Archive for May, 2018

Unconscious Hate

May 31, 2018

Mahatma Gandhi: If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

This is the fourth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. HM has come to the firm conclusion that human cognition needs to be taught in the public schools, continuing in elementary school through high school. The reason we do and believe things, unconscious hate among them, is that we are unaware of our nonconscious processing. That is thoughts of which we are unaware but influence what we think and how we act. Moreover, most people think that bias is bad, something to be avoided. The reality is that we receive much more information than we can process. So to select the information that we can process we need to be biased. Heuristics are beneficial biases we employ to process information.

Ms. Kohn writes, “..I don’t think that the vast majority of Americans—right, left, and center—are deliberate explicit bigots. But I do think all of us need to come to terms with the fact that we all hold unconscious ideas about the superiority of some groups and the interiority of others—ideas that may not be expressed like they were in 1950s Virginia but that come from the same history and hateful legacy. And when I say all of us, I really do mean everyone. Myself included. And you, too. “

Research in both neuroscience and psychology can explain why. A professor of neuroscience at the University of Chicago, Jennifer Kubota, has focused her research on implicit bias and the brain. Her research explains how stereotypes are recorded in the brain. It involves a structure in the brain with which healthy memory blog readers should be familiar. There is an amygdala on each side of the center of the brain. The amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions including fear. There is no one “center’ of emotion. The amygdala is involved “in learning about important or threatening or novel things in our environment. When we need it, the amygdala quickly recalls what’s been learned so we can just as quickly evaluate whatever situation we’re in and respond accordingly. The amygdala can be thought of as an efficient filing cabinet for everything society has taught that our brains have absorbed. The amygdala takes in whatever messages that are around it—including the endemic racial stereotypes—that percolate through the media and our education practices and our families and every other single aspect of our existence. In other words, biases are stuck in society’s system and, in turn, get stuck in all of our brains—particularly in our amygdalae. The amygdala doesn’t mean to be hateful. It learns to hate from a hateful society.

john a. powell, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley has extensively studied the research on implicit bias. He says the nonconscious “makes associations based on frequency.” So, for instance, because the news overreport black crime, at an nonconscious level we’ll create a neural linkage between crime and black—whether or not we even personally, consciously believe blacks are more or less likely to commit crime. Implicit biases are like projections of society’s biases etched into our unconscious. It happens to all of us. “It’s the air we breathe,” says powell. “You breathe that until you’re an adult, you’re going to have those associations. Whites will have them. Blacks will have them. Latinos will have them.”

New York University neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and her research team conducted a study in 2000 that identified the neural signature of negative stereotypes. The amygdala is activated more when subjects are shown photos of people with fearful facial expressions than when they are presented with photos of people with neutral expressions. This detection of danger, which in turn helps trigger fear, is one of the most well-established functions of the amygdala, and neuroscientists have long believed that greater amygdala activation is due to a greater perceived threat. Phelp’s research team hooked subjects up to an fMRI machine and then flashed random yearbook photos of white people and black people, all of whom had neutral facial expressions; none were fearful. The majority of white subjects showed greater amygdala activation when viewing unfamiliar black compared to familiar white faces. In other words, seeing unfamiliar black faces triggered fear. Phelps and her team then compared the same people’s amygdala activation to their scores on an implicit bias assessment, which they’d taken before the fMRI study. They found that the more implicit bias people had, the more their amygdala lit up.

This implicit associative test, developed by Dr. Anthony Greenwald, has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts. You can take this test yourself. Go to
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

A great deal of research has revealed the pernicious effects of implicit bias in people’s lives. As john a. powell along with a group of other researchers wrote in a comprehensive report that summarized this work, titled “The Science of Equality”, “studies have shown that bias is operating in our schools, our business offices, our medical institutions, and in our criminal justice system.” This research is too voluminous to review and do justice to in this blog post.

One can argue that explicit bias, bias which is intended, is worse than implicit bias. But what matters most is impact—which can be just as pernicious whether rooted in implicit bias or explicit hate. Undetected hate hiding in our brains is still hate. Ms. Kohn writes, “Just like a little cancer is still cancer. You don’t want even a smidgen inside you.”

Fortunately, there is increasing evidence that interventions work. Ms. Kohn calls this “connection-thinking”— the conscious effort to neutralize the stereotypes embedded in our amygdalae. This is generally called “debiasing” and it is getting promising results.

Susan Fiske conducted an experiment that tried a simple strategy to erase people’s bias. When Fiske showed pictures of unknown black faces to white participants, their amygdala activity predictably spiked. But when Fiske instructed the research subjects to guess the favorite vegetable of the people in the pictures, their amygdala activation remained the same, whether they were shown pictures of white people or black people. So just thinking about what vegetable these unknown folks might enjoy, and having to engage in the process of trying to take the perspective of the other, was enough to break down bias.

Phelps and her team did another experiment in which they showed white subjects the faces of well-liked famous people, both white and black. This time their amygdala activation was significantly lower. In other words, just knowing people, just having more real-life exposure to “others” changes the way our brains activate in response. Ms. Kohn concludes, “That’s more great support for the importance of creating more connection-spaces that then help foster connection-thinking.”

Here’s another study that shows promising signs that if we will acknowledge that we have implicit bias, we can consciously train our minds to disregard it. Salma Handler and other neuroscientists at Tel Aviv University hooked subjects up to a fancy computer that allowed them to monitor their fMRI results themselves, watching in real time as their amygdala activation rates were being tested. With a little bit of coaching and a lot of encouragement, when they were shown stimuli that were meant to trigger their fear mechanisms and at the same time were shown a screen where their amygdalae were lighting up, people could deliberately lower their amygdalae stimulation. Just getting that feedback helped people regulate their own unconscious mental processes.

According to Yudkin and Van Bavel, “Acknowledging the truth about ourselves—that we see and think about the world through the lens of group affiliations—is the first step to making things better.” Ms. Kohn concludes, “So the answer isn’t to ignore biases, as with arguments about “colorblindness” or attacks on identity politics, but rather to acknowledge them and keep working at consciously countering them. We’re not going to change our stereotyped thinking overnight, and we certainly won’t change it longterm simply because we imagine someone’s favorite vegetable. But with concerted effort over time, we can make great headway.”

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Hating Is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist

May 30, 2018

Jhumpa Lahiri: The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging.

This is the third chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. Brent Brown writes, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart, We numb. We ache. We hurt others.”

Kohn writes, “The problem starts when our desire to belong leads to identify so strongly with a particular social group that we become fierce in or belonging—to the point of engaging in, or at least condoning, harmful otherizing. This capacity to otherize lies deep within us, bred into us through the long course human evolution.” Evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson writes, “The tendency to form groups, and then to favor in-group members, has the earmarks of instinct.”

Kohn writes, “SOCIAL GROUP IDENTITY was a reality in North America from the moment European colonialists arrived. The fact that they even claimed they ‘discovered’ the ‘New World’ was already indicative of hierarchical us/them thinking—to them, the people already there plainly didn’t matter. Thus, it wasn’t just white people who ‘founded’ the United States but white supremacy—the fundamental idea that the white people of the planet are inherently superior to everyone else and deserve to take whatever they want and do whatever they want. Of course, the very idea of ‘whiteness’ is a social construct; as columnist Michael Harriot puts it, it’s “‘just some dumb shit people made up a long time ago to build a fence around their idea of self-supremacy.’”

Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” owned more that six hundred black men, women, and children as slaves, apparently not seeing a contradiction between what he wrote and what he did because as Jefferson once said free blacks were “pests in society…as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” This is just the tip of some of the most vicious racist writings that have ever been written. Moreover, Jefferson bred with these blacks. This should be written on his monument and at his residence, “America’s foremost hypocrite.”

Arno Michaelis was not only a member of a white-supremacist neo-Nazi group; he was also one of the most prominent white-power leaders in North America. In 1987, he became a founding member of the Northern Hammerskins in Milwaukee, which evolved into Hammerskin Nation—the largest white-power skinhead group in the world. Arno was also the lead singer for Centurion, one of the top white-power bands worldwide. Kohn writes, “the thing that surprised me the most about Arno was that he didn’t think of himself as especially hateful toward others, even when he was the leader of a bona fide hate group. He just thought that he was benevolently, even heroically, looking out for his ‘own kind.’ What I ended up learning is that a lot of people who join extremist hate groups don’t even really hate the maligned out-group as much as they crave approval from the in-group they’ve embraced. They’re just looking for belonging. The hate comes later.”

One day Arno went to buy his Big Mac at a McDonald’s filled with a cross-section of MIlwaukee’s black and white and Latina residents, and an older black woman was working the cash register. Arno had seen her there before. Arno ordered his burger and then reached in his pocket and handed the woman his sloppy pile of dimes and pennies and nickels. Which is when she noticed the new swastika tattoo on his finger. “What’s that?” she slowly, even carefully asked.

‘It’s nothing,” Arno whispered, shoving his hand back in his pocket.

Which is when the black woman looked the white supremacist in the eyes and, with a kind voice and even a hint of a smile, said to Arno, “You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.”

Kohn writes, “Arno grabbed his sandwich, turned on his heel, and fled. He never went back. But he also never saw his life quite the same way again. His views didn’t exactly change overnight, but almost. In fact, one of the most jarring things about Arno’s story is not only how relatively casually he left the white-supremacist movement but also how relatively accidentally he joined it in the first place.” To describe briefly how he joined it: He was a rock singer who fell into a white supremacist band.

In 1994 Dan Koren published a study showing that the surge in violent gang membership in the late 1980s in the US and Europe was driven by kids from “affluent, upscale communities.” Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who is one of the foremost scholars on domestic right-wing hate groups, found that members of right-wing hate groups come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Another study found that expressions of overt racism by whites were not motivated by fears around economic competition, but by anger about “race mixing”—in other words, not economic anxieties, but cultural supremacy. Contrary to popular belief, hate and violence are not necessarily a recourse of the poor, but are sometimes a luxury of the rich. Hate doesn’t fall in one income bracket.

