The $50 lesson

A good friend of mine (who happens to be a conservative republican) send this email to all his friends, wisely using bcc for the recipients:

The $50 Lesson

I recently asked my friends' little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up.

She said she wanted to be President of the United States .

Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there.

So I asked her, "If you were President, what would be the first thing you would do?"

She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.."

Her parents beamed.

"Wow...what a worthy goal," I told her.

"But you don't have to wait until you're President to do that.

You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my driveway, and I'll pay you $50.

Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house."

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"

I said, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

...............Her parents still aren't speaking to me................

And here is my reply:

I like you (a lot actually) and I appreciate what you are trying to say here, but I find myself painfully conflicted and I wish to respond in a way that is meant to get the conflict off my chest and also to try to help you understand my position, and how I see the world. E.g. My version of the truth. I hope you will not take offence, as none is meant and that you will simply see my reply here as a friendly challenge.

Although I generally agree with the idea of the post, I see two logical fallacies, to which I would enjoy hearing your reply:

1. This assumes the homeless person is capable of performing the work. Besides the mental health issues that could easily prevent the average (long term) homeless person from knowing /how/ to do the work, there are issues of physical strength and logistics which could also stand in the way. The most obvious of these is how does the homeless person get to the work place?

2. You also assume that anyone would be willing to employ a homeless person even if they could possibly do the work. Frankly, that is the fallacy I find most annoying about this. One the one hand, republicans will say "oh, the homeless should just work to earn a living" when in reality, those same republicans would NEVER hire a homeless person to do any work... no work at all... period. Ever.

So let me challenge you to answer those two fallacies to the same list of people to whom you sent this first email, and further, let me challenge you to hire a homeless person to do ANY work AT ALL!

Until you have risen to either of those challenges, I call hypocrite.

Remember, your real friends are the ones who will, hopefully politely, tell you when they think you are wrong. I could just forget about it, or ask you to simply not send me republican based emails, but I enjoy debate, and I like to try to bring everyone, myself included, to a middle ground.

I hope you don’t mind that.

Yes, we will all die, but HOW? When? And how long can we avoid it?

The National Safety Council has released it's 2010 list of "what's gonna get yah" based on data from the 2006 census and health statistics:

So here is the break down:

0. Dying from Death. You have a 1:1 chance of dying from something. Get used to the idea. Your only hope is putting it off as long as possible.

1. Heart Disease will take 1 in 6 of us. Tick Tock. It's more common in Women than most people think. There are lots of simple things you can do to reduce your risk of dying this way:

2. Cancer, The Big C, is a close second, taking 1 of every 7 of us. Eat organic, avoid irritants, injury, the sun, and the amazing number of products containing possible carcinogens.

3. Stroke gets 1 in 28. Note that stroke (blood not flowing) is different than heart disease (blood not pumping). Avoid long periods of not moving followed by sudden activity, keep regular aspirin on hand.

Which brings us to my personal favorite, which is UP this year from 5 to 4:

4. Motor-vehicle Accidents kills 1 out of every 85 of us. Think about that. If you love 85 people, one of them is going to die on the roads at some point. I personally know 2 people already who died in cars, but lucky for me, I didn't love either of them. The first spun out on "black" ice in a car going WAY too fast on a windy road in Oregon and was hit by a flat bed truck. They had just passed our school bus and all us kids got to see a good lesson on the consequences of unsafe driving. Jay was an ass, but it was still sad that he died. The second was my old bosses daughter... he was also an ass, but no one deserves to loose a daughter. Actually, technically, she wasn't killed; but brain dead is dead in my book. They held on to her body for a while before they unplugged her.

Airplanes kill 1 in 5,862, Lightning and earthquakes are down in the 1 in 100,000 range. Terrorism doesn't even make the list this year. It was in the 600,000's last time if I remember correctly.

One terrorist attack changed our laws, personal freedoms, and way of looking at the world forever. 9/11 killed less than 3,000 people. About 60,000 people die on the roads every single year. More than 40,000 per year on the freeways and then an unknown additional number on surface streets. And unlike heart attack, cancer, and stroke, cars kill young people more often than old.

