Thursday, September 21, 2017

Media Bias LBC 9/22/2017

This weeks topic is Media Bias - it's a subject that has been in the news daily for well over a year,  thanks to our recent presidential election It includes a couple of other synonyms - fake news and mainstream media bias. The latter implies the conservative media is unbiased whereas mainstream media is not and the former is a term coined by POTUS45 before he was even elected as a way to create mistrust of the mainstream media. The term Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth leaps to mind regarding fake news. At least it becomes the illusion of truth. Think crowd size.

Political mudslinging has been part and parcel of our electoral process since the beginning. Thomas Jefferson hired a writer to make claims that John Adams was a repulsive pedant and a hideo s hermaphroditical character. Davy Crockett accused Martin Van Buren of wearing women's corsets. For a fun read on these types of things, go here.

Newspapers have a long tradition of supporting one candidate or another but we always expected them to tell the whole truth when reporting the news. In reality people like William Randolph Hearst have always slanted their media empires. These days the right wing considers the NY Times and the Washington Post to be standard bearers for the left. An interesting factoid - the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos - the uber wealthy scion of Amazon.

Media bias seems much worse in the current climate because of the prevailing 24 hour news cycle. That is a byproduct of the news for profit competition that is so prevalent these days. Every media provider is on the hunt for the next new story and cable news is the engine that drives the cycle, along with Internet media companies like Breitbart News, Huffington Post, Politico and others.

Talk radio is, for the most part, the bastion of the right wing in this country. The left has tried but not been successful at establishing a foothold in radio. The airwaves are ruled by Ruch Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mark Davis and others.

Cable news' distribution is more balanced with Fox on the right and MSNBC and CNN on the left. Of course the right claims CBS, ABC and NBC are all biased against the right. I find the news operations of most of the networks report the news fairly but when it comes to their personalities - the Tucker Carlsons, Sean Hannitys,  Chris Mathews, Rachel Maddows and Keith Olbermans, etc. are proud flag wavers for the right or left. Do not expect anything truly fair or balanced from them.

Long story short, pretty much all media is biased. Anyone who single sources their information is quite frankly a fool IMHO. Even for political junkies like me, it's a jungle out there.

I do not think this situation will change anytime soon, so it behooves us as consumers to be smart about our news intake.  Fact check regularly.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cause and Effect LBC 09/15/2017 cause





Why do things happen? Does A cause B?  Consider the following - a boy enters high school. He is given an option by one of his parents - either try out for the football team or get a job. He chooses to try out for the football team.  During the course of that season, he finds he really enjoys playing football and continues to play all four years of high school and college. He does so well he is selected  ALl American and wins the Heisman Trophy. He is drafted by the NFL and signs a multi-year multi-million dollar contract. Is his newly earned wealth the result of that first decision all those years earlier to try out for the freshman football team? Partly. Many other decisions made after that first one led to that result.

Cause and effect can be defined as the concept that an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event; also written cause-effectcause/effect.

Cause - the US president is elected by a electoral college resulting in the possibility that a president can be elected in spite of losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes. POTUS 45 is the latest example.

Cause and effect is a large part of Buddhism, expressed through Karma.
If X is a necessary cause for Y than the presence of Y indicates the prior presence of X.  However, the presence of X does not necessarily mean Y will follow.



So how do cause and effect affect our lives? Every effect has a corresponding cause so it stands to reason that changing the causes will change the effects. To change your life change your choices. Perhaps the desired effect really requires multiple causes. Simply adding a new cause may be all that is necessary to achieve a desired effect.  At a restaurant, the menu includes your favorite cut of steak but a satisfying meal requires more than just meat so you order sauteed mushrooms, asparagus, and a dinner salad. Now in my case, a double Glenlivet added to that order would achieve the desired effect - a satisfying meal.

There are some who believe the two recent powerful hurricanes that hit in Texas and  Florida were the result of climate change. We have never had two such hurricanes come ashore in the same year let alone within weeks of each other.  Surely climate change has caused an increase in size and intensity of the hurricanes.

