Scrabble is evil

I hate playing games, but I have special contempt for Scrabble. My wife’s family considers Scrabble a way to evaluate intelligence. It drives me crazy that they play these strange words that they cannot pronounce let alone use in a sentence. Scrabble at the highest level mostly recognizes experience playing Scrabble.

Ok – that might have been a little bit of sour grapes. But, only a bit.

My family plays Words with Friends – the Scrabble game you can play on an iPad. Technically, “ words” is not Scrabble because that would be a copyright violation. I can’t tell the difference.

The game has nothing to do with friendship. You should hear the language players use. These expletives are really shocking when the players are competing online. There I am quietly reading on my kindle and out of the silence come these angry utterances that disturb my concentration. The debate over whether or not games make you more violent is not really a debate as far as I am concerned.

I see that there is now a version of Words with Friends for education. Maybe this is a good idea. If kids must play Scrabble, they should learn the game in a setting supervised by adults who will teach them sportspersonship and that using words in sentences is important.

 

 

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Maybe the jobs aren’t coming back

In the heat of this political season, unemployment and the US economy are major issues. Presidental candidates each have a position and blame one thing or another (immigration, the ultra rich) in the hopes of convincing voters they have the keys to “make America great again”. What if the vision either side offers is wrong and each candidate is responding to the concerns of their base in a way that ignores reality? What if the jobs of yesterday are not coming back?

I read a commentary on the recent “recovery” that explains things in a way that make sense to me (wish I had the reference). Many employers had to lay off employees in the aftermath of the down turn of 2008. As the economy has recovered (check the level of the stock market), these employers have realized that they can generate a larger profit margin by not employing at the level pre-2008. Technology has contributed to this situation, but for whatever reason employers have realized they do not need the number of people they thought they did. This makes sense to me and it may be the reality of the future.

What if this is the new reality and politicians are just unwilling to tell us this unpopular truth?

I don’t buy the isolationist argument. The various economies of the world are now interrelated and the US probably makes out far better than most. We are too hopelessly hooked on cheap goods sold in big box stores to get into trade wars with other nations. My challenge for Trump supporters who think otherwise is to wean themselves from shopping at Walmart or Target and to find an alternative to their iPhone that is made in the US. There is a difference between dealing interactively with the economies of other countries in a fair way and accepting the way economies interact.

My reality check does not come with easy solutions. My thinking has been influenced by Tom Friedman because he seems to accept the reality of globalization. He promotes education and the exploration of new types of work.

I do think that redistribution of wealth is necessary. The US is doing far better than most may realize because the disparity in who gets what continues to increase. Trickle down has never worked so I am with the Democrats on supporting different approaches to taxation.

I also think we need to consider the retirement age. As an academic, I used to think the old guy who tottered around campus and refused to retire was kind of interesting. As I functioned as an administrator and then retired myself, I changed my opinion. The old guy was taking a job away from someone else. Retirement does not have to mean that you no longer contribute or are intellectually inactive. Holding one of a limited number of jobs at some point is kind of selfish. The professions at least need to take a look and see if there are ways to redefine retirement to offer both new employment opportunities and ways for those “retired” to continue to contribute.

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Hillary’s email server

I don’t know what to think of the issue with Hillary’s private server. I wish she would admit she was lazy or whatever motivated her behavior and move on. This seems such a focal point and I struggle to understand whether it is that significant or not. I have and still run an email server. My first email system was hacked and I shut it down. The present system is used only to forward email generated by my blogs and seems to be clean. I think most citizens have far less technical insight and have even less capacity to evaluate whether this is serious or not.

I understand the issue with using multiple email systems and how it can be a hassle when you work from many different devices. The university I worked for used a Microsoft email system and required changes in passwords every three months. The situation there was less about security – we were told that emails sent on the system were considered part of the public record and could be requested. My email was purposefully not to be considered secure and it was my personal emails rather than my work emails that I might be an issue. My preference had little to do with concern for the public record and more with the personal preference for GMail over Microsoft exchange.

