Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dr. Boyce: Why Lil Jo Jo's Murder Angers Me So Much | Your Black World

"... What also breaks my heart is that our nation is unwilling to try to understand the socioeconomic conditions that lead to young men choosing to shoot each other down.  The list is a simple and persistent one, but most people would rather assume that we’re just a bunch of angry buffoons who enjoy seeing our brains splattered onto the street.  Here’s a short list of factors:

- Having one or both parents locked away in the prison industrial complex (aka modern day slavery by nearly any measure)

- Horribly weak educational systems and opportunities

- A skyrocketing black and teen unemployment rate that no one is paying attention to

- Having parents that might be hooked on drugs or unable to provide for their children

- The easy availability of guns that corporations would never dare to provide so readily in the suburbs

- The mass production of commercialized hip-hop music that systematically brainwashes young, misguided children to become hard core killers by the age of 14. ..."

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Business lessons: Why we love sports -

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brian Banks <>
Date: Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 3:18 PM
Subject: Business lessons: Why we love sports -,0,4245487.story

"... Looking for tips on teamwork and leadership? Bill Russell, the great Boston Celtics center and later coach, was a one-man leadership college. ESPN‘s Bill Simmons writes: “Russell believed, and still believes, that a basketball team only achieves its potential if everyone embraces their roles..."

Will all due respect to Michael Jordan, Kobe and LeBron; and Tiger---  Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player and athlete of all time. My dream team was the group of black athletes that met to support Muhammad Ali when he refused induction into Army. They include Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. See below


Northeast Ohio

Northeast Ohio
Northeast Ohio

Remembering Cleveland's Muhammad Ali Summit, 45 years later

Branson Wright, The Plain DealerBy Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer 
on June 03, 2012 at 6:00 AM, updated June 04, 2012 at 7:25 AM


AP Images

On June 4, 1967 at 105-15 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, a collection of some of the top black athletes in the country met with -- and eventually held a news conference in support of -- world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (front row, second from left), about Ali's refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967. • Mouse over the picture to put names with the famous faces and read details. Tip: Wait a moment for the page to finish building. Mobile-friendly version

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- On a sunny Sunday afternoon in early June 1967, several hundred Clevelanders crowded outside the offices of the Negro Industrial Economic union in lower University Circle. None of those gathered, including a collection of the top black athletes of that time, realized the significance of what would happen in that building on this day.

Muhammad Ali, the most polarizing figure in the country, was inside being grilled bythe likes of Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They weren't interested in whether Ali was going to take his talents to South Beach or any other sports labor issues.

They wanted to know just how strong Ali stood behind his convictions as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. The questions flew fast and furious. Ali's answers would determine whether Brown and the other athletes would throw their support behind the heavyweight champion, who would have his title stripped from him later in the month for his refusal to enter the military.

On June 4, 1967 at 105-15 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, a watershed moment occurred in the annals of both the civil rights movement and the protest against the Vietnam War. Every cultural force convulsing the nation came together – race, religion, politics, young vs. old, peace vs. war. This is the story about how such an extraordinary meeting developed. How it transpired in Cleveland. And of what that meeting means now, looking back through the lens of 45 years.

"When I look at the situation in Florida [the Trayvon Martin case] and when I look through all my adult life, there's always been a period where something happens that causes this country to struggle, be it racial or whatever," said former Green Bay standout Willie Davis. "I look back and see that Ali Summit as one of those events. I'm very proud that I participated."

The core of the summit was the NIEU, later named the Black Economic Union (BEU).

The organization was co-developed by Brown in 1966, a year after he retired from the NFL to become a full-time actor. The BEU served various communities across the country, mostly in economic development. The BEU also supported education and other social issues within the black community.

The BEU and this meeting with Ali stemmed from Brown's social consciousness. For the meeting with Ali, Brown brought together other socially conscious black athletes of the time. Besides Russell, Alcindor and Davis, there was Bobby Mitchell (Washington Redskins), Sid Williams (Browns), Jim Shorter (Redskins), Walter Beach (Browns), John Wooten (Browns), Curtis McClinton (Kansas City Chiefs) and attorney Carl Stokes.

"The principal for this meeting of course was Ali," McClinton said. "The principal of leadership for us was Jim Brown. Jim's championship leadership filtered to all of us."

