Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Edward Wong wrote an excellent column on the subject of whether we should call the conflict in Iraq a Civil War in the New York Times on Saturday. I am sure that those who still support the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, if they still exist, will continue to argue this point, but the point seems to be clear that the Iraq War is now a Civil War. The point is that it is quite strange that one would find it so important whether the Iraq War should be called a Civil War or not. But in an effort to be honest with ourselves we should not fear a definition.

So, why should the Bush administration continue to be so adamant about not calling the Iraq War a Civil War? If we call it something else will we react differently? Is the vocabulary really that important?

I think that we need to remember that Karl Rove taught us this lesson in his election politics. He showed us that people have personal definitions that have nuanced meanings particular to each of us. For example, the renaming of the inheritance tax to the death tax changes the image conjured up in our minds. The first term makes us think of a wealthy man passing on his wealth to his spoiled children who have never worked a day in their lives. The second term instead creates an image of a poor farmer lying on his deathbed waiting for the government to swoop in and take their share. The truth however is in the details of the law written, which neither image accurately portrays. This is but one example of the nuanced vocabulary created to establish a desired image of an administration that acts in quite the opposite way of his marketed image.

But not all of the Bush administration’s vocabulary is created for the purpose of obfuscation. For example, the word freedom is not used to actually mean freedom at all. Freedom is actually an unobtainable idealism. It is impossible for us to be free. We can not be free from the forces of nature. We are all subject to the laws of physics and we are subject to the gravitational pull of the Earth. We have biological needs of food, water and air that we cab never be free from or we would be dead. But, these simple natural forces are often ignored when the word freedom is bandied about. For the sake of discussion let’s consider merely political freedom. Here again George W Bush still doesn’t really mean freedom in a true context. In fact, none of us really want freedom. Freedom would mean that we would be free to do whatever we please. Instead what George W Bush really means is that the freedom he suggests is a limited freedom of tyranny of the masses and once again limited by the tyranny of the wealthy. This is Democracy under the United States’ conditions.

The issue is that Americans have a particular idea in mind when they hear or use the word freedom. But, freedom is never used is its reality of free from all forces. Instead we create a political framework and voluntarily give some of our freedom away in order to live in an orderly way under the rule of law. If anyone truly desired to live in political freedom one should move to a fail state like Afghanistan or Iraq where laws are not enforced if they even exist. But, in doing this you need to bring your own protection as well. Maybe living in this way one would realize the benefit of surrendering some freedom to a government.

But freedom is a word used to rally a cause, just like the shunning of a phrase like Civil War is done to frame a worldview. The Bush administration does not really care if the conflict in Iraq is or is not a Civil War. Instead they care if the imagined definition of Civil War in the minds of the American people matches with the imagined objective put forth to the American people. They want their vocabulary to say “things are not so bad.” Unfortunately the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. But, that has never stopped these people before.

Instead of using the words “civil war” the Bush administration has chosen to use the words “sectarian violence.” In this way these people have used a word many Americans don’t understand “sectarian” with a toned down word for “war.” Using “violence” instead of “war” gives people the “warm fuzzy” feeling that we aren’t really in a war at all, but something much much less indeed. And, it turns out that unfamiliar words like “sectarian” don’t have all the emotional baggage of previous use. Of course, after several years of “sectarian violence” Americans will put reality with the words and this description of the Iraq War will become an ugly description never to be used in the future - at least not used by politicians.

The real trouble is that all words that are familiar to us do have emotional baggage attached. For example, “economic depression” is no longer used, because of the horrible memory of the “Great Depression.” Instead the common terms used is are “economic downturn,” or “recession.” When the term “recession” was introduced it was an unfamiliar neutral term and we haven’t had an event as dramatic as the Great Depression that would damage the vocabulary. In fact, even if we had an economic downturn as horrific as the Great Depression we would never label it as a depression. Instead we would call it a recession, and Historians may actually end up calling it the “Great Recession.”

Of course none of this is new. George Orwell wrote about this in his novel 1984, but it is hard to see when you are trained to live your life with these words being part of your vocabulary. As you learn words, you learn them with examples. We have learned that American Democracy is the definition of Freedom and Liberty in action. But we have nothing to compare this to. If we were truly honest about our culture we would need to learn that all governments are a balance between freedom and order. There may be more or less freedom, but to compensate for that freedom one needs to sacrifice some order. But neither freedom nor order is absolute.

