Not Quite Clear On The Concept – Part 1

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

First, A Little Math

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Happy Ending

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

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

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

A Not-So-Happy Ending: Politics Trumps Logic

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

Our Position On The 19th Amendment – A Clarification

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”.

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This quote is from the military oath of officeA.

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.

Two Political Parties Are Not Enough

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.

The Problems

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.

 The Solution

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.

Other Changes

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.

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If you Google “why are there only two political parties” you will find plenty of articles. They all mention Duverger’s law as the main reason that in the United States it is not possible to have it any other way.  Only Wikipedia even mentions there are counterexamples, and some of their other assumptions (for example the Washington PostA (among others) claims that a candidate need only to get a plurality of the vote to be elected, even though there are many instances where that is not true. 
Nonetheless, it is clear that the rules of the electoral process themself add a bias to the results.  For example, single-member districts, even without gerrymanderingD or plurality voting, tend to create a winner-take-all system that exaggerates the power of the larger party and completely neutralizes the impact of any lesser party.  One alternative for a county with say seven districts, for example, would be to have all candidates compete in one election, and the top seven finishers would get a job.

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.

The Problem With Pendulums

Don’t get me wrong! There is a place for pendulums, but only because their imperfections are so predictable.

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Wikipedia has an articleD that gives more information about pendulums than most readers would like, including the math, history, and problems perfecting them. For a shorter version focussing mostly on the math, see The Department of Physics & Astronomy website at Georgia State University.
  Pendulums try very hard to be in the right place at the right time, but they are dismal failures. The only time they rest or stop moving for even a moment is when they are as far from perfect as they can possibly get. They spend less time at their desired destination than they spend anywhere else on their route, and during that nanosecond of success, they are moving their fastest toward another extreme position. Why is that?

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.

Any questions?

My Last Thoughts On Our Last Election

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,

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Candidate Truthfulness
Candidate Truthfulness

as read in the International Business Times.

and his extremely low ethical standards that allow him to push the buttons of idiots and fan the flames of bigotry for his own personal gain, which he regularly puts ahead of whatever action might be better for the good of the country.  Trying to understand why he was so popular, I listened to a lot of people, but found their arguments lacking in both fact
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For an article on the pervasivenessD of fake news, see Fake news: How a partying Macedonian teen earns thousands publishing lies. For a discussion of the truth in “news” and even Ben Franklin’s words on the subject, see Fair Play in a Fact-Challenged Political Landscape. This is why my blog post How We Lose Our Grip On Reality was important. The sad part for me was that some of the claims cited as justification of a Trump fanatic’s position were too blatantly false to need any rigorous fact-checking effort.
and logic.  Examples include those who insisted Clinton just couldn’t be trusted (in light of the above), and the gentleman who praised Trump’s lack of political experience and then 30 seconds later bashed Obama for the same characteristic.  It makes me wonder if my concerns for “Falling Into A Negative Spiral” have all come true.

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.

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There is that one question about the fairness of the Electoral College and whether it has outlived its usefulness (which in today’s world I believe it has), but because in all cases where the Electoral College differed from the popular vote, the Democratic (or pre-Democratic) candidate lost the electionA as they appear to have done this year, I don’t see any serious efforts to change that process any time soon.

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.

The news that many of the protesters didn’t vote was also disturbing; I’ve long maintained that if you don’t vote you waive all rights to complain about the election for the next four years.

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.

How We Lose Our Grip On Reality

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.

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Of course light intensity drops steadily as one goes deeper, but also the colors disappear with depth, starting with the longer wavelengths (red)A.
 At the end of the dive we would return straight to the surface, which would put us still a few hundred yards from the beach.  We would inflate our life vests, as they were called back then,
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They are now known as BCDs.D.
roll over on our backs, and leisurely swim back to the beach as we caught our breath. It was quite common on this return trip to look back past your fins and either see the beach behind you, or see one of your friends swimming out to sea.

But you don’t need to be a diver to see how poorly we maintain a straight and narrow path.

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Any resemblance to Matthew 7:13 & 14D is purely coincidental. 😉
To do your own experiment, start in the middle of a large field, put a blindfold on and walk in a “straight” line, dropping numbered markers or flags or let out a rope as you walk (the last time I heard of anyone relying on the bread crumb trick, it didn’t turn out wellA.)  You should be able to take the blindfold off in less than a minute, look back at your path, and be happy nobody was watching.  The moral of this story is that without regular “reality checks”, one won’t be taking the shortest path to your destination, and probably shouldn’t expect to get there at all.  And so it is with life.

