Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I can drive north from my home in Wyoming and cross the border into Montana. There I can get a job, buy a home and all that. If I continue north, I hit another border and I cannot just drive across and get a job or buy a home. Both borders are imaginary lines marking governmental jurisdictions. I also cross county lines and watersheds. The world is full of lines. This is how we organize ourselves and maintain order. These lines are always shifting around. I read a great remark by a Hispanic activist in the southwest. He claimed that he did not illegally cross a border, the border illegally crossed him. There was a war, we won. The folks who lived here along the North Platte, say, 250 years ago, they did not draw clean boundaries so the immigration from the east was not strictly illegal. The Americans came and took the land because they could. We English speaking white folks are not the first to wring our hands over demographic changes and we probably will not be the last. In my understanding - we cannot just open our borders to all comers and we cannot deny opportunity or say to someone, you are not welcomed here. Resolving those internal conflicts used to be the job of politics. Maybe it still is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maybe this country would be better served by a thousand millionaires rather than one billionaire. Hard work and innovation create wealth. Granted. So does power.

Premise: as a rule, people in power wish to remain in power.
Premise: great wealth transfers into great power,
Conclusion: The wealthy acquire power that is used to protect their position.

As Lessig writes:
“Yet, often the biggest danger to free markets comes not from anti-market advocates (the Communist and worse!) as from strong and successful market players eager to protect themselves from the next round of strong and successful market players”.

“…there are only two things we be certain of when talking of free markets: First, that new innovation will challenge old, and second, that old innovation will try to protect itself against the new” (Lessig, 2011).

Lessig, L. (2011). Republic lost: How money corrupts Congress - and a plan to stop it. Twelve, Boston.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Wyoming legislature is considering a concealed carry lay what would let any citizen not expressly barred carry a concealed weapon. If it passes, I and my neighbors could get a shoulder holster and carry a 9mm Glock to the grocery store. There is some logic to it. If you arm one moron, you have to arm them all. We need guns to protect ourselves from people with guns. I am sure many of my Wyoming colleagues would accept the compelling nature of this argument but there seems to be a whiff of circular logic here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A letter to my congressional representatives

I was sitting down at the local coffee shop this morning pondering our national budget and its revenue shortfall. I think I know a way to balance the budget: increase revenue and cut spending. If you would like, my 7th graders could do the math for you. You get this black line going up as revenue increases. As one of the leaders of our country, you get to decide the slope of the line. Then you start cutting spending a little each year. That will be a red line with a negative slope. You can make it as steep as you choose. When the two lines cross, the budget will be balanced. My 7th grades can find this point several ways. They also work for granola bars and fruit snacks. If you give us a couple of weeks, they can do this with exponential models as well and these are exponential times. We will leave who to tax and where to cut to the grownups. You remember grownups, don’t you? They are people who have matured past ideological positioning and tender egos. They typically have children and so look to secure an abundant future. They can make the subtle distinction between governance and power. `

I am not expecting a response to this bit of satire but I would love to hear your views on the system itself. Governance seems to have fallen into the dysfunction of ideology. I would love to hear your thoughts on re-booting civil discourse and a collaborative problem solving model of government. Attack ads work. Vilifying the opponent works. Framing the other’s position in the most negative light works. That is an unfortunate attribute of our cognition and its biological baggage. These things also paralyze governance. I would love to hear your views on how to work productively in partnership with the current federal administration to solve problems. I am not interested in hearing the party line. I know it. I cannot avoid knowing it because the strategy is to repeat the same framing again and again in less than three sentences. It tells me how evil the other side it. How do we get past power games to governance? I would love to hear that.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics in The Social Sciences

Sometimes I get mad at psychology. The psychologists have had a hundred years to get us figured out and for what? What have the chemists, biologists, physicist and mathematicians given us over the past hundred years? Well, they have reshaped the earth. We have become a space faring species with instant global communication. But we still have serious behavior dysfunction. We can build remote controlled weapons that fire with murderous accuracy as we view on our American monitors. But we still fire the weapons. There is a grand little article, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, (Wigner , 1960). Wigner notes that mathematics is a human construct but it remains exact description of the natural world even as it is extended to more abstract and counterintuitive domains. I contrast this to the unreasonable ineffective of mathematics in the social sciences. While I have certainly not scaled the commanding heights of the social sciences, I do have a PhD in mathematics education. I find I have a great tool kit for responding to the immediate questions of mathematical pedagogy but I have no clue how to deal with a 13 year old coming out of a home in chaos. Children come in angry and hungry and I have no theory of response. I listen and I hand out a granola bar. I have my little psychic bandages and I find I care about these children. I see little science in this. I have no mathematics for predicting, engineering or creating the mental state of security, acceptance, motivation and curiosity. I have my craft, but it has been abstracted from years of experiences and I have no algorithms to pass on. I suppose that is the core of it. Like Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey,(Campbell, 1973) the scientist journeys to a mystical land of abstractions and expertise and finds the great boon. Then the hero has to return to the land of the mundane. The hard sciences can package their boon – their great insights – into machines that respond to the touch of the novice. We can effectively use machines with no understanding of their internal workings. We use formulas routinely with no grasp of their derivation. The natural sciences can package their knowledge in devices. The social sciences have found no way to do this. The effective practitioner has to slowly self-construct over years of experience and there is no algorithm for controlling human behavior. I suppose we will lose some of our humanity when we find such a tool of manipulation. So I am not really mad at the psychologists. I just bemoan the unreasonable ineffectiveness of mathematics in the social sciences.

Wigner, E. P. The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences, Comm. Pure Appl. Math., 13 (Feb. 1960)

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 3rd printing (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973) 11.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I was at Starbucks last Saturday and stumbled into a Coffee Party meeting. I asked if I could join in the conversation and that opened an interesting discussion. Now I find the idea of a grassroots movement to recalim civility and effective government compelling. How do you answer someone who asks you why you hate America? Who come up with that one? I could only respond as reasonably as I could, “Probably for the same reasons as you.” That would be the unexpected response. Stating a thing does not make it true. You can say I hate America I can say you hate America. That accomplishes nothing but is the strategy is to create impasse, it is effective. I suspect that I am in a fool’s paradise here. I expect a rational response. A more probable reaction is strident voices would be to become even more strident. I do like the idea of printed messages of civility and invitation to talk. We cannot shout down those who gather to shout us down. Actually, no one has tried to shout me down. I have seen media images of that behavior but I have not yet seen it on the streets of Casper. I hope the Coffee Party movement can focus on civility. It is hard to be mad at someone who is trying to listen to you.

Do we see ourselves as a compassionate people? How do compassionate people act? There is something about the two coat rule in the bible. If you have two coats and your neighbor has none, then give him one of yours. How hard is that? From the Book of Matthew, 3:11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. So, do you have two coats?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Behavior Management

Explosives are not a tool for behavior managment. While it reduces the incidence of negative behavior to zero it has the unfortunate consequence of also reducing the incidenc of positive behavior to zero.