I am not in a position to evaluate the information in the emails she received and sent. I have no idea whether she was given any directives beyond the general rules for government service. I pretty much ignored the general rules I was given because I did not think my behavior was damaging to anyone and I valued my time and the daily commitment I made to be available to anyone. I suppose if I was directly asked to change my behavior I would have changed. This is not a justification in any way, but I understand how expectations related to our online behavior are not always taken seriously.

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Superior Fish

Why is it people like to post pictures of food? I think it is because they are trying to make their friends jealous. Anyway, I have been places with food worthy of a picture and worthy of generating jealousy. Or – I may be easy to impress after living in North Dakota for so long, I am easy to impress. North Dakota was a fine place to live, but I cannot think of a food that would attract visitors.

superiorfishweb

I am not a fan of super fancy food. I am a fan of cheese pizza and Cobb salads. I took a chance this past week on some delicacies from Northern Wisconsin. On the left, you have fresh pickled herring. I do eat the stuff you can purchase in most grocery stores, but this offering was far better. On the right you see the rar,e lightly breaded and fried, Whitefish livers. Try finding this in your local grocery or fish market. Both are great with a light, summer beer.

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You are not a role model

Charles Barkley famously stated that he was “not a role model”. His point was that his behavior on and off the court that did not involve athletic performance was not an issue for others to criticize. As far as personal consequences were concerned, he was probably correct. Aside from advertising opportunities, supporters tend to be tolerant of about anything that does not land a star in jail.

I wish we could say more for our politicians – especially those who hope to lead and whose primary function is to represent the rest of us to the world. The patriotic values we promote so often seem to be poorly exemplified in the behavior of those who compete to be our leaders. Civil behavior, evenhandedness, respect, and humility are characteristics interpreted by too many as weakness or elitism,

Lacking the strength of character to admit you have been wrong is lately the trait that annoys me the most. Last night the wife of a candidate obviously plagiarized the speech given by the present first lady. This was apparent in the side by side comparisons offered by many news outlets and would make an ideal example for a classroom example. I doubt very much the speaker reviewed the previous speech and a lazy speech writer was responsible. However, supporters were quick to deny the obvious.

It is usually best to accept responsibility and not compound the consequence of an obvious inadequacy or failure. People do make mistakes. People do give speeches that were written by others. If the party line is to be above admitting mistakes, this is a sad value to promote. You are obviously not a role model we or our children should respect.

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Patriotism and sprinkles

patriotsi

Who gets to claim the title patriot? Those in a particular political party? Talk show hosts? My vote goes to this kid.

Donuts for all!

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Buns at breakfast

bunssmall

Holiday gatherings are a great opportunity for photos.

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Blaming it on the elites

The recent vote in Great Britain and the primary successes of Mr Trump have been attributed to the rise of populism and a rejection of “the elite”. I understand populism – I can Google it. I am unclear what the commentators mean when voters are taking back their countries from the elites. The meaning of elites cannot be Googled because there are too many alternative meanings. From the context of the complaints, the elites could be 1) the very rich, 2) politicians serving more than one term, or 3) well-educated folks.

I agree that economic disparity is a serious problem that seems to be growing. What bothers me most is when there is a connection between wealth and politics. When wealth provides the opportunity to shape political decisions or to influence public opinion through manipulation of access to information, there is great potential for self-sustaining and accelerating inequity. I agree with Lawrence Lessig in arguing that all politicians become the pawns of the wealthy in the continual pursuit of funds to support re-election.

I have a very different reaction to scape goating the well educated. What is the logic here? I first noticed this in reactions to President Obama when his speaking prowess was somehow argued to be a liability. Having a skill most do not press was somehow a problem. In what arena do we prefer mediocre to skilled? The simplification of the complex will not make problems go away. Sometimes complex is just complex.

I blame the degradation of news by the all day news channels.  It makes no sense to me that you can find a source that feeds your biases and assumes you are becoming better informed. I am not certain what to call this. It is part entertainment. It is part propaganda. It is mostly a simplification of the truth mixed with a battle for viewers and ad dollars.