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,

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Landmarks that are near each other may have similar positional biases, which will translate into errors in your own position estimate because using them will cause the errors to accumulate and negate any averaging or cancelling effect that you were hoping to get from independent sources.
and you should not treat the information that comes from one side of your vessel different from the information on the other side. Again, politically, you can’t demand higher standards from the other candidates than you expect from your favorite. This just exposes you as a bigot looking for excuses.

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,

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For a simple explanation of outliers, see the “Math Is Fun” website. The last paragraph of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (N.I.S.T.) website discusses how to handle outliers.
which need to be handled carefully.  One clue to how far you’ve wandered from reality is the number of outliers you have to throw away.

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.

A Spokesperson For Hillary Clinton

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.

Save Your Birthday – Vote For Clinton

When I was growing up, birth was considered a significant event.  When a girl got pregnant, it wasn’t assumed that the fetus would have a normal, uneventful life as it grew, got an education and a good  job,  got married, created their own group of fetuses, contributed to society for several decades, and then had a long, fulfilling retirement.  In fact, for two of the three parties involved in the process, birth can be very traumatic.  According to one articleA, 60 to 80% of all naturally conceived embryos never make that milestone.  And of those who did make it, I don’t know of a single one of you that didn’t do a lot of crying about it.  Similarly, in 2015 over 300,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirthA. In the United States, 18.5 women die for every 100,000 birthsA. That is twice the rate of Saudi Arabia, three times that of the United Kingdom, and (strangely enough) 250% as many as died in this country in 1987 (yes, the problem is actually getting worse here).  In my mind, this is something we should be concerned about.

And then there’s the dad (or shall we say “sperm donor”).  Of the two events, the conception is the only one he has to show up for, and for many (mostly Republican) men in Congress, it is apparently the only one that has any meaning – probably the only one he brags about or bothers to put on his calendar (and to save time and space, I’m guessing he doesn’t even bother to jot down the mother’s name).  Some legislators have tried to pass laws making the mother personally responsible for everything that happens after that point.  I’m surprised that they haven’t passed a law replacing your birth date with the date of conception on your driver’s license and all other official documents (Oops! sorry, my bad; it just occurred to me that the reason they haven’t done that yet is probably only because they haven’t thought of it.  The good news is that nobody reads this blog anyway, so we are probably safe for now).

Call To Action?

If you are proud of your birthday, well actually the picture doesn’t look that rosy.  The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, allowing women the right to vote, was ratified 96 years ago and what a waste of time that was.  Their major failures during my lifetime have been the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.), the Hyde AmendmentD – which says the government can only spend money on men’s health issues, not women’s (OK, I’m paraphrasing (maybe even exaggerating) here), and most recently any law that says women will get the same pay as men for the same work.  Are my biases causing me to miss anything?  Help me out, because I can’t think of a single success they can point to (if you remind me of such a success, I will publish it).  I’m really afraid that until women finally grow the balls to exercise their rights, we are all screwed.  Is that how you see it?  Back in the late 1970’s I had a notion that the National Organization for Women (N.O.W. – which is now 50 years old) was apparently not the right group to lead the charge on the E.R.A.  My thinking was that maybe a men’s group with a name like “Fathers Without Sons” (or something with a nicer acronym) would be required to really get the balls rolling.  Is that really what’s needed to protect us?  Somebody please step up to the plate.  In the mean time, the rest of you could start small with a vote for Senator Clinton for President next time you get a chance.  Thank you.

Another Clueless “Christian”?

Not long ago, on the Facebook page of an acquaintance, a discussion was brewing about the Pope having the audacity to say Donald Trump was not a Christian.

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I won’t give you a link to the Facebook discussion, but here’s a New York Times article describing the Pope’s remarksA.
One person suggested the Ten Commandments were the true litmus testD of Christianity.  This week I read that The Donald’s favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye”A. There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding here. Were this a characteristic peculiar to Trump supporters I would probably have let it slide, but I’m concerned that it is indicative of a growing segment of the population who call themselves Christians, but are clearly clueless about the concept.

My Background

I don’t  consider myself any sort of theology expert.  I’ve even been rumored to have nodded off in the middle of a sermon or two, and am not even guaranteed to come to the same conclusions as our pastor when reading any particular passage.  On each of the few occasions I actually tried reading the Bible cover-to-cover, I was becalmed in one of the begat sections.

