Eclipses and ellipses

Anything can be a hat

 

As you may have heard, there was an eclipse this week. I went out to observe it with my colander viewer, having located a spot with full sun the day before. Clouds came and went, we had a good image of the portion visible (or not visible, depending on your point of view) near the peak of the eclipse.

 

Eclipse arcs through the colander

 

I recall the camera obscura with a moving box in the 70s, and crossing polarized lenses in the 80s and 90s, but this may be one of the best views I have had. It seems to me odd eclipses are treated as once in a lifetime events, and the current hoopla with Millennials trying to frame themselves as the greatest generation certainly pushed the hype into overload. The next eclipse visible in the United States will be seven years from now, 8 April 2024, with a path running from Texas through Maine. I’m planning a trip to visit relatives in Texas for that, it runs straight through Dallas. This time I was fortunate to have a photographer friend in South Carolina who captured this photograph.

 

©Anna Bruce Martin

 

I often refer to eclipses as “God’s Thumbprint,” because the Sun is four hundred times farther away than the Moon, and is also four hundred times larger. The plane of the Moon’s orbit intersects the Sun, so occasionally the moon blocks the Sun perfectly (The Earth blocks the Sun from the Moon in Lunar eclipses). We have evolved to a point we understand the physics involved, ten thousand years from now the orbits will have decayed and total eclipses will be a thing of the past. Ten thousand years ago there would be no visible corona, the moon blocked the Sun with room to spare. Our relationship in size to our moon has yet to be found elsewhere in the universe, these ratios of size and distance and understanding point to a plan, or at very least a uniqueness in the universe in which we are truly alone.

The tendency to ascribe signs of the end of the world has always followed eclipses, even with our ability to predict them a good deal of foolishness made the rounds. Just a word about predicting eclipses. While it may be more difficult that predicting where the hands of your watch will be at 1200 tomorrow, it does involve clockwork. It is not theoretical physics, more like figuring out which day of the week 15 November will be in 2036. One theme I heard repeated was “Why does everyone believe scientists about the eclipse, but not about global warming (evolution/GMOs/chem trails/feminism/etc.)?” And I’m the one with the brain injury. . .

Speaking of which, I do not have a clever segue into ellipses. The ideas were simultaneous but not connected, and I like the way it sounds. In all the fury and hatred flying about, anyone can be a NAZI. Just don’t agree with someone and you’re a NAZI. I am becoming a grammar NAZI, and I’m worried my house will be burned down by Antifa. This is exceptionally stressful because I live in a fifth floor condominium, and the majority of my neighbors are elderly.

There is one form of punctuation that disturbs me when it is misspelled, and I have started to speak up about it. The ellipsis (plural ellipses) is used more and more these days, largely because people don’t know what to say. Three dots, . . . , should be simple, but I see three commas, two dots, seven dots, even four semi colons, and never the spaces between the dots. Some filter is failing because I have started correcting people. And guess what? No one wants to hear they misspelled a word, much less punctuation.

I mourn language. Text messages were once charged per character, so convenient abbreviations was a way to save money. That doesn’t apply anymore, so we are allowed to write complete words, no need to reduce your language to a Bingo game. Spelling is more important than ever, yet the other day, in a publication, I saw Your and You’re both used incorrectly in the same paragraph. A friend found a menu with a “Pre-fix” offering. Even my late wife the chef, who would often retreat to “You know what I mean” when I clearly did not, would never stand for misspelling on menus. If you can’t get the words right, why should I expect you to get the food right. Another friend said she was board. In my first writing class the instructor advised us to utilize spell check, ponder the alternate spellings and choose the right one.

This is nothing small. Those who control language control thought, and the population. Fascism used to mean totalitarianism, check out a dictionary published since 2009 and the definition has changed from “totalitarian” to “right wing.” So all these morons saying they are anti-fascist are not as deluded as we thought. They are anti right wing, because this is what they have been taught is fascism. That they miss the hypocrisy of their totalitarian approach provides both laughter and sadness. I’ve seen their training videos, there will be blood, mostly their own.

I am not really up for this battle. My weapon has always been intelligence, which I was told last year is fundamentally racist. When the opponent celebrates ignorance, intelligence is a useless weapon. I could write programs, identifying the players, but that would require an audience, and they have already decided who the fascists are. They are anyone who does not agree with them in totality, which makes the Antifa easily identifiable, folks who honestly believe physical violence is an appropriate response to words they don’t want to hear, or even imagine might be spoken.

At least I am prepared to live in interesting times.

 

Advertisements

The tide is turning

One of the initial “problems” following my TBI was separating symptoms. It seems odd to me, although many things seem odd to me, that my doctors appeared to be dodging responsibility, blaming various symptoms as resulting from a condition in which they did not specialize. “Oh you’ll need to see a (insert specialty) about that” was a shared mantra; was it the MS, or the TBI, or maybe something else? As I zeroed in on the diagnosis of SCDS, I found another area of overlapping symptoms. As I heal from that surgery, I find many of my TBI/MS symptoms relieved at least in part. Much of the brain fog has lifted, I am able to focus and organize thoughts better. My neuropsychologist discharged me from therapy the other day, satisfied that although my recovery is not complete, I have the necessary tools and coping skills to move forward on my own, I am capable of self evaluation.

As I considered the topic I will be writing about this time, it occurred to me that this may turn out more in the style of some of my earlier writing, a variety of events tied by synchronicity. It may end up appearing as the ramblings of a damaged brain, or it may be clear enough to communicate a hidden reality.

I want to start with the “March for Science” held this year on 22 April, at various sites around the globe. I wrote about the march previously, it had appeared to have lost a true science base, appealing to populists who talk about science without understanding it. Nonetheless, it appears some scientists did not care they were being represented by a steampunk contingent and a celebrity with a bachelors degree in engineering, or perhaps they were reacting to the farcical world in which anybody can call themselves a scientist. A group (thirty thousand) of scientists spoke out about global warming. They stated global warming is a hoax. A non-scientist friend disagreed, and presented the following graph.

 

Misrepresentation of CO2 levels

 

As someone with the dignity and respect for scientists not to call myself a scientist, I point out the features of this graph. The graph is properly indexed, with the first eight hundred thousand years of data identified as coming from ice cores. The last sixty years of data were drawn from another source, an observatory atop a volcano. The graph indicates a series of cycles, each roughly one hundred thousand years, in which the level of CO2 rises and falls. At the point the ice core samples revealed the latest peak, the data source changes to Mauna Loa observatory, which indicate higher levels of CO2 than had ever been recorded in an ice core.

There is no indication of the data from Muana Loa previously (largely because the data was not being collected), we have no idea how the measurements made there compare to samples from ice cores. All we know is in the last sixty years the levels from the Muana Loa data have been exponentially higher than any ice core sample.

We also do not know how this might suggest global warming, as actual temperature data from the last twenty years have shown steady  global temperatures. While there is a debate as to whether CO2 is a warming or cooling effect on the globe, the cyclic patterns which took place for six hundred thousand years before there was a species identified as remotely human would indicate humans had nothing to do with those CO2 levels. As those levels in Mauna Loa’s data peaked over the last one third of their data, actual temperatures have remained stable. But it is a shocking graph, until you read it.

When I was twenty, I drove an ice cream truck, for a company called Tropical Ice Cream. In one of the neighborhoods in my territory lived a man who owned his own ice cream truck, and was not a friendly competitor. One day a little boy was among the crowd at the window, and he said “Tropical Ice Cream is bad, they gave me wrong change.” Not recognizing the child, I asked him why he said that. “Bill (the other ice cream truck driver) told me.” Some folks just repeat what they have heard, without considering the facts. I’m sure the AGW fanatics will continue to argue about science with actual scientists, after all, they heard it from Bill Nye the science guy.

Another science based theme which has been pushed since the March for Science is the anti-vaccination cult. It took the British medical journal, The Lancet, nearly twelve years to retract Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper suggesting a link between childhood vaccines and autism, as “utterly false.” His license to practice was revoked six months later. But the anti-vaccination crowd will hear nothing of it, continuing to insist on various reasons vaccines must cause autism without any data to back their claims.

This attack on science is more direct. Rather than falsely claiming to be backed by science, the anti-vaccination crowd contends the scientists who have failed to find any data connecting vaccines and autism are corrupt, paid off by pharmaceutical companies. When it comes to anything even resembling facts in the matter, they are misunderstood or misconstrued. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccination front was represented at the March for Science. Of the many reasons I did not participate in the march, this hypocrisy is the epitome.

Science is designed to be challenged. It is designed to be challenged by other scientists, not celebrities and laymen. It will always be misconstrued or denied for political reasons, it took the Vatican three hundred and fifty years to apologize to Galileo. This year, after an election that highlighted false news, a populist March actually revealed truths; not from the lips of the marchers, but from the scientists to whom the marchers claimed the desire to provide a voice. Many of the marchers are like that little boy next to the ice cream truck, repeating what they heard. They tend to passionately defend the beliefs they have been told they hold, but the scientists are standing up, and their response has been “That is not what we said, that is not science.”

The tide is turning. It may require another three hundred and fifty years, but eventually science will be respected again.

Ten days out

This is me on 12 April 2017, two days after surgery, when my compression bandage was removed.

12 April 2017, bandage removed

It looks severe, and I guess it is, but it wasn’t painful. I’m told I received IV steroids during the procedure, which were supposed to make me feel better. My experiences with IV steroids in the past are radically different, they literally sucked the life out of me when I received them for multiple sclerosis, but I did indeed feel better when I left the hospital this time.

I felt too good in fact. I am supposed to limit myself, some limitations are obvious such as avoiding loud noise (no concerts for two months); some are less obvious, aimed at reducing cranial pressure. I can’t bend over to the point my head is below my heart, I can’t lift more than three kilos, I’m supposed to sleep at a 45 degree angle. I took a lot of scolding to settle myself down.

My symptoms are gone, no bone conduction sounds, no autophony, no pressure in my ear. I’m also less aware of my cognitive deficits, which I knew was a possibility but intend to withhold judgement for a month or two.  I do suddenly have tinnitus (out of curiosity I checked the frequency, ~3000 hertz), but that is an expected post surgery symptom which should resolve itself within a few weeks. My balance is a bit worse, so I’m using a wheelchair for the time being. It is fun, but a bit tiring. I can turn and spin as if I’ve been doing it forever, which should be good news; no dizziness or motion sickness. It has pointed out my only post surgery pain, the point on my left hand in which a catheter was inserted to measure blood pressure. The other catheter, made famous by my friend Barry Parham in his book “Why I Hate Straws,” was just a weird sensation, and I had to eat through straws the first two days.

As days go by there are differences. Not always pleasant but there is no indication they are permanent. The hearing is returning to my right ear incrementally. At first, higher tones came through as if they were transmitted by kazoo, scratchy and fuzzy like the teacher character in Charlie Brown. Today they sound more like whistles. I yawned for the first time about four days post surgery, which was a good sign, I could open my mouth fully, and I was tired. I’ve been sleeping a great deal, probably more than after the brain injury, but back then I couldn’t move much so perhaps I was resting more then. Opening my mouth meant I could try more foods, we found a new Mexican place one night that had wonderful food and great margaritas, ranging up to thirty two ounces. I ordered a smaller one but asked the waitress if I could see the thirty two ounce glass, it was a small fishbowl. I’ll have to visit again when I am fully recovered, they carry my favorite tequila.

We’ve been discussing the question, “Was it brain surgery or ear surgery?” in my SCDS support group. A little of both. The brain needs to be moved out of the way, so even though an otolaryngologist does the diagnosis and sometimes the ear part of the surgery, a neurosurgeon must be part of the team to handle the brain; or in my case, a neurotologist (with a T), which is a new specialty, who handles both parts. The condition of Superior Canal Dehiscence was only identified in 1995, it only affects about one percent of the population, and not everyone requires surgery, so it is rare to find a neurotologist, or even a neurosurgeon/otolaryngologist team, who can properly treat the condition. Some people I have spoken with went a dozen years or more seeking a diagnosis, as most otolaryngologists don’t recognize the condition. It took me four doctors, the second one made the diagnosis and referred me to a team I could not trust, so my fourth happened to be a neurotologist who had just transferred to my hospital from Portland. Perfect timing, his schedule is already filled. I saw him first on 15 March, already had the cat-scan which showed the hole, he said he had 10 April available for surgery so we did the audiograms and VEMP testing the next week. Other folks I have spoken with, searching years and finally getting a diagnosis, were depressed. The surgery is scary, I felt a bit of fear, but nothing was going to stand in the way of a solution.

