Monday, August 31, 2020

Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction

Sometimes the simplest way to get a bad behavior to stop is to simply ignore it. Children will often seek the "reward" of attention by misbehaving. They also realize that the behavior can help them gain other rewards in the process (such as a toy a sweet or some other desired object or activity.) Ignore it advocates a simple strategy: Ignore, Listen, Re-engage, Repair. 

Before starting, kids are instructed in the behavior. If they are asking for something, the final answer is given, and nothing is up for further debate. If they continue to wine or complain, the parent does not react at all. The child is simply ignored. Any response that the parent breaks the ignoring. Once the tantrum dies down, the parent continues other steps to build back up the relationship with the child.

There are times when ignoring should not be done. If there is danger of bodily harm, the parent should re-engage sooner. However, parents' definition of "bodily harm" can often be excessively broad today. In public, it is often best to remove everyone to a "private" space to have the tantrum so that the child can be "ignored" without unduly stressing the parent. The strategy is also valid for children with psychological challenges such as ADHD and autism. 

The author notes that many parents try the strategy and fail. Often that is because they do not fully ignore, but instead give some bits of attention (such as yelling at a kid to quiet down.) There is also a discussion on time outs. Those can be a tool to help provide separation and quiet down. However, they need to be done for the right amount of time. They should also be a time of "no attention". If a parent has to hold a child are repeatedly get them to go back, it is probably not good.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays

Wendell Berry provides insight into issues facing America from the perspective of an intellectual that is deeply connected to the land. The land is not something that is to be left in a "pristine" state to be admired. It is part of a larger ecosystem in which we live. Man must work with the land to provide sustenance. Sustainability is important on a global scale. 

Modern culture has sought to remove the intimate connection people have with the land. Rather than "husbandry", there is now "science". This implies that scientific control as we act on the land, rather than working with the land. This has resulted in massive increases in short term land productivity at the expense of long term sustainability. Science uncovers ways to mechanize and fertilize to increase productivity. Then science must work to find ways to fix the consequences that this damage has caused. These experiments are done on such a massive scale that the consequences are difficult to address.

Today we often have individual groups that attempt to address small aspects of the land degradation problem. Unfortunately, they are often narrowly focused and end up competing with each other. Some groups want pristine wilderness for recreation. Others want land to be used for cattle grazing. They end up fighting for chunks of the land for their purpose. A better solution would be to work together, keeping all the land open for both. If done right, the grazing can help restore and grow the land to make it a better experience for recreating. (Ironically, our national parks are often anything but pristine areas. They are often "protected", preventing some of the natural destruction and renewal from taking place.

Both the "center" and the periphery have their place in our society. We often see one pitted against the other, especially in our red vs. blue political dichotomy. However, it would be better to have "community" against absentee corporatism. The fast food chain on the freeway is just a blip on a corporate accounting book, while the local businesses in town are integrated in the community. The real effort should be to build up the local community with local resources, rather than to fight to see which foreign "savior" can fly in and provide local jobs in return for sucking up resources.

Religion and local knowledge also play important roles in our society. Individual farmers know their local land and have the generational experience to know how to best manage it for good. Religion can be a unifying force as well as provide a groundwork for positively relating towards other. (In one essay, Berry explores how he has worked through his understanding of Christianity.) Science, mechanism and technology can provide some benefit. However, we must look at the long term picture. We need to continue to work to increase our local connections to other people and the land.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

The Color of Law argues that racism was entrenched in US law, not just the result of natural separation of people. The argument starts out very strongly, but fades to less-supported arguments. It also does little to account for what role personal decisions did play. There seems to be an underlying assumption that black people would prefer to live in an integrated neighborhood if given a chance. However, how much is that true? There does seem to be a desire for homogeneity that needs to be accounted for also. The strongest argument relates to the government backed mortgages. The government would only guarantee mortgages if the home was in an all white neighborhood. These restrictions ended up locking Blacks out of housing opportunities. When they could find housing, the rates were often more expensive. This became even worse with the post-war housing boom. The government would allow builders to take the backing for a the entire development if they would meet the criteria. The only way the home builder could build up the subdivision was if it prohibited blacks. The rationale for prohibiting non-whites was circular. If non-whites were allowed, the property values would go down. However, these would go down because they could not get cheaper mortgages. (In reality they would often go up because there was now more competition.) 

Some real estate agents took advantage of the situation and engaged in "block busting". They would try to make it appear that a neighborhood was turning black. They would sometimes even engage in subterfuge, advertising properties for sale to blacks in order to attract people to the neighborhood. The existing white owners would sell out at a low price, and the brokers would flip the property to a black family at a higher price. 

