08
Jun
14

Dad Had To Open Carry At Times

My Father was a career Postal Inspector. This job, still employing less than 1500 officers, is little-known to the general public. It was, during Dad’s career, very different from other law enforcement roles.

Postal Inspectors had diverse responsibilities. They audited Post Offices, did high-level personnel work (hiring Postmasters, firing employees who were child molesters, etc.), forensic tracing of mail, investigation of Post Office crimes – both internal (stealing) and external (burglary). A ‘routine’ day could become very different in minutes.

Every Postal Inspector had a jurisdiction which was darn near unlimited. A Postal Inspector conducted part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s last interview, minutes before he was shot by Jack Ruby. They were not required to inform local authorities of their presence or their assignment. They often did so, when needing assistance. Local authorities gave priority to assisting these officers.

Most of a Postal Inspector’s work was conducted alone, without a partner or even local backup being in the general vicinity. The following is one example.

Dad had determined that the perpetrator of a Post Office burglary was a career criminal, ‘Joshua O’Neil’ {real name redacted}. His pursuit of O’Neil led to information that O’Neil was employed picking cotton in an Arkansas field. Dad arrived at that field and prepared to make an arrest.

The preparation was a little unconventional. O’Neil was about 6&1/2 feet tall, and weighed about 300 pounds. He was working in full visibility with no other workers nearby (they have separate rows to pick). Dad was dressed in the standard Postal Inspector uniform: a business suit. It was hot as hell in that field. He was as conspicuous as a maggot on a toothbrush.

Dad took off his coat due to the heat. He realized that he had created another problem. His service revolver (this was prior to side-arms being 10-shot clip-feeders) became visible at his beltline. If O’Neil noticed him too soon, he would be warned that Dad was The Law.

Dad draped the coat over his left arm and held it against his body, neatly covering the side-arm. He approached O’Neil from behind, aided by the facts that cotton pickers work one side of a row continuously, and they concentrate some because the bolls don’t cooperate like bananas do when we peel them from a cluster.

Dad succeeded in getting close without being noticed, not even by anyone who might have chosen to speak out. He got the drop on O’Neil, ordered him to put his hands behind his head, and escorted him – from a few feet behind – back to the car.

At the car, he placed O’Neil into a posture to apply handcuffs and to search him. You have seen this in police videos. What Dad found was not something that I have ever seen in videos. O’Neil’s front right pocket contained a unique knife. It was big, or big enough. It had the blade propped open, slightly, by a matchstick.

This weapon was a clever improvisation for a ‘switchblade’ knife, which was illegal. It would provide the same function. O’Neil had weakened the blade’s hinge spring with flame. The matchstick left the point of the blade slightly exposed. When O’Neil would draw the knife from his pocket, the point of the blade would catch on the pocket, and it would be fully extended when it came out of his pocket.

O’Neil had met a formidable adversary, and he went to jail.

No person – neither Post Office employee, nor criminal – ever thought that Dad was anything but independent. He was also brave, resourceful, and highly intelligent. He demanded only one absolute from me: that I be personally responsible.

Dad taught me firearms use and handling. He only acknowledged one person as responsible for whatever happened with a firearm. Only the person in possession of it was responsible. Whenever a person holds a firearm, or places it where he remains responsible for it, there is no power on Earth which can protect him or anyone else from any consequences.

Such consequences would have a somewhat reduced priority for society if they were only consequences for the person carrying a firearm. The actual priority is much higher. We do not need to “protect them from themselves”, we need to protect the many people that they interact with from someone who is acting foolishly.

A policeman, walking into a business while in uniform and armed, is not acting foolishly. He is trained in firearms use and situational awareness.

A man with a semi-automatic AK-47 slung across his back, walking into a business while in casual clothes, and pre-occupied with a shopping cart, is acting foolishly. This is an a priori example of someone who is not trained in firearms use and situational awareness.

The several ways in which such an ‘open carry’ situation can, and repeatedly has, gone very wrong are proof that we need legal restrictions on sloppy, uncontrolled handling of high-powered weapons in the presence of other people.

Dad was without fear when he apprehended, unassisted, an armed career criminal. If he were to see any of the horrendous examples of open-carry behavior which we now witness, he would leave the area immediately.