Although I’m not a Catholic, I have been impressed with the latest Pope; he didn’t just memorize verses, he actually seems to understand a Biblical concept or two.  In fact, he is so different in my view from his predecessors that I’m amazed he was actually elected (maybe it was Divine Intervention).

The point is you shouldn’t take my word for any of this.  Maybe you should just read the Book.  I’ll give references when I can.  But just beware the begats.

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OK, if you must know, you can find some of them at Genesis 5:1 to end, Genesis 11:10 to end, Genesis 36:1 to end, . . . , Matthew 1:2 through 17, Luke 3:23 to end. This list is not exhaustive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bible Background

The way I understand it, the Bible has two parts; the first, called “The Old Testament” could be considered the prequel.  It includes the Jewish (who would prefer not to be called Christian) Torah, their most important text, and spans the period from the creation of the universe (now referred to as the “Big Bang”) up to, but not including the birth of Christ (from which the word “Christian” is derived), a.k.a. Jesus, a.k.a. all kinds of other titles. The New Testament is His story.

The Ten Commandments are in the Torah and therefore are in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:1–17D and then again in Deuteronomy 5:4–21D).  “An eye for an eye” has an even longer history. According to Wikipedia, the principle of “an eye for an eye” goes back to Babylonian LawA, where it was actually an attempt to limit any retaliation so that it wasn’t worse than the original offense.  In English, that means it represents the maximum allowed punishment, not the minimum required punishment (although that interpretation does not seem apparent to me in the language of the Bible).   The rule is repeated three times in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:24D, Leviticus 24:20D, Deuteronomy 19:21D).

The Problem

As I hinted before, the Old Testament does not define Christianity.  Christ (also known as Jesus) defines Christianity.  The Old Testament repeats principles that are shared with half of the (non-Christian) population of the middle east.  But we are in luck; Jesus did specifically address the “eye for an eye” idea.  In Matthew 5:38 through 42, He clearly states

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evildoer. On the contrary, whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go two with him. 42 Give to the person who asks you for something, and do not turn away from the person who wants to borrow something from you.”

(Is this where the Pope got his Communist streakA?)

But What Did Allah Say?

Since the “eye for an eye” idea seemed to be so pervasive, I decided to check one more reference: the Quran.   As far as I can tell, it is only mentioned once:

“And We wrote for them in it: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and an equal wound for a wound; but whoever forgoes it in charity, it will serve as atonement for him. Those who do not rule according to what God revealed are the evildoers.”

I think this mirrors the sentiments of Jesus.  While doing research, I found another interesting story that may support this view:

“A man came to the Messenger of Allah with the killer of his relative.
The Prophet said: Pardon him.
But the man refused.
The Prophet said: Take the blood money.
But the man refused.
The Prophet said: Go and kill him, for you are like him.
So the man pardoned the criminal.”

Conclusions?

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.  If you are not going to follow the teachings of Jesus (the Communist), then you can’t continue to call yourself a Christian.

Sometimes I come away from an issue with more questions than answers.  In this case I’m wondering what Mr. Trump is really trying to say:

Is he, like the Babylonians, citing this rule as an upper limit on our retaliation?  And recognizing that since September 11, 2001 we have killed far more Muslims (over 100,000 in Iraq alone) than we lost in those terrorist attacks (under 3,000) and the Iraq war (around 4,400) combined,  is he suggesting we should end our war on terror?

Is the real reason he wants to bar Muslims from coming to America is that they make him look barbaric?

By quoting the Quran, I am not endorsing Islam; nor do I have any intention of converting to Islam.  For many of you “Christians”, however, it sounds like it might be a step up.

The Real Reason Teachers Are So Important

When it comes to making mistakes, there are a lot of occupations that envy doctors.  Although the quote by architect Frank Lloyd Wright may well be the most famous,

“The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”

it wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last.

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Professions Wishing They Could Bury Their Mistakes

The oldest comparison I found was from farmers

“The farmer cannot bury his mistakes out of sight like the doctor; they remain above ground where they are seen and known by all men.”

but then there were journalists (who also envy lawyers)

“Doctors bury their mistakes. Lawyers jail theirs. But journalists publish theirs for all the world to see.”

and engineers

“Doctors bury their mistakes, but mistakes bury an engineer”

– June 1, 2009, Ferd Leimkuhler. An Enduring Quest: The Story of Purdue Industrial Engineers

and even preachers?

“Doctors can bury their mistakes. Lawyers’ mistakes get shut up in prison—literally. Dentists’ mistakes are pulled. Plumbers’ mistakes are stopped. Carpenters turn theirs into sawdust.”