So, what is a Civil War?

Civil War does not seem to have a unified universal definition without ambiguity. Some groups have attempted to define what a Civil War is, but these definitions are sometimes complicated with details that even the American Civil War might not qualify under. The Bush administration, for example, has said that Iraq was not in a state of Civil War because there are some safe places in the country. So, based on that criteria the US was not in a state of Civil War because there was no fighting in Maine.

The situation in Iraq is more complicated than the typical civil war where a group of rebels is fighting to overthrow the government. Instead, there are several groups of rebels that are all fighting to gain control of the government. Some of the fighting is directed at the government and the military arm of the government - the US military. But some of the fighting is also directed toward the other factions that also want to gain control.

Why shouldn’t we call this a Civil War?

Maybe it is because they forgot to hand out the uniforms to the different groups?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, November 27, 2006

Moral Secular Humanistic Relativism

But is it ethical?

Imagine a modern atheist being sent back in time two thousand years ago. If he popped up in the Middle East he would find himself in a strange place indeed. The people around him would be superstitious and his odd attitudes would be under suspicion. Even if he knew the language and the culture it wouldn’t be natural to him. Imagine if he were to witness a group of people dragging a woman down the street with the intent to stone her. Would his Godless modern secular culture embrace this travesty? He is an atheist after all, and the laws of the past certainty permit this response as just. There is no reason for him to feel any violation of law as he watches the events unfold. What would he be inclined to do?

It would be hard to imagine that any one of us (products of American culture) would not be disgusted with the stoning of a woman regardless of our religious persuasion. This is the idea behind moral relativism. People in a particular culture become accustomed with the ways of the society that they live in. The way a society responds to moral problems becomes embedded in the culture. Even a society that that has, “Thou shall not kill” embedded in it make exceptions for that rule. We are not any different in our modern times. We justify the indiscriminate killing of human beings with bombs from airplanes several thousand feet above the ground. The bombardier has no idea what human life lies in the path of those bombs. But, the target is specified and the bombardier feels justified in his action. Similarly the ancient peoples of the Middle East felt justified in their punishment of the woman sinner.

Then as now some people think about the ethics of these situations. Jesus, a product of that culture, saw a woman being dragged down the street and became distraught, at least we can imagine this. Religious teachers today might suggest that there exists some universal law that transcends culture. Killing should be understood to be wrong no matter what the specific culture’s attitude with the idea, for example. Justification to do something that is universally wrong must only occur when choosing to do nothing results in an even greater wrong. This may certainly be so, but how do we know what these universally wrong actions are? Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the Holy Books being sent directly from God have the information on what is right and what is wrong. Some believe that these books are rooted in the hand of God. Anything read between these covers is essentially the word of God. Unfortunately these words need to be interpreted in one way or another, because there are portions of these books that do not agree with each other, or in some cases there is internal conflict we are back to interpreting these writings.

The argument against moral relativism is that culture can not influence a law that is universal. If the Bible says, “thou shall not kill,” then that law can not be ignored based on the culture in which it is read. We just can not justify killing. So, how do we know which laws are universal?

I’ve been told that universal laws are known directly from God. Some say that His will was told through Moses and the prophets. Some say that His will was told through Mohammed and the prophets. Some say that His will was told through Jesus and his disciples. Some say that His will was told through prayer and deep reflection. Some say that His will has not been totally revealed. Some say that only those anointed have the power to understand His will. Some say that no one can know His will. So, how can humans that inhabit this planet know what His universal will is?

Well, of course each religion knows its own universal will of God!

If we all know what God’s universal will is, then there is no issue with the universal will of God, since it is universal and revealed to all religions. Right!? And, of course this universal will of God is the same in all religions, isn’t it?

But, we all know that this is ridiculous. None of us believes that someone else’s religion is the one true religion that has the one truth. If we did, we would be in the process of converting to it. All we can believe in is moral relativism. We can only believe in the morality of God’s laws as they apply to our own personal religion. That may be the organized faith that we believe in, or the faith that we have created in our own minds. Even the fundamentalists among us believe in the relative morality of the fundamentalist religion that they personally belong to. Other fundamentalist faith have their own true law of God, in the interpretation of their preacher, community, or in their own minds. We all can point to at least one thing that we disagree with in the religion that we belong to. That difference is a moral relativism on the religious level.

