Archive for the ‘debatable’ Category

Bitcoin – not for me.

December 8, 2017

The recent enthusiasm for Bitcoin bothers me.

Not because it has got to the “taxi drivers are talking about it” indicator of bubble status.

Because it is being used widely enough to stay in use when the bubble bursts.

Many of the people using it are interested in the environment, and approve of replacing still-working globes with LED globes to reduce power consumption. They may have installed solar PV panels to contribute to low-emission power.

How will they feel when they understand the impact of the bitcoin computing approach?

The ConversationDigiconomist and IEEE   put it clearly.  A Bitcoin transaction uses 5,000 times as much energy as using a  credit card, and the energy cost will increase as the blockchain lengthens.  The multiple servers maintaining copies of the ledger, and comparing their versions, and doing the complex calculations to solve a puzzle  to be the lucky one to generate a Bitcoin (all the others’ discard the work they have done, wasted electricity) – all burn power and generate waste heat.

I believe  that cold climates are more ethical server locations, as the heat generated can at least be used for warming buildings or preheating for hot water systems, but even so the process leaves me uneasy.

I am glad that the alternative blockchain designers are testing less power-hungry approaches.  Until Bitcoin changes its approach, I think it should be avoided.

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Lies, damn lies, Same Sex Marriage and press responsibility

September 25, 2017

Should there be some requirement for “letters to the editor” to be fact-checked? What is the editorial responsibility if letters misrepresent the law?

Re—–
Subject: Editorial irresponsibility
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 12:29:40 +0800

To: letters@sundaytimes.com.au

Dear Editor,

In “Your Say” 24 September, Leslie L Cummings suggested that same sex marriage imperils children, Andre Nel claimed that homophobic bullying is a “red herring,” and ID Smith claimed that legal marriage is required for access to IVF, artificial insemination, and adoption. As the “Indicative Survey” is being seen as a serious vote, and as anti-SSM speakers are verging on calls for children to be removed from same-sex couples, I feel it is irresponsible of your paper to print these letters without an associated factual article citing:

– the statistics which show greater psychological and physical
well-being in children raised by same-sex couples (the opponents of SSM generally cite stats from single-parent families to show ill-effects of lack of one gender in the house),

– recent reports of bullying at school of children of same-sex couples because their parents “shouldn’t have children” or are “unnatural,”

– statements of the legal situation in the various States of Australia, for example, lesbian couples can now start a family using IVF in every state and territory in Australia except the NT. 2014 Australian Census data indicate that 12% of same-sex couples have children (3 % of male couples.)

The amount of spreading of false statements about the welfare of
children and the rights to adoption and parenting is nearing
vilification. I hope someone whose children are bullied, or whose house is vandalised, brings a case under the protective legislation.

FYI, I am in an over-30-year hetero relationship, and have 4 admirable adult children. So no homophobic hatemail, thanks.

Cruz Iowa “big victory”?

February 7, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/02/ted-cruzs-interminably-long-iowa-victory-speech-annotated/  said “Ted Cruz won a big victory Monday night at the Iowa caucuses.”   Most Australian media had American talking heads referring to a clear victory and Donald Trump coming second, with little talk of Rubio.

From http://www.iowacaucus.biz/, Marco Rubio took 23.1 per cent, Mr Trump 24.3 per cent and Mr Cruz 27.7 per cent of the vote.

Less than a 5% difference?  In polling terms, that’s experimental error.  In USA political terms, at the start of the long chain of preliminaries in  other – less farm-based – States, this is neck-and-neck.

I think the media have not done a good job of reporting here.  We have the right to feel insulted, and the responsibility to wonder about their hidden agendas.

 

I

Marriage Equality: should the elderly and otherwise infertile couples be allowed to marry?

July 2, 2015

I think it is time that anyone who uses the argument that “Children have a right to a father and a mother so same-sex marriage should not be allowed”  should no longer be heard in the discussion unless they answer “Yes” to the  following four questions.

Firstly, the logical extension of this is the forced removal of children from single parents of either gender, including the bereaved partners of ex-servicemen, and their adoption by heterosexual couples.  That would be entertaining.  Do they agree with this forced removal?

