Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lack of Power to Cause to Be

Sometimes I imagine a debate over whether God created the heavens and the earth.

The negative side says, "God could not have create the heavens and the earth, because God doesn't exist
The positive side says, "Yes, we agree that God doesn't exist, but I believe that God still created the heavens and the earth."

This seems quite ridiculous. Things that don't exist don't create the heavens and the earth.

But at least we can debate whether God exists to create the heavens and the earth. We know that non-existence never exists. Non-being is a lack of existence and therefore a lack of existence of power to cause to be. So when the debate becomes over something else, like whether God exists, the possibility that we came from nothing should be excluded, for the same reason the possibility that the non-existent God created the heavens and the earth should be excluded.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Using the Right Tribal Signals

I was very impressed when I read SlateStar's non-fiction writing advice
Figure out who you’re trying to convince, then use the right tribal signals 
For example, when I’m trying to convince conservatives, I veer my signaling way to the right. I started my defense of trigger warnings with “I complain a lot about the social justice movement”. Then I cited Jezebel and various Ethnic Studies professors being against trigger warnings. Then I tried to argue that trigger warnings actually go together well with strong versions of freedom of speech. At this point I haven’t even started arguing in favor of trigger warnings, I’ve just set up an unexpected terrain in which trigger warnings can be seen as a conservative thing supported by people who like free speech and don’t like social justice, and opposition to trigger warnings can be seen as the sort of very liberal thing that people like Jezebel and Ethnic Studies professors support. The important thing isn’t that I convince anyone that trigger warnings are really on the right – that’s a tall order – but that the rightists reading my argument feel like I’m working with them rather than against them. I’m not just another leftist saying “Support trigger warnings because it’s the leftist thing and you should be leftist and everyone on the right is terrible!”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is Education Funded by Property Tax?

I've been given the impression many times that public education is funded mostly by property taxes. Today I took the time to find out if that's true.

Here we find out that 43.7% of K-12 schooling is from local governments. Since local governments are the ones that lay property taxes (state property taxes are negligible), we can already see public education cannot be funded mostly by property taxes.

So how much of this 43.7% of local government funding comes from property tax? Well property tax is one of the important ways local government collects revenue, but we can see here that property tax makes up 47% of local government revenue.

So we find 47% of 43.7% and get... 20% of overall primary/secondary school expenditure comes from property taxes.

Okay. That's important but not huge. And some states have very very high education expenditure relative to local governments (85.7% in Vermont for example), so clearly public education cannot be funded by property taxes in these states.

As I read through arguments on the issue, I identified at least a few ways people are being misled on the issue.

  • Use of terms like "primary funding". It might be correct that education is "primarily" funded by property taxes, if by primary you mean, "more than anything else". But when something is funded by a lot of different sources, as with education, "more than anything else" can still mean not very much. Besides that, "primary" can also mean mostly, and I think that's what most people read.
  • Not realizing that by looking at property taxes, you're looking at a slice of a slice of the pie. Property tax funding of local funding of total funding is making more than one cut, and that's not always clear the way it is talked about.
  • Looking at what proportion of property tax revenue is spend on education rather than how much education consists of property tax revenue.
So all this combined with the common bias people have of sacralizing education alongside common folk criticism of "spending cuts" from a total lack of information, it seems this is not an issue where people have their heads on straight.

Student Achievement may vary more by classroom than school, state, and district

This is a very good post from a new blog I'm reading. The post is very long and a very good argument, but I found this particularly interesting:

One terribly under-appreciated fact here is that there is more real variance within classrooms than between schools, districts, and states.

Politics by Religious Affiliation

Here is research on politics by religious affiliation. No shockers here, but it's interesting.

I have no idea what the difference between the left leaning Presbyterian Church (USA) and the right leaning Presbyterian Church in America is.

Steven Pinker on Feminism

“Feminism as a movement for political and social equity is important, but feminism as an academic clique committed to eccentric doctrines about human nature is not. Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not. And eliminating sexual assaults is important, but advancing the theory that rapists are doing their part in a vast male conspiracy is not.” 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kaiser Mario levels

The maker of this course said that it took him 40+ hours to complete it.

