Teamwork Or Rugged Individualism

Part of growing up, or maturing, is being able to function on your own, meaning you need to make plans and take individual actions to solve problems as they arise, and then take the necessary follow-up to make sure those actions were effective. Some people never get this far, and others never get past this point. There is a limit to how much one person can achieve, however.

As a member of society, the next logical step would be learning how to work with others – certainly not a trivial skill, but one that gives you the power to solve bigger problems, benefitting not just you, but your whole community. This too, as I’ve already implied, is a normal part of the maturation process; if you live in contact with others, as most of us do, this step is not optional.

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And if you can’t handle the team approach, I don’t even think you should consider having kids. “It takes a village . . .” after all.

So the title of this article, although written just as this question is usually presented, is deceptive.

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This is not the first discussion on this blog to address situations involving the misunderstanding of an ‘or’ statementexample. I have plans to discuss this further in a companion blog to The Problem With The ‘If’ Statement.  Although it is pretty high on my topic list, I can’t say how soon it will be ready.
These are not opposing means to handle any task, but both need to be an integral part of your arsenal. You could look at them as two gears in your vehicle to success. Individualism is first gear; teamwork is second gear. People complain that their upper gears are hard to maintain (“It’s too hard to get good help”, “It would be easier to do it myself than train someone else to do it”, . . .) and thus not worth the effort. It is true that the more moving parts, the more likely to break down, but it is just as likely that it is your first gear that will fail you. And even if it’s not, I’ve actually had a real car that couldn’t get out of first gear, and even though the repair facility was reasonably close, it took me forever to get there. Driving around in a car with only one gear is NOT an option unless you have really low expectations in life. So why didn’t I just call a tow truck? Oh, so now you’re arguing in favor of the team approach.

Was Trump’s ‘Shithole Country’ Remark Really Racially Motivated

Are YOU A Racist?

Is President Trump really a racist?  Well, of course he is!

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Martin Luther King’s nephew suggested Mr. Trump wasn’t a ‘traditional’ racist, he was just clueless (I’m paraphrasing)A. I agree that Mr. Trump is clueless, but that doesn’t mean he’s not racist. I think there are plenty of Trump tweets to suggest he is both.
  But was his racism the underlying motivation for those infamous ‘Shithole’ remarks? If the only commonality that you noticed among the countries he referred to in his comments was the color of the inhabitant’s skin, then maybe you are a racist. I’m not sure people who live in a world with only one bipolar dimension, and who can only see life in terms of one characteristic, can go too long without becoming some sort of bigot. Whether it’s skin color, or sex, or nationality, you soon begin to define your neighbors as either “us” or “them’, depending on whether their single variable matches yours, and from there you have an easy scapegoat for all of your problems and it is all downhill from there.  In this case, it is a pity you didn’t notice any other differences. The one that popped out at me was the average income level in these countries. I think Trump noticed that too. In Trump’s mind, the plaque at the statue of liberty should probably go something like this:

“. . . Keep Give me, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” Cries she with silent lips. Send your top one percent. Give me Keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . .”

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See the original poem, “The New Colossus”, and its history at Wikipedia.

Based on his behavior, speeches, and accomplishments as President, it seems to me that Donald Trump is primarily class conscious.  Maybe race (and sex and religion and nationality) are only being invoked to give the lower classes cause to fight among themselves and thus distract them from his true agenda.

So?

What difference does any of this make?  If it is only a race issue, people might think it only adversely affects 13% of America, and the white folk can sit back and say “better them than me”.  But if it is NOT about race, it negatively impacts 99% of us – sorry, but that includes you.

How To Tell

So which theory better matches reality?  One easy way to tell is to find people who fit in one group (blacks) and not the other (poor); in other words look for rich blacks or poor whites, and see how Trump feels about them.  In praising dictators, Trump seems to be an equal opportunity kind of guyA. Would he have aided Jean-Claude  “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti if given a chance? On the other hand, he does seem to have an affinity for white supremacists even if few of the activists fall in his favorite one percent.

