Another Reason Why Moderate Muslims Matter

On a friend’s Facebook page recently, I found a videoA which turns out to be from a hearing of a Heritage Foundation panel on the Benghazi attacks on June 17, 2014

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Possibly one reason I hadn’t seen this video earlier is that I knew right away what House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted in SeptemberA, which is that the Benghazi investigation, like the investigation into Hillary’s emails, is all a sham. A sham that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars without gaining any useful information during its many, many months of existence (it is rather pathetic, even shameful, that ANY politician would use those four poor souls as pawns for some lame political agenda). Consequently, I haven’t been paying it much attention.
In this video, one of the panelists, Brigette Gabriel, goes off on an unsuspecting member of the audience, Saba Ahmed, who, while asking a serious question about the merits of an ideological war vs. the more traditional “nuke ’em ’til they glow” approach so popular with the Republican Party, had the audacity to suggest that most Muslims in the world (and America) weren’t the enemy.  Ms. Gabriel made it clear that she couldn’t give a sh# about moderate Muslims (in her words, they are “irrelevant”).  In Ms. Gabriel’s rant, she mentioned that “according to ALL intelligence services around the world”, 15 to 25% of all the 1.2-1.8 billion Muslims in the world were radical (and by the tone of her comments, I assume she was perfectly happy with the traditional approach and is willing to fight an all-out war with ALL Muslims to protect America).
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Ms. Gabriel is not alone in her tough talk on foreign policy issues. It seems that all the Republican presidential candidates like to pound their chests and talk tough, yet not one of them has even one minute of service in the United States military.
The sad part was that Ms. Gabriel received a standing ovation and on the site where I first saw this videoA, 81% of responses were thumbs up vs. 19% thumbs down.

How The Numbers Show That Ms. Gabriel Should Care (About All Moderates)

First, A Fact Check

Apparently Ms. Gabriel missed a few of the world’s sources of intelligence.  On the first page of my Google search I found a site that raised serious questions about the methods of those making such outlandish claimsA and at least one sourceA who claims that less than one percent of Muslims in their area “are at risk for becoming radicals” (emphasis added).

The Infamous Blue Taxi

Next, although the math used in my argument can be broken down to basic fractions, it is foreign (no pun intended) to many people. Specifically, I will be using the same reasoning used in the well-known story of the blue taxi cab, as presented by Presh Talwalkar in the Mind Your Decisions blog. I suggest you check out that article. If the math and logic makes sense to you, then continue here, where I will explain how that reasoning applies to this situation.

Before I start this particular line of reasoning, I would like to point out that there are several reasons, whether religious, ethical, or just pragmatic, to treat your neighbors with respect.  Note that political correctness is NOT on this list of good reasons.  Nothing I say here should be taken as trying to discount those other legitimate reasons in any way.

In the story of the blue taxi cab, a witness identified a blue taxi as the culprit in a hit-and-run accident late one evening.  Even though the witness was 80% reliable in identifying the color of taxis at that late hour, in this case it was shown that he was most likely wrong.  In jumping to conclusions, most people don’t realize there are two situations in a case like this that one needs to consider: the obvious situation is the likelihood that the witness correctly identified the blue taxi (which was pretty good, actually).  What most people fail to consider is the likelihood that the witness incorrectly identified a different-colored taxi as blue.  Because of the scarcity of blue taxis where this story took place, the second consideration proved to be the most significant factor.

Changing Muslim Minds

Since moderate Muslims are irrelevant, there would be no reason for Ms. Gabriel to treat them any different from the ones out to terrorize America, which means you can expect her to treat all Muslims very badly as part of her ”war on terrorism”, as you can see in the first video.  How many terrorist minds do you think she will change?  Although they technically wouldn’t qualify, I’ll let you count the ones she kills.  If she gets half of them the first year (being grossly optimistic), that would represent less than one half of one percent of all Muslims, so let’s say eight million “converts to Christianity”.  Since all Muslims look the same to her, we can assume a similar number of moderate Muslims will bite the dust.