The Sixties

Remembering the Summit

  • Michael Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University: “This recalls a time when Ali, not silenced by disease, was so vocal in his expression of outrage against injustice, not only against people of color in this society, but against people of color the world over. Even though these are all black men, supporting another black man, what they’re really supporting in the ultimate sense, is the solidarity of people of color around the globe.”

Related stories

The United States in the 1960s was ripe for political, social and cultural change. It was a time of upheaval, and re-awakening.

"The time dictated the passion in all of us," Brown said.

Forty-five years ago, the United States was in the midst of a civil rights movement. There was also an increase in protests against the Vietnam War. Malcolm X was killed in New York in 1965. Later that year, black football players refused to play in the AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans because of racism and discrimination in that city. The game was moved to Houston. In July 1966, riots erupted in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. Two major race riots erupted in Newark and Detroit during the summer of 1967. Opposition to the Vietnam War grew with protests on college campuses and in several major cities. And 10 months after the Ali Summit, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

In many ways, Cleveland was also the epicenter of black political and social progress. In November of '67, Stokes became the first black mayor of a major U.S. city when he was elected in Cleveland. The city became a destination for thousands of blacks who migrated from the South because of job opportunities. When it came to sports, the Browns were popular in the black community, mostly because of their history with black players, such as Marion Motley, Bill Willis and Brown.

"Black people were coming to Cleveland from all over the country to see what we were doing here politically and economically, because no other city was doing it like we were," said former BEU treasurer Arnold Pinkney, a longtime entrepreneur and political activist.

"Cleveland was a hotbed for black power, energy and Black Nationalism at this time," said Leonard N. Moore, University of Texas professor and author of the book, "Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power."

"In so many ways, it was fitting that the meeting happened on the East Side of Cleveland," he said.

A little over a month before the Cleveland gathering, Ali refused to step forward for induction into the U.S. Army in Houston. That set off a firestorm of criticism of the champ. Ali was also a member of the Nation of Islam, broadly seen as an anti-white cult, even in some circles within the black community.

Harry Edwards, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley, said there was so much consternation concerning the war and Ali that the fighter became symbolic of almost every rift in society.

"He was already regarded as a loud-mouth Negro while he was Cassius Clay," said Edwards, referring to Ali's birth name before his conversion to Islam. "When he joined the Nation of Islam, that exacerbated it even more."

Sociologist Harry Edwards on the summit.

Ali's stance helped ignite the rising level of anti-war sentiment.

"The anti-war movement really hit the headlines when Ali refused induction and made his statement about not having any quarrel with the Viet Cong," Edwards said. "And then to refuse to comply with the draft, that lined up all of those people who were on one side or the other of the Vietnam War."

Enter Jim Brown

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Why Taxes Have to Go Up -

"... To reduce the deficit in a weak economy, new taxes on high-income Americans are a matter of necessity and fairness; they are also a necessary precondition to what in time will have to be tax increases on the middle class. Contrary to Mr. Boehner’s “spending problem” claim, much of the deficit in the next 10 years can be chalked up to chronic revenue shortfalls from the Bush-era tax cuts, which were only partly undone in the fiscal-cliff deal earlier this year. (Wars and a recession also contributed.) It stands to reason that a deficit caused partly by inadequate revenue must be corrected in part by new taxes. And the only way to raise taxes now without harming the recovery is to impose them on high-income filers, for whom a tax increase is unlikely to cut into spending..."

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ex-Black Panther Head Elaine Brown Talks Gun Control, Obama

"The answer to the so-called violence in black Chicago, or Los Angeles or other urban areas, is the elimination of poverty. We have 70 percent black male unemployment in many communities, along with crumbling public schools and deteriorating housing. The shootings that riddle some of our communities do not represent a problem of guns. This is a problem arising from entrenched poverty and oppression."

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Lawrence Bobo: Obama and Black America: Racial Agenda Unnecessary

"The clearest evidence we have of what black America wants, ironically, is the 95 percent vote for Obama in 2012. As such, in this post-black moment, I want to suggest loudly and plainly that this includes the clear legitimacy of an African-American president whose core focus is on a universal, not race-specific, policy agenda. The strategy was articulated 25 years ago by eminent African-American sociologist William Julius Wilson in his pivotal work The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

You can't survive the gangs and streets of Chicago if you don't know the rules!

