas More is being tried for treason because he didn’t approve of King Henry VIII’s remarriage without the Pope’s approval for divorce. So the prime minister, Cromwell, is prosecuting him.

Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial!

Sir Thomas More:
Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentire”: the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?

Sir Thomas More:
The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt.

So… why am I bringing this up? Because I don’t like to debate people on social media. So when I see someone I like or someone I know posting something I think is really foolish or contrary to my beliefs, I don’t get on the comment and start a merry little war. Because I know it’s not going to do any good; it will not change their mind or mine. This may be why I like blogging better. 🙂 However, the majority of posts are by a small minority of the population.

For example, let’s take Twitter and break it down.

  • Twitter has 206 million monetizable daily active users worldwide (as of August 2021).
  • World population as of 2021 is 7.87 billion. So Twitter consists of 2.5% of world population.
  • The estimate is that 25% of Twitter users are responsible for 97% of all posts.
  • Even if you want to just isolate America, only 22% of American adults use Twitter. Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. 
  • So if 25% of users are responsible for almost all posts, and only 22% of American adults use it, then you are hearing the opinions of 5.25% of the American people.

Now if you’re like me, and you ignore or block the people who are the most obnoxious (usually about politics), you’re only hearing an even smaller circle of opinions. Extreme views get the most attention–whether that’s on my news radio show or on social media. The mistake is to believe that the extreme voice is what everyone who holds that opinion believes. Most people who agree with critical race theory would not agree with the idea that math is a white supremacist concept. Most people who agree we should secure our borders would not agree with the idea of that we are bringing in a brown-skinned underclass to replace us. (Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find an original source on that, only the commentary. Hmmmm…)

So what’s my point? Don’t discount the silent majority. NPR crowed that Pew Research discovered that pro-choice was now the majority in the US. However, when you break it down, of the 61% of “pro-choice,” of those only 19% say abortion on demand, no exceptions. 42% of that “pro-choice” say there should be limitations, especially how long the mother has been pregnant.

When you hear an extreme viewpoint, don’t take it as the example of who they are. Republicans are not racists, Democrats are not all socialists, and Libertarians aren’t all pot-smokers. I should have made this post shorter, or broken it down, but I was on a roll. Hopefully you have a comment or two, and I will welcome it. Welcome to the extreme moderates. 😀

Making a Virtue Out of Necessity

1 Jul

This morning, I made one of my favorite breakfasts–biscuits and gravy. I made vegan substitutions (tempeh and sage instead of sausage), but it turned out pretty good. But it made me realize that that dish was really an example of making something yummy out of limited resources.

If you go back a hundred years, food was a third to half of your family budget. So you had to stretch out the food you had to cover more than one person. What I made for dinner last night would have qualified: vegetable and lentil soup and “buttermilk” biscuits (soy milk curdled with lemon juice). In 1922, flour was cheap, and most people had a garden. Some people even had a greenhouse to have vegetables into the winter and spring. Even then, you still need to pickle or can your harvested veggies to ensure that you had a supply year-round. So dried beans were cheap (and still are), throw in some of your limited veg, and then add a lot of water. Wheat flour was cheap (still is), so some sort of bread carbs everyone up to feel full and well-fed.

However, due to a series of unexpected events, no one ate my dinner last night, so I had all these biscuits left over. Perfect, I thought, and I made some gravy. What is gravy made from? MORE flour, water, and a fractional amount of sausage. You salt and pepper it and you’re able to stretch a limited amount of food into a yummy breakfast. Coffee falls under dried beans–they last forever, they’re not that expensive, and you can cook them at the time you need them.

So here was a dish that was incredibly easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and yet it’s something I find rare and special. I have made a virtue out of necessity. It’s similar to my theory that all delicacies are “something you ate when you were starving.” It’s only when you’re able to afford steak for dinner or a fish fry on Fridays that you think, “Gee, wasn’t it nice to have biscuits and gravy?”

I love quoting Samuel Johnson (the guy who invented the dictionary) every time I eat oatmeal. “Oats – in England, a food for horses; in Scotland, a food for men.” I do it because oatmeal is very yummy… and I’m at least half or more Scottish. Dr. Sam was making fun of the Scots because they were backward, but really, they were poor. But it grows well in wet ground and/or sandy soil, and it’s high in calorie content, so it keep you’re wee bonny bairns alive. But notice the picture–there’s blueberries in it. Why? Because that was free. You literally went outside, collected berries, and threw them in with what you eating already. Since berries still didn’t stay around forever, it was a neat treat. When you have oatmeal again, and you CAN afford bacon and eggs, you throw some berries in it.

So many recipes can date back to the simple need of, “How do I stretch my cupboard to feed my family?” Can you think of better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

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