Sunday, April 5, 2020

Death By Data

The first thing you learn in the training and/or practice of Quantitative Methods (aka statistics) is to be highly suspect of raw data. You know, like gas station sushi. Generally speaking you need to be highly mindful of the behavior of data, including variables such as the size of the data sample vs. total population, correlation, extrapolation, deviation, etc. Because, as my favorite professor of QM would be fond of reminding us, “garbage in, garbage out”. 

Some of you may have heard of a statistics term called Standard Deviation (SD). I won’t get into its excruciating details, but just be aware that many statistical analyses thrown your way deviate more than two data points away from their respective assumptions. Why two? Because one is the loneliest number, duh. But stay with me: standard deviations technically make the base assumptions mildly contaminated, if you will. Yes, I use “contaminated” very consciously here, in these times of pandemic. Assumption contamination, the inevitable erosion of a hypothesis, is something I’m sure you’ve heard footnoted as “margin of error”. Most of you have experienced this dissonance in political polling, aka The Art of Manipulation (with all due respect to good guys like Nate Silver).

THAT BEING SAID. If there was ever a time to be BOTH tuned into AND guarded of statistics in the same breath, the day has finally arrived. Let’s just say that 2020 will most likely be known as the year we all became a little wiser. Whether you’re predisposed to look at the glass... nay, at the DATA half-full or half-empty, we will all be a little smarter at the other end of the curve. When all else fails, apparently suffering is that overload trigger that switches on a brave new forced behavior in life. I would have gone for pleasure as that trigger, but hey. Nobody asked me. Perhaps in THAT parallel universe, evolution was completed in about a WEEK (insert eye roll emoji here).

Whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not, there are two exponential forces at this moment shaping your destiny: one is SCIENCE, and the other... no, it’s not love. It’s not family, religion, or politics either, as powerful as those forces are. Those forces are constants in life, not exponential. That second exponential force forging your destiny at this moment is a crazy little thing called SOCIAL MEDIA. 

If you don’t believe Social Media is an ever-increasing force in your life, you might want to reconsider. Consider what it has done to what we used to call the Fourth Estate - aka The Press, or Journalism. Down to its knees the once-mighty Fourth Estate went. Suddenly arch-enemied as the MAINSTREAM Media, its Goliath-like relevance is now pitied against any David with a laptop, WiFi, and a clever slingshot of manipulated data.

Which of course brings us to that curious little word that is changing your life like a magnitude 9 earthquake. You might have heard it very recently referred to as Big Data or Data Mining, by the Captains of Industry and their army of merchants. Nothing wrong in principle that it was capitalism which brought the power of data to the forefront, even more so than science. Whatever it takes, evolution doesn’t care. But, alas, what do we have here: between capitalism and science, guess which one is not on its knees at this moment...

In SCIENCE, most researchers report the STANDARD DEVIATION of experimental data. By scientific convention, only data points that are more than two standard deviations away from a “NULL” expectation (the base assumption) are considered “significant”. Mind you, that null point is still a hypothesis. Think of it as the presumed innocent in a trial, until otherwise proven guilty.

SOCIAL MEDIA for its part works with an equal but opposite force: most posters report based on highly emotional triggers and bias confirmation binges. By social media convention, only data points with zero standard deviation from an assumption are considered (period, never mind “significant”). At the end of the evening, when all smart phones go down on that night stand... If the data don’t fit, you must acquit.

A deadly virus, not love, is in the air. I mean, some may argue that love will kill you sooner rather than later as well, but I digress. A killer pathogen is in your neighborhood, one that floats like an invisible butterfly, stings like the motherfucking grim reaper. So it is  unequivocally a great thing that we have a sufficiently developed science at this stage in the game of evolution. Science, as we speak, is looking at the data objectively. It is desperately seeking standard deviations above and beyond that second loneliest number. Relentlessly, until the hypothesis is either discarded or PROVEN. Then and only then will science set you free. 