– October 11, 1998, Charles R. Swindoll. The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart

Not surprisingly, I found nobody who envied teachers. Somebody (perhaps a teacher, but more likely a disgruntled voter) quipped

“doctors can bury their mistakes. Lawyers can imprison theirs. Architects plant ivy around theirs. Teachers send theirs into politics.”

– October, 2009, Dristarg

I want to explain why that may not be so funny.

Falling Into A Negative Spiral

During my first stint as a teacher in the 1980s, I developed a few theories, one of which was the possible consequences of an inadequate educational system.  It seemed to me at the time that if we failed to teach important problem solving and critical thinking skills, the student would still go on to graduate, find a job, maybe even get married and have kids, all the while having no appreciation for the skills s/he missed, and therefore unable to pass that appreciation on to their heirs.  Equally important, these voters would inevitably make bad choices on election day which, as their numbers continued to grow, would eventually result in the election of a political candidate completely unfit for their position.

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Maybe someday we will discuss what one should be looking for when choosing a politician.
Should these politicians ever reach critical massD, they could then pass laws or make other decisions (like funding) adversely affecting the educational system.  This would complete what engineers call a feedback loop, where the outcome of a process affects the input, in this case accelerating the negative changes.

“The Proof Is In The Pudding”?

Who would have thought I was such a prophet?  I recently stumbled upon an article about “The 10 Dumbest States in America”.

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but if you Google “smartest states” you will see a number of similar articles based on different criteria. Although the results will change slightly, the trends will remain about the same.
Being naturally curious, I compared this list to a list of red and blue states I found on Wikipedia. As you can see below, the results speak for themselves.
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Or do they? On page 35 of the latest Republican platform under “Attaining Academic Excellence for All” it states

“Republican Governors have led the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system”.

Based on the map, I would have to disagree.

Smartest & Dumbest States - Which Are Red, Which Are Blue?
The top ten and the bottom ten on a list of smartest states on a map of red states and blue states.

To be fair, one comparison of lists of states does not prove anything. There is more than one way to define “smart”, but I think all the conventional definitions will give similar results. Even in defining “Red States…”, Wikipedia had three different maps, but although the second one gave a better indication of the degree of redness, unless you are planning to study this in much greater detail I’m not sure that really matters. I made this map for illustration purposes only.

But Do We Have ‘Cause & Effect’?

One very important question about my theory (like any other theory) would be that of cause and effect.  When talking about downward spirals, the related question of “which came first” is no longer meaningful.  But to have a feedback loop, the cause and effect issue must work both ways.

Do Republicans Hurt Education?

First, would education suffer in a Republican-controlled state?  Their stated goals of a much smaller government, their rejection of science, and even a blatant disregard of factsA suggest so.  The above map suggests so.  If you have any evidence to the contrary, now would be a good time to present it.

Do The Uneducated Vote Republican?

Second, does stupidity lead one to vote Republican?  If true, it would give the Republicans sinister ulterior motives for their cost cutting policies in the departments of education.  It also gives them a huge conflict of interest.

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Unfortunately, unlike judges, politicians don’t have to recuse themselves in those instances.
 And since the rich are predominantly RepublicanA, it could also help explain their interest in school vouchers and such (if they were deliberately underfunding education in an effort to dumb down America and maintain control, they would want an escape hatch for their own kids and they would have the chutzpah to expect the government to reimburse them for it).

This question is, nonetheless, a hard one.  Even rocket scientists prefer simple solutions.

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The principle, now known as “Occam’s razor” after William of Ockham, a fourteenth century English Franciscan friar and philosopher, actually goes back before the Greek philosopher and teacher, Aristotle, who said “The more limited, if adequate, is always preferable”. Although that suffers in translation, it means that if there are two or more solutions to the same problem, choose the simplest.
 When faced with a tough question like “Which candidate would do a better job of finding real solutions to important problems and working to get those solutions implemented”, someone without the necessary critical thinking skills may not be able to resist an appealingly simple,  but flawed solution.  Conversely, the same person might reject a more complicated solution s/he doesn’t understand, even if the conditions warrant such complexity.  You could say I’m just guessing, however, since I have no studies supporting this notion.   Any evidence either for or against this theory would be appreciated.   At the very least, it seems likely to me that a poor education would make identifying the correct candidate more difficult, making the decision more random, which would increase the chances of an error, but could benefit either party.  It could foreseeably cut the margin of victory of what should be a clear winner (in those cases where such a thing exists) to the point where other nefarious forces could use financial influence to carry the day in situations that would ordinarily be cost prohibitive.