There was more stress in the intervening weeks than I am accustomed to these days, my landlord lost all vestige of civility and kicked me out of the home where I have lived for four years, and the anesthesiology department demanded a full echo cardiogram a week before surgery because the EKG showed “minimal voltage LVH, may be within normal parameters,” which was difficult to schedule because in their request to my insurance they said “routine health examination” rather than “pre-surgical requirement.” We found a place to stay, moved, and laughed with the echocardiagram technician about healthy my heart is. Plus, just watching the echocardiogram was fascinating. The drain pipe in our new place broke about a week before surgerythe plumber came in while I was in the hospital. Even good news, like my father wanting to come out, caused a little stress because I knew I would be out of it most of the time he was here. At least he was able to see my oldest son while he was here.

My father as I regained consciousness

Sam did a wonderful job of preparation, stocking up on soups and broths and creating healthy food I could ingest through a straw, I was just able to eat solids too fast. She was able to have her father over the night I came home, so he met my father. She scolded me into slowing down, along with members of the SCDS group and some of my friends (special thanks to Vince Coviello, who put it bluntly, “Recovery is not supposed to be exciting. Just suck it up and listen to the Docs!”). Sam made sure the place we live is level, reducing the chance of falls, and has been of constant assistance. I’m going to need to do some exceptionally special things for her when I am fully recovered.

I am getting better. The overlap of symptoms with TBI and MS made me wonder what would change; I am pleased so far and have no doubts about future improvement.

 

Blinded by Science

 

I have something of a love/hate relationship with “Science.” My father would be considered a scientist today, he has a degree in chemistry, and actually worked as a chemist for a few years before applying his degree towards the sale of devices to measure chemical processes. This is the “Science” I grew to love, every evening there was likely to be at least one discussion about science and its applications, they might relate to the preparation of dinner, the PH balance of the pool, the earthquake we experienced the night before, the latest gas chromatograph or liquid scintillation counter his company had produced or the most recent space launch. I remember being yelled at about a few projects I had devised with my chemistry set, a part of me chuckled when he would say “Don’t you realize what could happen” because I did, that was the purpose of the project. Back then, a scientist performed research.

Science made sense. It was rational. It didn’t care how you felt about it.

As an adolescent, “Science” became popular with society. Quotation marks science, just the word, not the method. With total disregard for the scientific method, the word “science” was bandied about as if it were some deity. In many cases, it was, as people made thoroughly misinformed statements about a conflict between God and Science. This is where my hatred was formed. An individual who understands neither God nor Science claims they are in conflict. Were it one person the data would be anecdotal, but it was common. This is the beauty of science, you can reproduce the experiment yourself. Ask a dozen atheists about a conflict between science and God, they will demonstrate an ignorance of both, regardless of the God in question. Well, perhaps not in the case of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but any religion based on historical texts. The most frequent error is assuming a religious text is a science book, then pointing out differences in language. Assuming every follower of a religion interprets the texts precisely in the way the atheist interprets what he’s heard about it is also quite common.

As common meanings continued to be discarded, everyone became a scientist. Typically the credentials these scientists hold is having read an article about an interpretation of an abstract. In an impending “Scientists March on Washington” everyone is included in the name of diversity, it’s not even being called a “Scientists March” anymore, within days it became “The March for Science.” It was no longer about science, it was about “Science” advocacy, which means whatever you want it to mean. I received this message before dropping out:

“We are taking seriously the many important criticisms regarding (lack of) diversity on social media stating that for this march to be meaningful, we must centralize diversity of the march’s organizers (both in leadership positions and at all levels of planning), speakers, and issues addressed as a principal objective for the march. We hear you, we thank you for your criticism. In the March for Science, we are committed to centralizing, highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as accomplices with African American, Latinx, API, indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender, and intersex scientists and science advocates.

-March for Science Diversity Team”

I’m not quite sure what “Centralized Diversity” is, I had heard enough doublespeak to know better than to pose a question. Which is, of course, the reason for throwing around the word “science.” To silence opposing viewpoints. To enhance the self described “intelligence” of the speaker. No doubt it works with large groups of people. You have heard someone say about anthropogenic global warming “The science is settled.” Science is never settled. Anyone who tells you it is does not understand the scientific method. Science is about excellence, not diversity. You do not know who George Washington Carver was because of the color of his skin, or Marie Curie because of her gender.You know them because they performed revolutionary experiments, verified their results, and then communicated the reproducible results.

So it is a Brave New World. I’m thinking it’s more of an Animal Farm, the porcine population seems unusually prominent. I am fortunate in that part of my therapy is recognizing things won’t be like they used to be,  but it is supposed to be me that is different.

We made such complicated things look so simple, we forgot how hard it was to get here. Everyone was not just equally important, they were special. Everyone might be unique, but they cannot be special, superior to each other, and still equal. The next step is even more bizarre, everyone else is stupid. I’m not sure how these folks celebrate diversity when they truly believe people who do not share their views are not just misinformed, they are mentally deficient. This would give me a headache even if I didn’t already have a brain injury. The generalities and exclusive inclusion suggests a logic most often found in asylums.

You will see a March for Science, they’ve already ordered merchandise for the selfie crowd. Suggested speakers include Alan Alda, whose television commercial mocking actors as doctors should be force fed to the organizers of the march a la “A Clockwork Orange.” Other pop-science advocates have been suggested, Bill Nye and Richard Dawkins among them, and Neil deGrasse Tyson surely won’t miss an opportunity to be on camera. Sir Magnus Pyke would have been excellent, but as an actual scientist I suspect he would have declined. What you will not see is a march of people who are scientists, or have any idea of the components of the scientific method. It will be a March for Obfuscation, quite the opposite of the original intent.

I had hoped, out of naivete, to actually advocate for Science, perhaps help lead people to an understanding of why the method has been revered since the seventeenth century. Perhaps the realization that we have arrived at the tower of Babel is the most depressing thing I have learned in all of this.

 

 

2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6_noheader

Here’s the right way to do it partners!

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

I have been writing in this blog for almost three years, daily at first, slowing to a more random pace, trying to settle on no less than once a week. Three hundred and eighty articles in and I am on target. I’ve covered topics from Quantum Physics through Astrophysics, Cosmology through the End of the World, Religions, Politics, a little Sex, and a good helping of Music. In short, the things I think about. This last year has been increasingly personal, and this article may wander into the most personal dimension, not the thoughts in my mind but the matrix of my mind itself.

I have always had a strong memory, recalling the quantity and quality of the events I have witnessed with speed and precision. I have been told I possess a keen intellect, absorbing and analyzing information, then communicating said information in easily understandable terms to any audience. I tell you these things because I remember them, not because I am aware of their presence now. I am reticent to comment on the world today, as I am not secure my analysis stands on the same foundations I have relied upon in the past.

Imagine the way you think. The complex layers of a memory, the data from all of your senses wrapped in your intellectual perception connecting every fraction of a second. I have been told a human may only experience one sensation at a time, one sound, smell, touch, emotion. The brain switches between inputs so rapidly it appears all these things are happening simultaneously, yet even more is taking place outside of awareness. We possess filters, our vision shifts our perception of colors to believe light is white; try on some tinted lenses and see for yourself. We can hear a melody through static, separating out what we want to hear; the same can be true with words in a conversation, consider a single political speech as heard by one thousand different voters, each hearing what they want to hear. We have each had enough tactile experience to know physical sensations are relative. Emotions exist in a dimension of their own, no adjectives are adequate. Tuned by all these factors our memories reside not only in the instant they were formed but also in the moment they are recalled. A word describes this, it is originally Sanskrit. The word is māyā (माया), and in a sense we refer to as “poetic” it has multiple meanings, most commonly considered to be “The illusion of reality” in the sense reality is an illusion. It is “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality.”

With this fabulous brain creating reality from our sensory inputs, it can be difficult to determine if one of the inputs is faulty, and often difficult to explain. Verbally explaining a vision issue to an ophthalmologist is near impossible, you don’t speak their language; twice in my life I have had to resort to visual aids, a smear on the lenses of the first, using my hands to represent my eyes to the second, and this because I had diagnosed the problem and needed them to confirm and treat it. They had been pursuing (and ruling out) a different diagnosis, and were not on the path to the problem with my vision. How do you determine if the fault is in your brain? The stimuli has passed through several filters, are you certain the processor is to blame? Are you likely to ever suspect the processor, as it creates the filters and references you use to judge reality?

So I find myself today. I know one of the functions which takes place in my brain is malfunctioning. I don’t know if this is affecting other functions, or if those are malfunctioning on their own, or if everything is fine outside of one malfunctioning segment.

I have always been an emotional person. I feel deeply, I am passionate both verbally and physically. When I got out of the hospital last month, once I started remembering things, I found myself surrounded by reminders of Emma. My grief was overwhelming, I cried so much I would leave the room so I could scream in the pain which was tearing me to shreds. Then I stopped. I didn’t feel anything. I felt no passion or desire for Sam, and although I knew I should have some level of emotion directed towards the woman who leapt from open relationship partner to full time caregiver while waiting for the ambulance, even the apparent emptiness of my soul only troubled me on an intellectual level. Nothing affected me, I used to cry over commercials, dance to rhythms of the road, laugh at inappropriate moments,  and suddenly I was flat.

I do not think it requires a leap of logic to suspect the remainder of your mental facilities when one function of the brain isn’t working properly following a concussion, and I don’t remember much of the week following the accident. This just seems to be a reasonable precaution, along with avoiding heavy machinery.

I am not sure in which way or ways I should approach the question; how to elicit an answer (tests), how to measure and interpret any results. My mind is a carnival, every barking dog and stick of candy floss an important part of the tapestry, which is the gold thread and which the brass ring?

Lacking any formal training, and allowing any lapses in judgement, it appears I will need to reconcile every item I find, taking inventory of what holds me together, should I care for that revealed or not. I should enlist assistance for the task, and a brief perusal of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid produced zero results within the state. I feel rather strongly no shortcuts should be taken, the blossoming questions rise as a cloud from a bonfire off in the field, drifting across the moonlight as it paints the faces awaiting the carnival’s fireworks display.

And I can’t tell if this prose is an elegant indication of wellness, or an abstruse intimation of infirmity.

 

 

I will be waiting a few more weeks for cognitive therapy, it seems odd to me there are so few therapists available, the need appears overwhelming. So many unconscious sufferers wandering aimlessly. I joined Luminosity at the suggestion of my neurosurgeon, at least I will be exercising my neural net, keeping blood and electrons flowing. The other practice I have been applying in trying to find my emotional base has been following “inspirational” web pages, reassuring thoughts and mantras usually presented as memes. The greatest power I realize from these memes is the recognition I am not alone, someone else has produced the same thoughts I am pondering.

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

The eventual remedy lays in memory, remembering who I am, verifying the memory represents reality, and living the life of the man who not only has been this person in the past, but is this person today. Social therapy, spending time with people who know me, can only provide the strength to separate the music from the static, provide reminders of laughter and passions. When I find I can dance to the music I have uncovered, there will be reason to believe I am on the right path toward experiencing passions again. I can acknowledge the possibilities are endless, opening my mind to the breadth of the spectrum, but only one wavelength belongs to me. I think it is just about 400 nano meters.

 

 

It’s a wonderful carnival, I’m staying all night.

 

Evaluating wellness

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I began to detest the question “How are you?”

“I’m fine” is not a proper answer, for one thing, hair is fine, not people. I might be pushing everything I have to appear I am operating within normal parameters, but I would never reveal this truth. If I have to tell you how hard I’m trying to stand up, then just standing up wasn’t good enough. I am almost certain the person asking does not really want to know all the things I am doing to look “fine” in the hopes no one will ask me how I am.

Today, almost thirty years later, the question is as difficult as ever.

After three decades of disguising myself as healthy, I don’t know what else to do. I have been fortunate in many ways, I do not appear to have aged, and I have played the part of reasonably healthy younger man well. I have not needed to adjust my act, and became emboldened by success. Then, like the roller coaster at the end of the ride, there was an immediate change of velocity. As one friend said of his experience “I woke up one morning and I was old.”

I woke up in the hospital and I was old.

This is the part I have found troubling, referring to it “like the roller coaster at the end of the ride,” feeling a sense of conclusion. Stuff happens, I have known this for thirty years at least. I have friends with Multiple Sclerosis who have lost the ability to walk, and have had to make a multitude of adjustments in life. I have known many people who were simply struck by ill fortune. I have known others who have not survived. I am, as I knew, fortunate. For some reason this has not made the adjustments any easier.

As I begin to recover from my “accident,” I am finding my recovery will not be as complete as I might have hoped. I will not be one hundred percent of what I was, but I will be closer to one hundred percent of the average fifty seven year old white male. Well, not in mass, but in many other ways. Even now, as I push my recovery, I am told I am doing too much.