Until then, enjoy Social Media - aka the New Mainstream. Share data if you must. But if you do, please understand what a null expectation is, and what standard deviation means. If you don’t that’s OK, but please, please-please: until we DO understand those things better, let’s all stick to the comic section of that last-man-standing newspaper we call The Daily Facebook.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Killing Socialism

Source: "World Population Review 2020"
In his “Killing Series” (Killing Lincoln, Killing Reagan, Killing Jesus, etc.), former Fox News conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly uses a powerful hook in his titles, one that leaves only one question unanswered: is he for or against the killing? You would think that‘s the one thing to be clear about, but no. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Far right conservatives have been known to go out of their way to deconstruct the “socialist” teachings of Jesus, Lincoln’s “socialist” war on the South, etc. After all, if there’s one thing that history teaches us is that you can spin it however you want. Alternative truth is as alternative truth does.

And so goes socialism. Somewhere between the hot war and the cold one, socialism committed political harakiri by declaring war on capitalism. Of course, depending on how intelligent your education was, over time you realized that socialism had nothing to do with it. The real system was unmasked as “communism”, an unsustainable hijacking of socialism by totalitarian dictatorships. An attempt to sanitize the dictatorship part. Yet another chapter in the history books under the “alternative truths” era. Not unlike, when it comes to systemic distortions in history, invoking the unalienable rights of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not quite self-evident to those forced immigrants from Africa, now was it. More like self-serving. Let’s get one thing clear, American Fringe: if it doesn’t sting half the time it ain’t the truth. 

Speaking of the pursuit of happiness: one of the least intelligent things history has witnessed over the past 100 years is the political pandering to the mutual exclusivity of capitalism and socialism. As if your left arm and your right arm were mutually exclusive. Oh, the evolutionary retardation...

Capitalism and socialism were never meant to be “standalone” systems. There is no endgame in pure socialism anymore than there is one in pure capitalism. When the roots of free trade sprouted, when supply and demand driven economics launched a thousand ships, and when the invisible hand of the market itself first touched the brave new face of mankind, the emerging system known as capitalism was never intended as a means to replace social welfare. Not in a million years. In fact, quite the opposite is true: through the newfound wealth of hundreds, and eventually thousands, the collective notion of charity was born (collective as in, post-Royal). It was a self-conscious realization that perhaps something should be done to help the disenfranchised. Whether in guilt or practicality (an overly disenfranchised society cannot be capitalized on, not to mention it is dangerously unstable), socialism was born out of capitalism. One could not, and still cannot, exist without the other.

After a Marxist false-start, severely wounded by a Soviet false flag, socialism finally found its wings in European intelligence. After two devastating world wars, no one understood better the importance of a free and enfranchised society. Not “or”. AND.

To pity socialism against capitalism is not merely unintelligent: it reveals a pathological need to affiliate yourself to a political ideology for the approval of your peers. One that you neither understand nor care to do so. At best, it persists in great part by a misguided overcompensation for a pain caused by false flags: Socialism may or may not be communism, but it must die. Capitalism may or may not be post-slavery, but it must be killed.

The zero-sum games of politics are systemic dead-endgames. They are evolutionary filters of sorts, where obsolete prime directives go to die. Not merely in body, to be sure: extinct. Wiped out from the face of time, for the greater good of an enfranchised human race.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Life And Death Of An Executive Order

Let’s pick one out of a hat, shall we? Aside from the underhanded hyperbole that Obama handed “cash payments” to Iran, there are some non-alternative facts to consider here:

In 2010 Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act.

Three Executive Orders were signed by Obama freezing Iranian assets between 2010-2011.

An additional Executive Order was signed by Obama in 2013, seizing more assets. The aim of the executive orders were to strangle Iran’s nuclear program.

Enter the talk-show buzz, “King Obama”, stage right.

By 2015 it was clear that Iran was at a stranglehold tipping point: either let go of nuclear ambitions or face a slippery slope towards collapse. That’s when the leading Western nations, including the US under Obama, agreed to a treaty that would keep Iran alive but in check. 

A collapsed Iran is a dangerous liability to the world. The rabbit hole that is Palestine, Syria, and Iraq is child’s play compared to the hell that the Middle East would become if Iran collapses. Which is why Western Europeans were so adamant about not strangling Iran to death by 2015. 

