Another Look At The Electoral College

Earlier this summer, I overheard a Florida neighbor try to explain why the electoral college was so important.  His main argument was the defense-of-small-states argument I mentioned in My Last Thoughts On Our Last Election. Since the election, I have heard (and readA1,A2) a number of Republicans, using similar arguments, try to justify an institution that even Mr. Trump bad-mouthed before he won the electionA.  For the most part, I thought their arguments were contrived and even deceptive.

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For example, Reference A1 argues that slavery had nothing to do with the establishment of the electoral college because:

  1. slaves only counted as 3/5 as much as a free white voter (even though slaves didn’t vote), and
  2. the electoral college gave Abraham Lincoln victory in the 1860 election even though he only had 39% of the popular vote.

If slavery were not an issue, there would be no need to count slaves at all (even at a discount). And while the second argument makes it sound like somebody else would have become President (presumably the one who had the majority of the popular vote) if it were not for the electoral college, there were four candidates that year and Lincoln had 35% more votes than his nearest competitorA. Reference A2, after some discussion, claims that “Unneeded tinkering with a process that is over two centuries old could destabilize one on the steadiest political systems in the world.” Earlier in their article, they had reported that the popular vote differed from the electoral vote only four times (and once more since their article was published). The question that comes to my mind is “which of those five losing candidates would have sent us spiraling toward Hell?”

What Our Forefathers Were Thinking

There were two concerns discussed during the establishment of the electoral college.   Foremost, many of our founders didn’t trust the public to be immune from manipulation.  It was Alexander Hamilton who argued that it was “desirable” that “the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” (see A2 again).  Second, the small states were worried about being considered relevant. The debate about state power vs. individual rights raged during the framing of the constitution. To have all states equally represented in one house of Congress while the number of delegates of the other house is based on state population was a compromise solution to that issue. That compromise further implemented itself in the electoral collegeA. Some have discounted the significance of the big state vs. small state battle. One example of this is Time, but in their article, Time goes on to argue that the specific reason smaller states needed protection from larger states (in the same way minorities need protection from the majority) was to preserve slavery.  Next, we will take a closer look at each of these arguments.

Can The Elites Protect Us From Democracy?

You don’t have to be an elitist to be concerned about our education system (see my blog post The Real Reason Teachers Are So Important), and old people have openly been questioning the fitness of their progeny to relieve them at the helm for generations.  This last election did nothing to assuage my concerns about the dumbing down of America, so I can appreciate our forefathers’ concerns.  The problem is that history has shown that their proposed solution won’t work.  It turns out those elites are part of the same world and subject to the same influences as the rest of us (who knew?).  But it is more than that – there has been sabotage.  An article (Don’t look to the Electoral College to upend Trump victory) by AP News discusses why we can’t depend on the electoral college to bail us out (they are bound by state law, duty, history, and party loyalty to rubber-stamp their state’s results). As the article mentions, some states have passed laws requiring the college to follow the popular vote. Doesn’t that alone negate this whole argument? Another thing states have done, which would tend to increase the likelihood of the electoral college differing from the popular vote, but not in any positive way, is go to the all-or-nothing planA (better known as the unit rule) because they wanted the extra attention or power their fifteen minutes of fame for the bigger prize would get them. I discuss other impediments to electoral fairness and possible solutions in another blog post, Two Political Parties Are Not Enough.

What Do Small States Know That We Don’t?

When it is said that the electoral college favors small states, do you have any idea what that really means?  Below is a table showing the influence of a voter in our least populated state (Wyoming) compared to other states by showing how many voters it would take in that state to have the same impact on the electoral college as one voter in Wyoming.  It’s not pretty.

Table Showing Number of Voters in Each State For Each Electoral College Vote

Much has been said about the need to protect the interests of rural farmers from the big industrial states. Reference A2 stated “Farmers in Iowa may have very different concerns than bankers in New York.” I will ignore that invitation to argue which among us chose the more noble profession, and instead refer you to the first column in the above table about the electoral college. In that table, the states are listed in decreasing order of how many voters are represented by one electoral vote, but as you can see in Column 2, the more populous states gravitate to the top of the list. Column 1 shows each state’s ranking based on the number of dollars brought in by agriculture (I got lazy and quit after the top 25.  Each of the other 25 represents less than two percent of total U.S. agriculture).  The two highest agricultural states are also the states with the highest populations and are already the states with the largest number of electoral votes.  They don’t need protecting.  And whether we are protecting slaves or sheep, does one voter anywhere deserve almost four times as many votes as another?  What happened to the “one person, one vote” idea?  Should my vote be discounted just because I can wave to my neighbor from my front porch?