Public housing was also initially restricted to whites only. Initially government money was primarily used to get housing developed quickly at market rates. Separate housing would be constructed for blacks. However, there would often be cases of vacancies in white housing while there were waiting lists in black housing. "Integrated" housing was often a code word for black-only housing. Eventually, the government was primarily building low-income housing projects that targeted black populations in poor, primarily black communities. The "remedies" to housing discrimination were a new form of segregation.
Attempts to "work around" race restrictions have also led to under-handed ways to prevent blacks in neighborhoods. These have often resulted in net damage to the society at large. Roadway construction was used as a way to eliminate vast swaths of minority or integrated housing. These communities almost never were restored. Localities enacted various zoning restrictions to keep poor minorities out. These restrictions often required excessive minimum lot sizes or segregated usages. This has resulted in less walkable communities and limited housing stocks. 

The book then explores various secondary ways in which the government has encouraged segregation. Some are a stretch. (The IRS did not remove tax deductions of churches where the pastor advocated segregation.) Others have scary parallels to today. There were many cases of the police turning a blind eye to outright hostility towards a black family moving in to a previously white neighborhood. (Today, police are encourage to turn a blind eye towards protestors occupying blocks in Seattle or getting a little violent protesting police brutality. Just like in the past, the "society" has determined that the "positive" goals of the extra-legal activities justify not enforcing the law.)

I do wish the author would have explored the economic and personal-choice aspects of housing segregation. He is attempting to refute the argument that segregation has resulted natural from individual choices by presenting the ways that government has encouraged segregation. However, he does little to explore what way other factors are involved. What would things look like today if there had been no restrictive covenants in the past? The author criticizes middle class black communities because they are not integrated. However, would we have more of those communities if not for government-encouraged segregation?  The author spends a lot of time discussing the battles for integration in Milpitas, California. Today, however, both black and white populations there are small minorities as the city has an overwhelming Asian majority. 

Remedies for past discrimination are a tricky thing that the author saves for another argument. The money lavished on subsidized housing appears to be an abject failure. It has only encouraged more segregation. School integration schemes also only touch the surface of the issue. (After all, schools are segregated because the community is segregated.) Should we really be targeting integrated communities? Would people prefer to live in a community that mirrors the larger metropolitan area or would they prefer an enclave of people "similar to themselves"?


Monday, August 24, 2020

The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True Story of America's Middle Class

Riches of This Land purports to tell the "true story" of the fall of the middle class. When the book debunks commonly held notion, it does a great job. However, when it is somewhat lacking when it purports to propose the "true explanations". The book observes that opportunities for non-college educated white men has fallen. They have taken to Trump's attacks on "others" - women, minorities, foreigners, etc. However, the author argues that the growth in job opportunities for women and minorities has helped lead to some of the greatest job booms and increase in pay for White Men. For this, he primarily relies on a single study. The explanation is that many people were not utilizing their skills to the greatest means possible. They were "held back" by their race or gender. When these barriers were removed, they were able to move into positions that they were better able to perform, and everyone did better. Alas, could it also be that there was such a demand for jobs that employers were forced to add more employees? And could be be ending up in sub-optimal positions due to pay. Plenty of people are working high paying jobs because they are high paying, even though their passion and skill may lie in other areas. Does this help society? Also, could gains due to new labor force participation be sustained? When women enter the labor force, some of their previous "homemaking" responsibilities move into the "economy", opening up new jobs. Once there is a general saturation that growth will no longer be there. 

America is often built upon the backs of newcomers. It is almost as if there is an institutional hazing. Some of these newcomers go through it and become part of the "white America". (Irish and Italians were once the lowest of low, but now are fairly indistinguishable from British.) Others, like Blacks were continually beat down, with even their meager gains retracted. 

The author also makes acknoweldges that relative perception is more important than raw economic position. The poor of today are much better off than the wealthy of a century ago. However, they still feel miserable due to their low relative position. Similarly, people with stagnating jobs feel bad because they see a lack of growth over their life. 