So, why should we be surprised or upset when all of us collect together and try to write laws that we can all agree on we find that some of us don’t agree? If we are going to create secular laws in a secular society we can’t expect that these laws are in harmony with every religious faith. But, some among us would like to make our secular laws equal to their religious laws. And, unfortunately we don’t have religious laws that overlap at every level. After all, why can we all understand that it isn’t a good idea to make laws requiring all Americans to not eat meat on Fridays in Lent? Why can we understand that it isn’t a good idea to make it a law to wear only black and white clothes? And, why can we understand that we shouldn’t make a law requiring fasting through Ramadan? But we can’t understand that making laws against stem cell research isn’t a good idea.

The issue is that secular laws are not religious laws. Secular laws should be the minimum laws that we desire to maintain order in society. Religions may then add the additional laws that the religions determine to add to this minimal set. And, finally each person may subject themselves to these additional rules as they see fit. But this does not mean that the rest of us need to suffer from the arbitrary laws created by any particular religion. The chosen secular laws should meet the fundamental rights of each human, and therefore our secular laws should reflect the minimal set of secular humanistic laws.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Free Markets and Regulation

With the death of Milton Friedman last week his work has once again bubbled to the surface of political and economic thought. Nearly everyone agrees that Milton Friedman was a great economist. Milton Friedman had many powerful ideas of which the concept of free markets being allowed to work their problems out without government interference was one of his most important. If you were to exclusively listen to or read Milton Friedman you might come to the conclusion that Free Markets can solve every problem that exists. In fact, allowing free markets to work does solve a great deal, but the key is to know when a free market solution is not the answer to the problem.

Let’s imagine an easy example when a free market solution is flawed. Imagine an entrepreneur with a new idea. This is a good thing in most cases, because new ideas are encouraged in a free market system. We most often imagine that the entrepreneur will create a more efficient solution to an existing problem. More efficiency results if cheaper production of a better product, and everyone wins - customer and product provider. This is the best case scenario for society in general. But, the problem is that making society better does not motivate the product producer. Instead making more money motivates him. Sometimes these two motives overlap and both motivations result in a better society and a richer product producer. However, occasionally plans for enriching the product producer does not correspond with making society better.

Imagine that the clever product producer creates a product that is intended to do one thing better than any previous conception. However, imagine that the product, in reality, comes no where near working as intended. On the other hand massive marketing by this entrepreneur tells everyone who is willing to listen that the product works better than anything every created before. Since no one has ever had experience with the new product many people may buy the idea sold in the marketing and purchase the product. Now, the clever entrepreneur is able to cheaply produce a large number of products and predict how many products could be sold before the market becomes saturated and word of mouth finally counteracts the marketing campaign. If this is repeated over and over with many different products the product producer is able to become quite wealthy without any contribution to society.

Actually, what I have described above does not refer to any specific product or any specific company. And, also there are various degrees of how well a product works or does not work. Many people will buy something expecting a particular performance and when the product does not live up to its expectations the person will blame themselves for expecting to much. But, the clever entrepreneur can still make quite a bit of money using the free market to sell garbage to the unaware.

But, when do we decide that a clever entrepreneur is no longer clever, but a clever crook stealing the customers money? A simple rule could be that if the product producer provides something resembling what was advertised for the money taken, then no fraud has taken place. Is this simple rule a type of regulation, or is it still allowing a completely free market to operate? Obviously in the United States we have a set of more complex regulations regarding this type of transaction. And, those regulations can be argued to interfere with the free market. So, who is right? Does the free market solve this problem? Or, does regulation solve this problem?

Free market advocates warn us that the buyer should beware. But, in the real world it is quite impossible for each of us to put in the effort required to confirm the usefulness of every product. Herbs, for example, promise to solve many of our health problems without any scientific evidence. Some additional vitamins do have some rough foundation in science, but not to the degree advertised by some vitamin producers. Other products can not be tested until the product is actually purchased. If enough people purchase a product just to test the product producer may make his profit quota for that specific product. Hopefully this illustrates that some regulation is required in a semi-free market system.