Pete Simi, who has interviewed more than a hundred former neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, explains that most white supremacists don’t primarily seek to join a hate group; they’re just looking for belonging. He says they “slide in” from the side more due to camaraderie than doctrine, and they don’t fully confront the racist beliefs until they’re already bonded with the group. “Ideology is important, but it’s not necessarily the initial attraction that draws the person to the group,’ Simi writes. “The ideology is often there early on but it’s not crystallized—it’s like there may be bits and pieces of the ideology that are attractive early on, but rarely do you have someone who has a full appreciation for the ideology and then seeks out the group. Over time, ideology becomes more important as the person becomes more familiar with the ideas.”

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has concluded that “Human nature may embrace motives that lead to aggression, but it also embraces motives like empathy, self, control and reason, which, under the right circumstances can outweigh aggressive impulses.

Frans de Waal, who has spent his career studying primates and comparing their behavior to human nature, argues that compassion and kindness traces back through ancient evolution—“probably as old as mammals and birds.” Kohn writes, “So while the desire for belonging may be part of what draws people into hate groups, that innate pull toward empathy turns out to be a powerful antidote to extremist hate. Just as the search for belonging brought Arno into white supremacy, finding that sense of belonging elsewhere was what helped him escape.

How We Hate: The Former Terrorist

May 29, 2018

James Baldwin: I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

This is the second chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity by Sally Kohn. The former terrorist is Bassam Aramin. In 2005 he founded Combatants for Peace, a group made up of Palestinians who had engaged in violence against Israelis plus former Israeli soldiers, all now working together to promote understanding between the two sides.

And these two sides have different versions of history. Ms. Kohn describes the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a textbook case of competitive victimhood. She writes, “Palestinians generally think they suffer the most because of the Israelis, and the Israelis think hey suffer the most because of Palestinians. In fact, I’ve talked to people on both sides who think the idea that the other side suffers at all is preposterous. For instance, Palestinians generally articulate a version of history in which they were a peaceful people until they were invaded by Zionists, who resorted to terrorism in their colonial conquest, including the bombing of Palestinian Arab civilians in 1938, the car bomb detonated by Zionists inside Jerusalem in 1947, and the Zionist slaughtering of the people of the Palestinian village of Deir Yasmin in 1948. At the same time, many Israelis dwell on a version of history in which Jews are a constantly persecuted people who merely sought solace from repeated and extended acts of world terrorism only to be victimized by Palestinians, for instance in The Arab riots during the 1920s, the Palestinian Arab revolt in the 1930s, and the Palestinian riots in Jerusalem in 1947.”

Bassam regarded himself as a terrorist and committed what he regarded as terrorist acts. He ended up being sentenced to seven years in prison for acts committed against Israeli military. But the law under which he was convicted applied to terrorist acts against civilians, not the military. Nevertheless, Bassam does not feel as if he was unjustly convicted.

Bassam regards himself as a freedom fighter and among the most humane freedom fighters on earth. His justification is that they are against militants who try to kill us and occupy our land and our people, and we need to kill them for humanity, not for ourselves. He adds that “It’s justified.”

Ms Kohn asks, “It’s justified?” “You know it’s wrong.”

He responds, “No, its not wrong.”

Around the middle of his prison term, the Israeli guards showed a movie about the Holocaust. Assam decided to go watch, because, frankly, he wanted to see Jews being killed—he was sort of trolling the prison and the guards for even showing the film. “I wanted to enjoy to see someone killing and torturing them.”

But somehow, witnessing the brutality of the Holocaust shocked Bassam and tore open a seam in the story of hate h’d believed up until then. The film made him weep, opening his eyes—and mind and heart—to the suffering of his enemy> Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

When Bassam got out of prison, he enrolled in graduate school and got a master’s degree in Holocaust studies. The reason for deciding to get a master’s degree in Holocaust studies was to know his enemy. When you know your enemy, you can defeat them. He still calls Israelis his enemy. They occupy his land, so they are enemies. They are not friends, then are not brothers.

But he still has compassion for his enemy; he does not hate them.

Bassam is disaggregating the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “enemy” describes a “person who is actively opposed to or hostile to someone or something.” In other words, by definition, it’s not that you hate them, but that they hate you. So even if hate is something our enemies do and cherish, something that may literally define them—it doesn’t have to define us.

Why We Hate

May 28, 2018

Why we hate is the topic of the first chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The chapter begins with a quote from Booker T. Washington: “I would permit no man…to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

In 1977, Lee Ross and some colleagues conducted a study in which Stanford University students were randomly assigned to participate in a fake quiz show, either as questioners, contestants, or audience members. The questioners were asked to come up with ten questions based on their own knowledge, and the contestants had to try to answer those questions. Everyone, including the audience, was well aware that this was the setup—in other words, they knew that by design the people who came up with the questions knew the answers far better than those supposed to answer them. Yet afterwards, the students participating as audience members said they thought the questioners were inherently smarter than the contestants. They discounted the very obvious staged context. What is even more surprising, the contestants themselves rated the questioners as more knowledgeable. These results are truly mind boggling, and these were Stanford University students. When he wrote up this experiment, Lee Ross coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error.”

Two years later, psychologist Thomas Pettigrew took matters one step further by introducing what he called the “ultimate attribution error.” Pettigrew reasoned that if we assume that the negative behaviors of other individuals are attributable to their inherent, internal disposition, the same effect would be magnified in our prejudices against other groups. We are all members of in-groups and out-groups. Our family is an in-group and it is likely that our neighborhood is an in-group also. But the family in the neighborhood on the other side of town is an out-group. Membership in these groups is relative. If you’re primed to think about your entire town versus another town—for example, during a sporting match—suddenly the other neighborhood in your town becomes part of your out-group.

Some demarcations between in-groups and out-groups have become cemented in our society’s collective psyche. In the United States today, race, gender. immigration status, and economic class are categories of identity we’re accustomed to defining ourselves in relation to, and thinking of the people in “our group” as somewhat distinct from “others.” Ms. Kohn continues, “On top of this, like a giant living being, society has its own historical and collective perceptions about which of these groups usually fall in the in-group and which fall out. This is where the very meaningful, albeit complicated and sometimes even annoying, concept of ‘privilege’ comes in—the idea that certain identities and thus certain groups are inherently favored and advantaged in the broader norms and systems of our society, That’s how you end up with a dynamic where, in spite of the fact that women make up more than half the US population and more than half of US voters, more than 80% of those elected Congress are men. We all ingest and imitate society’s in-group and out-group biases.”

The ultimate attribution error gets a powerful assist from another of the fundamental psychological habits of hate: essentialism, which is the tendency to generalize wildly about people, especially those we lump into out-groups. Essentialism is the belief that everyone within a group shares the same characteristics or qualities, generalizations we’re especially likely to make—and assumed are fixed—about out groups. David Livingstone Smith in his book “Less Than Human” writes, “Essences are imagined to be shared by members of natural kinds, kinds that are discovered rather then invented, real rather than merely imagined and rooted in nature.” To which Ms. Kohn responds, “But that’s a myth. The distinctions between us are largely not ‘natural’ but created. We define and demand ‘others’ in large part because of society’s biases, all of which harden into negative and unyielding judgments about others that shape the rest of our perceptions. And this, I learned, is the core of prejudice and discrimination.”

The big question is how to converse with people of differing beliefs or political persuasions. Ms. Kohn has a handy tool taught to her by Matt Kohut and John Neffinger, authors of the book “Compelling People.” The problem that many of us have, HM included, is that we are tempted to respond to something someone says is wrong, by arguing, “No, you’re wrong, and let me explain the three reasons why!” Ms. Kohn used neuroscience to explain why this is not going to be productive. We know from neuroscience that while we need to use our frontal lobes to engage in a reasoned discussion—and to be open to persuasion—when we perceive an argument coming, our frontal lobes shut down and the fight-or-flight part of our brain turns on (the part of the brain that also holds our biases and stereotypes). To keep the possibility of persuasion open, we have to stay conversational.

We need to remember the acronym ABC, which stands for:

Affirm. First you find a feeling that you can genuinely affirm. So if the person said they are afraid of “x” say that you also agree with “x”. You have to mean this, that you authentically agree on this point.

Bridge. This does not stand for “but” or “however”. A bridge is a way of saying “and.” We can just say “and” or “that’s why” or “actually” or “the thing is” or even “the good news is”. You are trying to build means of getting to …

Convince. This is where you say whatever you were inclined to say in the first place.

It is clear that in many, if not most, situations, it will be impossible to do this. In that case, just let the point go. Arguing your point is highly unlikely to be successful, and the risk of a heated argument developing that increases enmity is high. If prevailed upon to give our opinions, it is important to be polite and respective. In other words to be the antithesis of Donald Trump.

The Heresy of Trumpism

May 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the 24 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The substance of this column is the motivation for this post. Dionne writes, “Maybe it takes one of the world’s most elitist institutions—a monarch for goodness sake—to provide a view of Christianity rooted rooted not in conservative cultural warfare (or unrelenting support for President Trump) but in and egalitarian love that will ‘let justice roll down like a mighty stream.’”

Dionne continues, “And the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who preached for a royal couple and the world last Saturday, isn’t finished with us yet. On Thursday, a group of Christians will march to the White House for a candle-light vigil inspired by a declaration titled ‘Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.’ The presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Curry is a prime mover of a statement suffused with a sense of urgency about ‘a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government.’ While Trump lurks behind almost every paragraph of this passionate assertion of faith, he is never mentioned. This reflects the desire of the endorsers to focus on what it means to proclaim that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The opening paragraph makes this clear: ‘We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.’”