Let me put a little counter-spin on this argument.  If you were alone on a desert island, pretty much any form of government would work for you.  Is living in Wyoming any different? For background, about half of the land in Wyoming is public property. According to Wikipedia, their economy is dominated by mineral extraction, followed by travel and tourism. They say agriculture is also important, but the state ranks 38th in that areaA, contributing less than 1/2 percent of the U.S. total. 78% of that agriculture is beef, with the rest hay, sugar beets, wheat and barley, and wool. About 85% of the people in Wyoming are non-Latin white, 10% are Hispanic white, under 3% are Native American, and a little over 1% are black. They are not big on diversity. For religion, the statistics I read were not entirely consistent, but around 90% of those with a religious affiliation consider themselves Christian, with Protestants the most common, followed by either Mormons or Catholics. One percent are Jewish. Muslims weren’t mentioned. Politically, 67% are Republican, 18% Democrats, and 14% have no political affiliation. They haven’t voted for a Democrat for President since 1964. I get the idea that if you live in Wyoming (with a half million of your best clones), your nearest neighbor is five miles away, and when you do see each other, you don’t waste a lot of time in debates.  I can understand why you may not think you even need a government.  And if I had any question about how to make the most effective government, or what is the proper role of government, or even what’s the best way to get along with my diverse neighbors, I definitely would not come to you.  I would ask someone from New York or California.  Everyone knows that living in groups is more demanding than living alone (I read somewhere that the reason humans evolved larger brains is not to better solve calculus or advanced physics problems, but to better keep track of group relationships).

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Mathematically, the number of relationships grows much faster than the number of people in a group. Let’s say your universe consists of the high school gym, and relationships can be represented by handshakes (why not keep things simple) as the gym fills on a Friday evening. You are the first one in. There are no handshakes. Just stand there and try not to look silly. As the next person enters, you shake hands. As the third person enters, you shake and the second person shakes with the newcomer. That makes three handshakes so far. Here is a small table to keep track:

People in room 1 2 3 4 5 . . . 10 . . . 100 . . .
Total handshakes 0 1 3 6 10 . . . 45 . . . 4,950 . . .

There is a simple equation to describe this, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader, but the number of possible relationships increases roughly in proportion to the square of the number of people in the room.  Relationships can get complicated.

  But you just couldn’t handle the heat.  Why do you really deserve four votes?

Well, it’s obvious I’m missing something.  If you know what it is, leave a comment.  If you are from Wyoming or were otherwise protected from debate or different ideas, I’ll be gentle – and so will everyone else.  You have my word.  And thanks for listening.

How Not To Respond To The Prodigal Son

What do you say to a Democrat who says

“This isn’t fair! I worked hard to be honest and caring to my fellow man, and was active trying to get laws passed that would benefit humanity, thinking it would eventually get me elected as President of the United States. Then Trump comes along, insults everyone he can think of, gropes women, thinks only of himself, offers nothing but lie after lie in a blatant effort to tell people whatever he thinks they wanted to hear, and doesn’t even try to hide his ignorant, hateful, and self-centered ways. Yet there he is, now working out of the oval office. Why did I waste my whole life being so good?”

This is not a new problem, with precedents going back thousands of years.  There are even a couple of cases in the Bible that may shed light on this situation.

The Prodigal Son

This story D is about a father and his two grown sons. One day the younger son asks for his inheritance. The father relents, and the son takes off and squanders his new assets on drink and parties.  He falls on hard times, eventually realizes that even his father’s servants are better off than he is, comes to his senses, and returns to his father’s house begging for forgiveness.  The father is thrilled to see him back and throws a party.  Most sermons focus on this part of the story, but one of my preachers went on to discuss the ‘good’ older son, who remained with the father and looked after the farm while the younger son was away.  Like the Democrat mentioned above, the older son wasn’t so happy that the father threw a party for the errant son and not him, even though he was the one who did all the work.

A Deathbed Conversion

Then there is the issue of ‘deathbed conversions’, where a long-time sinner repents just before s/he dies. In the earliest case, mentioned in Luke 23:39–43, a lifetime thief being crucified on a cross next to Jesus’ asked to be remembered when Jesus gets to his kingdom. Jesus agrees. But if you were to Google “deathbed conversion” you would find plenty of articles questioning the existence of a genuine last-minute change of heart. I, for one, can appreciate a little skepticism, but as Reverend Billy Graham points out in www.christianpost.com, God is a lot harder to fool than many christians give him credit for, and less predictable. The doubting “christians” whose complaint follows the same reasoning as our first Democrat mentioned above may be telling us more about what’s in their heart than the heart of the convert, as I discussed in “It’s The Light”.

How I See It

Those people who complain about having missed opportunities to be jerks simply don’t understand the concept and are not good Democrats, or christians, or just regular people, as the case may be. If you don’t see the benefits of improving the lot of your fellow wo/man as well as yourself; if you don’t really believe that honesty and fairness make for happier people in both the short and long run than debauchery or ass-holiness do, then you are just another fraud – no better than those who you are complaining about.  It’s that simple.

I apologize for the lack of diversity of my examples – both are from the  New Testament of the Bible.  I didn’t remember anything pertinent from Greek mythology (I did find plenty of life lessons in those stories while in school even though their gods had even more flaws than our current President), and there are plenty of other realms and resources about which I know nothing.  If you have better references for this issue, I would be glad to hear them.  I would even accept counterexamples.

For another example of cluelessness, see my blog post Another Clueless “Christian”? As to the matter of forgiveness, the questions I posed in What I Still Don’t Know About Forgiveness have yet to be resolved.

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.