I try to take this all seriously, because I am not certain about my mental facilities. What if they are right, and I really shouldn’t be trying so hard?

I gave driving a great deal of thought, determined to examine all the variables. I can turn the key, and although it takes both hands to move the gear shift, I only need to do that at slow speeds, such as parking. I have always driven with one (my left) hand. I can manipulate all the controls and see all around me. I do feel fatigued more quickly, driving a little more than an hour each way is all I care to try at this point. My doctor still feels it is a bad idea, not exactly chastising me for driving to an appointment the other day, but making his disappointment known. I knew I wasn’t ready to hit my old haunts (and their additional impairments), but now I feel the need to back off a little more, be a little safer.

I start physical therapy next Friday for my elbow, I’ve already been advised it will not be functioning as well as the other. I’ve been told a number of things about my body over the years and prefer to just see what happens, knowing the range of motion is expected to be reduced gives me a goal to exceed. My fingers are already moving fluidly, I’ll be making music as soon as I can figure out how to hold the guitar. Drumming is out for now, until extending my arm doesn’t make a sound of its own. I also begin “cognitive therapy,” which will be interesting and probably fun. Unless someone determines I have suffered excessive brain damage, which is bound to throw my confidence into a black hole.

My eyes, and the bones which hold them in place, are the subjects of Monday’s appointment. Something must be physically wrong for my vision to change the way it does, focus shifting as I stare forward. I just need everything to stabilize before getting another prescription for lenses. And there I go, assuming everything will stabilize. I spent my life making things work, I’ll hold my eyes in place with duct tape if I have to.

Wednesday we’ll be investigating why I can’t hear through my right ear. It had been getting a little weak, but since the accident the hearing on that side is gone, and although I was in a haze in the hospital, I do recall hearing one of the doctors saying he thought something was wrong which could be adjusted during the skull surgery (which didn’t take place because I kept healing).

The following week I begin catching up with all the health issues I’ve let go since Emma died. My new general practitioner was amazed I wasn’t reduced to dust in the fall, my osteoporosis has been untreated for seven years. So a new Dexa Scan and rheumatologist for treatment are in order. A new Neurologist seems an obvious choice, so an MRI is expected. The doc wrote prescriptions for my antidepressants, but a shrink is certainly on my horizon, there are a number of issues which need to be addressed; I am not the man I was 31 December, I know this for certain as my emotions have flat-lined. And of course there are still follow ups with the neurosurgeon to determine what physical damage to my brain still exists.

So, with my usual duality (good sign), my evaluation of wellness is I am better off this happened, it steers me towards treatments, but the happening itself has been awful. I have lost independence and ability, I feel “old.” I am not ready to feel old. I have a certain presence, a style which may need to be adjusted to fit an old man. It may be a mostly temporary situation, but the rest of me is not getting any younger. This is happening all at once, rather than complain I failed to prepare, I will try to rejoice I have been so healthy so long.

These are just the physical and emotional issues I am dealing with, a subset of the emotional issues are affected by the financial state of being unable to earn a living. I have never had to ask for help before; if you have not already, please stop by the GoFundMe page set up by a friend to help carry me through these difficult times. Even if you cannot help financially (maybe see it as supporting a suffering author?) perhaps you can use the “poster” button near the bottom of the page and print out a copy to share with friends. Great conversation possibilities there, and perhaps I’ll gain a reader through your good deed.

I once met Buddy Rich, his advice on drum solos was “take something simple and make it look hard, or take something hard and make it look simple.” This is hard for me, I hope I am making it look simple.

How am I doing?

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

Oh, and being able to shave would be nice

 

The Ice Bucket Challenge

If you had not before this Summer, you have certainly by now heard of ALS, sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Raising money and awareness through the Ice Bucket Challenge has placed ALS in the spotlight.

I hope.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons in the Central Nervous System (CNS). “Amyotrophic” can be translated to “No muscle nourishment,” what is actually happening is the neurons which control the muscle have died, meaning the muscle can no longer be controlled voluntarily. “”Lateral” describes the portion of the spinal column in which the neurons are located. “Sclerosis” is a term for scarring,  referring to the hardening of areas in which the neurons have died. As ALS progresses in a patient, the degeneration of the motor neurons causes paralyses, If you recall Stephen Hawking, 40 years ago he was wheelchair bound and mildly spastic. He was able to father children and have a relatively normal life within his accommodations. Today, his communication is limited to a synthetic voice controlled by a computer, which he operates with his cheek muscle, one of the few muscles he is still able to control.

Like Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking is a famous person putting a face on the disease, which is relatively rare, affecting about two of every one hundred thousand people, about 140,000 people in the world, 6300 in the United States. There is no cure or treatment to end or reverse the degeneration, but a drug from Sanofi-Aventis, Riluzole, may slow the progression of the disease. It’s hard to tell with statements such as that. Stephen was diagnosed with ALS over fifty years ago, life expectancy is rarely more than ten years after diagnosis. My own experience with chronic disease has been some drugs work for some people, each case is different. I was diagnosed with MS twenty five years ago, none of the drugs that have been developed work for me (in fact a few made me worse), but my outward symptoms are barely noticeable. On the other hand, one woman who was diagnosed at the same time as me died within six months.

I have a friend who has been raising money for the ALS foundation for years. Every February she is involved in a “Valentine’s Day Plunge” in Manasquan New Jersey, in which people are sponsored to jump into the Atlantic surf to raise money for ALS research. In a bizarre twist of fate, her husband was diagnosed with ALS last year. She has organized a benefit for her husband Danny, and will continue with the Valentine’s Day Plunge, but she also has made popular among our circle of friends the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has now “gone viral.” I don’t know where it started, but we were doing it before it hit the news.

The idea behind the Ice Bucket Challenge is to raise money, but in popular culture it has turned into “raising awareness.” Well, a lot of people now know about dumping a bucket of cold water on themselves, but I don’t know that many know about the disease or are making contributions. Thus this article.

No amount of cold water or awareness is going to curb ALS, or any other disease. Awareness is certainly nice, with eighteen times as many patients, MS is largely misunderstood and I do find it quite annoying when people misinterpret my condition. Since I was diagnosed eight treatments for MS have been developed, none of which work for me. There is one drug for ALS, if it doesn’t work for you you have no other avenues. It could be worse, I had a friend in the Police Department I worked in who developed a disease only three other people in the United States had. He was the only guinea pig when research needed to be done. He vacationed at the NIH each year, no drug companies were interested in a drug that would have a handful of customers.

There is more than research that your donations provide. Most organizations provide support for patients as well. The American Cancer Society provided transportation for Emma to get to her Chemo and Radiation treatments, and provides wigs for patients who lose their hair. The MS and ALS foundations have outreach programs to assist with the daily needs of families affected by the respective diseases. Government funding is drying up, so not only do contributions go directly to research, they also pay for lobbyists to promote funding in Congress.

Being aware is not enough. Caring is nice, but only a sociopath doesn’t care. Money is what will make a difference. This year the Ice Bucket Challenge has inspired a flood of donations to the ALS association, $94 million so far. In reality that isn’t much money when you consider the price of laboratory equipment and facilities on top of the daily assistance provided to ALS patients, it amounts to roughly $671 per patient (worldwide).

 

10593069_10152616338645926_5189457870798239811_n

If you do not have the money or time to give, at least educate yourself about these diseases. Understand what that friend of yours is going through. That alone can make a world of difference.

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

Caring for loved ones

We saw a film last night, “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp. It was a thought provoking film, at least it was for me, although I’m not sure what thoughts it might provoke in others. This article contains information that may be considered “spoilers,” but I will not give anything but my interpretations away.

The film tells the story of a human consciousness loaded into a computer. Not a laptop, or even a Cray, but a massive computer using thousands of “quantum processors”, the size of a building. In the story, Depp’s character, “William”, is developing an artificial intelligence program along with several other researchers, all of them approaching the problem from different angles. An anti-technology terrorist group attacks the various facilities, killing several scientists and mortally wounding William. One of the scientists had successfully loaded a monkey’s consciousness into a computer, and Williams wife believes she can keep William alive by uploading his consciousness.

The plot takes several turns, and is open to a variety of interpretations, but one central question is “Is the consciousness expressed by the computer really William?” The answer to that question requires knowledge of who William truly is, and the extrapolation of what that person would do in the given situation. There are hints for either a positive or negative answer.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the viewers have lives of their own, and they might consider what they might do were they William. In my life, I am in the midst of a conversation about the the appropriate care for loved ones. Perhaps that colors my interpretation of the film.

Sometimes we have to make difficult choices. The choices are not difficult if viewed through a simple filter, as a machine might view the choice. What makes the decisions difficult is because as humans, we do not have the opportunity to view the world through a single filter. Every decision we make has multiple effects and consequences, and what may be right from one point of view is wrong from another. We have to balance the reality of today, the debts of the past, and the uncertainty of the future. What is the best thing we can do for a loved one, considering that a major factor is the totally unknown influence of unknown events of the future? The truth is, we have no idea what we’re doing and can only do what feels best right now.

We can only hope our loved ones know we have the best of intentions and are doing what we believe is in their best interests. We trust them to trust us. At one point the consciousness says to William’s wife “you’ve changed.” The irony of measuring change by the reaction to one’s own changes was striking.

One aspect of the film which makes it  difficult to determine if the computer consciousness is William is that William was a human being, with skin and blood and a brain limited by the boundaries of human intelligence. The computer is capable of seeing a much bigger picture, analyzing literally all the data in the world. If the person that was William was suddenly capable of doing the things the computer could, would it still really be William? Are we the same people we were twenty years ago? Any change in circumstance affects the way in which we make decisions.

In the end, we are like the loved ones for whom we make decisions. We determine, from our own prejudiced position, if the end result was William’s plan, or the effect of William’s foes plans. Was this massive intelligence benevolent, or self serving? Was the change that took place an improvement for mankind? I think it was.

The assistance we give to others is not always accepted with a smile. I am of the “Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime, give a man a fish, and he eats for one day” school. So again, my personal prejudices may have tinted my interpretation of the film, mine was certainly different than my wife’s, because at the end of the film, I felt William had been a good caregiver, providing for the survival of a species, whether they liked it or not.

I hope I have piqued your interest in this film, I would like to see it become a landmark in our cultural literacy, but the message may be too dark for those that are happy to just know where their next fish is coming from. But then, I suppose that is the point I saw in the film.

C is NOT for “cookie”

On the odd chance you are not aware, there is a disease called cancer. It can take many forms and affect any part of your body. Some forms are curable, some are not, but if left untreated it is always lethal.

Yeah. I thought you might have heard about it. There are over one and one half million new cases every year, and a little over half a million deaths in the population of roughly three hundred sixteen million Americans. That’s about 0.5% of the population newly affected each year, someone’s parent, spouse, sibling, child, or all of the above. You know at least one and possibly several people directly affected, survivors and fatalities.

This is why I really do not understand Cancer Awareness programs. What disturbs me even more deeply are secret cancer awareness games. The oxymoron title does not seem to sink in to the people involved.

The first of these I noticed a few years ago. One day a number of my female friends posted status updates consisting of a color. A few weeks later a few posted suggestive sounding status updates such as “I like it on the kitchen table” which was part of a game in which you posted where you liked to place your handbag. You were not supposed to explain, but a few people did privately. This was all supposed to raise awareness about breast cancer. How being part of a secret raises awareness is beyond me. How people who have suffered from breast cancer, or lost a loved one to breast cancer, could be a part of this astounds me.

More recently there was a group posting “selfies”, pictures one takes of oneself, without makeup. A few people mentioned it was for “cancer awareness” and fewer still provided a link to a cancer research association. While this might have had more impact on cancer research than any previous game, it was also the most revealing exercise. It was not easy to participate in. It took the courage to reveal yourself without makeup, so it was not quite as widespread as previous campaigns. Despite the narcissism of a society that has actually coined a bastardized word for self worship (selfie), the idea of being seen at less than your cosmetically enhanced “best” lacked appeal. Asked to contribute so much as a morsel of vanity the movement crashed, despite national news coverage of celebrities without make up (although possibly still Photoshopped).

Maybe the point of cancer awareness is self awareness. Cancer avoidance begins with self awareness, diagnosis begins with self awareness. The path to that self awareness is discussion and openness, so cute little secret games could never be the answer, in fact they are the antithesis of awareness.

Today (1 April 2014) would have been my fifteenth wedding anniversary with Emma. It is a day on which I am acutely aware of cancer, as are the dates of her birth and death, which is not to say it ever slips out of my mind. During the thirteen months she (we) struggled with cancer I learned quite a bit about cancer and its effects. I learned about the human spirit, hope, and loss. I have lost other friends to cancer, and know quite a few that have survived cancer, so losing my wife does not make me special or unique in any way.