Secondly, because the argument ignores the statistics which show that the children raised by same-sex couples tend to be – if different at all – better balanced and happier than those raised by heterosexual couples.  (This may be because they are so much more likely to  be truly wanted children, and the parents therefore usually seek out role models to show both genders at their best.)  Have they  evidence  (not hearsay or anecdote, actual peer-reviewed research) to contradict this?

Thirdly, because this emphasis on children assumes that marriage is solely to produce offspring.  Do they intend to legislate against the marriage of the elderly and otherwise infertile heterosexual couples?

Do they intend to legislate against the adoption of children by single parents and LGBTI couples?

 

Dismissing Freud – baby and bathwater time.

January 6, 2015

According to university student reports, Psychology students are now taught to dismiss Freud – that is, if they are even introduced to his name.  I see three problems with this,  Firstly, they lose the good bits such as  the concept of “Freudian Slips.”  Secondly, they miss the historical perspective – which can inform a properly sceptical view of current theories.  Thirdly, they miss the anthropological perspective, the link between the theories and the culture in which they were developed (for example, penis envy and castrtion fears in a society where men have social power and freedom of movement and body details are a taboo topic, what a surprise….)

The third point is a sad loss in our increasingly multicultural society:  If a woman seeks mental health support and comes of a very patriarchal and female-restricting society, would current approaches help her fit the social rôle her family expects, and would the health professionals be sufficiently aware of the problem to even consider offering culturally sensitive counselling?  I have the uncomfortable feeling that old-style Freudian would be more fitting for some groups – not just Muslim, consider  http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/127114/why-jewish-women-are-wearing-burqas/ and assault on non-compliant http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2014/03/haredi-modesty-assault-woman-beaten-up-by-haredi-man-in-beit-shemesh-over-skirt-length-678.html

– our underlying WEIRD cultural  assumptions will challenge these families should they migrate here.

Should people be offered the option of psychiatric help to fit in with their sub-culture’s expectations for their rôle, rather than to achieve full mental health as our culture defines it?  To what extent would a Freudian approach help?

A quote that got me wondering – and where I went from there.

October 14, 2014

The quote:

I decided to track down the source of an often quoted bit of “Children of Dune” by Frank Herbert:
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.
 “Quand je suis le plus faible, je vous demande la liberté parce que tel est votre principe; mais quand je suis le plus fort, je vous l’ôte, parce que tel est le mien.”
Conversation avec Augustin Cochin.
but in French Wikipedia it says
Pierre Pierrard explique que cette phrase a été mise dans la bouche de Louis Veuillot par Montalembert sous la forme « Quand les libéraux sont au pouvoir, nous leur demandons la liberté, parce que c’est leur principe, et, quand nous sommes au pouvoir, nous la leur refusons, parce que c’est le nôtre.»  et citée le 3 juin 1876 à l’Assemblée nationale par Jules Ferry.  Elle a depuis, sous des formes changeantes, été constamment r.épétée bien que dès le 6 juin suivant Veuillot eût protesté et affirmé que cette phrase n’était pas de lui.
– that is, he probably didn’t say it.  But people in 1876 thought it was worth having him say it.

 Where I went from there

 Many countries have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

the term “refugees” applies to any person who:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

I know that most –isms and religions have some extreme adherents, who honestly believe that the rest of the world should  follow their beliefs.  Some of these form groups devoted to achieving this.   Some of these groups believe that failing to follow their beliefs makes one less than human, and that non-believers should not have equal rights with believers – for instance,  it may be that atheists, agnostics, and miscellaneous pagans cannot get employment documents.  Some go further and believe that force should be used to make some others comply – for example, live peacefully with “People of the book” but use threat of death to convert everyone else.   Some go further still, and wish to kill  even those who hold to  a  different interpretation of their holy books while  following the same version of the divine, or whatever other social belief is important to them.

Being a devout agnostic, I am deeply aware of these groups. I have met people who assume that I am worse than untrustworthy because I don’t claim to have a god I believe in, even though those who lie about their beliefs or ignore their religions’ rules are much less trustworthy (Seen the statistics on child abuse?)  I avoid going to certain countries because  I don’t want to have to lie about beliefs in order to travel safely.  I worry about their spread.  Especially the extremists who believe that abortion clinics should be bombed, and that no non-christian should ever be President,

 I suggest that all members of the United Nations publicly state the following: 

We will only give refuge to those who commit to reciprocal tolerance of others’ belief and lack of belief,  and to recognition of all human rights.