If you are unable or unwilling to understand this, you are contributing to the problem. Call my argument elitist if you will, but at least think about your own behavior and see if what I describe does not apply.

I believe the science of climate change is real. Nearly every scientist who studies the topic agrees with me. The guy at the bar may not, but his information intake is limited to reading the headlines on the papers available in the grocery store check out line. I do recommend this literature in preference to Fox “news”.

I believe we have a moral and practical obligation to make an effort to support those in need. We cannot pretend we a progressive society and ignore the great inequities that exist around us. We have contributed to the perpetuation and growth of these differences and should not assume we have had not benefited from unearned advantages.

I believe globalization is the future and denying this reality means you are willing to accept higher costs for goods manufactured locally. The individuals complaining about imports are likely still shopping in big box stores to purchase lower cost goods. Recognize your own denial.

I believe immigration – legal or illegal – brings talent, motivation, and labor into this country. We reject the history of how the U.S. was populated. And we ignore the reality that most of us do not want to pick fruit or hoe sugar beets in 90 degree temps, gut hogs or turkeys so we can purchase cheap meat, or clean toilets in hotels. We ignore the reality that scholars and scientists coming to the U.S. have been willing to study advanced math, basic sciences, and computer science rather than getting the MBA.

I believe there is a tendancy when the world is complex and changing to romantacize a past that never was. Read Toffler’s the Third Wave for an early explanation of how this works. If that is too elite for you and you are an older white guy, take a careful look at your own life experiences.  I spent enough Saturday mornings scooping the manure (not what the material was called, but I am trying to be more cultured) out of hog houses to want to return to the life of a gentleman farmer. I do not have to rely on my Ph.D. to arrive at this decision.

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Too many lawyers

My current read is “The War on Science” (Otto). I have found it therapeutic and recommend the book to anyone trying to understand what seem illogical and misguided decisions in the world. There may be reasons other than ignorance or self-service to consider. Before you read further, I must offer the warning that I have yet to reach the chapter that offers remedies for these various problems.

One of the more interesting arguments offered concerns the political process and why politicians seem to ignore the best evidence from social or physical scientists. The author begins by noting there are very few scientists in the house or senate (3 if I remember correctly). In contrast, he notes that 60% of these office holders have law degrees. The problem revealed by these data may be the mindset familiar to those with training in these professions. According to the author, lawyers work from a position and identify evidence in support of this position. Contradictory evidence is ignored or in some way deflected. From a charitable perspective, this is what lawyers do. They assume that the system seeks the truth and it is not their position to do so. They fashion a narrative as best they can from the facts that offer a reasonable fit and defend this approach by arguing that opponents should be able to prevail if they are wrong. Scientists, in contrast, are trained to start with the data and build an account that best fits the data. The system of science (publication, etc.) encourages the modification or even the contradiction of positions taken previously in light of new data. In other words, you can receive credit for proving that you were wrong. The goal is to build the best model/theory possible given the total evidence available.

I like this explanation because it makes sense, but the explanation does little to make me more optimistic. The explanation identifies “useful” defense mechanism against the acceptance of personal responsibility. It seems far too easy to hide behind party affiliation or the supposed wishes of my constituents than to take and argue a position based on logic and evidence. Is the logic in these hedges the assumption that the party or the majority must understand the truth? Writing this last sentence, I am reminded of Gore’s book title – An inconvenient truth. Are truths that are inconvenient in the short or long term ignored in favor of a favored narrative?

The truth of this reality may be one of those truths that cannot be accepted and a different narrative is necessary.

(My apologies to the author if I have incorrectly summarized or extended his position.)

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Another assault rifle mass murder

Another mass murder committed by someone with an assault weapon. I think it unlikely there will be an end to mental illness, terrorism, or hatred, but there some things we can control. There is no defensible reason I can think of that allows the purchase of a military weapon by citizens of this country. Mass killing is the outcome for which military weapons are intended. How can this potential be allowed or defended?

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