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!
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.
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:
- There would actually have to be a girl’s team if you want anybody to believe that their interests are really your first priority.
- 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.
It is possible some of our earlier comments, based on frustration, have caused some to question our resolve to fight injustice. Regardless of the effectiveness of our allies, we will defend the nineteenth amendment, and the fifteenth, and all laws promoting equality and social justice “against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.
In an earlier post (Save Your Birthday – Vote For Clinton), I was hard on the voting record of women since the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Later in the Presidential campaign, a member of our team, on his personal Facebook page, mentioned that if Donald Trump were elected and decided to repeal that amendment, he would be hard pressed to argue against it. We were just venting our frustration and apologize to anyone who thought our principles or commitment to justice and equality were wavering the slightest bit. Everyone gets frustrated. Mature adults don’t let their frustrations dictate actions or short-circuit already-well-reasoned practices. For that reason prudent writers may not even mention their frustrations unless they already have a viable plan to address the causes of that frustration. Oops!
We will continue to fight for the equality of women and all other marginalized groups. To do otherwise based on their less-than-stellar history would be using their own higher expectations against them by establishing a double standard of conduct, as men have done for centuries and America was blatantly doing during this last election. Put another way, men have acted like idiots, and have failed to follow through for as long as anyone can remember. To hope for better from women is understandable. To demand it is unconscionable. Consequently, We will continue to stand up for people who cannot stand up for themselves.
Although the United States has pretty much always had just two major political parties, I think now would be a good time for a change.
It Promotes Polarization, Near-Sighted Focus, And Life-or-Death Loyalty
In regular sailboat racing, each party focuses on being effective and efficient at maximizing their own capabilities to accomplish a common goal. In match racing, each vessel focuses only on their competitor, and will take action that would not ordinarily be in their own best interest as long as it puts the competition at an even greater disadvantage. In the two-party political system, beating up your competitor is soon everything; all other principles fall by the wayside. Each side tries to redefine the other in the most unflattering light and in the war of words an “us vs. them” mentality develops which justifies ever more flamboyant language, harsher conduct, and a slimmer and slimmer grip on reality.
It’s Shallow And One-Dimensional
If as a citizen, you are a one-trick pony, say all you care about is abortion, you just pick the party that has the “right” answer on that particular issue and you show your gratitude and undying loyalty by voting however you are told on all other issues. The platforms of each party have actually changed quite a bit over history, with the Democratic Party evolving lately into the “Yes” party and the Republicans becoming the “No Way”s. That’s about as one-dimensional and polarized as you can get.
One Side Is Always Guaranteed A Majority
Regardless of the atrocities of war, the ends justify the means. Being guaranteed an instant majority in every decision, the winner gets to bully all minorities to distraction, has no incentive to improve their capabilities or social skills, and basically enjoys all the characteristics that make monopolies so unpopular. Negotiation and compromise have no place in their vocabulary. Any independent thought is squashed to make room for blind obedience to the team. When the pendulum does change direction . . . I picture a child in a swing with one of its divorcing parents on each side. When a parent finally gets their hands on the swing they, in direct competition with their spouse, push as hard as they can in the opposite direction. The child goes faster and gets higher and more extreme every pass. Although neither parent notices, the kid is scared to death; I don’t see this ending well.
Many times, when the two lead vessels in a regular race start focusing only on each other, it is possible for the rest of the fleet to pass them both by. I propose at least one more political party. In the past, third parties in this country have been forced to stake out the more radical ground left by the major parties, but since both parties have locked their focus and taken opposite corners, there is plenty of room in the middle for the rest of us. I have pondered how the new parties should differentiate themselves and although there is wiggle room here, I think maybe staking out a position as socially liberal & fiscally conservative might be the best option for the first party. It does, as any third party would have to do, introduce another dimension (there is still room for a fourth party to stake out socially conservative & fiscally liberal if they like). But it’s not too late for you to offer a better suggestion for cutting up the pie using different parameters. To overcome inertia, we need a position that people would readily accept and embrace, but to be successful we don’t need an instant majority. All we need is to take away enough votes from each existing party so that nobody is guaranteed a majority. That could be done by recruiting one third of the more moderate members from each of the existing parties. Then we could leverage our position with either party to restore some sanity to the political process. No party can just pick up their ball and go home if they don’t get their way; the one that is not willing to negotiate or compromise will be the odd man out. But if those in one party suspect that this is just a ruse by the other to divide their numbers, the plan will not work. The division must be genuine.
