Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Experts rethink belief that tech always lifts employment as machines take on skills once thought uniquely human"

What Clever Robots Mean for Jobs

"Experts", eh? Right.

Here's one "expert" from the article, MIT economist David Autor, who apparently reads too much left wing opinion blather about inequality:
“When I was in grad school, you knew if you worried about technology, you were viewed as a dummy—because it always helps people,” MIT economist David Autor said. But rather than killing jobs indiscriminately, Mr. Autor’s research found automation commandeering such middle-class work as clerk and bookkeeper, while creating jobs at the high- and low-end of the market. 
This is one reason the labor market has polarized and wages have stagnated over the past 15 years, Mr. Autor said. The concern among economists shouldn’t be machines soon replacing humans, he said: “The real problem I see with automation is that it’s contributed to growing inequality.”
No, the real problem is fewer jobs available for people who want them. Inequality by itself is not a problem if people are working and incomes are rising, and GDP is rising, and the economy is robust and growing. There will always be inequality, in the general sense of the term, and even when inequality is growing, this by itself does not indicate problems in the economy.

People who are working and who feel like they have opportunities and options in their working lives, and who see wages and incomes rising and therefore feel confidence in the future, and who therefore start families and buy houses and cars, do not really care if some rich guy they don't know is making millions of dollars a year, or not. They just don't. Why should they?

This focus on inequality is a dangerous attempt to redefine what real people want and need from a job.

Then there's the "fear of technology" thing. For decades now, anybody who questioned the relentless march of technology as having any potential downsides that might, just might, outweigh some of the benefits was derided and insulted as an out-of-touch backward-looking reactionary Luddite.

Yet now it seems that even the "experts" are calling into question their cherished assumptions about technology, and the impact it is already having on the job market.
Economist Erik Brynjolfsson had long dismissed fears that automation would soon devour jobs that required the uniquely human skills of judgment and dexterity.
Many of his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a big chunk of tomorrow’s technology is conceived and built, have spent their careers trying to prove such machines are within reach.
“It’s gotten easier to substitute machines for many kinds of labor. We should be able to have a lot more wealth with less labor,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “But it could happen that there are people who want to work but can’t.”
In the Australian Outback, for example, mining giant Rio Tinto uses self-driving trucks and drills that need no human operators at iron ore mines. Automated trains will soon carry the ore to a port 300 miles away.
The Port of Los Angeles is installing equipment that could cut in half the number of longshoremen needed in a workplace already highly automated.
Computers do legal research, write stock reports and news stories, as well as translate conversations; at car dealers, they generate online advertising; and, at banks, they churn out government-required documents to flag potential money laundering—all jobs done by human workers a short time ago.
It could happen? It's already happening.

So it seems, then, that the Luddites might have been right. Sometimes, being a reactionary is exactly the right response, because sometimes, things move faster than we understand and can adapt to.

And the experts might, just might, have spent decades devising ways to destroy the economy by cannibalizing the job market, helping to create a dependent underclass that goes on the government dole, freezing them there and making inequality dramatically worse.

The huge irony here is that nearly all of these technocrats are lefties with excessive faith in government power and the inevitable progress in every avenue of life via the magic of technology, yet they have spent decades screwing the very people they pretend to "care" about more than you and me: those with less education and fewer skills.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The limits of Christian love in a battle against ISIS and radical Islamists

For quite a few years now, when sitting in church listening to a sermon, or reading the news about atrocities around the world, I have this nagging feeling that Jesus' message of loving your neighbor is just not enough any more.

It seems to me that, while we like it or not, we are now enmeshed in an existential battle for our existence against radical Islam. There is plenty of evidence all around us that this is, in actual fact, the world we live in, despite the hectoring and lecturing from the political class about how awful we are for seeing the world with both eyes wide open. Start here, with an asbsolute must-read if there ever was one: What ISIS Really Wants. I'll wait. Go ahead.

There is so much to discuss here, and people get all wrapped up in either the religious or the political, or both. This shows the limitations of using exclusively a religious, or political, frame of reference to view the world. Both are important, and both are relevant, but sometimes neither one by itself can inform our world view sufficiently to cause us to see what is clearly happening before us.

We went to the Ash Wednesday service this week, and at several different times during the service, we were informed that we need to dig deeper, to love more, and that the meek shall inherit the earth, and various other Christ-centered messages, as usual. And these are, to get the obvious out of the way, very good messages to hear for anybody, generally speaking. The world needed to hear this then, and it needs it now, and I have no problem with that.

But during all this, at several times, an image kept popping into my head: the image of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS recently.

I'm no biblical scholar, and I don't play one on TV or in church on Sundays either, but I do get the essential messages of Jesus in the New Testament: love your neighbor as yourself, and always strive for more by recognizing that we are imperfect.