Free markets also depend on the idea that people will only pay the amount that a product seems to be worth to them. Once again the above example illustrates that a person may be willing to pay more based on the promise on the initial purchase. If a product producer is expecting repeated purchases, then the free market system tends to fall in line after a couple of purchases. So, for toothpaste and soap the free market tends to work as a product stays on the market for an extended period of time. But, if a company has a habit of producing a new product every year time and time again, then the new promises of effectiveness might be enough to stay in business for quite some time. So, the idea of a free market requires a consumer to have free access to the “real” product information. Unfortunately in the United States people don’t have access to most “real” information, only hyped up advertising information. The free market then becomes oriented toward the advertising instead of the actually effectiveness of the product.

Then there is the case of many products with imperceivable differences. In this case the customers actually can not tell the difference between the similar products. The free market in this depends on customers to select products based on quality and effectiveness. If there is no difference, then people will be completely swayed by advertising and competition in the free market may only effect the price of a product. Of course, this might be good, or even the point of the free market in this case. Perhaps the free market in this case does the one thing that it does well, lowering the price of production of the product.

But, now assume that there are real differences in the products, but the marketing is so confusing that the general public can not determine those differences in the product. Now, assume that these are not products purchased often. It could be a car or a computer. These products are not purchased often and they can not be tried for a while and returned easily if one is dissatisfied. The point here is not that the free market does not work, but it works in a complicated way. And, the free market is skewed by advertising that distorted ones perception of the product, which is actually the point of advertising.

Advertising isn’t the only way that the free market is skewed. Another is how a person perceives the price they are willing to pay for something. There is no doubt that food is needed, and if the price for a meal is equal to one day’s wages, then a person will certainly pay that price everyday in order to live. The meal might be worth a fraction of that price in another place, but a starving person will pay what he has in order to survive, assuming that he has the price to pay. This leads to the easy exploitation of a person in this situation. If the easy exploitation of a person in this situation results in lower cost for the employer, then the free market dictates that this is the proper solution to this problem. However, it is not the ethical solution. Obviously there is a weakness in the free market system and this is another case where the free market needs some regulation.

If a product is needed as a matter of life and death, then a person will be willing to do anything for the product. This leads us to health care, where a person with a disease will be willing to pay whatever the price for the cure. The free market would have “enough people” receive the cure in order to give the provider the most profit for the least amount of work willing to be done. Under the free market the wealthy will pay their entire savings to be cured, and the poor will not even be able to pay the same in absolute dollars in order to be cured. This would suggest that the price of a cure should be based on another cost benefit structure. One option might be percent of net worth. So, a person worth 1 million dollars might be offered the cure at 10% of his net worth or $100,000 and a person worth $250,000 could have the same cure for $25,000. The problem, however would still result in providers looking for the wealthy people with the disease and the guy with a negative net worth not being cured at all, because the doctor would need to pay him.

The whole point here is that a free market is a good system for many things, but it is not the solution for every situation. We need to remember that for a guy that has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So, we need to remember that other tools exist as well. Regulations are another tool that needs to be used in the real world. But, then again regulations are not the magic tool either. No tool is magic, they just need to be used in the right way for the right situation.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Spirit Moves Me

How do we know anything about God?

For this piece I am going to jump past the question of whether there is a God and assume that He exists. I know that there are many who read my blog that choose to believe that there is no God. Personally my belief that there is a God is tied tenuously to the thread of the mystery of free will and the wonder of the Universe itself. That being said I am a skeptic and I continue to question these mysteries.

Different religions give us many different ways in which we make our connection with God. Some religions place an enormous weight on the Bible or other religious writings. Some religions place more weight on prayer, tradition, or other divine revelation. So, how do we know anything at all about God if we assume that he exists?

As we think about this problem we can go back in history and look at how earlier generations dealt with this problem. We can assume that earlier generations must have had religious rituals like those that were witnessed by early explorers when they discovered the Native Americans, Australian Aborigines and others. All of these people had sought ways to “make contact” with their gods. Why did they do this? What moved them to make the effort? What were the results of these attempts? Were they valid, in that they were trying to connect with the one God that Christians recognize as the God? Or, is there something different happening here?

In ancient times people created tribal gods that were created out of fear for the want of protection from the unknown. One way to look at this is that people just made up stuff to make themselves feel better. Another way to look at it is that these guys didn’t know the One True God, so they ended up praying to and worshiping daemons, which were recognized as their real personal gods. Still another way to look at this is that these people felt the love of God, but they were too immature to know how to respond to that love.