Have any of us checked out any of these sites?

You may notice a bias in those .gov websites: They concentrate on the behavior of the driver, and give second place to the safety of cars. Why? Industry pressure? Pocket Politicians? Perhaps; but I think the truth is more interesting: As cars become safer, drivers adapt and take greater risks, eliminating the life saving effect of the industry regulations. Don't agree? Ok, but read these before you decide:

Guess what? Despite all the improvements in car safety since the '60s, the death rate has stayed within a percent of the current number! When it comes right down to it, the 4th biggest killer in our country is:

YOU (and me)

...when we drive.

Please consider these possibilities:

1. Try to find a job that allows you to telecommute or just work from home. It's green, it's frugal, it's safer. It took me 10 years of working on my boss to do it, but I finally got to telecommute, and he is as happy with it as I am.

2. On the freeway, don't bunch up with the other cars; find the empty space between the lemming packs and stay as far away from the other cars as you can. Leave more space in front and look for the "escape routes" you can aim for to avoid a collision. If someone tailgates, just speed up or move over if it's safe, otherwise tap your brakes three times; the goal is space, not enforcement or "teaching anyone a lesson".

3. Driving is a full occupation time. No talking, texting, eating, primping, dreaming, or raging. (yes, I know I'm a hypocrite) To help stay focused, make a game out of playing "what if" and thinking about your response to unexpected dangers. Be afraid every time you drive. You should be.

4. Mass transit is many times safer than individual commuting. Take a train, bus, etc... Even in California, it can be done. The extra walking is healthy.

I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone else here... I hope we listen.


Appreciation of Beauty, and why I can't.

A friend wrote: "I find people to be incredibly physically beautiful. I never look at someone and think, "they should change X or Y physical aspect of themselves." I truly accept and, in fact, adore people's "imperfections." Yet I was, since about age 12 or so, horrified by my own physical appearance - enough to surgically alter it. "

I am also always more impressed with people than I am with myself and apparently more than they are impressed with themselves. Part of the problem (I think) is that we (especially men) really aren't allow to go around telling others we think they are attractive. People assume we mean sexually attractive, even when we simply mean they are lovely.

Before Wes Pearson died, Remy and I were watching him play the piano... And I was struck by how absolutely, amazingly, perfectly physically beautiful his old gnarled fingers were. They were so precisely made for playing that piano. I could tell people how much I loved watching his hands because no one would confuse my statement. But I can't tell a married women that I think her lips are stunning or that her hair is wonderful to watch. I for damn sure am not allowed to comment on how pretty some young women or girl seems to be.

I sometimes think if this underlying, dark, horrible fear of sexual molest, abuse, rape, etc... could be "magically" removed, then we could share our actual appreciation of one another and after being told a thousand times that we are attractive, we might come to believe it ourselves. Instead, we each see others as attractive, and never believe that we are ourselves. Women, especially, come to believe that they are only appreciated for the possibility of sexually gratifying that man who is smiling at them. I'm not saying men aren't motivated to seek sexual gratification; we most certainly are, or at least I am. But I am not motivated ONLY by that... and the part of me that can freely appreciate beauty without selfish motive is absolutely cut off by others fear of the other part of me. And I don't discount the need for that fear. It has been my experience that about half the women who have come to trust me have admitted they were molested or raped or abused sexually at some point in their lives. They have every right to be afraid.

It is... unbearably sad to me.


Fear of the Unknown, Authority, God, and other horrors and how Agnosticism helps with it all.

The premise of this presentation is that fear of the unknown is a powerfully damaging force in our world, and that the practice of agnosticism, practicing agnosticism, helps us deal with that fear in a positive way.

I am an unapologetic supporter of agnosticism over all other religious positions; I need nothing more. But in keeping with the UU idea that we can mix and match religious ideas to meet everyone’s needs; I would suggest that most would benefit from a healthy dose of agnostic candor.