You do not have to lose a loved one to be aware of cancer, in fact I honestly believe you would need to live in a remote cave to not be aware. If you are unaware of the signs of cancer, playing games will not make you, or anyone else, aware. Talk with your friends who have survived (you must have at least one) or visit the website of the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society does wonderful work in all aspects of cancer awareness, and provides services to not only patients but families of patients. They fund research investigating avoidance, treatments, and cures as well as providing counseling for those who lose loved ones to the disease.

If you want to raise awareness, talk. Discuss avoidance with your loved ones. Donate money or time to charities like but not limited to the American Cancer Society. Share your story if you are a survivor, or the stories of others that did not survive. Share this article, or something written by someone else about their journey with cancer (maybe a short book, I leave them on airplanes and in hotel rooms). If it has not already, cancer will affect you in some way in the future. Be prepared.

One other thought I would like to share with you. Cancer is a random event. There are circumstances which make it more likely such as exposure to carcinogens (sunlight, smoking, certain chemicals), but there is no way to completely prevent cancer. In the same way you would not blame a rape victim for the actions of a violent criminal, never blame a cancer patient for their disease. Blame has no place in treatment other than as a footnote among things that have a negative effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethnicity

I’ve been involved in a couple of conversations lately about ethnicity, race, and nationalism. Not that the other people in the conversation realized the topics.

Ethnicity, according to Miriam Webster, relates to “a particular ethnic affiliation or group”, with “ethnic” being defined as “of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc. or associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country”.

Race, on the other hand, is “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock or a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristic”. Race is what you look like, your phenotype.

Nationalism is “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries or a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own”. Nationalism is not equal to Nationality. Nationality is the name of the country on your passport. Should I ever become a citizen of Belgium, I would be a Belgian national, but I will remain an American nationalist. Unless Texas secedes, in which case I will be a Texas national.

Nationalism gets a bad name, fanatic nationalism was the genesis of the NAZI party. “Fanatic” is the key word there, anything that drives you to kill people is a bad thing.

In other words, your race is determined by your genes (ancestors), your ethnicity is determined by your upbringing (parents, peers, and self), your nationality by the geography of your birth, and your nationalism by your self.

We see the definitions being misused and confused more and more, both intentionally and out of ignorance.

If you have filled out a census form or survey lately, you will have noticed that racial and ethnic groups are arbitrarily recognized. We put a great emphasis on defining who we are, and the squeaky wheels get their own designations.  At one point, you had two choices, white or black. The book “Racial and Ethnics Groups” is now in its thirteenth edition, ironically there are two versions, I’m guessing one is in color because the other is listed as “black and white”.

Today in the United States, you can identify yourself as White (the term “Caucasian” isn’t used much), Black (“African-American” is an option, one look at Oscar Pistorius reminds you not everyone from Africa has dark skin), American Indian or Native Alaskan (note the lack of “Native American” as an option), Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (note overlap with “Asian”), Other, or “Two or more races” as your racial identity. You may choose to be identified ethnically as Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

In many surveys I’ve taken lately, the Asian/Pacific Islander category is broken down into a growing number of categories, and Hispanic (or “Hispanic or Latino”) is listed as both a race and an Ethnic group, divided in one or both questions into several categories that denote national origin. Although most former Spanish colonies are considered Hispanic, most Mexicans I know detest the term as it applies to the people who conquered their ancestors. People from Portugal, Brazil, Uruguay, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé, Príncipe and East Timor are not Hispanic, they are Lusitanians, descended from Portugese.

Some white people are a little jealous.

If you are Arabic, you are white. Don’t look in the mirror. You are the same race and ethnicity as someone from Sweden in the eyes of the United States census. If you are from India, you would be Asian. If you are from Japan or Indonesia, you could choose to identify as either Asian or Pacific Islander. These don’t appear to fit the definitions of racial groups. If you are from Israel, Iraq, or Italy you are non-Hispanic, because there are only two ethnic choices.

Nationalism gets a little confusing. As Russians invade Ukraine, claiming they are protecting ethnic Russians, sovereignty disappears. Over the last few hundred years, the land we call the Ukraine has been called several other things. I’m proud to be American, proud of our unique strengths, proud of our growth, and proud of our ability to rise above the mess we have presently created in our society. We can do better, and I have faith we will.

My background is white. There is no category for “Anglo-Saxon”, which is a fair description. The majority of my friends are white, although they represent a wide spectrum of physical characteristics provided by their genes, and non-Hispanic, although they come from  a wide variety of cultural influences provided by their experiences. If we were to break up “White” into the various phenotypes and “non-Hispanic” into the multitude of cultures, I probably wouldn’t know three people who had the same label.

Nationalism has taken the place of race and ethnicity in our culture, and the overwhelming number of people are ignored. If we are going to make distinctions based on race we need to grow up and realize there are three. Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongolian (some anthropologists recognize the aboriginal peoples of Australia as a fourth race). If we’re going to make distinctions based on Ethnicity we need to grow up and realize there are hundreds, not just two. If we are going to make distinctions based on nationality, we need to decide when. Many flags have flown over the land we inhabit, Texas has seen six, how many tribes have inhabited modern day Palestine?

We talk about being world citizens, “color blind”, and equal. Step one is to stop using labels for things they were not meant for. Race identifies a body, not a person. If we are to celebrate multiculturalism, we need to accept all ethnic groups as equal. By that I mean that we should treat ethnic groups the same way we treat football teams, we may have a favorite, but each has strengths and weaknesses, and without a variety there would be no one to play with; to the essential point, the players change from season to season, the Dallas Cowboys of 2013 are not the Dallas Cowboys of 1973.

There is no denying we are different. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But what makes one of us better than another lays only in the quality being measured, and varies between individuals of every race, ethic group, and nationality.

So say we all

There’s an important concept within democracy that seems to be misunderstood.

The majority decision is the law. It is not inherently “right”, or “fair”, or even “intelligent”, it is only the law.

We got along for quite a while enjoying the benefits and responsibilities of a democracy. I’m not exactly sure why things have changed, but they have.

Very possibly it is the collision of the “me” generation and their offspring with the “information superhighway”.

The responsibility of living in a democracy means accepting you will not always be in the majority, nor will you always be in the minority. The importance of your ideas and beliefs is equal to the importance of ideas and beliefs you don’t agree with. It is the interaction between people of different views that produces growth. Sometimes we rise above where we are and learn something neither party had considered before.

Somewhere along the way a large portion of American society has come to believe that being a majority infers some moral and intellectual superiority, there is nothing to learn from the minority and they should be destroyed. A scorched Earth approach to social interaction.

As dangerous as that state of mind might be, what is happening is even worse. Since being in the majority is the only accepted validation of ideas, it becomes more difficult for an ego to accept it might be wrong about anything, therefore it creates a majority that doesn’t exist. “I’m not wrong, and everybody agrees with me” has replaced “you may not agree, but this is what I think”. By following this path, the wounded ego empowers itself with an illusion.

The essence of democracy is we do not believe in precisely the same things. We do believe in each other.

In a discussion about religion, self proclaimed atheists state they are not only a majority, but they will supplant all religions. This is the kind of nonsense you hear from religious fanatics, but don’t suggest atheism is a religion, because even though the person speaking is telling you out of one side of his mouth that everyone agrees with him, out of the other side he’s saying there is no definition for his beliefs.

In a discussion about politics a member of one party states the other party is the “enemy of democracy” and this opposing party will cease to exist. Suggest to the person a democracy requires at least two points of views, and you are labeled a fanatic. Both sides see the other as idiots intent on evil.

They are not idiots. Well, some of them are. You read this on a computer screen. At your fingertips is the massed information of our civilization, opposing viewpoints, and pictures of cats. You may be a genius, a poet, an artist, a mailman, or an inmate at an asylum. You might be anything in the world, and your opinion is equal in value to mine. We may not be of equal intellect, in fact it is unlikely we are. It is our responsibility to be civil with each other despite our differences.

Opinions are not truths. There is no objective “right” and “wrong” with opinions. There is simply the majority and infinite minorities. Membership in those groups changes every day. Being a participant in democracy, it is important to understand that today’s majority is tomorrow’s minority, and the way you treat others may be the way you are treated.

It’s not easy. Just as the majority of milk is not cream, the majority of society is not the best we have to offer. Education is our greatest tool, but the majority prefers propaganda.

Be proud to be different. Do not be swayed by other opinions, but listen to them. Learn the facts and make up your own mind. Because in the final analysis, your own mind is all you have.

 

 

The width of the brush

In 1992, Mattel introduced “Talking Barbie”. Each doll repeated four phrases randomly selected from a pool of two hundred seventy possibilities. One of those phrases, “Math class is tough”, was considered so offensive that Mattel was pressured into removing it from the pool of phrases, and offered to replace any doll that had the phrase in its selection.

There are groups of people who feel that children are influenced by the toys they play with. They believe that a plastic doll that only remotely resembles an actual woman promotes an unattainable body image. So does a purple dinosaur, and dinosaurs had trouble with math as well. Little girls don’t want to be their dolls, they want their dolls to be their friends. Having a friend who has difficulty with math might make a little girl feel a little superior to the busty blonde doll, or it might make a little girl who is having trouble with math feel less isolated. Instead, the reasons males typically score higher in math tests doesn’t get discussed.

Of all the anti-defamation leagues out there, the blondes have the most difficult job.

It is all too common to paint an entire group with the same brush. Stereotypes exist to allow us to move quickly through life. My car can go 120 mph, but I only drive the speed limit, and on nice days I may stop beside the road and enjoy the scenery. We can slow down in our appraisals of others in the same way.

In Florida, a man (Mr. Dunn) was on his way home from his son’s wedding, and stopped at a convenience store for some wine before returning to the bed and breakfast where he was staying. He pulled in next to a car full of teenagers listening to loud music, and while his girlfriend went in the shop he got out of his car and asked the teenagers to turn down their music.

The exact words that were exchanged will never be known, but Mr. Dunn states that Jordan Davis, a seventeen year old passenger in the car, said “you’re dead”. They were Mr. Davis’ last words, because Mr. Dunn responded with gunfire. As the car full of teenagers tried to drive away, Mr. Dunn continued shooting. When his girlfriend came out with the wine, they drove to the B&B, he walked the dog and they ordered a pizza. The next day when he heard on the news Davis was dead, he was so upset he took a nap before driving home.

Mr. Dunn argued he was not guilty because he was simply defending himself. “My intent was to stop the attack, not necessarily end a life,” he testified. “It just worked out that way.”

When emptying a .45 caliber into a car full of kids it often works out that way.

His attorney said “My client did not wait to become that victim,” he said. “My client did not wait to either get assaulted by a weapon or have someone potentially pull a trigger”. How ironic.

Were that true, perhaps he should have stayed in his vehicle instead of provoking an argument with a group of teenagers. It appears that was the path to preventing someone from pulling a trigger.

Mr. Dunn is a grade A wanker. A weak insecure man who carried a gun to make himself brave enough to start fights which he could only get out of by using the gun. He was found guilty of attempted murder for the three other teenagers in the car, but the jury could not reach a verdict on the murder charge.

Reasonable, thoughtful members of society who wish to carry a firearm will now be equated with this irresponsible murderer. People with a blind aversion to firearms will use this incident as evidence that no one should have a gun. People who blindly support gun rights will use this incident as evidence that Mr. Dunn rightfully used a firearm for self defense (that is not what the verdict infers, but I’ve already heard it said). Both sides of the issue painting the other with broad brushes.

We have the capability to be the most articulate species on the planet, our minds are capable of detecting infinite subtleties, yet by and large we reduce the issues we face to stark, digital elements. When an issue has nuances we don’t wish to consider, we paint over them with a broad brush.

 

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

In the science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation, LeVar Burton plays helmsman Geordi La Forge (his assignment changes to Chief Engineer after the first season, odd career path).

Geordi-La-Forge-Gets-Downgraded-to-Google-Glass-2.jpg 1364822836

The allegory of a blind man as helmsman provides infinite opportunities to address the meaning of “vision”, story lines touching on perception were the mainstay of the La Forge character. He may have been inspired by the Frank Herbert’s Guild Navigators in the “Dune” novels, or the Fafa-kitahi, the “Feelers of the Sea”, Tongan navigators who were blind. Roddenberry named the character for a fan of the original series, George La Forge, who was quadriplegic.

The purpose of science is to see the unseen.

Applied sciences exploit our understanding of the universe, but it is “pure” science, the desire to understand, that sparks great minds. In the real world our La Forge is the real life helmsman of understanding the universe, Stephen Hawking.