Dionne continuing further, “At a time when social media and email inboxes bulge with manifestos about the danger posed by Trump, ‘Reclaiming Jesus’ is distinctive; Its vision contrasts sharply with the approach taken by Christians who are invoking religions in apologetics for a president whose actions and policies seem antithetical to almost everything Jesus taught. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical Christian leader and the declaration’s main drafter, credited Curry for encouraging his colleagues to speak out. ‘The two of us talked and prayed about this for months before inviting a group of elders to join us for a retreat on Ash Wednesday to discuss a theological and biblical statement.’”

and further, “Even if its implications about you-know who are unmistakable, the call—issued by 23 prominent Christians with long experience in social struggles—‘wants to be about Jesus, not Trump,’ Wallis said in an interview. The hope is to challenge Christians to reach their political conclusions only after pondering what Jesus and his disciples said. ‘What we believe leads us to what we must reject,’ the signers assert, laying out six core propositions and the conclusions that follow. If ‘ each human being is made in God’s image and likeness,’ then Christians have a duty to repudiate ‘the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.’ A belief that ‘we are one body’ requires opposition to ‘misogyny’ and ‘the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women.’ Because ‘how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ,’ Christians must oppose ‘attacks on immigrants and refugees’ and ‘cutting services and programs for the poor’ accompanied by tax cuts ‘for the rich.”

The final three assertions were especially pointed about the unnamed president. Because ‘truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition.’ Christians should stand against ‘the practice and pattern of lying that is invading our political and civil life.’ It notes that ‘Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood not domination.’ This means resisting ‘any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.’

The declaration’s most barbed conclusion from Christ’s injunction to ‘go into all nations making disciples.’ This, the signatories say, demands a rebuke to ‘American First’ as a theological heresy.’

‘While we share a patriotic love for our country, they add, ‘we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal.’ This is a testing time for the country as a whole, but the moment presents a particular challenge to the Christian churches.

Trump, after all, won a substantial majority of the vote among white Christians. The battle within Christianity (and not just in the United States) can be defined in many ways. It is at least in part between those who would use faith as a means of excluding others on the basis of nation, culture and, to often, race and those who see it as an appeal to conscience, a prod to social decency—and, yes, as an invitation to love.

The question ‘Who is Jesus?’ has been debated for two millennia. It is starkly relevant now.”

Thus ends, E. J. Dionne’s outstanding column. HM has been waiting for a column such as Dionne’s for quite some time.

To understand this problem, it is important to make a clear distinction between religions and God. Religions are human institutions. To believers, God is a true deity. Religions tend to be catered to particular types of believers. And most promise a quality eternal life. But people should realize that it is God who determines who shall enjoy a quality eternal life. And when one looks at Trump supporters, one wonders how they could possibly be following the dictates of Christ? Dionne’s column makes that pretty clear. People need to read the teachings of Christ rather than listening to certain preachers.

Some churches have told their congregants to vote for Trump so that he would appoint a conservative justice who would be in favor of overturning Roe v Wade. One can by sympathetic for people who fear that lives are being lost. But are lives really being lost?

The first point is that lives are not relevant. The issue is the soul. Any hope that eternal life is dependent on biological life is solely mistaken. A suitable means of eternal life is provided by the soul. When HM was a child he would pray,

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

As the Korean War was taking place at this time, he would add
“and bless all the little children in Korea.”

HM did not know this at the time, but he was praying for his future wife.

So it is the soul, not biological life, that it is key.

At this point HM thinks that he is praying to a different God than others who oppose abortion pray to. HM knows that what is essential for the healthy development of a child is a loving and attentive mother. HM also knows the consequences of a child being unloved. The child grows up emotionally and cognitively handicapped. When you read in the paper of the crimes and tragedies that are being committed, the underlying cause is likely to be an unloved child. And to think that there are even those who believe that a woman who is pregnant because she has been raped should be compelled to deliver the child.

HM’s loving and merciful God, being omniscient, knows these facts. HM believes that if a pregnant woman does not think she can be a loving a caring mother, she should get an abortion. He is confident that God is merciful, that the soul will not be lost, and that the soul should find a loving and caring mother.

What is the Key to LeBron James Phenomenal Performance?

May 24, 2018

And the answer is his superior memory. Sally Jenkins captured this in her article, “How is LeBron James always one move ahead? Let’s ask the scientists” in the 18 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. She begins, “Much as his brute-strength shoulders and legs define LeBron James, it’s the stuff in his head that elevates him.”

Ms. Jenkins continues, “Much has been made of James show-offy display of memory in his postgame analysis of Game 1. Replay it and notice not just the accuracy but the detail: in narrating six sequences in proper order, he noted the time on the shot clock, who took each shot and missed what, where the ball was inbounded from, and Jayson Tatum’s use of a Euro-step and right hand on a layup. When he was done, listeners broke into applause.

Zach Hambrick, a cognition-performance expert at Michigan State said, “It’s remarkable, but not surprising.” It is not surprising because there is a strong connection between cognitive science and human performance. Hambrick said, “This is one of the bedrock findings in research on human expertise: that experts have superior memory for information within their domain.”

Research has shown what seems to be “photographic memory” is really extrapolation based on habit-worn paths of knowledge, the vestiges and traces left in the brain by experience.

Adriaan de Groot conducted a famous study of chess players in the 1960s. Pieces were shown on a board for five seconds and then removed. The players were asked to recall what they had seen. Novices remembered poorly. The more expert the players, the more pieces they could recall, and the locations of the pieces. An important point in this study, which is frequently not mentioned, is that the superior recall of the experts only occurred when they pieces on the board were placed in a meaningful manner as would be found in a game between experts. If pieces were arranged in a random, nonsensical manner, the masters’ performance differed little from the novices. If so arranged in a meaningful manner, grandmasters could recall virtually everything.

Masters of games don’t just build static memories, but have a remarkable ability to intuit. Ms. Jenkins writes, “James’s anticipation is inseparable from his memory. Ericsson cited a study of elite soccer players where they were shown a game and the screen was halted at an unpredictable point. The best players remembered not only who was where but also predicted where they would go next.

Ms. Jenkins writes, “Think about the processes involved as James scans the court while moving down the floor. The optic nerves absorb and transmit small peripheral details, then shift to a sudden zoom focus as he throws a glancing no-look bounce pass that hits Kevin Love in the hands mid-stride. Then his attention broadens again stereoscopically to capture the whole floor. The cognitive flexibility to go in and out of those states fluidly is highly learned. And yet little short of magic.”

In 2014 researchers John O’Keefe, Maybritt Moser, and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize for explaining how the brain navigates. They answered the questions: How do we perceive position, know where we are, find the way home? O’Keefe found a specific cell in the hippocampus that throws off a signal to mark a specific place. The Mosers found that neurons in the entorhinal cortex fire in fields with regularity. When they drew lines corresponding to the neuronal activity they saw a grid. So LeBron James has a geometric projection in his brain that acts as a computation coordinate system. And so do we, but LeBron makes a much more effective use of this system.

There still is the question as to how James’s brain discriminates among multiple similar memories. Andre Fenton has published a possible answer to this question in the journal “Neuron.” The answer is that the “place” signaling is not so much a constant remapping. Actually it is highly synchronized. Think of the neurons in James’s head as birds. Starlings, “Like a flock of starling that takes on different formations while still maintaining cohesion as a flock,” Fenton said. “He’s not recording like a videotape. He’s not rebuilding. He doesn’t rebuild a picture of what is going on. He watches it evolve continuously and fluidly. There is a flock, and it’s moving down the court, and everybody has a place. All these birds form a structure, and the structure is important. We call it a flock. He calls it a play.”

Fenton says that this is actually what all human beings do. HM would add that this is also what many infra human species do. Our brains learn a series of models over our lives and is constantly making predictions.

Phenoms like James are masters of assessing the likelihoods of things. With an amazingly good set of models and expectations—of opponents, of teammates and of how the ball will move, it can look like total omniscience.

Possible Outcomes

May 22, 2018

This is the final post in this series. Unfortunately, Hayden does not come to any real conclusions at the end of “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” He just rambles on and on. As a career intelligence professional, one could expect better. He has made a career of dealing with large amounts of data of varying amounts of credibility, and has come to conclusions, or at least different possible outcomes weighted differently. But he didn’t. So please tolerate HM’s offerings.

The president has already tweeted that the entire Department of Justice is the deep state. He has also told a New York Times reporter, “I have an absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. Two conclusions can be drawn here.
Trump is woefully ignorant of the Constitution and what he can do.
The Russian new way of conducting warfare has been highly successfully.

Should the Democrats win back the House and the Senate, Trump can be impeached and removed from office.
However, this is a goal that it is difficult to achieve. And likely impossible given Russian interference, which has been promised, but for which Trump is going to do nothing to prevent.

Mueller can finish his report and provide it to Congress. It is likely that Republicans would not be impressed by compelling evidence of obstruction of justice.

But what about conspiring with Russia to win the election? The United States has spent large amounts on defense. But to what end if the Russians have effectively captured the White House? Trump worships Putin and would gladly serve as his lap dog.

And suppose it is discovered that Trump owes large amounts of money to Russia and that Putin effectively owns him?

What happens in these latter two cases rests solely with the Republicans. Too many Republicans have been influenced by Russia’s new form of warfare and are doing everything they can to subvert Mueller’s work. They have already produced a biased report that excludes Democratic input and exonerates the president.

Similarly, if Trump fires Mueller and tries to close down the investigation, the question is how will Republicans respond to this constitutional crisis? If they’re complacent and do nothing, our democracy effectively goes down the drain. Trump is likely to declare himself President for life, and Russia would effectively occupy the oval office.