What To Do

The jury may still be out on the ‘shithole’ motivation question.  First, as your math teacher would have told you, never just grab the first ‘obvious’ answer (just as buyers and negotiators should never jump at the first offer).  Carry both theories in mind, and as new information becomes available, test it against both ideas until one of them can be clearly eliminated.  Implicit in this plan is the assumption that your news sources are diverse enough to give you access to plenty of information that would support either theory (if it exists).  If that’s not the case, diversify your sources now, or feel your grip on reality slip away.

The Sag Awards And Political Correctness

WARNING: NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT!!

Am I the only one who, upon hearing that the SAG awards will be using only female presentersA, wondered if this is some sort of sick joke? Am I the only one to wonder what type of sag awards – awarded to image-conscious, well-paid Hollywood residents – we might see? “Best Boob Job”, perhaps? “Most Facelifts In A Single Year”? “Most Radical Tummy Tuck”? Who will receive the lifetime achievement award – I’m not sure I even want to see those before-and-after shots.

To be fair, S.A.G. actually stands for Screen Actors Guild, and any resemblance of their acronymD to any real word in the English language, or any other language, is purely coincidental. Still, wouldn’t any of the other meaningless events of self-promotion in Hollywood this season be a more appropriate venue for this gesture? Is it too late for the Oscars, or would that still be too far above a woman’s station in life? I see that after the Harvey Weinstein incidentA, companies like E! (and NBC, and Comcast)A are quick to redraw the lines of acceptable behavior in Hollywood (and thus the rest of the country). For those having trouble keeping up, it is now totally unacceptable (for anyone short of President of the United States) to actually squeeze a woman’s breast or buttocks in public, or even pretend to squeeze in a fashion undetectable by the victimA, as Al Franken can attest.

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Although I am referring to the simulated groping photo, other allegations of improper behavior later surfacedA, leading to Mr. Franken’s resignation. Debate ensued about whether his level of disrespect rivaled the level exhibited by the President and a well-known Republican Senate CandidateE in Alabama at the time. Opinions expressed about the severity of his offenses crudely correlated with party affiliation.

All other forms of abuse or discrimination, whether verbal, or emotional, or social, or professional, or even financial, are still perfectly fine. As Oprah Winfrey pointed out the other night, “A new day is on the horizon”video. But as everyone who ever traveled west discovered some time after they first saw the Rocky Mountains begin to rise above the fruited plains, we still have a lot of hard miles before we can enjoy the view from those lofty peaks. Keep moving!

Please Help! The Special Theory Of Relativity Is Haunting (or is it Taunting) Me!

A long time ago (when I was in the sixth or seventh grade) in a galaxy far, far away (namely Southern California), I was introduced to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity by way of a story about two astronauts on different spacecraft watching a bouncing-light-beam clock, and I was really impressed. But as I was chewing my cud (See definitions of “ruminate”) as I was wont to do, and walked home from school, it didn’t seem to make as much sense upon further review. I developed some questions but didn’t know where to get answers, and as life pressed on my attention wandered elsewhere, and everyone lived happily ever after. . .

Until recently. In the last year, the subject has come up several times, the questions seem to be the same, and I still don’t know where to turn.

The Story

Although not exactly as I remember it, www.dummies.com1 describes a similar thought experiment in the second section, “UNIFYING SPACE AND TIME”, with a spacecraft traveling at ½ the speed of light, but doesn’t give much explanation. A more detailed explanation can be found in The Star Garden2.

The Problem

“Time Dilation”, Section 7.2.2 of Reference 2 concludes

“The time between heartbeats is also slower, and so from the perspective of a stationary person, a moving person appears to be living their life at a slower rate. Conversely, from the perspective of the moving person, the stationary person seems to live their life as if it is being fast-forwarded. If they travel fast enough, then they could see the stationary person age before their eyes.”

