University of Washington teaching a course on bullshit

❝ Two University of Washington professors are teaching a course to help students “think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences,” according to the introduction to the course.

The 160-seat seminar, titled “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data,” begins in late March and continues for roughly 10 weeks. Members of the general public can follow the course syllabus, including readings and recordings of lectures, at the course’s website.

❝ At the end of the course, students should be able to “provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit,” according to the syllabus.

❝ The syllabus went viral after it was posted last month…the instructors’ email inboxes were overflowing, and some book offers were even made. The course reportedly filled all open seats within the first minute of online registration at UW.

❝ Jevin West told Recode that he and Bergstrom started to notice a trend in the last few years: More bullshit in the articles they were reviewing…One area of big problems: Big data…He said he noticed methods of statistics meant for smaller data sets being applied to “big” data sets with millions or billions of examples, where it’s easy to force a correlation that isn’t necessarily accurate.

He also observed situations where machine learning algorithms were “overfitting” data. Basically, you can have an algorithm that so specifically matches a particular data set, meaning it reflects even errors or noise, it fails when applied to another data set where you would otherwise expect it to work. You would normally want an algorithm that is sufficiently general to fit more than one data set.

In addition to big data and machine learning issues, the course addresses fake news.

Just in case you worried that our so-called president was left out.

Thanks, Helen

Feds join suit against UnitedHealth Group for overcharging Medicare million$

❝ The U.S. Justice Department has joined a whistleblower lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group Inc that claims the country’s largest health insurer and its units and affiliates overcharged Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars, a law firm representing the whistleblower said on Thursday…

❝ The lawsuit, filed in 2011 and unsealed on Thursday, alleges UnitedHealth Group overcharged Medicare by claiming the federal health insurance program’s members nationwide were sicker than they were, according to the law firm Constantine Cannon LLP.

The Justice Department has also joined in allegations against WellMed Medical Management Inc, a Texas-based healthcare company UnitedHealth bought in 2011…plus several more affiliates who say they can’t imagine why they’re accused of being co-conspirators.

❝ The lawsuit by whistleblower Benjamin Poehling, a former UnitedHealth executive, has been kept under seal in federal court in Los Angeles while the Justice Department investigated the claims for the past five years.

The wheels of justice in America grind exceedingly slow in those rare circumstances when they’re set upon corporate theft and fraud.

The 75th anniversary of Japanese internment in America sounds awfully familiar


Click to enlarge

Gravestone in the cemetery at Manzanar internment camp

❝ History does not stand still. Sometimes, it repeats itself subtly and incrementally. Other times, the patterns are sudden yet plain for the world to see.

This Sunday, Feb 19, is the 75th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance, marking the authorization of Executive Order 9066 in 1942. The order—which set in motion a mass internment of Japanese Americans—was signed and justified in the name of national security. The order wreaked havoc in the Japanese American community, eventually leading to the incarceration of more than 120,000 citizens in our country.

In 1988, after years of determined advocacy by the Japanese American community, the Civil Liberties Act was signed into law by US president Ronald Reagan. It officially recognized this grave wrong that had been committed by our nation. The legislation, which provided redress and a formal apology to the victims of Japanese internment, received support from members of both political parties in Congress. Its enactment was truly a testament to the greatness of our country, and formally demonstrated that we had learned from our imperfect past…

❝ …As we witnessed 75 years ago, and then again just a few weeks ago, fear-based rhetoric can spiral into devastating injustice. On this Day of Remembrance, we are reminded of the need to treat this day not just as a memorial of the past, but a reminder to stay vigilant in the present.

RTFA for a brief recounting of what Doris Matsui’s family suffered through our government’s bigotry, our nation’s fear. Reflect upon the clown show occupying the White House from the decision of a minority of voters in our last election. Not even the soundness of FDR’s control over our government meant anything to the bigotry of 1942.

I’m confident the citizens of the United States have made strides forward against bigotry and cowardice. Our government? Not so much.

Trump’s latest terrorist attack lie was stupid – and racist as ever!

❝ Saturday night, President Donald Trump held a rally in Melbourne, Florida, where he attempted to defend his controversial “Muslim ban” executive order by pointing to the consequences of migration in Europe. He focused on an unspecified event that took place “last night in Sweden:”

“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

The only problem is that nothing happened the prior night in Sweden. The Swedish daily Aftonbladet quickly compiled a list of of noteworthy things that happened on Friday; they included a drunken-driving arrest and “some technical problems” during 87-year-old crooner Owe Thörnqvist’s rehearsal prior to the Melodifestivalen song competition.