These are not the only interpretations and I’m sure there are others that are not so extreme, but my point is that all humans tend to form similar religious foundations around the world. Basically gods are created to protect. And, as an extension to that, the more powerful the god then the more powerful the protection. Native Americans had personal gods or namesakes. Even modern Catholics have embraced a similar tradition when they name their children after the Holy Saints. Even without the details the human urge to build a relationship with God persists in similar ways.

This is certainly not the only way that humans try to make contact with God, whatever form the true God actually takes. The case is that if we assume that there is a God, we need to wonder if the urge to build a relationship with God is initiated by God, by man, or by both. I don’t believe that anyone will be able to answer that question definitively like many other religious questions. The only way to answer this question would be to raise a person completely out of any religious culture and monitor the person and God until the person has his first religious experience. Of course we can not monitor what is going on in the mind of God and it is extremely difficult to know what the person is thinking continuously either.

But, regardless of who initiates the relationship a relationship between a person and God generally emerge in most people, without the aid of organized religion of any sort. People who never go to church plead with God for mercy, help or protection. Fear often motivates people in this direction, but once that relationship is established, other interactions occur. People thank God for his gifts. And, people become inspired to seek deeper understanding and insight. But how do people get this inspiration? Is it God or something else? Is it Satan or other daemons? For that matter, does Satan even exist as a supernatural being, or is that some hypothetical religious idea created as man sought his relationship with God?

If we continue to think about religion as man’s response to develop a relationship with God, then it becomes clear that the evil in the world is due to man’s failure to respond to this relationship at all. Many Holy men have come from many areas of the world trying to tell us how to improve this relationship with God, but unfortunately they haven’t completely understood the relationship perfectly themselves. Or, maybe they did understand it, but they couldn’t communicate it to the population that they tried to communicate it to. The main problem tends to be a balancing act between what aspect of this relationship that has been discovered and the expectations of those want to know about it. Failure to listen or failure to explain are failures, but it doesn’t mean that nothing happened and nothing was tried.

Ancient Greeks discovered the power of inspiration when you weren’t seeking it. The Rite of Dionysis may have been an attempt to replicate that moment again and again. Drugs have been used to “see” spiritual revelations, and drugs have been used to avoid “seeing” anything. Religions have pushed the mind through meditation and prayer and religions have punished the minds of men because they thought to much. Each of these attempts to do the “right” thing may have been the “right” thing for that person, but it isn’t always the “right” thing for all people. The problem is that we each find a path to God in different ways. Not all paths work for all people. Some paths do not work for many people and other paths work for many. But one thing is certain, when one turns his back on seeking a relationship with God in favor of selfishness there is a problem. Assuming of course for a moment that there is a God.

So, the main point here is that we all seek a relationship with God. Or at least all of us that believe that there is a God are seeking this relationship. Those of us who are trying to find a connection with God do this through organized religion or a personal disorganized religion. This tends to imply evil comes from the lack of an effort to seek a relationship with God.

But, what about the atheists? OK, I can’t leave these guys out, because even if they don’t believe in God they are certainly awed by His creation, even if they deny an attribution to Him. This shouldn’t bother us, because a healthy respect for God’s creation, even if they don’t attribute it to Him is what an atheist does anyway. Atheists still have ethics and they still know in their heart what is right and wrong on a social scale. They want to help society improve, not destroy it. They want to preserve nature not destroy it. These are basic human ideas and feelings that everyone gets from being human and having emotions. Atheists are still disturbed by senseless violence. Atheists are still upset at the destruction of people’s homes. This empathy, regardless of their personal religious beliefs are in line with forming a relationship with God even if they don’t attribute it to Him.

Is it easier to build a relationship with God if you are trying to do it? I would guess that the answer is yes, because it makes logical sense. But, God is not a natural human being, He is supernatural by definition, therefore regardless of your belief in God you can never know Him. And when you don’t know a person the relationship is more difficult. But that goes for us all, not just any one religion.

We all just need to know that the Spirit Moves Us All and that is how we build our relationship with God whether we believe in Him or not. Be Thankful!


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Greed and Fear

Greed is a reflection of someone who fears that they don’t have enough money. If you think about a person who seems to have everything that anyone could want, you will undoubtedly think of greed. A person amasses a huge fortune because of many reasons, and among them is greed. We can think of Scrooge from the Dickens story A Christmas Carol. His focus was no longer on the purpose of his company but instead on making money at all cost of human suffering. Putting money above human need is the traditional definition of greed. And, the most obvious reason that someone would put money over other people’s needs is because of a fear of not having one’s own needs met.

