Tuesday, December 28, 2010

End-Of-Life Planning Is Back!

     Just when you think President Obama has abdicated his leadership, he comes through with something to indicate that the ability is down there waiting to assert itself. For example, witness the flurry of progressive activity that he has got through the Congress since his party's “shellacking” on November 2 (see Dec. 23, “An Early Christmas for the President”).
     Now he has done it again. According to the New York Times, an early December Medicare regulation deals with annual wellness visits, and includes "voluntary advance care planning" as an item that will be covered. Beginning January 1, Medicare will reimburse physicians who advise patients, in voluntary discussions, about their preferences for end-of-life care treatment during their annual Medicare "wellness visit." By having Medicare cover these voluntary consultations, beneficiaries will be able to get information that will help them make their own decisions about their care and what they would or would not want at life's end.
     As part of the preparation of a living will and the appointment of a health care proxy, the physician may ask such questions as, “If you have another heart attack and your heart stops beating, would you want us to try to restart it?” A patient dying of emphysema might be asked, “Do you want to go on a breathing machine for the rest of your life?” And a patient with incurable cancer might be asked, “When the time comes, do you want us to use technology to try and delay your death?”
     The end-of-life-planning consultation, Section 1233, was dropped from the original healthcare reform bill after Sarah Palin claimed it would set up “death panels,” which allegedly would pass judgment, not only on older people's right to healthcare, but on others' as well. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also chimed in, saying the bill would "start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law."
     Actually end-of-life-planning is something that most people of sound mind and body have been doing all along: getting advice and making decisions on how they wish to be treated in the event of fatal accident or illness. Virtually all entities that deal with the elderly: doctors, hospitals, hospices, counselors, etc. have been advocating such a procedure for years.
     Maria J. Silveira, MD, MPH, of the VA Center for Clinical Management Research and University of Michigan, and her colleagues found that patients who documented their wishes for limited or comfort care received it approximately 90% of the time. The few who requested all possible care didn't always get it (five of 10) but were much more likely to get aggressive care than those who didn't request all care possible, Silveira's group reported.
     But the dark clouds of ideology are beginning to gather. Elizabeth D. Wickham, executive director of LifeTree, which describes itself as “a pro-life Christian educational ministry,” said she was concerned that end-of-life counseling would encourage patients to forgo or curtail care, thus hastening death. “The infamous Section 1233 is still alive and kicking,” Ms. Wickham said. “Patients will lose the ability to control treatments at the end of life.”
     In an attempt to downplay excessive controversy the administration said Sunday that the end-of-life planning provisions aren't new to health care services provided by the government. According to White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, "The Times story is wrong. This benefit was signed into law under President Bush. The only thing new here is a regulation allowing the discussions - authorized in 2003 by the prescription drug benefit - to happen in the context of the new annual wellness visit created by the Affordable Care Act."
     If Palin, Boehner, et al have not already availed themselves of end-of-life-planning, they are even dumber than I thought.
******
     It is important to understand that the Spirit is operating throughout the entire universe simultaneously for all point/events. Imagine that each instant in time corresponds to a station on an assembly line. This organic line differs from the usual mechanistic assembly line in that there is no overall blueprint for the product being assembled. Each station must take whatever point/events are passed to it, and through the action of the Spirit, make its own transformation. In this way constructs are built up, and their constant expansion and jostling makes up the world we see. Each construct at all times attempts to adjust itself harmoniously to the other constructs in its environment.
     An In-depth Look At the Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It
 

     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Best Christmas Ever

     In his column this morning, Andy Rooney asked the question, “What is the best Christmas present you ever got?” In thinking about it, I don't know the answer. I do know that I have had many very good Christmases, but I also realize that the good/bad rating of Christmas had nothing to do with what gifts were received.
     When I was three years old, I went to live with my grandparents on the farm because of the Great Depression. I don't know where my grandparents got the tree, but I do remember filling the bucket from the coal bin to hold the tree. Next the bucket had to be wrapped in tissue paper, usually red, and filled with water. That was supposed to keep the needles from falling off, but it didn't work very well - there were needles all over the place when the tree was taken down.
     Then the lights had to be strung. It was necessary to test the lights first, because if one bulb was burned out, the whole string went dark. You had to check each individual bulb in order to find the guilty one. Even though multicolored lights were popular, Grandma always liked blue ones.
     Of course, to me as a kid, the success of Christmas did actually depend upon the gifts received. At that time if you wrote a letter to Santa, your name and what you wanted was read on the radio. I don't know when Santa decided not to go on the air, but that was always exciting to hear him read your letter – you could be sure he had received it.
     One year the hootenanny, a drawing toy, was the toy of choice – every kid wanted one. It was later reintroduced as the Spirograph (see http://www.retrowow.co.uk/retro_collectibles/60s/spirograph.php). (This is not exactly the same thing, but it is very similar.) Anyway, I was delighted when Santa put it under the tree.
     Another year I wanted a cowboy suit and pearl-handled six-shooters. Again Santa came through, and again Christmas was wonderful.
     Perhaps the most joyous Christmas occurred while I was awaiting permanent assignment after completing basic training at Fort Knox. I was unexpectedly given a ten day pass just a couple of days before Christmas. To the surprise of my parents, I arrived home on Christmas Eve. It was wonderful!
     I also remember another Christmas Eve when I was busy assembling toys, installing batteries, etc. until 4:00 am. The boys usually woke up by 7:00 on Christmas day - If they didn't, we awakened them - but in spite of the short night, I enjoyed every minute of it.
     There have been many other happy Christmases, but the point is, it is not the gifts that made them happy; it is an intangible spirit that I can't explain, nor do I need to explain it to anyone who has experienced it. As the song says, ”Oh, if we could only see such spirit through the year.”
     And above all, there is the story which Luke recounts in his second chapter, preferably in the beautiful language of the King James Version.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Early Christmas for the President

     Apparently Santa Claus has decided not to wait until Christmas Eve to start making his annual deliveries. President Obama, in particular, has received an early visit from the Christmas Eve flier, raising the conjecture among Washington's “in” crowd that the sprightly old elf is a Democrat. Be very careful, Mitch McConnell, you may wind up on the naughty list.
     As evidence of St. Nick's presidential visit, observe what has happened since the “shellacking” the Democrats received in the mid-term election. Along with almost everyone else, I expected that the remaining two months of the lame-duck Congress would exhibit a gridlock that would make Los Angeles freeways look like kids playing with toy cars in a sandbox. But lo and behold, the Congress came up with a bipartisan output that must have had Mitch wondering whether the “party of no” members had all gone home for the holidays. Observe:
     Congress passed a two year extension of the Bush tax cuts. The President had to give up his request not to extend the cuts for taxpayers making more than $250,000. As part of the same package, the Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits through 2011.

     The START Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia was ratified by the Senate. The Treaty was originally signed on April 8, and has been awaiting Senate approval ever since. The President has lobbied long and hard for its passage, claiming it is the vital centerpiece of his relationship with Russia. Opposition centered upon what was considered to be an inadequate verification system, and the treaty's possible interference with a potential missile defense system.
     Proponents claimed that if it had been negotiated by a Republican president, it would have been ratified months ago.
     The “don't ask, don't tell” policy toward gays and lesbians in the military was repealed. The repeal was approved by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition, a Pentagon review found that allowing gays to serve openly posed only a “low risk” of disruption.
     Opponents of the bill fought to the bitter end: As late as Tuesday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was trying to move, without debate, an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have required the military service chiefs to individually certify the process.
     The Health and Compensation Act for 9/11 workers and survivors has passed. Opponents focused on the cost of the bill, which was originally set at $6.2B. The amount was reduced to $4.3B to assure passage.
     After the November 2 election, chances of any of these bills passing were estimated to be practically zero. That they passed is due to compromises from both sides of the aisle; apparently Republicans responded to their constituents' demands for action, while the President realized that he needed to move toward the center of the political spectrum.
     It appears that the official congressional leaders of the Republican Party, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, are as dedicated as ever to making President Obama a one term president. Fortunately, individual members of the party voted for what they believed was best for the country instead of for the party line.
     In the TV show, A Charlie Brown Christmas, the song Christmas Time Is Here contains a line ,”Oh, if we could only see such spirit through the year.” Although not intended by the songwriter, the line has Congressional implications.
Merry Christmas
******
     It is easy to see how ever expanding constructs can interfere with each other. Thorns can choke out plants, changing economic conditions can ruin a business, and cats can wipe out a colony of field-mice. Within the human brain, bigotry can destroy understanding, and fear can prevent creative thinking.
     An In-Depth Look At the Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.
 

