Blog #124 – Dear Artificial Intelligence


Dear Artificial Intelligence.
On reading economics, thinking Artificial Intelligence might help.
But recalling Faust on self-doubt and Bernie Sanders on winners and losers

Here I sit, a PhD. a retired legal technician,
I’ve had to study the latest economics as if on a mission
I’ve spent hours on the web and can do no more.
Yet here I sit, poor fool, and am no wiser than before,

Maybe artificial intelligence will solve all those problems
I won’t have to go back and read all those volumes
JI can just lie back and let it all sink in
And I will know who will lose and who will win.

Yet if I think about it just as bit more
I’ll realize I actually knew the answer to that before.

To wit the answer is:

The winners will be those that were rich and have all the money,
Whose words were all so persuasive, all dripping with honey
Who only do what their lawyer says the law will allow,
Who sometimes acted quickly and sometime acted slow.
But whether the markets are frozen or runny
Whether the forecasts are cloudy or sunny
The rich always turn out to be winners. Wow isn’t that funny?

And I had to read economics to learn that?
Working hard while others grew fat?
And still not have the power to change it at all?
Maybe Artificial Intelligence will help where the natural fails?
And is better than just flipping a coin and calling heads or tails?

But that doesn’t mean Artificial Intelligence can’t have any good use
Only that what it’s taken to be doing can be seriously misleading
By ignoring whose hand and whose interest is doing its feeding.
Not disclosing who owns its product can lead to dangerous abuse.
Pretending that if something is the result of A.I.,
Without disclosing who’s asking the questions
What stake they have in what the answers are,
Against such practices there should be a bar.

Dear A.I., the problems economics describes seem intractable to me,
The answers, A.I. or no, seem to me nowhere in sight.
I’m not even sure I know which ones are harmful, which ones right.
So A.I., if you’re so smart, please tell me what I should do,
And I’ll go do it, and if it goes wrong, blame the results on you.
Of course if it succeeds, I’ll take the credit for having seen the light.

So remember, Dear Artificial Intelligence,
You may think you’re so smart
But– you and we know you don’t have a heart,
You can’t tell the good from the bad
You don’t know if you’re being used honorably or being had
You may know moral values by their name,
And you may even refer to them without shame
But letting feelings influence your work is for you are a no-no
People are just numbers in some algorithm you have developed.
You can’t tell whether the level of happiness produced is high or is low.
All most of your clients seem to care about is the dough.

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Blog #123 – The Funny Hearings, Seriously


THE FUNNY HEARINGS, SERIOUSLY

The Kavanaugh senate hearing was efficient and conclusive.
It gave Kavanaugh a chance to show how abusive
A Supreme Court Judge-in-Waiting could be without ever saying “sorry.”
It simply had to make it sure that her story would end up as his story
Its conclusions were firm without time wasted on thinking and worry.
.
So what really happened in that really irrelevant past?
(We all know youthful characteristics don’t last)
She knows, but don’t believe her, just a teen, and he’s now a very honorable judge,
You can believe she’d have dreams, but such an honorable man wouldn’t fudge.

If only we knew who from behind pushed her in,
We’d know if he committed the original sin.
Maybe it was an immigrant hiding in that hall
Oh, if only they’d let us build up that wall!
After all, maybe it was only a prank,
Just blame it on one too many he drank
And he never got her clothes off and went all the way,
So just tell him how much he has to pay
That satisfied each of the others Trump had had
And they never complained or showed they were sad.
After all, didn’t the man drive his daughter to her classes?
So what if he took a little time out to make a few passes.
And “nothing really happened,” said our worldly Rep, boys will be boys,
And if a future Supreme Court judge doesn’t want to answer questions,
Why upset him by asking for confessions.
And girls should be pleased that they could be their toys.
If everyone knows, a the end of the line,
What the result will be, we’re just wasting our time.
His concern for justice can wait till he’s on the bench,
By then we’ll have forgotten there was a bit of a stench.
It’s time to stop this demeaning charade
And get on with his inaugural parade.
Donald Trump has told us whom to believe in these cases.
With his personal experience he knows what a man such as this faces.
Don’t call in the over-burdened FBI
Why expect them to tell the truth from a lie.
Our leaders can do that much better themselves, they tell us,
And get the job done without anymore fuss.