Ever since the tower of babble (apparently) as noted by Lewis Carroll, words only mean what each of us says they mean, so please allow me to define some words in my own way, and I beg you to remember and apply that definition for the course of this presentation:

· By "agnostic" I mean one who does not believe it is possible to know the unknowable, the supernatural, the mind of god. The agnostic says “there may or may not be a god, or anything else supernatural, I don’t know, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t see how anyone can claim to know but maybe they can: I’m not sure.” The goal of my practice of agnosticism is to become more comfortable with not knowing.

· By “atheist” I mean one who claims to know that there is no God. The atheist says: “All the available evidence points to there being no god at all, and so that is what I believe.”

· By “belief” I mean those things we hold true, but which are difficult to prove, and which guide our lives and actions.

When Beliefs go Bad.
Beliefs are scary. The land of belief is a dangerous place, where the unstoppable force of the unknown meets the immovable objectification of that which we believe. The actions of any person or group are driven by their beliefs. Hero or villain, whistle blower or corrupt leader, feminist or rapist, force of volunteers or angry lynch mob. In each case, they are doing the same thing: That which they believe to be the right thing to do. The most heinous actions ever taken, are in complete agreement with the beliefs of the people behind them.

Villains Are People Too
Few people take the time to understand the point of view of a villain, but they always have a point of view, and it is always one that is perfectly right to them. The manifesto of the unibomber is really worth reading; it makes a very solid argument against technology, if not for the remote killing of those who teach it. It is obvious that Ted Kaczynski truly believed he was doing his part to save the world. Hitler firmly believed that the world would be better off without Jews. They, in their own minds, believed they were doing the best possible work for all humanity. Their beliefs led them to become the horrors they were.

How Much Belief Can We Afford?
Of course, we need beliefs; we must do something and we can’t always know for sure just what to do, so we must follow our beliefs. And beliefs can lead people to do things every bit as wonderful as others are horrible. But in asking the question of which beliefs to follow, I think we may fall into the trap of seeing that as the only question when there is actually another question of even greater importance: How sure are we that any given belief is right? Yes, pick a belief, but also decide how strongly to believe it.

Under WHOS God?
I hear people say “there is only one god” and “you will have no other gods before god” or that their religion will overcome all others. Non-religious people may believe in a leader "Obama will save us" or a tradition which guides their daily life. Ok, fine, I’ve got no problem with people believing that they are right and others are wrong. I also believe that my beliefs are right, and differing beliefs are wrong: If I did not think that my beliefs where right, I would have changed my beliefs to the ones I thought are right and again, believed that I was right. Just like standards, the wonderful thing about beliefs is that there are so many to choose from. The problem comes with people holding their beliefs so strongly that they are unable to change them when reality shows them to be wrong.

Fact Over Belief
And I will not say that there is anything generally wrong with continuing to believe what we have believed, or what we are taught to believe, or what reason leads us to believe... but to cling to these when our experiences clearly show our beliefs to be wrong, in the face of conflicting fact... to hold to a belief based on the unknowable even in the face of what we see around us, this is truly frightening.

She Chose Her Belief Over Her Precious Baby
There is a girl, about 14, who is living with her Grandmother because her mother is dead. I’ve talked to both of them several times, and they have told me the story of this late mother. Before the mother died, the entire family disowned her, and her husband left her, and the grandmother would not take her back, because she came out as a bi-sexual. All of them, including her own mother, disowned the mother for being bi because her church told them to believe, and they had always believed, and it seemed to them reasonable to believe that bisexuality was evil. Now… this is a grandmother, faced with a choice between her religious beliefs, what she trusts that her pastor knows from the mind of god, and the daughter she raised from a baby. The grandmother was a stay at home mom; as a girl, the mother attended a school run by the church, and spent most all afternoons and evenings at home because she was shy and introverted. No mother could say she know her daughter less well than this grandmother knew her daughter. Yet she rejected the reality of the goodness of the person she had raised, in favor of the beliefs of her second hand knowledge of the unknowable mind of god. She looked at the evidence of her good upbringing, of her goodness and believed she was evil despite that.

