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.

‘If You Don’t Have To Pay For It, It Can’t Be Considered Free Speech” – Supreme Court

That statement is a direct corollaryD to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. As you may recall, in the Citizens United case the Supreme Court decided that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment,

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According to the first amendment to the constitution of the United States, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” .
and equally important, it found no compelling reason for the government to prohibit corporations and unions from spending their money on independent election-related programs or materialsA.
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A better summary of this issue can be found at the Center for Public Integrity.
 By striking down ALL limits on corporate spending, the Court implies that the only way to get free speech is to spend large amounts of money – hence the corollary.

One consequence of allowing unlimited spending by one entity is that it allows their voice to drown out the voices of others in cases where media facilities and listener attention spans are limited, and thus the rights of one individual are allowed to squelch the rights of others.

I recently visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda (which, I understand, may have been patterned after the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).  A good, but unofficial account on that museum was written by Helen from EnglandA. What amazed me in my visit to the museum was:

  1. Such a complete reversal of conduct between neighbors could happen so quick; one day Hutu kids and Tutsi kids were playing together in the front yard and the next one family is slaughtering the other.
  2. This isn’t “ancient” history, as I had imagined the Holocaust was when I was a kid; just over twenty years ago “between 500,000 and one million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsis, were massacred”A.  There are rumors that retaliation is still taking place today, so we cannot console or delude ourselves by arguing “Oh, that happened a long, long time ago.  Nothing like that could ever happen today.”  Apparently hatred and bigotry are timeless values.
  3. The museum pointed out the crucial role that propaganda played in this event.  That shouldn’t have been so surprising; there is a long history of the influence of propaganda being implicated in human atrocities.  I am surprised that the Supreme Court wasn’t aware of that connection when they made their decision.

In spite of the Constitution, we have in the past placed limits on free speech and we have placed limits on corporations.  Shouting “fire” in crowded theaters may be the most infamous example given for the first, while antitrust laws readily come to mind in the second case – all in the name of fairness. Considering past abuses, reasonable attempts to level the playing field here are entirely consistent with the principles embodied by our founding fathers and the goals of good government. The Citizens United decision, on the other hand, puts us well on our way toward a transition from the “one person, one vote” model that I have come to know and love, to the “one dollar, one vote” model that seems to be in vogue of late.  Not everybody would consider that an improvement.

Pondering Gun Control

Since we all know that

then we must conclude that there just aren’t that many good guys out there with guns, and there is no way to get enough good guys with guns!

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Would the more-than-100-year-old saying  that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutelyA be a factor in this issue?
 If that IS the case, then it follows that taking some guns away would hurt the bad guys much more than it would hurt the good guys.  Maybe it is time to start taking away some guns.  Australia did it, and it worked well (see Reference A1 again).

But first, let’s take one more look at the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It would have been nice if they could have spoken plain English back then, but the way I read it this means that it is the state’s responsibility and duty to control gun ownership for the purpose of establishing a militia. The federal government would have to step away (except to meet other requirements like the interstate commerce clause), and the individual would have to be content with whatever gun privileges s/he is left with.  There is a nice discussion of the second amendment at Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.

I’ve never understood the implicit argument of the National Rifle Association (NRA) that if we try to take guns away from confirmed bad guys and crazy people, then we have to take them from everybody.  Really!!  If you are going to stick to that requirement, then in order to save people’s lives I may have no choice but to accept your conditions and vote to take all guns.  But that would be sad to think that every conscientious gun owner had to suffer because you couldn’t differentiate between the confirmed bad guys and everybody else.  This inability of yours also begs the question “If you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, then who the f&@# are you shooting at.” In my mind you are also too dangerous to carry a gun.

I may be willing to negotiate on this, but if you are going to sway me you are going to have to give up the one-liners that you and the NRA stole from Comedy Central, and present some real arguments supported by real facts, not fear.

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Interestingly enough, the NRA has a history of suppressing the facts on this topicA. History and my own experience tell me that the people fighting the growth and spread of knowledge do NOT have your best interests at heart. I have found some numbers that might shed light on this debate which I will try to share soon.
 I’m ready to publish your arguments.

Out Of Africa – Primitive Communication

On a recent trip to Africa I learned that males of apex predator species share certain characteristics.  For example, our local guide explained that a male lion’s roar can be heard at least five miles away and is used to communicate their ownership of a territory.