Which is, again, a very good message to hear, that makes us better human beings and as a result, makes our world better.

But what if we are confronted with people who hate us for who we are? What if we are confronted with people who kill us - with glee - for who we are?

Jesus would tell us to "turn the other cheek".

This advice is not always helpful. Sometimes, there are people who want to kill you just because they hate you and everything you stand for.

Sometimes there are people who relish the thought of killing somebody like you, and who think you are a fool for wanting to turn the other cheek and to love them as yourself.

And you know, they may be right, on that last point. You might be a fool, indeed.

There is an old saying, "he brought a knife to a gunfight", and it colorfully illustrates an important error that we all make sometimes: using the wrong tool for the job. Today, the main job we have before us is to stop the rise of ISIS and the radical Islamists generally, at least as I see it.

And I would say that the message of Jesus Christ has nothing to offer us in this particular situation. Mankind, sadly, is not driven solely by the concept of Christian love. Even though we wish this were true, it is not true at this point in the timeline of history, and believing it is true is causing Christians to fail to see the world as it is for the purposes of how to move forward and how to think about the problems before us.

And "you cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists", a quote that is so true and so relevant to today in so many ways. It's from the former head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), Lt. Michael Flynn. Here are some other good quotes (but read the article):
“There is no substitute, none, for American power,” the general said, to occasional cheers and ultimately a standing ovation from a crowd of special operators and intelligence officers at a Washington industry conference.

He also slammed the administration for refusing to use the term “Islamic militants” in its description of ISIS and al Qaeda.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” Flynn said.

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

“There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” said Flynn, so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

Flynn refused to name President Obama as the focus of his ire in comments afterward to The Daily Beast, saying that he was simply “sending a message to the American people.” But the comments show the widening rift between some in the national-security community who want to see more special-operations and intelligence assets sent into the fight against ISIS and other groups in Syria and beyond.
Sometimes, I see a tendency in Christians and Christian churches to tell ourselves that by asking more and more from ourselves, all will be right with the world. That if we can just demand more love and caring from ourselves, this is the key to fixing what is wrong.

And I see a curious tendency in both Christians and Christian churches to avoid calling attention to the Muslim slaughter and persecution of Christians being perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, and by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other trouble spots. Children are being beheaded and crucified, yet the West yawns, and Christianity yawns. Why is that? Are we afraid of hurting their feelings? What kind of Christian doesn't even stand in solidarity with other Christians throughout the world, in the defense of not just their religion, but of the basic rights of man to worship as they choose? This refusal to call attention to this slaughter bothers me a great deal, and it leads me to the inevitable conclusion that political correctness, social justice, and other "progressive" ideas are blocking a reckoning that truly needs to occur. As noted in the first article above:
But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
The "interfaith-Christian-nonsense" tradition has always seemed a little odd to me, for precisely this reason.

Pope Francis was not afraid to speak the truth: "They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.  It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!"

So here we are. The world is becoming radically more dangerous, and a hate-filled group is growing in power and attracting adherents, and Christians and the West in general re-assure themselves with inward-focused Christian platitudes and politically-correct fiction that is clearly at odds with the facts on the ground.

I'm trying to work on being a better Christian, and maybe I'm just flawed somehow in pursuit of that goal, but it's primarily because of things like this that keep getting in the way. And I'm really at a loss as to how to reconcile it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Adults caught cheating in LLWS. So obviously it's evidence of racism.

Some people are up in arms because the team that won the Little League World Series last year, Jackie Robinson West of the south side of Chicago, was found to be breaking the boundary rules. In other words, they pulled in kids from a wider geographic area than is allowed by the rules.

Playing fast and loose with boundary rules is a pretty common tactic in youth and high school sports. The Little League World Series, like nearly all national tournaments in any sport, is set up by geographic areas, with local tournaments feeding into state and regional tournaments, so there has to be some way to split things up geographically to prevent exactly what seems to have happened here - creating a "best of" team that has inherent advantages over other teams that choose to observe the rules.

And according to Mark Mulder, former major league pitcher, the JRW team has been doing this for at least 20-25 years that he knows of:

But that didn't stop the bitching and whining about getting caught cheating, by all the usual suspects: a random mom, and Jesse Jackson, and Father Pfleger. The usual racist bullshit from the usual racist suspects is getting so old, and so tiresome, and I refuse to indulge their lowest common denominator idiocy by reprinting any of their blather here (but here is a good summary at Second City Cop: Baseball or DEATH!)

