My political views

This is Pew’s political typology quiz. Online talk of politics is often just hinted at, I thought it would be fun to get explicit. I took the quiz, and below are my responses.

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Top response, with low confidence. I really have no deep understanding of how national debt works but I feel the government should do more to help needy Americans. I don’t know where the money should come from. Everything has unintended consequences.

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Can I say both? No? I think about the subway system here in NYC. I read a ton of articles about how much of a mess the MTA is, but at the end of the day it’s a pretty remarkable system. And public schooling is part of the government, and thinking of that definitely makes me think that “both” is the right response. I guess the second, with low confidence.

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Is there really no way to skip questions on this quiz? I don’t know anything about this. I chose the top response just to shake things up.

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Top response, high confidence. Put it like this: slavery is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days.

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Top response, medium confidence. I think it really depends on the industry and the kind of regulation, though. I’m glad there’s government regulation of over drugs but I think there must be a better way to do it and might be doing more harm than good at the moment.

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Top response, high confidence.

Brief aside: What does it mean to be ‘accepted by society’? To me that means you should never receive hate or discrimination for being who you are.

My sense is that for other people ‘accepted by society’ means ‘it should become invisible to society, not even abnormal.’ That’s something that I don’t hope for, and mostly this is because I’m a religious Jew who wears a yarmulke in public and I carry my differences with me wherever I go. I don’t think being or feeling different is a bad thing, and I don’t think it should be a bad thing. In fact! In fact the idea that everybody deserves to feel not different is an oppressive majoritarian idea. Moving on.

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Most? Most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit. I think there are some industries that should be taxed more significantly because they do not serve the public interest. I’m mostly thinking of certain parts of the financial industry.

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No clue. It depends on the laws and regulations, I guess. You can’t pass, so I’m going to go with the less-liberal option just to keep things interesting. Certainly it’s sometimes true that stricter environmental laws don’t really help anybody.

By the way, part of my response here is that none of the environmental laws will actually be strong enough to impact climate change. If presented with a government program that could convincingly impact climate change I would absolutely hurt the economy and sacrifice jobs.

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I chose the top one with high confidence, because I’m a good old-fashioned coastal elite and nearly all economists are pro-immigration in the US.

But even if I did think that immigrants were a burden on our country (I guess I’m willing to believe that) I would still be opposed to using cruel methods to expel people from the country. Those two things don’t have to go together.

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I really don’t know what to do with this choice. The first is just mean and wrong. Poor people don’t have it easy even if they get benefits. I also don’t know if the government is the main reason why poor people have hard lives. Also being poor doesn’t mean you have a “hard life.”

I went with the second because I took this to be asking “should poor people get more or less government money on the margins” and I think more.

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I vote the second option, with medium confidence. (Though: what even is fair, man?)

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In a TV interview Malcolm X once said the following:

If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.

I think there’s probably no better year to be a black person in the United States than 2019, and also that’s not saying much. I’m pretty optimistic that things will continue to get better for black people in our country but part of that calculation is taking into consideration continued outrage about police beatings and killings.

Second option, high confidence.

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Oh god, I don’t know. The first, I guess.

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The second option, high confidence. Though it really does depend on what “success” means.

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I think this is another “both” situation for me.

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I really have very few opinions about foreign policy. and all of them are weakly held.

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I like voting and I live in NYC, so I’m a registered Democrat. I don’t strongly identify with the party.

Apparently this all makes me an Opportunity Democrat? That’s what Pew tells me, at least.


A weird idea: would you like to go off twitter and turn on blogs with me for a few months?

I miss blogs, and while I’m peace with being very much on Twitter given the state of things, I know that I prefer the quieter, slower version of the internet where I have more control over what I see.

Here’s an idea that I’ve wanted to try for some time: do you want to spend several months blogging with me? The only rule is that you’d have to sign off social media entirely.

Here is what I think it would take for this to really work:

  • auto-posting to your social media feed would be OK
  • comments would have to be open to anyone in the group
  • we would need a group of bloggers with similar(ish) interests
  • we would need a group of at least 10, ideally closer to 20
  • agreeing on the length of the experiment
  • you’re allowed (but not required) to have an anonymous blog

I doubt very much if there are many of us out there who would be eager to turn off Twitter and replace it with blogs. And I very much don’t have the energy to be an agitator for this at the moment, but I think about it frequently.

The opening chapter of the novel RED PLENTY is all about mathematical abstraction

RED PLENTY by Francis Spufford was so good. A great deal of the novel is about the frustrated attempt by Soviet economists and mathematicians to reform the Russian economy.