07
Jun
14

Ralph Reed Swings Both Ways – Literally

Bill Maher had Ralph Reed, the founder of the Christian Coalition, on ‘Real Time with Bill Maher‘.

Maher carefully prepared for this discussion with Reed, using his understanding of Reed’s predictable inconsistencies. The discussion is actually a setup for (I fully expect) a commentary later by Maher.

I offer my version of that commentary after a summation of the discussion.

* * * *

Maher, regarding parenthood:

People don’t have to be married. They have to be there.

Reed’s response to Maher’s example of a successful, ‘less-Christian’ European culture was:

In America, the social science is …

Maher, regarding faith:

Faith: The purposeful suspension of critical thinking.

Reed, in response:

It’s a relationship, it’s not a set of rules. … When you feel that your eternal destiny is resolved, you have a peace …

Reed, acknowledging reality:

You don’t have to have faith to be a good person.

Maher, regarding charity:

Of course, but you can do those things without believing in magic.

Reed claimed, when asked specifically by Maher, to be a Biblical Literalist. When Maher presented inconvenient aspects of the Bible, Reed made the usual argument, that he could select (quote-mine) the scriptures to ignore these inconvenient things. Yet, he criticized Maher for that very fault:

You’re being very selective.

Reed doubled-down on his own contradiction, just in time for the end of (interview) time:

You could just as easily cite the dietary laws in the Old Testament … if you go to the New Testament, there’s a New Covenant that demonstrates that’s not the path to ultimate salvation. … You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules … you’re going to get to heaven by a personal relationship with God.

* * * *

My context for all elements of this discussion is the position taken by Reed, and millions of Christians, about LGBT rights. You know that position, that those people have chosen an immoral lifestyle, and that the health of society in general (not just of those who are Christians) requires that LGBT people be restricted from marriage, parenting, and buying cakes from a public bakery.

The authority for this position is the Old Testament, using a few indistinct passages which can be interpreted as condemnations of All Things Homosexual. You don’t need me to remind you further.

Where is Reed’s reliance upon the New Covenant? Jesus of Nazareth NEVER SAID a single word about gender choice or sexual lifestyle, except for what applies thoroughly to heterosexuals also.

I agree with something that Reed said,

You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules.

Yet “You’re being very selective” Reed is very selective in insisting upon adherence to certain Levitical rules.

Reed needs to actually believe in that “personal relationship with God” for everyone, not just the relationship that he has, and in the way he has it.

How personal is it for my relationship with God to be the same as Ralph Reed’s?

I differ from Reed primarily not by religion, or any emotional viewpoint. I differ from him by being able to apply some critical thinking, as contrasted to his purposeful (convenient) suspension of critical thinking.

That difference makes Reed unable to imagine an America in which un-married parents raise children who, demographically, are members of society who are as valuable as the children of married, or of divorced, parents.

Reed can, to support his preconceptions and biases, only depend upon – not the Bible – and – not his personal relationship with God – but the “… social science is very clear, that they’re more likely to …”.

Reed has no faith in America. He has only his refusal to critically think about the real possibility that America can improve in the same way that Europe has improved. It is sad and destructive for a person like Reed, who has a large influence, to be very selective in his citation of social science instead of using critical thinking and recognizing that social scientists find benefits to society in treating everyone, including those who are LGBT, according to equal and consistently-applied laws.

Maybe, the next time that Maher and Reed have a public discussion, Maher could attempt to learn what the hell Reed is thinking when he says “Yes” in answering a question about being a Biblical Literalist.

07
Oct
12

The Heresy of ‘Pro-Life’ Christians

Our scripture readings in ELCA Sunday service often provoke my thoughts. My thoughts are never aligned with the Pastor’s sermon, for sermons are typically generalized and oriented toward a certain orthodoxy. The last Pastor who made sermons a challenge to our lives was the late, great Bill Christman (a Presbyterian).

Today’s First Reading, Genesis 2:18-24, included:

Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 10:2-16, included:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Those who identify as Pro-Life assert that a fertilized ovum – the zygote – is a person, fully equivalent*. Their justifications for tying this assertion to a “right” to life are invariably shallow, effectively being ‘It just is, that’s all’. I have never seen or heard of a Pro-Lifer using Genesis 2 and Mark 10 as an authority for this assertion. It seems obviously applicable: in what way does a couple literally “become one flesh”, except via conception? If God demands that the couple not be separated, surely He intends that the very “one flesh” also not be separated.