Some countries have many, many more than three parties, so your next question might be “Is it possible to have too many parties?” I don’t know and it is not something I think we need to worry about for another several decades.
I guess the only real question is “What are you going to call this new party?” I looked for possible acronyms for fiscally conservative and socially liberal (or words to that effect), but so far have come up empty. The “Mature” Party is probably out, but “Responsible” has a nice ring to it, yes? I’ll gladly leave this to the Madison Avenue types among us, but don’t dilly dally.
Reading the explanations of why we have only two parties, most writers make it sound like there is no other choice, but base their answers on explanations that are such simplifications of the facts that their validity should be questioned.
And then there is the electoral college. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I think the electoral college is obsolete. This opinion is, or was at one time or another, shared by both Donald TrumpA and Ruth Bader GinsburgA. Interestingly enough, the electoral college was established because our forefathers were concerned about the unwashed masses. Hamilton was concerned about somebody unqualified, but with a talent for “low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity”, attaining high office. Madison argued against “an interested and overbearing majority” . . . “or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, . . . adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”. They reasoned that in the electoral college, the members of which were able to have information unavailable to the general public, the decision-makers could deliberate reasonably without “tumult and disorder”, ensuring the one who would ultimately be administering the laws of the United States would have both ability and good character (edited heavily from Wikipedia). As we now know, those electors that were supposed to protect us will invariably be cut from the same cloth as those they were protecting us against. Our forefathers didn’t see that coming (originally, they didn’t envision political partiesA), but in hindsight that insight seems obvious.
Both of these changes (and others that may help our elected officials better represent the will of all the people) will not be easy. It could be hard to keep up our third party into perpetuity without them. Difficult or not, something has to be done. If you have any other ideas, now would be a good time to present them. Thanks for listening.
Don’t get me wrong! There is a place for pendulums, but only because their imperfections are so predictable.
Pendulums cannot think. Pendulums cannot predict, they cannot anticipate. They cannot see the consequences of their own actions. They can’t even tell that they’ve been to their desired destination until they see it in the rear view mirror. You might say that they have a very slim grip on reality. They only react. And as a result, they are doomed to a life of constant searching, continually bouncing frantically from one radical position to another. Welcome to the real world. People who practice similar policies WILL suffer similar fates. And welcome to politics.
We have a lighter topic today – music. I’ve recently made changes in my list of favorite songs, so I’ll talk about some of them, and then try to find an explanation for a pattern I’ve noticed as people get older.
- Holding my number one spot for decades now has been Barbra Streisand’s version of “People”lyrics, video, created in 1964 for the Broadway musical “Funny Girl”. I’m not actually sure I qualify as the type of person in the song (I may have come from a long line of rugged individuals living in a Love desert) but when I see those people together, I feel what could be envy.
- Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”lyrics, video, which she recorded on her 1969 album “Clouds”, just moved up the charts to the number two spot that was vacated maybe a year ago by Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”lyrics, video from their 1979 rock opera “The Wall”. As a teacher, I could just imagine my whole class singing “We don’t need no education” in unison as I enter the room and it just struck me as a bit funny. Since that song became the Republican’s unofficial theme song, I find it more depressing than funny.
I’ve always liked “Both Sides, Now”, and similar to the story of “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, it shows how a change in perspective can enrich your life – or not.
- Next is “Climb Every Mountain”lyrics, video, which Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for their 1959 musical “The Sound of Music”. I’m partial to the version that was dubbed by Margery MacKay in the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews. Actually, I liked the whole movie, especially the songs Julie sang, like the title songvideo and even the song that inspired the title of this post, “My Favorite Things”video.
- Although the beat goes on, today’s last list entry is number four, “Hotel California”lyrics, video which, unlike the others, shot toward the top of my chart immediately after it was released as the title track from an Eagles’ album in late 1976 (even though by then I had already left the state). I really enjoy the symbolism, and like many, recognize it as an allegory about hedonism and greed. Other great songs on that album include “New Kid In Town”video and “Life In The Fast Lane”audio.