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As a quick reality check, compare those sixteen million dead Muslims to the number of Iraqis that were killed in the Iraq warA – 17 thousand Iraqi government troops, less than 4 thousand additional ‘friendly’ casualties, 27 thousand bad guys, and 66 thousand (innocent) civilians.  Most of these casualties occurred in the first four years of the conflictA. Also consider how many Americans died trying to achieve those numbers – around 4,400, with another 32 thousand wounded.  (That’s over a thousand times the number that died in Benghazi.  How many hundreds of investigations did the Heritage Foundation hold on that “scandal”? (OK, I admit that although this seems to be standard Republican procedure, it is lame for me to insinuate wrongdoing with absolutely no supporting evidence.  In the interest of fairness, I will publish any exonerating details when you provide them.)  It is possible that some dead American soldiers are worth more than others to opportunistic politicians).  To summarize, for every hundred bad guys killed, 63 of the local good guys were killed and 244 innocent civilians, meaning only one out of four casualties was a bad guy.  Now you can extrapolate these figures (just multiply everything by around 300 (bringing American deaths to over 1.3 million) to get an idea of the true costs of this strategy.  In preparation for the next paragraph, you might also ask yourself “How many of those other casualties were really converted (or convertible) to Christianity?  And how many of their families and friends would be?

Making More Terrorists

Just like the blue taxi cab witness, the reason Ms. Gabriel is wrong is that she failed to consider the taxi cabs that aren’t really blue.  In English, that means if she really wants to win the war on terrorism, she needs to consider the non-terrorist – the moderate Muslims – that she so willingly threw under the bus.  In that first year that Ms. Gabriel killed those eight million terrorists (and luckily only eight million innocent bystanders), which represents half of all the ‘known’ terrorists in the world, it is unlikely that she converted a single surviving Muslim, terrorist or not, to Christianity.  It is much more likely that she converted many more moderate Muslims into “terrorists”.  And it doesn’t have to be at the same rate at which she “converted” the terrorists (50%), it doesn’t have to be even one tenth of that (5%).  If Ms. Gabriel radicalizes Muslim’s at only one hundredth of the rate at which she eliminated them, she (and we) are in deep trouble; there will be more terrorists at the end of the bloody year than there were at the beginning.  In the next year, when Ms. Gabriel gets even tougher on these heathens, the results are guaranteed to be worse.

And Then There Is Israel

If you think this couldn’t or wouldn’t happen, consider Israel.  They have been battling the “terrorist” Palestinians for over fifty years.  When Palestinian teenagers throw rocks, Israeli soldiers call in the tanks.  When a genuine Palestinian terrorist fires a crude scud missile that falls harmlessly to the side or is destroyed by Israel’s advanced missile defense, the Israelis fire a dozen high-powered smart missiles to obliterate whole communities of women and children (the going rate for an Israeli casualty was only 30 Palestinians during the last war, down from the 100 lives for each Israeli that has been their tradition).  When the Palestinians aren’t fighting back, the Israelis put up road blocks and check points everywhere and even build large walls through the middle of Palestinian communities.  They set up a blockade to keep the regular Palestinians from rebuilding and moving on with their lives.  How many Palestinians do you think have converted to Judaism in those last fifty years?  While I suspect that the Israelis have killed enough people to account for the original terrorists many times over, there are (surprisingly?) more genuine Palestinian terrorists today than ever before.

Don’t Try This Trick At Home, Kids

A rational person might be asking “After fifty years, why are the Israelis still using those same failed tactics (after all, they’ve got to be smarter than Cubans, right?A).  The truth is, the Israelis aren’t looking for converts.  The Israelis aren’t looking for peace.  The Israelis are apparently only looking for cheap land.  Since our goals are not the same as the Israelis (we already stole all the cheap land we could possibly use), and since we don’t have another country subsidizing our war effort, we cannot afford to follow the same tactics as the Israelis.  We should, however, take advantage of the results of their little experiment in how (not) to modify human behavior.

So Now What?

