What’s So Special about 3-Sigma?

So what’s the big deal about 3-sigma? Is it just 6-Sigma for under-achievers? Is it only for statistical geeks? Why should anyone give a hoot?

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There’s a Hole in the System

Last night I sailed with young man who moaned about how  lazy freeloaders in our society rely on “entitlements” to get by rather than by earning a living with hard, honest work. I was at loss for words upon hearing such nonsense from a young person like him. I’ve heard it too many times before from the shriveled and spent self-righteious old-timers. As I contemplated the young man’s sentiments, a song I learned many years ago, came to mind and I have not been able to shake it off.

In “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” a young man named Henry is sent to fetch water by Liza. When the young man sees that the bucket has a hole in it, he calls out to Lisa with the bad news.

Liza replies with a tone of voice that makes it clear that she thinks Henry is lazy, stupid and looking, always, for a way avoid honest working. With lilting condescension, she calls back to him, “Well, mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, just mend it.”

As we listen to the conversation back and forth between Henry and Liza we learn that Henry will need to cut straw to mend the bucked but the axe to cut it with is too dull. The only way to sharpen it will be with stone wetted with water retrieved in the bucket.

“But” Henry says to Liza, “There’s a hole in bucket.”

This is the circularity that afflicts the poor in our society. Their affectation of laziness and cluelessness reflects the hopelessness of their situation. The poor understand that the game is rigged. Although they can fetch the water well enough if they have a bucket, they are not a position that allows them to fix it.

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The Online Education Conspiracy

I really like the political interview and discussion program, Moyers and Company, aired weekly on many PBS stations. Not always, but much of the time, Moyers is on the right track.

I met the guy back around 1980, while I was consulting to Chevron as an educational media producer. He was doing his Chevron funded creativity series back then–making a name for himself in the documentary business.

I blew off Chevron about a year later, stomping out of the 16th floor office at 395 Market Street, San Francisco. By most people’s measures, it was a truly “crazy” thing to do. I was pretty naïve in those days and saw mostly good in my job representing Chevron in supporting the arts. But then one day, my boss/client, whom I really looked up to, said he was sending me to Alaska to spread some art money around. He laughed at how cheaply the 6 figure pittances I would distribute would buy down the political resistance on the road to Chevron’s North Shore drilling projects. It suddenly dawned on me that I was a corporate lackey in charge of bribing educators and artists. That really depressed me and my brain went SNAP!

Anyway, I was listening to the Moyer’s updated repeat on the subject of ALEC.(June 21, 2013.) It’s a very disturbing story that brings home to me the fact that, from my standpoint at least, we are losing the battle for the fate of humanity every which way. The onslaught of corporatism is relentless and operating at virtually every level of social experience.

In his ALEC program, Moyers brings to attention something about which I was only dimly aware, yet right up my alley as an career educator. He talks about the fact that among the many, many fronts upon which dark forces are at work, is the business of deconstructing American public education and replacing it with privatized, sterile, disembodied, and highly profitable, online education.

Now I have always been critical of the online education model. To learn (i.e to create knowledge) requires face-to-face, practical interaction between living, breathing, feeling human beings. But I had generally viewed the rising popularity of online classrooms part of the disease of ubiquitous digital interaction in general, in which the creative and political powers of human beings are attenuated, watered down and rendered impotent by the seductive ease and painlessness of gagetized, media-mediated conversation. M. Gladwell got into this subject back around the time of the Arab Spring, in which the buzz was that social media had unleashed the natural democratic proclivities of idealistic young Egyptians. What nonsense!

I had not thought about how much money there was to be made in the online education (NOT) business, along with the added benefit of politically disempowering huge masses of human beings. In other words, I had not seen the rapid rise of online education as a purposeful political power play, supported and fostered by corporate interests–a conspiracy of purpose.

Sorry I can’t give you a time code for when the mention of online education occurs, but the whole show is well worth listening to. It shows in just one more way, how  conspiracies of shared aims actually work in practice.

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Mind Styles

Despite the illusion otherwise, our minds are not our private property. They are wholly a product of the creative commons and are open to the public that makes of them what it will. The Germans have a word for the products of the mind-creating community: Volksgemeinschaft.

Pollock, Portrait-Dream

The artistic mind-crafting proclivities of various communities have varied over time and from place to place: Classism, Romanticism and Realism, for example, have all had their day. Idealism seems to be running hot nowadays.

Back in the 60′s we of the duck-and-cover community who were given to experimentation with psychedelics, tended toward a kind of abstract expressionism: Jackson Pollack’s “drip paintings” come to the somewhat tattered remnants of my mind.

