One Hundred Days of Incompetence, from Populist to Neo-Conservative

❝ President Donald Trump’s chaotic and ineffective first 100 days in office seem to have vindicated even his harshest critics. US policymaking has been rendered inscrutable and unpredictable to almost everyone – including, perhaps, to the president himself.

RTFA. Long, detailed, broadcast distribution of analysis by well-educated analysts, theoreticians, pedants. The kind of folks who wouldn’t waste a minute in Trump’s presence once they realized he has no interest in either aiding his fellow human beings or ever learning how to do so.

Published by Project Syndicate

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How and why children notice what adults miss

❝ Although adults can beat children at most cognitive tasks, new research shows that children’s limitations can sometimes be their strength.

❝ In two studies, researchers found that adults were very good at remembering information they were told to focus on, and ignoring the rest. In contrast, 4- to 5-year-olds tended to pay attention to all the information that was presented to them – even when they were told to focus on one particular item. That helped children to notice things that adults didn’t catch because of the grownups’ selective attention…

The results have important implications for understanding how education environments affect children’s learning

❝ Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study, said that adults would do well at noticing and remembering the ignored information in the studies, if they were told to pay attention to everything. But their ability to focus attention has a cost – they miss what they are not focused on.

The ability of adults to focus their attention – and children’s tendency to distribute their attention more widely – both have positives and negatives.

❝ “The ability to focus attention is what allows adults to sit in two-hour meetings and maintain long conversations, while ignoring distractions,” Sloutsky said.

“But young children’s use of distributed attention allows them to learn more in new and unfamiliar settings by taking in a lot of information.”

RTFA for a couple of unanswered questions as interesting as the studies themselves. Like, taking the results and examining whether or not it might be useful to make classrooms boring?

Student investigation into principal’s credentials — lead to resignation

❝ Connor Balthazor, 17, was in the middle of study hall when he was called into a meeting with his high school newspaper adviser.

A group of reporters and editors from the student newspaper, the Booster Redux at Pittsburg High School in southeastern Kansas, had gathered to talk about Amy Robertson, who was hired as the high school’s head principal on March 6.

❝ The student journalists had begun researching Robertson, and quickly found some discrepancies in her education credentials. For one, when they researched Corllins University, the private university where Robertson said she got her master’s and doctorate degrees years ago, the website didn’t work. They found no evidence that it was an accredited university…

The students began digging into a weeks-long investigation that would result in an article published Friday questioning the legitimacy of the principal’s degrees and of her work as an education consultant.

On Tuesday night, Robertson resigned

❝ The resignation thrust the student newspaper staff into local, state and national news, with professional journalists nationwide applauding the students for asking tough questions and prompting change in their administration.

“Everybody kept telling them, ‘stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong,’” newspaper adviser Emily Smith told The Post. But with the encouragement of the superintendent, the students persisted…

Nice to know that even in a state with politicians as smarmy as Sam Brownback and his tame state legislature – principled actions are still protected by existing law. High school journalists are protected from censorship. More important, they did the work the school board should have done.

RTFA for the details. Worth it.

When US closes its door to talented immigrants, start a cutting-edge AI research institute in Canada

❝ Canadian researchers have been behind some recent major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Now, the country is betting on becoming a big player in one of the hottest fields in technology, with help from the likes of Google and RBC…

❝ Money from big tech is coming north, along with investments by domestic corporations like banking multinational RBC and auto parts giant Magna, and millions of dollars in government funding.

Toronto will soon get the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, geared to fuelling “Canada’s amazing AI momentum”…

The founders also want it to serve as a magnet and retention tool for top talent aggressively head-hunted by US firms…

Google invested C$4.5 million last November in the University of Montreal’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

Microsoft is funding a Montreal startup, Element AI. The Seattle-based company also announced it would acquire Montreal-based Maluuba and help fund AI research at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

Thomson Reuters and General Motors both recently moved AI labs to Toronto.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced C$125m for a “pan-Canadian AI strategy”…

❝ Those trying to build Canada’s AI scene admit places like Silicon Valley will always be attractive to tech talent. But they hope strategic investments like these will allow Canada to fuel the growth of domestic startups.

Canadian tech also sees the travel uncertainty created by the Trump administration in the US as making Canada more attractive to foreign talent.

Yeah, a global economy is a real shame. For folks who often can’t figure out how to find a better job in a city in the American Midwest 25 miles away from the neighborhood they grew up in. For the rest of us — no big deal.

What’s so difficult about considering moving North for a good job, a bright future? Yes, the cold is a hangup for some. Counter that with diverse demographics, tolerant social policies, a national health service that works for all – and some damned good schools.