The extreme case

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be treated as they would treat others.    If their group generally  say that those who convert from their belief should be killed, they  must not be given refugee status unless they renounce that aspect of the belief, and if they later recant the death penalty should, logically, apply.  If they deny others’ evidence equal weight before the law, their evidence should so be discounted in the country of refuge.   If they would tax unbelievers more heavily than their own, they shall be taxed heavily in the country of refuge.

The moderate case – or is it?

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be  denied refugee status.  If they are refugees from another such group of differing belief – well, that is fair exchange of oppression.

The interaction of this with overseas oppression

Where a government oppresses others in such a way as to make people become refugees, that government should not generally be assisted if another oppressive group attempts their overthrow.  Intervention should only be on a humanitarian basis. Refugees should not be sent back to an oppressive regime, as they have renounced the oppressive culture and will therefore be liable to greater risk.

If a self-proclaimed government attempts to invade other nations and enforces oppressive beliefs,  that requires immediate and forceful response from the United Nations – Peace Makers, not Peace Keepers.  The attempted invasion  is not just a war, it is a denial of human rights extending across borders, which is a much more serious and urgent matter.  If we stand idly waiting for someone else to fix it, we encourage all extreme belief groups to try their hand at the same game.

And that, I would pay higher tax to avoid.  I would travel to be a “grumpy old pensioner” on the battlefront, to embarrass the invaders until they stop that so that my grandchildren will be safe.   (Besides, it beats relying on the social system in old age, now that the illiberal and small-hearted are running the county.

 

Anorexic approach to “Cutting the Fat” in the Australian public service: cut the fat at the Executive level instead.

January 2, 2014

The Centre for Policy Development   says  that the Australian public sector is as efficient as the private sector once different responsibilities (e.g. more at-risk students going to state schools) are taken into account, and that OECD 2010 reports said Oz had 5th lowest taxing government in OECD but still 9th most effective.

Current State and Federal Oz governments are denigrating their public service staff performance, cutting staff without cutting duties, and not giving the staff guidance as to which officially required activities should be cut when there isn’t time to do everything.  They are  trumpeting “increased investment” in areas when the money is spent on basic construction for aging infrastructure and increasing population,  but actual staff-hours-per-thousand-clients are cut.  They are calling for us to match the  best of OECD results despite lower taxes, less cultural support , and more diverse population – and they dread talk of increasing taxes. Their political philosophy echoes USA conservatives.

It still looks better here than in the USA (read  http://www.viralnova.com/hospital-bill/  ) – but the local politicians are working on matching USA’s treatment of the most vulnerable.  They are even continuing to negotiate “Free Trade” agreements without provision for “Human Rights and OH&S” tarriffs.

It makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes, but our politicians seem determined instead to repeat the errors their predecessors made in using slaves (cheaper than the working class) in Ancient Rome and in too-rapid attempts to balance budgets when dealing with the recovery from the Great Depression.  (See Bill Fawcett’s “Doomed to Repeat”)  We aren’t using slaves?  Consider the conditons in the third-world countries to which work is “outsourced.”

That’s Modern Western democracy in action: “leaders” too much led by daily polls and the “perceived self-interest” push of their wealthy backers.  Alas,  the wealthy backers do not remember that a great gap between employee income and owner’s income leads to social problems which can destroy a civilization.  And our civilization is now global.

So, how about all shareholders (and Oz is, famously, a nation of shareholders – we just don’t usually vote our holdings) getting together and giving our proxies to some socially aware groups, on the condition that they vote to make companies limit the highest pay rate per hour (maximum 24 hours / day 365 days/year)  for any organization to be twenty times the hourly pay of the lowest paid employee – including those overseas, and including those hired by subcontractors.  This includes directors’ “remuneration.”  Remember, as voters, we can limit our politicians’ pay if we choose.   And add an “insult tax” where people are paid too much more than others : where the poorest in your country live on $13,000 pa and the median income is $43,100  an income over $800,000 is a dire insult.

Too hard?

Consider  limiting the “remuneration” to twenty times the workers’ pay as expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings (AWE) in the county in which the work is performed, and remuneration in terms of the AWE of the Director’s country of residence.