*Except when it isn’t – some Pro-Life advocates defer personhood until implantation of the zygote.
And even those notable Conservative Protestants, the Southern Baptists, have previously sanctioned some abortions.

This Mark 10 justification of the Pro-life agenda would better adhere to scripture than the typical citations. Will Pro-Lifers embrace this justification? It is unlikely that any will ever notice my comments in a tiny blog. If they independently make this association, they will risk an accusation of hypocrisy, or worse, for the scriptures do not instruct us of an isolated facet of our relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God, brought a New Covenant between God and man. Jesus was overt in his violations of many Jewish laws. He affirmed a fairly small portion of the Old Covenant, for while He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17, that left a large body of legalities to be voided. His statements in Mark 10 were remarkable for specifically citing Law that was to remain unaltered, without allowance for obliquely fulfilling the spirit of the Law. Jesus established finally, as explicitly as we ever see in scripture, a linkage between conception and marriage.

There are Christian denominations which ban divorce, such as the Catholic Church, the LDS-Mormon Church, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Conservative Protestant such as Southern Baptists. Every one includes exceptions.

Exceptions are something which Jesus did not often offer. He certainly did not instruct us that conversion to Islam, or adultery, or other exceptions apply to divorce. Yet such exceptions are normative in even the most conservative denominations.

Is this why Pro-Lifers do not cite Jesus’ authority from Mark 10? Do they attempt to conceal their hypocrisy which is already well-known?

If they are sincere in claiming that their attitudes about reproduction are guided by Sacred Text, let them permit themselves to be guided by the only words of Jesus regarding the “one flesh”. Let them embrace the same hatred and violence at the most-closely related offense to the Law of God – divorce – that they exhibit toward those who make, and even to those who merely advocate, reproductive choices.

05
May
12

Framing the Romney Question

Enough has been said about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s religion. Yes, as a Latter Day Saint (Mormon), Romney adheres to beliefs that are ludicrous. Almost anything conceived by an attention-seeking adolescent (Joseph Smith), whose personal standards led him to scam and manipulate friends and family, is ludicrous.

Criticism of a Presidential candidate for such beliefs has limited validity. In an absolute sense, criticism is valid. What does such valid criticism leave us? Every other major Presidential candidate in my memory has claimed religious beliefs which, despite mostly being different from Mormon beliefs, are exactly equivalent in their ludicrous elements. I will not belabor that point. Most readers can supply plentiful examples of offenses upon rationality by any particular religion. This is a subject which incorporates the supernatural, so deviations from rationality are inherent.

The pertinent consideration is what a candidate’s personal beliefs and attitudes reveal about how he (or she, on occasion) will perform the duties of a President of the United States of America.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Evangelical Christians, who often identify Mormons as apostate, have expressed their reluctance, due to his religion, to support his candidacy. My contention is that they are confabulating personal beliefs and public performance similarly to the (dominantly) Mormon state of Utah. In 2008, Utah primary voters gave Romney 89% of all votes. John McCain, who garnered much resistance from Evangelical Christians, received 5%. Ron Paul and other Protestants received crumbs. I doubt that the voting represented that the losing candidates had overwhelmingly unfavorable policy positions.

Mitt Romney has provided the proper context to discuss the relationship of his personal and public commitments. He has required a signed pledge as a precondition for meeting him privately.

At a Republican National Committee meeting in Arizona, RNC members and state GOP chairmen -superdelegates- were asked to sign a pledge to support Romney at the national convention in Tampa as a precondition for meeting privately and being photographed with Romney. Several members of the Iowa delegation were refused admittance when they did not sign the pledge.

Depending on how Romney answers the following question, we may subsequently find additional context to inquire about how details of Romney’s personal life will affect his performance in office. This may be easier than gaining additional details about his financial life, which would be far more relevant to his duties as President.

This is how the question should be framed in a Presidential general election debate:

Questioner: Governor Romney, we have many commitments as adults and as professionals. One of our tasks is to balance those commitments and resolve any conflicts. You have demonstrated that commitments have a significant priority for you. You have made certain commitments and you have required others to make commitments, even as a precondition to meet with you privately. Your oath as President is serious, yet it does not include a committment to foreswear other oaths. Uniquely for a general-election candidate, you have sworn such oaths, oaths which are inviolate, even upon penalty of death.