❝ …Trump, in the grand tradition of the Bowling Green Massacre, simply invented a terrorist attack allegedly committed by immigrants out of whole cloth.

❝ …Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?” Ikea and Abba jokes flew fast and furious using the hashtag #SwedenIncident

❝ Jokes aside, though, there’s a very real question going on here: What on Earth was the president of the United States talking about? What does he think is going on in Sweden?…

If you spend any time in the conservative media, particularly alt-right or anti-Islam sites, there’s a clear narrative about Sweden: Muslim migrants are raping Swedish women at unprecedented numbers.

❝ Breitbart…Virginia Dare, an alt-right site focusing on immigration…Pamela Geller, a widely-read anti-Muslim blogger who once published a piece alleging that Barack Obama was the love child of Malcolm X, wrote a piece titled “Sweden Crumbling: Demands for military intervention as thugs turn Malmo into ‘no-go zone.’”…

❝ …The odds are, given the consistency of the narrative about Sweden in the right-wing mediasphere, that Trump heard…claims about a Swedish refugee rape epidemic somewhere — and appropriated them to justify his travel ban.

The problem, though, is that this “rape epidemic” is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

It all fits within the filthy state of mind that is characteristic of American racism. Anyone less white than a bar of Ivory soap must be slavering over our white wives and daughters. If they’re furriners – all the more reason to suspect them of planning mass rape. And if you accept lies as racial characteristics, well, then, they must be happening. Only the mainstream ain’t reporting it.

The paranoia that afflicts a populace that can’t decide which lifestyle it prefers – ignorance or stupidity – will continue to accept both as gospel.

Would you buy your kid a doll that can be compromised by the NSA?

❝ It’s nice to have a friend who’s a good listener, but a doll called My Friend Cayla listens a little too well, according to German regulators who say the toy is essentially a stealthy espionage device that shares what it hears and is also vulnerable to takeover by third parties.

“Cayla ist verboten in Deutschland,” says Jochen Homann, the president of Germany’s Federal Network Agency…announcing a ban on the doll in Germany on Friday. His agency oversees electronic privacy as part of its telecommunications mandate; Homann also cites a special obligation to protect the privacy of children, calling them the most vulnerable members of society.

❝ The heart of the problem, Homann says, is that Cayla looks like an everyday doll and gives no notice that it collects and transmits everything it hears — in this case, to a voice-recognition company in the U.S. whose other customers include intelligence agencies.

❝ Nuance, the U.S. company in question, has said in response to similar criticisms that it “does not share voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our other customers.”

❝ The test question — “Can I tell you a secret?” — brought this reply: “Sure go ahead; be very quiet, though. I promise not to tell anyone; it’s just between you and me because we are friends.”

Regardless what the folks making a living off the doll tell you — Do you think the NSA asks permission from the people they bug?

“Bombogenesis” enters weather commentary – Republicans excepted, of course


Semi blown over in Marina, California

❝ One of California’s strongest storms in years – dubbed a “bombogenesis” or “weather bomb” – has hit the state, killing at least four people and bringing torrential rain and floods.

Power cuts hit 150,000 households and sinkholes swallowed cars.

Hundreds of homes were evacuated amid fear of mud slides near Los Angeles…

❝ One man was killed after a tree fell and pulled a power line onto his car in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles.

A second person died in a vehicle when it was submerged by a flash flood in the town of Victorville…

Two others died in car accidents in the San Diego area.

❝ Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, told the Los Angeles Times that 10 trillion gallons of rain would fall on California in the next week, enough to power Niagara Falls for 154 days

❝ It is feared that areas that have been previously hit by forest fires could be more susceptible to mud slides as there is less vegetation to break the flow of running water.

Terry Anzur of KFI News told the BBC the dry, scorched ground that had been “saturated” with the heavy downpour was turning streets into “rivers of mud”…

❝ Meteorologists describe the “bombogenesis” as an intense extra-tropical cyclonic low-pressure area, or “a weather bomb”.

“It is likely the strongest within the last six years and possibly even as far back as December 2004 or January 1995.”

Gusts of 87mph were reported on the Big Sur scenic coastal highway.

If you’re sitting in a Million-dollar McMansion you ain’t worried about more than getting out to buy more of the right lite beer to slug down while watching reality TV. Not the reality the rest of us face; but, good enough to keep Fox News in business.

With Trump as the censor-in-chief, federal workers communicate with self-deleting apps, strong encryption


Ethics? What ethics?

❝ After charges that the Trump transition team was trying to scare employees at the Department of Energy — by sending a request for an inventory of all agency employees or contractors who attended meetings or conferences on climate change — some civil servants who felt they needed to protect the long-term interests of their agency and nation took to covert methods of communication. And although…White House staffers are using an app called Confide, which deletes messages once they are read, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are now going after federal workers who use similar tools of communication.