Worried about talented people going overseas?  Consider: if they want more than the limit,  and don’t want to support the poorest, what attitudes will their children bring to our schools?  Do we want that in our society?  What type of society do we want our politicians and business leaders to aim for?

Imagine being known as a country dedicated to equality of opportunity,  and with an underlying belief in “from each according to ability, to each according to need, with our descendants able to live as we do.”  Imagine a society where your value is not measured in money.

Now help make reality fit the dream.

Say what? Beyond jargon to brain pain

April 16, 2013

For the record:  I have university qualifications, starting my studies  in Medicine and ending with qualifications in Anthropology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Education.  Postgraduate included.  I can handle jargon from Anthropology to Zoology.

So I was impressed when a Literacy Education Theory article strained my brain.   I think it is worth examining, to see what took it beyond the usual run of jargon.  (As usual, I prefer not to name names when I find writing worth negative comment.)

Background

To start with, my background awareness, summarized well by the OED:

Definition of semantics (noun)

[usually treated as singular]

  • the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.
  • the meaning of a word, phrase, or text

Definition of reflexive (adjective)

  • Grammar denoting a pronoun that refers back to the subject of the clause in which it is used, e.g. myself, themselves.
  • (of a verb or clause) having a reflexive pronoun as its object (e.g. wash oneself).
  • Logic (of a relation) always holding between a term and itself.
  • (of a method or theory in the social sciences) taking account of itself or of the effect of the personality or presence of the researcher on what is being investigated.
  • (of an action) performed as a reflex, without conscious thought:at concerts like this one standing ovations have become reflexive
Definition of morphogenesis  (from Greek morphē ‘form’ + genesis beginning)(noun)  [mass noun]

  • Biology the origin and development of morphological characteristics.(i.e. physical structures)
  • Geology the formation of landforms or other structures.

Derivatives

morphogenetic  (adjective)

morphogenic (adjective)

(Please note the idea that the form being begun is considered to be pretty much unchanging, except by metamorphosis.)

The Text

The article was talking about teachers’ decision-making, and various things in the context of decisions which affected the final decision.

It referred to teachers’ “reflexive decisions”, meaning (I inferred, eventually) decisions made after careful consideration of a range of personal and external influences.  What most of us would call “considered decisions”.

It referred to “morphogenetic”,  defined in the article as meaning “transformative”.  This usage  confused me, as the term one would expect is “transformative” or -from metamorphosis “a change of form, a transformation” – metamorphic.

A major author in the references (this was a peer-review journal, so they drop in many references) was M. Archer.  This was the source of the jargon, I think, as ve was cited as using the root “morpho” to indicate that “society has no pre-set form or preferred state.”

This led me to wonder why  experts in literacy education would willingly use jargon which a literate reader finds both confusing and etymologically unsound.  Surely one would check that one’s proposed jargon did not clash with well-recognised usage from other fields?

Wondering still, I read on… “The relationship between writing, school instruction, and language cannot be underestimated.”  I deduced, from context, that an old-style editor would have corrected it to “should not”   or   “must not”.

Finally, I came to a diagram:

where would you put the arrows?

This raised more questions :  Would the “reflexive action” box be better outside the oval?  Could there be influence arrows from objective to subjective (considering Social Constructivist theory) and from the action box to internal and external headings?  Why do I always have to see things as being more complicated than proposed theoretical descriptions?  If this is the standard of those who educate teachers,  … Why does my brain hurt?

Oh, right.

Conclusion

Yes, I am a pedant.  Yes, I find semantic distinctions important.  Yes, I believe that jargon should be carefully crafted.

I believe that the increasing percentage of people using Engish as a second language calls for  more precise use of English:   people like me can translate poor writing,  but others rely on the correct semantics being there so that their support systems (such as the OED) can provide meanings the readers do not have as personal knowledge.

If there is no fixed standard of educational success, do learning disabilities exist?