Support for legal cannabis in the United States surged in 2016


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Public support for marijuana legalization surged in 2016, according to data just released from the General Social Survey.

Last year 57 percent of Americans told the survey’s pollsters that they “think the use of marijuana should be legal,” up from 52 percent in 2014.

❝ The numbers from the General Social Survey — a large nationwide survey conducted every two years and widely considered to represent the gold standard for public opinion research — comport with other national surveys last year, which found support ranging from the upper 50s to low 60s.

But the survey indicates two significant fault lines when it comes to marijuana policy: age and political party. Fully two-thirds of respondents ages 18 to 34 supported legalization in the survey, as well as majorities of those ages 35 to 49 and 50 to 64. But seniors 65 and older stood apart, with only 42 percent supporting legalization.

Lots of my peers really are chickenshit about entering the 21st Century.

❝ Breaking the numbers down by political affiliation tells a slightly different story. In the early 2000s, opposition to marijuana legalization was more or less a bipartisan issue. Only 29 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans voiced support for legal weed in 2000…

Since then, support for legalization among Democrats and independents has risen much faster than among Republicans. In 2016, more than 60 percent of the former two groups supported legal marijuana. Among Republicans support stood at only 40 percent, a gap of more than 20 percentage points between Democrats and independents on the one hand, and Republicans on the other.

❝ …With victories for legalization in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts last year, roughly 1-in-5 Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana in their home states…But many lawmakers and law enforcement groups remain resolutely opposed to legalization. In Massachusetts, one of the most reliably Democratic states in the nation, lawmakers lobbied strongly against last fall’s voter-approved ballot initiative, and have been working since then to delay implementation of the measure. Similar efforts are underfoot in nearby Maine…

Ayup. Our lawmakers tend to be better at foot-dragging [knuckle-dragging?] than providing leadership.

❝ Meanwhile, Canadian lawmakers are expected to formally announce that nationwide marijuana legalization will be implemented by July of 2018, meaning that for Americans in northern border states, a legal pot fix is just a crossing away.

“Homo sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so”

What is the biggest misconception humanity has about itself?

Maybe it is that by gaining more power over the world, over the environment, we will be able to make ourselves happier and more satisfied with life. Looking again from a perspective of thousands of years, we have gained enormous power over the world and it doesn’t seem to make people significantly more satisfied than in the stone age…

Will humans always find ways to hate each other, or do you lean more towards Steven Pinker’s view that society is much less violent than it used to be, and that this trend is set to continue?

I tend to agree with Steven Pinker. We now live in the most peaceful era in history. There is definitely still violence – I live in the Middle East so I know this perfectly well. But, comparatively, there is less violence than ever before in history. Today more people die from eating too much than from human violence, which is really an amazing achievement. We can’t be certain about the future but some changes make this trend seem robust. First of all, there is the threat of nuclear war which was perhaps the chief reason for the decline of war since 1945, and this threat is still there. And secondly, you have the change in the nature of the economy – that the economy switched from being a material-based economy to the knowledge-based economy.

Questions asked of Yuval Noah Harari. His answers.

I suggest you read this article. I suggest you read his books.

Think about your own answers.

National Parks Require Restoration

The National Park System protects more than 400 natural, historic, cultural, and recreational sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories.

In 2016, as the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its 100th anniversary, many of these cherished places are showing signs of age: crumbling roads and bridges; neglected historic buildings; eroding trails; and deteriorating electrical, water, and sewage systems. Decades of congressional underfunding, combined with the inherent challenges of maintaining aging infrastructure and diverse properties, has led to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects, and the price tag for addressing high-priority assets is nearly $2.4 billion.

The NPS needs reliable resources to satisfy its congressional mandate to protect and conserve these scenic, natural, and historic places in perpetuity. Parks with poorly maintained infrastructure or closed facilities can detract from visitors’ experiences—and from spending in the gateway communities, many of which depend on park-related revenue. In 2015, NPS sites recorded 307 million visits, and park guests spent almost $17 billion in nearby cities and towns. That spending supported 295,300 jobs and contributed $32 billion in economic activity nationwide.

The NPS needs guaranteed annual funding to address its maintenance needs so that future generations can enjoy and learn from our national treasures.

With a substantial number of our Congress-critters considering themselves well above the rest of us – economically, socially, culturally – there is little surprise at the trend for decades of offering short shrift to essential costs of maintaining our national park system. After all, with pundits, politicians and, now, a president accustomed to gilt-edged resort life and recreation, there isn’t motivation for them to care about the rest of us enjoying our nation’s natural beauty as key to recreation.

By the same token, ain’t a lot of reasons for the rest of us to re-elect these useless corporate class pimps.

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