The children players did what they should do - play baseball, mostly, although it strains the imagination to believe that none of the kids knew anything about some of their players being ineligible. Still, they are not at fault, and cannot be, since they are (were) all 12 years old. The adults have to bear all of the blame here, a point made forcefully and convincingly by Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score. He happens to be a black man, who not only grew up in the neighborhood represented by the JRW team - in theory at least - he played for the team as a kid. He has stayed involved, and supports them financially today. So his credibility here is extremely high, unlike some of the clowns pushing each other out of the way, to get in front of the cameras, to show how outraged they are that the powers that be at LLWS had the gall to impose a punishment on a team that broke the rules.

Paying a price for breaking rules. Even for an all-black team. What will they think of next?

The Holmes monologue linked above (it's about 12 minutes long and well worth the time, please give it a listen) gets it exactly right: the adults that broke the rules are the bad guys here. And those adults are despicable because they used these these kids by intentionally breaking rules in order to win, and now instead of accepting blame and showing contrition and accountability for their actions, and turning embarrassment into a teachable moment, and providing actual leadership, they want to blame everybody and everything but themselves.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Eight reasons you should see "American Sniper", right now

  1. Pretty good movie, better story
  2. Chris Kyle is badass
  3. Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood deserve giant kudos on the role they created, and Cooper's acting; the overall feel reminds me of movies from the 50s and 60s, you know, back when men were men
  4. The ending is a stunner, even if you already expect it
  5. Hollywood finally made a movie that celebrates an American military hero from the Iraq War, one that does not lecture the audience in a condescending tone about politics and “torture” and the supposed evils wrought on the world by the American military
  6. It set several box office records - you don't want to miss out
  7. It is not one of those crappy, "look how awful we are" movies about America's role and influence in the world
  8. Several of the above drive liberals nuts 

Thank God for Chris Kyle and all the other “sheepdogs” who risk their lives to protect the rest of us. You all have my humble and eternal gratitude.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You want evidence of a warming trend? Let me "adjust" it for you ... here you go!

As somebody who has followed the science behind global warming for a long time, I've discovered that there are several ways that it doesn't really qualify as "science" in the true sense of the word.

One of the most important ways is surely the temperature data itself. It's highly manipulated in various ways, which is a very ponderous question all by itself, because why exactly would there be a need to adjust temperature data? What exactly are you doing to it, and why? The data is the data. In what sense can we apply "adjustments" to raw data without essentially corrupting it?

Then there is the question of revising older temperatures to establish trends that do not really exist. From the article above:
When future generations look back on the global-warming scare of the past 30 years, nothing will shock them more than the extent to which the official temperature records – on which the entire panic ultimately rested – were systematically “adjusted” to show the Earth as having warmed much more than the actual data justified.

Two weeks ago, under the headline “How we are being tricked by flawed data on global warming”, I wrote about Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog, had checked the published temperature graphs for three weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming.

This was only the latest of many examples of a practice long recognised by expert observers around the world – one that raises an ever larger question mark over the entire official surface-temperature record.
Check out these animated comparisons of historical data over the last 100 years or so: raw, unadjusted data overlaid with the adjusted data. Note that in every case, the raw historical data was adjusted down, but less so as it moved towards today, and so it turned what was a somewhat chaotic, real-world overall cooling trend into a nice smooth warming trend.

When the temperature data is inconvenient, and you as a climate scientist need evidence of a warming trend to justify your existence and compete for the buckets of cash handed out by governments and NGOs to climate scientists who can show evidence of warming, well, what do you do? You adjust it.

Presto! What was a cooling trend instantly becomes a warming trend instead. All due to the magic of "adjustments" to raw data. Again: why does it need adjusting in the first place? It is by nature empirical data, recorded by the instruments available at the time. It is what it is. The practice of adjusting it brings up obvious credibility questions, as demonstrated by those animated gifs at the link above.

If this practice is widespread, then we know that most or all of the evidence establishing warming trends is essentially garbage. Which means the conclusion is garbage. And so are all the speeches, the carbon cap-and-trade legislation, the carbon financial markets, the carbon "offsets" and all the shady businesses spawned by them, etc.

I think we can all figure it out from here.

Monday, February 09, 2015

ISIS burns a Jordanian Air Force pilot to death - but let's not judge them because people who are not us were mean hundreds of years ago

See, this is exactly why people need to understand history, to call bullshit when and where necessary.

President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday:
As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

I literally cannot believe my ears, that an allegedly Christian American president stands before a Christian group at a prayer breakfast and instead of attacking the despicable actions of ISIS, he defends them by invoking comparisons to the Crusades and slavery. This is both sloppy and disingenuous, not to mention historically inaccurate and morally indefensible. Is it really necessary to pick this apart? Apparently so. On we go.

The Crusades were a series of wars of retaliation, not aggression, waged by Christians to retake territory conquered by Islamic forces over centuries across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, essentially since the rise of Mohammed. Islam was certainly no "religion of peace" then, it was all about warfare and conquest. Christians fought back and retook some, but not all, of this territory; most of it remained under Muslim control until the Battle of Vienna in 1683. So why is this viewed by so many people today as some sort of unjust war, a killing spree in the name of religion? This is an anti-Christian lie dressed up as history.