     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Impressions of the Western Caribbean

     I came away from my recent trip to the Western Caribbean with a few impressions I would like to share with you.
     Of the three places I visited - Roatan, Belize and Cozumel - I got the best vibes from Cozumel. It is too bad the big ships have so few places to dock on the islands; like the railroads always go through the seediest places in town, the ships always dock in a not too nice area.
     Roatan and Belize have managed to “beautify” the area directly adjacent to their docks, but unfortunately, once you leave that immediate vicinity you have to go through the slums to get anywhere.
     On Roatan, some really nice houses have been built, mostly by immigrants. High points both figuratively and literally, these spacious and luxurious homes have a breathtakingly beautiful 360 degree view of the entire island.
     I also visited a tropical beach: a showplace complete with the obligatory fine white sand, palm trees, an outdoor bar, and of course, a luxurious hotel. I could envision spending some time there.
     Belize was a disappointment for me. Although the real estate ads assure me that there are some very nice homes available, I didn't see any.
     After an hour and a half bus ride through what I can only describe as jungle, the Mayan ruins were magnificent. But we returned through Belize City, which for poverty, garbage in the streets and barely inhabitable housing, can match any of the slums in our big cities.
     In both Roatan and Belize I would suggest to the powers that be that they make an effort to show tourists some of the nicer aspects of the area.
     Cozumel has built up an attractive and prosperous area along its entire seawall. In addition, there is Mexico Park, which has an excellent display of Mexican art. The bright colors and extremely fine detail on some of the exhibits are attractive and cheerful. In addition there are many beautiful models of Mayan ruins, cathedrals and other public buildings. Add an extremely knowledgeable docent to the mix, and it makes a very interesting day.
     For pictures of all these places, log on to http://cruisethewesterncaribbean.shutterfly.com and click on more... > Slide Show.
     I learned two things on this trip:
     (1) A GPS is worth its weight in gold. When one is barreling through a city at 65 miles per hour, it is great to have a voice tell you, “In .9 mile take exit 42 to the left, then bear right.” You don't get that from a map.
     (2) Never again will I drive all day on four successive days. My legs can't take it.
******
     A comet is captured by the gravity of the sun; subsequently it falls into a path which will take it from deep space to within a few million miles of the earth. Long before it is visible to the unaided eye, a modern astronomer spots it through a telescope. Immediately he informs NASA, which has been waiting for just such an opportunity. After a few months of feverish activity, a space probe, which will pass through the tail of the comet and return information regarding its chemical composition to earth, is launched. The probe is successful. Because of the current civilization’s belief in the importance of science, a great deal of information regarding the early makeup of the universe is now widely available.
     In the meantime, when the comet becomes visible to the human eye, it is spotted by a primitive tribesman deep in the jungles of West Papua. The tribe’s Shaman declares that this is a sign that the gods are angry. The tribe immediately begins a series of activities designed to appease them: huge bonfires, dances and other rites. Since the omen eventually passes from sight without incident, the tribe believes its appeasement efforts have been successful.
     Concepts for Understanding the Spirit – The Spirit Runs Through It

The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vacation Time

     I will be offline, or perhaps I should say “unplugged” for the next three weeks. We are leaving Sunday to drive to Georgetown, Texas, where we will visit friends over Thanksgiving. On Black Friday we will drive with our friends to Galveston, where we will see the sights on Saturday, the 27th, and on Sunday we will take a cruise to Cozumel, Belize and Honduras. After the cruise we will drive home.
     Check back for more blogging about December 13th. In the meantime, if you get bored, buy the book.
******
     The fact that there is a great deal of controversy regarding the physical creation as outlined in the book of Genesis is not new, and the disagreement will probably continue for a long time, perhaps forever. So I will ignore the details of physical creation and concentrate on the spiritual matters related in that wise book.
     The Wisdom of Genesis – The Spirit Runs Through It.


The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Men Never Outgrow Their Love of Toys


     I guess I am no different from most other men – I like gadgets. I know there are some wonderful toys that I am missing, but if I am sure I have no use for an iPhone, xBox, and the like, I don't buy them. And I decided that even though the ultimate toy, my car, is 10 model years old, it's in good shape, and I don't need a new one. However, we are driving from Pennsylvania to Texas next week, so I did spring for a GPS, and it's really fascinating.
     I downloaded the owner's manual and after perusing it, sort of (owners' manuals are to use when you can't figure it out otherwise), I entered my home address into the instrument. I had to test that, so I drove a couple of miles, turned around, and hit the “Home” button.
     I was a bit disappointed in the results: it got me home OK, but it didn't take the shortcuts I would have taken. It did keep saying “recalculating” a few times, and when I got within a block or two of the house, it found just the way I would have. I guess it needs to live here a while to learn the little tricks.
     Of course, I tried it on some other local destinations, and all in all it worked out pretty well. I am sure that if I were a stranger in this area, it would get me where I wanted to go, although I would use a bit more gas than a local would. I know it will come in handy on our trip for finding food, gas and lodging.
     I also got curious about the behind-the-scenes working of the device, so I did a little homework. Generally one must be in line-of-sight to four satellites. Each one sends out its precise location and time, and three of them intersect at the GPS instrument to give its location in space at the instant of intersection. But if the time at the instrument is not exactly correct, the location may be off by an unacceptable distance. Hence, the fourth satellite's time signal is compared to the time the hand held instrument is recording, and the difference is used to calculate the spatial displacement.
     You got that? Neither do I, but you can look it up if you are interested. Suffice to say, if it hadn't been for Einstein, we would not have a GPS system, and I would not have a new toy.
     ******
     We can observe the rites of a religion; we can photograph or record them, but we cannot record the emotions, beliefs and attitudes which the participants entertain as a group. Likewise we can photograph a rain dance, but the photos do not indicate what the group has in mind as a group. We can observe the zigs and zags of a school of sardines, but we cannot photograph the instincts or communications behind the highly synchronized motions as a group.
     Constructs For Understanding the spirit – The Spirit Runs Through It.
 

     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Deficit Reduction and the Recession.

