Sunday, September 30, 2007

MyNation wins Tiddly-Winks championship

When I saw the New York Times headline, "Germany Wins Women's World Cup Again", I thought all Germans won the World Cup? No, some German's won the Women's Soccer World Cup. Undoubtedly many supported this team, if not in money or attendance, at least in spirit. That can give a team drive, but how much real contribution did all Germans make to the team's success.

Somehow, it seems ludicrous to me that one should automatically have great loyalty to a sports team because they "represent" a geographical area, be it one high school of many in a town or be it one team selected from many from a country. When I watch a sports events, which is generally because my host has not given me much choice, I cheer for all contenders. I feel great when someone makes a great play and I feel down when someone makes a mistake, whatever side they are on.

It may be a good substitute for war or other strife, like the Iraqi team winning the Asia cup. Unfortunately, few of the Iraqi team actually lived in Iraq; it's too dangerous for men in shorts. But it did momentarily give many Iraqis a feeling of unity beyond the daily violence.

Ideally, we would work more on co-operative efforts rather than competitive efforts. We do see that in business where companies form alliances across borders to produce a product or service. Too bad these don't generate the excitement and attention that "high-level" sports events do.

Iraq war and riding in a car

The post Iraq war? on Minnesota's in the middle had a comment about not knowing why we are in Iraq and implied the President knows more than we do.

Yeah, we ask someone to drive us somewhere and that person takes a "shortcut". The car gets stuck in the mud and we all have to get out and push, except the driver. The driver keeps encouraging us saying, "I can see solid ground ahead."

Will we ever have representative government?

I was updating my The Moderate Manifesto I checked the links. When I looked at Unity08 I read a few of its pages.

In short, Unity08 thinks that the nominating process is not serving the country. As another choice "we will prepare to hold, in June 2008, the first-ever online convention where millions of Americans will nominate a Unity ticket for President and Vice President of the United States. We will work to achieve ballot access for that ticket in all 50 states. We will elect them to the White House in November 2008." - About Unity08

This sounds great, but I don't think those participating will be representative of the electorate.
According to the survey Unity08 took of its membership, it is 90% with some college or more, 50% over 50, 73% male, 53% business or professional class (slide 26), 90% have high-speed internet access (slide 27), and generally half don't watch politic pundits on TV (slide 28).

Well, I guess that's not so bad. Except for the TV viewing, it looks much like the demographics of the current major parties.

The upside is that people will be participating in the selection in a small time frame, and that the selection of candidates will be as large as the participants wish. The winnowing will not be determined by a small number of people in a few parts of the country.

It will be interesting to see how big a role money will play in this campaign. It might be more a matter of time to post sufficient comments. And there may be ways to game the system, like recruit people by whatever means to vote for a given candidate.

Do decide for yourself if this is a reasonable alternative to the system few really like.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Constitution Day

Did you know today is Constitution Day? I didn't and from what I gather most people don't either. Supposedly this situation will change because federal law now requires schools to provide educational programming on the history of the Constitution on the school day closest to September 17.

I think it's a pity that we don't elevate the honoring of the Constitution to the level of many of the other holidays that venerate "patriotism". The Constitution is more important to our freedom than any war or the flag. It gives the legal underpinning for our government and our rights. Time and time again, the greatest threats to these have been apathy, mob rule, and our own government.

Are demonstrations effective?

The beauty of demonstrating is that you do not have to compromise.

You gather the like-minded, stand around or march with signs, and some people agree with you, most ignore you, and a few attack you, verbally or physically. You feel good about making a statement and go home. But have you really changed anything?

The real way to get change is to get involved politically. To be effective politically you have to appeal to a wide range of people and interests. To appeal to a wide range of people, you have to compromise.

You can get political change by running for office, by supporting those who share many of your views, or by writing reasoned letters to the editor or to office-holders. Or you could start a new political party that addresses issues you think are not being addressed. But to be successful in getting your party's candidates elected, it has to appeal to a wide range of people and interests. See above about compromise.