My ex's son, Sneed told me 20 years ago that the rule's had changed from when I was a teenager, 30+ years ago.  Thanks, Sneed. The gangbangers in the projects I grew up in (Altgeld Gardens)  gave me a pass because as the leader (Tyrone) said " Leave him alone. He is trying to do something with his self!" Thanks, Tyrone. I understood how much the rules changed when a tall kid who played basketball like I did, Benji Wilson was killed. 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: The Black Star Project, USA <>
Date: Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 9:19 AM
Subject: You can't survive the gangs and streets of Chicago if you don't know the rules!

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You can't survive the gangs and streets of Chicago if you don't know the rules! 

By Phillip Jackson

The Black Star Project

February 18, 2013


(This essay was greatly inspired by a radio documentary by Linda Lutton on WBEZ Radio in  Chicago.  Click Here and click on "Rules to Live By!")


With 513 people killed last year, do you know what it takes for a teenager to stay alive in Chicago?  Most adults in Chicago or anywhere in America don't have a clue.  Gangs are the defining social structure of too many Chicago schools and communities. There are no "neutrons" (youth who elect not to join gangs) anymore.  You cannot simply "opt-out" or reject gang membership or affiliation.  


If you live on that block, you are in that gang. If you travel with a small group for protection, you are in that gang.  If you want to have friends, you are in that gang.  If you want to play sports, you are in that gang. You are one of them. In previous years, adults could advise their children not to join gangs.  But today, many youth in Chicago don't have that option.  Today, youth don't join gangs--GANGS JOIN YOUTH!    


In certain communities and at certain schools, being in a gang is like breathing air and drinking water--it is second nature.  It is what you do to stay alive.  In these communities, gangs, and their influence, are everywhere.  You can't avoid them.  Being in a gang is part of your address and part of your existence.  "Where do you live?"  And the answer is, "Hit Squad, J-Town, Hoodville, Low Block, Terror Town, Wild Wild 'Hunneds' (One Hundreds)," and everybody knows exactly of where you speak.


You are assigned a gang, clique, set, fraction, crew or mob if you live on a particular block or in a particular neighborhood, or attend a particular school.  With this assignment, you can be shot for any reason-girls, money owed, insults, being off your block, historical retaliations, having the wrong friends-or for no reason at all.  Some Chicago youth live in warzones more violent than Iraq or Afghanistan.  For many, being in a gang has little or nothing to do with drugs or money: it has to do with staying alive!


Here are the rules for youth to stay alive in Chicago:  

  • Rule number one - Know your geography and who controls what block.
  • Rule number two - Never walk alone.
  • Rule number three - Never walk with someone.
  • Rule number four - Never walk on the sidewalk.
  • Rule number five - If they shoot, don't run.
  • Rule number six - You can be shot for no reason.
  • Rule number seven - Don't have any friends.
  • Rule number eight - Never go outside.   

No longer are there large, centrally-controlled gangs or charismatic gang leaders. Gangs in Chicago have devolved into small, fierce, well-armed fighting units that might only control one block, or half of that block, with schools and parks as preferred battlegrounds.  This new structure is similar to warlord-headed tribes in violence-torn Third-World countries


Young gang members, some 9 and 10 years old, don't like the police, are not afraid of the police and are not afraid to shoot the police. They are not afraid of being arrested and they are not afraid of dying.  Many of them have no hope of living past 18 years and have no vision of a productive future life. Without intervention, they are dangerous to society--but society created them!


Workable solutions to transform these endangered youth into thriving, developing, 21st-century global citizens depend foremost on strong family structures to govern the values and morals of children. And, this critical family infrastructure, in many communities, needs bolstering.  Workable solutions also call for light workers--the mentors who nurture, guide and direct children; the educators who teach children better ways to realize their full potential; the business leaders who help children navigate the new global ecology and economy; and the faith leaders who share spiritual values and life-lessons that inspire children.