How will you reconcile your prior commitments with the Presidential Oath of Office?

Candidate Romney:
{A} I have nothing to resolve. My committment to God and to America are completely compatible.
{B} Like all Americans who want America to become the great country that it once was,
my first committment is to God, then to my family and country.
{C} My oath as President comes before all other oaths. Serving as President and restoring
America’s prosperity and values is the greatest form of devotion to God.
{D} My religious oaths were patterned after those which millions of loyal Americans take.
These Americans have helped to make America a light to the world.
{E} Reconcile what? I don’t know what oaths you imagine that I have made.

20
Feb
12

Phony ‘-ologies’

Rick Santorum, the William Jennings Bryan Memorial Presidential Candidate, says of his opposition to Obama,

It’s about…some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible… .

I say that Santorum has some phony biology, geology, climatology, ecology, and (probably) darn near any other ‘-ology’ that exists – because he bases (or imagines he bases) EVERYTHING on the Bible. Well, the Catholic Bible maybe. There are other Bibles, which I expect that he regards as ‘impure’ at best.

But then, what I have to say about Santorum is irrelevant, isn’t it? He wasn’t talking about THOSE ‘ologies’, as he made perfectly clear:

The Catholic church has a Theology that says this is wrong…the President of the United States is exercising his values and trumping the values of the church.

There, now it’s settled. Move along now. There’s nothing to see here. There *is* something to see below the typographical flourish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Santorum’s prompt revisionist explanation for his recent judgemental comments is that “I was talking about the radical environmentalists.” His objection is to

…things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate… .

Ohhhhh ! So Santorum IS talking about my ‘-ologies’. Pardon me, his superior level of intellectual disposition has left me a wee bit confused.

Well, of course he is referring to the scientific ‘-ologies’ as well as to theology. William Jennings Bryan was not the first, and Rick Santorum will not be the last, to couple scientific viewpoints to morality, theology, etc. It is that coupling which promotes “politicization” of specific scientific topics, narrowly discussed only in superficial and emotional terms that the lay public willingly assimilates. The bulk of science proceeds irrespective of this phony coupling, producing a continual stream of advances in human knowledge to the betterment of all – even of those who would eviscerate science.

It has been done before. It can happen in America. The Soviet Communist fascist state decreed which scientific principles were acceptable to its ideology – or theology: “Whatever you want to call it, it’s a [sic] different moral values.” The resulting stagnation of science left the USSR with viable scientific work only in those fields which were relevant to such words as ‘bomb’, ‘gun’, and ‘rocket’.

It is beyond dispute that the Santorums of the world feel morally threatened by science. It is disputed only among the fearful and the ignorant that science is the one area of human endeavor where we may, if we permit ourselves, reach truths with minimal blemish from our preconceptions.

This is why the best leaders heed the guidance of those who are especially knowledgeable in biology, geology, climatology, ecology, physics, chemistry, and many more fields of science. Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and atheist scientists will have different theologies. Their scientific work is objectively unrelated to, and unbiased by, personal ‘-ologies’.

We must have the best leaders, else it may happen as in the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial. That judge expunged William Jennings Bryan’s Santorum-like testimony. The harsh Judge of History could expunge all of President Santorum’s theology, and the shreds of America’s great scientific culture, from prominence in the world.

21
Nov
11

Conservative Rules of Acquisition

It has always been common for scientific fields to complement each other. A recent archeological discovery has revealed intact documents from the 20th and 21st centuries which were produced by the now-extinct humanoid specie Homo conservitii. They are currently being analysed, especially by comparison to similar documents from the 24th-century Homo ferengii, for clues to the evolutionary development of H. conservatii. This pre-publication description of the research is provided while research is finalized and a draft publication is composed and peer-reviewed.

The documents describe these species’ social organization in terms of a concept which both referred to as acquisition. This was a significant element of humanoid societies until the 34th century, when biological and social evolution converged to eliminate superstition, greed, and arrogance. An unknown 18th-century Homo sapiens sapiens promulgated such differing concepts of acquisition [present possession, occupation, prescription, accession, succession] from these later species’ concepts that it is clear that H. conservatii followed a highly divergent evolutionary path from H. sapiens.