Regrettably, drip painted minds have long since fallen out of style.

NOTE: This post was inspired by Alva Noe’s recent blog entry, “The Mind Is An Open Book“.

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Homelessness

It’s interesting to read about the problem of homelessness in NYC. The complaints from those that have all that they need and the inane solutions proposed by their leaders, are endemic to cities and towns throughout America.

homeless-and-addiction

In the same edition is a story and video about too many wild horses  in the American west, “No Home on the Range.”

horses

There’s an eerie similarity to these two pieces. Too many useless horses. Too many useless people. Solutions? Dog food or government dole?

Maybe there’s something deeper going on about the basic imbalances that occur in a society that prioritizes above all else, greed and individual self-interest–every person or every horse for itself.

Or maybe that’s just the way the world goes–haves and have-nots–love it or leave it.

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Engineering Reality

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” ? George Orwell

NTY’s “The Stone” has an excellent essay on the business and aims of manufacturing reality, “The Real War on Reality,” by Peter Ludlow.

“…most intelligence work today is not carried out by government agencies but by private intelligence firms and that much of that work involves another common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”

The author suggests that his essay delves beneath the tip of iceberg–beyond the  sensationalistic ideas about good and/or bad leaks–and into the reality manufacturing machinery itself.

I would suggest that even his account is merely the tip of the iceberg. Wealth and power act at all levels to manufacture reality in order to create and maintain conditions of popular belief most favorable to themselves. The stumbling block of course, is the idea of “truth” itself, and he wrestles with this problem at the end of the essay where he discusses the idea of “disclosure”. But still, the creation of reality and reality itself, is always predicated upon the will of some individual or group. The truth of such a reality is always rooted in ethical and moral belief. One must always ask “Whose side are you (am I) on?”

Coincidently, there is also a story about the decline of PBS’s “News Hours”, a program I used to like and watch quite regularly: “Venerable Format of ‘NewsHour’ Struggles With New Era of Media.”

The article addresses the decline of the News Hour as a problem of style and viewer tastes. What nonsense! The fact is that those who pay attention can see the News Hour has gradually abdicated what it used to do very well–disclosure–and has increasingly become a “newspeak” mouthpiece for corporate interests upon whose donations it as come to rely since the weakening of federal funding that used to support PUBLIC broadcasting.

I can think of only two TV programs that are still in the disclosure business and therefore doing worthwhile journalism. The best is “Frontline“. The other is “Moyer’s & Company”, though he clearly goes beyond disclosure in order to advocate a progressive agenda

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Just Kidding–Really

Country Love

To whom it may concern:

I just want to take this opportunity to assure all you folks out there–especially John, Greg, Amanda, the NSA, CIA, FBI, Verizon and all the folks at PRISM–that I really, really love America, apple pie and my mother, and that anything I might have said on this blog or on my VOIP and cell phones, or in my emails, or posted on the social media, indicating otherwise, was just my all too often inept attempt at humor.

So please disregard anything that seems to call into question my absolute and undying loyalty to God and Country. Honestly, I was just kidding. I apologize profusely for any misunderstanding this may have caused.

Most sincerely and truthfully yours,
MH

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Must Happiness be Earned?

Night WatchHave you read today about the  Rijksmuseum. It simply blows my mind. Before getting lost in the museum, consider my thoughts below…

When I was in Amsterdam in 2004 I laid over a few days to take in the sights. I visited the Rijks and was astonished to discover that I could walk right in and view at my leisure the works of the great masters I had leaned about in school. No ticket booth nor gatekeeper held me at bay, demanding I tithe for entry.

This was very much like the astonishment I felt when traveling in Europe years before: that having been injured, I could walk into a doctor’s office, any office, and receive care, no questions asked!

Now the Rijks has taken advantage of the revolution in digital technology to extend access to the soul food in their possession. And in doing so they have violated a fundamental premise of our society—that of artificial scarcity.

The argument our society makes in defense of barring the doors involves a very strange and scary notion of morality. It says that if access is too easy, then people will not appreciate and value of the wealth humans have created and so there must be designated gatekeepers charged with the task of making sure access to that wealth which can be made readily accessible to all, cannot be accessed too easily. These designated gatekeepers are of course, those who control the wealth.

Examples of the human resources that must be, it is claimed, made scarce, go well beyond artwork and healthcare. Included among them are housing, clothing and food, for example. If these and other forms of wealth, goes the reasoning, are made too easily available, then people won’t appreciate them and presumably, no one will endeavor to create wealth that is not sufficiently appreciated. Everyone will just lie about doing nothing of value.