The book opens on Leonid Vitalevich, about to discover linear programming:

Today he had a request from the Plywood Trust of Leningrad. “Would the comrade professor, etc. etc. grateful for any insight, etc. etc., assurance of cordial greetings, etc. etc.’ It was a work-assignment problem. The Plywood Trust produced umpteen different types of plywood using umpteen different machines, and they wanted to know how to direct their limited stock of raw materials to the different machines so as to get the best use out of it. Leonid Vitalevich had never been to the plywood factory, but he could picture it. It would be like all the other enterprises which had sprung up around the city over the last few years, multiplying like mushrooms after rain, putting chimnies at the end of streets, filing the air with smuts and the river with eddies of chemical dye…

To be honest, he couldn’t quite see what the machines were doing. He had only a vague idea of how plywood was actually manufactured. It somehow involved glue and sawdust, that was all he knew. It didn’t matter: for his purposes , he only needed to think of the machines as abstract propositions, each one effectively an equation in solid form, and immediately he read the letter he understood that the Plywood Trust, in its mathematical innocence, had sent him a classic example of a system of equations that was impossible to solve. There was a reason why factories around the world, capitalist or socialist, didn’t have a handy formula for these situations. It wasn’t just an oversight, something people hadn’t got around to yet. The quick way to deal with the Plywood Trust’s enquiry would have been to write a polite note explaining that the management had just requested the mathematical equivalent of a flying carpet or a genie in a bottle.

But he hadn’t written that note. Instead, casually at first, and then with sudden excitement, with the certainly that the hard light of genesis was shining in his head, brief, inexplicable, not to be resisted or questioned while it lasted, he had started to think. He had thought about ways to distinguish between better answers and worse answers to questions which had no right answer. He had seen a method which could do what the detective work of conventional algebra could not, in situations like the one the Plywood Trust described, and would trick impossibility into disclosing useful knowledge. The method depending on measuring each machine’s output of one plywood in terms of all the other plywoods it could have made. But again, he had no sense of plywood as a scractchy concrete stuff. That had faded into nothing, leaving only the pure pattern of the situation, of all situations in which you had to choose one action over another action. Time passed. The genesis light blinked off. It seemed to be night outside his office window. The grey blur of the winter daylight had vanished. The family would be worrying about him, starting to wonder if he had vanished too. He should go home. But he groped for his pen and began to write, fixing in extended, patient form – as patient as he could manage – what’d come to him first unseparated into stages, still fused into one intricate understanding, as if all its necessary component pieces were faces and angles of one complex polyhedron he’d been permitted to gaze at, while the light lasted; the amazing, ungentle light. He got down the basics, surprised to find as he drove the blue ink onward how rough and incomplete they seemed to be, spelt out, and what a lot of work remained.

It’s the optimism generated by ideas like these that are the true subject of the book, which is the story of the rise and fall of this optimism. The book points out that in a society governed by engineers it was mathematicians and abstract theoreticians that were the main sources of cultural idealism. (In contrast to a place like the US, he says, where lawyers rule the land and writers and artists are the main source of social idealism.)

If you know what happened to the Soviet economy you know the end of this story. The entire book presents itself as a kind of mathematical tragedy, the destruction of the idea of utopian abundance in a planned economy.

An extremely brief summary of what I’ve learned about math anxiety and timed tests over the past few days

  • There are many studies that find math anxiety impacts how well a kid does in math. This includes performance on timed tests.
  • There are pretty much no studies that attempt to find evidence that timed tests contribute to math anxiety. (See this thread for the full conversation.)
  • There are a handful of studies (two that I saw) that surveyed teacher candidates and basically asked them what makes them anxious about math. Along with some other things like word problems, timed tests are implicated.

  • A few people made the argument that “timed tests cause math anxiety” is an untestable hypothesis because it’s unethical. A few researchers chimed in: not untestable in practice, with caveats. (Researchers love caveats.)

  • A few people wanted to know where the evidence was that timed tests don’t cause math anxiety. But that would necessarily involve the same sorts of studies that don’t yet exist; the studies that find a causal connection are precisely the ones that would be useful for showing there is no connection. Anyway, I wasn’t saying either of those things. I don’t have an opinion about the relationship between timed tests and math anxiety.
  • Well, OK, I have a few opinions.
  • A lot of people told me stories about the stress caused by timed tests. I hear you! Research isn’t the only thing that matters. We should keep telling our stories — about our children, experiences as students, what we’ve learned as teachers. True, it would be wise to hold off on the biggest and strongest proclamations (“WE KNOW THAT TIMED TESTS CAUSE MATH ANXIETY”) but just because something hasn’t been validated by research doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
  • But I’m suspicious of much of what YouCubed produces precisely because they present everything as a research result, an absolute law of Brain Science. When you look closer, the research results aren’t there — which isn’t to say that I, Michael Pershan, know that timed tests don’t contribute to math anxiety. Just that there’s a difference between what one thinks and what the research says.