My problem with that conclusion is that based on the second paragraph of Section 7.1 at the beginning the article, which states

“there’s no such thing as absolute speed or velocity, and something can only be said to be moving at a constant velocity relative to something else. In the same way, something can only be said to be stationary relative to something else”,

how do we really know which astronaut is supposed to be aging before our eyes? What if we put a bouncing-light clock on each spacecraft? Would it explode?

The authors of Reference 2 seem to address this issue at the bottom of the next section, 7.2.3, where they say

The twin paradox

The twin paradox asks why the astronaut can consider themselves to be moving and the Earth to be stationary, when Galileo’s relativity shows that there’s no such thing as absolute velocity. Why can’t the astronaut consider themselves to be stationary while the Earth moves away at tremendous speeds?

The answer is acceleration. Galileo’s relativity applies to inertial – that is non-accelerating – reference frames. The fact that the astronaut must have accelerated before getting to such high speed means that they know they are the one that is moving.”

To me, this sounds bogus; any acceleration before or after the experiment should be immaterial. Let’s have three observers; one person remains on Earth while two astronauts board different spacecraft, each leaving the Earth in opposite directions and reaching similar stable speeds well in excess of ½ the speed of light (meaning their relative speed would exceed the speed of light in a non-relativistic world). Each of the observers has their own bouncing-light clock. If you start counting after their speed stabilizes, exactly how do each of the three observers see the ages change for the other two?

One Last Question

A question that one might ask in each of these scenarios is “how does the state of the bouncing light in one spacecraft become known to the other observers?” Reference 1 states that Amber, on a different spacecraft, would see the bouncing light travel further between bounces, as if Amber had super X-ray vision and/or was otherwise experiencing the light beam in real time. How does that work? If she had to wait for reflected light rays from the event to reach her eyes, would that affect the apparent outcome in any way?

One phenomenon that may or may not have anything to do with the solution to this problem involves ocean waves. In deep water, a wave’s speed is nearly proportional to the square root of its wavelengthA,

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S \cong 1.251 \sqrt{W}

where S is the wave’s speed (measured in meters per second) and W is its wavelength (in meters).
For shallow water waves, the speed is proportional to the square root of the depth.

S \cong 3.1 \sqrt{d}

where d is the water’s depth (in meters).

but in all cases, it is much less than the speed of light. If an observer were to watch the crest of a wave as it moved along a seawall, or along any imaginary line that wasn’t along the wave’s direction of travel (directly away from a point source, or in the direction of the wind, or perpendicular to the wavefront, etc.), then the apparent speed would be greater than the calculated or expected speed, and as the angle of that reference line approached 90° to the direction of travel, the apparent speed would approach infinity.
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A = \frac{S}{\cos \theta}

where A is the apparent speed, S is the expected speed, and θ is the angle between the reference line and the direction of travel.

which is well above the speed of light. As far as I know, this has no implications or gives no reason for hope for wannabe time travelers.

In Summary

So now you see my dilemma. To repeat the title plea, please help me understand. A crucial early step in solving any problem may be asking the right questions. Finding those should be as important, and in some cases may be as difficult as answering them. So let’s get started. Thank you for your help. If I do figure it out without your help, I’ll let you know.

Another Look At The Electoral College

Earlier this summer, I overheard a Florida man trying to explain why the electoral college was so important.  His main argument was the defense-of-small-states argument I mentioned in My Last Thoughts On Our Last Election. Since the election, I have heard (and readA1,A2) a number of Republicans, using similar arguments, try to justify an institution that even Mr. Trump bad-mouthed before he won the electionA.  For the most part, I thought their arguments were contrived and even deceptive.

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For example, Reference A1 argues that slavery had nothing to do with the establishment of the electoral college because:

  1. slaves only counted as 3/5 as much as a free white voter (even though slaves didn’t vote), and
  2. the electoral college gave Abraham Lincoln victory in the 1860 election even though he only had 39% of the popular vote.