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Although not my guide, Wayne Staab explained it well at the Hearing Health & Technology Matters website 
Similarly, while climbing to see the mountain gorillas, we were told that the silverback’s chest pounding display had similar purposes (see the “Gorilla Communication” page at Gorillas-World). I believe I may have found the simplest human adaptation of this principle.

A visitor to Africa will also learn not expect the same level of amenities to which they have become accustomed in most of Europe and America. I’ve seen many foods (i.e. English muffins & hamburgers), and even musical instruments (like the violin and guitar) that bore only a basic resemblance to their same-named counterparts elsewhere. Even toilets tend to be much simpler than one might be used to, sometimes being no more than a porcelain-lined hole in the ground.  At one stop a friend pointed out what was labeled a urinal, but had no fixture at all. The sign was outside the entrance of a small “room” consisting of four concrete walls extending slightly more than waist high around the perimeter of a rectangular concrete floor. The narrow entrance had no door and there was no roof or any structure extending above the top of the walls. The completely flat floor was sloped slightly with a small drain hole in the lowest corner. This must have been the epitomeD of minimalist architecture.

What that room did very well was act as a resonating chamber and amplify all sounds emitted fairly close to the ground. And then the real purpose of the structure hit me.  I could envision that when a man passes gas in this facility, the roar can be heard for miles around, and other men will pause and listen admiringly and with respect, and one young man will invariably say to another “Now THERE is an asshole”.

 

I do have a number of weightier matters I’d like to discuss, but my day job has been keeping me pretty busy.  Nonetheless, one should be able to find new material here within the week.

To Protect And To Serve – You Can Be Too Smart To Be A Cop, And It’s Beginning To Show

Although this case occurred around the turn of the millennium, I just found out about the Appeals Court in New York who upheld a lower court’s decision that barring intelligent people from the police force is perfectly acceptable.  According to the courts, “the city did not discriminate against Robert Jordan because the same standards were applied to everyone who took the testA1.”  The judge may have thought to himself “Hey, I’ve been functioning as an effective judge in New York for many years and nobody has ever noticed that I’m as dumb as snot.  If I can do it, any police officer can do it.”  I would have thought his decision in this case would in itself have proven him wrong.  Following his logic, it would also be perfectly reasonable to exclude blacks or women from the force as long as you checked the racial and/or sexual identity of every applicant (apparently, it’s only if you forget to ask that you can get in trouble here).  Contrary to what the judge seems to believe, the definition of discriminationD says

. . . making a distinction . . . against . . . a person . . . based on the group . . . to which that person . . . belongs rather than on individual merit.

In this case the group would be “intelligent people”. It stands to reason that to effectively discriminate, one has to be able to tell whether the applicant belongs to said group, which implies that all applicants would be measured by some uniform standard. Not only IS this discrimination, but it’s a very bad idea. Two recent news items should make this clear.

Police Officers Should Be Smarter Than Criminals

The first article is about a prison debate team defeating an elite team from HarvardA.  

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“But what does an article about the Harvard debate team have to say about the intelligence of the police force?”  Well, in the first article referenced above (A1), it said that the average police test score was around 21, which is barely above average intelligence.  I’m guessing that the student body of most colleges would score higher than that, even at Harvard (although based on the last article, I can see why you might want to question that assumption).  The transitive property in mathematics says that if the inmates are smarter than Harvard students and if the students are much smarter than average, then they are smarter than most police, and the inmates must be smarter than the police.  Don’t fret!  If this math word problem was too tough for you, you might still find success in the New London, Connecticut police department.
Even though I spoiled the ending of the inmate debate story for you the article is worth reading, with some interesting statistics about the relationship between education and recidivismD (repeated or habitual relapse).  At first I found that part of the article encouraging, but in light of this discussion one has to wonder “Does an education make a person less likely to (re)turn to a life of crime or, now being smarter than the police, are these people just less likely to be caught again.”  There are a number of articles like the one from NBC NewsA that say fewer and fewer cases are getting solved.