We’ve spent too much time on this already. Not a single day more.
After all, finding the truth would just be a bore.
—————
Now they’ve got to wait a whole week for a “limited” FBI report
Which won’t have a firm conclusion of any useful sort
Then they’ll draw their own conclusions, from this fact or that fact ,
And move on, greatly relieved, as it’s in their sole power to do, to act
Never mind if the facts show they were right or were wrong,
They’ll do as they’ve wanted to do all along.

And then the voters will finally have their say,
And we’ll thank the strong women who’ve shown us the way!

Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation


Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation

The manipulation of emotions and their consequences plays a major role in the politics of power i n America today. The emotion of humiliation is a weapon in the hands of Boss Trump, strengthening is power by undermining the resistance to it. Their victims in the broader society litter the landscape of political action. The search for dignity, which may be seen as the opposite of humiliation, is partly in response to humiliation by its direct and indirect victims.  The causes and consequences of humiliation need to be understood by those opposing its human cost.

Calling Michael Cohen “incompetent” as a lawyer is an obvious example, meant to denigrate him and undercut anything he might say. It’s become  standard practice for Boss Trump to let loose twitters aimed at humiliating critics of any of his policies or positions by name. It leaves his victims with a choice between an ongoing contest with someone with a wide audience and a sharp tongue, or endure the humiliation in a silence that is in itself humiliating in its necessity, the choice that Attorney General Sessions seems to be making.  And humiliating his critics directly has a wider benefit for Trump: those witnessing his humiliation of his critics themselves become intimidated by what they see, and restrain any inclination to join in. That they feel thus constrained is itself internally humiliating, and a further defensive reaction can be to accept Trump’s side of the story and persuading oneself of its correctness, a many seem to be doing vociferously at Trump rallies and in interviews. They thus justify a potentially humiliating exchange with an apparent show of support, joining Trump’s reputed hard core loyal base.

But humiliation plays a broader societal role, a role of which Trump is a beneficiary but not a principal cause. It often produces the clichéd “white working class,” response of those who may be active in the work force but still feel insecure, underpaid, working below their capacity or deserts. It can be expressed as a claim to a lost dignity, a feeling of helplessness in conceding to bosses’ power, a feeling that has often fueled labor unrest, but that can also lead to a form of inhibition in its expression by an attribution of the result by defenders of the status quo to lack of ability,  lack of education, laziness, the victim’s own conduct, own fault. That can be a humiliating perception, and because so widely accepted and so insistently reinforced by those in power like but not limited to Donald Trump and his direct entourage, it is also likely to lead to humilitation inhibiting fighting back.

uch self-blaming, such created humiliation and the inhibition to which it may lead is often reinforced by well-meaning critics of the reality it reflects. When Hilary Clinton spoke of “the deplorables,” when the Harvard grads or the lucky investors or those in securely positioned armchairs who view the passing parade and “don’t understand how anyone can swallow Donald Trump’s lies or condone his behavior,” they can easily be perceived as looking down on their fellows, as being members of an elite not recognizing the lived experience of the less fortunate. If many of the “white working class” are emotionally humiliated in the social structure of society as they experience it, so are many of “the elite” inhibited from questioning those social structures that have produced their own advantages for fear of having to face some humiliating causes.  The elite may find it hard to accord to others less well stationed than themselves the dignity that those others feel they also have a right to demand.