     President Obama's bipartisan commission on deficit reduction has released a draft of some of the things the full panel is considering. The final report is due December 1st, but members of the panel are not sure that they will be able to agree on provisions of the magnitude of those in the draft by that time. In any event, if Congress were to vote on the full proposal (which is doubtful), the vote would be non-binding.
     The commission is apparently doing a good job, because there is plenty for everyone, regardless of ideology, to hate.
     Liberals positively loathe the idea of cutting back on the (usually) annual COLA adjustment for Social Security recipients, raising the retirement age to 69 by the year 2075, and making a larger portion of Social Security benefits subject to Federal Income Tax. For example, the President of the AFL-CIO commented, "The chairmen of the deficit commission just told working Americans to 'drop dead.'"
     And Conservatives cannot swallow elimination of the mortgage interest deduction, a drastic reduction in the Pentagon's budget, and an increase of 15 cents per gallon in the gasoline tax (which also might help us become less dependent on foreign oil).
     In addition, the draft recommends a three year freeze on pay raises for the federal work force, which would be cut by 10%. Surprisingly, the recently enacted healthcare plan would remain, but with greatly increased cost-control provisions. Employer-provided health plans would no longer be tax free, but tax rates would be substantially lowered. Both sides of the aisle have trouble with the elimination of all earmarks.
     I believe the full report may well jump-start talks on deficit reduction, but having said that, I also think it comes at precisely the wrong time. In a serious recession and job emergency such as the one we are experiencing now, the government should be spending money on projects that will create jobs and benefit the country in the long run: construction of highways, railroads, dams, power grids, etc; technology, education, development of renewable energy sources, and other long-term projects. This could be done directly, by pumping cash into such projects, or indirectly by means of tax breaks and loan guarantees.
     When things turn prosperous, as they will, then we should get serious about deficit reduction. We should have learned all this in the 1930s, but apparently no one studies history anymore.
     I know, it ain't gonna happen. But it should.
******
     The Spirit's activity started simultaneously with the creation of the universe. Within a tiny fraction of the first second, the point/events which were to become the universe were transformed into a gaseous mixture of quarks, electrons, photons, neutrinos and other particles. A few minutes later they began to combine to form the nuclei of the lighter elements: hydrogen, helium and lithium.
     Matter Matters – The spirit Runs Through It.

The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cheap vs. Good?

     NBC Nightly News is reporting that President Obama will not be visiting the city of Bangalore during his current trip to India. To learn why, a little background information is required.
     Joe Pitts (R), our district representative to Congress, submits a weekly column to our local newspaper. A few weeks ago Rep. Pitts was complaining about the uncertain playing field the Obama administration has created for businesses. This uncertainty is a major contributor to the lack of available jobs. According to Representative Pitts, if businesses would know what to expect in the way of taxes, healthcare, environmental costs, etc., they would immediately set about creating jobs galore. In addition, they would invest in more efficient software, equipment, new products and all sorts of wonderful things.
      What has not made the news lately is that businesses are already investing heavily in software, automation and efficiency. They are also investing heavily in new jobs – in Bangalore among other places.
     According to the news report, in just this one city there are 4,000,000 workers handling outsourced work from other countries; 60% of their work comes from the United States! According to my calculation, that's 2,400,000 jobs that have been outsourced by American businesses!
     Add to that the huge number of Chinese people employed in making those many “quality” products, (widespread recalls of Chinese products: toys, clothes, milk and toothpastes occurred in 2008) and it becomes obvious that if all those jobs had been kept at home, unemployment would be minimal. (Also the dangers of preferring low cost over acceptable quality would have been minimized.)
     In 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot heard the “great sucking sound” of jobs being drawn to Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Perhaps visiting Bangalore would have been a good side trip for President Obama. He would have heard a “woosh” that makes Perot's “sucking sound” akin to that of sipping soda through a straw.
     Oh yes, a note to Rep. Pitts – Businesses can easily handle the current playing field; what they need is customers. But perhaps you will find that out during the next two years.
******
     I do not mean to give the impression that each advance is brought about by the conscious creative efforts of individuals. The Spirit is blind and non-directional; it is not about improvement; it is about the act of creation. New constructs are born from the constructs available at a given time, and along the way it is likely that there are as many creative failures as successes. But as constructs become available for further use, the failures tend to disappear, while the successes lead to further successes.
     A Comprehensive Example – The Spirit Runs Through It.

The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Liberals and Conservatives Need Each Other

     I know that deep down, all people who subscribe to either of the two major political ideologies, liberal or conservative, want the same things: prosperity for America and its citizens; they differ only in the means of achieving these ends. What most people do not realize, however, is that either ideology unchecked by the other would result in chaos; the two are complementary.
     Those who have read my book, The Spirit Runs Through It, are familiar with the principle that every instant of creation is determined by the immediately preceding one, and becomes the raw material for the creation of the following one.
     Two things are necessary: the raw material and the creation. Their operation is both simultaneous and linear – raw material...creation...raw material...creation...etc. Nothing comes from nothing. Can you imagine the chaos that would result if objects suddenly appeared out of thin air and disappeared just as mysteriously? (It is worth noting that creation in this sense is not synonymous with betterment.)
     The principle is universal; it applies not only to the universe as a whole, but also to every object - every concept, real or imaginary; every feeling; every wisp of creation in far off outer space - within the universe. And so it applies to ideologies.
     Those on the right believe that government's role is to provide the “raw material” that citizens and businesses cannot provide for themselves – such things as the armed forces, highways, teachers, etc.
     Personal responsibility is the highest good. If one is willing to work hard, overcome the competition, and is determined to succeed, he will be rewarded, perhaps in a big way.
     Additionally the maxim from 2nd Thessalonians, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” also applies. If one is unwilling or incapable of caring for himself, his relatives or a private charity will need to act as caregiver.
     The same principle applies to businesses - if one fails, so be it. Through its maintenance of basic systems - monetary, commercial, courts, etc. - government insures equality of opportunity.  
     Partisans on the left believe that government's role is to guarantee a good life to all its citizens. They need protection not only from each other, but also from forces greater than themselves: charlatans, those richer than themselves, big business, market fluctuations, illness, etc. - an ever-growing list.
     In addition, the government should provide incentives in the form of unemployment insurance, social security, healthcare and other benefits in order that citizens are relieved of concern for the future.
     As a result, citizens are free to express themselves in various creative ways. The object is to insure equality of resources.
     The foregoing paragraphs describe the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum; fortunately each of today's political parties is somewhat more towards the middle.
     We have developed the habit of electing one party into office until their failures become apparent, then ousting them and installing their opponents. As a result, the political system oscillates between the two ideologies very much the way an auto jerks and stalls when a new driver is learning to operate a stick shift.
     Left to itself, the right would leave the consumer at the mercy of business. There would be no child labor laws, minimum wage laws, employee health insurance, pension plans or social security. Environmental deterioration would be accelerated. Businesses would migrate to areas of the world where costs are lowest, resulting in gross joblessness. Our highways would be superb, but very few people could afford cars.
     By the same token, an unchecked left would soon have business and industry so bogged down with restrictions, required expenses and taxes that continued operations would be impossible. Citizens would have little incentive to work; with so much free time on people's hands, mischief and crime would run rampant.
     As of now, both these tendencies are operating. It becomes obvious from this discussion that America would be in deep trouble if either one of these beliefs were to completely disappear.
     We need to listen to the universe and have both ideologies operate simultaneously. Cooperation doesn't come easily – in fact it hasn't come at all in recent years. It bodes ill when a leader of one party says "the single most important thing" Republicans want to achieve in the next Congress "is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
     At the present time the political atmosphere is one of highly charged antagonism between the two ideologies, resulting in legislative gridlock. I do not believe that ousting the “ins” will improve matters.
     The founding fathers disagreed violently and argued strenuously about many things, and wound up compromising on a form of government which, despite internal troubles, has endured for over 200 years. Are there any men like that around today?
******
     For example, if we schedule a meeting on the third floor of the building at the intersection of King and Queen Streets at 9:00 am, most of us would have no trouble attending. We have simply substituted King Street for length, Queen Street for width, third floor for height, and added the time.
     An In-Depth Look at the Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.