What Will You Believe?
The idea of belief without evidence, in the face of evidence to the contrary scares the living crap out of me. If you are willing to believe in heaven and hell because your pastor tells you they exist, are you also willing to believe in WMD's because the President tells you they exist? If you are willing to believe the devil is real simply because the evangelist and your mommy warned you about him, are you willing to believe that, I don’t know… that I'm a child molester because a rumor spreads out of control?

Dale Akiki And Why I Don't Eat At Jack In The Box
Does the name Dale Akiki mean anything to you? Mr. Akiki was a simple man, a simple minded man, with a slight deformity which made him appear strange to others. He was a kind, loving, caring person, as are many uncomplicated people. He and his wife volunteered as babysitters at the Faith Chapel church in Spring Valley, CA. A rumor was started against him… and it grew… the former CEO of Jack in the Box, whose children attended, pressured the DA in office at that time to prosecute despite a complete lack of any physical evidence. It was just a funny story that a little boy told when his mommy asked him what they did in child care after his fist day with Mr. Akiki. After 2.5 years in jail and the longest trial in SD county history, 7.5 months, he was acquitted. His life was destroyed. The CEO of Jack in the Box went on to believe that his meat was just fine and he killed 8 customers. Food poising. He lost his job. The DA went on to believe he could buy a re-election. He lost his job too. Dale still loves people, kids, and his wife who stood with him through it all. He’s afraid to leave his home.

Belief Conquers Fear
Why do people need to believe so strongly? Well, belief conquers fear. And our greatest fear is fear of the unknown. I certainly understand being afraid of the unknown. I’m scared to death of not knowing; will I keep my job? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will we find a way to keep our home? Not knowing is a mind bending fear.

Gods Plan
I hear people say: “I believe there is a god and god has a plan for me and if I follow that plan, everything will be all-right” and I don’t blame them at all for believing that. If it comforts, so be it.

The Mind Of God
But the tricky part comes from trying to follow gods plan. To follow the plan, you have to know it, and if god wrote the plan, then knowing the plan means knowing a little part of the mind of god. And I don’t see how anyone can claim to do that. More likely, those who claim to know the plan, are following a plan that someone else heard second hand from the mind of god, actually… a plan that was written down by some one a long time ago who says they talked to god. Ok, that’s fine, I don’t mind if they follow that plan. I’ve read it, it actually seems pretty good in most places (with a few notable exceptions^). But then they listen to people who interpret that plan, people who say god talked to them and I think about Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc
Joan heard voices. They told her to do things. She thought it was the voice of god. Others believed her. They were desperate to hear from someone who had heard from god. They were desperate to know the plan. They were afraid of not knowing. They were pretty sure they, themselves didn’t know, but they were ready to believe that a simple peasant did know. Maybe she did know… maybe she was schizophrenic… but an entire nation followed her into 24 more years of bloody war.

I Don't Know
We live with a fear of letting go of the idea that we, or anyone else, can ever really know the mind of god, or how the universe completely works, or what will happen to us. From my point of view, Atheists are just as religious as all the others are because they claim to know there is no god. I understand how scary it is to admit that we simply don't know one way or the other. Those who claim to know, and yet cannot explain it to me in a way I can understand, are either deluded or far more intelligent and advanced than I am. Again, I have no way of knowing! Agnostics (again, my definition) have simply come to accept not knowing, but we understand that this isn't desirable or welcomed.

You Don't Know
I fear challenging others to admit they do not know. We challenge the knowledge of others in so many ways and that sometimes provokes hostile reactions. We challenge the people who "know" that the sign in the Huston shop window was about honoring a 9/11 hijaker.

We challenge the people who "know" that climate change is absolutely caused by carbon emissions OR that it is absolutely NOT caused by carbon emissions. We challenge people who "know" what the RIGHT thing to do is. Most of all, we point out that it is the ultimate hubris for ANYONE to claim to know the mind of God. Asking people to give up the comfort of "knowing" the unknowable requires bravery.