Building critical family infrastructure and supporting these light workers will reduce youth violence, youth murders and youth-gang activity. Cities cannot police, arrest or incarcerate their way out of youth violence.  The only chance of success for stopping youth violence in Chicago and across this country will require three new operating rules from us: 1) Declare families and children struggling to survive in economically bankrupt communities as assets; 2) Implement strong, community-driven, partnerships between families, light workers and government; and 3) Invest in resource-rich, action initiatives designed to address the scale of need.


Unless we change our rules as a city and a country, the rules that govern our children will continue to destroy them!


Please click here to listen to one of the most outstanding radio documentaries on gangs and violence in the United States by Linda Lutton from radio station WBEZ in Chicago.

Where Are the

Black Tiger Mamas
Who will do anything to
protect and educate their children?


They are meeting on

Thursday, February 21, 2013
6:30 pm
at The Black Star Project 
3509 South King Drive, Suite 2B
Chicago, Illinois
With two young Black girls being shot dead in the streets of metropolitan Chicago in the past three weeks, with 108 youth killed last year, with schools destroying the minds of Black children, with drug dealing being the only viable job for many young Black men...Where are the Black Tiger Mamas?
  Real Tiger Moms will do anything to protect, nurture and educate their children.  Frances Newman is the Lead Black Tiger Mama and will lead the agenda on actions that Black Tiger Mamas can take to protect their children.

Please call 773.285.9600 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 773.285.9600 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting for more information about this meeting or The Black Star Project.

This email was sent to by |  
The Black Star Project | 3473 South King Drive, Box 464 | Chicago | IL | 60616

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Trice: In face-to-face with president, young men had nation's attention


When I sat down with 18-year-old seniors Vontate Stewart and James Adams at Hyde Park Academy on the day before their meeting with President Barack Obama, they were excited about the visit, but rather reserved.
Sure, they felt fortunate that as members of Becoming a Man — Sports Edition (BAM) they would be two of only 16 teenagers chosen to spend time with the president during his post-State of the Union stopover in Chicago to talk about gun violence.
But they were laid back about it. Totally cool.
Dawn Turner Trice

Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
6220 South Stony Island Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
That was on Thursday.
On Friday, after a roughly hourlong session during which the president shared stories about his own issues growing up, cool gave way to gushing.
"It was the most overwhelming and amazing experience of my life," said Stewart, who lives in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood and joined BAM last fall.
"He came in and sat down and took off his jacket," said Adams, who lives in Englewood and also joined the group last fall. "I was like, 'He's getting comfortable just to listen to us.'"
Said Corey Stevens, 17, a senior whom I met Friday: "When he walked in, he looked like every photograph my mother has of him in our living room. It felt like a dream."
Obama told the young men that he struggled as a teen but was in an environment that was a bit more forgiving.
"So when I screwed up, the consequences weren't as high as when kids on the South Side screw up," Obama later said during his speech. "So I had more of a safety net. But these guys are no different than me, and we had that conversation about what does it take to change."
In recent months, as the call for Obama to come to Chicago to address the gun violence grew louder, a lot of people (and I'll include myself) wondered whether a visit by the president could make a difference. But maybe we were too focused on the impact he'd have on the knuckleheads who are terrorizing neighborhoods.
Maybe we weren't thinking enough about these young men — who are college-bound and trying to improve their lives.
"I told President Obama that I pray every day and hope that I get to school safely and get back home safely," Stewart told me.
That's heartbreaking.
Even the school, which is my alma mater, speaks to their reality. To enter, they have to go through a set of metal detectors and push their book bags under scanners, just like at the airport. It wasn't like that when I was at Hyde Park in the early 1980s.
I believe one reason Obama's visit meant so much is that at the most fundamental level, people want to be heard and understood. Young people growing up in tough neighborhoods also want to be seen as much more than statistics or stereotypes.
BAM aims to help adolescent boys in Chicago public schools navigate the path to manhood. A therapeutic intervention program, it's designed to help young men develop positive character traits, respond to difficult situations in constructive ways and make better choices.
Through this program, these young men are introduced to impressive people who say inspiring things.
But on Friday, it wasn't just the message, but the messenger.
"When you can have an informal and candid conversation with the president of the United States and he tells you that he wishes he had grown up with his father, that makes a difference," said Marshaun Bacon, a BAM counselor.
I believe that.
While we all know that inspiration can be a terrific start, these young people need something far more concrete. I talked to Adams and Stewart about this the day before Obama's visit as we sat in the school's broadcast technology studio with about seven of their peers.
I asked them: What can Obama do about gun violence in Chicago?
Adams said he believed communities needed more safe places for young people to hang out during those critical after-school hours, between 4 and 8 p.m.
"But there should be more places with no strings attached," said Adams. "A lot of places now, you have to pay some type of fee or they want you to attend a movie night or you have to put in study time. Sometimes you just want to play basketball."
Stewart said that he doesn't believe it's possible to decrease the number of guns on the streets.
"If we can't get the guns off the streets, there are types of strategies that can change the way people handle conflicts," he said. "We need to work on those."
Who knows how Obama's visit will affect these young men in the long run. But I would guess that after talking face to face with the president — who Adams said was "much taller than I expected" — it's an experience they probably won't ever forget.