      The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The GOP Wants It Both Ways

     During the past few months the Republican Party has come out with some interesting policy statements. Here are a few examples:

      On July 3rd Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia delivered the GOP response to President Obama's weekly radio address. His entire discussion concerned the national debt, “one of the most dangerous threats confronting America today.” He went on to say, “At some point we have to say 'enough is enough'” The entire address is available on youtube.
     On July 11th Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said, "You should never have to offset [the] cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."
     The very next day Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, backed up Senator Kyl's statement with the following, “So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”
     Apparently this is the official position of the party: We can't afford to do whatever is necessary to prevent layoffs of teachers, police, etc., or to aid the unemployed, but we can afford to cut taxes for people who make campaign contributions to senators.
     As always, Republicans continue to attempt to “starve the beast.”
******
     As we have seen, the Spirit always builds on what has come before; nothing appears out of nothing. If a construct with reference to an object in physics or chemistry is inadequate or incorrect, it will soon be replaced by new and more accurate constructs. The original “hard” object is still available for further transcendence and transformation. A construct with respect to a strictly mental construct, e.g., morality, justice, love, etc. is hard to refine because its referent varies from user to user.
     Constructs – The spirit Runs Through It.

The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Tea Party Candidate

     I think most people would agree that a candidate for U.S. Senator or Representative should have some modicum of personal responsibillity, although some of the current crop seem to be lacking in that respect. So when I saw the responses that the GOP senate nominee from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, made on a nationally televised debate, I thought I would take a quick look into her background.
     She was born on August 27, 1969, and has been a marketing consultant, worked in public relations, and appeared as a political commentator on several news media outlets including Fox News. In 2006 and 2008 she ran for Senator in the primary elections, and was soundly defeated both times.
     In 2010 she scored a surprising primary upset against nine-term Representative and ex-governor Mike Castle. Her victory was due to backing by Sarah Palin and an infusion of cash in the amount of $150,000 from the Tea Party. Her campaign also received a boost when a political consulting firm hired by O'Donnell released a Web video insinuating that her opponent was having a gay affair.
     Originally a political liberal, at the age of 21 she saw graphic pictures and descriptions of how an abortion is performed; as a result she became an evangelical Christian and Republican, chose to live a chaste life, and promoted sexual abstinence.
     She attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, and although she attended the commencement ceremony in 1993, she did not receive a diploma until September 1, 2010. She claimed the degree was held up because of unpaid tuition, but the University said she had only completed her class work during the previous summer.
     She lost her position at Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a non-profit conservative educational organization. She claims she was fired because of gender discrimination – the ISI claims it was because she was running a personal for-profit business during business hours.
     Her home was scheduled to be sold at a sheriff's sale because she defaulted on a mortgage in the amount of $90,000, but a month prior to the sale she sold it to her boy-friend. (So much for a life of chastity.) Then she moved to a townhouse, where she paid half the rent from campaign funds because she used part of the house as an office.
     In 2010 the IRS filed a lien claiming she owed taxes from 2005 in the amount of $11,000. She says it is a mistake and a computer error. Between 2007 and 2009 the Federal Election Commission cited her eight times for failing to supply contributions reports on time. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has claimed that she used $20,000 of campaign funds as "her very own personal piggy bank" by claiming campaign expenses during a time in which she was not engaged in active campaigning.
     Politically O'Donnell opposes abortion under any and all circumstances, even including rape and incest, although in the event a choice has to be made, she would let relatives choose whether the mother's or the child's life may be saved.
     She opposes embryonic stem cell research, all tax increases, cap and trade legislation and Congressional earmarks. She is for a balanced budget, a simplified tax code, repeal of the healthcare legislation and unrestricted gun ownership. She says she will base all her decisions on the Constitution and not on her personal beliefs.
     She believes that Darwin's evolutionary theory is “a myth,” and supports teaching creationism in the public schools. Although she has stated that sexual behavior is a personal matter, she also told a newspaper that homosexuals have an "identity disorder" that is "adopted through societal factors.”
     During a 2006 debate, O'Donnell has said that the Peoples Republic of China is plotting to take over the United States, and claimed that she has classified information which supports this claim.
      In the 1990s, O'Donnell took a public stance against masturbation, calling it "sinful". She now says that her views on this matter “have matured,” whatever that means.
     During the 2006 campaign she told The News Journal of Wilmington that she was reluctant to get into politics. “but as someone who prays about every decision I make, I felt like God was leading me in the other direction. During the primary, I heard the audible voice of God.”
     The Tea Party is rapidly becoming a credible voice in politics, but the same thing happened with the Bull Moose Party in the 1912 election. The Party garnered 27% of the Presidential vote, more than the regular Republican candidate, and nine House seats. By 1916 the Party faded into oblivion.
     Will the Tea Party suffer the same fate? If so, it will be because they put forth candidates like Christine O'Donnell.
******
     The situation is worse when we use language for mental constructs. These days the big bone of contention in politics is “morality.” Is abortion moral? Is war ever moral? Should people be allowed to die when they become brain dead? Under what circumstances are any of these positions moral or immoral? What does the construct “moral” signify?
     Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Judging the Judge

     An escapade by a magisterial district judge made headlines in the local newspapers, but was probably relegated to page 10 in other areas.
     In Pennsylvania such judges conduct criminal arraignments and preliminary hearings, issue arrest warrants and search warrants in some cases; hear civil disputes involving $8,000.00 or less, and Landlord-Tenant disputes other than matters involving title to real estate; issue temporary Protection from Abuse Act orders; decide traffic, game law, and fish and boat code cases; conduct marriages, administer oaths and affirmations, etc. They are elected for six-year terms, and draw an annual salary of $80K.
     The judge apparently thought it was funny to hand out acorns stuffed with condoms to women near the State Capitol. Two of the women he approached disagreed with his humor, and complained to the Capitol Police. The judge was arrested forthwith and charged with disorderly conduct.
     Resisting the temptation to pass such judgments as “nutty” and “squirrelly,” and refraining with great difficulty from pointing out that the judge's office is located in Intercourse, PA, I will pass on to weightier matters.
     I find it really hard to swallow the idea that the judge was intentionally causing "public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm," the definition of disorderly conduct. And in a culture that has accepted prime-time TV advertising for products such as Viagra, Cialis, feminine hygiene products, etc., I think the ladies greatly overreacted to his “gag.”
     The joke may have been a bit tasteless, but illegal? Come on! He was not causing a problem any more than if he had been handing out advertising fliers or religious tracts.
     Having said that, the “offender” must know that judges generally are held to a higher standard of conduct than most other citizens. He is now subject to anything from a rebuke to loss of his job.
     If I were his boss, I would probably ask him, “What in the hell were you thinking?”
     And here is a bit of advice for the ladies: “Get a life.”
******
     In order to expand our understanding of the Spirit, I need to set up a new construct: space/time. When most of us think of dimensions, we picture the three spatial dimensions:length, width and height. We can also navigate in four dimensions — the above three plus a time dimension.
     An In-Depth Look At The Spirit's Activity – The Spirit Runs Through It.


     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

About the World Series...

      As I write this, the nation is celebrating its number two spectator holiday: the baseball playoffs and World Series. (Number one is the Superbowl.)
      In addition to being the national pastime, baseball has at various times been called a game of inches, a game of skill, a game of strategy, etc., etc. But at its major league level, baseball consists of a bunch of young millionaires playing a boy's game: hitting a round ball with a round stick.
      (I don't understand a new thing which has sprung up in the past several years. In football and basketball the teams high-five each other at the end of the game, but in baseball the winning team high-fives itself. Is this a new form of sportsmanship?)
      Anyway, I love baseball, and I like to think of it as a game of reconciliation. Whether one is liberal, conservative, libertarian or green; whether one is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim; whether one is young, middle-aged or elderly; whether one is male, female or undecided; whether we are at peace or at war, we can all get together and enjoy the game. Oh sure, there are disagreements over Phillies vs. Reds, Giants vs. Braves, etc., but in the end we all just enjoy watching the annual athletic orgy.
      But on the downside, our fanatic attachment to spectator sports says something about our priorities. Considering the fact that we have millions of unemployed and uninsured people in this country, people who are concerned about where they will get their next meal, or where they will sleep tonight; considering the fact that we are at war in one (or many) part(s) of the world, and are simultaneously trying to build a democratic nation in Iraq, is it wise for us to commit so many of our resources to games?
      The annual reconciliation is temporary, it disappears when the Series ends – the hardships appear to be permanent.
      Think about it.
******
      If you were to accept the Spirit worldview, how much effect would it have on your day-to-day living?
      The objective answer is "not much." The sun would still rise tomorrow; people, nations and religions would still disagree with each other, your sore tooth would still require a trip to the dentist, and the young would still get older while the elders would eventually die.
      Even more importantly, you would still be responsible for supporting your family, and you would still be punished if you committed a crime. There will always be people who need help, just as there will always be people who need to be restrained for the good of society.
      Summing Up – The Sprit Runs Through It.