❝ …Career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency downloaded the encryption apps WhatsApp and Signal shortly after Trump was sworn into office to discuss how to handle a potential gutting of the agency. The apps make it harder for hackers to access conversations as encryption scrambles data and lets only a person with the correct passcode have access.

❝ While most civil servants stay in their jobs from one administration to the next, regardless of who’s in power, Trump has signaled with his picks for leading certain agencies that he seeks drastic change that could lead to deep cuts…

Dissenting bureaucrats have created new email addresses in order to discuss how to deal with Trump’s political appointees without drawing the White House’s wrath…

❝ Republicans, desperate to shut down embarrassing leaks, have now set their sights on the handful of civil servants who have turned to encrypted messaging apps…Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois…Smith and LaHood, who are chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and the vice chairman of the subcommittee on oversight on the Science, Space and Tech committee respectively, argued that the use of encrypted messaging circumvents federal record-keeping laws, and asked EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. to “determine whether it’s appropriate to launch a full-scale review” of EPA workers’ use of encrypted apps.

These two patent leather-politicians aren’t qualified to run a chicken coop much less scientific oversight. It’s obvious their only concern is shutting down any information which might get to the press. Political distortions, lies and fake news chosen to replace fact-based research and development may be acceptable to creation-science nutballs and other Trump chumps. The American public writ large just might resent wasting tax dollars on Republlican mumbo-jumbo.

Trump needs a new enemy

davies-2-17-17

❝ Last week, a senior White House official shared a candid theory with me about why President Donald Trump and his team have been adrift since November: they’ve yet to adjust to the post-election reality, and they haven’t yet learned how to operate without a single, common enemy — Hillary Clinton — to focus on. It was a frank admission that a team built for winning a campaign has so far failed at governing.

❝ Incoming Presidents usually trade in some of their political tacticians for experienced Washington hands when they take office, but Trump installed his entire senior campaign leadership into top positions in the White House, a place where few of them have ever worked before…

The early results of this experiment in governance by the least experienced have not been promising…

❝ …The big debate inside the White House has been who to define as Trump’s “enemy.” At his press conference on Thursday, Trump appeared to settle the issue by declaring — or reigniting — a war on the media. This was the target that Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who calls the press “the opposition party,” favored. But not all of Trump’s advisers agreed with this approach…

Still, faced with a crisis of government management, the Trump team has responded with the two campaign tactics that helped him win the election: his political performance art at press conferences and rallies. On Saturday, the White House will follow up on Trump’s anti-media tirade by sending Trump to Florida for what it has billed as a “campaign” event.

❝ The reaction of many large media outlets to Trump’s mishaps and blowups has been predictable. On Thursday and Friday, journalists picked apart the many lies Trump told at his press conference and reported earnestly on the numerous outrages he set off…

❝ But Republicans control Congress, so Trump’s fate — for the next two years, at least — will be decided by members of his own party. Right now they fall roughly into three camps. The first is made up of Republicans who see Trump, for all his obvious faults, as a vessel for a fairly standard Republican agenda of tax cuts and deregulation. Trump’s attacks on the media and the left can be seen as a way of keeping this group loyal by defining common enemies…

❝ The second group on the right is the Never Trump movement, whose warnings about Trump during the campaign look more and more prescient, even as its ranks have diminished…

❝ Finally, there is the swing group: Republicans who privately despise Trump and who share many of the concerns that are aired publicly in the press and by Democrats, but who so far don’t see a reason to speak up…

Partisanship is a powerful force in American politics. It is strong enough that most swing Republicans will remain quiet in the face of a growing crisis of leadership at the highest levels of the American government. A sure sign of the Trump collapse, if it comes, will be when those seemingly unbreakable partisan bonds finally crack.

Many Democrats are about as independent-minded and aggressive as the Congressional Democrat Establishment allows. See faction #1 above describing their Republican counterparts. Lots of folks rejoice in the pissed-off groundswell nationwide. As if it somehow was the result of leadership by the Democratic Party.

I still have my Wellies on while that cowshit is getting deeper. I don’t see many truly modern folks lining up to campaign as official Democrat choices against the Republican wall of obedience. Yes, there are principled Dems of the progressive flavor among the sparks igniting grassroots confrontation. They were ignored through the end of the Hillary march to coronation that didn’t happen. They’re moving forward, now…in the absence of serious challenges from status quo Dems who [I believe] are sitting around waiting for Trump to turn into Nixon.