I'd label this under Remembering Self over Experiencing Self

Social Security takes Money from the Dead and give them to the Living

I've heard a lot about the distributional effects of social security on the poor/rich, but I haven't heard much about the effects on the dead/alive.

It seems to me that people who are dead lost a lot from paying into social security while they were alive, and those lucky enough to live to an old age gained from their loss. This seems very regressive to me, though I'm not sure if regressive is the right word. This seems like taking from the unfortunate and giving to the fortunate to me.

That lifespan is correlated with richness implies some hidden influence over the distributional effects regarding economic status. One is more likely to live long enough to collect from social security if one is already rich. One is more likely to die before social security can be collected if one is poor.

It doesn't mean social security has overall negative impact, but is suspect this is an important effect that gets missed in the way most people, even economists, talk about it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Again with Abortion

Lets talk about abortion again (and again).

Nobody knows when a fetus obtains rights/dignity/whatever reason we have for not killing each other (I just use the term worthy to describe this idea. Worthy means ethically equivalent to a baby). It is clear at the tail ends of the spectrum. 5 minutes after conception isn't a worthy being, 5 minutes before birth is a worthy being.

What should we do when the being's worthiness is unclear? Most importantly leave a wide gap between you and the possibility of doing something awful.

If you're a woman and the fetus is in the unclear zone of the spectrum, you shouldn't have an abortion (maybe unless you have a good reason. A really good reason, not just that you're not ready to have a baby). Having an abortion when it's unclear whether the fetus is worthy is just a horrible thing to do.

Legally speaking, if the fetus is in the unclear zone of the spectrum, you shouldn't convict a woman for having an abortion. Convicting a woman when it's unclear whether the fetus is worthy is another horrible thing to do.

Stop trying to tell me that you know when a baby has rights. You don't. No you don't. Stop it. No it isn't. You don't know. Be humble with me, admit that you don't know.

Yale on Personality, IQ, and parenting

I appreciate this Yale Open Course segment on personality, IQ, and the Nurture Assumption.

I can't say that I learned a whole lot. The Meyer Briggs personality test is robust and predictive. The many "kinds" of intelligence is correlated which is what psychologists call G (general intelligence). And personality and IQ come from about half genes and half non-shared environment.

The course did teach me some better ways to think about these issues, and some additional reasons why they're so robust. And I did not know how terrible ink blotch tests were, or how often they're still used!

I also like to hear these things verified from a Yale classroom, and in no uncertain terms. When I try to talk about these things with the normals I can sometimes feel like some fringe weirdo who just makes stuff up, and it feels like I'm getting an inappropriately high level of push-back from people. And not very quality push-back either, mostly just setting the burden of proof to an absurdly high level.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SlateStar on Society is Fixed, Biology is Mutable

An old one from SlateStar, Society is Fixed, Biology is Mutable:
Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean. 
And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs. 
On the other hand, biology is gratifyingly easy to change. Sometimes it’s just giving people more iron supplements. But the best example is lead. Banning lead was probably kind of controversial at the time, but in the end some refineries probably had to change their refining process and some gas stations had to put up “UNLEADED” signs and then we were done. And crime dropped like fifty percent in a couple of decades – including many forms of drug abuse.

Would Bernie Sanders have been the first President who wasn't a Millionaire?

The same could be said of Marco Rubio. But anyway, is it true? Make your guess...

Clinton's financial situation was that they were worth between $350,000 and $1 million, around the time of the 1992 election, as that was what they reported in their filing to the Federal Election Commission. So if one wanted a simple answer, it would be: "somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million."
Which is the first lead, the Federal Election Commission. But this site explains how difficult it is to interpret presidential financial disclosures. Still, it seems very likely that the Clinton's weren't millionaire's, since Bill's income was trivial as a governor, and Hillary Clinton continued to practice law with the Rose Law Firm for easily 100s of thousands, but millions?