What a strange line of thought this is. I think it has its roots in religious fanaticism going back 1000s of years. Heaven is only for those who are born in the grace of God or have by means of some kind of suffering earned their just rewards.

This idea of creating and maintaining scarcity runs very deep. Worries about “false honor” have been popular of late. What horrors would befall us if we gave medals to ordinary soldiers who served their time in the service of their country, say driving trucks or warehousing supplies in support of front line fighters? Would the world be worse off if we eschewed the practice of naming heroes for committing what we take to be self-less acts? Does the creation of an artificial scarcity of human beings deemed more useful and worthy than others really contribute to making things better?

We are immersed in a way of thinking that is based in a rather perverted idea of morality in which happiness and well being must be earned lest they become commonplace conditions and therefore no longer valued. A rather odd ideas, I think.

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Our Kingdom of Lies

kingdom of liesHeres an interesting but not surprising article in NYT today on healthcare pricing.

“There’s very little transparency out there about what doctors and hospitals are charging for services,” Mr. Zirkelbach said. “Much of the public policy focus has been on health insurance premiums and has largely ignored what hospitals and doctors are charging.”

A lie is not the opposite of the truth, there being no clear standard for truth. To lie is simply to report information that is intended to deceive.

In the health care business everyone knows that prices do not reflect actual costs. They are merely a starting point for negotiations with high-stakes players like insurance companies, governments and large groups who pool their costs. Pity the individual not included among such bloc negotiators, who must pay directly and through ever-increasing levies based upon deceptive pricing.

What’s interesting about this is that our entire socio-economic system is based on lying, not just health care.

Consider the Mafioso accountant who keeps two sets of books. One set of books is a pack of lies and the other the “true” accounting. But since the “true” accounting relies on numbers produced by others who also keep two sets of books, the hidden set of books is just another pack of lies as well.

Since everyone involved in transactions seeks to gain an edge over others the information we report to one another is always skewed in deceptive ways. Since EVERYONE is playing the same game, the net effect is that NOBODY KNOWS. Nobody can possibly know what it really costs to achieve any desired end and we are hopelessly lost and off to the Milky Way.

Deming’s idea about win-win–everybody wins–is the only way to exit the kingdom of lies. Once we adopt a moral stance that our interests are always mutual in a very PRACTICAL sense, then we strive to share information in a manner that is, to the best of our ability, mutually advantageous. In other words, we seek to construct and participate in a shared information space rather than in multiple individuated universes.

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Twisting Arms

In her New York Review of Books article, “Obama and the Myth of Arm-Twisting,” Elizabeth Drew correctly explains that those who have been criticizing President Obama’s  lack of political persuasive skills fail to understand that we are at a point in America’s history in which the arts and sciences of persuasion don’t work.

This is not the first time!

lincolnHave you seen the movie “Lincoln” yet? If not, you should! It’s very good!

It portrays Lincoln as a skillful convincer and sometimes coniving and ruthless master of political maneuver. Interestingly, I think Lincoln was fighting battles in the political arena in a war that persists today. But here’s the rub. For Lincoln, those with whom he most disagreed were excluded from the voting, having succeeded from the United States. So Lincoln only had to convince those who were–more or less and close enough–already on his side. Obama has no such luxury. The enemy who so vehemently eschews human rights in favor of property rights is on the inside.

In conflicts involving matters of fundamental belief, moral vision, a theory of nationhood, and deeply entrenched economic “ways of doing,” there’s little room for compromise. Who will prevail in such situations must be determined on the battle fields of WAR–call it what you will–and the fact is that wheeling, dealing and arm twisting will never do the trick. It always comes down to stronger measures, as the former events of this war we are still fighting, called the American “Civil War”, so amply demonstrated.

Regrettably, with the DOW near 15000, it looks today as if Capitalism is going strong. My sense is that, for now at least, the side that favors property rights (wealth) over human rights is winning the struggle for American hearts and minds,

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When Bad News Is Good News

The other evening at dinner a friend asked me if my prognosis for our economic system meant that I was actually hoping for bad news. He wondered how anyone could actually think bad news could be good.

The title of my recent post, “See You at the Barricades“, was my way of saying, only partially in jest, that my confidence is waning in our ability as a people to use reasonableness and persuasion as a means to turn the tide away from the unbridled profiteering that is fast despoiling our planet and polarizing our nation socially, economically and politically.

It seems to me that the big winners in the game of Capitalism, few though they are, have acquired so much power and influence that they are able to call all the shots. Nothing’s exempted: government, schools, scientific research, work and play. Every aspect of our daily lives is tainted with their propaganda that says we live in world in which it’s every man for himself and the best, namely themselves, naturally win.