Both documents included a statement of sequence, which researchers refer to as ‘staging’. A comparison of these stages for both species offers a valuable orientation:

           The Five Stages of Acquisition
H. Ferengii                            H. Conservatii
Infatuation                            Authoritarianism - 'I need this security'
Justification                          Obedience - 'I will do what Authority says'
Appropriation                          Manipulation - 'Action requires cynicism'
Obsession                              Possession - 'I've got mine'
Resale                                 Justification - 'This will shut the suckers up'

These stages are superficially different. It is beyond the scope of this pre-publication description to establish the sociological and psychological links which connect the two lists. It is more readily apparent from their expanded form, ‘Rules of Acquisition‘. Those rules which researchers consider congruent are listed as follows.

 The Rules of Acquisition
       H. Ferengii
       H. Conservatii
1. Once you have their money ... never give it back.
   You have always had their money. Get more.
3. Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.
   Never pay for an acquisition that you can get with government help.
8. Small print leads to large risk.
   Do whatever you want. The suckers don't read the small print.
10. Greed is eternal.
    Greed is virtuous.
13. Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
    Nothing is worth doing except for money and power.
16. A deal is a deal ... until a better one comes along.
    A deal is a deal - until you buy a legislator to re-write it.
23. Nothing is more important than your health--except for your money.
    Nothing is more important than your money - certainly not other people's health.
34. Peace is good for business.
    War is good for business.
35. War is good for business.
    War is best for business.
52. Never ask when you can take.
    Never persuade when you can legislate.
60. Keep your lies consistent.
    Keep your lies working. The suckers don't know consistency.
76. Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.
    Every once in a while, declare Mission Accomplished
    - before a competent H. liberalii actually does it.
85. Never let the competition know what you're thinking.
    Never give the suckers evidence that you're not thinking.
94. Females and finances don't mix.
    Females, a guy in the adjacent stall, porn chats - bring 'em on!
106. There is no honour in poverty.
     Never give a rat's ass about poverty.
141. Only fools pay retail.
     Only fools pay the same taxes as the suckers.
177. Know your enemies ... but do business with them always.
     Know your country's enemies. You always do really good business with them.
239. Never be afraid to mislabel a product. Never be afraid to profit from a faulty or ineffective product.
266. When in doubt, lie.
     When you get caught, lie.

This new discovery does not establish that Homo ferengii evolved directly from Homo conservitii or Homo sapiens. Previous research has revealed significant differences, especially in their involvement with war. The two species had orthogonal, not opposite, adaptations to social conflict. H. ferengii recognized that acquisition, but not war itself, was a goal. H. conservitii clearly had goals of acquisition and war which were interchangeable and, effectively, equivalent.

For example, H. ferengii society sought to make everyone wealthy. H. conservitii society tied wealth to war: wealth was regarded as something which inherently required the poverty, even the illness and death, of others.

Additional research into the similar misogyny of H. ferengii and H. conservatii societies may provide the concluding determination of their evolutionary relationship.

19
Nov
11

Occupy the Bible

I am often motivated by scripture readings in Sunday service to write about them from a different perspective than is customary. Recently, the Gospel Reading in our little ELCA Lutheran Church was the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. Christian commentaries and sermons on this parable typically describe it in terms of judgement (especially of the unsaved, who are “servants” (sometimes translated ‘slaves’) – entrusted with the monetary denomination “talent” representing God’s blessings to which we are to be faithful) :

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man
according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded
with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord,
thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst
unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over
a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an
hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest
that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness:
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My prior use of the term ‘perspective’ applies also to commenters other than me. Scriptures have been massaged, twisted, and misrepresented continually and forever. This parable (and its fraternal twin in Luke 19) is perfectly suitable to such misapplication. A natural example is found in American politics. Conservatives have, in this parable, the exemplification of some of their most persistant themes: the wealthy have earned more than folks like me because they have worked harder ; it takes money to make money ; it is the wealthy who make it possible for us to earn the right to continue working ; those who do not make the wealthy yet more wealthy are lazy and condemnable.

These are plausibly, if superficially, supported by the parable. Perhaps it is the reluctance of politicians to be specific about religion that has kept this connection from being exploited. Even so, there are many who bend Christianity to their secular purposes. Either I am oblivious, or they haven’t yet focused upon this parable.

It is (I think) not too late to preempt such arguments.

