A Pair Of Perspectives On Pearls

Several Sundays ago, our pastor began his sermon by talking about the world’s largest pearl.

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This pearl, which was just recently revealed after being hidden for ten years, is 26 inches long and 12″ wide, weighing 75 pounds. That’s over 2½ times longer and five times heavier than the previous record-holder, which was found in another giant clam near the same Philippine island in 1934 (both the diver and the clam lost their lives in the earlier case).

Filipino Fisherman Reveals 75-Pound Pearl He Kept Hidden For A Decade.

Our preacher used the pearl as an example of how God can take an irritant and help you turn it into a treasure. I believe that is a common way of looking at this from a human perspective, But for some reason, I saw the issue differently.

Another Possible Moral To This Story

Turning trash into treasure – is that what the clam was actually trying to do? Does the clam even know that the old irritant now has such great value (estimated to be over a hundred million dollars)? Was this 75-pound object, which had been growing for over a hundred yearsA, actually less irritating to the clam than the original grain of sand? I suspect not! The preacher could have used this as an allegory, showing how man, because of pride, will try to solve a problem by himself but fail, despite putting a great deal of effort and time into it and, as is often the case, even make the situation worse, not better. “But look how pretty I made it.” Can’t you just see that giant clam trying to sing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”lyrics, video (but failing, of course, because it has a 75-pound lump of calcium in its mouth)?

Is There A Third Possibility?

One of the beauties of life is that some situations can share many lessons. Reality is like that. Even as I was writing this, a third perspective began taking shape in my mind. Of course, I ignored it. But if you found another pearl of wisdom in this parable, please share in the comment section below. Thank you, and thanks for listening.

Truth In Advertising: An Unborn Baby’s Beating Heart

misleading baby's heartbeat billboard

Above is one version of a common billboard along the interstates and possibly other highways in Florida and across America. The problem for me is that the spokesman didn’t look anything like that when he was 18 days from conception; he would have been barely visible and a lot less cuddly. Below, I’ve taken the liberty to replace him with his earlier self, which would have been about half the size of a pea or just able to fit through the pupil in the eye of his older self as shown in the background of the revised billboard. His heart would have been larger than a grain of sand. He still has no eyes, arms, or lungs, and I’ve found no information on brain function. I don’t think he’s feeling any pain. Now ain’t that cute?

corrected heartbeat billboard

His Odds Of Success

While I have touched on this subject before (in my article Save Your Birthday – Vote For Clinton), this time I dug deeper in order to put things into a more serious perspective. Here’s what I found:

  • According to ABORT73.COM, abortions have been decreasing slightly every year for the last decade, with 879 thousand occurring in the United States in 2017.
  • The Statistica website says that the number of births in this country has been fairly stable. There were about 3.86 million of them in 2017.
  • The attrition rate of fertilized human eggs is not as well known. Comparing articles on spontaneous abortion in humans and Early embryo mortality in natural human reproduction, it looks like only 25% of fertilized eggs actually make it to birth (± at least 10%).

Here’s what that means: if you start with 18 fertilized human eggs, 13 will die from natural causes before birth, and one embryo or fetus would be aborted. Both forms of attrition are “front-loaded”; 2/3 of abortions happen by the 8th weekA1, while 2/3 of fertilized eggs will die in their first 11 weeksA2.

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A common mistake would be to compare the number of abortions with the number of births directly but to compare apples to apples, as they say, you need to use the same reference point. Here’s the math:

3.86 million births divided by 25% (or 0.25) gives 15.4 million fertilized eggs. That would be the common reference point. Divide that by 879 thousand abortions and you get the total number of fertilized eggs there are for every abortion (17.6 – let’s round to 18). To find the number of those fertilized eggs that would die naturally, simply multiply the same 18 by 75% (or 0.75).


One thing that is not clear is “what are the odds that the aborted “child” would have died from natural causes anyway?” The easy answer (and my best guess so far) is 75%. Which means there are a lot of self-righteous people out there (many being middle-aged white males with nothing invested) who are willing to throw a woman in jail for long periods of time without even caring about the circumstances of her case to protect something that probably wasn’t going to make it anyway. I guess for the pious, any excuse is a good one for beating up on your neighbor.

At least that’s the way I see it. Any comments?

Has the Republican Party become a Ponzi/PyramidD scheme?