     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conflicting Views of the Healthcare Plan

     Recently a friend told me she didn't understand why so many people are opposed to President Obama's healthcare plan, especially since it was one of the major programs he championed during his highly successful campaign. I told her that the main reason is because it has been so rigorously badmouthed by the conservative right (along with every other program the President has presented). Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
     A major objection voiced by the party of “no” is that requiring everyone to have health insurance is unconstitutional – the government cannot force people to buy something they don't want.
     There is one major argument that says it can: all states require that drivers buy liability insurance to protect the innocent driver from incurring expenses which are not his fault. It's an easy step to apply the same logic to health insurance – through either higher medical fees, charity, Medicaid or other fund the public always pays the medical costs of the uninsured.
     As of September 20th attorneys general from 20 states have brought suit attempting to block implementation of the program on constitutional grounds. Undoubtedly this case will reach the Supreme Court, and given the Court's conservative makeup at this time, it is impossible to predict what will happen.
     Perhaps the biggest problem with understanding the program is that the administration has done a poor job of explaining just what is in it. According to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll, only 43% of those surveyed support the new legislation while 45% give it an unfavorable review.
     Yet when questioned as to individual items in the bill, the results were dramatically different. Observe the favorable/unfavorable answers when asked about the following provisions taking effect in the next year:
     Guaranteed issue for children – 72/19, tax credits for small business – 71/11, no cost sharing for preventive services in new plans – 70/11, no recission except for fraud – 68/15, gradually close Medicare “doughnut hole” - 64/14, high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions – 61/20, giving government the power to control the Medical Loss Ratio (the amount of dollars an insurer spends on medical care divided by the total premiums) – 57/21, eliminate caps on lifetime benefits – 56/26, allowing dependents to remain on parents' insurance until age 26 – 53/26, Federal reviews of health plan premium increases – 49/27, and limiting increases in Medicare provider payments – 43/34.
     The Limbaugh/Palin/Beck contingent screams “socialism” at the very thought of giving the government any control whatsoever of the health insurance industry. But to me, the only purpose of health insurance is to pay one's medical bills. Why should I care whether the organization issuing the check is an insurance company or the government?
     The healthcare plan we got is a compromise; the duplication of functions coupled with the cost of enforcing the law is unbelieveable.
     Someone once said that a camel is a horse put together by a committee. Imagine a camel with the hind legs of a giant frog and the wings of an eagle; that would not be as big a freak as what finally emerged from Congress. But it's probably the best we can get.

******
     A second problem brought on by our language is the impression that we are an entity separate from nature. Although we are different from any other natural entity by virtue of our use of language, we are as deeply imbedded otherwise as a mountain stream or a deer. Anything that exists, even a merest wisp of existence in far off space, is a part of nature.
     Summing Up – The Spirit Runs Through It.


     The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

For Richer, (Not) For Poorer

     In 2001 the Bush administration passed an income tax bill which lowered the tax rate for all taxpayers. The lowest tax bracket was decreased from 15% to 10%, and all other brackets were decreased by 3 percentage points except for the highest one, which decreased 4.6 points. In addition, all taxpayers that filed a return for the year 2000 received a rebate ranging from $300 for single filers to $600 for married couples. Capital gains taxes decreased from 10% to 8%. Child care credits were increased, and the exemption for the Alternative Minimum Tax was increased. Additional adjustments were made in 2003. In order to get the bills through Congress, President Bush agreed to let them expire on January 1, 2011.
     Now there is a huge disagreement in Congress – Republicans want to extend the rates, etc. for all taxpayers, and Democrats want to extend them only for families with income of more that $250,000 ($200,000 for single taxpayers). The Republicans are saying that if rates are not extended for everyone, they will not allow them to be extended for anyone.
     In 2009 President Obama got a bill passed which gave $250 to 52 million persons on Social Security, and provided for tax credits of $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples. For 2009 the credit increased takehome pay by an estimated $13 per week and about $7.70 per week for 2010. The credits phased out completely for individuals with taxable income over $100,000 ($200,000 for married couples). As with President Bush's taxes, these credits end on December 31, 2010. Note that all the breaks are for people in the lower and middle income brackets.
     This situation begs the question: If, as the Republicans claim, lower taxes are such a wonderful thing, why is there absolutely no mention of extending President Obama's tax reduction? I can think of five reasons:
  1. Takehome pay for married individuals will decrease by approximately $7.70 per week, and it will appear that President Obama is responsible for the increased taxes.
  2. President Obama's breaks were originally included in that politically extremely incorrect word: stimulus.
  3. There are no breaks included for higher income taxpayers.
  4. Our representatives are in the higher brackets.
  5. Lower and middle income taxpayers do not make big campaign contributions.
         Just who are these people representing?
    ******
         Physicists tell us that the only thing we know about nature is what we say about it. Our static construct, language, even the language of mathematics, is no longer adequate to explain today’s physical world.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.


         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    It's Not Just Semantics

         It seems there are two competing definitons for the term “small business”; to no one's surprise the Democrats are using one and the Republicans are using the other. For the convenience of anyone who doesn't know which party he prefers, here are the definitions:
    1.) A small business is a business which is not very large, e.g., a corner grocery, a machine shop with a couple of employees, a mom and pop enterprise, etc. Most Democrats use the term in this context.
    2.) A small business is a business which operates as a pass-through tax entity, e.g., most of the businesses in def. 1.) plus most mega-farms, some manufacturing firms, and practically all high-tech and professional firms. These organizations use the individual proprietorship, partnership, S-corporation, limited-liability company (LLC), etc. tax reporting format. Under this definition the business could have anywhere from one to thousands of employees. For example, with over 163,000 employees worldwide, the eighth largest privately owned firm in the United States, PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP, is a “small” business.
         The advantage of operating as a def. 2.) enterprise is that profits are not taxed to the business, but are “passed-through” to be reported on the owners' individual tax returns. Because corporations pay tax on their earnings, and owners pay tax again on the dividends they receive from the corporations, the overall taxes are considerably less for a pass-through entity than they are for a corporation.
         At present our representatives in Washington are trying to decide whether or not to let the tax breaks passed under king George return to their prior levels. President Obama prefers to let them go back up for families earning over $250,000 per year ($200,000 for individuals), and remain at the lower levels for taxpayers earning less than that. The Republicans want to extend the breaks for everyone.
         Here is where the above definitions come into play. The Republicans cite studies which show that under the President's plan roughly half of “small business” earnings would be affected, which is true.
         On the other hand, the Democrats maintain that only about 3% of households which report “small business” income would be affected by the increased tax rates, which is also true.
         Let me give you an example:

         Suppose 100 families report a total of $10,000 of small business income. The Republicans, using def. 2.) above, correctly claim that $5,000 (50%) would be affected by the President's plan. Using def. 1.) the Democrats say yes, but that would be only 3 families (3%). The families paying the increased rates would have average incomes of $1,667 – the average income of the other 97 families would be about $52!