All I know for sure, after doing the math and studying world history, is that Ms. Gabriel’s approach is doomed to failure.  But history has given us other (even successful) examples.  Do some research (must I do all the heavy lifting?).  Maybe we could learn something from Gandhi, for example.  It’s possible that Ms. Saba Ahmed’s idea (from the first paragraph above) about an ideological war (whatever that means) could have merit.   Another Book on human behavior comes to mind which contains wisdom that has stood the test of thousands of years – yes, I’m referring to the Bible.  Taking the higher moral ground has repeatedly shown definite positive benefits (and I’m not referring to the Hereafter).  So re-read the Book; take notes this time – but if you’re not planning on using your Bible, maybe you could get a good price for it from Ms. Gabriel’s converts.  Since we apparently have no further use for the Statue of Liberty, I’m sure the Republicans have already started looking around for a potential buyer so they can further cut taxes on their poor rich buddies.  Maybe they could gather up a few million “like new”, very lightly used Bibles to sweeten the deal.

I am actually concerned about the citizens of the United States of America abandoning the values that made this country great.  I’m concerned about the apparent dumbing down of America.  Those factors could be related.  It seems like the pace of this decline may have picked up after “9/11”.  I’m reminded of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s remark “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”D.  If I get a chance, I may try to answer the questions “What the hell was he talking about?” and “Why the f*& should we care what some dead President had to say?”  Future articles may also address our education system.  An even more timely topic would be “What to look for when deciding which politician to vote for”.  Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a definitive list of the important characteristics (and the least important characteristics), so all I can do for now is to encourage you to stop being so shallow.  Stay tuned.

P.S.

I did not post a comment on the Facebook page which had the video mentioned in the first sentence.  That friend happens to be a high school math teacher (and by all accounts, a very good one).  As far as I know, we are still friends.

Remarks That Sound Great Until You Think About Them – Part 1

As the next major election cycle ramps up, both parties will be throwing out sound bites, most of which are already well worn even though not all of them stand up well under scrutiny.  I think it would be good to take a closer look at some of these, in the hopes that maybe we could put a few to rest and force our politicians to come up with better material.  The loftier goal of forcing a discussion

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by which I’m referring to the ancient definition that involved all parties actually listening and responding to the comments of others to either build on those comments or point out their shortcomings as the case may be, instead of the modern habit of just hurling memorized slogans in the other’s general direction in parallel soliloquies
on the issues may be out of reach for the moment.  Due to personal biases, the ridiculous remarks of the Republicans seem easier for me to spot, but I’m counting on my readers to keep this discussion balanced.  I have no allegiance to stupidity, however, so once you point out a Democratic gaffe, I like to think I would be able to contribute to the analysis. The questionable remarks will be presented in no particular order.  The first one goes like this:

“I Don’t Believe In Throwing Money At A Problem”

On its face, that’s a statement I’m pretty sure everyone can agree with, but in practice, what exactly does that really mean?  Assuming that the problem is worthwhile and significant (meaning it’s too big to take care of all by oneself but needs to be fixed anyway), how do I implement that philosophy?  After calling a plumber over to your house in the middle of the night on a weekend to stem the flood emanating from your bathroom, how many of you have ever had much luck after they present you with the bill of convincing him or her to pay you instead for the opportunity to solve your problems?  Me neither.  Does that have anything to do with the fact that I’m not a politician?  Maybe we live in different worlds.  I’m as frugal as anybody, but I can’t think of a single problem in this class that didn’t require a worthwhile investment on my part.  So what am I missing here, overD?


 

DIn many forms of radio communication, “Over” means “I’m finished talking and eagerly await your reply”.  It would not be used in the same sentence as “Out”, which means “I’m really done; don’t bother calling back”.  Outside of Hollywood, the combination “over and out”, which translates to “please respond immediately so I can ignore you” is usually considered too rude for normal conversation.

“It’s The Light”

The Problem

Photographers have a mantra – “It’s all about the light”.  They can talk endlessly about what makes good light and bad light and most live for “the golden hour”, which is never actually an hour but occurs just after sunrise or just before sunset.  Most people don’t realize that there are photons

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the smallest wave/particle units of lightD
bouncing around at all times of the day and night, and if you put your camera on a tripod and leave the shutter open long enough you could make your midnight photo look like the middle of the day (albeit an overcast day, since there will be no shadows).

