“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 the rights and privileges thereof.  And thus was the law of the land.  Not quite satisfied, they later decreed unanimously that this statue would be granted the highest honor and privilege in the land, specifically the right to completely disregard the “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness”
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This quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, who in the Declaration of Independence claimed these terms were unalienable Rights endowed by our Creator.

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

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

Who I am (Part 1)

What you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for:

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

Why I’m doing this:

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

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

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

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

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

More about me:

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

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

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