For those of you not familiar with Professor Hawking, he is a brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose greatest contribution has been his personality. Dr. Hawking didn’t invent black holes, but without him you would have never heard of them. Professor Hawking has made theoretical physics accessible. From his wheelchair. Professor Hawking was diagnosed with a form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of twenty one, and his physical abilities have deteriorated to the point that he now controls devices with the muscles in his cheeks.

Curiosity - Is there a creator

Professor Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA

You’ve heard his “voice“, which despite being generated synthetically is still recognizable as belonging to him. He has appeared in countless interviews and guest appearances, including a role on “The Simpsons“. His first popular book, “A Brief History of Time”, sold over ten million copies since its publication in 1988, and spent five years on the London Sunday Times’ best seller list. The New York Metropolitan Opera has commissioned an operatic adaptation.

Very few people know what exactly Professor Hawking did that made him so famous. He presented a theory that black holes aren’t really black. Hawking radiation, an emission at the event horizon of a black hole, was a pretty radical idea in 1974. In a micro black hole, more energy could escape than is consumed, causing “black hole evaporation”. Maybe it is the romanticism, the Geordi La Forge effect, that comes when a man whose personal universe is collapsing  sees the omega of the universe has an escape hatch, that has made Professor Hawking so popular.

A great deal of understanding physics involves the ability to see through the veneer of “reality” and into the way things really work. In the same way that it is difficult to draw a four-dimensional object on a two-dimensional canvass, it is difficult to explain theoretical physics with words. The idea of a black hole, an object so massive that its gravitational field can trap light, seems simple. It’s when you get down to the “How can that exist within the known laws of the universe?” part when descriptions fall into mathematics. We “prove” the existence of things we cannot see through mathematics, electrons do not orbit nuclei in orderly solar systems, they exist in a probability cloud. The picture of an atom is an equation of probabilities.

The boundary of the gravitational field, the points in space at which the field is so intense that light cannot escape, is called the event horizon. Because light does not escape that boundary we call it a black hole. But if you’re picturing a non-reflective sphere, or some point at which a gravity well can be presumed to exist due to the flux in visual perception, you’re trying to draw two-dimensional tesseracts.

I’m trying to avoid the math and just stay with the concepts. Professor Hawking made the universe of cosmology approachable, but what he “showed” us can only be imagined. We see what we can imagine, which presents our limiting factor. If we can’t imagine it, we can’t understand it.

Recently the professor has published a new view of the invisible. In “Information preservation and weather forecasting for black holes”, Professor Hawking addresses the conflicts between general relativity and quantum theory as they explain black holes (he also indicates, by the title, he is still has an awesome sense of humor). This has been popularized as “Hawking now claims black holes don’t exist”.

Language zero, Physics one.

In the classic sense, black holes as we envision them do not exist. If anything that enters the event horizon is lost to the universe forever, there is no way for them to fit our classical measures of existence. What Professor Hawking has formulated is an explanation for the existence of something that can’t exist. Professor Hawking is suggesting is that event horizons do not exist, and replaces the term with “apparent horizons”, a fuzzy zone in which the super gravity of the black hole wrecks havoc with the laws of physics; he summarizes “The absence of event horizons mean that there are no black holes — in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infi nity. There are however apparent horizons which persist for a period of time”. That period of time may be billions of years.

Our impressions of the universe are experienced with our minds. What we see is only the photons that have traveled to our optic nerve, what our mind sees is the photons that could never reach us. When we look at the stars, we see them as they were thousands of years ago. We see constellations with no sense of depth, as if the stars were laid out upon a canvas, yet from another angle, the brightness and relationships would form different pictures.

What is “real”? The answer rests on what we understand to be possible. And of course, there’s always the wisdom of the Rockman…

 

Heroes

I have known people who are bona fide heroes. Depending on your definition, I might be a hero. It’s a title I don’t desire, as it waters down the impact of those I consider to be real heroes.

These days there are so many heroes that it is the unusual person who is not a hero.

The kid with cancer who wants to be Batman for a day is a “hero”. Any cancer survivor is a hero. Oddly, dying of cancer is less heroic, and treating cancer gets no mention at all.

Right now, as far as I’m concerned, the guys from the water company who worked through the night to repair the water main break out front, allowing me to take my first hot shower in days, are heroes.

Edward Snowden is not a hero. Neither is “Chelsea” (Bradley) Manning, or Julian Assange. Heroism requires more than being on the right side of an issue, and I’m still not certain which side of their issue is the “right” side. I do know that heroism involves “doing the right thing”, a fairly fuzzy definition, and that none of these men chose the “right thing” that was available, turning instead to illegal avenues that endangered the lives of others. Heroes don’t put people in danger, so yeah, I’m sure these guys aren’t heroes.

Most of you have never heard of Aaron Swartz, but a lot of people think he was a hero. He was certainly a genius, developing the RSS standard when he was only fourteen. He left public school in the tenth grade, enrolling in the local college, and was later admitted to Stanford University. He dropped out of Stanford after a year, because he “didn’t find it intellectually stimulating”.

What he did find intellectually stimulating was exploiting the internet, developing ways to make it accessible in more ways to more people. Among his cooperative developments are Markdown, Infogami (which became Reddit),  and Jottit, among a multitude of web shattering collaborations. Aaron became quite wealthy from his creative efforts, and invested his money and intellect into social causes. He believed the internet should be free, and that all the content on the internet should be free. Not a very popular position among artists, but big with consumers.

Aaron was, as most “creative types” are, prone to depression. Real, clinical depression. Being a genius and being able to accomplish anything he applied himself to made him feel invincible, the praise and hero worship justified his impression of moral superiority. When he “liberated” millions of documents from the MIT JSTOR library, he was indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage.

The reality of a world regulated with “stupid” laws that applied to everyone, including him, was more than Aaron could handle. He hung himself in his Brooklyn apartment last year, three months before his trial date, at age twenty six.

I can empathize with his turmoil, his aspirations, the frustrations of living in a world of masters and slaves.

Was he a hero? Maybe. Was he a criminal? Probably. Was he a gift of genius and insight to the human race? Certainly.

Life is a complex equation, human beings are a mash of variables. Very few things are black or white.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently ruled on the issue of “net neutrality“, allowing providers to regulate content. What this means on the surface is Verizon can charge Netflix for the amount of bandwidth it uses, and that cost will be forwarded to end users. What it means to some people is that internet providers have the ability to charge for and control what content they deem to provide. Will it be abused and used for censorship? Probably, in the way that Walmart, the largest retailer of hardcopy music, has the ability to control what it sells. If you want a CD with a parental advisory, it’s not at Walmart. That would only be censorship if you also couldn’t get the CD at Target, or a neighborhood record store (a few still exist), due to Walmart’s influence.

If internet providers were capable of censorship, I would certainly hope the first thing they shut down are child pornography sites, I will give a second thought to whether or not they might censor speech sometime after that happens. In the meantime, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that copyrights still apply to the internet, as an author my work is protected, as artists my friends works are protected.

There are a lot of heroes out there. They make the world a beautiful place. Celebrate them.

Know Nukes

I always find the phrase “Nuclear family” rather funny.  Even though my parents divorced when I was twelve, I still think of my childhood as nuclear, just a different kind of nuclear. Dad worked in the scientific instrument field, so we had radioactive supplies around the house quite often.

I did the “Duck and cover” drills in elementary school, I grew up with the knowledge that a fission device could end the lives of everyone I knew at any moment, and that liquid scintillation counters used radiation for life saving research. I knew some forms of radiation were safe and some were not. I learned that some chemicals keep us alive while others are toxic. I learned that some plants are natural medicines, and some are natural poisons. I learned when to be afraid, and when not to. I used a cooler that my father had carried radioactive isotopes in to carry beer to concerts. There was no residual radioactivity, but I would joke about it and say “I didn’t want to have kids anyway”. It was a joke, okay? I’ve got four kids now.

Back then, all that information was in books. It still is, but it is supplemented, and sometimes supplanted by the internet.

The internet is a social forum. It is not a font of knowledge, it is a sewer of information. Sure, there may be a discarded gold watch in there, but it’s covered with feces.

There is a reason why scientists are respected. Because they are trained in critical thinking, and have studied their respective fields. When Emma had cancer, we didn’t seek the advice of a nuclear physicist, we were fortunate enough to find a premiere oncologist, Dr. Charles Yeo. When I’m looking for information on Global Warming, I don’t call Dr. Yeo, I check peer reviewed studies from respectable institutions. The resources available on the internet are amazing, and so is some of the garbage.

There is a lot of fuzzy logic out there. People who have no idea how to apply critical thinking are unlikely to apply any critical thinking to their sources. It’s maddening that people who say they don’t believe anything will believe anything, as long as it has no connection to actual research. For some reason fear mongering is popular. Maybe it’s the release of frustration, maybe it’s the need to control other people. Look at the various theories floating around, is there one that is based on a positive event?

Usually the false information is harmless. If people want to get worked up over issues that don’t exist that’s fine, just don’t try to get me worked up about it. Don’t come to my  door (this actually happened a few years ago) and insult me because I don’t believe your bullshit. If you don’t want there to be fracking, or a pipeline, or offshore drilling, then drive your SUV off a cliff. If you want to eat, drink, and breathe asparagus to cure your cancer, go right ahead. I’ll be pursuing therapies that actually have positive results. I don’t see a problem with genetically modified organisms. Gregor Mendels began the research in 1856, we’ve been modifying plants and animals at a genetic level for one hundred and fifty years. Suddenly it’s the end of the world?

58848_10152762653590445_1639561038_n

There is stuff to worry about, and insufficient time to worry about things that don’t matter.

The Fukushima disaster has caused a great deal of wringing of hands. Radiation can be scary, especially in the country where it brought Godzilla to life. I’ve read a lot about it, but actual verifiable information is being crowded out by fear mongering. If you’re afraid of nuclear power, fine, turn off your computer. Nuclear power has caused fewer deaths than any other source of power, when compared on a watt to death ratio. What that means is that more people die generating one hundred gigawatts of electricity in coal based generation, petroleum based generation, hydro-electric generation, and even solar generation than in nuclear generation. Wind power costs twice as many lives as nuclear per watt, while providing one seventeenth as much of the world’s electricity (I know that statistic could be claimed to be misleading as I’m using two different measures, read it carefully).

Fukushima survived one of the largest earthquakes in history. Measuring 9.0 on the Richter magnitude scale, with an epicenter less than one hundred miles away, it is not the kind of event that can be factored into safety engineering. The Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, even closer to the epicenter, survived undamaged. Eight gas fired power plants and two refineries were damaged. Nearly sixteen thousand people died, but no deaths are tied to exposure to radioactivity, although several people died due to the evacuation around Fukushima.

There has been a good deal of speculation and outright lies in the reporting of the impact of the earthquake. When people don’t understand that there is a level of background radiation that occurs naturally everywhere on Earth, they are easily fooled into a  post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning when shown background radiation in an area they don’t expect to see it. This is similar to the concern over radiation in the waste water from fracking. Uranium is a naturally occurring element, if it is in the soil where fracking is taking place, it will be in the waste water. It is no different than the cognitive dissonance which takes place when people see a bear in a semi rural neighborhood such as my own, and ask “where did it come from?”. We move to the woods to be closer to nature, yet are surprised by its presence.

One of the reasons we need to be aware of our surroundings is so we’ll know the difference between normal and abnormal occurrences. This way we know when to be afraid, and when not to be.

Know nukes. No fear.

 

Save

Watching the skies

The night sky always fills me with wonder, contemplating the distances involved, considering the journey each photon makes, from a hydrogen fusion reaction on a star light years away to my retina.

Screenshot, Stellarium

Screenshot, Stellarium

The weather doesn’t always cooperate and sometimes the light pollution makes it difficult to pick out feint objects, so a few years ago I started using Stellarium. Unlike other star charts, Stellarium is personalized to your exact position.  And perhaps the most incredible part is, it’s free.

Once you download the software, you input your location. This can be as simple as your town, or as precise as your latitude and longitude. Input your elevation and the default view (North, East etc.) and you will be shown the view as it exists. At one point, I matched the view on my screen to the view through my window, so I could look back and forth and identify objects.

The chart is in real time, so as the stars move in the sky they move on your screen. You can fast forward, reverse, and stop, allowing you to find any point in time. Know Jupiter is supposed to be visible tonight, and you’ll be looking around 2130? Fast forward to 2130 and find Jupiter, and you’ll know right where to look. You can also see satellite paths, so if you’re using binoculars you can plot when and where to look.