The obvious fact, as history demonstrates, is that the winners of games like this will do all in their power–literally anything it takes–to stay the course that preserves and enhances their situation. They will never take actions in the interest of the planet or others, if they see those actions as threatening their wealth, power and influence. Indeed, human history itself throughout the ages is the story of small groups of winners doing anything it takes to preserve their privilege and losers who have had enough, trying to rectify injustices foisted upon them by the winners.

A nation is only a Nation when everyone experiences themselves as part of a whole that is pulling together to make a better word. For everyone! If what I am saying about history–specifically, American history–is correct, then there should be some actual numbers to that give credence to my story.

Here’s a chart that seems to do just that.

US history gini

The Gini Index is designed to express the relative economic wellbeing of the members of a society. The higher the Gini index the greater the disparity between a wealthy few and a less wealthy many. In peaceful, non-militaristic Nordic “socialist” nations like Norway (25) and Sweden (.25), the Gini index runs very low, while in the proverbial “banana republics of Central America, in which rebellions and brutal repression have abounded, the Gini indexes have been very high (.50+). A similar story applies to the nations currently embroiled in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

We could say, that nations with a low Gini index are nations of people pulling together. And nations with a high Gini index are nations that are in constant internal conflict–nations of people who are pulling apart.

Looking at the Gini Index for America before 1929, our index (.49) was as high and even higher than many Banana Republics. In other words, self-interested greed ruled the day and we were a nation that was pulling apart. When the pyramid of shame collapsed in 1929, our Gini Index declined (.39). We became more like a Nation with common purpose pulling together to put people to work building infrastructure, creating a social security system for the elderly, unionizing workers and regulating greedy financiers and oligarchs. We strived together to create a better world for everyone. And when WWII broke out there was a little blip-up as war profiteers gained ground, but still far and away, we as a Nation, pulled together.

On the heels of WWII, we were convinced, sometimes wrongly, that we were still at war, this time with the “Commies”. Also the legacy of our pulling together in the Depression and real war, kept us pulling together, though less and less. But gradually the pyramid of shame began reasserting itself itself –unions were busted, regulations eased, roads and bridges fell into disrepair and the ethos of every-man-for-himself greed was foisted upon us with redoubled effort–back to stage center.

Today our Gini Index number (.47)  is returning to Banana Republic status and if my explanation is correct, we are pulling apart again. Since it is unlikely that the winners in the game of greed will give up their positions of privilege willingly, the best hope we have for coming together again to confront the inevitable challenges that the future will bring, is bad news.

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Probably Guilty

math on trialI just finished reading Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom. It’s a very quick read and quite entertaining, but the statistics component doesn’t run all that deep. You’ll find a few bits to entertain your brain’s math centers (ha ha), but not enough to make it a big winner in that regard. Most of it is about debunking probability estimates–what are the chances of this or that happening? But the abuses of stats used to pursue prosecutorial agendas is disturbing, and the conclusions drawn by the authors about the use of “math” in the courtroom is surprising. The efficacy of forensic science, made so popular by all the CIS spin-off TV, might not be as pat we like to think, even in the case of the much touted DNA matching game.

When it comes to using probabilities to commit people to years of imprisonment, and in some cases, death, it all comes down to the thorny question of the lesser of two evils: Are a few wrongful convictions an acceptable price to pay for exacting revenge and deterring future wrong-doing or is even one innocent life destroyed too high a price to pay?

Although absolute certainty is unachievable, it seems that our prosecutorial and punishment system has tended to favor of the former. Ambiguity and doubt are an anathema when it comes to fear, loathing and social control.

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Sewers are Socialism!

great-stinkIn his blog today, Paul Krugman dredges up a wonderful historical stinker about London’s 1848 “Great Stink” . The Economist magazine, an influential magazine spouting the “natural” benefits of Capitalism then and now, deposited an amazing pile of redolent conservative crap to argue against tax and spend proposals to build a London sewer system to abate both the smell and a cholera epidemic.

“Suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions; they cannot be got rid of; and the impatient efforts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation, before benevolence has learned their object and their end, have always been more productive of evil than good.”

Nature’s admonitions?

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Why A Capitalist Society Can Never Be Free And Democratic

workersIn a capitalist society a few people have obtained by means of hard work, good luck and connections, or through inheritance from family, the ownership and control of the means for producing wealth, called “capital”.  These Capitalists describe themselves as  ”job creators.” But most people, by far, are workers. They are the people employed by the job creators, and presumably paid a living wage for their time and labor.

