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13 February 2018

New Original Music!


Original artwork by Nat Freeman (https://www.instagram.com/badgerandwren/)

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Also available wherever you find music (e.g. SpotifyiTunesYouTubeGoogle PlayAmazon, etc.) but it helps me most if you buy through Bandcamp.

07 February 2018

14th Amendment vs. the Commerce Clause

More Perfect, a podcast about SCotUS from the Radiolab folks, has a recent episode that really got me thinking. (I highly recommend this podcast, by the way.) The short of it is that progressives have had a lot more success invoking the Commerce Clause than the Equal Protection Clause. In case you've forgotten your high school civics, here are the two excerpts of the Constitution:
Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3)
The Congress shall have power...To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes....
Equal Protection Clause (Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment)
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
It occurs to me that only under Capitalism would we find more success arguing for social justice using a call to economic harms rather than calling on basic human rights and dignity directly. Capitalism alienates humans from those very things that make us human, including from the products of our work but also our humanity itself. Moreover, there is a great, though understandable, risk in relying on capitalistic strategies instead of human strategies. Justice delayed, after all, is justice denied. Our dreams should not be deferred. However, a moral demand for dignity is not easily overcome. Once you have convinced others that people should be treated justly because they are humans, the only way to remove that justice would be to argue that some people are not, in fact, humans or that humans have no right to justice. Tortured arguments based on economics are vulnerable to the changing fashions of textual interpretation. In short, our use of the Commerce Clause is risky, even if expedient.

Attacking the FBI is Bad for Religiosity

Follow me:

  • Religious affiliation is in decline in the US.
  • This is part of a larger overall decline in social institutions.
  • People, for example, are increasingly less likely to vote.
  • Ed of Gin and Tacos fame has a really good, recent blog post about how conservatism used to be about maintaining social institutions.
    • Just a bit of an aside: longstanding social institutions are worth conserving and defending from change, according to Conservatives, because they are almost by definition longstanding, which means they must be functional (i.e. beneficial). If that strikes you as a tautology, you're not alone. The family, for example, should be maintained in its traditional (read: heteronormative) form because it's been that way for so long, and that must mean it's good for us. Agree or disagree, at least this is an internally consistent political philosophy.
  • Thus, in attacking the FBI, the Republican Party today, which defines itself nominally as Conservative, is ironically acting decidedly non-conservatively (though not liberally).
  • Moreover, Republicans may be contributing to the acceleration of broad de-institutionalism, which arguably will include the decline of traditional religiosity.
  • Since religious conservatives are a big part of the Republican base, the GOP may be shooting itself in the foot.

29 January 2018

PC Bashing Is Not a 'Diverse' Idea

In the interest of collegiality and civility, this post may seem somewhat disconnected and vague. (No context for you!) I just wanted to get these ideas down for future reference.
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"Political correctness" is a strawman invented by conservatives to more easily dismiss the people and ideas that they associate with the political left. I once wrote in a book chapter:
To be "politically correct" is to avoid offense and the semblance of injury or ill intent. The problem with both the practice of political correctness and the framing of this issue in terms of political correctness is that it ignores the structural nature of racism and the subtleties of unrecognized individual racism.
I tell the frosh in my critical thinking class to ask questions of themselves and ideas. What assumptions are you making? How do you know you're right? Do you have evidence? I have no doubt that one would be able to note isolated incidents in which coworkers and organizations "overreacted" to "misunderstandings." The more important question, though, is Is this widespread and systemic? (Spoiler: the answer is, no, it's not.) You know what is widespread and systematic? Sexism. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. Implicit bias. Institutional racism. Structural racism. By framing "political correctness" as a problem, we actively negate the calls of those who strive to rectify actual social problems.

It is one thing to engage in discussion that seeks to interrogate the concept of political correctness, but the taken-for-grantedness that "of course political correctness is a threat!" is doubly dangerous in its insidiousness.

17 January 2018

Big Data, AI Neural Networks, and Us

I remember being incredulous in graduate school, learning that very large N's and data mining were things to be suspicious of. After all, my thinking went, how could more information and an automatic way to recognize connections that one might miss be bad? It turns out that big data sets make it more likely that one will find statistical significance in the absence of a real relationship and that data mining tends to turn up a lot of spurious, atheoretical correlations. Enter the Big Data and AI Neural Networks movements. They present approximately the same issues. Big Data, it turns out, leads to lots of connections with little explanation, and Neural Networks are, by definition, not understandable.

It occurs to me, though, that traditional statistical regression analysis could be combined with Big Data and AI Neural Networks as a corrective. Why not start with a traditional statistical model rooted in theory and previous empirical findings and then have a neutral network mine the error term? We could develop a set of meta-analyses that clearly state our priors. (This part eventually could even be done by bots.) Then, the AI's could do a kind of Bayesian exploration. I'm out of my depth now, though.