The features are incredible, allowing you to overlay constellation lines or pictures (A bear for Ursa Major and Minor) making it a nice teaching tool for family stargazing. Navigation is easy, you drag the view to turn or look at a different angle, zoom in and out with the scroll on your mouse. Click on an object for its name and info. One thing that takes a little getting used to is it is in real time, so when you zoom in to look at Messier 31, it will move across your screen, because the world is turning. Just click pause.

You can simulate light pollution to match whatever you’re dealing with, or you can look at a pristine sky to see whet you’re missing. I use it a lot on nights when it is cloudy or too cold to go out, or when there’s an alignment that will be happening when I’d rather be asleep. You can also change the location to get a feel for events that are not visible from where you are, or to match your location when you travel.

Did I mention that it’s free?

Another nice application, also free, is available from NASA. “Spot the Station” sends you an email (or text) with the coordinates for the next flyover of the International Space Station. A typical email reads “Time: Sun Jan 12 5:31 AM, Visible: 3 min, Max Height: 63 degrees, Appears: NNE, Disappears: NE”, in this case the next morning at 0531, the station was visible for three minutes as it passed on a short arc reaching an altitude of 63° (straight up is 90º) traveling from North Northeast to Northeast. I’ve seen arcs that were anywhere from one to six minutes, typically pre-dawn or late evening. I usually get a preview on Stellarium to give myself a feel for which stars to orient with.

The International Space Station is about 260 miles from Earth. The average distance to Mars is 140 million miles, with the closest approach being 33.9 million miles. Jupiter gets as close as 390 million miles. The closest star (other than the Sun), Alpha Centauri, is 4.2 light years (24.6 trillion miles) away, but that can only be seen from the Southern hemisphere. Barnard’s star, the closest visible (with a telescope, it’s a red dwarf) star in the Northern hemisphere, is 5.9 light years away. That’s over 34 trillion miles, or more precisely 34,683,890,693,365 miles, or 133,399,579,589 times as far away as the International Space Station.

Some people look at the sky and see pretty lights. I see the universe, and the perspective of our place within the universe. One pretty light among billions.

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are fascinating. To me, they indicate a variety of things.

The first is essentially insecurity, there are monsters under the bed. The other is a feeling of helplessness, the monsters are everywhere. Yet another is actually a belief in basic human goodness, this can’t be the work of one man, it must be a conspiracy.

The JFK theories persist because we’re uncomfortable believing that one person, acting alone, could kill the President of the United States. It was easier for Hillary Clinton to put forward the idea of a “vast right wing conspiracy” than to acknowledge that her husband had a history of marital infidelity. Conspiracy theorists create a conspiracy of their own, a denial of rational thought, and anyone who disagrees with them is simply a member of the antagonistic conspiracy. Global Warming, a theory allegedly based in science, uses as its argument that people who don’t “believe” are “deniers”. There is no discussion of actual facts, just an argument of faith. Despite claims of a consensus being proven fraudulent, believers still invoke the claims. Doesn’t sound too scientific.

1512633_10152176545850281_1219798672_n

Studies of people who believe in conspiracies show that the leading indicator of whether a person will believe in a conspiracy theory is if they believe in other conspiracy theories. That is not to say they’re gullible, there are just no other commonalities. We used to consider these people “foil hat wearing lunatics”, but as more and more people feel life is beyond their control, they are more likely to believe they are being controlled by evil cartels and a bad turn of fortune. We can call an uneducated Arab a fanatic terrorist and then justify torturing him without acknowledging our own fanaticism. People can praise the “Affordable Care Act”, embracing the name “Obamacare” and attacking the “evil conservatives” for fighting against it, but once it has taken effect the same people claim that the entire program was developed by the conservatives and pushed through congress by Republicans.

Subscribing to conspiracy theories requires a suspension of rational thought. Attempting to have a rational discussion on a topic with someone who has abandoned rational thought only results in frustration for both parties. It is not a question of logic, it is a question of faith. Global Warming has caused increased ice packs. The NSA has developed energy beams which they control you with through your computer. Vaccinations cause autism. The Illuminati are poisoning us with with chemicals sprayed by aircraft. There is an invisible planet that is streaking towards the Earth. Anything can be evidence, it doesn’t have to make sense.

There is no common background in people who believe in conspiracies. They come from the Left, Right, and Middle. Well educated people are as susceptible as the illiterate, because it has nothing to do with intelligence, although the “believers” almost uniformly accuse the “deniers” of inferior intelligence. Because it’s obvious to them. It isn’t a conspiracy theory to the people who believe it, it’s the truth. To them, the truth is the propaganda.

There is a lot of money to be made by manipulating who believe in conspiracies. “Secret documents” available only through the mail, “research” funding, and millions of website hits. Heroes of the cause, brave crusader’s who need your five dollar donation to continue spreading the “truth”. The twisted logic of the believer supports the crusader, who has been shunned by his colleagues due to his “refusal to bow to the establishment”. And that’s only the “wacky” conspiracies. The really big conspiracies thrive on the wealth of entire nations. Choose a conflict in the Middle East and one side is blaming the other of taking part in a multinational conspiracy.

Why do I mention all this? Because it hampers free thought. It masquerades as critical thinking while it is anything but. It can happen to anyone, and it can also be avoided by anyone.

It is healthy to question everything, including yourself. That’s what science is all about. Being able to accept and evaluate new data is how growth takes place. Being able to say “Well, that’s what I used to think, but I was wrong” is evidence of growth.

 

 

Time

The Doctor Who Christmas special was, predictably, on Christmas night. It is one of the fixed events in space-time, every Christmas, the Doctor saves the world, sometimes the entire universe. Or always. It’s one of those timey wimey things.

For fifty years, through twelve (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?) faces, he is always The Doctor. Time loops around and around, so the idea of a “chronological” progression is patently illogical. He occasionally runs into himself, or selves, but understanding that time contains events that can be altered, who is to say which self precedes which? Cause and effect become fuzzy, Who nose?

It is often secondary to the immediate story to ponder the meaning of time itself, the media through which the Doctor travels. Yet we all travel through time, my personal journey spanning the distance between 15 November 1958 and some unknown point in the future. In our experience, time is both eternal and transient. We believe the past took place, and we imagine the future will, but all that we have is this very moment. Time, past present and future, exists only within our individual experience. A study by the BBC concludes as of Dr. Who’s fiftieth anniversary, he had traveled over two hundred trillion years.

Doctor Who, like any fantasy series, inspires the imagination. Anything can happen and often does. Despite initially being one of the more violent programs on television, the Doctor most often seeks non-violent solutions. The theme often revolves around unlikely heroes. Perhaps this is a reflection of the soul of Doctor Who, the appeal of the idea living beyond any one incarnation. Sydney Newman’s loose concept of a Doctor, traveling through time and space, not even an idea of what kind of doctor. Verity Lambert’s strengths as a producer, the youngest and only female producer at BBC at the time. A string of young directors and writers who might not have had the opportunity to expose and develop their talents on a more mainstream project. Even the music, written by Ron Grainer and created using an early version of the Mellotron, is iconic. Now Doctor Who is mainstream, a fixture in our culture, made so by the unlikely heroes.

Time itself is a mystery. We appear to be able to travel in one direction only, at a fixed speed. We see the cycles in nature and imagine cycles in time, anniversaries creating points on an imagined circle. We seek to renew ourselves each year, seeing New Years Day as a point on the circle when we are allowed to start again. There are an infinite number of points on our timelines, we may start over whenever we wish. Each moment we are recreated, why hesitate to be created as the best person we can be at that moment? Our time is too short to waste it being anything other than the best we can be.

1496616_805457372813232_773040147_n

Liberty

There is an exchange between Naji Al-Hadithi and Robert Wiener in the film “Live from Baghdad”. It may or may not be based on an actual conversation, we are often much more clever in our memories.

Al-Hadithi says “You people take a  lot of liberties”

Wiener replies “We’re the liberty people”

That was 1990, the world has changed. A nation which Abraham Lincoln described as “conceived in liberty” seems to have lost interest in freedom.

Oh, they don’t like to admit it. In a twist of speech that would make George Orwell proud, the definition of “freedom” has changed from “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” to “the compliance with necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action”. You have the freedom to do as you’re told.

Intellectual growth springs from the free exchange of ideas. Not only because we build on each others ideas, but because the act of thinking about new ideas stimulates our brains, and we in turn come up with more new ideas.

This is why we once led the world in innovation, and today can’t replicate what we once invented. Seriously. One NASA scientist has said we couldn’t build the space shuttle today because it’s “too complicated”. We could build it fifty years ago when no one had done it before, but not now. A space walk on the International Space Station is hyped as being extraordinarily dangerous. When Alexey Leonov stepped outside Voskhod 2 on 18 March 1965 it was extraordinary. Forty years later it was all but routine. Today it’s scary news?

An example of the mind numbing effect on a grand scale is China. Centuries of repression has left the nation bereft of innovation. They are excellent at replication, although without innovation in the west, they’re even falling behind with that. The Soviet Union landed on the moon in 1959, America in 1962, Japan in 1993, the European Space Agency in 2006, India in 2008, with China finally managing a hard landing in 2009. The Chineese government, seeking to increase innovation, has mandated 3.5 new patents for every 10,000 people. You cannot mandate creativity.

Not that I care. The measure of humanity is not technology, it is spirituality. You can frame this any way you wish, but who we are is defined by how we treat each other. The growth we have experienced through the revolutions of the eighteenth century and experiments with other social systems is regressing. Our freedom of education allowed the freedom of ignorance. Ignorant people prefer to be told what to do. They’re more comfortable when everything is the same, surprises, differences, can cause them to become agitated. This is the flaw of pure democracy. The weak minded need to be taken care of, so when they speak out they ask for uniformity.

After the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, there was a segment of Russian society that expressed a desire to return to totalitarianism. This is why Russian society has not progressed as quickly as other Eastern Bloc countries. They have elected leaders from the old school.

The desire to be taken care of leads the voting block that empowers totalitarian leaders. Well meaning but uneducated activists manipulate this voting block. It is important that we take care of each other, but legislating compassion is as useless as mandating creativity.

Over the last decade or so I have seen an increased move towards totalitarianism. An outright campaign against free thought. It most often masquerades as free thought, enlightenment, or intellectualism, and the weak minded fall for it. Those that don’t embrace the campaign are bullied into submission or ostracized. This should be obvious to an observer, but no one likes being chased by an angry mob.

There are plenty of problems with our political process, one of them being a lack of alternative ideas. So how can eliminating one of the two political parties be a solution? Yet that is the chant of the “progressives”, who envision an end of the Republican Party. Not to be outdone, the “Tea Party” dreams of the destruction of the Democratic Party. Both sides are calling for totalitarianism! Open your eyes and recognize these people are not talking about democracy. They are not talking about working together, they are not entertaining compromise, so do they represent you?

If it was only politics it wouldn’t be as disturbing. The recent “Duck Dynasty” debacle has illustrated intolerance in the name of tolerance. The hyperbole used to attack a person for their beliefs would be untenable were those beliefs of any different origin. The same people would insist on his right to express his beliefs were he Muslim, so the problem isn’t that he belongs to a religion that says being Gay is a sin, the problem is that he’s Christian. If he were Muslim he wouldn’t be saying “it’s up to God”, he would legally (under Sharia) be killing Gay people in the street. The same people who decry Phil Robertson’s “judgement” in quoting the Bible, are perfectly comfortable calling him a racist, homophobe, Aryan, and member of the KKK. It would appear, absent of Tourette syndrome, such words require a judgement. Not a rational, fact based judgement, but judgement nonetheless.

I used to believe that facts were the realm of science, but even the world of science has been over run by irrational thought. Despite all the data actually pointing towards “global cooling”, the “global warming” chant is relentless. Carbon Dioxide, a product of warming and thus a result of a period of global warming, has been used as an explanation of impending global warming. The effect cannot be the cause within a scientific statement. Research is ignored, rational discussion is abandoned, and the chant continues.

Another scientist I once respected has used his position as someone with an allegedly inquiring mind to stifle the inquiries of others. Neil DeGrasse Tyson  has joined the ranks of those that believe that creation is inconsistent with its creator. Belittling others for their religious beliefs is not within the purview of an astrophysicist, but Neil seems to believe science and religion are mutually exclusive, and as a premiere scientist he can speak about religion. Were a priest to lecture on astrophysics I would have the same confidence in their views (none). Neil is not alone, another “humanist” recently said to me “The number of us who think humanism needs to supplant ancient flat-earth superstitions is definitely growing”, displaying an unbelievable ignorance of both world religions and demographics. Not that religion is, or is supposed to be, a democracy. Every religion I can think of teaches individual responsibility, the individual’s relationship with God is all that matters, which can only be vindicated at death, so how does that threaten the non-believer? Unless that non-believer thinks we should all believe exactly the same thing.