So what about other presidents, were they millionaires? Unless you're a CEO, your finances are pretty much your business so its hard to know. But a guy on reddit makes some good points from which we can make some plausible inferences:
  • Eisenhower was a career military man from a comfortable and modest family.
  • Nixon might have been close but I son't think so. He was an enlisted man in the Navy before he started in politics.
  • LBJ came from a dirt poor area in Texas, although his personal enrichment was legendary.
  • Jimmy Carter was famously a peanut farmer before turning to politics. A gentleman farmer at best meant he was land rich and cash poor.
  • Reagan had means from his time in Hollywood but was hardly rich.
  • Bush was the wealthy and the wealthiest President since FDR.
  • Clinton was not rich. He made less than $30k/yr as governor of Arkansas, although hillary famously "had" (her quote) to work and had an eye for cattle futures.
  • Bush II had money from the fam as well as his own dealings.
  • Obama might have just got there because of his book and speaking fees before he ran for the Senate but he was hardly rolling in it.
It also occurs to me that many former presidents were former governors / politicians, and we know how much they make (high 10s of thousands for governors / low 100s of thousands for senators. They may or may not have been millionaires based on how or whether they invested that income, or who they were married to (in Bill Clinton's case), but based on that it seems hardly plausible that not a single president in recent history wasn't a millionaire.

If you're a Bernie disciple, you probably never tried to look up whether the meme was true before sharing it. And if you did, you looked at how much money former presidents had well after becoming president, which is not comparable to Bernie as he was running for president.

Three Stages of Statistical Understanding

Stages of statistical understanding:

Statistical Naivety (Statistics prove what they sound like they prove) "1 in 2 workers earn below the median wage!"

Statistical Skepticism (You can prove anything with statistics) "You can't trust the unemployment rate"

Statistical Competence (Awareness of common ways of manipulating statistics, and knowledge of how much a statistic actually proves) "Wealth inequality is striking, but that shouldn't be confused with income or consumption inequality. The Scandinavian countries like Norway or Sweden also have very high wealth inequality, so it doesn't necessarily mean the economy is somehow rigged."

Daily Kos's explanation for Gas Prices

This is for real from the Daily Kos:

If the oil companies kept their prices at a consistently high level, consumers would lose hope of them ever descending and making their gas-guzzler SUVs affordable again. Then the consumers would go out and buy Hondas and Priuses, thereby reducing the demand and thus the profits of the oil companies. So instead, the price of gas jumps around, and consumers are thereby given incentive to hope that "it will come down again soon".
It's sooooo bad that I had to post.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Death compels us to stop and think

"Teach us to number our days, so that we may obtain a wise heart." (Psalm 90:12)

If the root of evil is the unwillingness to stop and think, and death interrupts our lives, compels us to stop and think, then is death really evil?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Treated Unfairly for Reasons you don't Understand

A line I just read stuck out to me

"White privilage is not something we notice, because it doesn't effect the things we have, but the lack of injustices we have to endure."

So going back to Joy Degruy's trip to the grocery store; how can we be sure these injustices have anything to do with race? We're all treated unfairly sometimes for reasons we don't understand, and when it happens because of racism the racist doesn't come out and say it.

Thinking back on my life, I can find lots of situations where I felt I was treated unfairly for reasons I don't understand. Most notably, I was pulled over in Detroit after visiting Canada, accused of a hit-and-run, and endured a year-long process of having to defend myself. It was a really lousy situation. Suppose I didn't have my "white privilage", how easily it would have been for me to interpret what happened as a race based injustice.

Other situations where I was treated seemingly unfairly for reasons I didn't understand:
I was approached by three employees and asked to leave a grocery store
I was fired from one job after being held up at gunpoint
I wasn't hired after I felt I nailed an interview

If you're treated unfairly for reasons you don't understand and you're white, we shrug and say the world is strange. If you're treated unfairly for reasons you don't understand and you're not white, racism automatically becomes the top answer.