July 31, 2012

Cathy Davidson asks

“Here’s a thought experiment.  Let’s try to imagine a society (there were lots of them before modernity) where there is no interest in measuring educational success.  Let’s imagine a society where the only goal of teaching (it’s a high bar) is to help every children master what they need in order to lead the most fulfilling life they are capable of leading —productive, creative, responsible, contributing to their own well-being and that of their society.  No grades.  No tests.  Just an educational system based on helping each child to find her or his potential for leading the best (Socrates would call it “happiest”) life possible.  In such a world, do learning disabilities exist? ”

“If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?  If there is no fixed standard of educational success, do learning disabilities exist?”

As David Eddings wrote, there is always something in the forest to hear the tree fall.

Similarly, if human learning is underway there is someone who will notice the performance of an individual and compare it with others.

Perception of difference is part of human nature, and thus exists in all cultures.  The difference between cultures that Davidson writes of is the different response to perceived difference, not the perception of difference.  Pre-industrial societies were quite cruel to those perceived as stupid in valued areas- see history on village idiots, deaf-mutes, military-family members who were sickly but clever, etc- and to those who were both unacceptably gifted and tactless.

Is machine learning a way to get around the perception of difference?  An ideal computer-learning program should have the set-up to adjust the size of steps in new understanding to match the past speed of improvement of the learner, and to suggest human intervention if there is an extremely unusual speed of learning. In machineworld or in class, it is important that the teacher notice any profound mismatch between the standard rate of introduction of new material and the speed of learning of a student: gifted or struggling, both need individualised tasks if they are to reach their potential, and may need individual or small-group professional assistance if they are too far from the class mode.

And now, assume that I was writing  of a riding teacher with 6-year-olds.  Or a gardener teaching adults how to grow plants.  Or a carpenter teaching them basic skills.

The great advantage of standardized testing and defined levels of performance that they allow us to mark the relations between intelligence(s), abilities, and performance in various situations; to find the causes of any unusual performance levels; and to adjust teaching to the learner’s specific needs.

I am the parent of an individual with a specific learning disability who gained access to needed support  largely because the NAPLAN results in year 3 and class results were terribly below the potential suggested by formal individual testing. (The difficulty of arranging formal individual testing is another matter.)  Ves performance now is closer to that suggested by the individual testing, and ve no longer is self-destructive, and ve no longer sees verself as “stupid”. I  have read widely in history and anthropology, and I can think of no previous society where ve could have come close to reaching ves potential.

Yes, learning disabilities would exist even if the society had no “defined standards of educational success”: they are part of the neuronal structure of some humans.  It would just be much harder for the fond parents to find out whether their child’s talents are as great (or as limited) as they think, when ve cannot do what the other children can. It would be that much harder to prove that one method of teaching is better than another for a particular personality type.  It would be that much harder for experts to recommend the direction of training to capitalise on strengths.

It would be that much harder for many of those who are non-standard, not easier.

Graphing climate change: an activity examining persuasive graphing / writing

October 31, 2011

The New Scientist had a graph, reproduced below.  It struck me as a good teaching example, both as a source for examining the effects of presentation choices on interpretation and as a trigger for discussion on the distinction (if any) between persuasive writing and biased writing.

The  graph’s title as published was vague, as it related the graph also to an added range of possible effects  cut from this image.   I think of this graph as “Temperature increase in °C for given CO2 concentration, by climate sensitivity to CO2 in °C per doubling of CO2 level”

Questions:

  • What does this graph show ?
  • How does it make you feel about increasing CO2 levels?
  • What title do you prefer at present?
  • Can you imagine the following re-graphing:

– Put temperature increase (the dependant variable) on the Y-axis and CO2 (the independent variable) on the X-axis  (This is, after all, the customary arrangement.)

– double the size of the scale for Atmospheric CO2, so that “100” is as far from the zero point as “200” is at present;

– place the in-graph  labels for “likely Scenarios” “Outside possibilities” and “most likely scenario” so that they  are in the same visual spaces as in the original.

  • Make the new graph you tried to imagine.   It does represent the same data.  Look at it:
  • What title would you give it?
  • Does it make you feel the same way about increasing CO2?
  • Compare the two graphs.  Which do you prefer?  Why?
  • New Scientist has been accused of being biased  in its presentation of the science concerning climate change.   Does the published graph  cross the line between science reporting and biased writing?
  • Is there a distinction between persuasive and biased writing?
  • Is there /should there be  a line between science reporting and persuasive writing?  Why / why not?