The Russians are generations ahead of the United States in warfare. If this were an old-fashioned shooting war, all Americans would be enraged and the country would be up in arms. But the type of highly effective warfare to which the Russians have advanced involves the human mind. Some US Citizens are loosing interest in Mueller’s investigation and are tired of it lasting so long. They seem to care not that they would be losing the White House to the Russians. All this requires thinking, that is System 2 processing. System 1 processing, feeling, believing, not thinking and being oblivious of the truth is so much easier.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trump, Russia, and Truth (Cont.)

May 21, 2018

This post is a continuation of the post of the same title taken from the book by Michael Hayden titled “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in the Age of Lies.” This is the third post in the series.

Gary Kasparov, Soviet chess champion turned Russian dissident outlined the progression of Putin’s attacks. They were developed and honed first in Russia and then with Russian-speaking people nearby before expanding to Europe and the U.S. These same Russian information operations have been used to undercut democratic processes in the United States and Europe, and to erode confidence in institutions like NATO and the European Union.

Hayden notes, “Committed to the path of cyber dominance for ourselves, we seemed to lack the doctrinal vision to fully understand that the Russians were up to with their more full-spectrum information dominance. Even now, many commentators refer to what the Russians did to the American electoral process as a cyber attack, but the actual cyber portion of that was fairly straightforward.”

Hayden writes, “Evidence mounted. The faux personae created at the Russian bot farm—the Saint Petersburg—based Internet Research Agency—were routinely represented by stock photos taken from the internet, and the themes they pushed were consistently pro-Russian. There was occasional truth to their posting, but clear manipulation as well, and they all seemed to push in unison.

The Russians knew their demographic. The most common English words in their faux twitter profiles were “God,” “military,” “Trump,” “family,” “country,” “conservative,” “Christian,” “America,” and “Constitution,” The most commonly used hashtags were #nuclear, #media, #Trump, and #Benghazi…all surefire dog whistles certain to create trending.”

It was easy for analysts to use smart algorithms to determine whether something was trending because of genuine human interaction or simply because it was being pushed by the Russian botnet. Analysts could see that the bots ebbed and flowed based upon the needs of the moment. Analysts tried to call attention to this, but American intelligence did not seem to be interested.

Analyst Clint Watts characterized 2014 as year of capability development for the Russians and pointed to a bot-generated petition movement calling for the return of Alaska to Russia that got more than forty thousand supporters while helping the Russians build their cadre and perfect their tactics. With that success in hand in 2015 the Russians started a real push toward the American audience, by grabbing any divisive social issue they could identify. They were particularly attracted to issues generated from organic American content, issues that had their origin in the American community. Almost by definition, issues with a U.S. provenance could be portrayed as genuine concerns to America, and they were already preloaded in the patois of the American political dialogue, which included U.S. based conspiracy theorists.

Hayden writes, “And Twitter as a gateway is easier to manipulate than other platforms since in the twitterers we voluntarily break down into like-minded tribes, easily identified by or likes and by whom we follow. Watts says that the Russians don’t have to “bubble” us—that is, create a monolithic information space friendly for their messaging, We have already done that to ourselves since, he says, social media is as gerrymandered as any set of state electoral districts in the country. Targeting can become so precise that he considers social media “a smart bomb delivery system.” In Senate testimony, Watts noted that with tailored news feeds, a feature rather than a bug for those getting their news online, voters see “only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases—ripe condition for Russian disinformation campaigns.”

Charlie Sykes believes “many Trump voters get virtually all their information from inside the bubble…Conservative media has become a safe space for people who want to be told they don’t have to believe anything that is uncomfortable or negative…The details are less important than the fact that you’re being persecuted, you’re being victimized by people you loathe.”

What we have here is an ideal environment for System 1 processors. They can feed their emotions and beliefs without ever seeing any contradicting information that would cause them to think and invoke System 2 processing.

Republican Max Boot railed against the Fox network as “Trump TV,” Trump’s own version of RT,” and its prime-time ratings czar Sean Hannity as “the president’s de facto minister of information. Hayden says that there are what he calls genuine heroes on the Fox Network, like Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Charles Krauthammer, Bret Baier, Dana Perino and Steve Hayes, but for the most part he agrees with Boot. Hannity gave a platform to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange shortly before Trump’s inauguration, traveling to London to interview him at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Assange had taken refuge from authorities following a Swedish rape allegation.

Hayden writes, “When the institutions of the American government refuse to kowtow to the president’s transient whim, he sets out to devalue and delegitimize them in a way rarely, if ever, seen before in our history. A free (but admittedly imperfect) press is “fake news,” unless, of course, it is Fox; the FBI is in “tatters,” led by a”nut job” director and conducting a “witch hunt”; the Department of Justice, and particularly the attorney general, is weak, and so forth.”

It is clear that Trump has experience only with “family” business, where personal loyalty reigns supreme. He has no experience with government and is apparently ignorant of the separation of the three branches of govern, legislative, judicial, and executive. The judicial and legislative branches are to be independent of the executive.

Apparently the White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, asked Trump whether he was guilty. Obviously, Trump said he was innocent, so Cobb told Trump to cooperate with Mueller and that would establish his innocence quickly and he could devote full time to his presidential duties.

Obviously, he is not innocent. On television he told Lester Holt that the reason he fired Comey was that he would not back off the Russia investigation. In other words, he has already been caught obstructing Justice.

During the campaign he requested Hillary’s emails from the Russians. So he was conspiring with the Russians and this conspiracy was successful as he did indeed get the emails.

There are also questions regarding why is he so reluctant to take any actions against Russia? One answer is that it is clearly in Trumps’ interest for the Russians interfering in the mid term election as he is concerned that the Democrats could regain control of both the House and the Senate, which would virtually guarantee that he would be impeached.

A related question regards his finances. Why has he never released his tax forms? There are outstanding debts that are not accounted for, and he seems to be flush with cash, but from where? The most parsimonious answer to this question is that he is in debt to Putin. In other words, Putin owns him.

We do not know what evidence Mueller has, but it appears that it is very large.

And Trump is behaving like a guilty person. Of course he denies his guilt and proclaims his innocence vehemently, but this only makes him appear guilty. He is viciously attacking the government and the constitution to discredit them, since he will not be able to prove his innocence. And the Russians have and will continue to provide the means for helping him try to discredit the justice system, the intelligence community, and the press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trump, Russia, and Truth

May 20, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” This book is by Michael V. Hayden who has served as the directors of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This is the second post in the series.

in 2017 a detailed story in “Wired” magazine revealed how Russia was subverting U.S. democracy cited a European study that found that rather than trying to change minds, the Russian goal was simply “to destroy and undermine confidence in Western media.” The Russians found a powerful ally in Trump, who attacked American institutions with as much ferocity as did Russian propaganda, as when he identified the press as the “enemy of the American people.” The attack on the media rarely argued facts. James Poniewozik of the New York Times wrote in a 2017 tweet that Trump didn’t try to argue the facts of a case—“just that there is no truth, so you should just follow your gut & your tribe.”

Wired also pointed out the convergence between the themes of Russian media/web blitz and the Trump campaign: Clinton’s emails, Clinton’s health, rigged elections, Bernie Sanders, and so forth. And then there was an echo chamber between Russian news and American right-wing outlets, epitomized by Clinton staffer Seth Rich was somehow related to the theft of DNC emails, and the dumping of them on Wikileaks—that it was an inside job and not connected to Russia at all.

Hayden writes, “Trump seemed the perfect candidate for the Russians’ purpose, and that was ultimately our choice not theirs. But the central fact to be faced and understood here is that Russians have gotten very good indeed at invading and often dominating the American information space. For me, that story goes back twenty years. I arrived in San Antonia, TX, in January 1996 to take command of what was then called the Air Intelligence Agency. As I’ve written elsewhere, Air Force Intelligence was on the cutting edge of thinking about the new cyber warfare, and I owed special thanks to my staff there for teaching me so much about this new battle space.”

“The initial question they asked was whether we were in the cyber business or the information dominance business? Did we want to master cyber networks as a tool of war or influence or were we more ambitious, with an intent to shape how adversaries or even societies received and processed all information? As we now have a Cyber Command and not an information dominance command, you can figure how all this turned out. We opted for cyber; Russia opted for information dominance.”

The Russian most interested in that capacity was General Valery Gerasimov, an armor officer who after combat in the Second Chechen War, served as the commander of the Leningrad and then Moscow military districts. Writing in 2013 Gerasimov pointed to the “blurring [of] the lines between the state of war and the state of peace” and—after noting the Arab Awakening—observed that “a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict…and sink into a web of chaos.”

Gerasimov continued, “The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown,” and the trend now was “the broad use of political, economic, informational humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures—applied in coordination with the protest potential of the population.” He said seeing large clashes of men and metal as a “thing” of the past.” He called for “long distance, contactless actions against the enemy” and included in his arsenal “informational actions, devices, and means.” He concluded, “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” and so new “models of operations and military conduct” were needed.

Putin appointed Gerasimov chief of the general staff in late 2012. Fifteen months later there was evidence of his doctrine in action with the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Hayden writes, “In eastern Ukraine, Russia promoted the fiction of a spontaneous rebellion by local Russian speakers against a neofascist regime in Kiev, aided only by Russian volunteers, a story line played out in clever high quality broadcasts from news services like RT and Sputnik coupled with relentless trolling on social media. [At this time HM was able to view these RT telecasts at work. They were the best done propaganda pieces he’s ever seen, because they did not appear to be propaganda, but rather, high quality, objective newscasts.]

Hayden concludes, “With no bands, banners, or insignia, Russia had altered borders within Europe—by force—but with an informational canopy so dense as to make the aggression opaque.”

The Assault on Intelligence

May 19, 2018

Michael V. Hayden has served as the director of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His latest book is “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” Actually this title is modest. The underlying reality is that this is an attack on American Democracy.

In 2016 the Oxford’s English Dictionary’s word of the year was “post truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.” Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Change “could” to ‘has,” and change one to “is,” and, unfortunately, you have an accurate characterization of today’s reality.