As a teacher, I didn’t heartily endorse “the Curve” because I didn’t believe that just because one of my students could find five friends who were either stupider or lazier than they were they deserved a free pass (although I’m sure that for some of my students that was no trivial feat). This also tied into a theory I developed early in my teaching career, a prophesy perhaps, that unlike doctors, who are said to be able to bury their mistakes, if teachers were to make mistakes, and for political or social reasons were unable to correct the system to reduce the number of those mistakes, non-educated people could eventually reach critical mass, and could then elect enough unqualified politicians to negatively affect the education process (with budget cuts, for example), which would be the beginning of a feedback loop that could put American education and thus American society on a death spiral. But that could never happen here, right?

Now that Mr. Trump has been elected president and his conduct, unchecked by congress, has become more and more outrageous, I find it interesting to watch some of his supporters as they have to warp their world (or the principles by which that world is defined) to greater and greater degrees in order to be able to justify His actions within that small world. To do that successfully, they need other people (their five friends) to be dumb enough to fall for those contorted explanations. As time goes on, those friends need to recruit their own set of even dumber friends so that they don’t look like the fools (that they are) . . . and so on. But even now, dumb and foolish people are not an unlimited resource in this country, and Trump’s actions will continue to test that resource like no other leader in the history of the Earth. So as in all such schemes, the buffoon bubble is bound to break. The only question is – will that happen before the next election? I’m not so sure it will. Any comments?

From Your Crew: Why We Ask “How High” When You Tell Us To Jump

Most of you have probably heard someone you know, when bragging about their leadership skills, tell you “When I tell them to jump, they say ‘How high?’”. I guess you are supposed to assume that the jumpers do it from an abundance of concern for satisfying the most particular nature of the speaker’s demands, thus implying that the speaker holds such power that his or her workers spend extra time meeting even his or her most specific or even trivial requests. The speaker probably doesn’t expect you to question why their workers assume s/he has a need to micromanage every task (or that you will further question what that says about the speaker’s opinion of your skills as an independent thinker?). To keep your mind from wandering too far down that path, let me explain not the speaker’s mind, but go right to the true motives of their crew.

As a crew member, I know the speaker (let’s just call him or her “fearless leader”, or even “fearless” for short) does have the financial resources and personal or political connections to hold his/her current position, but is really a wannabee who got their leadership skills from studying Hollywood blockbusters or listening to other wannabees further up the chain of command. S/he hasn’t taken the time to learn the capabilities of their team or understand the complexity of the problem at hand, but s/he does really like to bark orders. As a member of fearless’ crew, my motives are simple – I want to stroke his or her ego and get out of serious work. I may have been on my school track team, but if fearless is satisfied with me jumping four inches off the ground, that’s fine with me. S/he doesn’t actually know the demands of the assignment anyway.

If fearless had a hangover, and I was asked to stand in for him or her one day, my crew would know not to ask frivolous questions. If one of my men did ask “How high?”, I would stop and have him jump as high as he could fifty times while other members of the crew documented the results. If the last jump didn’t measure up, I’d fire him on the spot.

My crew would know two things:

  1. I expect them to give 100%. If he was on the track team, I would expect him to excel. If the situation only demanded a 4″ jump, I would have assigned it to someone else. If the job demanded a spacecraft to be built, I’d give the job to my rocket scientist (which would probably be a different person than my track star).
  2. I expect my crew to understand the nature and needs of the assignment in front of them and work it out. Whether the job demanded a 36-inch or a 24-inch high jump, I would expect my track star to be able to figure it out and complete the job without further guidance. At the same time, I expect my team members to know their capabilities and understand their limitations, as well as the other capabilities within the team so that if there is a mismatch, we, as a team, can effectively deal with it.

Is any of this too much to ask?

Any questions?

Not Quite Clear On The Concept – “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

Listening to discussions on Facebook about the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, I was surprised and disappointed to see the “innocent until proven guilty” principle so often misapplied (and in two different ways).  It became clear to me that a lot of people just don’t understand the concept.

A Larger Doctrine

When something is being awarded to somebody, whether it is good, bad, large, or small, most people would like to think the recipient deserved the award.  It is the presenter’s responsibility to make sure that’s the case.  The more extreme the action, whether reward or punishment, the more effort the presenters should take to see that the award has been earned.

The Bad

When the award is a punishment, this doctrine takes the form of “innocent until proven guilty”.  If the death penalty is under consideration, for example, we need to go to great lengths to be sure we aren’t making a mistake.  I’ll save the discussion of the two types of possible errors – letting a murderer go free vs. hanging an innocent person – for another day.