Our most precious liberty is the freedom to think for ourselves. If you deny that freedom to others, you have already denied it to yourself.

Just use it

Think for yourself

 

Search results

I’ve now written over two hundred articles on this blog, and as I tend to do, I’ve looked at some of the statistics gathered about my readers and found things to be thankful for.

Over one hundred people are followers, that is, people who receive my blog by email. In addition, some twenty five or so people visit the web site every day. They come from over eighty countries, filling the map of the world. There have been over seven thousand views at the website. I notice that on the website, the most viewed article each day is seldom the one published that day.

Certain articles have been more popular than others, but I’m not always sure what that means. There was an increase in views of the GPS blog last week, then I noticed in the “search terms” section that people had been searching GSP, or George St. Pierre, a mixed martial arts fighter. I wonder how far they read in the article about Gertrude taking me on an adventure on Staten Island.. Over time, the home page is the most often viewed page (of course), after that, the article about the Pillars of Creation, a study on time travel as we experience seeing a nebula that was destroyed thousands of years ago, but is also thousands of light years away.

There have been some interesting comments and conversations, I met one guy who lives about a mile from Lieve’s parents in Belgium, and some back and forth about vegetarianism that seemed to be more about the other party wishing to argue about something we agreed on. I’ve only had to delete two comments, from past acquaintances who wanted to bring up issues from long dead relationships. Everyone else has been polite.

I do enjoy exploring new subjects, so if there’s a conversation anyone wold like to have just let me know and I’ll start with my point of view. I would like to develop the discipline of writing at least one science article each week, a food article, a news article, something political, and my religious theme each Sunday. Lately Obama has been throwing so much material that it’s been overwhelming.

Today I’m off to brew beer with a friend who often brings up interesting topics, and I think Wednesday will be about my wife, it will be our three year anniversary so I’ll tell you about our wedding.

Thanks for being there.

Motives

I try to be an open minded, understanding person. Really, I do. I’ve found that understanding someone’s motives can be instrumental in accepting their actions. Not forgiving or endorsing, but at least understanding well enough to follow the logic back to its source.

I find myself looking at both sides of an issue, which tends to allow me to be more fair in my appraisals. On the other hand, I also tend to expect the same balance in others, and have to soften my judgements of people with little or no insight. I’ve operated a business, so to me some functions appear obvious. A manager is responsible for his employees, therefore he should be interested in hiring people who can accomplish their jobs, which makes him look good to his managers, because he has proven himself to be a good judge of character, hiring people who assist in the business’s growth. It’s fairly obvious this is an outdated notion, operations continue to function with the absolute minimum of competence.

Society seems to be grinding down to its lowest common denominator, standards are lowered, making any drive for excellence whither. It’s disturbing and depressing, and the fact nothing can be done to change it makes it more so.  There is no way to change the tide.

We started with “Nobody’s perfect” and found we could justify any behavior with the phrase. No, nobody is perfect. But there are a lot of people who are ninety nine percent perfect, even more that are ninety five percent. When we start excusing the failures of people who are fifty one percent perfect by saying “Nobody’s perfect”, we fail to motivate those people to become fifty two percent.

It’s not just the people who think they should earn a “living wage” working at McDonald’s that fail to see a need to do better, it is seen in every strata of society.

There was a segment on the news last night about healthcare. As you probably know, hospitals bill ridiculous amounts. The reporter was shown on the phone with the hospital, trying to negotiate a bill, and said “who is looking out for these people?”. What is wrong with this picture? When did we become so feeble that we need to have someone looking out for us? Isn’t that entire “American Dream” concept centered on self reliance? Does thinking for yourself hurt so much that you just refuse to do it?

What comes from this? A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is driven by people who are either clever and trying to take advantage, or stupid and incapable. The trouble is telling them apart.

Ken Burns, the academy award winning producer of documentaries about America, is working on a project about the Gettysburg Address. Every American child memorized this speech in grade school, so we all know the words. It is a wonderful project, one of the more interesting components is a “mash-up“, a collage of different speakers reciting the Address. A grand show of unity.

“Unifying” is not the effect this project has had. In recording different celebrities, Burns allowed different versions of the well known speech to be used. In reality, the speech was given once, and the words were captured by journalists on the scene and transcribed in the New York Times. The words are engraved on the Lincoln Memorial. But due to the lack of photocopiers, Lincoln wrote the speech down on paper five times. There are differences in all five, the words “Under God” appearing in only three of them. The words “Under God” were spoken in Gettysburg, included in the transcript in the New York Times, engraved in stone in the Lincoln Memorial, memorized by every schoolchild, and included in Ken Burns’ “mash-up”, but for some reason the president of the United States decided to read a version that did not contain those words.

What was he thinking?

Immediately, right wing groups jumped on the omission as proof of his godless agenda. I personally don’t care if Obama is a closet Muslim, but last I checked they believe in God. Left wing groups defended Obama saying Ken Burns had specifically requested he read this version. Yes, he may be the president, but if Ken Burns asks…

What I know for certain is that more people have visited the project website, and learned about the Gettysburg Address, than ever would have without all the press the controversy has brought.

Clinton got away with playing stupid for eight years, Obama has worn the card thin in just five years. The latest play has been the suggestion that Edward Snowden should not be prosecuted, because without his information leaks Obama would have never known what the NSA was doing. He didn’t know what the IRS was doing, even after they admitted it. He didn’t know that you can’t build a website coordinating every branch of government with multiple private industries on a political timetable.

With his popularity at an all time low, and worse, his unpopularity at an all time high, it’s time to get serious. The flocks of Obama Zombies are thinning out, and although he won’t face another election, there will be other members of his party running for office in the future. In order for his programs to survive, Democrats will need to maintain at least a presence in Washington for the next decade, so if he wants a legacy other than “biggest fool on the hill”, someone needs to start thinking, no matter how much it hurts.

He didn’t seem like the type…

Take yourself to the generic news story following an act of violence. You can write it out as a script, the people interviewed always say the same things.

“I can’t believe this kind of thing happened in this neighborhood”

“He always kept to himself, never caused any trouble”

“He was always very quiet”

“He didn’t seem like the type of person who would do a thing like this”

Really? What kind of person usually does something like this? Isn’t it usually a quiet guy who kept to himself, not attracting attention, living in a quiet neighborhood?

Not that it never happens, but how often have you seen someone say “Oh yeah, this kind of stuff happens all the time around here, we were all just waiting for him to go off”?

When I worked in Animal Control, there was a guy who did stand out. He appeared to be running for “Least likely to be missed” in his neighborhood. He had two nasty shepherd mix dogs that were the focus of numerous complaints, either for running loose or attacking other animals. He was surly and threatening to anyone who complained, and threatened me with a firearm. One night after he beat up his girlfriend, the police got involved.

As the police climbed the steps, one of his dogs came charging towards them. The officer shot the dog. The nasty guy was arrested, drugs were found in his apartment, the girlfriend taken to the hospital.

The next day I was deluged in calls, complaining about the officer shooting the dog. The very people who had complained about these vicious animals were the first to come to their defense. They called the media, and took donations to care for the surviving animal, and tried to find a home for the poor sweet thing. None of them volunteered to take it in.

A few years ago, a spy cell was uncovered. A total of nine people living in suburbia were exposed as deep cover Russian spies. This time, when the neighbors said “I can’t believe it happened in this neighborhood, they always kept to themselves, never caused any trouble, they were always very quiet, they didn’t seem like the type of people who would do a thing like this” it fit. Sure, everyone knows that the best way to maintain a cover story of being locals is to fly a Russian flag and wear a black trench-coat at all times. Speaking with a heavy accent and screaming at neighborhood children rarely draws unwanted attention, so of course that would be what to expect from spies.

Most of this I write off to the general cluelessness of society. The kid torturing cats for years was screaming “I’m going to be trouble” at the top of his lungs. The kid who was a loner and never made any friends was screaming “I’m working on a heavy-duty anti-social personality”. These are not terribly subtle signs. When it comes to spies in the neighborhood, you weren’t supposed to suspect them. That’s because they were spies.

The difficult part of all this is when you see such clueless behavior in people close to you. One of my kids recently stated that I never made much money, because their mother was always broke. I’m not sure how they thought their mother went directly from social housing to a two story house on a fairly large lot, while attending nursing school, or how their mother hid her various substance abuses all that time, but the conclusion that she was “broke” befuddles me the most. It’s not the only breakdown, it’s just difficult acknowledging your children are as confused as their mother.

But really, what did I expect?

The center of the world

Voyage au centre de la terre by Édouard Riou for Jules Vernes novel of the same name.

Voyage au centre de la terre by Édouard Riou for Jules Verne’s novel of the same name.

After yesterday’s contemplation of up and down, I found myself facing the date, and considering the location of the center of the world.

The date was, in American notation, November 12, 2013, or 11/12/13. The next to last “consecutive” date this century according to several sources (the last being next year, on 12/13/14). This would be true if we all notated dates in the same manner.

Seeing that we can’t all agree what the numeric representation for the year should be, I found the concept that there might be a “right” way of expressing the date rather humorous. In the course of researching which standard is considered correct, I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I found the description of ISO 8601 referred to as “big-endian“. My thoughts had started with the Lilliput vs. Blefuscu approach, each side seeing itself as the center of the world, and here was a reference in “serious” papers.

In ISO 8601, dates are properly referred to with the year, then month, then day, YYYY-MM-DD, ignoring the American model (MM-DD-YYYY) and the “European” model (DD-MM-YYYY). The combined populations of Europe and America is roughly one billion people, there are at least twice as many computers in the world, and they find it easier to sort dates if the most significant number is first (year). There are six billion other people, some using different calendars, but it is “Europe” and America that bicker about which is the center of the world.

ISO 8601 still supports that the Royal Greenwich Observatory is the center of the universe, The time zone once referred to as Greenwich Mean Time is now “Universal Time” so when it’s tea time in London it really is tea time on Uranus. The Americans managed to get one final dig in on the Brits. Contrary to the notation of twenty four hour time, in which Midnight is 0000, the “Prime Meridian” is the last of the twenty four zones, noted Z or phonetically “Zulu”.

In ISO 8601 notation, there are no “consecutive” dates, as the limits on number of months and number of days does not fit the format, but if you ignore zeroes, the six digits 23-04-05 in 2023, or the eight digit 2345-06-07 in 2345 will be the next. Our last would have been in 2012, 12-03-04 or in the thirteenth century on 1234-05-06.

In life, time and space go on inside and outside of you, or within you and without you depending on your choice of words. When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there.

Save

Creation

A couple of conversations brought my thoughts to this subject this week. I no longer argue the points, if someone wishes to deny the obvious there is no need to bang my head against a wall.

One friend was commenting on the beauty of nature, and the intersection of mathematics. She was fascinated with a broccoflower, the beautiful spiral upon spiral of its form. Marveling at the mathematics behind the spiral sequences (F_n = F_{n-1} + F_{n-2}), the Fibonacci sequence.

Broccoflower

Broccoflower

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical explanation of perfect spirals, the arc following a pattern in which each segment is equal to the sum of the previous two. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc. The number of petals on a flower is always a Fibonacci number. Someone entered the conversation with what appeared to be secular point of view after I said “God really likes math”. I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, so I just walked away. His point was “It is not surprising that basic evolutionary paths follow some of the basic mathematical rules. What else could they do?”. Well, what they could do is adapt for each situation depending on the requirements of that environment, which would negate any pattern in global systems. Instead, evolution follows a path opposite the second law of thermodynamics. While the rest of the universe follows a pattern of decay, evolution works towards more complex and specialized systems. By accident.

An article in Scientific American about cosmic dust entering Earth’s atmosphere, and thus being a part of the dust you clear from your windshield, was met with the most nonsensical of comments. It took me a moment to remember that my fellow Scientific American readers are for most part non scientists. The Earth is not separate from the cosmos. The Earth was made from intergalactic dust and continues to accumulate and shed matter.

A third incident occurred during an interview on NPR. The host desperately wanted a number of the planets that would have life on them, and the astrophysicist he was interviewing was very polite in refusing to speculate in any way. The host wanted to validate the Drake equation, the astrophysicist was attempting to point out that the variables are, well, variable.  This is the Drake equation:

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);

and

R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

The initial problem is that not a single variable can be defined. If life is indeed a random event, what exactly is life? There remains a reasonable debate over whether human beings are the most intelligent form of life on Earth, how do we expect to locate other forms of life if we have no idea what they might look like, or how they might communicate? What scientist in his right mind could approach this equation with a data set of one (Earth)? In creating such an equation, we make the assumption that human beings are the definition of “Life”. It is both egotistical and demeaning to suggest we are the highest expression of life, and our existence is so random we could happen anywhere.