So far so good.

Now suppose after many years of experience, study and careful consideration you, a worker, decide that a socialist society, one in which its one for all and all for one, would be an real improvement over a capitalist society in which it’s every man for himself?

In a free and democratic society, you are entitled to your opinion. More importantly, in a democracy you are expected to participate in the political process by which your government is constituted and run. You are expected to act in the role of a citizen. But if you give voice to your belief and lobby your fellows to adopt your carefully considered views, you will find yourself afoul of the capitalists and excluded from gainful employment.

Unless you are an academic, protected by the wisely conceived rules of tenure, that assure you the right to give voice to your views, or you are independently wealthy and have no need of employment as a means to earn a living wage, you don’t dare express your political ideas, much less exercise your democratic right to act in public ways, lest you alert those who hire and fire to your desire to undo their monopoly on wealth, power and influence.

This is the Catch 22 built into capitalist society. Although Capitalists say they believe in freedom and democracy, it is only they who are free to deny you the means to make a living. You, in turn, are free to hold whatever political belief you feel right but if you express your views publicly or act politically, you will make yourself unemployable by those who do the hiring and firing.

Freedom and democracy are impossible in a capitalist society because Capitalists are free to hire and fire whomever they like while wage earning workers are free to toe the Capitalist’s line or live their lives in destitution.

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See you at the barricades

Here’s a film worth watching: Park Avenue: money, power and the American dream – Why Poverty?

This film is quite good, though maybe a bit disjointed. The difficulty with stories like this is that the story tellers try to explain how Capitalism has gone wrong, but the real problem I have come to think, is that Capitalism is not a system that can ever be made right. It is, simply put, WRONG–wrong in its assertions about the nature of human relationships, interactions and motivations, as well as plain wrong in a moral sense. Capitalism is for Capitalists and not for the billions of commoditized human beings who are forced on pain of destitution to sell their labor for whatever they can get and are employed at the whim of the Capitalists who control the means for producing wealth and have the wealth to make the rules.

The weakest part of the film is the discussion of education. The idea that educating more people can fix Capitalism is pernicious nonsense. Educating every American, by whatever measures you want to apply, will not change the underlying dynamics of Capitalism. Left to their own devices, Capitalists’ pyramid of shame is self-reinforcing.

Unless you mean that by more educating more people that more will be able to see and understand that they are being gamed, and that the game is being rigged, in which case we might hope for sufficient numbers with the will to overthrow the Capitalist’s corrupt regime. Should that become the case, I’ll see you at the barricades with torch and pitchfork in hands.

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Capitalism Works!

Today’s headline in the NYT reads “Dow Average Surpasses Record High as Market Opens.”

The DOW is today, higher than it was before the Great Recession began in 2008, which is to say, that stocks are trading at prices higher today than they were when the U.S. economy was bubbled-up and ready to burst–KAPOW!

casino wheelIsn’t it great to know that Capitalism works! It continues to make fewer and fewer people richer and more and more folks poor. It’s a surefire scorched-earth method for increasing wealth inequality at an ever increasing rate.

Imagine if you will, a huge casino to which millions of Americans who earn their keep by producing somethings of value, come to risk their hard earned money in a game of chance. They have been told again and again that earning a wage for labor is a game for saps and that the real winners in the game are those who are willing to take risks. The doors of opportunity open only to those willing to take a chance.

“Hurry up, hurry up, before the wheel is spun, place your bets. You can’t be a winner if you don’t play the game.”

But as is the case in all casinos, the odds always favor the house. Who is the house you ask? The house is the people with tons of money, the game-makers who are in a position to cover all bets.

When the wheel is spun–KAPOW!. There are always a few winners, but as with all games of chance, there are more losers. This must be so or there would be no game, and the difference between the many losers and few winners–the vig–gets pocketed by the house.

The players who are all played out–broke, indebted and out of work–are told to leave the keys to their cars and houses at the front desk on their way out door, never to be seen nor heard from again. The winners, now  flush with their gains, are encouraged to stay in the game. To the risk takers go the spoils, that’s the entrepreneurial spirit. Ante up folks!

Says one of the money managers it the NYT report, “I just don’t understand why people don’t want to play,” He means of course,  those who still have their car, house, a job and credit, should belly up to the table for the next spin of the wheel. KAPOW!

Meanwhile the house pockets the vig–basically a sure thing–no risk required.

This is how Capitalism “works”. It just keeps on doing what it does until the well runs dry. KABLOOEY! When and what happens then is anyone guess, but rest assured that the house will have hedged their bets, probably with pre-paid accommodations in gated communities with well armed guards.

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