Unfortunately, the only thing odd about the two hurricanes is that they came ashore.  Of course, the evangelical right thinks that was God punishing us for things like gay tolerance and the general disintegration of our cultural mores. The fact is hurricanes of that size occur annually, they just do not all come ashore. They typically spin out to sea.  The Weather Channel experts suggest there is still much work to be done to link hurricane size and intensity to climate change - man made or otherwise.

Cause - I have discussed the weekly topic. Effect - that's all folks - tune in next week for another LBC blog. To see what the other LBC bloggers have to say check their blogs:  RamanaPravin & Ashok. Maris is on holiday in Ireland.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Opportunity Costs of Being Human LBC 09/08/2017


Opportunity cost theme

This weeks topic was suggested by Pravin - the Opportunity Costs of Being Human. How does being human dictate opportunity costs.
Opportunity cost is an economic concept that seems to have relevance beyond economics, although it can be argued that every decision has an economic result in some way.  Businessdictionary.com offers this explanation of opportunity cost: A benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else. Since every resource (land, money, time, etc.) can be put to alternative uses, every action, choice, or decision has an associated opportunity cost.

While many of us may fancy ourselves as free and independent agents making our way through the world on our own, humans are essentially social animals that crave the comfort and support of groups. The makeup of those groups may have a strong influence - in fact, probably has a strong influence on how we lead our lives.  Religion is an obvious example. In theory, your religion can influence what you eat, drink and think. Strict Jews and Muslims do not eat pork, Mormons do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages,  and so on. Even the Christian world has divisions between Catholic, Protestants, and Evangelicals. All Evangelicals are Protestants but not all Protestants are Evangelicals. In that regard, Muslims and Jews are denied opportunities of Christians and vice versa. And, of course, most religions ultimately believe it is their way or the highway so not choosing them will lead to a non-existent afterlife or a less than pleasant one - a not insignificant cost.

As humans, we are denied the opportunity to fly like a bird but we have the ability to invent technology that allows us to fly faster and higher than any bird. We cannot breathe under water like a fish but we can invent the technology to allow us to explore the under sea world. That means although denied opportunities by our physical makeup, we can make up for that with our minds.

Choices we make certainly can deny opportunities presented by different choices, so in that sense, those opportunities missed are indeed opportunity costs lost. Life is a series of choices and there are typically trade offs. Every choice  (risk) has a certain reward. Lives are determined by weighing the costs of lost benefits from choices not taken versus the benefits of the choices made.

That is this week's quick shack-take on Opportunity Costs of Being Human. Be sure to check what RamanaPravin, and Ashok have to say.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stephen Hawking's Sell By Date For Humanity LBC 09/01/2017


It is no surprise that scientists have said for years that earth has a finite  life span. I can recall my junior high (what is called middle school today - teacher, Mr. Jorgensen telling us that  the sun - like any star - will eventually die. When that happens this third rock from the sun will no longer sustain life as we know it.  OK - he did not  call Earth the Third Rock from the Sun, but I was fond of that TV show. So it comes as no surprise the most brilliant  mind in modern physics would suggest  we have what is essentially a sell by date to - as he says it colonize other planets. It all sounds rather like a good science fiction movie like Forbidden Planet,  the 1956 movie that forever guaranteed I would be a fan of good science fiction.
What  may come as a surprise is that Hawking suggested we needed  to be gone within 1000 - 10,000 years. Mr. Jorgensen suggested millions if not billions of years.  But wait! Hawking recently changed that to around 100 years. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF) - what happened?

The answer is simply stated as global warming and the resultant changes happening now and into the future.  This topic was not suggested as an open forum on so-called man-made global warming. There is over 90% agreement that global warming is occurring,  the argument is whether it is man-made or naturally occurring. At this point does it really matter?  The polar ice caps are melting, temperatures are getting warmer and we may be headed for more hurricane Harvey like disasters than we can imagine.