Your Leaders Don't Know Either
I fear that people are unwilling to question authority because they (sometimes unreasonably) expect those leaders to know the unknowable when they do not. This unwillingness to question authority, due, we fear, to the misplaced belief that the leaders know "all", has lead to some of the most horrific episodes in human history. (Nazi officers "just following orders" while exterminating the jews, etc...).

Stanley Milgram Didn't Know (but people still killed for him)
The extreme willingness to follow leaders was studied by Stanley Milgram and documented in his book "Obedience to Authority". From his study, we learned, much to our shock and horror, that more than half of the people in society are perfectly willing to kill another human being when directed by an authority figure. I fear that this willingness to blindly follow is based in a fear of the unknown causing a dependence or expectation that others know better. If we could embrace the unknown, we may increase our ability to question the knowledge of others. When the fear of doing wrong is greater than the fear of not knowing, we can question authority.

Who Will We Kill For?
I fear that leaders constantly use the human fear of the unknown to bring society to the goals and benefit of those leaders at the cost of the society:

Hermann Goering, Hitlers Reich-Marshal on trial at Nuremburg after WWII said:
"Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along, whether it is democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country"

Agnostics Are Used To The Unknown

Agnostics, although still scared to death of many other things, seem less affected by fear of the unknown. It often comes due to an unwillingness to reject logical thinking or to reason in advance of the facts; a determination to accept the obvious conclusions of a logical, reasoned approach to the world despite the fear that accompanies this form. Our acceptance of, and dependence on logic, of the value of clear and reasonable thought, forces us to deal with our fears. This is the scientific method, often claimed by the atheists, but which, at it’s best, is based on theories not absolutes; on correlations and probabilities never on claiming to know the unknowable. It is the deepest tenant of science than when the evidence fails to support the commonly held theory, and another theory is advanced which better fits the evidence, we change our minds.

Global Warming Is Probable, NOT Certain
Global warming is caused by human activity with a /probability/ of 85 % according to scientists. That means there is a 15% chance, in the IPCC’s own estimation, that it may NOT be caused by human activity. Of course, in this case, wouldn’t it be good to err on the side of caution? But let us not sweep away the pain of those who will be injured by radical changes in our use of fossile fuels; let us do those things we can which do not cause others great damage.

Oh, Whatever Should We Do?
I think there is a link between a peoples ability to accept matters on faith, without proof; as in religious beliefs and their desire to believe that something is in charge and that they can understand the will of that something. When it comes to climate issues, people are desperate to believe that someone understands this and can say with authority what should be done.

As an Agnostic, I have worked long and hard to accept the possibility of failure, of being wrong, of NOT knowing, of the universe being too complex for anyone to understand... It is the hight of hubris to assume any human knows the mind of God OR the workings of the universe.

Do Not Meddle In The Affairs Of Dragons...
And when you don't know what effect you will have, I feel it best to err on the side of having very small effect. So that is all I'm willing to argue with regard to climate changes. The earth has trundled along for ages unknown without us so let us pretend we aren't here and hope it will continue that way.

Teach Thought Over Belief
I respect the right of everyone to find their own way, to choose their own beliefs. But I fear that remaining silent will lead our children to question the value of human thought vs human belief and to be unwilling to accept the idea of not knowing which may lead us to a future society that fails to question assumptions, to question leadership, or to think for its self.

Reason Over Bliss
It scared me that there has been a very positive reaction to the story of Jill Bolte Taylor, an agnostic and a brilliant scientist who studied the brain and then suffered a massive hemorrhage in her own brain. She now tours the world, saying that her brain damage allowed her to feel connected to the rest of the world, to feel interdependent, and that this point of view would lead to a peaceful future. I should be clear: I have no concern with what Ms. Taylor says, it is how her words are taken that concerns me. I’ve seen comments from people saying that they wish they could have a stroke in order to feel like she does.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU (summary: Brilliant agnostic suffers brain damage and develops spirituality.) Show a frightening trend towards valuing a connection to the unknowable over even a fully functional brain.