I should point out that even if stupidity does lead one to vote Republican, that doesn’t mean the converse of that statement, that all Republican voters are stupid, is also true.  If you are a “smart” Republican you already knew that, but are probably relying on the gullible to advance your agenda (an agenda for which they receive no benefit).

So Now What?

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to get us out of an educational death spiral. Even worse than alcohol’s ability to impair one’s judgement to the extent that one is more and more unlikely to know when it is time to quit, an uneducated person begins life already impaired; it is the “village”‘sA responsibility to lead (or drag) each of us toward competence (sort of like the first time you pushed your son or daughter’s bicycle until they had enough velocity to maintain balance (and maybe the second time, and the third…).  Obviously, we are not doing our job. Maybe it is a motivation issue.  Are the thrills and advantages of being able to handle life’s problems not clear enough?

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As a teacher, I’ve actually had some cases of the parents not wanting to make an investment in the future of one of their heirs with real potential.  One of these parents was an itinerant farm worker.  Their “reasoning” was (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if ignorance was good enough for the parents, it should be good enough for their kids.
Do we need to hire a slick ad agency to convince everybody that life would not seem so hopeless (and we wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on conspiracy theories) if we actually had the ability to get out of harm’s way? One might argue that coddling our children by downplaying their inadequacies and downplaying the advantages of competence so as not to hurt their feelings, socially promoting them to the next level regardless of effort, etc, may have the serious unintended consequence of reducing their motivation. While I’m inclined to let experts debate these issues, I am convinced that as you shrink one’s universe by throwing out more and more of the inconvenient truths, and as one’s grip on reality becomes less and less firm as a result of that policy, the consequences ultimately become more and more dire.  Maybe you need to grow up so that your kids can grow up.  And then insist that your community invests more heavily in education (and by “education”, we need the broadest, not the narrowest definition).  I’m reminded about that old bumper sticker that said “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”; I don’t have such a bumper sticker because too many people are already eagerly accepting that offer.  Education, however, is not an investment opportunity that we can afford to miss.

If you know the solution to this problem, let me know. Or better yet, send me a copy of the correspondence to your congressperson explaining the path we need to take.  And thank you for listening.

How Much The NRA Cares About Elephants.

I just learned from a number of sources that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is opposing President Obama’s plan to restrict American hunters from bringing home more than two elephant “trophies” a year,

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References:

  • “What does the Republican Party have against elephants?”A2 That’s a good question. In the last line of the article, the author Andrew Wetzler mentions that the elephant is the mascot of the Republican Party.  He may have stumbled onto a motive.  Could the Republicans possibly be thinking that if all the wild elephants were gone, then the law of supply and demand would make their mascot more valuable?
  • “The NRA Is Quietly Fighting For Your Right To Kill Elephants For Their Ivory”A3


ostensibly because that would make it harder for gun owners to get top dollar when they try to sell guns with ivory handlesA.  Does that even make sense? It is interesting to see their priorities.

Here are my comments to the NRA:

  • Since we all know that “guns don’t kill elephants, people do”,
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    I am expanding on the unofficial slogan of the NRAA here. People with rocks, no doubt, kill elephants.  Possibly even people with tomatoes.  That could explain all of those pink elephants you’ve been seeing lately.
    and
  • since the NRA’s job is clearly only to push rifles, as their name implies, then
  • I don’t see how you have any standing in this matter (in English, that means “Why should anybody care what you think about elephants”).

The NRA needs to step away from this important issue on the fate of elephants and let the people speak for themselves.

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.

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.

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.

The (Southern) Emperor’s New Clothes

I had always thought this story written by Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark in the early nineteenth century was mere fiction created for small children.  Yet they seem to be reenacting this tale in the state of South Carolina as I speak.

The Plot

The original story is about a vain Emperor who had been duped by a pair of swindling weavers into thinking he was getting an extravagant new outfit and was later climactically called out by a child as being completely naked when the emperor paraded his new clothes down the streets of the capital.  The swindlers depended on observers’ pride and ego to make them unwitting accomplices to the crime by claiming that the Emperor’s new clothing would be invisible to anyone that was unusually stupid.  But this summary doesn’t do the tale justice. The story is short, so check it out yourself at The Hans Christian Andersen Center website.