The Good

When the action under consideration is a reward, one would expect some law of symmetry to apply, and it does.  In this case, the slogan “innocent until proven guilty” has no place.  Whether it is the Mega Millions jackpot or the Nobel Prize, one does not assume a prospect is ‘innocent’, or deserving, until proven otherwise.  It is up to the claimant to prove they deserve the award.  For the Mega Millions jackpot, that would be by showing a ticket and identification.  The Nobel Prize has even more stringent requirements.  Republicans have no trouble applying this principle to welfare recipients but seem to get tripped up when it comes to Presidents and Supreme Court nominees.

The Ugly

In either of the above cases, it is well understood, as stated above, that the candidate will be fully vetted.  And the more significant the award, the more serious the investigation.  For someone to insist that a candidate is “innocent until proven guilty”, especially for a reward, and then refuse to hold a meaningful investigation into any evidence of guilt is the height of duplicity.  But that seems to be the current state of the Republican Party.  It hasn’t always been this way.

Anyone with a logical alternate interpretation of the facts is welcome to share.  You can be sure the civility of this discussion will be maintained.

The 50% Rule – A New Proposal For Term Limits

Why Do We Need Term Limits

One problem in government is that the longer a politician is in power, the more out-of-touch with their district they tend to become, the less responsive they tend to be to their constituents, and the harder it is to remove them from office.  In the pursuit of reelection, getting campaign contributions takes more and more of their time, and the focus on money rather than solutions to problems makes them more susceptible to less altruistic interests.  As they gain funds and influence, even lousy incumbents have been shown to have a clear advantage in an election.  The simple answer has been to restrict each politician to two terms of office and then force ‘retirement’.  I think that’s wasteful.  A statesman requires critical qualities and talents that can improve with experience, and the qualities that separate the statesman from the politician seem to be becoming increasingly rare.

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It’s been said that “the difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.”E. For better definitions of ‘statesman’, check out the Houston Chronicle and/or “The Art of Manliness” blog (This is not an endorsement of the AoM blog; nor is this disclaimer a denunciation. I’m always suspicious when people define “real men” because it seems it’s usually the wannabees that speak loudest, and the result is usually watered down and/or distorted into something they can succeed at. Although I have not yet had the chance to investigate this particular site, this article is very good).
  There should be a way to make the most of these skills without suffering the adverse side-effects.

A Better Plan – The 50% Rule

My idea would be to let a candidate serve as long as his constituents want him/her without ever letting them be the incumbent.  This means after serving their term, they would return to their district for at least one term to reconnect with their constituents.  They would not be allowed to hold any political office during that time, whether local, state, or federal.   It would also be good to have a separate law prohibiting them from working as a lobbyist for a set time longer than one term (maybe seven to ten years) after leaving office.  And if not already on the books, a law should be put in place requiring a candidate to live in their district for at least one term of office before becoming a candidate.  If the candidate is any good at being a statesman, s/he could end up with more than twenty years of public service.  It would just take him/her over forty years to achieve that goal.  The term incumbent and the advantages of being an incumbent would disappear while still allowing the gifted to fulfill a career in public service.

Other Helpful Ideas

Since we’ve mentioned the need to chase campaign funds as a root of this problem, it also makes sense to try to level the playing field there too.  I believe the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was a mistake (see ‘If You Don’t Have To Pay For It, It Can’t Be Considered Free Speech” – Supreme Court).  Steps should be taken to limit campaign contributions, have the government fund viable campaigns, or even limit the duration of political campaigns to keep us from going from a one ‘man’, one vote system to one dollar, one vote.  In debunking arguments favoring the electoral college (Another Look At The Electoral College), I also decry the ‘one acre, one vote’ notion.  I discuss other possible improvements to the election process in Two Political Parties Are Not Enough. As wise and principled as our forefathers were, even they could not imagine the changes in store in the future before them. That’s why they made provisions to change our rules of governing as needed. We may need to do that now to preserve the power that was originally intended for the people of this great country.

Teamwork Or Rugged Individualism

Almost two years ago, I was inspired to address this debate by a blogger that I very much admire (“Confident Individualism” by Lani Rodriguez). She presented a very nice case for the side of individualism, but now, echoing Joni Mitchell’s sentiments in “Both Sides, Now” (my second favorite songblog), I’ve looked at individualism from both sides now. It may not be a simple this vs. that type of argument.

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.