Humiliation can also lead to a variety of emotional responses. Opioid addiction, gang membership, street violence, domestic abuse, can  all be read as distorted reflections of a search for a dignity which prevailing relationships do not provide for their  victims.  An unconscious and inhibited identification with the boss can play a role, a desire to be oneself a boss, to have all that freedom which the real bosses have and which they are often faulted for exercising. Such responses often create difficulties of understanding in well-meaning efforts to address their causes

Conclusion: If humiliation is a widespread and debilitating emotion, its existence is not an inherent aspect of human nature. If there is humiliation, there are humilitationees and humilitationors.

When Trump humiliates anyone, what he is doing can be explicitly labeled and condemn as such, without long arguments about who’s right and who’s right in the dispute. Boss Trump can be challenged for simply acting like a bad boss, and who likes a bad boss, even if they’re right every now and then. And if those who are being deprived of their dignity by a bad boss or his lackeys, what is going on can be pointed out without reinforcing it by another form of humiliation in how it is pointed out as a necessary lesson the more well-off need to teach their less understanding others. .

  My thanks to Don Bushnell and Thomas Scheff for the provocation that lead to these thoughts                                                                .          They should not be blamed for the result.

Blog #118 – Explaining “President” Donald Trump’s Behaviour.


Blog #118 – Explaining “President” Donald Trump’s Behaviour.

Recent efforts to explain Donald Trump’s behavior in clinical psychiatric terms are provocative,[1] but may be unnecessary. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu is proposing a bill that would require the White House to have a psychiatrist on staff.[2] A petition at Change.org, accusing Trump of mental illness and asking for his removal from office, has been signed by nearly 25,000 health professionals. The New Republic published a story this week speculating that Trump may have an untreated sexually transmitted disease that has led to a condition called “neurosyphilis,” characterized by “irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity.”

And on Tuesday, the New York Times published a letter signed by 35 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers accusing the president of “grave emotional instability” that makes him “incapable of serving safely as president.” Though it is considered a breach of ethics to evaluate or diagnose public figures, they wrote, “We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.” Allen Frances, a former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine. disagreed, calling it “an insult people who have mental illness.”

“President” Trump has simply not been able to overcome his insecurity about “winning” an election in which he received 2,868,686 fewer votes than Hilary Clinton did,[3] in a low-turnout election in which he ended up with less than half of all eligible voters voting for him.[4] And this despite all of his name calling, lying, and not so ethical efforts to undermine Hillary’s campaign, even with the apparent help of his Russian counterpart. Having to face the legitimacy of his election and being labeled “President” Trump may be much more unnerving for him than being called “crooked” Clinton ever was for her. Everyday child psychology may be a simple enough explanation for the conduct a person with such an outsize self-image; a more medically-based approaches may not be needed. Think of the expected behavior of the bully in the sand box when his braggadocio no longer intimidates those subject to it. Perhaps Trump should be treated in the pediatric ward rather than the psychiatric? If not in both?

 

Peter Marcuse

August 2, 2018

[1] California Journal, Robin Acarian, “Talking Trump and mental health,” http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=93f3dcf0-698d-42a3-9cdc-bb5070205776

[2] https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/15/rep_ted_lieu_to_introduce_bill

[3] By Gregory Krieg. CNN December 22, 2016. It’s official: Clinton swamps Trump in popular vote – CNNPolitics https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/21/politics/…trump-hillary-clinton…vote-final final-count/index.html

[4] Why is voter turnout so low in the U.S.? Politics Nov 6, 2016 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-turnout-united-states

Blog #111 – Men Quit, Women Don’t ???


Blog #111 – Men Quit, Women Don’t ???

Abstract

A narrow blog, specifically for those  interested in the treatment of gender in the media who have seen a recent piece in the New York Times  headlined “Why Men Quit and Women  Don’t,” which purports to explain why a statistical finding that  the drop-out rate for women in the Boston Marathon this year is lower than for men has nothing  to do with gender but simply shows that women “thrive on adversity,” in this case “the need to juggle training in non-ideal circumstances [the worst weather in decades].” The statistics are pretty shaky, and it’s not clear why such an explanation is not strongly gender related. It is worth examining because, intentionally or not, it plays into the concern with the social stereotyping that  goes into the gendered attitude towards women, and tends to minimize that  problem by minimizing the role of gender.