The parable begins “For the kingdom of heaven is as …”, which explicitly announces that it is a spiritual lesson, not a management or financial seminar. Even so, it is odd that the kingdom of heaven might be compared to anything involving such a nasty person as the master (“Lord”). Be careful to note that the master did not gift the money to the servants – it, and all profits derived from it, belonged to the master.

The servant element might explain why this parable has not been appropriated by conservatives. Folks who aren’t wealthy will probably relate to the servants. That makes a rather strong statement about the distribution of money and influence in America. Conservatives appeal for support of the wealthy, which is not an original attitude – even for slaves.

The master did not participate in the investment activity. He was a ‘passive’ investor who did not even provide guidance before he “straightway took his journey” and returned “after a long time”. This is our current situation. It is only the wealthy who have spare cash and the capacity to risk it on investments which require no work. Rather than being people who work 50? 100? times harder than their employees, they must acknowledge that “I reap where I sowed not”. That is, they purchase seed which they do not even plant, then take the profits of the work of others.

My co-workers & I work plenty hard. Someone would have to work 24/7 to work merely 4 times harder than we do. The wealthy aren’t especially smarter than anyone else, either. The stock market has been shown to have fractal price behavior over time. It is a chaotic system, perfectly unpredictable. Those who ‘make a killing in the market’ are seldom geniuses. They also are not idiots. They are lucky. I am not referring to the fictitious ‘you make your own luck’. This is true chance, unaffected by merit or unworth.

The servants had no money of their own to risk. They risked something less tangible. The wicked servant might have paid for his poor choice by being sold to a less forgiving master. What might have happened if, as in real life, one of the servants had LOST money? People who are not wealthy understand the harsh reality of such risks – loss of job, health insurance, or savings.

For those who want to have reality-based opinions on this subject {WARNING – some math ahead}, here are a few references: ‘Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models‘ describes how “the concentration of the wealth can be interpreted as the result of the extraordinary concentration of risk bearings.” ; ‘Market Efficiency, the Pareto Wealth Distribution, and the Lévy Distribution of Stock Returns‘ finds specifically “chance, rather than differential investment ability, is the main source of inequality at the high-wealth range.” ; ‘Why it is hard to share the wealth‘ provides a brief commentary on structural forces in wealth inequality – without the gnarly math of the first two references.

24
Oct
11

Kinetic and Potential Life

One of the early lessons in Physics is the Conservation of Energy. Energy comes in two broad categories (forms), kinetic and potential. Energy can be in either form, and the form can even be changed. Electric utility companies like to produce energy when there is little demand, store it, and release it when demand is high and generators can’t handle the load. One way of doing this, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is to pump water to an elevated reservoir. The water at height stores gravitational potential (weight) energy. That potential is very stable, only subject to little practical things (like leakage) that change the potential energy back to kinetic energy. The big practical thing is releasing water to flow through electric generator turbines.

It is kinetic energy that gets ‘er done. Potential energy deserves a comparable respect.

The precise language of Physics sometimes uses the same words which are used rather loosely in other contexts. One such context applies the phrase ‘potential life‘ to human reproduction. We have heard this phrase repeatedly, so we know what is meant by it – or, at least, we know what we are meant to think it means. We are meant to think that it means (and here, I will attempt a precise statement of that meaning) ‘mated human gametes are capable of becoming a developmentally-complete human organism and should be regarded as equivalent to that human’.

That’s fine and dandy. Mated human gametes, with a bunch of help from the host mom, can often do that. You know the rationale attached to this: the mated gametes are to be considered morally and legally identical to an adult human. That is a logical high-jump, about which I shall defer comment to another time. What I do not see is any comparable logical gymnastics to any other ‘potential life’ or other ‘potential outcome’.

And boy, lemme tell you that there is a LOT of ‘potential life’. The armadillo inserts a multiplier into the situation. One set of mated armadillo gametes is (for some species) potentially four (4, quatre, vier, arba’a) individual, genetically-identical ‘dillo babies – not just one!

That doesn’t count the potential descendants of the armadillo.

The potential for life, for descendant individual organisms, doesn’t even depend upon sex. Yeah, maybe you thought that everything depended upon sex – but not this time. Lots of organisms reproduce asexually. ‘Budding’ can propagate yeast such as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It begins with a bump, which progresses to a distinct appendage, which separates and goes its merry way. So the bump is ‘potential life’, right? Well, I dunno.