To be clear it’s not the US who would immediately suffer destabilizing consequences in that scenario: it‘s Europe. It always has been Europe. They already feel the fire of Middle Eastern volatility much more than the US does (aside from self-inflected US military interventions).  From refugees and overwhelming migration to terrorism, Western Europe always gets the proximity shaft. Obama was wisely aware of this, so he agreed to release the same assets he froze, on specific conditional terms. Ratchet up far-right hyperbole on “cash payments” made to the enemy by a despotic American king.

Are there ever any guarantees that a government does what they promise to do in a treaty? Of course not, everyone knows that. The history of the world is the history of broken treaties. Were there guarantees that Russia would cease nuclear proliferation? Nyet. And yet, no one in their right mind feels that a collapsed Russia would not spell doom for the world as we know it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about look up “nuclear weapons in the hands of Russian mafia”.

Should Obama have used the more democratic channel of Congress to unfreeze Iranian assets? Maybe. We have become a nation of “executive orders”, present commander in chief being no exception. Talk about a slippery slope away from our great system of checks and balances. 

To be fair: it’s not so much the number of executive orders, it’s the content of the orders. Executive powers discretion is first and foremost a privilege, not a divine right. More importantly, rubber-stamping by a hyper-partisan chamber of puppets is not exactly the bright beacon of democracy we were promised. Now is it, Founding Fathers...

If this trend continues we will be well on our way to joining the ranks of caliphates and banana republics. The implosion of the Fourth Estate is adding insult to injury, with party propaganda (foreign AND domestic) posing as “news”. It’s  “man the torpedoes!” when the opposing party does it. Blind-eye when their own party does. This is where alternative facts live. This is where the Republic dies. 

...

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Laugh It Up, Fuzzball

We went to see a very funny comic last night. I forgot how much true LOL is amazing therapy for the soul. So this particular comedian, Jeff Dye, was very funny. To me obviously, but no doubt to more than 80% of the comedy club. You can’t make everyone laugh, that’s just the way life goes.

Anyway, it had been a while for me at a comedy club, since last time a few years ago was a bust. But I’m glad I gave it a shot again, my voice is still hoarse from laughing so loud last night. Great humor transcends age, race, culture and gender. Probably among the most  difficult jobs on the planet, when you think about it.

Here’s a sobering takeaway for me from last night: when you’re politically independent you can have a hearty laugh either way. But my 50% conservative 50% independent table was experiencing a bit of a bipolar rollercoaster. When the jokes were poking the left the entire table was in stitches. Especially the conservative ones, hoots and hollers. But when the jokes shifted and poked the right the conservative half went quiet, a nervous laugh here & there. The independent half carried on laughing away like drunk hyenas (OK the “drunk” part is redundant, so, like hyenas.)

I don’t think we had any true liberals at our table, but according to Jeff Dye he’s seen the exact same reaction from liberals in cities across the country. Roaring laughs when the jokes poke the right, but suddenly uncomfortable when the dagger swings left. Dye is originally from Seattle, if that means anything. 

And then that it hit me. Laughter is a release for pent-up anger. Sure, pent-up other things too - frustration, anxiety, self-doubt - generally negative stuff. But at the end of the night negativity can’t stay. Well it can, but the more it’s trapped inside you the more it will lead you to a Vegas hotel window with an AR-15 in hand.

So laugh it up, fuzzball. While injustice anywhere is indeed a threat to justice everywhere, so is one-sided righteousness.  Work it out or let it go, the world is not here to babysit your anger.

...

“I’m from Seattle, I didn’t know what a gun was till I moved away. But I remember when I finally fired one at a range... damn. Don’t mess with me fuckers, I have a gun!”

“Love him or hate him, we have never had a president as funny as this one. I mean, he has literally broken the mold of saying whatever he wants, and then saying the exact opposite. As in, ‘I never said that’. ‘Yes you did! Look, here’s the text you sent me saying exactly that!’ ‘That’s not my handwriting, fake news.’ “

Jeff Dye


Saturday, January 4, 2020

War And Indifference

The war does not have to start in the Middle East. It’s already at home in the US. The amount of hatred I have read floating from one political end to the other in our own country is a virtual bloodbath of character assassinations. Apparently two men, a current American president and the previous one, can do no wrong and no right at the exact same time. They’re like Schrödinger’s Cat: alive and “dead to me” simultaneously. I feel the dark side of the force myself when I think of one those two men, so I get it. I may pride myself into thinking that when all is said and done I don’t really “hate” anyone, but by then it’s too late. I have looked into the white of the eyes of the Dark Side. 