The Crusades were also 700-800 years ago -- bringing up a war fought in retaliation to Muslim aggression, in comparison to the acts of today by radical Islamists, is a sure sign that you've got no compelling argument whatsoever. It's counter-productive historical cherry-picking. It's well beneath the office of President to offer this kind of weak tea and expect people to believe a word of it, much less to accept it as morally equivalent to burning a man alive and filming it.

What about slavery and Crow laws? Well, slavery was abolished first in Great Britain, driven by a Christian named William Wilberforce, who served an enormous role in world history in re-shaping attitudes about human rights and what was permissible in Western culture. In the U.S., the abolitionist movement was largely driven by Christians as well. We should also note the courage and leadership of President Lincoln, a Christian who regularly referenced religion as a force for good in his calls to moral authority in his legendary speeches and writings. Wilberforce was a personal hero of Lincoln's. Meanwhile, the Jim Crow era was the legacy of a racist Southern Democrat power structure, codified by a racist Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, that endowed the "separate but equal" concept with the force of settled law, until overturned by Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. None of this was the legacy of any Christian doctrine. I'm not quite sure what his point was there, except to throw in a gratuitous anti-Christian slam for fun.

Christianity measures itself against an impossible standard - Jesus Christ himself. So the criticism that it is imperfect is spot on. So what? Lots of things are imperfect ... just about everything, in fact. This is not a true criticism, when you really stop and think about it for a few minutes. And on the list of questions about how to live in today's world, and the choices we make every day, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, slavery, and Jim Crow laws do not appear anywhere, because they are all pretty much irrelevant. Old news, all of it. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows that. And to the very limited extent that these things do matter in today's world, at some point we have to move on and stop obsessing over things that we didn't do, and that we can't undo. It's a giant waste of everybody's time, to be perfectly frank.

Why would the president, who is ostensibly a Christian, engage in such silly, easily debunked anti-Christian rhetoric? His words, and more importantly his actions, give the uncomfortable but unavoidable impression that he is an unrelenting apologist for radical Islam. This would have been very good to know in 2008.

If burning a man to death and filming it for the world to see is not enough to make him admit that the world has a radical Islam problem, when even Muslim Arabs in Jordan and elsewhere can see it, then nothing ever will. And that indicates, to me, that he is actively working the other side -- with radical Islam -- against America and the rest of the civilized world.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Unemployment Rate is Just One of Several Big Lies, Brought to You Every Day by the Political Class

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup, wrote an interesting piece about unemployment numbers called "The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment" yesterday.

He makes the somewhat obvious point that the government, by refusing to count people in the unemployment statistics who want a job but have stopped looking after several months is, well, telling a Big Lie. Some government bureaucrat, in an appalling lack of judgment and honesty, decided it was OK to assume that some guy in his late 40s who got laid off and now can't find a decent job, but who still has a wife and kids and a mortgage, is somehow no longer in trouble after he stops paying his mortgage and moves in with extended family. Right. That would be news to him, his family, and his mortgage company.

You still need to eat, even after the BLS decides you are no longer "unemployed".

Likewise it strains belief to suppose that a 27 year old college graduate who can only find work as a coffee house barista, part-time, is starting on the path to success that we all picture in our heads after graduation: moving out into the world and into their own apartments, buying their first car, and starting their young adult lives. A big part of that is having financial leverage: a solid job and a good income. Working 29 hours - or even 49 hours - at an hourly rate cannot really move you forward in that journey. Such a job is a place-holder, nothing more, and was never intended for college graduates in the first place. We should quit pretending there is anything normal about it. There isn't. It's a big picture, long term disaster in slow motion.

There are millions and millions of these types of people out there, and all of them are probably pretty damn angry when the White House and the media carry on about how unemployment is not high any more. And they have a right to be. Because that 5.6% number is just not valid. It's insulting to everybody affected by joblessness over the last 6 years, to be truthful. These are people's families, houses, and lives we are talking about.

In a real recovery, hiring and income grow quickly, and people either never end up in the situations above, or quickly move out of them. That's what a recovery *is*. Take away either hiring or income, and you cannot really call it a recovery any more.

And that's what we have today, hiring without rising income. Incomes and wages are stagnant or declining for the middle class, and that is because the middle class needs economic growth in order to thrive, unlike the bottom 50% and the top 5-10%, who can rely on government freebies and existing capital respectively.

It's nice that Mr. Clifton spoke up, but I question why it took so long. I suspect that having Mr. Obama rather than Mr. Bush in the White House explains most, or all, of it.