Or Is Ignorance Bliss?
I fear that ignorance might be bliss... because I refuse to claim to know the unknowable.


How can we regulate companies when we can't regulate ourselves?

I completely fail to understand how anyone can say that corporations are not accountable to us… Every single dime they have, every bit of power they exert is given them by the sale of their products. We have complete control over corporations based on what products we choose to purchase. The only exception to that, corporate welfare, is a relatively minor source of income for them, but one that I agree should be cut off, if possible. Read about Farmer Percy to see how hard that will be.

The problem is one of educating the people, not of regulating the companies. WE need to be reformed… the companies will follow our dollars like puppies after mothers’ milk. If you want to talk about how to effectively re-train the poor spending habits Americans are exhibiting, I will be right there with you, but regulating the corporations is shifting the blame; unnecessary and ineffective.

The stated and obvious goal of every corporation is to turn a profit. As long as they can do that though immoral means, they will continue to do it. We have no hope of regulating morals in corporate actions except though our purchasing decisions. "As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it." Dick Cavett.

The cigarette companies ran wild until the public was educated effectively on the cost of smoking. Not by a little warning label introduced by regulation, but by a series of TV and billboard ads paid for by health care organizations that were being financially damaged by the costs of treating lung cancer. Remember those? The woman talking through her throat? The guy who killed his wife with second hand smoke? "Mind if I smoke? Care if I die?"

Those ads, and the backlash to Joe Camel, shifted public opinion and vastly reduced the power and influence of those companies. The more recent ads, paid for by the companies themselves due to regulation, have been FAR less effective; less hard hitting. If people stopped buying cigarettes, they would be gone, but as long as people want to use nicotine as a drug, and damage their lungs, who are we to tell them they can’t? Or to prevent a company from supplying them what they ask for?

In the same way, if people accept food grown NOT locally and organically but instead GMO, insecticide soaked, in factory farms, who are we to outlaw that?

If people want to purchase cheap shoes or clothing made by exploited workers under inhuman conditions, how can we change the morals of the producer, if we can’t even change the morals of the purchaser? Get people to watch this show:
http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/blood-sweat-tshirts/ if you want to make a difference.

A population of sheep must begat a government of wolves; and so too idiot consumers fuel exploitive corporations.


Another "Beautiful Mind": Nikola Tesla

Another "Beautiful Mind": The one man who invented our power grid, AC, generators, the electric motor, radio, remote control, neon signs, hydraulics, and so on. He controlled his tortured mind by force of will and used it to change our world in so many positive ways. Yet we remember his nemesis, Thomas Edison, who tortured animals trying to stop the AC power grid, and forget the real wizard: Nikola Tesla. The clip below is accurate, with one clarification: wireless power would be free in the sense that anyone could tap into it, not that it was "free energy". Worth a few minutes for those who want "the rest of the story"


Managing wiki spam

I have a few suggestions for handling wiki spam:

First, each page edit should send an email or other notification to the owner of that page. This assumes that each page is “owned” or managed by a page editor. The wiki owner is the default editor for each page.

Second, the ability to have content on a page that is “private” or marked in some way that allows it to be removed from page before it is shown to anyone other than the author. If the author is not registered, the source IP address is used.

Any content posted by an unregistered user is forced to be private to that user, and a notification is sent to the page owner. In the notification is a single, simple link that allows them to publish (remove the private mark) or delete (revert) that edit.

Combined with VERY relaxed spam blocking rules which exist only to automatically block the very worst spam and reduce the page editors work load, this allows users to always post and instantly see the result without the stifling need for every user to register, and still prevents spam from reaching the general public with minimal effort on the part of the host/page editors.

I’ve been using this system for years and it works VERY well for me. Real users are more likely to contribute, false positives are almost eliminated, and no spam gets through. I’ve found that ANY extra effort required by real users to prove they are not spamming reduces participation unacceptably.

I also like having a little form at the bottom of each page for users to quickly append a comment without editing the entire page, as it also seems to increase participation.