EppsNet Archive: Harvard University

An Insignificant Number of Confused, Poorly Organized Losers

26 Aug 2017 /

News networks have been running a two-week-long (with no end in sight) infomercial on white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis as though they represent a powerful force that has to be reckoned with, a vast army of domestic terrorists, which they don’t.

The most important thing to know about white supremacists and neo-Nazis is that there are actually not very many of them.

The leading white supremacist organization is the Ku Klux Klan. How many members do you think the KKK currently has? Take a guess. Keep in mind we live in a country of more than 320 million people.

Estimates of current KKK membership run between 5,000 and 8,000 members. Is that less than you thought?

As for neo-Nazis, the New York Times ran an article a few years ago on the National Socialist Movement (NSM), which they identified as the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. Take a guess how many members the National Socialist Movement has.

According to the Times, the National Socialist Movement has about 400 members.

“White supremacy: Are US right-wing groups on the rise?,” published this week by BBC News, suggests that roughly 10,000 Americans might qualify as active white supremacists.

They mention “groups like the NSM” as being active in 32 states, without mentioning that the groups are very small. Describing a small, poorly organized number of people as being “active in 32 states” sounds a lot scarier than saying “about 400 members.”

A collection of 10,000 people represents less than .01 percent of the US population. If you want to flip it around, you could say that 99.99 percent of us are not white supremacists.

White supremacists are an insignificant number of confused, poorly organized losers. That’s how they should be referenced in media reports: “an insignificant number of confused, poorly organized losers.”

How did such a small, loosely connected group of people manage to capture such a large national mindset?

President Trump was portrayed by opponents during the 2016 campaign as the second coming of Hitler. His supporters were portrayed as white supremacists and Nazis.

After he was elected and the concentration camps failed to materialize as predicted, Trump opponents were still on the lookout for opportunities to resurrect the Nazi theme.

The only way a “Trump is courting the white supremacist vote” theory makes sense is if you don’t know what the actual numbers are.

If you do know what the numbers are — about 10,000 people — it becomes mathematically ridiculous. No one wants or needs the support or endorsement of white supremacists at the cost of pissing off the other 99.99% of America. No one is saying “I’ve got to capture the Nazi vote — all 400 of them.”

My guess is that most media people, who according to Harvard University are very biased against Donald Trump, don’t know or care what the white supremacist numbers are. They just push their narrative and follow the crowd.

But there must be at least a few who do know what the numbers are and are just yanking our chains.


Harvard Study Says Media Are Very Biased Against Donald Trump

23 May 2017 /

According to a Harvard University study, the mainstream media are very biased against Donald Trump.

Here’s a chart from the study, showing that the tone of some news outlets is negative in as many as 98% of reports:

Tone of Trump news coverage

I’ve noticed that even our local news station is about 90-10 negative on Trump coverage.

We have to look at the way the media handled Trump before he was elected. How many newspapers in the entire country endorsed Trump for president? I don’t think the number is zero but it has to be very close to zero.

Some newspapers — The Washington Post and New York Times come to mind — were virulently anti-Trump on the editorial page, which bled over into the news coverage.

Every news network except Fox was anti-Trump, the only positive news being that he was most definitely not going to be elected. Well, actually it was that he was definitely not going to be the Republican nominee, and then that he was definitely not going to be president.

The Huffington Post refused to cover Trump at all as part of its political reporting. All Trump news was published in the entertainment section.

And then he was elected president!

So everyone in the media had to either a) recalibrate their self-image from “We are super smart people who knew in advance that Trump would never be president” to “We are the dumbest people in the universe,” or b) commit to spending the next four years (at least) finding ways to say “we told you so,” e.g. “We told you he was a monster,” “We told you he was a moron,” We told you he was crazy,” etc.

Here’s a chart showing the tone of Trump coverage compared to other recent presidents:

Tone of Trump coverage

The media are setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president. No president in recent history is even close. Note that the media were mostly cheerleaders for President Obama.


OK, But Let’s Not Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Narrative

14 Jul 2016 /


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


Teaching Computer Science: Collected Thoughts

10 Jan 2015 /

If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.

Derek Jeter

About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.

I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.

This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .

Bob Knight

This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.

Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.

One more on this topic . . .

Michelangelo's David

This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.

Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.

Anton Chekhov

He looks Russian.

Yes, he is Russian.

Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?

No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.

[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]

Who is it? Chekhov.

Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.

Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.

Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.

One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.

2 days in a closet

I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.

Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?

Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.

What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.

Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.

I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.

Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?


We’re Still Smarter Than You Are

7 Dec 2013 /

Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday.

Harvard emblem

Why am I not shocked by that?

Because Americans on the whole are dumb and lazy. We have lots of dumb, lazy parents raising dumb, lazy kids. The average American kid doesn’t compare well academically to the average kid in an Asian country where academics and hard work are valued, or to the average kid from a small, homogenous European country where it’s easier to get everyone pulling in the same educational direction.

The U.S. is a big, diverse country and the average academic results are pulled down by a lot of dummkopfs.

But still, the smartest people in the world are Americans. Our smartest people are smarter than the smartest people in other lands.

You don’t think so? I’m looking at the list of winners of the 2013 Nobel Prizes . . . out of 11 recipients (I’m omitting the winners of the literature and peace prizes because those aren’t academic awards), eight are from the U.S. The other three are from Belgium, the UK and France, and the Frenchman is affiliated with Harvard University.