         Presently the Republicans are threatening to block any bill which does not extend the lower rates for all taxpayers - if the higher-income taxpayers do not get the break, no one does. I expect they will get their way – after all, mega-campaign contributions are on the line.
         I am more than a little troubled by the idea of the lower-income families having to pay ransom to those with higher incomes, but it looks like that is what is happening. It seems to me that the greater the advantages one's country has given one, the more one should be willing to give back.
    ******
         Einstein fine-tuned the old constructs with his theories of relativity. Since then, the universe is understood to consist of an infinite number of point/events. Between point/event A and point/event B are an infinite number of possibilities. Light is both a particle and a wave, electron orbits are not real — only probability functions — and if we know the position of a particle we can’t know its velocity and vice versa. In some situations, the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle do not apply.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Size Matters

         Recently I purchased a Philips “GoGear,” a gadget that holds music and/or pictures. It is 1-1/2” x 2-1/2” x 1/2” in size, and holds up to 900 songs or 1,500 pictures. If you have read previous entries in my blog, you know of my interest in music. I don't have 900 songs in it – yet - but I do have almost 800. Younger readers probably would not recognize the artists in my collection.
         The GoGear not only holds the songs - they can be replayed either in the order they were entered into the device, or by individual selection. One can also replay them in random order, or by artist, album, or individually tailored playlist. The gadget cost me $40 at Walmart.
         Now I am telling you this because the device is an example of the rapidly increasing amount of information which can be stored in smaller and smaller volumes. When I was young (a contemporay of Alley Oop), a collection of 900 songs would have required a minimum of 450 “records.” Assuming each record was 1/4” thick, the stack would have been over 9 feet high and 10 inches in diameter.
         Miniaturization is the buzz word of the day. We know the Air Force has been sending miniature unmanned planes (drones) into combat zones. But the Pentagon is also developing smaller drones which mimic insects. Some resemble a dragon-fly in appearance and size; they can hover outside a window, observe what is happening in the room, and report back to their controllers. Even smaller ones have been developed that can enter a building and fly from room to room, reporting all events within range of their sensors.
         Although the word is out that the Pentagon is developing “micro-dust,” progress on the project is a closely guarded secret. Theoretically, a minature drone or a passerby could unobtrusively deposit thousands of tiny sensors on an individual or a vehicle; thereafter every movement of the target could be followed. Suspected terrorists, beware.
         It has long been a rule of thumb that the amount of stored information per square unit roughly doubles every 18 months. With many gigabytes (billions of units of information) now available on tiny chips, the limit of chip storage, at least as presently configured, will be reached in the not too distant future.
         But not to worry, configurations utilizing 3-dimensional chips are now in the works, and even that is not the limit. Information storage utilizing molecular physics and even quantum mechanics is in the development stage.
         I suspect it will not be too long before a budding Einstein will know everything there is to know about nothing at all.
    ******
         Eventually men began to detect interactions among the components of the universe; interactions that could be described in the language of mathematics. New constructs, the laws of nature, redefined the old constructs. Planets followed regular orbits, velocity and acceleration could be described precisely, electricity and radiation were discovered; the world bustled with activity.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Liberals - Get Enthusiastic

         The primary election season is over, and experts are scratching their heads as to what the effect will be on November 2nd. Two months ago the Republican party had stood to gain many seats, possibly enough to gain control, in both the House and the Senate. However, with the nomination of Tea Party candidates in Nevada, Kentucky, Alaska, Colorado, Florida and Delaware, no one is sure how this shift to the very far right will affect the voters.
         Not all Republicans, including most of the party leaders, are enamored of the Palin/Limbaugh/Fox line – will those voters stay home on election day, or will they reluctantly decide to vote the party ticket regardless of who the candidate is?
         Meanwhile the Democrats believe that the further to the right the Republicans move, the better their own chances. I am not sure if that is true, but they have their own problem: so far their members appear unenthusiastic about the election. Will the apparent turmoil within the opposing party stir them to action on election day? If so, they stand a chance of retaining control of Congress; if not, their chances range between slim and none.
         What makes the outcome of the election difficult to predict is that no one knows how many Tea Party members there are. Polls indicate that 20% of Americans approve of the movement, but will that translate into votes? Pollsters know that in all elections there is a fairly large number of voters who do not decide how to cast their vote until they step into the booth.
         Personally I do not understand why any member of the working class would vote for a conservative. I can only attribute it to the fact that they have been swayed by the hype put out by the Republican Party.
         Call it “trickle down” or “supply side” or “voodoo” economics, it means that the non-rich wind up with whatever is left after the really rich have taken out whatever they want as their share. The haves don't create jobs, they create income for themselves. If you doubt it, call any customer service hot-line, and check out the accent. Is someone in the Far East doing a job that an American could do?
         Last month the Democrats had to agree to cut costs somewhere in the budget in order to get a few Republican votes for a bill which would prevent nationwide firing of schoolteachers and firefighters. Did Congress cut their own salaries and perks, non-essential military projects, or wall street bailouts? No, they cut $12 billion from the supplemental nutrition (food stamps) program. I rest my case.
         Democrats, Independents and other middle-of-the-road voters, get out there on November 2nd and vote.
    ******
         Taken together these two principles brought order out of chaos. They refined the principle of classification — the capability of distinguishing between animal, vegetable and mineral, and between the various species. “Things” were classified according to their “natures” and “attributes.” It was the nature of fire to burn, smoke to rise and water to flow. Grass had the attribute of greenness, the sky had the attribute of blueness and rocks had the attribute of hardness. The subject/predicate structure of language was fixed.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

         The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Obama Is About To Take The Wrong Fork In The Road

         Although people have rung in from all points of the political spectrum with complaints about President Obama, there is one big argument in his favor: he has kept his campaign promises. He promised a tax cut, and his stimulus package delivered a cut (conveniently forgotten by the opposition) of $282 billion over two years. He promised to get troops out of Iraq – only 50,000 remain. He promised to agressively advance the war in Afghanistan – he has done so. He promised to create a universal healthcare plan – there is no doubt that he has done that. And he promised to bring the parties together for peace talks in the Middle East – the talks began last week and are continuing tomorrow.
         But with all that, why has his approval rating sunk so low? As Bill Clinton said, “It's the economy, stupid.” Obama wasted a huge portion of his political capital on a stimulus that was way, way too small. I have written several times about the inadaquacy of the stimulus and the coming economic doubledip: 6/23 - Recovery or Doubledip, 7/12 - Ideology Trumps Reality and 8/4 - Brave New World(?).
         Now he is showing signs of going down another road which will not only fail to produce any new jobs, but will actually exacerbate the problem: he is proposing two tax cuts which will primarily benefit large corporations.
         First let me say that most large corporations are not short on capital – a look at the record will show that they are sitting on huge amounts of cash. And large corporations do not need cash to increase their hiring – they need customers.
         They are using their cash to buy automatic production equipment, robotics, numerically controlled machine tools, computer equipment and software, and what jobs they cannot automate they outsource to third world countries where labor is cheap. (By the way, soon you will not be able to tell where your customer service call is going – India has set up schools to teach their workers to speak with a middle-western American accent.)
         Obama's first tax proposal would permanently expand the tax credit for research and development, at a cost of $100 billion over the next ten years. I realize that we are falling woefully behind some other countries in R & D, and I know it is absolutely necessary to expand it in the longer-term, but it will do little to promote jobs now. A better idea would be use the money to teach more Americans the science and technology that would allow them to perform R & D jobs.
         His second proposal would allow companies to write off 100 per cent of their investment in new equipment from now until the end of 2011. In effect, he would pay them to continue automating jobs, and to export those jobs that cannot be automated!
         To promote jobs, he needs to promote cutomers, and the way to do that is to put money into people's pockets. Money needs to be spent on labor intensive projects: education, infrastructure, construction, etc. And a moratorium on payroll taxes would be wonderful.
         Focussing on the customer shortage would be far more beneficial than throwing more money at corporations. I know that getting another stimulus through Congress in an election year is tougher than pushing cooked spaghetti through the eye of a needle, but sooner or later it will have to happen.
    ******
         Such was the situation when the Greek philosophers and scientists came on the scene. These unbelievably brilliant men invented language constructs that we have been locked into ever since.
         What were these constructs? There were two: the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle.
         The law of identity was a huge step forward. Simply put, it states that a dog is a dog and nothing else; likewise a tree is a tree and a river is a river. Technically, A is A and not non-A.
         The law of the excluded middle states that a proposition is either true or false; there is no middle ground.
         Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

    The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Will The Real Believer Please Stand Up?