How It Applies

In this month’s reenactment, the swindlers are played by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SOCV), who have considered it their job to convince us that the Confederate flag is not being used as a symbol of racism and hatred, even though it was resurrected throughout the South in the 1960’s (one hundred years after the Civil War) specifically as a protest against federal laws giving blacks some of the rights they thought they had won a century earlier.  No, according to the SOCV, that’s not the case at all.  In fact this flag is THE ONLY true symbol of Southern Pride.  The Governor of the state is not playing the Emperor, as some might think (or hope).  That’s not because the Governor is a female, I’m sure, but because the legislature somehow made her powerless in this instance.  The star role is played by the state lawmakers, who have been solidly Republican, and solidly white, and solidly male since about the time the flag returned to prominence.  The child is aptly played by 21-year-old Dylann Roof.  Some might consider him too old for the part, but because of the culture he grew up in and the current state of our education system (which he dropped out of in the ninth grade), I would argue that he is every bit as qualified as that young child in Denmark from a time just a little bit before the South’s finest hour.  In a dramatic and tragic fashion, Dylann demonstrated that he knew the true meaning of that flag based on the context in which it was used.  He was not buying any of this Southern Pride crap.  And neither should you. 

 

Where I Fit In

I’m not originally from the South, but have lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else and like to consider this home.  I’m really saddened by these recent developments.  While I’ve always been puzzled by all of this Confederate pride stuff, now I’m starting to question my own actions, or lack thereof.  There is no telling how many lives could have been saved if I had the heart, or is it the balls, to break it to y’all many years ago that the Confederacy actually lost that war (go ahead and Google it), which means there are a lot of losers down here worshiping bigger losers.  But that has always been their right, and I’m a big believer in personal rights and freedoms, brushing their obsession off as harmless fun.  I may even owe my neighbors and all true followers of the Lord an apology for misjudging the harm in this ruse and for my inaction. But then again, my voice may not have made a difference. In Andersen’s original story, only a child would have been able to expose the Emperor (no pun intended). Any adult making the claim the child did would have been dismissed as a simpleton and subjected to ridicule (OK, now maybe I’m just making excuses for myself again).

So What’s The Point?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the good guys win every war.  This isn’t Hollywood.  But in this case, if it’s not bigotry and hatred, exactly what ARE the principles (which are lacking in those “damn Yankees”) that we are really trying so hard to defend here?  And although pride is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”, there are many who consider it a virtue A.  Either way, it has to be acknowledged as a basic human characteristic.  But it is just so very sad that in the last 150 years (and probably the 150 years before that), we have found absolutely nothing else around here beside the Confederate flag that we could possibly take any pride in.  That certainly didn’t change this week. (Or did it?  Could it be possible you just don’t know where to look?)

So What Happens Next?

Hans Christian Andersen was no Walt Disney; his story ends long before they reached “Happily Ever After”.  In fact as the curtain dropped, the Emperor, after being outed as an idiot, was determined to continue on, “so he walked more proudly than ever”.  What that means for the Confederate flag, or human decency, or the citizens of the Great State of South Carolina I have no idea.  That is all up to you.

Am I Becoming An Insensitive Bastard?

My lifetime partner might think so.  Here are a few articles that have come to my attention in the recent past that may (or may not) support his/her view:

  • Beyoncé Slammed for Sampling Shuttle Tragedy on New Album
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    For putting a six-second audio clip of an official mentioning the Challenger disaster at the beginning of her song, “XO”, twenty-seven years after the incident, Beyonce is considered extremely insensitive for mocking the crew’s sacrifice and opening “fresh wounds”. Really?
  • JetBlue just made the ultimate faux pas on Twitter
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    JetBlue is forced to apologize for tweeting three words that reminded people of the Hindenburg disaster, which occurred seventy-seven years earlier. The life expectancy in the United States is currently 78.74 years. What is the normal mourning period (especially for someone who was less than two years old at the time of the tragedy)?  Looking at this from a different perspective, the article notes that 36 people died in the tragedy.  I’m willing to bet that over a million times that number have died tragically since then.  How long will you be able to devote to grieving over each one of these people?  Are some really more worthy than others?
  • Coke pulls Fanta ad over Nazi controversy
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    Apparently, it is now considered completely thoughtless to reminisce about the Good Old Days if there was strife anywhere in the world during that time period. In how many years during the last century would such recollections still be possible?
  • Under Armour pulls controversial ‘Band of Ballers’ T-shirt
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    The T-shirt was deliberately made to resemble the photograph of the raising of the American flag at the battle of Iwo Jima that “promptly became an indelible icon — of that battle, of the Pacific War, and of the Marine Corps itselfA“. The article notes that “more than 6,800 American troops died in that battle”. Not mentioned, by the way, is the fact that the United States actually won that battle and thousands of old geezers still take great pride in their part in defending our American way of life. The T-shirt, on the other hand, is about basketball. Lighten up!
  • US Senate Candidate Apologizes for Offensive ‘War Cry’ Comment
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    In the video clip, this lady is making fun of herself, not any minority group, for her own misunderstanding of the term “Indian American”. The “offensive” gesture lasted maybe two seconds, during which time all five fingers were extended (as opposed to just the longest, as would be displayed in a gesture that I have become much more familiar with).  The event clearly shows her ignorance, not her animosity.  I’m inclined to think “no blood, no foul”. It’s clear that the offended parties take themselves much more seriously than she takes herself. Probably too seriously.