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Kass: Junior lacked discipline to make it in Chicago


John Kass
February 17, 2013

This being Chicago, where political dynasties have their hands kissed by journalism and commerce, expect the following about former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, the former 7th Ward alderman:

Lamentations for what might have been for the onetime "power couple," whose criminal charges were released Friday about the time another South Side politician arrived in Chicago from Washington.

Expect some media hand-wringing, and wailing and piteous cries, references to civil rights and racism conquered and the good fight against evil and the arc of the patriarch, the Rev. Jesse "King of Beers" Jackson, who wanted so much more for his son.


Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 333 Constitution Avenue Northwest #4400, Washington, DC 20001, USA
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If you want to read all that, go somewhere else.

Because this is not the place to weep for Junior and Sandi. They were African-American royalty in Chicago. They talked a good game from the lofty moral high ground. Yet they were revealed, allegedly, as two-bit chiselers.

For who but chiselers would talk loudly about the poor and the downtrodden and rail against a corrupt machine and then allegedly reach into campaign funds to pull out $750,000 to live large?

And now they will be remembered for ruining their reputations for stupid things, like that $4,000 guitar signed by Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson. And the mink capes and the other baubles and the kids' furniture and that $43,000 Rolex?

Jackson Jr., whom I affectionately call "Bud Light," was charged with conspiracy. His wife, who served as 7th Ward alderman even though she lived in Washington and ignored her ward, was charged with filing false tax returns.

What makes it all even more astounding is that years ago, after Jackson had barely escaped the Blagojevich affair — implicated in a scheme to buy the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama — Jackson allegedly kept grabbing campaign cash.

They're expected to plead guilty to the charges. And meanwhile, you should expect another act in the Jackson Family Circus. It's been going on for months now, months of selective leaks and playing dumb and media manipulation, ever since Jackson signed himself into the hospital for emotional problems, about the time the feds began crawling up those mink capes.

And not only mink capes. How about $10,105 for Bruce Lee memorabilia, and $26,700 spent on Michael Jackson stuff — like the King of Pop's fedora for only $4,600 — and on and on.

If some kid from the Roseland neighborhood, in Jackson's former congressional district, sticks up a corner store for a few hundred dollars, that kid could get up to 30 years in Stateville.

But Bud Light? Sandi?

They won't do that kind of time. They've finessed this thing. A stickup man steals from only one or two people. But if the charges are true, the Jacksons stole the trust of their voters. I can hear people in their district now, ridiculing them not for the specifics, but for the general stupidity and cheapness of it all. They're already saying the Jacksons threw it all away. And that's inexcusable to people who never had a thing.

So don't ask me to feel sorry for these two. They had advantages of name and position. They had the name of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But there are two things they didn't have: discipline and true Chicago cunning.

Discipline is vital in Chicago when it comes to amassing fortunes through noble public service. There are others in this town, members of the established Democratic political dynasties, who don't make stupid mistakes. They have their behinds routinely smooched, they're feared and praised, but they don't pilfer the campaign funds like some pirate seeing gold for the first time.

Instead, these guys learned how to do things right. And long before novelist Tom Wolfe cried "Insulate! Insulate! Insulate!" — explaining how the upper classes deal with urban life — the Irish-American patriarchs of Chicago were insulating like crazy.