          As I mentioned in my posting of August 26, Americans always need to find some event about which they can disagree. Another such event has come along in the last week.
          Terry Jones, the pastor of a church with a congregation of about 50 in Gainsville, Florida, threatened to burn 200 copies of the Quran. He feels that this is an evil book - one which incites its followers to kill non-believers. (In that respect, it is similar to certain sections of the old testament.)
          As with the proposed civic center and mosque near ground zero in New York, there is no doubt that this kook has the right to do so, but having the right and doing the right thing are two completely different subjects. The trigger for his attitude is really the proposed center.
          I have always felt that if one does the same as one's opponents, one is lowering himself to their level, and this is one of those cases. Pastor Jones saw an opportunity to gain his 15 minutes of fame, and he has succeeded spectacularly. If he were a small boy, he would probably spend his time behind the barn organizing pissing contests.
          Although members of Jones' church originally supported his decision, some of them have reportedly backed away. According to late news reports, while they agree with the pastor that the Quran is Satan's product, they do not want to have their neighborhood considered to be Unamerican. Apparently they have come to their senses; no matter how much we disagree with someone's decisions or actions, he has the right to follow through on them.
          Also late news is reporting that the pastor himself has now promised not to burn the Quran “now or ever.” A wise move. It is fitting that he should make this announcement on 9/11, a day of mourning which will go down in history side by side with December 7, 1941.
          It is not unusual for a charismatic leader to inspire his congregation to believe something unbelievable. Consider Jim Jones, who led his 909 followers in suicide on November 18, 1978. Or the March 26, 1997 suicide of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate sect, who believed that they “were going to cast off their bodies to join a spacecraft of aliens that were hiding in the Hale-Bopp comet’s tail.” Consider also the Muslims who were praising Allah while crashing planes into buildings on 9/11, in the belief that they would receive 72 virgins as payment. (They probably would be better rewarded if they were to receive 72 experienced partners who know what they are doing.)
          I have come to believe that no matter how unbelievable or outrageous a ceremony or activity one promotes in the name of religion, he will be able to attract followers. Am I being cynical, or am I being realistic?
          I am so very thankful that we live in a country where one is allowed to do so if he desires.
    ******
          Among the Kuruvikkarans of Southern India, it was believed that the goddess Kali descended upon the priest, and he gave oracular replies after sucking the blood streaming from the cut throat of a goat.1
          Man Takes Control – The Spirit Runs Through It.

    The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    The Basis of Action

          As I mentioned in my posting of August 28, the difference between a fact and a belief is, “When an event, idea, system, theory, etc. is supported by evidence, we accept it as a fact; when there is no supporting evidence we have a belief. Notice: we accept facts, we have beliefs.” Today I want to further explore the relationship between the two.
          Facts can affect beliefs, but beliefs cannot affect facts. It is an asymmetric relationship: it applies in one direction only. Although it rarely happens, one's beliefs can be changed by facts. Here is a well-known example:
    Throughout the Middle Ages, Ptolemy, who died in 168 C.E. was considered the reigning authority on astronomy. His system explaining the movement of the heavenly bodies was based on the idea that the earth was the center of the universe, and everything else revolved around it. It was a belief held by everyone; the church in particular would allow no other explanation.
    Using his home-made telescope, in 1610 Galileo observed the four moons of Jupiter orbiting the planet. Under the Ptolemiac theory this was impossible. Upon publishing a paper suggesting that the earth really revolved around the sun instead of the other way around, the inquisitition ordered Galileo not to defend that position any longer.
    When he again published a book suggesting that the earth as the center of the universe was not the way things actually worked, he was tried and forced by the inquisition to recant his position. Additionally he was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. In 2008, 376 years later, the church rehabilitated Galileo by proposing to erect a statue of him inside the Vatican walls.
    (According to legend, even after his recantation, he muttered to himself, “But the earth does move.”)
           The point of this whole discussion is that the belief of millions of people for hundreds of years had absolutely no effect on the fact: the earth is not the center of the universe. Galileo accumulated evidence which established the fact. As a result, a revolution occurred in the study of astronomy.

          The second example illustrates that facts are waiting to be discovered – they are not created by scientists or anyone else.
    In 1948, scientists George Gamow, Ralph Alpher, and Robert Herman predicted that as a result of the big bang - a theory that was not widely accepted at the time - there should be a cosmic microwave background noise throughout the universe. Because there was no evidence to support the prediction, it qualifies as a belief.
    In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson at Bell Telephone Laboratories were conducting experiments in radio astronomy and satellite communications. Their instrument had an excess 3.5 K antenna temperature which they could not account for. They had found the evidence establishing the fact of not only the predicted background noise, but also established the “big bang” theory as the current version of fact. (Note that scientific facts can change as new evidence is discovered.)
          The point is that until 1948 there was no belief one way or the other concerning universal background radition, but who can doubt that it was there throughout the 13.5 billion years of the Universe's existence? Acceptance came when evidence was discovered. Even if there had been no 1948 belief, the discovery of the evidence in 1965 would have forced its acceptance and raised the question, “What is causing it?”
          Examination of the examples leads me to the following conclusions:
    (1) Actions based upon facts lead to progress.
    (2) Unless one is attempting to accumulate evidence to convert a belief to a fact, one needs to be very, very careful when acting upon a belief.
    (3) Holding on to a belief which is contrary to the evidence is called insanity.
          Politicians, tycoons, religious leaders, etc., are you listening?
    ******
          Even then, the world was a magical place where anything was possible. Natural history as we know it did not exist. As illustrated by the examples in the previous chapter, rivers, mountains, gods and men were united in strange combinations. Even though the minotaur, the sphinx and the unicorn had never been seen, their existence was accepted without question.
          Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

          The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Saturday, August 28, 2010

    Fact or Belief?