Kahneman’s two-system view of cognition is fitting here. This is a concept that should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. System 1, is called, intuition, and refers to the most common mode of our cognitive processing. Normal conversation, or the performance of skilled tasks are System 1 processes. Emotional processing is also done in System 1. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through.

Post truth processing is exclusively System 1. It involves neither proof nor accurate data, and is frequently emotional. That is the post truth world. One of the most disturbing facts in Hayden’s book, is that Trump does not care about objective truth. Truth is whatever he feels at a particular time. The possibility that Trump might have a delusional disorder, in which he is incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction has been mentioned in previous health memory blog posts. That was proposed as a possible reason for the enormous number of lies he tells. But it is equally possible that he has no interest in objective truth. As far as he is concerned, objective truth does not exist.

Tom Nichols writes in his 2017 book “The Death of Expertise” “The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance…Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog sodden…[with] an insistence that strongly held opinions are indistinguishable from facts.” Nichols also writes about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which should also be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

Trump is an ideal example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Mention any topic and Trump will claim that he knows more about the topic than anyone else. He knows more about fighting wars than his generals, He knows more about debt than anyone else (from a personal experience this might be true). He told potential voters that he was the only one who knew how to solve all their problems, without explaining how he knew or what his approach was. In point of fact, the only things he knows, and is unfortunately an expert at, are how to con and cheat people.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Can Be Done?

May 18, 2018

Many problems have been discussed in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. First of all, people need to be made aware of these problems. Businesses, companies, and agencies should be willing, to the extent possible, to unweaponize these weapons of math destruction. If they are unwilling, laws should be enacted.

Dr. O’Neill thinks that data scientists should pledge a Hippocratic Oath, one that focuses on the possible misuses and misinterpretations of their models. Following the market crash of 2008, two financial engineers, Emanuel Derman and Paul Wilmots, drew up such an oath:

I will remember that I didn’t make the world, and it doesn’t satisfy my equations.

Though I will use models boldly to estimate value, I will not be overly impressed by mathematics.

I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining why I have done so.

Nor will I give the people who use my model false comfort about its accuracy. Instead, I will make explicit its assumptions and oversights.

I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many of them beyond my comprehension.

The Electoral College Needs to Go

May 17, 2018

This post is based on Cathy O’Neil’s informative book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” The penultimate chapter in the book shows how weapons of math destruction are ruining our elections. It is only recently that Facebook and Cambridge Analytics have be found to employ users data for nefarious purposes. Nevertheless Dr. O’Neil’s book was published in 2016. To summarize the chapter, weapons of math destruction are distorting if not destroying our elections. Actually the most informative and most important part of the chapter is found in a footnote at the end:

“At the federal level, this problem could be greatly alleviated by abolishing the Electoral College system. It’s the winner-take-all mathematics from state to state that delivers so much power to a relative handful of voters. It’s as if in politics, as in economics, we have a privileged 1 percent. And the money from the financial 1 percent underwrites the micro targeting to secure the votes of the political 1 percent. Without the Electoral College, by contrast, every vote would be worth exactly the same. That would be a step toward democracy. “

Readers of the healthy memory blog should realize that the Electoral College is an injustice that has been addressed in previous healthy memory blog posts (13 to be exact). Just recently, the Electoral College, not the popular vote, produced Presidents with adverse effects. One resulted in a war in Iraq that was justified by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. And most recently, the most ill-suited person for the presidency became president, contrary to the popular vote.

The justification for the Electoral College was the fear that ill-informed voters might elect someone who was unsuitable for the office. If there ever was a candidate unsuitable for the office, that candidate was Donald Trump. It was the duty of the Electoral College to deny him the presidency, a duty they failed. So, the Electoral College needs to be disbanded and never reassembled.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Broken Windows Policing

May 16, 2018

This post is based on Cathy O’Neil’s informative book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” The title of this post should be familiar to anyone who has viewed the Blue Bloods television series. It advanced Broken Windows Policing as justification for the policies they pursued to prevent serious crimes. The justification of this policy has been an article of faith since 1982, when a criminologist named George Kelling teamed up with a public policy expert, James Q. Wilson to write an article in the “Atlantic Monthly” on so-called broken-windows policing. According to Dr. O’Neil, “The idea was that low-level crimes and misdemeanors created an atmosphere of disorder in a neighborhood. This scared law-abiding citizens aware. The dark and empty streets they left behind were breeding grounds for serious crimes. The antidote was for society to resist the spread of disorder. This included fixing broken windows cleaning up graffiti-covered subway cars, and taking steps to discourage nuisance crimes. This thinking led in the 1990s to zero-tolerance campaigns most famously in New York City. Cops would arrest people for jumping subway turnstiles. They’d apprehend people caught sharing a single joint and rumble them around the city in a paddy wagon for hours before eventually booking them.”

There were dramatic campaigns for violent crimes. The zero-tolerance campaign was credited for reducing violent crime. Others disagreed citing the fallacy of “post hoc, propter hoc” (after this, therefore because of this) and other possibilities, ranging from the falling rates of crack cocaine addiction to the booming 1990s economy. Regardless, the zero-tolerance movement gained broad support, and the criminal justice system sent millions of mostly young minority males meant to prison, many of them for minor offenses.

Dr. O’Neil continues, “But zero tolerance actually had very little to do with Kelling and Wilson’s “broken-windows” thesis. Their case focused on what appeared to be a successful policing initiative in Newark, New Jersey. Cops who walked the beat there, according to the program, were supposed to be highly tolerant. Their job was to adjust to the neighborhood’s own standards of order and to help uphold them. Standards varied from one part of the city to another. In one neighborhood it might mean that drunks had to keep their bottles in bags and avoid major streets but that side streets were okay. Addicts could sit on stoops but not lie down. The idea was only to make sure the standards didn’t fall. The cops, in this scheme, were helping a neighborhood maintain its own order but not imposing their own.”

On the basis of this and other data, Dr. O’Neil comes to the conclusion, “that we criminalize poverty, believing all the while that our tools are not only scientific, but fair.” Dr. O’Neil asks, “What if police looked for different kinds of crimes?” That may sound counterintuitive, because most of us, including the police, view crime as a pyramid. At the top is homicide. It’s followed by rape and assault, which are more common, then shoplifting, petty fraud, and even parking violations, which happen all the time. Minimizing violent crime, most would agree, is and should be a central part of a police force’s mission.”

Dr. O’Neil asks an interesting question. What if we looked at the crimes carried out by the rich? “In the 2000s, the kings of finance threw themselves a lavish party. They lied, they bet billions against their own customers, they committed fraud and paid off rating agencies. Enormous crimes were committed there, and the result devastated the global economy for the best part of five years. Millions of people lost their homes, jobs, and health care.”

She continues,”We have every reason to believe that more such crimes are reoccurring in finance right now. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the driving goal of the finance world is to make a huge profit, the bigger the better, and that anything resembling self-regulation is worthless. Thanks largely to the industry’s wealth and powerful lobbies, finance is underpoliced.”

Two Especially Troubling Problems

May 15, 2018

One of these problems is found in the Chapter “Propaganda Machine: Online Advertising in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Advertising is legitimate, but predatory advertising is certainly not. In predatory advertising weapons of math destruction are used to identify likely subjects to be exploited. Not all, but some for-profit colleges were built and grew through weapons of math destruction. People who were identified as being in need of education or training were preyed upon and sold expensive on-line courses, that were not likely to pay off in jobs or any sort of advancement.

HM learned a new word reading Dr. Kathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. That word was clopening. This is when an employee works late one night to close the store or cafe and then returns a few hours later, before dawn, to open it. Having the same employee closing and opening, or clopening, can make logistical sense for a company, but it leads to sleep-deprived workers and crazy schedules. Weapons of math destruction can identify optimal schedules for the company, but they also need to take into account the welfare of the employee. Scheduling can place the employee’s health in jeopardy along with the employee’s family life.

Laws are clearly needed here. As for the predatory advertisers marketing on-line courses, they should be closed down and fined. Unfortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was policing this problem has been shut down. Companies and businesses need to be held responsible for the health and welfare of their employees.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The General Problem of Proxies

May 14, 2018

This general problem of proxies is fairly ubiquitous as outlined in Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Remember that proxies are variables used to compensate for the actual variables for which data are unavailable. The Chapter “Ineligible to Serve” addresses problems proxies can create in getting a job. Once on the job proxies can make it more difficult to hold the job. This is described in the chapter, “Sweating Bullets: on the Job.” Proxies also cause problems in getting credit, which is described in the chapter “Collateral Damage: Landing Credit.” Similarly proxies present problems in getting insurance described in the chapter, “No Safe Zone: Getting Insurance.”

So the effects of Weapons of Math Destruction are ubiquitous. People need to be aware of when they might be being screwed by these weapons. So “Weapons of Math Destruction” needs to be generally read.

Indeed, there are reasons why these weapons are being used, but care must be taken to reduce or eliminate the destruction. It is not only the individuals being evaluated who need to be aware, but also the businesses and agencies using them. They should be aware of their shortcomings and the need for eliminating these shortcomings when possible. These models need to be made transparent, so the proxies can be identified, and the possibility of misclassifications can be addressed.

There is also a chapter titled “The Targeted Citizen,” but since that topic is so much in the news about Facebook and the interference of Russia in the presidential election, that will not be addressed here.

Ranking Colleges

May 13, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”.

In 1983 the newsmagazine “U.S. News & World Report” decided it would evaluate 1,800 colleges and universities throughout the United States and rank them for excellence. Had they honestly considered if they could accurately do this they could have saved the country and the countries’ colleges and universities from anxiety and confusion. But they were not honest and proceeded to build the magazine’s reputation and fortune.

How could one do this? One could conduct a national survey and have individuals rate the schools in terms of prestige. This could be done validly. But to rate them in terms of excellence? How is excellence defined? Would it be the satisfaction of recent graduates? Would it be the satisfaction of graduates further down the course of life?