When is it a bump, anyway? When the cell wall deviates from round by a statistically-significant amount? How “statistically significant” is significant enough? How different from other cell-wall bumps must it be?

Cavendish bananas are my favorite example of asexual reproduction. Every Cavendish banana in the world is genetically identical. They are vegetatively propagated by cuttings. That makes me wonder – if a cutting can yield an entire planet-load of organisms, does destruction of a cutting mean that the potential for millions of organisms has been destroyed?

The potential of mated gametes may be different than a potential for developing into an individual. The potential may be to spontaneously abort. Yes – this is a natural, even normal, process that happens to a statistically significant number of mated human gametes. There is also a statistically significant potential for mated gametes to kill the host mom. How “statistically significant” is significant enough? We have dead moms as the answer.

If the continued protection and nourishment of mated gametes leads to the potential to kill the host mom, do we consider only their potential for developing into an individual – an individual who will also die with the mom?

If a pumped-storage hydroelectricity reservoir has a crack, and it might collapse and destroy lives and property, do we consider only its potential for generating electricity?

We are not meant to think that ‘potential life’ means something like: ‘a bud from asexual reproduction is equivalent to a developmentally-complete organism’ or ‘a reproductively-viable organism is equivalent to generations of distinct individual organisms of the same specie’ or ‘sustenance of some mated gametes is equivalent to killing the host mom’.

We are meant to accept the aforementioned logical high-jump without questioning that its premise is actually based on the misogynistic misapplication – beginning in recent history – of a particular religion’s scriptures. No other consideration, whether religious or extra-religious, is meant to apply.

16
Oct
11

Saints and Science

The Roman Catholic Church (and others similarly, I believe) has a system for designating a hierarchical status of Sainthood – and various lesser beatified statuses – to deceased notables.

The Scientific Method, which has produced vast changes and improvements in knowledge and the human condition, is a rather different system. The following is a brief (especially for including just one aspect of the Scientific Method) comparison and contrast of the two systems.

The system for canonizing (a higher step in beatification) a Roman Catholic Saint is formal and specific. Well, sorta specific. The position of ‘Promoter of the Faith‘ has disappeared and is replaced by the ‘Promoter of Justice‘. These positions ostensibly have the same function – to provide evidence against a candidate’s canonization – but very different procedures. Now, skeptical or contradictory evidence is considered only if church authorities are in the mood.

The net process for achieving Sainthood is, essentially: (1) die (2) be popular with a bishop who can make a convincing case for your coolness (heroic virtue) ; this gets you on the ‘OK to pray to‘ list (3) get lucky enough that a sick person (or other person in need of supernatural intervention) prays to you for healing, instead of praying to an actual Saint or to the all-powerful God of the Universe (4) get luckier, so that the sick person claims that a prayer to you has healed them ; this is irrespective of any medical treatment they received (5) get so terrifically lucky that the sick person was not so horribly ill as to die (6) get lucky all over again with another person in need of supernatural intervention.

The Roman Catholic Church will examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) is the candidate dead? (check!) (2) did someone pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!) (4) did someone else pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!). That makes a Saint.

The Roman Catholic Church will NOT examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to the candidate for something to happen? (2) did those somethings not happen? (3) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to non-Catholic, or even non-Christian, dead persons for something to happen? (4) did those somethings happen without benefit of Church sponsorship? (5) did the two somethings that did happen, happen for non-supernatural reasons (medicine, human intervention, a generous donor)?

Quite a system they’ve got there, there in that Roman Catholic Church. Hell, folks could pray to Dusty Cat (may he rest in peace), have nice things happen, and the Holy See wouldn’t consider his feline soul to be beatified. It should – no real, substantial difference there. Dusty’s soul was beautiful, though.

Science is a bit less hierarchical. It can be political and competitive, but such is not always a detraction. In fact, as with the Free Enterprise System, competition is good.

The Scientific Method is fundamentally the opposite of beatification. Beatification seeks proof. Hey, we all want proof, right? It’s what we are evolved to seek – a correlation such as ‘eat red stuff, get sick‘ or ‘prayer, then healed‘. The Scientific Method instead seeks falsification.