While the top spots on my list are fairly stable, as one goes down the list, that becomes less true as a song’s ranking starts to depend more on my mood. Looking down the list, you will see newer songs from artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga working their way up, as well as other classics like “The Sound of Silence”video by (Paul) Simon & (Art) Garfunkel (which I had heard before watching the 1967 film “The Graduate”, but the two together made an impression on me and that song remained near the top of my list for quite a while). My favorite country singers are probably Kenny Rogers (my favorites being “The Gambler”video and “Coward of the County”video) and then Garth Brooks. I prefer my classical music to be lively, like Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”full, finale, which some of you may remember from “The Lone Ranger”, and “1812 Overture”full, finale.
As a youngster, I noticed that people of all ages seem to restrict their musical listening to those songs that were popular when they were in their teens. At the time, I postulated that once the music retention area of the brain ‘hardens’, about the time one reaches adulthood, it is impossible to retain or appreciate new songs. Now that I’ve seen this phenomenon “from both sides now”, I’ve reworked my theory. For me, one change that has occurred over the years is that I just don’t (have the opportunity to?) listen to as much music as I used to. When I’m wrapped in thought, I prefer the sounds of silence. And when I am around others, they rely on their old favorite, but limited sources. This ties in with my earlier discussions How Large Is Your Universe and How We Lose Our Grip On Reality and could be considered a sign of decay. But it doesn’t have to happen. If one were to diversify their sources, as suggested, they would know that there is very good music being produced every day, just as it was when they were young. But then they would have to find something else to complain about.
Well, the people have spoken! And I’m really disappointed. I’ve previously expressed my displeasure with some of Mr. Trump’s positions and rhetoricB1, B2, B3, but my main complaint has always been his severe lack of maturity, his complete disregard for the truth,
as read in the International Business Times.
But you won’t find me out protesting, because I don’t see the point to it. I understood the rules before the election (See Article II and the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States) and thought they were as good as you’re likely to find anywhere.
Some argue that the Electoral College was intended to favor smaller states. Certainly our founders pondered the issue of individual power vs. state power (resulting in the Senate giving states equality while the House of Representative tips the scale toward the individual). Personally, I like the notion of ‘one person, one vote’ without taking a penalty if you can actually wave to your neighbor from the front porch.
A Growing Frustration
It has been said that Mr. Trump was able to tap into America’s growing frustration with the gridlock in Washington. I can definitely understand such a frustration. The problem is that for a majority of Americans, that frustration was self-inflicted. I’m talking about the majority who four years ago voted for candidates with an R on their sleeve (and making no allowance for those who only do that so they can tell right from left) specifically because those candidates promised to rip the word “compromise” from their dictionary and vehemently oppose every move the opposition makes, even if it was originally their idea. As one might expect, their candidates had some success, and now this majority is complaining that nothing gets done in Washington. Really? To me, that is strong evidence of the negative spiral I was concerned about. I predict in four years these short-sighted people with shorter memories will be even more frustrated, and will make even more desperate decisions, speeding the downward spiral even more. To see a discussion of one type of desperate decision-making and how to stop it, see my recent post When Sailors Should Split Tacks. Sadly enough, like the skipper in that post, these people are incapable of recognizing their faulty logic or seeing their own part in this mess. But as long as they have someone else to blame for their problems, I don’t expect to see much growth. I’ve always liked to believe that whatever the results of an election, the people got what they deserve, but the truth is that the minority gets to suffer right alongside everyone else. Those who took the right steps to make America great over the last decade also have reason to be frustrated. Their frustration will be greater in another four years also, but they know that just waiting for others to mature won’t get the change they are looking for. That knowledge alone does not make the frustration any less; they have to be mature enough to deal with it while they bide their time waiting for the next opportunity for improvement.