With all of this emphasis on the light, it is interesting to note that looking at most photographs gives you very little information about the source of the light, but a great deal of information about the subject of the photograph, which is reflecting light that it has (heavily) filtered from that original source. And so it is with most human intercourse. Politics is rife with examples. When your friend is ranting about Obamacare, which he or she probably hasn’t even read, you will invariably learn more about their hopes or fears than you will about any of the President’s policies. This is a fact of life that critical thinkers and skeptics routinely take into account.

How To Cope

Probably the most extreme example for discovering an indirect, heavily filtered truth would be the old logic problem of “The Island of Truth tellers and Liars”A. In one of the various versions, there is a remote island that has two separate tribes. At one end of the island is a tribe of cannibals that always lies, while at the other end is a more civilized tribe in which everybody tells the truth. From a landing at the middle of the island, a traveler moves inland until he comes to the fork in the road leading to the tribe at each end. There he finds two natives, each in distinct tribal dress, but he doesn’t know enough to determine which native comes from which tribe. He asks the one dressed in yellow which tribe he is from, but doesn’t understand the answer. He asks the one in blue “What did he just say?” to which he gets “He said he was a truth-teller”. What did the traveler just learn and from which person should he ask directions to the civilized tribe?

If you’ve already heard this problem, you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph right now.  The second of the above two questions is the easiest; the traveler has no choice but to ask the only native that he can understand.  The real question is “Can Ms. Blue be trusted?”  In this case she can be.  It really doesn’t matter that the traveler couldn’t understand the first native because the first question will always have the same answer.  If Mr. Yellow is a truth-teller, he will tell the truth; if he is a liar, he will lie about it.  Either way, he will always say he is a truth-teller, meaning there is no way to know the tribal affiliation of the first native.

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On the positive side, if you are a mediator, a diplomat (as opposed to today’s politicians), a negotiator, or anyone that needs to work with people as part of their job to get things done, this should be encouraging evidence that it should always be possible to find something about which two radically different factions can agree.
 You can learn the tribe of the second person by comparing their answer to that known constant.  Since Ms. Blue accurately reported Mr. Yellow’s answer, it is she and not Mr. Yellow that is the truth-teller.  You may follow her directions when she points to the tribe of the truth-tellers.  Had she reported that Mr. Yellow claimed to be a liar, you would have thanked her profusely before heading in the opposite direction of her pointing finger.

Unfortunately, in this problem the most extreme case is actually the simplest to solve.  In real life, one’s truthfulness (or lack thereof) may not be as dependable.  In that case you must carry both possibilities in your mind until you have finally gathered enough evidence to rule one out.  Knowing the right questions to ask would be a big help, but all answers should be regarded with suspicion.

I realize that’s not much of an answer, but things aren’t always as simple as black or white.  If you were expecting simple answers to life’s hard questions, maybe you need to grow up.  But then again, I may be only scolding you to hide my own inadequacy in providing useful information.  That’s why it would be good right now to open this up to give my astute readers a chance to provide a better perspective to the problem.  (That’s your cue).  Thanks for listening.

Rules Of Engagement

“Real men”, or those who no longer need to prove their manhood, no longer have a need to fight all foes and have learned the wisdom of choosing their battles.  Whether that title would include me or not is subject to debate (or maybe just wishful thinking), but here are the rules I follow.  There are only two rules, and each has just one exception.  I suppose any “real man” would have to set his or her standards even higher than this:

  1. Never fight someone smaller than you.  This would be a public relations nightmare.  Should you win, you will receive no glory (since that is what you were expected to do), and most likely would receive ridicule for choosing such an easy target.  Should by some chance you lose, you will never ever hear the end of it.  The exception to this rule would be that if you were attacked you would be allowed to defend yourself as necessary.  But even then you may use only enough force to subdue or dissuade the attacker.  Keep in mind that exactly how much force is necessary to accomplish that will always be subject to later review by armchair quarterbacks everywhere.
  2. I don’t recommend fighting someone much bigger than you, for obvious reasons.  (If the reason is NOT yet obvious to you, then you may disregard this rule for as long as it takes to discover a good reason.  If you are winning all of these fights, then you are conveniently clueless about the definition of “much bigger than you”).  As the exception to this rule, you may proceed if you are fighting for a good cause.  One question, which some attribute to the U.S. Marine Corps (but may in fact go back much further) that you may always want to consider when choosing a cause is “Is this the hill I am willing to die on?”  For me, ‘feeding my own ego’ just doesn’t make the cut.  ‘Proving your manhood’ probably shouldn’t either.  Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of their support of causes much larger than themselves.  Besides their effectiveness rating, the grandness (or the smallness, even pettiness) of the causes for which they are willing to fight might be a much better way to judge a person than the more traditional characteristics of size, color, sex, or religious/political/social affiliations.

That’s all there is to it.  But this is just one person’s opinion.  If you think I’ve forgotten something, speak up.  I would be particularly interested to hear what a “real man” might add to the discussion.  Thanks for your time.

How Long Have I Been A Skeptic?

I have no idea when all of this started, but this may shed some light on the issue.  It is the earliest memory I have of me questioning conventional wisdom.

The Story Of The North Wind And The Sun

I was in elementary school in southern California – I don’t remember what grade – when we had an assignment to read this short story.  It’s one of Aesop’s Fables.  If you missed it, or can’t remember that far back either, you can find it at www.storyarts.org, among other places.  As the story was explained to me, it was supposed to illustrate the superiority of persuasion over force or, at the very least, that the sun is stronger than the wind.  However, that’s not the way I saw it then.  And now that I’ve had years to develop my experience and wisdom, that’s not how I see it today.  Even back then it  was clear to me that both the sun and  the wind had their individual strengths and weaknesses.  The north wind, although not feared in the same way as his cousins, the tornado or the hurricane (a.k.a. cyclone, a.k.a. typhoon), is no slouch and has sunk ships, caused massive amounts of damage ashore, and taken lives.  The sun may seem benign, even benevolent to those living north of the 40th parallel, but large swaths of land have suffered due to his excesses, and in fact he can only be tolerated at distances greater than around ninety-three million (93,000,000) miles.  At the time I read this story, I was not aware of all of these statistics or the full power of either of the contestants, but even then “I wasn’t born yesterday”.  We didn’t get snow in southern California, but it can get windy enough to appreciate the north wind’s power.  And then there was that story about the three little pigsA, which showed the destructive force of wind (caused in this case by a lone wolf).  On the other hand, in the summer the sun was so strong that people used to say they could fry an egg on the sidewalk.  By the way, nobody in southern California ever claimed to be using the power of persuasion when they are trying to fry eggs.

It was clear to me back then that the sun was obviously smarter than the north wind, and designed the rules of this friendly little contest to take best advantage of his own talents.  The goal was to get the man to take off his coat.  Had the contest been to get the man to put ON his coat, most of us can see that the sun wouldn’t have had a chance.  The first lesson for the north wind might be to be wary of letting your opponent make the rules.

Secondly, it is crucial to be aware of your own limitations.  For the north wind to think that a strong, cold breeze could force somebody to part with their coat is delusional.  One can never improve if they don’t even know where they are deficient.  And even if it is not possible to correct a particular flaw, as long as you are aware of it, there may be a way to compensate.  Odysseus was an excellent example of this in his dealing with the sirens (scroll down to the eleventh section of “The legendary story of Odysseus”).  By taking the advice of a women (Circe) and making allowances for his weaknesses, Odysseus was the first person to listen to the Siren’s great song and live to tell about it.

The final lesson to be learned from this story was that a good public relations team is worth its weight in gold. The way they put that spin on the sun’s use of force was masterful. Unfortunately, this is a lesson I’ve had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around, to my own peril. Even today I don’t put enough effort into public relations, continuing to hold on to the naive belief that if you work hard, your efforts will automatically be noticed and you will be rewarded – even though experience has disproved this theory time and time again.  Seemingly, some people never learn. Being able to learn from your own mistakes is crucial.  If you could learn from the mistakes of others, you would be well ahead in the game.