If slavery were not an issue, there would be no need to count slaves at all (even at a discount). And while the second argument makes it sound like somebody else would have become President (presumably the one who had the majority of the popular vote) if it were not for the electoral college, there were four candidates that year and Lincoln had 35% more votes than his nearest competitorA. Reference A2, after some discussion, claims that “Unneeded tinkering with a process that is over two centuries old could destabilize one of the steadiest political systems in the world.” Earlier in their article, they had reported that the popular vote differed from the electoral vote only four times (and once more since their article was published). The question that comes to my mind is “which of those five losing candidates would have sent us spiraling toward Hell?”

What Our Forefathers Were Thinking

There were two concerns discussed during the establishment of the electoral college.   Foremost, many of our founders didn’t trust the public to be immune from manipulation.  It was Alexander Hamilton who argued that it was “desirable” that “the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” (see A2 again).  Second, the small states were worried about being considered relevant. The debate about state power vs. individual rights raged during the framing of the constitution. To have all states equally represented in one house of Congress while the number of delegates of the other house is based on state population was a compromise solution to that issue. That compromise further implemented itself in the electoral collegeA. Some have discounted the significance of the big state vs. small state battle. One example of this is Time, but in their article, Time goes on to argue that the specific reason smaller states needed protection from larger states (in the same way minorities need protection from the majority) was to preserve slavery.  Next, we will take a closer look at each of these arguments.

Can The Elites Protect Us From Democracy?

You don’t have to be an elitist to be concerned about our education system (see my blog post The Real Reason Teachers Are So Important), and old people have openly been questioning the fitness of their progeny to relieve them at the helm for generations.  This last election did nothing to assuage my concerns about the dumbing down of America, so I can appreciate our forefathers’ concerns.  The problem is that history has shown that their proposed solution won’t work.  It turns out those elites are part of the same world and subject to the same influences as the rest of us (who knew?).  But it is more than that – there has been sabotage.  An article (Don’t look to the Electoral College to upend Trump victory) by AP News discusses why we can’t depend on the electoral college to bail us out (they are bound by state law, duty, history, and party loyalty to rubber-stamp their state’s results). As the article mentions, some states have passed laws requiring the college to follow the popular vote. Doesn’t that alone negate this whole argument? Another thing states have done, which would tend to increase the likelihood of the electoral college differing from the popular vote, but not in any positive way, is go to the all-or-nothing planA (better known as the unit rule) because they wanted the extra attention or power their fifteen minutes of fame for the bigger prize would get them. I discuss other impediments to electoral fairness and possible solutions in another blog post, Two Political Parties Are Not Enough.

What Do Small States Know That We Don’t?

When it is said that the electoral college favors small states, do you have any idea what that really means?  Below is a table showing the influence of a voter in our least populated state (Wyoming) compared to other states by showing how many voters it would take in that state to have the same impact on the electoral college as one voter in Wyoming.  It’s not pretty.

Table Showing Number of Voters in Each State For Each Electoral College Vote

Much has been said about the need to protect the interests of rural farmers from the big industrial states. Reference A2 stated “Farmers in Iowa may have very different concerns than bankers in New York.” I will ignore that invitation to argue which among us chose the more noble profession, and instead refer you to the first column in the above table about the electoral college. In that table, the states are listed in decreasing order of how many voters are represented by one electoral vote, but as you can see in Column 2, the more populous states gravitate to the top of the list. Column 1 shows each state’s ranking based on the number of dollars brought in by agriculture (I got lazy and quit after the top 25.  Each of the other 25 represents less than two percent of total U.S. agriculture).  The two highest agricultural states are also the states with the highest populations and are already the states with the largest number of electoral votes.  They don’t need protecting.  And whether we are protecting slaves or sheep, does one voter anywhere deserve almost four times as many votes as another?  What happened to the “one person, one vote” idea?  Should my vote be discounted just because I can wave to my neighbor from my front porch?