          A born again Christian once asked me if I believe in evolution. My answer was, “Evolution is not something one ‘believes in’ like one believes in a religion. I accept it as a fact because the evidence for it is overwhelming.”
          Of course, no amount of evidence could convince my questioner that evolution is a fact and “creation science” is an oxymoron. But the conversation did cause me to ponder exactly what the difference is between a fact and a belief.
          The difference can be explained in one sentence, although really understanding it can take a long time: When an event, idea, system, theory, etc. is supported by evidence, we accept it as a fact; when there is no supporting evidence we have a belief. Notice: we accept facts, we have beliefs. Here are a few examples:
    (1) I do not believe that birds fly – I accept it as a fact. I have seen pictures of flying birds, I have seen them fly and I have read articles on the physics of flight. The evidence is overwhelming.
    (2) I believe my neighbor is secretly keeping a unicorn in his garage. It is easy to prove or disprove my belief - one can just look in the garage. No matter how convinced I am that he is housing a unicorn, he really isn’t. When the evidence is in, I have to accept that as a fact; if I don’t, my ability to mingle with other people should, and probably will, be curtailed in the near future.
    (3) In 1959, Florence Houteff's, who was the leader of the Branch Davidians faith group, prophesied that the 1260 days mentioned in Revelation 11:3 would end and the Kingdom of David would be established on April 22, 1959. Followers believed they would die, be resurrected, and transferred to Heaven. Many sold their possessions and moved to Mt. Carmel in anticipation of the "end time." It didn't happen. The group almost did not survive; only a few dozen members remained. However, most Branch Davidians did die on April 29, 1993 as a result of arson apparently ordered by their leader, David Koresh. They were not bodily resurrected - on earth at least.
    (4) Karl Popper’s theory of the scientific method provides that a scientist creatively develops a theory which may be falsified by testing the theory against evidence or known facts. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been tested against known facts in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, anthropology, genetics, history, and paleontology, among others. No such tests have been found to falsify the theory. People who claim that the evidence for evolution is scarce just need to look a little deeper. Also, there is absolutely no evidence for non-evolutionary claims.
          Now don’t misunderstand me – beliefs are useful for one reason: instigating research. If one’s belief turns out to have supporting evidence, it is no longer a belief – it is a fact. This is Popper’s theory in action.
          But a belief which on its face is contrary to facts, e,g, my unicorn belief, is a pure waster of time. And because the real world goes its merry way regardless of anyone’s beliefs, such a belief can be costly. Ask any Branch Davidian, if you can find one.
    ******
          Depending upon the structure of the individual atoms, electrons can be either shared between atoms or, in some cases, moved from one atom to another. This results in the formation of molecules which, along with the basic elements, make up the physical constructs that we have discussed in previous chapters.
          Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

    The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Think About It

          At all times Americans seem to need some controversial topic on which to disagree - Heaven knows, there are certainly enough of them at the present time. I have selected three of them to discuss briefly – two of them have been around for several years, and one is current. I offer no solutions, but I have tried to boil the discussions down to questions to ask ourselves, or in one case, a metaphorical description of the topic.     
    Scientists have been making us aware of global warming for several years. Most people believe it is happening, but the mechanism behind it is controversial: is it caused by manmade greenhouse gases, or is it a naturally occurring phenomenon? In either case there are some things we can do to alleviate the problems. Washington politicians have elected to argue about the cost of safety measures, as a result they do nothing. Bloggers and pundits have been asking variations of the following question: Don’t these politicians have grandchildren?
    A Muslim imam wants to build Park51, a community center, including a prayer room, a couple of blocks from the spot where the World Trade Center was toppled by Muslim conservatives in 2001. There seems to be no question that such an undertaking at that site is constitutional; the controversy arises because many Americans feel that it should not be built so close to the scene of that awful tragedy. An astute reader has written a letter to the editor of the Lancaster, Pa. Intelligencer asking the following question: Because of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, should we prohibit the building of Christian churches near the site because the bombing was perpetrated by Christians?
    "Trickle-down economics", “Reaganomics” and "supply-side economics" are terms of political rhetoric that refer to the policy of providing across the board tax cuts or benefits to businesses, such as tax breaks, in the belief that this will indirectly benefit the broad population. Proponents of these policies claim that if the top income earners invest more into the business infrastructure and equity markets, it will in turn lead to more goods at lower prices, and create more jobs for middle and lower class individuals. Here is a simplified explanation: Picture a horse as representative of the rich upper class. The horse is fed oats, which pass through undigested and are left on the ground for the sparrows (lower class) to eat. The more the horse is fed, the more oats the sparrows will have to eat. (It is important that no one asks why some of the oats couldn’t be fed directly to the sparrows.)
          There you have it – three controversial topics of conversation. Whichever side of the issues you land on, I hope you will do so after serious consideration. Please decide with your reasoning, not your emotions.
    ******
          Now for the hard part: The atom is 99.9…9% (13 nines after the decimal point) empty space! If you were to remove all the empty space in the atoms that make up a human being, he or she would be a lot smaller than a grain of salt!
          Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

          The book or a free download is available in paperback or on Kindle.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Climate Change and Preparedness

          The disagreement between climatologists and deniers goes on. In a 2009 survey, 97% of respondents who listed climate science as their area of expertise, and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change, agree that human activity is "a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures."
          In a recent CNN poll of the general public, when the question “. . . from what you have heard or read, do you believe increases in the Earth's temperature over the last century are due more to the effects of pollution from human activities, or natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities?", 50% replied human activities, 46% said natural causes, and 4% were unsure.
          There seems to be a general mistrust of the findings of science, which I believe is due primarily to the constant barrage of false information put out by organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the energy business. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that Exxon-Mobil spent $16 million from 1998 to 2005 to “manufacture uncertainty” about global warming.
          This is just one case. Another is the daily garbage output spewed by experts (read “entertainers”) such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Thomas Sowell, et al.
          Secondly, I believe that some of that mistrust is due to the failure of our educational system to emphasize the importance of science. According to a National Science Foundation report, science ranks behind ten other subjects in terms of people’s interest, a bad situation in view of the fact that approximately 50 percent of all legislation in the U.S. government has some aspects of science in it (NPR 2002). So much for a well-informed electorate.
          Unfortunately our representatives in Washington have fallen for the disinformation laid on them by the highly-paid lobbyists of the energy system. Even worse, some of them actually have a vested interest in the system. And of course, they are all products of an educational system which has let us down in so many ways.
          A recent series of calamitous natural events has given some people second thoughts about climate change: the fury of hurricane Katrina; super heat waves in Russia, the United States and Africa; and flooding which has affected some 20 million people in Pakistan, has people asking, “Is this due to the predicted climate change?” And science’s answer: “Probably.”
          Keeping in mind the statistical axiom that “correlation is not causation,” a good scientist will not state something as a fact until there is a proven connection. But because the above phenomena fit so closely into the pattern predicted by climate change science, neither will he rule it out.
          But I digress. Most people agree that climate change is happening, and real consequences, most of them dire, will result. The cause is immaterial for the point I wish to make: We can prepare for and mitigate the bad effects.
          (1) The federal government should invest in a solid foundation of information for decision-makers and establish a national program to assist states and localities in undertaking formal assessment and disclosure of climate risk and potential regional impacts.
          (2) Using the information assembled through step 1, state and regional planning agencies, in conjunction with FEMA, should develop improved management plans for emergency preparedness in the event of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, exacerbated by global warming.
          (3) Global warming hazards should be incorporated into public disclosure requirements for property owners and managers of publicly traded companies on environmental risks and liabilities, similar to requirements governing flood plains and earthquake zones.
          (4) Building on the example of the National Highway Trust Fund, a dedicated resource should be established to meet new and growing threats to homeland security, at both the national and community level, from climate change.
          (5) In conjunction with public utilities, a system of micro-grids should be created that would include on-site generation of renewable electricity sources that can withstand interruptions in flows of natural gas and electricity, while continuing to ensure critical services like traffic signals, pumping stations, emergency response services, and other critical energy needs.
          A major advantage of such a program is that it would be available to mitigate the effects of any disaster, natural or man-made. I know it will be expensive, but it will be even more expensive if we wait until disaster strikes.
    ******
          . . . is a little trickier; here I am thinking of a mental or instinctive construct. It could be a plan, say for a business or invention, or it could be a concept, e.g., a political ideal, free will, consciousness, etc., or it could be a thought experiment or a scientific theory, or it could be the recipe for mother’s chicken soup. It could also be the idea behind the behavior of a sea otter when he cracks an oyster shell on a stone on his chest, or the reason gray whales migrate to a Mexican cove for mating. It includes any “thing” we can conceive but not hold, touch or otherwise detect by the use of the senses or other instruments.
          Constructs – The Spirit Runs Through It.

          The book or a free download is available in  paperback or on Kindle.