The healthy memory blog has made the point in previous posts that depending on what a student wants to learn and what career the student wants to pursue should be primary factors in choosing a college. All colleges, even the most prestigious ones, differ in what they have to offer. And what about the cost-effectiveness of colleges? This is probably the most important factor for the majority of students. One can pay through the nose to attend a prestigious college, but what is the benefit for the cost incurred?

The magazine picked proxies that seemed to correlate with success. They looked at SAT scores, student-teacher ratios, and acceptance rates. They analyzed the percentage of incoming freshmen who made it to the sophomore year and the percentage of those who graduated. They calculated the percentage of living alumni who contributed money to their alma mater, surmising that if they gave a college money there was a good chance they appreciated the education there. Three-quarters of the ranking would be produced by an algorithm, an opinion formalized in code, that incorporated these proxies. In the other quarter they would factor in the subjective views of college officials throughout the country.

HM regards this procedure pretty much as ad hoc selection with no external validation. However, Dr. O’Neil is more charitable writing, “U.S. News first data-driven ranking came out in 1988, and the results seemed sensible. However, as the rankings grew into a national standard, a vicious feedback loop materialized. The trouble was that the rankings were self-reinforcing.” So if a college was rated poorly in “U.S. News,” its reputation would suffer, and conditions would deteriorate. Top students would avoid it, as would top professors. Alumni would howl and cut back on contributions. The ranking would go down further. Dr. O’Neil concludes that the ranking was destiny.

Everyone was acting foolishly. In fact, this was a jury-rigged methodology that provided a proxy estimate of a school’s prestige. ‘U.S. News” should have discontinued the survey. Universities should have disclaimed the methodology and the ratings. Instead, they played the game and took actions just to improve their ratings. Read the book to learn the gory details.

Dr. O’Neil notes that when you create a model from proxies, it is far simpler to game it. This is because proxies are easier to manipulate than the complicated reality they represent. This is a common problem with big data and weapons of math destruction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Finance and Big Data

May 12, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Dr. O’Neil was originally applying her mathematical knowledge and skills in finance. In 2008 there was a catastrophic market crash. Although weapons of math destruction did not solely cause the financial crash, they definitely contributed to it. So Dr. O’Neil moved from finance to Big Data where her skills were readily transferable.

She writes, “In fact, I saw all kinds of parallels between finance and Big Data. Both industries gobble up the same pool of talent, much of it from elite universities like MIT, Princeton, or Stanford. These new hires are ravenous for success and have been focused on external metrics—like SAT scores and college admissions—their entire lives. Whether in finance or tech, the message they’ve received is that a they will be rich, that they will run the world. Their productivity indicates that they’re on the right track, and it translates into dollars. This leads to the fallacious conclusion that whatever they’re doing to bring in more money is good. It ‘adds value.’ Otherwise, why would the market reward it?”

She continues, “In both of these industries, the real world, with all of its messiness sits apart. The inclination is to replace people with data trails, turning them into more effective shoppers, voters, or workers to optimize some objective. This is easy to do, and to justify, when success comes back as an anonymous score and when the people affected remain ever bit as abstract as the numbers dancing across the screen.”

She worried about the separation between technical models and real people and about the moral repercussions of the separation. She saw the same pattern emerging in Big Data that she’d witnessed in finance: a false sense of security was leading to widespread use of imperfect models, self-serving definitions of success, and the growing feedback loops.

She continued working in Big Data. She writes that the her journey to disillusionment was more or less complete, and the misuse of mathematics was accelerating. She started a blog on this problem and in spite of almost daily blogging she barely kept up with all the ways she was hearing of people being manipulated, controlled, and intimidated by algorithms. It began with teachers working under inappropriate value-added models (read the book to learn about this), then the LSI-R risk model, and and continued from there. She quit her job to investigate full time the issue leading to this book.

Three Kinds of Models

May 11, 2018

This post is based on Dr. Cathy O’Neil’s book “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy”. Many of us likely develop predictive models, but remain unaware what we are doing. So Dr. O’Neil describes an internal intuitive model she uses in planning family meals. She has a model of everyone’s appetite. She knows that one of her sons loves chicken (but hates hamburgers), while another will eat only pasta (with extra grated parmesan cheese). She also has to take into account that people’s appetites vary from day to day, so a change can catch her internal model by surprise. In addition to the information she has about her family, she knows the ingredients she has on hand or knows are available, plus her own energy, time, and ambition. The output is how and what she decides to cook. She evaluated the success of a meal by how satisfied her family seems at the end of it, how much they’ve eaten, and how healthy the food was. Seeing how well it is received and how much of it is enjoyed allows her to update her model for the next time she cooks. These updates and adjustments make it what is called a “dynamic model.”
Her model is a good model as long as she restricts it to her family. The technical term for this limitation is that it doesn’t scale. It will not work with larger or different families.

Examples of the best models are those used by professional baseball teams. There are an enormous number of variables that can be used to predict a teams performance. Moreover, these models allow the prediction of the performance of the team when different players are added or subtracted. The measure this model is designed to predict is the number of wins. Wins provides the variable that it used to predict and improve the models.

Recidivism models are used to predict the likelihood that a prisoner, after being released from prison will return to criminal behavior and end up back in jail. One of the more popular models is the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R). It includes a lengthy questionnaire for the prisoner to fill out. One of the questions—“How many prior convictions have you had?” is highly relevant to the risk of recidivism. Others are also clearly related. For example “What part did others play in the offense? What part did drugs and alcohol play?”

Other questions are more problematic. For example a question about the first time they ever were involved with the police. For a white subject the only incident to report might be the one that brought him to prison. However, young black males are likely to have been stopped by police dozens of times, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. A 2013 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found the while black and Latino males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four make up only on 4.7% of the cities population, but accounted for 40.6% of the stop-and-frisk checks by police. More than 90% of those stopped were innocent. Some of the others might have been drinking underage or carrying a joint. And unlike most rich kids, they got in trouble for it. So if early “involvement” with police signals recidivism, poor people and racial minorities look far riskier.

Although statistical systems like the LSI-R are effective in gauging recidivism risk, or at least more accurate than a judge’s random guess, we find ourselves descending into a pernicious WMD feedback loop. A person who scores as “high risk” is likely to be unemployed and to come from a neighborhood where many of his friends and family have had run-ins with the law. Dr. O’Neil writes, “Thanks in part to the resulting high score on the evaluation, he gets a longer sentence, locking him away for more years in a prison where he’s surrounded by criminals, which raises the likelihood that he’ll return to prison. If he commits another crime, the recidivism model can claim another success. But in fact the model contributes to a toxic situation and helps to sustain it. That’s a signature quality of a WMD.

This risk and the value of the LSR-R could be tested. There could be two groups. A control group would be administered the questionnaire. Another group would be administered a modified version of the questionnaire that did not include responses that would tip the race of the individual. The participants could be tracked over time. If the modified version of the questionnaire actually resulted in the a lower rate of recidivism, then the original questionnaire could be identified as harmful, not only to the respondent, but also to society that was increasing recidivism rather than reducing it.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Weapons of Math Destruction

May 10, 2018

The title of this book is identical to the title of a book by Dr. Cathy O’Neil. The subtitle is “How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.” Dr. O’Neil is a mathematician. She left her academic position to work as a quant (a quantitative expert) for D. E. Shaw, a leading hedge fund. Initially she was excited by working in the global academy. But the economy crashing in the autumn of 2008 caused her to reevaluate what she was doing.

She writes, “The crash made it all too clear that mathematics, once my refuge, was not only deeply entailed in the world’s problems, but also fueling many of them. The housing crisis, the collapse of major financial institutions, the rise of unemployment—all had been aided and abetted by mathematicians wielding magic formulas. What’s more, thanks to the extraordinary powers that I love so much, math was able to combine with technology to multiply the chaos and misfortune, adding efficiency and scale to a system that I now recognized as flawed.”

She writes that the crisis should have caused all to take a step back and try to figure out how math had been misused and how a similar catastrophe in the future could be prevented. She writes, “But instead, in the wake of the crisis, new mathematical techniques were hotter than ever and expanding into still more domains. They churned 24/7 through petabytes of information, much of it scraped from social media, or e-commerce websites. And increasingly they focused not on the movements of global financial markets but on human beings, on us. Mathematicians and statisticians were studying our desires, movements, and spending power. They were predicting our trustworthiness and calculating our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals.”

These math-powered applications were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Although some choices were made with the best intentions, many of the models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Dr. O’Neil came up with a name for these harmful kinds of models: Weapons of Math Destruction, or WMDs for short.

She notes that statistical systems require feedback—something to tell them when they’re off track. The example she provides is that if amazon.com, through a faulty correlation, started recommended lawn care books to teenage girls, the click would plummet, and the algorithm would be tweaked until it got it right. However, without feedback, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes. These models end up defining their own reality and use it to justify its results. She writes that this type of model is self-perpetuating highly destructive—and very common.

This book focuses on the damage inflicted by WMDs and the injustice they perpetuate. It discusses harmful examples that affect people at critical life moments: going to college, borrowing money, getting sentenced to prison, or finding and holding a job.

Responsible Tech is Google’s Likely Update

May 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Elizabeth Dworkin and Haley Tsukayama in the 8 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. At its annual developer conference scheduled to kick off today in its hometown of Mountain View, CA, Google is set to announce a new set of controls to its Android operating system, oriented around helping individuals and families manage the time they spend on mobile devices. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai is expected to emphasize the theme of responsibility in his keynote address.