They develop law practices; the fees are all written down, real legal-like.

A law degree is a license for politicians to drive fast in Chicago.

The Madigans are led by the most powerful man in Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Boss Madigan is a lawyer. He controls all legislation in the state. As state Democratic Party chairman, he elects the assessors and the judges. By complete coincidence, he's made a fortune in the tax reduction business. How? It's a Chicago thing.

But Madigan's daughter, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, is in line to be the next governor, applauded by even her father's critics as he shepherds her toward greater power. How? It's a Chicago thing.

Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, is a lawyer. He's worth millions. And the Daley boys — lawyers and insurance salesmen — have made fortunes, although it probably doesn't hurt to have a father and a brother running this town for half a century.

But Jackson? He has a law degree, but he never took the bar exam. Passing the bar takes discipline. It's more difficult than making a speech.

Obama was a practicing lawyer, making friends and money, even finding a real estate fairy of his own, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, now in federal prison.

Obama was in town Friday, on the South Side, talking to teens and parents about gun violence in Chicago while the charges against Jackson were released in Washington. Once upon a time Jackson Jr. had the buzz about him and Obama was on the periphery.

Things change.

Twitter @John_Kass

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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In praise of Obama's universal preschool proposal -

Professor: Why Teach For America can’t recruit in my classroom

" quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach For America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators.  It is with the leaders of the organization, which enjoys favor from the Obama administration, captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world.  TFA alumni have used this access to move rapidly into positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms.
The organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality.  No organization has been more complicit than TFA in the demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions, and no organization has provided more “shock troops” for education reform strategies which emphasize privatization and high-stakes standardized testing.  Michelle Rhee, a TFA alum, is the poster child for such policies, but she is hardly alone."

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Everyone Should Have the Right To Bear Mathematical Arms

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: William Massey
Date: Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 6:06 PM
Subject: Everyone Should Have the Right To Bear Mathematical Arms

Everyone Should Have the Right To Bear Mathematical Arms

By Edward Frenkel
Posted Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, at 2:14 PM ET

Don’t Let Economists and Politicians Hack Your Math

Of course kids need to learn algebra.

Imagine a world in which it is possible for an elite group of hackers to install a “backdoor” not on a personal computer but on the entire U.S. economy. Imagine that they can use it to cryptically raise taxes and slash social benefits at will. Such a scenario may sound far-fetched, but replace “backdoor” with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and you get a pretty accurate picture of how this arcane economics statistic has been used.

Tax brackets, Social Security, Medicare, and various indexed payments, together affecting tens of millions of Americans, are pegged to the CPI as a measure of inflation. The fiscal cliff deal that the White House and Congress reached a month ago was almost derailed by a proposal to change the formula for the CPI, which Matthew Yglesias characterized as “a sneaky plan to cut Social Security and raise taxes by changing how inflation is calculated.” That plan was scrapped at the last minute. But what most people don’t realize is that something similar had already happened in the past. A new book, The Physics of Wall Street by James Weatherall, tells that story: In 1996, five economists, known as the Boskin Commission, were tasked with saving the government $1 trillion. They observed that if the CPI were lowered by 1.1 percent, then a $1 trillion could indeed be saved over the coming decade. So what did they do? They proposed a way to alter the formula that would lower the CPI by exactly that amount!

This raises a question: Is economics being used as science or as after-the-fact justification, much like economic statistics were manipulated in the Soviet Union? More importantly, is anyone paying attention? Are we willing to give government agents a free hand to keep changing this all-important formula whenever it suits their political needs, simply because they think we won’t get the math?

Ironically, in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, social scientist Andrew Hacker suggested eliminating algebra from the school curriculum as an “onerous stumbling block,” and instead teaching students “how the Consumer Price Index is computed.” What seems to be completely lost on Hacker and authors of similar proposals is that the calculation of the CPI, as well as other evidence-based statistics, is in fact a difficult mathematical problem, which requires deep knowledge of all major branches of mathematics including … advanced algebra.