The author does propose a laundry list of solutions. However, the psychology of it makes things challenging. People need to feel they are moving up. They also want to feel better than "others". How do you manage both in a long-term sustainable way?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Small Message, Big Impact: The Elevator Speech Effect

The "three minute" elavator speech is a key to getting your foot in the door. It is meant to pique interest, not close the deal. For it to work, it most be authentic without being an information dump. It also must have an appropriate call to action. It should be ready for expected occassions (like networking events) as well as for spontaneous encounters. While it is obviously valuable for salesmen, everybody else can benefit from "selling themselves." Even introverted engineers need to do so.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Trap

The humans go out on a train ride to "civilization". Alas, they are really just going to be food for the vampire leader. Only a few survive. However, a few of these humans are the "origin" that have the cure for vampirism in their blood. They are extracted by the leader's advisor who is a human in disquise. He wants them to be a source of weapons to fight vampires. They are don't want to. However, the leader changes all that. He wants them to kill a vampire who knows about the human colony. This girl just happens to be "Ashley June" - the girl he knew that had recently turned into a vampire. They go through a bunch of adventures, have some narrow escapes, and turn help cause a large amount of human and vampire death. He solves his "love triangle". They then find out the truth about "duskers" and "heapers" and go to start their own new world. The end is an interesting twist. They also feel "morally obligated" to go through extensive effort to save many people. However, this all backfires, with everyone they try to save dying. However, the experiences do become useful as they create a world of their own.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

The Prey: The Hunt Trilogy

Prey is the second book int he Hunt trilogy. Vampires dominate the world. A few humans escape the vampire world, and set sail to freedom. They eventually find some instructions and find other humans. (It turns out they are part of a "plan" with multiple redundancies.) The humans have their own little society. They say they are guarding the frontier. However, it seems they are operating their own little sex cult. It turns out there is no "outer world", but they are just breading humans for the vampires to eat. Alas, vampires catch on and chase them down. We also get a little love traingle between a human that has turned into a vampire and a couple humans. The humans also just happen to be part of the "cure" for vampirism. However, they don't find out how until the very end. The book is an interesting twist on the vampire storyline. However, the narration on the audiobook doesn't quite seem to do the story justice.

Geek Sublime

Geek Sublime starts with great potential. The author details his experience at the intersection of the literary and computer world. Writing computer code can be similar to writing literary works. There are good writers and bad writers. Early on, coding was a "female" profession. It was considered to be similar to typing up a memo that was dictated by the male boss. The algorithm created by the "guy" was important. Coding it into the computer was simple. However, it soon became clear that coding computers is a skill and an art form of its own write. There is also a great thrill in getting a computer to do things. 

Computer programmers can also be a difficult to work with bunch. Even in open source communities that depend on working together, there can be plenty of battles. Programmers will often look down on others that use "higher level" languages that allow them to more easily do things. However, today almost everyone uses differing degrees of abstraction from machines. Even low level assembly language has taken us a few levels above the electrical switches that are operating on microchips.

The also spends time exploring differing cultural attitudes, especially with regards to India and the United States. In India, engineers and computer programmers are highly respected. Males and females both enter the field. In America, it tends to be dominated by Geeky males. 

Finally, the book takes a detour into Indian cultural and religious views. This part strayed from the original theses and lost me. Bits on Sanskrit were somewhat interesting, though seemed a little out of place. However, bits on Tantra seemed even more out of place. Perhaps a nice readers digest version could focus on the good parts without drifting too far.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge : A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

If you look hard enough you can find anything you want. In food of the gods, the author finds hallucinogenic mushrooms are the key point to the evolution of men. Hallucinogens are also a key component of a female-based partnership society. (Thus they are condemned by domineering, male-based society.) He sees the drugs as an important step that helped humans to progress from being "mere apes" to the higher intelligence they have today. Some cultures in the Amazon are able to hold on this "shaman" culture. He is enamored with the drug induced states and would love for society to have a greater respect for plants and psychoactive states they can provide.
He criticizes the drug policy of today for not performing more research into positive uses of drugs. This does seem to be a valid concern. However, he takes it further. Much further. For him drug policy is a means by which the male "dominate" group can assert their dominance over the female partnership society. Drug policy is how those in power stay in power. They pick drugs that they like and restrict other drugs so that they can get a cut of the revenue from them. 

His theories (such as "stoned ape" evolution do tend to be extreme. However, when the book does venture away from theory, it has some interesting content. A section describes the "drug history" of the world. The new world had a lot more available drugs than the old world. Some drugs like alcohol and tobacco assumed a regular place in civilized society. Others, including marijuana and heroine were shunned. Others, such as coffee, chocolate and sugar are not even considered to be drugs, yet they have significant psychoactive impact on humans. It is an interesting read that tries to make sense of the way that drugs have evolved to be placed in different buckets in our culture. It almost makes up for the extremeness of the general theories of hallucinogenics being the source of most human advancement.