One thing’s for sure: that dark place we’ve been calling “hell” throughout the ages, historically without a real space, now has an actual GPS coordinate: our “smart” phones. A lit screen in our hands, where we morbidly click on that political land mine we can’t resist... our instant gateway to hell.

Spare me the “I just do it for the laughs” bit, cynicism is the fast lane on that gateway. Perhaps the “I never click on politics” camp are on to something, but it does not exempt them from Schrödinger’s Paradox. Most if not all still very much love to hate and hate to love our surreally morphing presidency. 

Finally there’s the “I’m not on social media” camp, who unfortunately don’t do a good job at hiding their contempt for it. Speaking of dead cats, you know what they say about curiosity. That’s their cross to bear. 

But there is one group who are on seemingly still waters, the kind that run deep. I can only think of them in terms of Ayn Rand’s “objectivism”. Initially a fan of Rand’s philosophy, over time I found her to possess one too many contradictions for my taste. But sometimes we just need to grow up and not shoot messengers, flawed as they may be.

In her book “The Fountainhead”, Ayn Rand’s central character and hero, Howard Roark, is having a brief conversation with Ellsworth Toohey, the villain of the story. Toohey was directly responsible for blocking Roark from a brilliant career in Architecture. In that brief exchange of words, Toohey asks Roark, “You can tell me what you think of me,” expecting to stir up hatred and bile. To which Roark coolly responds, “But I don’t think of you.

That line has stayed with me since college, an influence on more than I care to admit. You might have heard some people say, the opposite of love is not hate: it is indifference. Intuitive enough, no doubt central to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But if that’s true, then what is the opposite of hate? Therein lies our dilemma.

You can drag love back into the triangle, and try creating your own paradoxical reality. One where opposites are not perfectly symmetrical. The opposite of hate cannot be indifference, because indifference to hate only perpetuates it. Hate only has one absolute cure: love. Love only has one true nemesis: indifference. And so it goes, till you’re on your knees.

The opposite of peace is not war: it is indifference. Indifference to the armchair warriors and their cowardly cries of “nuke them all!”, or “death to all of infidels!” Indifference to those who run from  any and every fight, with their empty peace-hugging slogans. Because war does not automatically switch itself on straight from peace: it must first feed on the frenzy of indifference on its way to hell.

...

It's not given to people to judge what's right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”


― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace





Wednesday, January 1, 2020

"How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" - Ten Years Later



Ten years have passed since I asked myself the question one cold December day: How Much Is That Doggie In The Window??  Because, let's face it: man's best friend is high maintenance. Technically you can leave a cat home alone for two or three days, with motorized litter boxes, electronic feeders and what not. But not doggos, no sir. Not indoors anyway. Which begs the question: when the hell did we decide to bring them indoors full-time??

Humans have been obsessed from the dawn of time with where we came from, who brought us here, and why. While birthing and fathering was the closest we ever came to personally feeling the might of creation, we also realized that we could come close to that feeling with our domination over animals. Savage at first, we "humanized" that domination over the centuries (yes, I use the term "humanized" loosely). We narrowed it down to a handful of beasts. We saw it was good, and we called it domestication. Humane Societies were born, and therein shifted the paradigm: a delusion that "humanization" is actually what is best for animals. Because we're mighty creators. God's mini-me's. 

Leashes. Choke collars. Electric fences, shock collars. Muzzles. Tranquilizing medications. Obedience school. Pet grooming salons and spas. Gourmet pet food. Air conditioning, dog sweaters. And people thought Sting's "Every Breath You Take" was creepy? Oh, can't you see? You belong to me! Who's a good boy now?? 