Wait And See
So that is what I’m doing. Mr. Trump isn’t President yet so there is really nothing yet to complain about. His lack of truthfulness, that characteristic that was the most bothersome during the campaign, is now the one thing that gives me the most hope in a strange way – if he only screws up one out of twelve of the things he promised to screw up, we should probably consider ourselves lucky. Just hours after the election he praised Mrs. Clinton for her many virtues, which was 180 degrees off from everything he had said before then (English translation: “I’ve been feeding you all a line of cr@_ all this time. Thanks for your vote”). How many of his promises has he already walked away from, just weeks after the election? There is the distinct possibility that some things could actually turn out reasonably well. But there is still plenty of damage that can be done. We need to bide our time and look for opportunities for growth. To break the spiral, one thing I’d like to see is a strong, long-term commitment to education – an education that includes and even emphasizes critical thinking skills. And as always, I’ll be doing my part to put things into perspective and combat “conventional” wisdom while promoting uncommon sense. Thank you for listening.
American inventor Thomas Edison once said “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”A. From my experience, when you are competing, whether for business or pleasure, or trying to solve a problem, or just trying to get something done, you can usually do very well without that stroke of genius if during the remaining 99% of the time you can just keep from screwing up.
The Sailing Example
One summer when I was younger, I had the opportunity to race sailboats by donating the perspiration needed to handle the sails. Since sailboats can’t sail directly into the wind, which is often exactly where you need to go, you must regularly choose which side of the wind is best, or which side of the course is best, or . . . the bottom line is that in sailboat racing, as in life, there are plenty of decision-making opportunities. If we happened to get behind early in the race, by the time we got to a point that needed a decision, our competition had already gotten to that point and had already made their decision. Our skipper, reasoning that we would never catch up if we did everything our competition had done, invariably would make the opposite choice at that point (hence, splitting tacks, or sailing on the opposite side of the wind as our competition). More often than not we would get further behind. As it turned out, we won almost no races that summer. Now I will use just a little math to show you why not.
Without divine intervention or that long-awaited flash of inspiration, after a short time the leaders in this race will be the ones that make more correct moment-by-moment decisions. When our skipper got to his decision point, it is reasonable to assume that the competition ahead of him is batting above 500D and already chose the short path. If the current leader has a success rate of, say 70%, then by blindly taking the other path, our skipper was limiting his success rate to 30%. This is NOT a winning strategy. The more prudent leader would have chosen his battles; he would have evaluated every decision independently – more often than not this means he would have made the same choice as his competitor (assuming his own success rate is high enough to be competitive – certainly higher than 50%) – and he would bide his time while waiting for the competition to make their mistake. When his own evaluation led him to a different decision, he would quickly recheck his work (out of respect for his competitor’s 70% success rate) and then he would pounce.
A Non-sailing Example – Rush Hour Traffic
“Rush Hour”, referring to those busy couple of hours in the morning and another couple of hours in the afternoon when everybody is commuting to or from work at the same time and traffic is congested (as opposed to that time of day when Rush Limbaugh is delivering his political commentary), implies an urban environment, which implies a larger grid of streets and thus a richness of decision-making opportunities not completely unlike a fleet of sailboats tacking upwind, but familiar to a much larger segment of the population. Many of you may have carpooled with somebody with the mentality of the skipper described above: either there is some sort of accident or s/he misjudged traffic again and finds him/herself behind schedule and facing the growing possibility that they will be late for work. Lacking patience or maturity, they assume the traffic must be better on one of the many alternative routes and blindly makes a turn (tacks) at the next intersection. When they discover that this path is also blocked, they immediately move to Plan C, then D, and so forth. Each maneuver has a small cost, which rapidly adds up, and then the path actually starts to get longer and they continue to dig themselves a deeper and deeper hole (oops, that’s not a sailing reference). The math is similar to that above. To mix metaphors even more, compare this to the hitter swinging too hard for a home run. The problem is that in this game, after each errant swing the outfield fence is moved ten yards further away. Although still mathematically possible (at first), the odds of that game-winning home run drop with every swing. Those are the perils of panicking, shutting off your brain, closing your eyes, and trying to slug your way out of your problems.