So what do we do about it?  Good question. If temperature patterns continue we may no longer be able to produce enough food to sustain the population of the planet - something we have been able to do since the green revolution of the sixties and seventies. You may suggest we cannot produce enough food now but I contend we have a massive distribution problem - not production problems.

Here we sit - if Hawking is correct, we have 100 or so years to find an inhabitable new home and move us all to said planet, colonize it and establish a workable political system that can develop and sustain the population. We certainly need a few dozen Elon Musks and  Sir Richard Bransons to help us with that massive transportation issue. And goodness but we have enough globalism naysayers here in the USA so what will happen when someone starts talking interstellar? 45s head will explode trying to  to keep up with that one on twitter. (My snarky side would suggest that is not a bad idea but this blog is being done by my kinder, gentler side).

My pessimistic side says if Hawking is correct we are essentially screwed (without the benefit of a good time). My optimistic side says but wait - if we can imagine it we can do it. The realist in me simply hopes Hawking is wrong and that his interactions with Sheldon  Cooper have  warped is sense  of reality.

There are also the evangelicals and other bible thumpers who simply think it is  just the natural progression of things as stated in the bible. In other words it is all God's will. They've been wrong before - whether they admit it or not. Here's hoping their failures continue.

That is my admittedly light-hearted. take on what can be considered a dark, serious topic that I suggested myself. Be sure to check the other LBC bloggers to see what - if anything - they have to say.  Ramana,  Maria,  Pravin and Ashok

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Decision Making LBC 08/25/2017

This week's topic - Decision Making, comes from the sage of Pune - Ramana. Time to decide how to tackle the topic. Hmm - decision-making time.




Indeed - it's not often easy and it's not often kind.
Have you ever considered how many decisions we make on a daily basis? Have you ever considered what a strain so many decisions would place on you if you actually pondered each decision? Think about how you feel after struggling with a decision and imagine that magnified by the infinite number of decisions you make daily.
That's why most decisions are made from habit. In fact, 40 - 45% of our daily activity is actually a habit. You know red means stop, green means go and yellow means hurry up - it is about to go red so your brain automatically kicks into gear and your response kicks in. Of course, you can override that decision and when you see yellow make a decision to slow down and stop.

When you get into a car you automatically fasten your seatbelt. Or not. Either way, it is a habit. Getting into a car triggered the habit to fasten or not fasten the seat belt. And what is the value of these habits? Efficiency. Our brain conditions automatic responses that require little or no thought so that it can be ready when called on to make a real decision.
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And how do you deal with decision making that is not a habit? Well of course that varies  Are you as cool as a cucumber or so wired you are literally bouncing off walls? But you can thank your efficient brain for the ability to actually think and decide. And yes - some habits are good and some are bad and with effort can be changed. But changing habits is for another week.

If you are interested in the power of habit, check The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg here - it says free to download but I did not test it.

Curious to see what others think?  Check my cohorts at their respective blogs
RamanaPravinAshok and Maria.

That's my quick shack take on this week's  topic. See ya next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Behavioral Science









This weeks topic - Behavioral Science - is in some circles considered an oxymoron. There is no science in studying behavior.



I believe there can be a scientific study of behavior but predicting behavior is another thing altogether. One need look no further than Facebook to see the results of some Behavioral Science guru - have you ever paid attention to the ads you encounter while on FB?

Those ads are tailored just for you and will include sites you have visited along with similar sites. Some marketing guru is paying a lot of money to get those ads to you, and assuming you will buy goods and/or services from one of the advertisers. Of course, this assumes you have cookies enabled and many sites insist that be the case. Test it by visiting a site like glasses.com and then loading FB.

Companies use behavioral science to maximize their marketing strategies all of the time. This seems to bother some people as they see it as an invasion of their privacy. Having been in the retail world for over three decades, it does not bother me and I see it as a way for companies to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising dollars. As long as the company allows you to "opt out" you can manage what info is collected about you. If you are really hard-core about protecting your privacy and hiding from those behavioral science gurus check out the tor browser. It is relatively easy to browse the Internet privately if that is truly your desire.