Seriously though. I find it odd and ironic that when we finally admitted the twisted nature of our need to own people, whether it was slaves or "the little woman", we decided to turn our predatory ways instead upon our recently domesticated friends.

Barring domestic violence or Stockholm Syndrome, we don't force our human mates to stay in our homes. In the words of timeless wisdom: "Happiness is like a butterfly that sits on your shoulder when you stop chasing it". Chasing is a means to ownership. You chase something or someone you want to beat, perhaps own. Ownership is the heroin of material and trophy chasers, their addiction to the chase being the via crucis of a shallow existence. 

At the opposite end of that spectrum some are caught in an empathy quagmire. They want to fix every suffering, hug every pain, fund every cure. Now what's wrong with that, you ask? Not everything, of course. Save the intention, ditch the arrogance. Wolves were once noble mammals that took care of themselves. Evolution-forbid they continued down that path, without the aid of food chain masters in shining armor.

I remember the first time that Nikolai (Niko, now an eleven year old husky) bolted from the front door of his new home. He was barely one year old, and he ran. And there I went, chasing after him. I chased him because, well, I guess I thought I owned him. Oh, that's not what I told myself. I told myself he might get hurt. He would get lost, hungry, in trouble. I would be a bad owner, for not taking the appropriate measures. And who knows what "they" might think. They might think that maybe he ran for a reason. 

Niko was reportedly neglected or mistreated at least twice before "I rescued him" (cue in superhero theme music). Which means he had already ran twice. Even though I tried making his new environment as friendly and comfortable as possible, his survival instinct told him not to take any chances. But then again... who knows, perhaps his radar told him that my chasing after him was an endearing thing. Perhaps he thought, what the hell. Free food, free mortgage... eh, dogs can sell their souls too, right?

The more radical dog owners have been circulating memes of platitudes, putting dog above man. Dogs are noble, humans are bad. Dogs are the ultimate in unrequited love, we suck at it. Adorable, if it weren't disturbing. It's not self-effacing actually. Quite the opposite, it's self-serving. We are re-branding our blatant ownership of them with the ol' "putting the little woman on a pedestal" routine. I guess it is true what they say: can't teach an old human new tricks. 

Yes, wolves first approached humans, against their better instinct, when the least adapted to survive had all but given up hope. They were hungry, very hungry. But then it happened: in some planetary alignment moment, an amused campfire human decided to throw the wolf a bone instead of eating him. And just like that, the first PetSmart was born. A similar evolutionary path for cats, mind you, though they hang on to evolutionary independence in quite an impressive way. A cat can survive in human jungleland way longer than a dog. Because we actually de-wolfed the dog, while we have barely managed to de-claw the cat. Which essentially means, from an evolutionary standpoint, former wolves are now one hundred percent dependent on humans. How noble of us.

The last time I "owned" a cat (around thirty years ago), de-clawing was never questioned. It was something you did, because you worked hard for your expensive furniture. Within the last decade or so, de-clawing has become inhumane. Same fate for electric shock collars. An interesting moving target. Fresh from a race that has de-wolfed a relatively new species of animal - and is quite righteous about it. If you don't see that righteousness, try leaving your dog in a parked car for five minutes. Even if it's in the shade, window cracked, and you are literally not going to leave him there for more than five minutes. You could be taking him to a dog park, or to the vet. No excuse. Better call Allstate when you get back.

I realize now I asked the wrong question, ten years ago: I should have not asked, how much is that doggie in the window? The wiser question would have been, how much is that soul in the window? Because, religion aside, it turns out that animals have souls. And a soul is not something you own. You want to stop animal cruelty? Let's start first with the one by your lap, or on it. I did try something different with Niko, as imperfect as it was. I "collaborated" with him from day one on an open-door policy. No electronic fence, no shock collar. Yes, I had to run after him quite a few times. He must have found that quite amusing. And it also meant I had to have conversations with my neighbors about that policy. I was lucky, or perhaps my neighbors appreciated the courtesy of asking them, not imposing it on them. I will say, knowing that Niko had free will to come and go as he pleased, and always chose to return back to where he wanted to be, was quite a powerful bonding.