*****

Why Men Quit and Women Don’t –

reads the headline by Lindsay Crouse in the Opinion section of the New York Times on April 20, 1018).[1]

The story is based on the fact that men dropped out of the Boston Marathon this year and previous years at a faster rate than women did: “Men quit and women don’t,” the story announces, and tries to explain the difference by examining the correlation between various physical or psychological or social characteristics of men and women. It finds that won’t do, and ends up claiming that “the simplest explanation [for women dropping out less than men] is not based on gender at all.”

But, in fact, it is directly related to gender, the social and cultural definition of male and female rather than the biological definition of female. You might think that a writer, if concerned about gender equality, might happily display the headline above to show that the gender stereotype of women as weaker than men is false, and argue that, the headlined facts prove that the idea that men do better than women in contests of strength and endurance, as in marathons, is a false and gendered idea. In fact, the article perversely argues that gender has nothing to do with the disparate results for men and women.

Yet gender does matter. Because Marathon drop-out rates are not simply a reflection of the physical difference between men and women.

To begin with, the article is based on a flawed statistical analysis. It does not in fact show that “men quit and women don’t.” It is elementary statistical nonsense, both in its sample selection and its lack of control for other variables. I   The men and women being compared are not randomly selected, 16,587 men chose to enter the Boston race, only 13,391 women entered it. The reasons for that difference need to be factored into any explanation for the different results which gender-related differences, .e.g. in income, time availability and responsibilities, status, expectations,  all are llikely to play some role.  The aticle itself lists some of them.

The artcle  finds that finishing rates for this year’s Boston Marathon “varied significantly by gender,” and then spends the rest of its time trying to show that, contrary to that finding, women don’t in fact quit less than men.  It is like arguing that women have shorter stays in hospitals than men because women are stronger than men, and it has nothing to do with the gendered treatment of women. It is, on its face, absurd, if done without controlling for why women go to hospitals in the first place, whether they can afford hospitalization as well as men, are insured as well as men, whether the hospitals are military hospitals or specialized or general care hospitals, charity hospitals or research hospitals or psychiatric hospitals whether they are admitted on an emergency basis or are long-term than men, etc.

Both proportionally and in total numbers, more men run in marathons than women do.  Maybe men who run in marathons are richer than women who do, women being paid less and poorer, can less afford the time to run or train to run, so the women who do actually get to run in the Boston Marathon are exceptionally well fit compared to the men who run, more of whom are able to afford to run and do so even without special training.  If men and women were exactly alike, proportionately more men would drop out than women, because the men who started were a less selective group among all men, than women were among all women?  The fewer women who entered marathons had been more highly selected, i.e. healthier, more ambitious, hardier, than the average woman, but therefore proportionately also once entered in the race, proportionately dropped out less?

But then, the question is, why do not more women enter marathons?

The history of gender discrimination in marathons should not be ignored.

The population that enters marathons is in any event hardly representative of a cross section of all people, and to draw conclusions about all people from a sample that is not representative of all people, or compare two samples, e.g. men and women that are not similarly selected, are violations of the most elementary rules of statistical analysis. And to conclude that the difference between men and women in drop-out rates is not gender related after just writing that men start marathons more aggressively than women because that is in the nature of men, and that and women are often discouraged from being athletic and competitive as unwomanly, is to abandon any pretense of understanding either gender or statistics.

And not gender-related? Gender differences are of a different order than differences of sex, and require quite different approaches if equality with justice is a concern. The history of gender discrimination in running competitions and women’s active struggle to overcome it needs to be told, and helps explain the additional motivation of women holding up without quitting in marathons. Women indeed had to be more aggressive than average men if they wanted to run in a male dominated and often legally exclusively male field. The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896. It was open to men only. Women were allowed to begin competing in marathons starting in 1972.[2]Women were excluded from participation in the Boston Olympics Marathon until 1984.[3] The history is not well known; it is not mentioned in the article.