Prior to the Scientific Method, science was not terribly different from beatification. The result was that it was subject to ‘false positives‘ – favorable results that were unrelated to the supposed cause. It too often ignored contradictory evidence. Vast amounts of work were wasted on alchemy, which really went out of its way to ignore negative results. You couldn’t falsify an alchemist’s pet supposition or belief.

All that sort of b.s. diminished to a tiny remnant when science began to depend on falsifiability. Gee, sometimes science falsifies falsifications! It has become absolutely insistent on only accepting results which have survived many attempts at falsification. In fact, even after a scientific theory – we don’t use the word ‘Law‘ any more – is accepted as ‘true’ (good enough for practical work), Science still re-checks periodically. The recent news from CERN‘s OPERA experiment regarding superluminal neutrinos is the latest example. CERN’s press release (not a peer-reviewed article claiming a reliable result) indicated the possiblility (with reservations noted) of neutrinos moving faster than the Cosmic Speed Limit – the speed of light. Everyone suspected a systematic error, and, by golly, there was one. But scientists always try. Newton (you know – the guy with the apple and that Law) needed some correction, and Einstein might get some too!

We owe modern life and the accelerating progress of knowledge to the Scientific Method. As for deceased Saints causing actual miracles, “Paris Hilton will win the Nobel Prize for Physics before that happens.

09
Oct
11

This Is Your Brain On Rationality

The excellent blog ‘Still Skeptical After All These Years‘ (SSAATY) has produced a lively discussion about human intelligence. ‘This Is Your Brain On Spirituality‘ links to ‘The Premise‘, from the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain‘ (Matthew Alper). Jim One awakened me from my blogging slumber, and my comments are too long to impose upon his commenting space. This post is the result.

Rational
adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
– ‘The Devil’s Dictionary‘, Ambrose Bierce

‘The Premise’ is an interesting expression of the evolution of intelligence. It carries the burden of stimulating those misguided folks who take the ‘god’ part of the brain to be something that must have been created by god, or God. That article, and comments on SSAATY – especially by Anson and HLG – have a touch of specificity about the subject. Since I am required by the terms of my Birth Contract to engage in conversations on science topics, here’s my succinct explanation:

That “survival trait” of intelligence has a major component in correlation. Other components, such as memory, are also involved. Other species have intelligence. They use tools and manipulate their environment. They employ memory. The human advantage over other species is most pronounced in the inherent capacity to correlate.

Correlation is not reflex – a sensor-neuron-to-motor-neuron linkage. It is a constant activity of the brain. Watch someone wave a wand over a deck of cards, then pull a flower out of the deck: your brain will, absolutely automatically and irrevocably, establish the thought that a wand-wave makes flowers appear in unexpected places. Even a tendency to form preposterous correlations could have significant evolutionary advantages. The cost of missing a good correlation (red plant = poisonous) is disproportionate to the cost of a false correlation (animal sacrifice = good crops).

Almost all human history has involved this automatic intelligence – an ‘unthinking’ intelligence that becomes blatant as superstition. The modern (perhaps thousands of years – a short time in biology) rise of rationalism is the result of achieving a critical level of intelligence. The human (and, to a lesser extent, other species’) brain is self-aware. The progress of correlative ability has extended to something like ‘correlations of the correlations’. We now recognize that thinking in primitive ways can involve such errancies as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ – we are aware of our own fallacies.

Rationalism’s biggest success has been science – modern science, that is. The Scientific Method is to reasoning what the U.S. Constitution is to organization and governance. The Constitution is designed to work with our inherent nature, minimizing its worst propensities and maximizing its usefulness. It has checks and balances. Science is a method for limiting the brain’s tendency to form correlations willy-nilly. It also has checks and balances for the same sort of issues that the Constitution controls. It is a meta-intelligence that makes our inherent capability vastly more useful than it has previously been in human history.

Rationalism, by confining our biological intelligence, expands its social and cultural value. This is why science, medicine, and technology seem to have accelerated geometrically – it is not our intelligence which has increased dramatically, but our command of intelligence which is improved. There is a stark difference between the science of 1880 and the science of 1920 – a difference more in how intelligence was utilized than in the mere progress of results.

There is a stark similarity in the non-scientific thought of 2011 and that of 1911, or of 1011! Non-scientists can learn to do more than to merely respect the Scientific Method. Rationalism, and its companion Skepticism are vital elements of critical thinking which everyone can learn.




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Basic Understanding

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- Edward R. Murrow

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All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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