I get it, it's too late, too impractical for too many. Dogs that would get run over by cars if they had "too much" freedom. Or they would get into fights with other animals, or bite a human. I'm not casting any judgement on that. The more productive question going forward should be, what will you do different before you "own" your next dog? Because if there is one thing I still agree on ten years after I asked the doggie in the window question is that, in the grand scheme of things, that doggie in the window is priceless. You cannot own them, even if you think you do.



Sunday, November 24, 2019

Truth Redux


I watched Ambassador Sondland’s impeachment hearing testimony this past week. The alternative on that particularly evening was the Democrat’s debate, which I imagined would play out more like a Disney political satire. “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs: The Struggle Is Real”. Apparently after five or six debates, democratic politicians have not yet finished noodling over how they’re going to undo the undoings of President Trump. The merry-go-round shitshow we call a pendulum now seems headed to the undoing of the republic itself. So yes, watching the impeachment hearing was a no-brainer.

Sondland’s testimony was refreshing to me, as I hope it was to most independents.  On the surface his testimony was clear. But strange bedfellows being what they are, it was not enough for the partisan masses. Many Democrats struggled over why he hadn’t pounced harder over cross-examination browbeatings. Meanwhile across the aisle, the hearings were repeatedly condemned as a “charade”. Apparently when it comes to attacking their Democratic nemesis Republicans suddenly find religion in fancy French words.

Sondland’s testimony was refreshing because you could tell by his demeanor that he did not care one bit if Republican or Democratic politicians were happy with him. He genuinely couldn’t care less if they were butthurt over his reading on Trump’s words. And he did so respectfully, mind you. Like the proverbial icing on the cake, there it was in all its glory: his personal interpretation of Trump’s hyperbole. An outrageous interpretation to Republicans, but not quite the smoking gun Democrats needed. When he acknowledged at browbeating-point that Trump never told him directly to seek a quid pro quo, you could hear the deafening sound of red microphones dropping. 

Of course Trump didn’t tell him that. Trump wrote the book on not saying what he’s saying. He called it “The Art of The Deal”. Trump once recollected a moment of self-discovery, when his book writer told him that his big secret to success was actually in the art of hyperbole. And just like that, Trump had stumbled across his political calling. For those not familiar with the word, hyperbole is defined as “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally”. 

Sound familiar? Well, it shouldn’t. Exaggeration, while it may have its limited place in daily life, is the slippery slope through which every machiavellian leader has taken entire nations down. It is the stuff of fork-tongued manipulators, who speak in a way that allows them to backpedal when confronted by the actual truth. It is the mother of all twisted minds. And it is especially rich coming from a heartland who cried out for a leader to “tell it like it is”. The same folks who keep taking a bullet for their doublespeak leader, constantly making excuses and translating what Hyperbole Man meant.

Make up your freaking minds, Trump followers. Your “telling it like it is” moral ground turned out to be one of the worst swamps our nation has ever witnessed. An exaggeration is not in any conceivable way “like it is” - since you are alluding that “it” is the truth. An exaggeration is a calculated distortion of whatever you need “it” to be. Your logic failed miserably, even if some of us gave it an honest listen. You thought you were sending Rambo to teach the world a lesson. What you got instead was more like Rambling Man. Which is precisely why Sondland’s testimony was a breath of fresh air. His short and simple answers revealed way more than a mere quid pro quo: they reminded us that hyperbole is at its dark core the unraveling of lies masquerading as the truth. 

If and when we finally manage to do the right thing again, Trump’s followers will experience a “Hunt For Red October” watershed moment. In that story’s climax, as their own launched torpedo is seconds away from blowing themselves out of the water, the commander from the hunter-turned-hunted submarine berates his captain: “You arrogant bastard, you have killed us!

Sondland didn’t care what words Trump used, or abused. Through the clarity of his own words his testimony reminded us that the truth, when exaggerated or distorted in any other way, ceases to be the truth. Once it vanishes from the moral ground you’re standing on, as god is your witness divided you’ll fall. Oldest history lesson in the book. 

Death By Data

The first thing you learn in the training and/or practice of Quantitative Methods (aka statistics) is to be highly suspect of raw data....