I’m sure there are many other examples, but you get the idea. I know, I know – you have to take these stories with a grain of salt; there are some in the media who know they can sell more ads by fanning the flames of controversy regardless of how small those flames really are, and the outrage in at least one of the stories may be politically motivated. Still, I’m beginning to see a trend, and it’s not a good one.

Here are a couple of seemingly unrelated situations that may metaphorically give hints as to where I’m going with this.

  • FCC Part 15, which applies to many consumer electronic devices, says that the equipment must meet two requirements: (1) The device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation. To me this just makes sense.  Radio interference degrades the ability to communicate.  First, in consideration of others one should create as little interference as possible.  Second, since there will always be some interference, if your equipment can’t accept interference it may be worthless.
  • When operating a boat, “the vessel’s wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vesselsA (See also A).  That sounds entirely reasonable to me.  On the other hand, any vessel that cannot handle the ocean’s waves would not be considered seaworthy, so while a ship is responsible for any damages caused by its wake, those damages would be harder to prove and collect when they occur in the open ocean.

It has been reported that “real men” don’t cry.  Even though that is erroneous, I can assure you that real men do not go looking for things to cry about. And while, contrary to popular belief, real men are not defined by what they wear or what they do or don’t eat, it is entirely fair and reasonable to judge a man by how they behave.

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Here, as you should have guessed, I am using the more general definition of “man”, as in “mankind”, which includes both sexes.
I propose the following rule of manhood:

A real man needs to be able to take more #$@! than s/he can dish out.

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And what are MY qualifications on this matter?It shouldn’t matter whether I consider myself a contender, a shopper, or merely a bystander, the statement should be able to stand on its own merits. If these rules are too stringent for you, sit back down with the wannabes.  If you have a better rule or argument, let’s hear it.
It grieves me to see people racing to find new ways to be offended. These are clearly haters and wannabes instead of problem solvers, and should not be taken seriously.  For example, the first four of the above examples involved alleged insensitivity to the tragedies of others.  We have all lost loved ones.  Those who claim to be hurt and offended that long after the catastrophe, in my book, are either faking it (in some sports they would be called floppers) or they need serious professional help.

Now that you know how I feel, what is the answer to the title question? Is it me or “them”? I think everyone needs to continually ask themselves this question. You should always allow for the possibility that you are wrong as a first step in reducing your own error rate.  Although being politically correct is obviously not one of my objectives, I do actually believe in considering the needs, rights, and points of view of others in my decision making process. It seems to me that following the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) should be sufficient.  But then again, if one actually were an insensitive bastard that wasn’t easily offended, treating others in the same callous manner that one finds tolerable toward oneself just might not be enough.  Unfortunately, we are all burdened by our own biases, so finding the answer to this question is not easy, and may not even be possible without the help of friends.  That’s why I’m turning this discussion over to you.  Thanks in advance for your help.

The Statue – A Modern Fable (or Allegory?)