There is no conflict between the belief that God created the universe and our understanding of the mechanics of that creation. There is no reason to not believe that when God said “Let there be light” the next event was “The Big Bang”. There is no reason not to believe that the creation of Earth for the purpose of supporting humans involved several steps, and that evolution is one of the tools used. There is every reason to not believe that life is an accident, yet the same people who think we “just happened” think the exact same events took place on other planets, with absolutely no guidance other than chance.

 

The misinformation superhighway

Lou Reed died last week. Really.

I mean, it’s not an incredible shock that a seventy one year old ex heroin user who had a kidney transplant last year would die, it’s just shocking that he died on Sunday, 27 October. Because on Saturday, 26 October, his agent had confirmed that Lou was alive, after an internet hoax spread the rumor of his death the week before. He had flown away from the dirty disinformation boulevard, just to be run down on the misinformation superhighway. Ambiguous in life, ambiguous in death.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if he was still with us or not. Rolling Stone and the New York Times were running the story. The story. As I checked various “sources”, I found the same story, word for word, published by every news agency. Does the story take on more credibility when both Rolling Stone and the New York Times cut and paste the same piece?

Despite all the amputations, you know you could just

Journalism seems to have sunk to the level of telephone tag. As I and others were trying to separate fact from fiction, one perfectly reasonable issue was raised. If the article doesn’t mention the hoax from the week before, it’s less credible. Unfortunately, Lou was dead, and he hadn’t made many friends in the press, so either they were lousy journalists or just weren’t aware of the hoax. More than likely both.

It is harder and harder to verify information, because a good deal of it is just re-posted with the primary source uncredited. When it is also re-posted without a date, old rumors can become new again. Even people who think they’ve avoided a hoax still manage to propagate one, as happened a few weeks ago when I received an email warning about a new Christmas stamp honoring Muslims. At the bottom of the email was a link to Snopes.com, which shows the information in the email to be false. I’m guessing not many people click on links, they just see “snopes.com: New Forever Stamp — Muslim EID Stampand assume that the link confirms the email. I’m sure some people see EID and fail to recognize it means “Festival” in Arabic, perhaps confusing it with I.E.D.

Most hoaxes can be dispelled by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. How likely is it that Obama has a staff of twenty secret service agents to polish his golf clubs? Wouldn’t you have heard something about it over the last four years? Isn’t that website a source of satire? Does the fact that the author’s last credit was “Twenty four ways to vulcanize a chicken” suggest that he may not have the background to be reporting this information? Is the person who sent you this email the same person who told you that the Earth’s magnetic field was about to reverse?

The internet is filled with information. Information is not facts. Facts are not “the truth”. The truth is not the story. Example: Information “There are fourteen million child brides every year worldwide” (Defined as bride under eighteen years of age). Fact The legal age for marriage is under eighteen in much of the world (The lowest legal age in the world is New Hampshire, USA, at thirteen, and Yemen, where there is no limit on age for marriage, but intercourse is not legal until “the indefinite time they are suitable for sexual intercourse”). The truth early marriages affect both men and women, both positively and negatively.  The Story Young women are often forced into servitude under the guise of marriage. 

Don’t miss the forest, don’t miss the trees.

Cinema as spectacle

The first film I remember seeing as a child is “The Sword in the Stone“, a Disney film. Through the years I’ve enjoyed going to the movies, escaping reality for a few hours. I once watched the entire “Planet of the Apes” series in a marathon at a theatre in Los Angeles, drove half an hour to see a 70mm print of “Star Wars” a dozen or so times the summer of 1977, and saw a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in New Jersey in 1979. One of the strangest experiences was “Apocalypse Now” at an Airbase, the only time I’ve seen an airstrike get a standing ovation.

Over the years, cinematography has become as interesting to me as the story, film scoring caught my ear beginning with “Star Wars”, but I don’t think it was until “Edward Scissorhands” that I was moved by an acting performance. There are actors that I’ve managed to see every film they’ve been in, but I’ve never avoided a film because of an actor.

Technology has become as important as storyline to Hollywood. Audiences are compelled by visuals, and computer generated characters are acceptable, maybe even preferred, by a generation raised on video games. Sometimes, effects like 3D and IMAX can enhance a film, sometimes they’re just a gimmick to move a bad script.

“Prometheus” was enhanced by 3D and IMAX, and “Oz the Great and Powerful” used 3D beautifully, drawing the viewer into the film, from spectator to participant. The scripts were great (although I don’t think the ruby slippers were explained properly), and I know the films will translate well to the medium through which most films are seen today, television. “Gravity”, on the other hand, could not exist outside an IMAX theatre. Much like the early IMAX productions, the spectacle of the images was the most important player in the film. Listening to Sandra Bullock breathe heavily for ninety minutes isn’t going to work without the impression of confinement within a vast emptiness that was conveyed in the theatre. The film was marketed on its visual effects, but unfortunately that’s all it has.

I am very much looking forward to “Ender’s Game”, which opens 1 November. The source, Orson Scott Card’s books, is a science fiction classic, and a timeless allegory about warfare, all the more meaningful in today’s generation of video games and virtual realities. It will be difficult to follow the actual story, with Ender aging through his childhood, but the trailers I have seen appear to have captured the content. It has the potential to be stunning in an IMAX presentation, and if the script holds true it may become popular for home viewing. Due to the centrality of time dilation in the storyline, it may not be possible to continue the series, the characters age at different rates, but anything is possible with technology.

Perspectives

I’ve been thinking about how various groups fit into the world, what our ranking is by size. This started a few weeks ago when I was writing about religions, and found that for all the attention paid to Judaism, there are only 15.4 million Jews in the world. Looked at another way, more than twice as many people live in Tokyo Japan than are Jewish. Yet we consider it a “major world religion”. This may become my new measuring stick, the Jewish population, or JP. America has a population of 22 JP.

Oh my God he’s playing with numbers again.

I heard on the news that in the first three weeks, 475,000 people had signed up for Obamacare (This does not mean that they purchased healthcare, just that they signed on). Less than half a million. Less than the population of Fresno, CA, or 0.03 JP. At this rate, two million (0.12 JP) people will be signed up by 1 January. The other three hundred eleven million Americans will be facing tax penalties.

I had no idea that the system was so unstable. It is alleged that the administration didn’t either. I’m not sure if I believe that, but there are plenty of management types out there who are incapable of saying “I’m sorry, we cannot possibly accomplish that”. When we switched to an Oracle system from mainframe at Imagistics, with only a few thousand users, it took a year to prepare and two months to work out the kinks. Could no one in the administration comprehend the scale, the number of systems being integrated and the number of users, this project represented?

When the system crashed soon after going live, how could anyone reasonably blame it on volume? Exactly how much traffic did they expect for a system with three hundred twelve million users? Did it not occur to them that on a daily basis, ten percent (2.2 JP) of those users would require access?

It is only recently the blame has been shifted from traffic volume to software, and now the software designers are blaming the White House for last minute changes. They apparently were not aware that you would have to register with all your data before you could compare prices. Obviously they had never purchased insurance of any kind for themselves. How ironic, the very people Obamacare was supposed to help…

But this wasn’t just a traffic problem. The software itself is useless. All of the data collected thus far is corrupted. If you happen to be one of those residents of Fresno CA who managed to sign up, the options you have been offered are based on corrupted data, so should you choose to purchase a healthcare plan, you may find that you don’t qualify for it. When will you find this out? When the doctor’s bill is rejected, and you’re responsible for it.

Not to be overly cynical, but which part do you suspect will work? How about the part that fines you for not having health care? There is a natural mistrust of anyone who handles your money, but the IRS has certainly earned their mistrust. A few years back there was a change in the tax code, and a large number of people were calling the IRS helpline for assistance. The information they gave out was incorrect. Not only that, but they refused to take responsibility, because it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to correctly file their tax forms. Add to that the recent scandal in which the IRS was targeting conservatives. First they apologized, then they denied having done it, then the director stated the employees did not know the regulations. I know I have trust issues, but this is ridiculous.

The White House has just offered a solution, allowing a six week extension (15 February 2014). This should only leave three hundred ten million Americans (20 JP) facing a tax penalty. Perhaps this is the solution to the deficit. All those people that we hear are not paying taxes will now be fined by the IRS anyway.

The only way for a system this large to work properly, is to erase all current data, rewrite the software, and test with a reasonable sample, let’s say 0.12 JP, or roughly the number of federal employees. After the bugs are worked out (there are always bugs), then roll it out to the general public. Of course this may mean that the program isn’t implemented during our children’s’ lifetimes, but this would be the right way to do it.

Who do you trust?

I don’t know how other people choose what to believe. Most of us go with our gut feelings, but some of us have better trained guts than others. Some people choose to believe things despite hard facts to the contrary. Telling a delusional person that they are delusional is pointless, just remember that by rule of mathematics, half the population has a below average intelligence level, and have another glass of wine.

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a strong sense of observation and memory. I have a good sense of people, I feel their vibe. Sometimes I’m wrong, but usually I’m right, and the weight I apply to the decision is based on the importance of the decision. In addition to those skills, I have this handy little guide for evaluating information:

First evaluate the source,

A – Reliable: No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B – Usually Reliable: Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C – Fairly Reliable: Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
D – Not Usually Reliable: Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E – Unreliable: Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the reliability of the source

Then evaluate the content,

1 – Confirmed: Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; Consistent with other information on the subject
2 – Probably True: Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 – Possibly True: Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 – Doubtfully True: Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 – Improbable: Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 – Cannot Be Judged: No basis exists for evaluating the validity of the information

Some of you might be familiar with that system. You evaluate the source, then you evaluate the information, and you have a metric to compare data. Obviously, A1 is almost blind trust, E5 is useful only in knowing the information is false, F6 is between C3 and D4, and there are thirty six permutations. It’s a basic thing that some of us do subconsciously, but it works so well it’s been codified into intelligence agencies.

In a world where we are swamped with information, being able to know what is “true” is a valuable asset. In a world with opinions driving the course of society, it is invaluable. This is one of the reasons I enjoy having a wife who constantly questions me, I am reminded to evaluate my opinions and their sources daily.

I find it frustrating that the general view has moved from trust to belief. One symptom of this is the “accreditation” given to Jenny McCarthy, by her placement as a co-host on “The View”. To me, this just furthers my appraisal of The View, and opinions produced by it, as E5. But millions of viewers will adopt the “I saw it on TV” attitude and believe. Jenny has a child with autism who received childhood vaccinations. In the 80’s a preliminary report linked autism to vaccines. That link has since been refuted. But Jenny continues her crusade against vaccines.

When I was in the Air Force, the preliminary study made headlines. NBC ran an “investigative report” on the subject. A Staff Sergeant I worked with said to me “If you love your kids, you’ll watch this program”, to which, after I restrained myself from punching him in the face, I replied “Never question my love for my kids, I’ll read the study“. I did, all my kids received their vaccinations. Since then Measles epidemics have run rampant, causing thousands of deaths every year. Mumps have gone epidemic. God only knows how many birth defects can be traced to exposure to Rubella.  Other children, with even less intelligent parents, have been left at risk of Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis, Polio, Tetanus, and Pneumococus. Evolution at work.

When the “Global Warming” furor began, I gave it a C3. When Al Gore got involved it became an E3. After going over the data it moved to E4. Now, there is adequate data to confirm it at E5, and in fact, false. Nonetheless, egos have continued to refuse they were wrong, and a large percentage of people believe it to be true. My mother told me not to argue with crazy people, so I have removed myself from most arguments on the subject.

I do not seek marital advice from people who have not had successful marriages, but some people will trust a friend, regardless of their actual experience. Presently the President of the United States enjoys almost messianic, and certainly maniacal, immunity from his history. I can understand forgetting the man made a cornerstone of his campaign transparency, and now runs the most secretive administration in history. Heck, 2007 is ancient history, right? People who really remember ancient history agree that Obama is worse than Nixon. Nixon, that horrible guy that everyone can remember, or at least claims to. Selective memory, that cognitive dissonance that allows people to forget what Obama said six weeks ago, but “remember” to hate the previous vice president runs rampant.

We live in a society led by individuals who have earned a D rating at best. They are driven by information that rates a 4 or worse, and have demonstrated opinions with a value of 5 routinely. When they make decisions that can be corrected at the next election cycle, I try not to get upset. When they drive us toward a World War, I feel the need to become more vocal.

Although I have used the term “acceptable losses” in the past, there are no acceptable losses prior to entering a war. Zero is the acceptable number, best achieved by staying out of the war.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)