Let me put a little counter-spin on this argument.  If you were alone on a desert island, pretty much any form of government would work for you.  Is living in Wyoming any different? For background, about half of the land in Wyoming is public property. According to Wikipedia, their economy is dominated by mineral extraction, followed by travel and tourism. They say agriculture is also important, but the state ranks 38th in that areaA, contributing less than 1/2 percent of the U.S. total. 78% of that agriculture is beef, with the rest hay, sugar beets, wheat and barley, and wool. About 85% of the people in Wyoming are non-Latin white, 10% are Hispanic white, under 3% are Native American, and a little over 1% are black. They are not big on diversity. For religion, the statistics I read were not entirely consistent, but around 90% of those with a religious affiliation consider themselves Christian, with Protestants the most common, followed by either Mormons or Catholics. One percent are Jewish. Muslims weren’t mentioned. Politically, 67% are Republican, 18% Democrats, and 14% have no political affiliation. They haven’t voted for a Democrat for President since 1964. I get the idea that if you live in Wyoming (with a half million of your best clones), your nearest neighbor is five miles away, and when you do see each other, you don’t waste a lot of time in debates.  I can understand why you may not think you even need a government.  And if I had any question about how to make the most effective government, or what is the proper role of government, or even what’s the best way to get along with my diverse neighbors, I definitely would not come to you.  I would ask someone from New York or California.  Everyone knows that living in groups is more demanding than living alone (I read somewhere that the reason humans evolved larger brains is not to better solve calculus or advanced physics problems, but to better keep track of group relationships).

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Mathematically, the number of relationships grows much faster than the number of people in a group. Let’s say your universe consists of the high school gym, and relationships can be represented by handshakes (why not keep things simple) as the gym fills on a Friday evening. You are the first one in. There are no handshakes. Just stand there and try not to look silly. As the next person enters, you shake hands. As the third person enters, you shake and the second person shakes with the newcomer. That makes three handshakes so far. Here is a small table to keep track:

People in room 1 2 3 4 5 . . . 10 . . . 100 . . .
Total handshakes 0 1 3 6 10 . . . 45 . . . 4,950 . . .

There is a simple equation to describe this, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader, but the number of possible relationships increases roughly in proportion to the square of the number of people in the room.  Relationships can get complicated.

  But you just couldn’t handle the heat.  Why do you really deserve four votes?

Well, it’s obvious I’m missing something.  If you know what it is, leave a comment.  If you are from Wyoming or were otherwise protected from debate or different ideas, I’ll be gentle – and so will everyone else.  You have my word.  And thanks for listening.

The Walmart Donation-Matching Gimmick/Scam

The other day, I saw an advertisement/announcement on TV stating that for every dollar you contributed to certain causes, Walmart would give two dollars (you can get the details on their web page, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation Announce up to $20 Million Toward Hurricane Harvey Relief and Recovery).  I was impressed for about thirty seconds.

History

Many companies have done matching-donation campaigns, whereby if you give a dollar, they will give a dollar.  It can be effective in promoting more charity by the public in some communities.  It too can be a gimmick.  It could just be an excuse to limit their donation (we can afford to budget one million dollars, but if you can’t find matchers, I’ll just pocket the difference). Usually they mention a cap or maximum donation that they are willing to make.  That’s where the real deceit comes in.

Donation Limits

These limits sound reasonable for making sure the donor company doesn’t get in over their heads by misjudging popular support and become committed to a donation they cannot afford, but these companies have already done their homework.  For example, if the Green Cross (names in these examples have been changed just to keep you from thinking these principles have limited applicability) Christmas campaign raised ten million dollars last year and has grown as much as 20% year to year, with many years much less, an observer would have reason to be cynical if the donation-matching company has a donation limit of much less than about 15 million dollars.  Typically, the donor company will impose a limit of one or two million dollars.  I’m sure their maximum donation will be much less than the cost their advertising company would charge for similar exposure.  But when the donation-matching company imposes such a low limit, their actual final donation will always be equal to that limit, reaching the limit will NOT be advertised, and the deception of the public will begin.  The ethical thing would have to just announce they were making a simple donation of one million dollars, but if you can’t fool suckers into coughing up more money (mistakenly thinking their donation is worth twice as much to the charity), where is the sport in that.  At least this time it is for a good cause.