So it is much easier to demonstrate and feel good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

War in Iraq may lead to relative U.S. decline

I just read Thomas Friedman's "Iraq Through China's Lens" in today's New York Times. He points out that in a major speech Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, talked about economic progress made and economic, political, and environment challenges to be faced. On the other hand, Friedman wrote, the U.S. is focused on the war in Iraq.

It's time for many to reread Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500 to 2000.

Kennedy's thesis is that the great powers rise and fall relative to each other, even if a power's economy and military is growing, others may be growing faster. Considering how fast China and India are growing relative to the U.S., the U.S. is squandering much of its resources in Iraq and will "fall" further behind China and India.

See also my articles Is the Asian Century coming? and More on a Possible Asian Century.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why I avoid message boards

I had difficulty getting a new picture into one of my standard picture of the day pages. No matter how carefully I copied the HTML code from flickr, I got the alternate message indicating the picture couldn't be found.

I plugged in the HTML for an old picture, and the page worked fine. I plugged in the HTML for the new picture, and the picture couldn't be found. I used the URLs to look at the pictures in another browser; they were displayed fine.

I went to flickr's message board and picked a couple of topics that seemed relevant. I waded through message after message reporting having difficulties with flickr. And message after message complaining about others' posts. And message after message complaining about complaining about others.

Finally, on a second topic I found a message from flickr staff that my browser's cache may have lost the picture but didn't know it. I diddled around with the browser a bit, including closing it at least once. I was very frustrated and so I just floundered around without noting what I did. However, the important point is that the picture now appears in my web page ( today and tomorrow or soon

Most of the time I'm not so lucky to find a relevant answer.

Monday, September 03, 2007

An education "then" never was

I'm reading John Allen Paulos' Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. In Chapter 4, "Whence Innumeracy", he gives an anecdote about his own public school mathematical education.

When he was 10, he calculated a pitcher's ERA as 135. He told his teacher about it, was asked to explain it to the class, did so shyly with quavering voice, and was told by the teacher he was wrong and should sit down. The teacher said an ERA could never be greater than 27.

At the end of the season, the local newspaper published all the major league ERAs. Since this particular pitcher never played again, his ERA was 135. Paulos showed the article to the teacher who gave him a dirty look and told him to sit down.

"His idea of good education apparently was to make sure everyone remained seated."

Paulos received his B.S. in Mathematics in 1967, and so this incident occurred about 1955. I wonder if 1955 is in Mallard Fillmore's "now" for "bad education".

Just as bad as Paulos' incident, when I was in fourth grade and nine (1947), a substitute teacher took a vote on the distance to the Moon. I wonder how long ago Mallard Fillmore's "then" was. I don't think Bruce Tinsley even knows when "then" was; he was born in 1958.

See more in Chapter 4 of Innumeracy about shortcomings of math education. The book was published in 1988 when Tinsley was 30.

See also my recent article "If numbers make you number, you'll lose dollars before you holler".

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Why don't men sing?

A couple of years ago I wrote a column "Why Don't Men Sing" for the Reader Weekly. I gave various cultural reasons for men's lack of interest in singing. One I mentioned was our becoming more passive with respect to entertainment because of radio and TV. John Allen Paulos gave a broader look at this problem in Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences.

He wrote that the averages in a small collection and a large collection are about the same but that the extremes will be wider in larger collections. For example, in a small town there may be some good singers, but in a large city there may be some even better singers. When the small town singers performed in their home town, people appreciated them. However, as people in the small town heard the better singers available in the big city on radio and TV, they were no longer satisfied with their neighbors' singing. This is even more discouraging to beginning singers because they are judged by a cruelly higher standard.

We can see the reverse in the performances of small children. Some indulgent adults go overboard in praising any effort by small children, even if half of them can't even be heard. That is, the wonder is not how well they sing, but that they sing at all. It's a pity that encouragement of effort won't last for more of their lives.