The whole issue is muddled by the hyper-sensative morality with which the issue is treated. You don't only face moral condemnation for being a racist, but for pointing out that a situation might not be racist, or by pointing out that racism might be less common than others think. At that point reasons don't matter, evidence doesn't matter, you're a deniar and that's shameful. Once a certain belief is deemed immoral it becomes very hard for people to think about whether the belief is true. As Steven Pinker says, "the truth cannot be racist."

What makes me different, I believe, is I'm so concerned with believing true things that I'm willing to be called names. Although to have both I keep my beliefs to myself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How much Government Control by Ideology

Ignore the circles for a second, is the list in any kind of order? Why is education near the bottom, but food is at the top? Why is clothing at the top, but courts are on the bottom?

If most of the these theories were competent, the list would be in an obvious order without looking at the circles and labels. They're not.



If each ideology captures a coherent theory of what government should do, then the ordering would make sense without the ideology attached to it.

Education is a split between modern conservatism and classical liberalism. What theory can we attach to conservatism and classical liberalism that explains that and all the other ordering?

If an alien landed on the planet and found out that almost all ideologies thought education should be provided by government, but not food or clothing, they would be scratching their heads. The alien would need to understand that these groups are tribes before they are philosophies of government

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Sad Exchange on Racism

I am unhappy with an exchange I had with someone regarding this video.

I tried to tell him that if you call every situation that could be explained by racism, racism, then you'll find racism everywhere. He challenged me on that point, but only by saying that any moral person can see that this is racism.

I then tried to explain that there is no moral difference between us, that anti-racism is common ground, it is in our difference in assessing whether racism is the best explanation for what happened to the woman in the video. I asked him to name something the cashier did that pointed specifically to a racist cause. He didn't answer.

I offered a specific scenario to try to clarify:

A white friend tell you a story about how he goes to Safeway and the cashier treats the cashier in front of him well. But when he gets to the front of the line the cashier checks his credentials with the "bad check list". How do you respond?

A) That's an unbelievable story because racism is the only possible explanation for what went on!
B) I don't know, some people are weird. Maybe you looked like someone who wrote a bad check recently?

The answer is obviously B. So why isn't that a reasonable explanation for the woman in the video?

I think a part of it may be a feedback loop between experience and priors. If you already think that racism is abundant, then racism may be the best explanation for the video. But if your priors are based on many events like the one in the video, then that's not really a great justification for believing in an abundant amount of racism in the first place.

These priors also lead into conspiracy about secret codes of racism, of which perhaps he thought he was cracking with me. Anybody who looks at a particular situation and says, "maybe that's not racism", is secretly just a racist trying to protect his white privilege or whatever. You don't even have to listen anymore. You're right, they're wrong. You're good, they're evil.

Even mentioning that that background existed would have satisfied me. Different assumptions about how racist people are generally will lead to different conclusions about a particular example that could be racism.

But instead he accused me of chest thumping, denying the problem, and re-affirmed that our difference was moral. His response was not very thoughtful, despite him being a philosopher. He dealt with me in a personal way when I just tried to explain my thinking. That makes me think that it wasn't just a difference in opinion, but a soft spot for him, where it's hard to deal with it in an objective way.

I almost feel like he was testing me. Like he really just wanted to see how I would deal with someone who wasn't dealing with the thoughts I was stating, but with the emotional impact of how my thoughts felt to him. I know it isn't true. I think maybe I should expect less from people.

Teething Pain? Nope

I wrote this on Cognitive Strain before I revamped it.


While reading research on teething pain, I came across a lot on the historic inanity with which the topic was treated. Ready for this?

Gum lancing:

"The procedure was conducted in the absence of any anaesthesia, generally requiring two incisions crossing at 90° overlying the 'difficult' tooth...Few doctors challenged (or would even contemplate challenging) the rationale for gum-lancing, such was their unquestioning belief in its potentially life-saving effect. Only in the late 19th century did a few sceptics publicly doubt both the rationale and supposed effect of gum-lancing"
Teething as the main cause of infant mortality:

Around one half of all infant deaths in 18th century France were attributed to teething, and teething accounted for 12% of the total deaths in children younger than 4 years old in the Registrar General's Report of 1842.
The hare brain solution to teething was pretty... hair brained:

In 117ad, the physician Soranus of Ephesus was the first to suggest using hare's brain to ease teething. This remained a favoured remedy until the seventeenth century. 
The seventeenth century! Oh, and if you run short of hare brain in your pantry worry not, lamb's brain will work just as well.