Police Should Be Smart Enough To Know Who Is The Bad Guy

Another concern is the behavior of the police, themselves.  This court decision would seem to explain a lot of police behavior in the last few years.  I’ve been scratching my head ever since the Trayvon Martin case was decided in Florida (OK, so that was only a police wannabee), but have been unable to comment on every ridiculous case that has made the news of late.  I will take a little time to address the most recent case to come to my attention – that of the teenage WHITE boy who was killed by a police officer for flashing his high-beam headlights at him one nightA.  This whole incident was a simple misunderstanding that any police officer with half of a brain would have resolved peacefully. The boy’s high crime against the state was in believing that the police held themselves to a higher standard than your everyday thug.  He couldn’t imagine that a genuine police officer would take offense to a simple act of courtesy. That was a fatal mistake.  At time 1:03 on the tape, he questions if this is a real police officer. This is not a trivial concern. Go ahead and Google something about being stopped by fake police; there are lots of horror stories and several articles explaining what to do should that happen to you. This officer should know about these rules and be aware of the driver’s concerns, yet he did nothing during the entire encounter to distinguish himself from a fake cop or a common criminal. He is clearly not here to listen and work with his constituents – it seems that he is only on the force to get his thrills by bending everybody he meets to his own will and to feed his bloated ego. That’s how it looks to me. If you are stopped by a possibly fake cop, WikiHowA (and others) say to ask for identification. See how well that went at time 1:26. At any point in the video you could ask yourself “What would a fake cop do right now” and compare that to the actions of this police officer. At the same time, point to any action made by the boy in the first five and a half minutes that suggests he was a danger to anyone. By the time he was tased, he had good reason to fear for his life. And even in those last ten seconds of desperation and utter terror, for the officer to think that the unarmed kid on the way home from church had transformed into a genuine killer, or for the prosecutor to say that the officer had no choice but to murder this boy is outrageous.  The kid didn’t suddenly turn into a homicidal maniac.  He thought he was doomed and was just trying to do whatever it took to stop the torture and get away to live another day.  This officer wasn’t about to let that happen.  I could argue that the boy’s actions in the end were entirely predictable.  If so, and if the officer were taking deliberate action to promote the inevitable as it appears in the tape, then it would be entirely reasonable to charge that officer with first degree murder.  If the prosecutor cannot think of at least a dozen more reasonable ways that the officer could have handled this situation, he should be fired. By closing his eyes to justice he is part of the problem, not the solution because by so doing he is destroying his and the department’s credibility and the people’s trust in the whole establishment. They are not protecting and they are not serving. Neither one of them deserves to be paid with your hard-earned tax dollars.

This is just one example of what could and will happen when the intelligence of your police force is not a priority, and when discrimination (of any kind) is allowed to occur.  But if I were actually smart, and if I thought I could make a real contribution to society by following a career in law enforcement, I would not let the decision of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in this case dissuade me from that goal.  I like to believe that the only reason this decision hasn’t been overturned is because the original plaintiff lost hope in the system and moved on.  Even after the Hobby Lobby decisionC, I retained enough faith to believe that “common sense” would eventually prevail – certainly by the time this case got to the Supreme Court.

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.

What I Still Don’t Know About Forgiveness

Remember those times in school when you were able to just follow along while your teacher was explaining a topic, and it made so much sense that you didn’t bother to take notes or study that night for the next quiz, only to discover when reading the very first question, that your grasp of the subject wasn’t nearly as strong as you first thought?  That’s where I am right now on the topic of forgiveness.  I’m beginning to suspect that my earlier understanding of forgiveness may have been incomplete.

The Definition

Maybe I should go back and review the definition of forgiveness.  The Free Dictionary starts with “To give up resentment against or stop wanting to punish (someone) for an offense or fault”.  That sounds simple enough.  Forgiveness is something my preacher has covered many, many times, and it’s not too hard to see that without it you can wind up in a feud like the Hatfields and the McCoys that goes on so long that neither side can remember what the original disagreement was all about.

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OK, this might be the simplified Hollywood version.  For a more historical version, you can check out www.todayifoundout.com.

A Possible Motive

For Christians, forgiveness has a central role in the Lord’s PrayerD, which Jesus recited when asked by one of his disciples how they should pray to their God, as described in two places (Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 9 through 13 as well as Luke 11:2-4).  Just for reference, the line in that prayer that is pertinent to this discussion goes something like “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For the longest time I focused only on the first half of that sentence. It was only recently that I woke up to the second clause and realized that when saying the prayer I hadn’t just been asking for blanket forgiveness, as I had originally thought, but was telling God to follow my lead – meaning if I wasn’t willing to forgive others, then He was off the hook for my own transgressions.  That was sobering.