As you might have guessed, this article is not really about sailing, or traffic, or baseball. Blindly splitting tacks is a tactic of desperation. Desperation is often a result of one’s fears getting the best of them, and may be one of the consequences of ignorance. It is never expedient to shut off your brain to save time (by the same token, except for specially trained pilots in specially designed aircraft, nobody would willingly turn off an airplane’s engines while still in the air), yet people try it every day. This is what happens when you panic. So get a grip! Just as in the sailing example, the prudent driver would carefully evaluate every decision (the more you practice, the easier it gets) instead of assuming the worst, bide your time, and make your bold move only when the conditions are right.
After learning how to SCUBA dive while in high school years ago, my friends and I did most of our diving from the beach. The geography was fairly simple; from the beach the bottom had a gentle slope until reaching the (non-coral) reef of interest at a depth of around 30 feet a couple hundred yards offshore. Water visibility was typically 15 to 25 feet offshore, but could be less than five feet in the surf zone. After moving as fast as possible through the surf zone, we would regroup, sink to the bottom, and rely on our compass, backed up by our depth gauge, to find the most direct path (perpendicular to the beach) to our destination. Our depth gauge was supported by physical clues of our depth, like light intensity and even the spectrum of colors available.
But you don’t need to be a diver to see how poorly we maintain a straight and narrow path.
How To Maintain Your Grip On Reality
Make regular observations
Every nautical chart will tell you that “The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation …”, which clearly means the same as that seventeenth-century proverb “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. Failing to make regular observations is the simplest way to lose touch with reality.
Verify all information – “Google, don’t gossip”
If you don’t know the position or the reliability of the source, you can’t depend on it to find or even describe your own position.
Apply the same standards to all information
Don’t get all of your news from one source. Expect all sources to have some bias (that may not be clear). Politically, this means that you should not get more than 30% of your information from Rush Limbaugh or any lesser-known celebrity (regardless of political affiliation). Your sources should come from all around your horizon,
Don’t Throw Out Information Just Because It’s Unexpected Or Inconvenient
I’ve already discussed this in “How Large Is Your Universe”. If you are doing this, stop calling yourself a scientist and expect others to call you a bigot. We’ve all seen bosses who surround themselves with sycophantsD (ass kissers) and ultimately drive their Rolls-Royce off Reality Road into a ditch (Not surprisingly, none of their entourageD helps pull them out.) When scientists, whose job it is to describe reality, run across information that doesn’t support their theory they are forced to change their theory. Of course there are the occasional outliers,
And that is pretty much it. It is simple enough, but requires constant effort. If you think I left anything out, let me know. Other comments are welcome and appreciated. Now go apply this to your life. Thanks for listening.
I think Secretary Clinton could find somebody like Clara Peller (August 4, 1902 – August 11, 1987)A to go to all of Donald Trump’s events. She could have been in the front row at the last debate, and then whenever Mr. Trump failed to answer a question (which I believe was every time except the last question (I’ll leave the fact-checking to somebody else – I don’t think I could sit through that debate one more time)), or when Mr. Trump interrupted Ms. Clinton (which only happened 18 times, down from the 51 times he interrupted her in the first debateA), this Peller doppelgängerD would interrupt Mr. Trump with her signature line, “Where’s the beef?” I don’t believe Donald would even realize that she is questioning the lack of substance in his conversation or in his Presidential policies; with his adolescent “locker room” mentality, Mr. Trump would assume this old woman was referring to one of his male body parts, and he would feel deeply offended. And then as Mr. Trump walked by at the end of the event, this lady could assume an open, gropeable stance, with her arms outstretched, and maybe her lips all puckered up and ready. She could wind up becoming Donald’s worst nightmare.
For Trump’s other events, you would probably need a corps of such old lady hecklers, because each one would find herself uninvited after her first appearance. In fact, they would probably need to go in groups or be escorted, because Donald’s rabid fans would not be above “taking them out”. Donald himself is more likely to launch into a tirade, followed up at three o’clock the next morning with a volley of angry tweets.
Mrs. Clinton would probably take the advice of Michelle Obama, rather than mine. I understand. I’ve never believed that the victor in a race to the bottom could really be called a winner, anyway (What was the prize for the first man to get to Hell?). But a representative like Clara could put Donald Trump’s tactics into better perspective, and would be entertaining.