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.”


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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  • “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.
  • 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.


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.