The article concludes:

…the simplest explanation is not based on gender at all. This Boston Marathon was ideal for people who thrive in adversity. Top spots for men and women went to amateur runners who juggle training in non-ideal circumstances around work and family… the female runners who made it in Boston had already overcome more social obstacles than men. They may simply be tougher. hardly a random selection.

And that’s not a characterization of the normal gendered role of women?!

Maybe if men had to successfully “juggle training in non-ideal circumstances around work and family,” as women disproportionately now do, which  Lindsay argues makes women’s experience less likely to let them drop out than men, then men should just get more training in circumstances like  those facing women, and thereby toughen up to stay the course better than they do now. And women might be provided with greater and fairer social support, economic support, status and recognition, opportunities to train and to run.Those  might not be a bad ideas in  any case…

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Footnotes

“Woman who blazed a trail for equality in marathons hits London’s starting line. Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially compete in the Boston marathon, will fire the gun on the elite race,” The Guardian. reads a headlilne in the Guardian. Available at https://www.theGuardian.com/sport/2018/apr/21/kathrine-switzer-boston.

“The thousands of spectators who line marathon routes are famous for screaming encouragement, but it has not always been that way.”‘One guy shouted at me, ‘you should be back in the kitchen making dinner for your husband’.”It is one of many moments that Kathrine Switzer recounts as she talks about her memories of becoming the first woman to officially run a marathon. It was 1967 and women were not allowed to run more than 1,500 metres in sanctioned races. Marathons were for men.“https://www.telegraph.co.uk/athletics/2018/04/21/marathon-trailblazerkathrine-switzer-just-20-year-old-kid-wanted/

In 1972, women were officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon for the first time.

Opinion | Why Men Quit and Women Don’t – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/opinion/boston-marathon-women-nurse.htm [1]

[2]An excellent detailed history of the struggles needed before wwomen were evenly  allowed to run in major marathons, ncluding the Olympics, is in Olympic Marathon, by Charlie Lovett, excerpted and available at “The Fight to Establish the Women’s Race” http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm

 

[1] Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/opinion/boston-marathon-women-nurse.html.

[2] “Women and exclusion from long distance running.” Lisa Wade, PhD on April 21, 2017. Sociological Images. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2017/04/21/women-and-exclusion-from-long-distance-running/

[3] Before 1972, women had been barred from the most famous marathon outside the Olympics-Boston. That rule did not keep women from running, though. In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush at the start of the Boston Marathon, sneaking into the field and finishing the race in an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She was the first woman known to complete the arduous Boston course. Gibb had been inspired to run by the return of her race entry with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running a marathon. Charlie Lovett Olympic Marathon, “The Fight to Establish the Women’s Race”, available at http://www.marathonguide.com/history/olympicmarathons/chapter25.cfm

 

Blog #110a – Cultural Wars and a new Tribalism?


Blog 110a – Cultural Wars and a New Tribalism?

The Times Op-Ed page (on 3/2/18­­) was marvelously symbolic. On the left side, David Brooks reduces all the frightening disagreements about where our country is going, the battles over gun control , trade and tariffs, armaments, nuclear weapons, into manifestations of a “cultural war”,: in which the conservatives “have zero cultural power , but immense political power.” The big prize is not gun control. It’s “winning the cultural war, with the gun fight as the final battle.” Several days earlier (Feb 20,), he had written, “We don’t have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict…,” and the answer is, “just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off.” How? “Respect First, Then Gun Control.” If the Blues and the Reds simply respected each other, they’d settle their problems easily. His recommendation: Blues should stop shaming Reds.  Politics is not about who get what from whom and how they get it, but about how the left stupidly engages in “elite cultural intimidation , claiming “moral superiority.”

