Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thank God We Have All These Tests

More why-numbers-lie: SAT scores show a frightening correlation with income. The same correlation has been found in almost every standardized test for which I have heard seen an analysis.

[Stolen from BusinessInsider]

Lying (to Ourselves) With Statistics

Campbell's Law: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

I didn't know it had a name. When I worked at the phone company, every new AVP would install his or her own method for measuring the work of the division. Each time this happened, we would all be trained in the new methodology and sent back to our desks. I guarantee that the employees would do exactly the same things they had always done but they would come up with a way to make sure that their numbers came out to please the AVP.

I am working on a project where the management is ravenous to get their hands on numbers that will "measure" the productivity of each procedure and worker in their department. I can provide raw numbers but can't shake the feeling that these numbers will have little impact on the ultimate performance. We have tweeked many processes to greatly reduce the amount ofuseless work being generated. All to the good. But insisting that an up-to-the-minute dashboard of work flow will allow a executive to successfully micro-manage the organization is an abuse of the nature of the data and the conditions under which employees can be effective.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Get Me Jim West on the Line!

This report in the Washington Post details how emergency rooms are buying billboards to advertise themselves as a source for non-urgent care... With the mess of a healthcare system we have created this is simply unbelievable.

Queue the outrage!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Damaged Caps

Wouldn't it be funny if Rick Perry's run at the White House actually killed the zombie of Damage-Caps-Are-Health-Reform? California's 1973 failure is here and Texas' 2003 is here.


I was indulging my sinful nature again this morning by listening to NPR on the way to work.

The piece in question concerned public revulsion and rejection of plans to return well-treated sewage water directly to the tap. It seems that no matter how much high-tech treatment is applied, no one will agree to drinking water that was once urine. Go figure! A psychologist was employed to get to the bottom of this. After employing "finely-tuned" questionaires she discovered that much of the resistance disappears if you tell people that the treated water has been dumped in a river and only later processed and sent to their icemaker.

The conclusion reached was that the composition of the water was not what mattered but the identity! I think this may be a fundamental insight into the workings of the mind. We filter information not by analysis of the properties of an object but by what it is. Plato's Theory of Forms was a reflection of the very real functioning of human consciousness. Perhaps we are most lucid when we view things as kinds and essential beings.

Examples? How about a change in the way we view of ourselves and how others view us when we are elevated to a position of authority? What about Coming-of-Age rites? Are these changes in our identity that changes our relationship to our culture and immediate contacts?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who is Allowed to Forgive Sins?

In Mark 1:4, John the Baptizer offers baptism as a way of gertting your sins forgiven:
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Now, I am not sayin' that John had the authority to forgive sins. More likely the repentence and confession were the important elements in the process. My question: where is Jesus in this process?

Is a Tithe Charity? Part II

In my previous post on tithing and charity I quoted a former deacon who claimed that only $35,000 of a $850,000 church budget went to charity.

I here acknowledge that the quote does indeed refer to charities outside the church itself, not factoring in the charity done by the church itself. I am taking his mention of missionaries and youth groups as an indication that they are the kinds of programs that receive the lion's share of resources.

This raises a further question: Are missions charitable? My church has sent two groups oversees recently: one to Africa to decorate the future home of another missionary and the other to South America where several teens would be teaching vacation bible school. Leave aside the issue of whether sharing Jesus makes foreigners lives better. I can't believe that a couple of Americans needed to fly to sub-Saharan Africa to arrange furniture.Link

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

From God's Will to Your Browser

Have you seen the online ads for They feature the slogan: Find God's Match For You (tm)

Imagine how this works...

There must be a program library that includes an function that returns the will of God (via a tcp connection, no doubt).

Or perhaps there is a random number generator that fate causes to provide just the right helpmate - kinda like closing your eyes, opening a random page of the bible and jabbing the page with your finger. Oh come on, you know people who do this!

Or, a skipping every 7th letter in the original Greek text (no Hebrew, we're Christians!) reveals the name of your "soul"-mate.

It boggles the mind

Is a Tithe Charity?

[Disclaimer: I know that the OT does not link a 10% tithe to charity. It is intended for the use of the temple, whatever that entails. ]

Tithing and charity are inexorably tied in our culture. In praising evangelicals for their generosity, Nicholas Kristof obliquely uses tithing to prove his point:
Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. [emphasis added]
My wife and I have endeavored through the years to target as close to 10% of our income to charity as we can manage. We often fall short but we persevere. In keeping with my in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound policy I have agreed to make a significant portion of that a church donation. But how much of my "tithe" is actually charity?

No one says the word "charity" and means that they expect something back for their investment. At least they hope that no one thinks they mean that! But as far as I can tell, most of what individuals give to the church goes to services that directed back to it’s members in the form of facilities, activities and programs. Our church spends more than half of it’s budget on staff which invest only a small fraction of their efforts outside the membership of the church. I have struggled to determine how much of my contribution actually goes to “charitable” purposes, weighing ministry to the needs of the congregation and outreach to the community against stained glass windows and gymnasiums.

I have not been deep into the budget of our local church but I did find this quote interesting:
I was a deacon (before I was an atheist) in a respected conservative Christian church. Our budget was about $850,000. Most of it went for staff salaries, maintenance and expansion of church property, church programs like youth groups, missionaries, denomination dues, Christian school assistance and other internal needs. I remember about $35,000 going to community organizations which I would call charities...


I keep saying I am not a Democrat because I have no idea what their economic policy is, and I am not a Republican because I know EXACTLY what their economic policy is. That is our policy choices: Inept cluelessness on one side, and hapless fantasy-based lunacy on the other.

Barry Ritholtz

[emphasis in original]