Walmart Doubles Down

Walmart’s new wrinkle takes this scam to the next level.  But all it means is that the owners of Walmart will reach their company donation limit sooner, and will be able to laugh at the stupidity of even more Americans.  That’s called arrogance.

Suppose that in this year’s campaign, the Green Cross is expecting ten million Americans to each donate a dollar (I’m just making the math simple).  Under their old plan, Acme Widgets would make their generous four-million-dollar-donation by announcing they will match your donation dollar-for-dollar (for up to four million of their dollars).  The first four million Americans bring in eight million dollars for the Green Cross (including Acme’s portion), but if the remaining six million Americans donate expecting to see their money go further, they are being misled.  They will bring in just six million dollars, and the Green Cross total for that year will be $14 million – a clear victory for the Green Cross (and Acme).

Under their new plan, Acme will now make their budgeted four-million-dollar-donation by announcing they will match your donation with, say, four dollars for each of yours (for up to one million of your dollars).  Now Acme reaches their limit much faster, as the first million Americans, with matching funds, help the Green Cross bring in five million dollars, while the last nine million donors (up 50% from last year) will make a contribution that they mistakenly believe is being amplified.  They will contribute only their own nine million dollars, bringing the Green Cross the same $14 million as last year, including the same amount from Acme and the same amount from the individual donors, 90% of whom were deceived.

Disclaimers

I am not suggesting here that donating to charity is bad; quite the contrary.  I believe helping others is a good idea, an idea that is even supported in the Bible.  But there are a few things one should consider:

  1. Are you donating for the right reasons? Donations with strings attached aren’t really donations. You should not donate expecting to get anything in return (not even a reserved seat in the Hereafter). Your rewards should be internal.
  2. Similarly, don’t assume, think, or claim the recipient of your donation will place a higher value on it than you do; that’s just fraud. I’ve recently heard complaints from members of relief organizations accepting donations for victims of Hurricane Harvey about people donating expired or opened food, worn-out clothes, etc. You are not fooling anybody.
  3. On the other hand, are you giving within your means? Creating a hardship for one person to ease another – the saying for that is “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” (a Biblical reference, but not from the Bible), is not recommended. Even the airlines advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before tending to your children.
  4. Finally, not all charities are created equal. And not all charities are the best stewards of your money. I suggest doing your homework;
    After checking out a charity’s website, you can research potential donees at places like Charity Navigator.

What Next?

As time permits, I will be discussing some ways advertisers use math to deceive their customers.  Stay tuned.

We Can Simplify Our Student Grading System

In the works, I have two different questions for you:

  1. ‘Do Medium-sized Egos Really Exist?’, and
  2. ‘Should Law Enforcement Officers Be Allowed To Use The “I was afraid for my life” Defense?’

Both of these require some preparation/research, but I hope to have them ready before too long.  For now, I’ve chosen a lighter topic about a scheme that, because it’s not being implemented as designed, could well be simplified.

Some Background

When I started school, we got one grade, from A to F (I never learned why E was left out), to represent our mastery of the subject.  Then, at some point, they introduced a separate grade for effort (from 1 to 3) and another for conduct (also A through F without the E); these were promoted as independent variables that could give more insight into the performance of one’s child.  I soon had reason to question the independence of these variables.

What’s The Best Grade You Can Get

Conventional wisdom tells us that the highest grade one can get would now be an A1A.  I’m not here to discuss the merits of bad behavior, so we will focus only on the first two symbols.  To me, it was obvious that an A3 would be more desirable.  Here’s why –

Suppose it’s a leap year and you are betting on track events at the Summer Olympics.  In the first heat, the first place runner comes in with a time of, say, 4:00.00, and at the end is visibly spent (lying on the ground, breathing heavily, and sweating profusely).  Her grade would clearly be an A1.  In the final heat, the winner has the exact same time but isn’t even breathing hard.  I would give her an A3 (keep in mind that it is not uncommon for runners at big events to pace themselves – save some effort if they can afford to, for later heats).  Of course, both runners advance to the finals.  Again, conventional wisdom gives the higher grade to the first runner but tell the truth – which one are you betting your hard-earned money on in the finals?