Not sure why your 6 month old is vomiting? Probably just teething:
Eighteenth and nineteenth century therapies were varied and depended on local superstition and the beliefs of the attending physician. Doses of mercury salts, opiates, purgatives and emetics were recommended, even if the child was experiencing diarrhoea or vomiting beforehand. With modern understanding of diseases it is likely that dehydration was largely responsible for many of the signs, symptoms and deaths associated with teething.
With teething myths permeating throughout time and culture, why should we expect anything different today? They don't generally take as radical form as these past examples, but I heard from more than one mommy that teething was the second most painful experience in life, next after childbirth. When reading research I come away believing that there's not much reason to believe that teething is painful whatsoever!
Teething pain, sometimes referred to as “dentitio difficilis”, is the commonest symptom associated with the eruption of the primary dentition. Despite a reported prevalence of around 85%, evidence for this condition is weak. Adults assume an infant is experiencing pain because they appear distressed, or because they believe the incisal edges of teeth “cut through” the alveolar bone and gingiva during eruption.
Weak evidence:
there is only weak evidence for pain and no evidence to support the wide array of systemic signs and symptoms often attributed to teething by parents, child carers and health care professionals...
 If some pain is experienced during teething, this will be impossible to assess reliably because infants cannot communicate their pain specifically or describe their pain experience explicitly. Instead, adults interpret various cues (vocalization, facial expression, body movements and changes in breathing rates) and attribute these to pain in the infant. Such cues are not specific and are caused by other forms of stress or distress.
A wastebasket diagnosis for when you can't find anything else.
Although many of the conditions historically thought to result from teething are now accurately diagnosed as specific clinical entities, the enigma of teething continues to endure as a somewhat wastebasket diagnosis, when no cause can be found for a particular sign or symptom.
'Teething' is an ill-defined non evidence-based entity proffered by both health care professionals and lay people as an inappropriate diagnosis for a wide variety of signs and symptoms...
RS Illingsworth statement, "Teething produces nothing but teeth." is a straightforward summation of the actual process of teething...
Studies could not identify systemic manifestations such as decreased appetite for liquids, congestion, sleep disturbances, daytime restlessness, loose stools, vomiting, cough, body rash, fever greater than 38.90C, an increase in finger-sucking, and gum rubbing to be associated with teething in children. 

 A Finland study found few symptoms of teething,
 Tasanen studied teething infants in North Finland, with daily recording of temperature, appearance of gums, presence of infections and disturbances of behaviour.2 He showed that tooth eruption bore no relation at all to infection, diarrhoea, fever, rash, convulsions, sleep disturbance, cough or ear rubbing.
 If teething is so painful, why doesn't it cause pain other times?

 the eruption of permanent teeth is free from the symptoms frequently ascribed to the eruption of the deciduous teeth.

Teeth, whether primary or permanent, do not “cut” through bone, connective tissue and oral epithelium during eruption as an eruption pathway is formed by via bone remodelling. The lack of any significant “teething pain” associated with eruption of permanent teeth is remarkable. Although it can be argued that in older children there is greater pain tolerance and lower pain sensitivity compared to infants.
 A common thread was that the contemporary myths of teething are common among parents as well as health care professionals. Of course when statistical literacy among doctors are lower than chance, what do you expect?

Also read, The Teething Virus.


I have one two-year-old child, and another on the way. I'm quickly beginning to realize that as I have more kids, more and more people are going to pop my bubble and ascribe teething pain to my children. I've given up winning arguments against adherents to popular superstitions, but when they come to me I can't help be get frustrated.

Also see Separating Fact from Fiction