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, in the land of Euwessovay,

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The anglicized version of the Greek word Euwessovay would be “U.S. of A.”

a huge island far off the coast of ancient Greece, there lived a great sculptor, who came from a long line of great sculptors descended from PygmalionA.  This sculptor was commissioned to create a statue for the leaders of the Scotus Society,

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One club in the new land was so enamored with this ancient society that they made their name a backronymD of the older group. They now call themselves “The Supreme Court Of The United States”.

and as you’d expect, he did an outstanding job.  The Scotus Society was a powerful group of old men, who were considered to be the wisest in the land, and as many of you know, “statue” is an ancient Greek word for corporation.  Everybody in ancient Greece knew that a statue, although created by humans for the benefit and enjoyment of humans, was not really human; even Pygmalion knew that.  Unlike the famous work of this sculptor’s ancestor, this statue was not in the form of a beautiful woman.  To ensure his commission, the sculptor took a lesson from another compatriot of the old country, NarcissusA, and made the statue in the likeness of the society elders.  When they received the statue, the members of the society each saw himself in the statue and immediately fell in love.  They loved the statue so much that they unanimously decreed that it would thereafter be considered human with all of the rights and privileges thereof.  And thus was the law of the land.  Not quite satisfied, they later decreed unanimously that this statue would be granted the highest honor and privilege in the land, specifically the right to completely disregard the “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness”
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This quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, who in the Declaration of Independence claimed these terms were unalienable Rights endowed by our Creator.

of all lesser humans, namely women, and to ignore all of their needs and individual religious beliefs, as his gods commanded him.”

Nobody yet knows how this story will turn out.  Although it was born from the mind of men, this statue is no AthenaA. And in this version of the Incarnation, it is the mother’s role that is missing instead of the father’s; maybe this new human will be the atheists’ answer to Jesus Christ.  Nonetheless, this statue is now a proper and natural citizen of the great island state of Euwessovay, which means that because it is male, this statue could well be declared the country’s next Grand Commander.  And because statues never die, we could all be serving this great leader for years to come.

Who I am (Part 1)

What you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for:

Those of my attributes that aren’t relevant to the discussion at hand are really none of your business. My sex is one of those, or should I say gender, because you will not find on these pages any “battle of the sexes” comments about why one sex is better than the other or engaging in any discussions using cliches and tired stereotypes to bash the opposition.  I always thought those were stupid, even as far back as the preteen years, when catching cooties from members of the opposite sex suddenly became such a huge concern for most of my friends.   Similarly, I won’t be discussing my sexual orientation.  I know what it is, and my partner knows what it is, and since you are neither of those, I’m hard pressed to understand why you care.  I doubt my height, weight, or race will have any role in this blog either.

Why I’m doing this:

Many people would consider me old.   You would probably pick up on that soon enough.  Back in the 1970’s, during the CB radio craze, “Silent Knight” was my handle (“Holy Knight” was never considered).  Being true to character, however, nobody ever heard that name from me. I had learned early in life that you can learn more with your mouth shut.  As I’ve been aging (especially more recently), I find myself becoming more opinionated, however, or maybe just more concerned about the direction this country is taking.  I understand that’s the path a lot of people take as they get older.   I just hope I have a few more good years left before my wildest fears get the best of me and I’m forced to become a Republican.

Politics is an acceptable topic for this blog.   Religion is also an acceptable topic for this blog. Since I am by no means an expert on any of these topics, I was hoping I could count on my readers to keep me honest.  As I hinted in the first paragraph, I will not let these discussions deteriorate into mindless sound bites and one-liners.  I expect respondents to actually address the issues and questions brought to light by those before them instead of talking past them in parallel conversations. Facts are important (but might be refuted by other facts). Facts cannot be trumped by theories or opinions, and even anecdotes could be considered suspicious.

We will discuss people’s rights in this blog. As an example, this is my blog and your right to free speech ended when you entered.  I expect to be a gracious host

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As usual, “host” here is the generic, gender-neutral form which could include “hostess”.

and welcome encourage opposing points of view, but I am under no obligation to let you trash all rules of civility and intelligent discourse to spout some mindless, unsupportable crap.  In that case, I may or may not use you as another fine example of an idiot, at my sole discretion.

More about me:

As you guessed, I consider myself to be liberal in most areas (although what once was considered liberal has since been relabeled “socialist”, and may now even be called “communist” by those who obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

Although I mention religion as a possible topic, I didn’t say anything about my own religious views yet.  That’s not something I can do in 25 words or less; I was hoping I’d have time for that later.  Also later, the astute reader will learn some of the various life experiences I have had, but only as they relate to a particular topic.

The last thing you may need to know is that I have absolutely no fear of numbers.  Numbers are merely a subset of human language and a shorthand in effective communication.  I am likely to fact-check the numbers before other parts of an article.  But if you think you can avoid scrutiny by simply leaving them out, be aware that any argument you make that is devoid of facts (many of which are best described with numbers) may suffer in terms of credibility and may not make it very far in this conversation.  Just saying.  Thanks for listening.  I am looking forward to a hearty discussion.