No one in Asian countries is winning any Nobel Prizes. Q.E.D.


The World’s Greatest University

19 Aug 2012 /
English: Campus of the UC Berkeley in Berkeley...

It’s move-in weekend at UC Berkeley, the world’s greatest university . . .

Saul Perlmutter, who just won the Nobel Prize in Physics, is teaching an undergraduate seminar on physics and music this year.

How many schools even have Nobel Laureates on the faculty? Of those that do, how many of them teach small classes for freshmen and sophomores?

Ivy League schools, with the exception of Harvard, are coasting on their reputations. When’s the last time you heard of an enterpreneur from Dartmouth or Brown or Yale?

Stanford is great in engineering and business but limited in other areas. Also, top professors at private schools would rather piss on a spark plug than traffic with undergrads.

That said, the University of Southern California football season starts Sept. 1 against Hawaii. The Men of Troy!

FIGHT ON FOR OLD ‘SC! OUR MEN FIGHT ON TO VICTORY!


The Person Who Says It Can’t Be Done Is Interrupted By The Person Doing It

8 Jun 2012 /

In his latest book, The Price of Inequality, Columbia Professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz examines the causes of income inequality and offers some remedies. In between, he reaches some startling conclusions, including that America is “no longer the land of opportunity” and “the ‘American dream’ is a myth.”

“If there is anybody at all who has a dream, then they can definitely make it happen,” she told WBTV. “There are no excuses. It depends on you and no one else.”

The second link above goes to a story about Dawn Loggins, an 18-year-old girl from Lawndale, NC, who, after her mother and stepfather left the state without her and she was dropped by her grandmother at a local homeless shelter, “just made a decision that I was not going to end up like my parents.” She did well enough in high school to be accepted at Harvard University.

I’m not a Nobel laureate but I can tell you that income correlates to things like education, skills and motivation. If you’re concerned about the inequality of your income, take the time you spend keeping up with fantasy football and reality television and invest it in learning and maintaining marketable skills, and see if your income doesn’t go up.

If you’re complaining about income inequality, and you have any idea who was voted off any reality television program in the last week, you need to pipe down and reexamine your priorities. Watch your programs if you want to, but keep in mind that you’re competing in the job market with people who are more serious than you are.


Northwood 2011 College Decisions

12 Jul 2011 /

Unlike highly recruited athletes, kids who are highly recruited academically don’t get to go on TV and turn over hats so everyone knows what college they’re going to.

Northwood doesn’t have highly recruited athletes, so there’s a Facebook site where they can check in and state their college choice.

Also unlike athletes, who are evaluated on a 5-star scale, Northwood students are evaluated on a 3-star scale, according to the commencement program that I have right here in front of me:

*** = Highest honors (4.3 GPA or above)
 ** = High honors (4.0 or above, but below 4.3)
  * = Honors (Not sure; close to a 4.0 but not quite there)

It looks like Cal got the best recruiting class this year with three 3-star prospects and no one lower than 2 stars. USC and Stanford each got one 3-star recruit, as did Harvard and Yale.

To the kids going to Cal: GO BEARS!

To the kids going to USC: FIGHT ON!

To the kids going to Stanford: CONGRATULATIONS DORKS!

To everyone else: BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME!

And to the girls below: I don’t know you but you made me laugh . . .

College decisions


How to Be Liked by a Lot of People

28 May 2011 /

Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.

— Amy Poehler, Harvard commencement 2011
Watson and SpongeBob

Great advice from Amy Poehler, whoever she is. (A little research turns up the fact that she’s been in TV shows and movies with Tina Fey.)

Thank god my kid isn’t going to Harvard! Do you have any idea what it costs to send a kid to an Ivy League university?! After which you get as a commencement speaker, not Tina Fey — which would be merely terrible, because at least people have heard of her — but Tina Fey’s sidekick.

I’m reminded of the story of the SpongeBob and James D. Watson bobbleheads. SpongeBob has almost 23 million Likes on Facebook. Amy Poehler is giving commencement speeches at Harvard. James D. Watson is alive but unknown, not invited to commencements, and hardly anyone likes him on Facebook.

Lesson learned: If you want to be liked by a lot of people, provide them with juvenile escapism. Don’t bother accomplishing something like, say, winning a Nobel Prize for unlocking the secret of life itself, because — who cares?


Twitter: 2010-02-18

18 Feb 2010 /
Twitter
  • RT @capricecrane: So is this the Tiger Woods press conference where he decides who gets the final rose? #
  • Four Ways of Looking at Twitter – Harvard Business Review: http://bit.ly/9TTYFi #

Santayana: “I Told You So”

19 Feb 2007 /

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

— George Santayana
 

“Is that a fact?” she said. “Well–I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten.”

“Santayana was a famous philosopher at Harvard,” said Slazinger, a Harvard man.

And Mrs. Berman said, “Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard to be misinformed.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

Harvard Errs

11 Dec 2002 /

I was marveling at the Harvard University fact page14.6 million volumes! Established 1636! — when I noticed “10 principle academic units.” Egads! A grammatical error on the Harvard site!

I’d better send them an email . . .