Pichai is trying to address the increased public skepticism and scrutiny of the technology regarding the negative consequences of how its products are used by billions of people. Some of this criticism concerns the addictive nature of many devices and programs. In January two groups of Apple shareholders asked the company to design products to combat phone addiction in children. Apple chief executive Tim Cook has said he would keep the children in his life away from social networks, and Steve Jobs placed strict limitation on his children’s screen time. Even Facebook admitted that consuming Facebook passively tends to put people in a worse mood according to both its internal research as well as academic reports. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that his company didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility to society, in areas such as Russian interference and the protection of people’s data. HM thinks that this statement should qualify as the understatement of the year.

Google appears to be ahead of its competitors with respect to family controls. Google offers Family Link, which is a suite of tools that allows parents to regulate how much time their children can spend on apps and remotely lock their child’s device. FamilyLink gives parents weekly reports on children’s app usage and offers controls to approve the apps kids download.

Google has also overhauled Google news. The new layout show how several outlets are covering the same story from different angles. It will also make it easier to subscribe to news organizations directly from its app store.

HM visited Google’s campus at Mountain View, which was one of the trips of a month long workshop he attended provided. It looks more like a university campus than a technology business. Different people explained what they were working on, and we ate at the Google cafeteria. This cafeteria is large, offers a wide variety of delicious food, and is open 24 hours so staff can snack or dine for free any time they want.

The most talented programmer with whom HM was privileged to work with, left us for an offer at Google. She felt that this was a needed move for her to develop further her already excellent programming skills.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Data is Needed on Facial Recognition Accuracy

May 8, 2018

This post is inspired by an article titled “Over fakes, Facebook’s still seeing double” by Drew Harrell in the 5 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. In December Facebook offered a solution of its worsening coverage of fake accounts: new facial-recognition technology to spot when a phony profile tries to use someone else’s photo. The company is now encouraging its users to agree to expand use of their facial data, saying they won’t be protected from imposters without it. The Post article notes that Katie Greenmail and other Facebook users who consented to that technology in recent months have been plagued by a horde of identity thieves.

After the Post presented Facebook with a list of numerous fake accounts, the company revealed that its system is much less effective than previously advertised: The tool looks only for imposters within a user’s circle of friends and friends of friend’s of friend;s—not the site’s 2 billion-user network, where the vast majority of doppelgänger accounts are probably born.

Before any entity uses facial recognition software, they should be compelled to test the software and describe in detail the sample it was developed on including the size and composition of that sample, and the performance of the software with respect to correct identifications, incorrect identifications, and no classifications. Facebook needed to do this testing and present the results. And Facebook users needed to demand these results from testing before using face recognition. How many time do users need to be burned by Facebook before they terminate interactions with the application?

The way facial recognition is used on police shows on television seems like magic. A photo is taken at night with a cellphone and is tested against a data base that yields the identity of the individual and his criminal record. These systems seem to act with perfection. HM has yet to see a show in which someone in a database is incorrectly identified, and that individual arrested by the police, interrogated and charged. That must happen. But how often and under what circumstances? It seems likely that someone with a criminal record is likely to be in the database and it is possible that the individual whose photo was taken is not in the database. If there is no match will the system make the best match that it can and make a person who is in the database a suspect in the crime?

The public, and especially defense lawyers, need to have quality data on how well these recognition systems perform.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What a 72-Year Old Remembers About Technology

May 7, 2018

When HM was in college, there were only mainframe computers that used tape drives. He took a course in computer programming. Fortran was the primary language for science and engineering, but the mathematicians at Ohio State developed and used Scatran instead. At that time there were no computer science departments. Computer science was divided between the mathematics department and the electrical engineering department. I would write my programs hand them off to the keypunch operators who always complained, and unfortunately justly so, about the illegibility of my printing. Then I would submit my punched cards to the mainframe. They would give an estimate regarding the waiting time, but typically it took several hours.

When you learned the program had been run, you returned and asked for your output. Usually, you could determine from the nature of your output, what had happened. If the output was only several pages, then it was likely that there was a formatting or logical error in your program. If the output was quite thick, then it was likely that you read in the data improperly. If there was a mistake, then you had to debug the program and make your own manual corrections. There were assistants available who provided advice.

HM worked as a clerk-typist in the Army for a while. When mistakes were made, you tried to correct them with white out. If there were too many mistakes, or if a rewrite was needed, then the entire document had to be retyped. As a graduate student HM paid typists to type his Master’s Thesis and doctoral dissertation. As a professional psychologist there were typists on staff. When documents were long, HM made rewrites and corrections and gave the document back to the typist. It was not unusual for the entire document to be retyped. However, when the entire document was retyped there usually were mistakes. Sometimes a point of diminishing returns was reached in which a retyping would result in more errors than were in the document that needed to be retyped.

The first computers usually had the Basic programing language installed and nothing else. These were primarily for hobbyists. When the first word processing programs appeared, they were like a godsend as they made the labor intensive typing task orders of magnitude easier. They eventually resulted in reductions in the secretarial staff, as professionals could do their own typing. However, at this time, most statistical analyses were done on mainframes. This involved having data and programs keypunched, submitted to the mainframe, waiting for processing, and picking up the results.

When statistical programs were developed for personal computers, this all could be done by the statistician. In contrast to the old days when there would typically be a break of several hours waiting for the results, the PCs spit the results back within seconds. If there were problems, they needed to be addressed directly. The old break waiting for the results was missed.

When HM took physics in high school, the teacher would have one student design a circuit and provide it to the rest of the class. The students would then need to manually compute the electrical values at different points in the circuit. When HM was assigned this task he designed a circuit where all these values could be computed in one’s head. At this time there were no pocket calculators. Only one student had a slide rule, so the rest of us needed to do the calculations manually. So when no manual calculations had to be made for my circuit, everyone got a perfect score. HM made his point. We all understood electrical circuits, but even after 12 years of education we still made arithmetical errors.

It is difficult for HM to identify what he likes most about the new technology. Of course, word processing is highly appreciated. But the computational aids are especially appreciated. HM worked with MathCad and really appreciated the ease with which complex mathematical equations could be manipulated. HM is sorry he did not have such tools when he was studying these subjects. Doing arithmetic for eight years was tedious and a waste of time. Arithmetic provides little understanding of or appreciation for mathematics.

So although HM is envious of the developments in technology, he is disturbed about how it is used. He fears that the benefits of technology are not being truly exploited and technology is being used in a superficial manner that can be unhealthy. It is unhealthy to be constantly plugged in. But everywhere you go you see people with their faces glued to their smartphones. When they are walking through a park, they are apparently oblivious to nature with their preoccupation with their smartphones. Even at professional conventions, where professionals have traveled to interact personally with other professionals, you see them sitting together, not conversing, but with their faces glued to their smartphones.

People are preoccupied with whether or not they are liked, and count the number of friends they have. But the number of true friends one can have is quite small. Read the healthy memory blog post “How Many Friends are Too Many?” Robin Dunbar concludes that the maximum number of people we can call friends is 150. And the number of true friends is much lower than that. True friends consume both time and effort.

Technology also seems to have exacerbated the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question. The Wikipedia is a tremendous source of knowledge. Unfortunately, people think that since they have accessed a topic in the Wikipedia that they have acquired that knowledge, when what they have done is learned how to access the information. Understanding this knowledge requires time and effort.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Passing 72

May 6, 2018

Meaning that today I am entering my 73rd year. Time appears to be flying by at an increasingly faster rate. I sleep until I wake up and find that my time is my own. If I did not have growth activities, along with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, dementia might be setting in. But I stay cognitively active. I do a great deal of reading and some writing. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to read all the interesting and important things to read. I do, indeed, have a growth mindset. I also do a great deal of walking, much of it with my wife. And at times I do engage in the walking meditation in nature, which I have written about in previous posts. I stay in touch with friends. I meditate daily, sometimes several times a day. And I tend to slip into a meditative state whenever I am forced to wait. I try to spend as much time as I can fostering a healthy memory.

This past year I attended a professional convention, took a tour of the national parks with my wife, and took a cruise out of Amsterdam with port calls in Scotland, Norway, and Iceland. This was an Insight Cruise with lectures in physics and anthropology.

This current year, I plan to attend the convention of the Psychonomic Society in New Orleans, and to take two cruises, one later this year, and one during the winter.

I engage in ikigai, the Japanese term for the activities in Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose.” My purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with my wife, is to learn and share my thoughts and knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, there is a big negative cloud lying over the heads of us Americans, in particular, and all earthlings, in general. And that is the current President of the United States. He is destroying the United States along with the world. He has destroyed what once was the Grand Old Party (GOP), and is threatening our democracy by attacking our justice system and news media. The hope is this might be stopped with the upcoming midterm elections, but Trump has made no effort to protect those elections. It is clear why he is taking no actions. He is counting on help from the Russians again. They assisted in his election, and they will make efforts to destroy the credibility of the upcoming election.

The hope is that this dark age will end, and that we can begin repairing the damage.

However, there is one action that can be taken now. And that is to test Trump to see if he has a delusional disorder. Trump is a compulsive liar. The question is whether he knows he is lying. He continues to lie even when confronted with objective evidence. He has already passed 3,000 false or misleading claims since becoming president. People with the delusional disorder do not know when they are lying. There is a test that can determine if this diagnosis is accurate. That test involves connecting Trump to a lie detector. Then have him speak. There will be objective data, data which Trump should know. If the polygraph finds no evidence he is lying, that would indicate that Trump does have the delusional disorder. This would mean that Trump is out of touch with reality. In his version of reality, he is indeed the greatest, the most intelligent, and so forth. But this goes beyond ego. It indicates that Trump’s mind has slipped the surly bonds of earth into psychosis. Here the 25th Amendment would offer an easy and efficient way of removing him from office. He would be replaced by Vice-President Pence.

A previous post, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” included writings by psychiatrists, psychologists, a lawyer and other experts. One of the chapters presented a methodology whereby both the Vice-President and President would be examined by a panel of experts annually to asses the mental status of these individuals. This panel would issue an analyses and recommendations that would be presented to Congress. HM thinks that this examination is much more important than the physical examination the President undergoes annually.