Whether we like it or not, calculating CPI necessarily involves some abstract, arcane body of math. If there were only one item being consumed, then we could easily measure inflation by dividing the unit price of this item today by the unit price a year ago. But if there are two or more items, then knowing their prices is not sufficient. We also need to know the levels of consumption today and a year ago; economists call these “baskets.” Of course, we can easily find a typical consumer’s expenditure today by multiplying today’s consumption levels by the current prices and adding them up. But to what number from a year ago should we compare it? If the consumption levels were static, we would compute last year’s expenditure by multiplying the same consumption levels by last year’s prices and adding them up. We would then be able to measure inflation by dividing this year’s expenditure by last year’s. But consumption tends to change—in part because our tastes change, but also in response to price variations. The inflation index must account for this, so we have to find a way to compare the baskets today and a year ago. This turns out to be a hard mathematical problem that has perplexed economists for more than a century and still hasn’t been completely solved. But even to begin talking about this problem, we need a language that would enable us to operate with symbolic quantities representing baskets and prices—and that’s the language of algebra!

In fact, we need much more than that. As Weatherall explains in his book, to implement a true cost-of-living index, one actually has to use the so-called “gauge theory.” This mathematics is at the foundation of a unified physical theory of three forces of nature: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. (Many Nobel Prizes have been awarded for the development of this unified theory; it was also used to predict the Higgs boson, the elusive elementary particle recently discovered at the Large Hadron Collider under Geneva.) The fact that gauge theory also underlies economics was a groundbreaking discovery made by the economist Pia Malaney and mathematical physicist Eric Weinstein around the time of the Boskin Commission. Malaney, who was at the time an economics Ph.D. student at Harvard, tried to convey the importance of this theory for the index problem to the Harvard professor Dale Jorgenson, one of the members of the Boskin Commission, but to no avail. In fact, Jorgenson responded by throwing her out of his office. Only recently, George Soros’ Institute for New Economic Thinking finally gave Malaney and Weinstein long overdue recognition and is supporting their research. But their work still remains largely ignored by economists.

So that’s where we find ourselves today: Politicians are still eager to exploit backdoor mathematical formulas for their political needs, economists are still willing to play along, and no one seems to care about finding a scientifically sound solution to the inflation index problem using adequate mathematics. And the public—well, very few people are paying attention. And if we follow Hacker’s prescriptions and further dumb down our math education, there won’t be anyone left to understand what’s happening behind closed doors.

Irrespective of one’s political orientation, one thing should be clear: In this brave new world, in which formulas and equations play a much bigger role than ever before, our ignorance of mathematics is being abused by the powers that be, and this will continue until we start taking math seriously for what it is: a powerful weapon that can be used for good and for ill.

Alas, instead of recognizing this new reality, we keep giving forum to paragons of mathematical illiteracy.

In his book, Weatherall made an admirable effort to start a serious conversation about the need for a new mathematical theory of the CPI. But guess who reviewed this book in the New York Review of Books? Andrew “we don’t need no algebra” Hacker! There is nothing wrong with healthy debate; it can only be encouraged. But something is wrong when an opinionated individual who has demonstrated total ignorance of a subject matter gets called on over and over again as an expert on that subject.

We have to break this vicious circle. As Richard Feynman eloquently said, “People who wish to analyze nature without using mathematics must settle for a reduced understanding.” Now is the time not to reduce math curriculum at schools, but to expand it, taking advantage of new tools in education: computers, iPads, the wider dissemination of knowledge through the Internet. Kids become computer literate much earlier these days, and they can now learn mathematical concepts faster and more efficiently than any previous generation. But they have to be pointed in the right direction by teachers who inspire them to think big. This can only be achieved if math is not treated as a chore and teachers are not forced to spend countless hours in preparation for standardized tests. Math professionals also have a role to play: Schools should invite them to help teachers unlock the infinite possibilities of mathematics to students, to show how a mathematical formula can be useful in the real world and also be elegant and beautiful, like a painting, a poem, or a piece of music.

Working together, we should implement the 21st century version of the Second Amendment: Everyone shall have the right to bear “mathematical arms”—to possess mathematical knowledge and tools needed to protect us from arbitrary decisions by the powerful few in the increasingly math-driven world. So that the next time someone wants to alter a formula that affects us all, we won’t be afraid to ask: “Wait a minute, what does this formula mean and why are you changing it?”

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

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