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At the time, I thought this “awakening” of mine was an epiphany brought about by my greater understanding of biblical concepts.  Now I see that for those of you who weren’t so blessed, this idea is spelled out in Matthew 6:14, immediately after the prayer.

The Questions

So here is my question. I would have gone to my preacher, but I was not sure he would have taken me seriously. And although I’m not the kind of person who takes everything literally (and I’m not suggesting that you are such a person, either), this question will use trespassing as the sin of choice.  Suppose you are on your own property and you see somebody walking along. You identify yourself and ask them to leave. Do you forgive them before or after they leave your property? And if they refuse to leave, do you forgive them before or after you shoot them?

Here’s another aspect I’m not clear on.  I guess you could call me greedy; for some time now I’ve wanted more from God than just forgiveness. What I’ve been praying for instead was to be cured of that particular sin so I don’t need to be forgiven over and over again.  Would that be cheating?

Are those questions related somehow?  Perhaps they are just two sides to the same coin.

Now it’s time for me to shut up and turn the discussion over to my readers.  Any help you can give me toward greater understanding would be greatly appreciated.

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.

Flying Their True ColoursD

I saw an interesting sight the other afternoon.  While driving along US-1 in an urban area of very South Florida I noticed a large white pickup truck with large tires (the type of vehicle that, with or without a gun rack, would be attributed around here as being owned and operated by rednecks, or should I say white males with plenty of Southern Pride).  Waving proudly in the back was a very large American flag.

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By “American” I specifically mean The United States Of America, not any of those other North American countries who’s inhabitants, if you’ve been listening intently to Donald Trump lately, are almost all scumbagsA.  (But don’t worry, scumbags, if you are willing to work for the Donald for next-to-nothing, I’m sure he will still like you – unless you are capturedA (by immigration perhaps).

Although I’ve recently expressed my view on the display of the Confederate flag, the flag that one is most likely to see in these parts would be the flag of our nearest Latin American neighbors (you’d better check the map; around here that wouldn’t be Mexico).  As it turns out, when you are as far south as you can possibly get inside the continental limits of the United States, the traditional southern white folk no longer represent the Majority.  That title was seized several decades ago by Cubans displaced by a communist regime at home.

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I realize the term “communist” or its significance in this instance may cause confusion.  When I was young (which is probably long before your time), we were taught that communism was very, very bad.  Many Cubans came here during that era.  But as we’ve learned from the Chinese experience, one’s political circumstances aren’t really all that important as long as one is willing to work for next-to-nothing.  Just ask the Donald.  Then you can be our buddy (sorry, I mean BFF).  In fact, to avoid offending our BFFs, we don’t even use the word “communist” anymore unless we are talking about our political opponents (of just about any flavor) or the PopeA.  So apparently, their government still won’t allow the people in Cuba to work for Americans for next-to-nothing, and those that moved here wouldn’t think of doing that either.  So there is a lot of hostility between the Cuban residents of the two countries, even now as our President tries to restore relations, just as his (Republican) predecessors have done with milder, less oppressive or objectionable countries like Russia and China.
What really pissed off the locals as this power shift was taking place was that the newcomers weren’t assimilating the local culture.  They weren’t bothering to learn English, they weren’t renouncing the corruption or other values of a third-world country, and maybe most important, they kept waving that damn Cuban flag.  This has been going on for over fifty years now.  If the local Cubans had assimilated, then they would have known that the flag they should have been waving was from a group that actually attacked and declared war on the United States to preserve their enlightened principles, and only after a long, devastating struggle was the group soundly defeated and erased from existence over 150 years ago.

Anyway, when I saw the American flag in the back of the pickup truck, I know it wasn’t that big a deal, but I found it refreshing.  Maybe that guy finally found something he could be proud of.  Lately the only ones you see flying the American flag, the largest they can possibly find, are used car dealerships.  And how many times have you heard on the news about the veteran who tried flying his flag, but was denied or thrown out by his condominium association, which was exercising the same rights to protect their residents from offensive material that he had fought so hard for (and that some of his friends no doubt died for).  But this is America, after all.  It almost brought tears to my eyes.

DIn the time several centuries ago when the British Navy ruled the seas, “colours” meant “flag”.

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