So you can see what grade I was trying for.  But the truth is teachers don’t give A3 grades, even if you never turn in your homework.  This isn’t a case of political correctness (whereby we fashion our remarks based on the possible objections of imaginary people with hyper thin skins or real fools priding themselves on how easily offended they can be), but another common problem in the political arena whereby people refuse to let facts get in the way of their idea of the way things should work in their perfect (but grossly oversimplified) world.  In their view, the very fact that you got an A proves that you were trying really hard because hard honest work is what made America great.  The problem is once you make that link between those previously independent variables (effort and results), then you are really only working in a one-dimensional world and don’t need two grades to adequately describe it.

Looking From The Other Side

But you may be saying to yourself “Silent, you are the anomaly!  Only the very rare person who can find a task at which they can succeed without unbelievable effort would have the luxury of taking your position on this topic”.  If you really think failure is the norm, then answer this.  Do you really think someone who, for whatever reason, didn’t meet the minimum requirements for success in this class, would prefer an F1 over an F3?  From what I’ve observed, the opposite has usually been the case.  If you give him an F1 you are saying “bless his little heart, he gave it his best shot but is just too stupid to make the grade”.  Giving him an F3 gives him an alibi (or more accurately, reinforces the excuses he’s been giving even without your blessing) that he’s really very, very intelligent, but just didn’t put forth the effort.

There are two ways to cure this problem: we could start treating effort and results as the independent variable they are (which is probably too agonizing a task for most teachers) or just stop giving the effort grade.  I propose the latter.  What do you think?

How Not To Respond To The Prodigal Son

What do you say to a Democrat who says

“This isn’t fair! I worked hard to be honest and caring to my fellow man, and was active trying to get laws passed that would benefit humanity, thinking it would eventually get me elected as President of the United States. Then Trump comes along, insults everyone he can think of, gropes women, thinks only of himself, offers nothing but lie after lie in a blatant effort to tell people whatever he thinks they wanted to hear, and doesn’t even try to hide his ignorant, hateful, and self-centered ways. Yet there he is, now working out of the oval office. Why did I waste my whole life being so good?”

This is not a new problem, with precedents going back thousands of years.  There are even a couple of cases in the Bible that may shed light on this situation.

The Prodigal Son

This story D is about a father and his two grown sons. One day the younger son asks for his inheritance. The father relents, and the son takes off and squanders his new assets on drink and parties.  He falls on hard times, eventually realizes that even his father’s servants are better off than he is, comes to his senses, and returns to his father’s house begging for forgiveness.  The father is thrilled to see him back and throws a party.  Most sermons focus on this part of the story, but one of my preachers went on to discuss the ‘good’ older son, who remained with the father and looked after the farm while the younger son was away.  Like the Democrat mentioned above, the older son wasn’t so happy that the father threw a party for the errant son and not him, even though he was the one who did all the work.

A Deathbed Conversion

Then there is the issue of ‘deathbed conversions’, where a long-time sinner repents just before s/he dies. In the earliest case, mentioned in Luke 23:39–43, a lifetime thief being crucified on a cross next to Jesus’ asked to be remembered when Jesus gets to his kingdom. Jesus agrees. But if you were to Google “deathbed conversion” you would find plenty of articles questioning the existence of a genuine last-minute change of heart. I, for one, can appreciate a little skepticism, but as Reverend Billy Graham points out in www.christianpost.com, God is a lot harder to fool than many christians give him credit for, and less predictable. The doubting “christians” whose complaint follows the same reasoning as our first Democrat mentioned above may be telling us more about what’s in their heart than the heart of the convert, as I discussed in “It’s The Light”.