On the other side of the Op-Ed page, counter-symbolically the right side, Paul Krugman’s column is headed: “Taxpayers, You’ve Been Scammed.” It’s a straightforward contribution to a policy debate about the new tax law. It gives some facts about whom it will help, whom it will hurt, and how political and economic power are being wielded to achieve what those that possess it want, for their own benefit, at a cost to the middle class. Not a word about a “cultural wars.” It’s about who get what from whom and how they get it

And symbolically between these two column’s is Mat Glassman’s column, which explains the “larger problem” behind the White House Chaos,” blaming it on the weakness of Donald Trump as President to his inability to attract a competent staff to advise him.  It’s a management problem.

What the “culture wars” argument does, as does “lamenting the ‘roots of the problem’ in ‘management skills,’ ” is to completely side step the very real factual economic and social and political differences that divide the country. For cultural theorists, there’s no moral difference between advocating for teachers carrying guns in school and asking for a ban on assault rifles; no more weight to be given to logically grounded analysis of tax policies than to the hurt sensitivities of those that support them. Tranquility is what’s needed, above all; never mind who’s goring whose ox, whether some go homeless while others thrive in mansions using their labor. Such evenhandedness violates any effort to shape public policies that promote the values of social justice and human rights.

Indeed there are troublesome cultural differences that exacerbate the problems in our society, but the real issues aren’t differences of opinion or how they are expressed, but how the wealth that  society produces is shared. We don’t have “big tribal conflicts” because all of a sudden some “tribal instincts ” have emerged from some repressed deep identities, or because  we’ve suddenly decided to turn these instincts on, having turned them off all these years.  Focusing on the symptoms of conflicts shouldn’t obliterate recognition of their causes.

And it obliterates very specific causes: any reference to inequalities of wealth or power, or to their use in exploitation or domination, to create very hierarchical divisions not simply differences at the level of what the divisions are about, not “souls committed to the basic democratic norms–respect for truth, personal integrity, the capacity for deliberation and compromise, loyalty to nation above party or tribe,” up against other souls who believe “what matters is the survival of your nation and culture.” [David Brooks, “Worthy is The {Conor} Lamb,” New York Times, 3/17/p. A27] That something as mundane as class or race might be playing a role in the divisions that divide “us” never appears.

Blog 106 – “winning” tax reform


TAX REFORM – WHERE WINNING IS FOR LOSERS

(Re: “The biggest winner in the tax code rewrite…” New York Times, December 6, 2017, p. 1 and A34)

Winning is for losers, in the case of tax reform, if principles or rationally defensible policy is the measure. Winning on tax reform is what you boast about when you’ve failed abysmally to produce anything of merit, and all you can claim is that you’ve defeated any alternative in a fight for something – whatever it is. You already have the support of the wealthy, who support you because your proposals are to their very material benefit; but you want to get the votes of a wider constituency.

With the outrageous process of drafting a bill that could at least be called “tax reform,” the Republicans have come up with a monster whose only virtue is that it cobbles together legislation that would garner one more vote over the bare minimum needed to pass something – anything whatsoever, anything, whatever its content, that could let the Party claim “victory,” and proclaim that they are “winners,” when in fact they have lost any claim to have accomplished anything worth doing.

Having failed to do anything that meets the meaning of the words “tax reform” in ordinary English, rather than admit failure, the Republicans are left with the hollow title of “winners” when in fact they have surrendered any objective that deserves use of the words. if you look at the content, not the form, of what they have actually accomplished, and judge by the standard of service to the common good, the Republicans are the real losers in the battle for true tax reform.

“Winning,” in fact, is a mischievous word. As Donald Trump or the Republicans or often some meila use it, it in fact means conquering, and “losers” are meant to surrender. But it can also mean being successful in a competition to solve a problem to achieve a noteworthy result, as in most sports competitions, where some do better than others, but one’s success does not negate what others have scored. Fair competition can leave the losers intact, to continue to strive; unfair competition, winner take all,  is aimed at eliminating “losers” entirely from the competition.