Of course, there are the "real" behavioral sciences - disciplines like psychology, psychobiology and cognitive science - not to be confused with social science disciplines like economics, political science (my field) and others.

Have you ever watched the television show Criminal Minds?  That show is centered around the BAU of the FBI.That is "Behavioral Analysis Unit".  The BAU is a very real part of the FBI, but I admit I have no idea how accurate the TV show portrays the unit. The profilers investigate and solve cases weekly based upon their analysis of the crimes and offer a profile of the suspect (called unsub) on the show, Profiling is widely used in law enforcement, and occasionally abused - typically when racial profiling is employed. If a suspected criminal is described as - for example - Asian, racial profiling encourages law enforcement to stop and check any Asian.  The opportunity for abuse should be fairly obvious.'

That's a quick shack look at this week's topic, which was offered by Ramana. Be sure to check the blogs of other LBC bloggers at RamanaPravinAshok, and Maria.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Future Shock

This weeks topic was my suggestion. Future Shock by Alvin and Heidi (uncredited) Tofler was assigned reading in my college days and I thoroughly enjoyed the book - easily one of my two favorite assigned reading books in college, the other being Earth Ahides by George R. Stewart.

The Toflers were futurists and according to them, “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” Among the accelerating changes they predicted are the “electronic frontier” of the Internet, Prozac, YouTube, cloning, home-schooling, the self-induced paralysis of too many choices, instant celebrities “swiftly fabricated and ruthlessly destroyed,” and the end of blue-collar “second-wave” manufacturing, to be replaced by a “third wave” of knowledge workers. The book was published in 1970.  The future they were discussing is now.

The Toflers divided civilization into three phases which they called waves. 
  1. First Wave - the agricultural revolution
  2. Second Wave - the industrial revolution too much change in too short a period of time.
  3. Third Wave - the information age - which is now ongoing
Future shock is defined in several ways, the simplest and most straight forward is too much change in too short a period of time. The result of the rapid change is people are overwhelmed. Information overload creates a sort of social paralysis. While the rapid changes are occurring people lose touch with the familiarity of older institutions.  Does any of that sound familiar? Have you ever seen a post on Facebook harkening back to "the old days" by starting off "Back in the day". If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine there are several such posts a day. It is usually a post by an aging baby boomer who has been through decades of rapid changes and longs for a simpler time.

The Toflers got many of their predictions correct but they seem to have underestimated the ability of people to cope with rapid change. Take a look at Millennials - they are quick on their feet and very tech savvy. They seem to cope with change quite well although they seem to demand immediate gratification in most things, That is a change they will have to make IMHO.

How well do you deal with the rapid changes we have been dealing with for decades? I have embraced the changes that advance us technologically and for an old guy am comfortable with most technology. The preponderance of social media platforms is fascinating but I still prefer direct contact, even if by email. I find a lot of what gets posted on Facebook unintentionally hilarious, especially if the poster is a Millennial. It seems everything is fair game.

I find as a society we have managed the stresses presented by the Toflers quite well, although the 2016 election here is something of an anomaly.   POTUS 45 was a lifelong Democrat who switched parties and managed to appeal to enough folks to win an electoral college victory while losing the popular vote by three million or so votes, Now we are in a position of having to deal with what we asked for (he is my President regardless of who I preferred).

The evangelicals are certainly happy and would prefer rolling the culture back 50 years or so. My regular readers no doubt recall where I stand on religion and God
If not or if you are interested, simply click here.

We are legitimately at a point in time that can be called the best of times and the worst of times. I have dealt with the passing of my life partner (we were together for 45 years) and have recently connected with family members through ancestry.com and have seen a  family tree with 10,000 names that includes mine. A newly reconnected cousin and I share the most DNA from our shared heritage - I knew her and her sisters when I was a child in Colorado.

Since this weekly blogging exercise is not a school exercise, while there is much more to say that will have to be for a different time. Be sure to check RamanaPravinMaria and Ashok to see what they have to say.

With a bit of luck we can all look back and realize we have survived the stresses of change because we were all so much older then but we are younger than that now.