How I See It

Those people who complain about having missed opportunities to be jerks simply don’t understand the concept and are not good Democrats, or christians, or just regular people, as the case may be. If you don’t see the benefits of improving the lot of your fellow wo/man as well as yourself; if you don’t really believe that honesty and fairness make for happier people in both the short and long run than debauchery or ass-holiness do, then you are just another fraud – no better than those who you are complaining about.  It’s that simple.

I apologize for the lack of diversity of my examples – both are from the  New Testament of the Bible.  I didn’t remember anything pertinent from Greek mythology (I did find plenty of life lessons in those stories while in school even though their gods had even more flaws than our current President), and there are plenty of other realms and resources about which I know nothing.  If you have better references for this issue, I would be glad to hear them.  I would even accept counterexamples.

For another example of cluelessness, see my blog post Another Clueless “Christian”? As to the matter of forgiveness, the questions I posed in What I Still Don’t Know About Forgiveness have yet to be resolved.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It”

One song I didn’t mention in my recent post on my favorite songs was this song by Tina Turnerlyrics, video. The omission was deliberate; this is one of those songs that rise and fall on the chart as my mood and situation change, and since, as I’ve hinted, it’s not a topic I’m any good at, a rise in the chart usually signals less-than-fair weather. Well, this song has again risen to the Number 1 spot and is expected to get a lot of play over the next several weeks. Ordinarily this would be none of your business, except that it could have even a long-term impact on this blog (or could possibly blow over in a relatively short period of time).  We’ll see.  Get back to work!

Not Quite Clear On The Concept – Part 1

Earlier this month, the Catholic archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, decreed that after four years of Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball together, the St. John’s 5th grade team (nine boys and two girls) would not be allowed to play the last two games of the season with girls on the teamA.

First, A Little Math

The maximum of any subset cannot be greater than the set maximum.  This means that if the largest member of your weight-watching group is, say 400 pounds, then as people leave the group, that maximum will not get instantaneously larger; it could remain 400 pounds for a while, but will probably eventually get smaller.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
The average group weight, on the other hand, could go up or down depending on how people are selected for removal from the group, but averages aren’t generally used to measure greatness.

Similarly, in sports you cannot raise the level of competition by restricting participation, meaning that you can’t say your team is the best in the universe if any member of the universe was barred from competing.  Consequently, the only logical reason for restricting membership would be to protect those members from unfair competition, meaning a team would only ban girls if they thought their boys weren’t ready for real competition. As we all know, a group’s stated reasons for an action may differ from their real reasons.

I suspect the archdiocese’s advertised reason for the decree is to protect girls from competition they can no longer handle.  But for that argument to have any credibility at all, at least two new conditions would have to be in effect:

  1. There would actually have to be a girl’s team if you want anybody to believe that their interests are really your first priority.
  2. You would protect a “weaker” group by banning the unfair competition from that group, not banning the allegedly weaker competition from the “stronger” or open group. The later option will rightly cause others to question your motives. “Who are you really protecting?”

The required game forfeitures would be further evidence of their true motive. A team is required to forfeit a game only if they won using an unfair advantage. You would not make a boxer forfeit all the matches he won with one hand tied behind his back. Obviously, the other boy’s teams not only considered the girls a threat, but most likely the sole reason for the team’s success.

A Happy Ending

On hearing the decree, the St. John’s 5th grade team immediately and unanimously decided to stick with their teammates and forfeit the season.

The girls, understandably, felt bad and offered to sacrifice themselvesA.  St. John’s athletic director honorably rejected that offer (although in the body of that article, it suggests that the league director had already cancelled St. John’s season, making the athletic director’s gesture moot.)

A new Cardinal reversed the ban and allows St. John’s to playA.

A Not-So-Happy Ending: Politics Trumps Logic

I just read about a different, but logically related case in TexasA, where a girl was taking testosterone to become a boy and wanted to compete with boys, but was required to compete as a girl and won their state wrestling championship. I’ll leave the application of principle and subsequent comments to the reader.