Thursday, October 29, 2015

On Ivy And Other Pests

The previous post shouldn't have been published because it doesn't say anything useful.  But the work I was doing on it had sent long strands into my mind with all sort of auxiliary roots, and I couldn't pull it out without posting. Well, not without going "ouch."  Like brain ivy.

About ten years ago I bought a lovely little tray of ivy babies.  They were shyly lifting their charming leaves towards me at the nursery, wanting to be adopted, wanting a good home.  And I obliged.  

That's because I had read in a gardening book (one of those highbrow artistic ones) that the ivy would provide a lovely cover for the very ugly fence that came with Snakepit Inc.  Wasn't I clever?

Now fast-forward to the time a few months ago.  See the ivy-covered fence?  See how it groans under the ivy?  And yes, those tall vertical green things are trees.  In fact, all that green is ivy.  The green spilling into the neighbors' lots, that's ivy, too.  And the green thing that looks like a leaning bicycle, that is ivy, too.  Oh, and a bicycle.  Under the ivy is a bicycle.  I must have left it out for a week or so... 

It's not that I haven't fought the ivy over the years, because I have.  But the fight is unfair.  I have two hands (sorta), while the monster has as many roots as it cares to throw out.

OK.  That was making excuses.  You might be glad to hear that the ivy is now gone.  It took a lot of people, gadgets, tools and time though no herbicides.  I will still need to police it for probably another hundred years, because stuff is simmering underground.  But right now things look tidy, and I even found several large sacks of organic fertilizer, a watering can and other sundry items.

Ivy is a useful metaphor* for many things on the Internet, in politics (mind those cute-looking baby politicians, don't take them home) and inside my head.

The lessons I've learned from ivy are many, including the need for objective research before one goes wild over anything, the desire to make those who write about the ease of ivy in the garden to come and stand in my garden for a day (to enjoy a slow strangulation death), the fact that something which looks good, thrives well and doesn't get sick probably will take over the world, and the fact that all things might be acceptable in their proper environment but thugs when let loose outside it.
*Especially in the way the roots of stuff are so often all over the place, hard to find, hard to eradicate and in how an innocent little theory, apt for its initial use, spreads into this monster which threatens to take over the universe.  But also how research into a topic tends to follow leads which branch all over the place, with tiny extra roots in fertile soils.

Where Echidne Complains About Blogging. Or Researching the Ben Fields Case.

I've been researching the Ben Fields case.  Others have talked about the way black students may be punished more harshly at school than white students (other things being equal*), about the apparent aggressive past  of deputy Ben Fields, about the pedagogical choices available and not available to the teachers in this case and, obviously, about the out-of-proportion violence Fields used against a teenage girl.  Some have also argued that the girl should take some responsibility for her own behavior (refusing repeated orders or requests by teachers and an administrator).

But then, of course, she is sixteen and Ben Fields is an adult.  And yesterday I read in the New York Daily News that the girl had recently lost her mother and is now in foster care.  Something like that could explain aggressive behavior at school, so it is relevant.

Today, however, the reference to the girl's mother's death has been removed from the New York Daily News story.  It seems, based on other sources, that it was the girl's lawyer who gave conflicting accounts.  The New York Daily News now says that the girl lives in a foster home, but this source notes that it isn't clear if this is the case.  But her mother and grandmother are both alive, in contradiction to earlier news.

None of this matters anywhere as much as tossing a teenage girl on the floor and letting her then slide across the room.  Still, I wish journalists took enough time not to disseminate inaccurate information just because of the 24/7 news cycle.

More seriously, I also wish that this country could have a real conversation about what good teaching requires in resources, how we should put more resources into schools which cater for more troubled children and how we should avoid turning everything into a police state.

*See here  for a reference to a study where the authors state that it controls for the actions of the students.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An Oldie: My Statistics Series

Came across it while searching for something else.  I wrote it nine years ago for the single purpose of helping people to understand opinion polls and some research findings. 

It's not bad (though very limited, like visiting NYC for a week and then making deductions about the US), so you might want to look at it if you need help with means, medians and margins of error.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

That series also demonstrates a common problem with my writing:  I get tired towards the end.  I should have added a long example with careful explanations.  But I just went on to something more interesting...

Still, it's one opening to the wonderful land of statistics.

Monday, October 26, 2015

From My Can't-Believe-This-Is-True Archives: Harassment in Gaming, Killing Planned Parenthood and Other Issues

1.  The South by Southwest convention cancels a planned panel on harassment in games ("Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games") because of threats of violence at the event. 

The ethics of that decision are weird.

Did the organizers think:  We can't talk about this problem because of the problem itself?  Or:  If you threaten us we shall cave in, to maintain apparent peace, at whatever hidden cost to those who are commonly harassed in games?  Or even:   Our real audience didn't like that panel so we canceled it?

You figure that one out, always remembering that we were told  the infamous Gamergate wasn't at all about misogyny but about ethics in game journalism.

2.  It's the legal hunting season for Planned Parenthood by all forced-birthers who wish to take it down.

Texas looks for ways to deny women on Medicaid access to Planned Parenthood clinics, including the ones who don't perform abortions, stating that there are lots and lots of alternative sources of gynecological care for poor women in Texas.

And the next select committee will be on Planned Parenthood.  That's like the replacement for the Benghazi committee!  A war-on-slutty-women committee.  Those are needed to toss fresh meat into the cages in which the Republican Party keeps the forced-birthers.  The political costs of doing so are very low for that party.  That the costs might be very high for poor women who have no real alternative sources for gynecological care matters not at all.

3.  A list-post like this should have at least three things.  Otherwise it looks like a twins post.  But I have too many candidates for the third item, yet none of them is quite correct in the level or type of its irrationality.

For instance, comparing these two sentences given to two individuals in two different states for roughly the same type of crime (rape) could lead one to that scratch-your-head-until-bald-if-not-yet land.  But the situations require a more mature discussion than this post allows, and not only because the cases are not in the same state.

Or take the funny joke Maine's Republican governor Paul LePage blurted out about us wimminfolk not being able to do anything but spend the money of their hard-working husbands, and then put that together with the information that it's governor LePage's wife, Ann LePage, who takes care of his family accounts.

Those kinds of jokes are a dime a dozen (with a few freebies thrown in), and the paradox in them isn't even worth mentioning.  Likewise, the belief that women are terrible drivers thrives even when insurance statistics tend to show the reverse.

That stuff is in the air, my sweetings.