Other actions need to be taken to preclude future problematic individuals from occupying the highest office. One is to eliminate the electoral college. This is the second time in recent history in which the electoral college overturned the popular vote. Not only should one person, one vote be the rule, but the current arrangement gives the votes of people with lower educational levels much greater weight than the votes of people with higher educational levels.

It is also the case that the President needs to handle what is called Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). To be awarded clearance for this material, individuals need to undergo a thorough background investigation to assure that they are capable of handling SCI information. Trump provided SCI information to the Russians shortly after he became President. And that is Trump’s first problem. He should not be handling SCI information, something the President needs to be able to do.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Getting Just 6 Hours of Sleep is Linked to Mental Health Issues

May 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the In Brief Section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Kelly Sullivan and Collins Ordiah at Georgia Southern University conducted a survey of more than 20,000 people in the US. The respondents were asked about their sleep habits and mood over the past 30 days.

The recommended amount of sleep is 7 to 9 hours. Around a quarter of the respondents said they got between 6 and 7 hours. This group was around 70% more likely to report signs of mental health problems—including nervousness and feeling hopeless—compared to those who got more sleep (“Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research”,
doi.org/cnm3).

Sullivan does say that it is unclear whether lack of sleep causes mental health problems or if it is the other way around. But Steven Lockley at Harvard Medical School isn’t surprised that a small lack of sleep may have an effect. He says, “The hour we lose to daylight savings time causes a 17% increase in car crashes on the Monday morning after the switch.”

More Education Is What Makes People Live Longer, Not More Money

May 4, 2018

The title of this post is identical the title of an article by Debora MacKenzie in the News & Technology section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The latest research suggests that education, not money, plays a bigger role in extending lifespan.

In 1975, economists plotted life expectancies agains countries’ wealth, and concluded that wealth increases longevity. This appeared to be self-evident as everything people need to be healthy, from food to medical care, costs money.

However, subsequent research found data that didn’t always fit that theory. Economics upturns didn’t always mean longer lives. However, in the 1980s research found that gains in literacy were associated with greater increases in life expectancy than those related to gains in wealth. Moreover, the more-educated people in any country tend to live longer than their less-educated compatriots. But since such people also tend to be wealthier, it as been difficult to figure out which factor is increasing lifespan.

Wolfgang Lutz and Endale Kebede of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria have managed to untangle the pieces of the puzzle by compiling average data on GDP per person, lifespans, and years of education from 174 countries, dating from 1970 to 2010. They did find that wealth correlated with longevity. But the correlation between longevity and years of schooling was closer, with a direct relationship that didn’t change over time.

When Lutz and Kebede put both factors into the same mathematical model, they found that differences in education closely predicted differences in life expectancy, whereas changes in wealth barely mattered (“Population and Development Review”,
doi.org/cnm6).

Education also tends to lead to more wealth, which is why wealth and longevity are also correlated. But what Lutz says is important is that wealth doesn’t seen to be driving longevity, both are driven by education.

Lutz argues that extreme examples are telling. “Cuba is dead poor, but has a higher life expectancy than the United States because it is well-educated. Meanwhile, in oil rich, but poorly educated Equatorial Guinea, people rarely reach 60.

Some People Do Better Exercising at a Slow-Intensity Pace

May 3, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Amanda Loudin in the Health & Science Section of the 1 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins by relating the story of Liz Wolfert who rode her bike to work, climbed “14ers”, which are mountains that rise more than 14,000 above seal level, took kung fu lessons and swam. But at the age of 32 she learned that she had elevated blood glucose levels, which is a possible sign of pre-diabetes. Her first instinct was to work out harder and faster, but she soon learned that she needed to do the opposite: slow down and exercise at a much easier pace.

Inigo San Millan is the director of the Sports Performance Program at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine Center in Boulder. He’s an exercise physiologist who works with elite athletes who defines metabolic flexibility as the body’s ability to quickly switch between fat and carbohydrates to fuel exercise. He says that individuals with Type 2 diabetes are metabolically inflexible. They have a poor ability to switch back and forth. On the other hand, endurance athletes have an amazing capacity to do so. Fats and carbohydrates are metabolized in the mitochondria, so mitochondrial function is the key element behind metabolic flexibility.

Elite athletes are incredibly efficient at this task because they have a high level of mitochondrial health. He says, “Mitochondria have the job of metabolizing carbohydrates and fats in order to generate energy. As a result, elite athletes are a population practically devoid of Type 2 diabetes. However, the average person may have a metabolism that is less agile, If you are not metabolically flexible, you have a tough time accessing and burning fat for fuel.”

It turns out that the title of this article is inaccurate. Millan notes that “if you look at the exercise workloads of top athletes, they do 70% to 80% of their training at a low intensity. But out on the streets, we often see the opposite: an out-of-shape population jumping in at high intensity.

After taking her test with San Millan, Liz Wolfert began taking 30-to-60-minute walks several times per week. She said, “After several months of this, I climbed a 14er and realized that it was much easier for me. My body began working more efficiently.

HM is reminded of the famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, who was not only likely the best pitcher in baseball, he certainly was the oldest living pitcher baseball ever had. His attitude toward’s exercising was “to get the juices jangling.”

Walking and meditating are two of HM’s favorite activities. He likes to combine them with meditative walking.

There was another article in the same Health & Science Section by Joel Achenbach titled “Big brains are fine, but upright walking was the key. This article reviewed research supporting the nation that upright walking, not just walking, was the key to the development of a larger brain and the success our species has achieved so far. Walking upright provided us with greater use of our hands and easier face to face communication. These activities led, in turn, to the development of a larger brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beliefs vs. Deeds

May 2, 2018

This is another healthy memory blog post aimed at spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated by this blog. An argument HM has heard at different times is the debate of whether deeds or beliefs are more important for entering heaven or having a quality afterlife. HM will settle this issue and the reader can accept or reject his resolution.

Here’s the resolution. The answer is deeds. Beliefs are specific to religions which are temporal entities. HM remembers reading about a physician who spent his entire career going to trouble spots where his medical skills were needed. This physician was an atheist. HM believes that the atheistic physician will be surprised upon his death that there is an afterlife and he is being rewarded with a quality spot in that afterlife.

Beliefs are specific to religions. It is difficult to understand that in the 21st century that there are some people who believe there are true religions and that all the others are wrong. The only religion that HM would reject would be one in which caring for one’s fellow humans was not a primary consideration. That there are missionaries who feel compelled to go to other lands and preach the “secret handshake” that they believe is a primary requirement for entering a quality afterlife HM finds amazing. They are good people who are well-intentioned, but whose beliefs preclude their using their System 2 processes. All religions have a begin date and usually begin in a specific part of the world. What about all the humans born prior to that date or in a different part of the world?

It also appears that religions are marketed like cornflakes. One of HM’s friends was a missionary to a foreign country. He was instructed to play down beliefs that would be difficult for potential converts to accommodate. The priority was to sell the convert.

Another example is Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University. This is an evangelical Christian university with a shooting range. One asks, why would any Christian college have a shooting range? Jesus told us to love one another and when struck, to turn the other cheek. The most violent thing Christ ever did was to chase the moneychangers out of the Temple.

So why is the shooting range at Liberty University? Well most of its congregants and potential converts live in a part of the country where guns are highly valued. It is simply a matter of making the product more appealing. Understand that this is no criticism of gun owners, nor does it intend to imply that gun owners are not good Christians. Rather it is intended to show how religions are marketed.

It is important for all to remember that it is God and his designated surrogates that decide who will enter heaven or the quality afterlife. Part of the package offered by most religious leaders is a way to eternal life. So congregants should not blindly believe their leaders, but make their independent assessment of whether all their personal behaviors would pass muster with God. Otherwise, one could end up following their religious leader into hell or a low quality afterlife.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

God: A Human History

May 1, 2018

This post is another in a series on spiritual growth. The post, “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Writ Large” was the first. Should you wonder what posts on spiritual growth are doing in the healthy memory blog, the answer is that this blog advocates growth mindsets, and spiritual growth is one component. The title of this post is identical to the title of an excellent book by Reza Aslan. Reza Aslan is a superb scholar. Anyone who appreciates scholarship should be attracted to the book for that reason alone. He provides evidence that a belief in something akin to a soul begins with the first humans from which the notion of a god or gods develops, and documents the development of the concept in different religions as the religions advanced in sophistication.

HM will jump to the conclusions at the end of the book. “It is no coincidence that this book ends where it began, with the soul. Call it what you want: whether “psyche”, per the Greeks; or “nefesh”, as the Hebrews preferred;, or “chi”, as in China; or “brahman” in India. Call it Buddha Nature or “purusa”. Consider it comaterial with the mind, or coexistent with the universe. Imagine it reuniting with God after death, or transmigrating from body to body. Experience it as the seat of your personal essence or as an impersonal force underlying all creation. However you define it, belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. It is our first belief, far older than our belief in God. It is the belief that begat our belief in God.”

“Numerous studies on the cognition of children have shown an instinctual propensity for ‘substance dualism’—the belief that the body and mind/soul are distinct in form and nature. That means we enter the world with an innate sense—untaught, unforced, unprompted—that we are more than just our physical bodies. There are certain cognitive processes that can lead us to apply this inborn belief in the soul to others—human and nonhuman alike. But when it comes to belief in the soul, we are, to put it simply, born believers.” Nevertheless, many manage to throw off this belief.

Dr. Aslan continues, “Whether we remain believers is, once again, nothing more or less than a choice. One can choose to view humanity’s universal belief in the soul as born of confusion or faulty reasoning: a trick of the mind or an accident of evolution.”

Dr. Aslan is a pantheist. In pantheism, God is omnipresent. This can lead to the conclusion that God is within each of us. Perhaps when we meditate we can feel and communicate with the God within us. At times, it certainly does feel like that.