Not long ago I wrote about fear and its relationship to our motivations. We react out of fear when we don’t think through the logic of the situation. Fear is a natural reflexive emotional reaction to the unknown. In the case of greed, we don’t know if we are going to have enough money in the future so we strive to make more money and save more money and spend less money in order to protect ourselves from the unknown future.

On the other hand, gluttony is another form of greed. Gluttonous people fear that they will not be able to eat the food that they love, so they eat more of it. A person in this state of mind suffers an even more exaggerated problem when they try to cut high calorie foods from their diet. This is because they are accustomed to eating particular foods, and they have formed a habit of eating them. There is comfort in eating what one is familiar with, and when someone denies themselves from a particular treat the mind begins to fear that it will never have this treat again. Over time the fear grows larger the long that the fear remains unsatisfied. Ones mind is quite imaginative, and that imagination makes the fear grow, until the person ravaged by fear finally caves in and eats the treat to allay the fear and receive the comfort sought.

The odd thing is that gluttony is the greed of food and also the fear of starvation. But, a very similar but exactly the opposite problem is anorexia nervosa. In this case narcissism has gotten out of control because of the fear of obesity. People suffering this affliction begins to fear that they will not measure up to the social or cultural standards. They fear that not measuring up will result in an isolated existence where people will shun them for their appearance. As a result a sufferer will do anything to reduce weight and even starve themselves. The fear becomes so large that all other fears are minimized. Obviously a person suffering from anorexia nervosa fears being fat above the fear of not having their favorite treat. In fact they fear being fat beyond the fear of death in some cases. It is quite curious how these two extremely opposite fears can play such havoc with people.

And, in this sense I was beginning to think about my personal health. As I have written many times before I have been a bit more health conscious over the last few years. I have increased my exercising and decreased my calorie intake. I have lost 50 pounds and I am currently maintaining my weight. And, this is where the fear comes in.

I have been very rigid about my workout schedule. In fact, any of my previous attempts to control my weight have generally failed because of the randomness of my commitment. So, I had been working out every morning for about one hour. This workout generally burns about 800 calories, based on my treadmill work. I assume that swimming with about the same effort for the same amount of time would result in the same number of calories burned. Therefore, I have been burning 4800 additional calories per week on average for a couple of years now. But, in September things changed. The last two years I had continued working out for an hour each day, and my wife would drive the second car to the health club and work out about 15 minutes less in order to get home to make sure the kids were ready for school on time. This year I thought that the 15 minutes wasn’t so important, so I decided to go with my wife, leave with my wife and work out 15 minutes less. Therefore I could help getting the kids ready for school.

The weird thing about this is that I know that I don’t need to burn as many calories now that I am not trying to loose any weight. But, I have an irrational fear that I may not be doing enough. If I am burning 75% of what I was burning which means that I am now burning 3600 calories per week on average. Rational thoughts that float through my mind keep telling me not to worry about it. But the irrational thoughts come back occasionally and tell me that I should be doing another 1200 calories worth of work per week. Maybe I should run an extra hour and a half on Sundays. Or maybe I should run an extra half hour every other day at lunch time. But, I know that I am doing enough the way that it is. The battle of fears continues in my mind.

Even when you know that it is there fear can make you do irrational things. I guess that’s why laws work so well. People know that it is against the law to steal things, so for the most part people don’t take each other’s stuff, even if they see it sitting on the side of a building. Only a small number of people actually do break into people’s home and steal stuff. These are obviously the people who are not subject to the same fears as most people. These are the people who don’t fear being arrested or going to jail. People who don’t fear traffic tickets will disregard the traffic laws. People who fear the retaliation of local gangs will break the laws to avoid the more fearful prospects. Whatever the fears are, it is difficult to control our reactions to them.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Monday, November 20, 2006

Great Expectations

I’ve written about expectations before. I don’t remember when or in which post I told this story, but I believe that I have told it before. I may have written about it trying to make another point, but the story tells how and why I began to think about expectations.

When I was an undergraduate I was in love with a woman, a student at the school. I was attracted to her bright cheerful outlook on life. Nothing seemed to phase her. She wasn’t a brainless cheerleader; she was a bright young woman with tremendous insight into life. She told me things about the world that I hadn’t even imagined. She recommended books that I read and learned quite a bit. I read about an Indian Yogi and a book on human psychology. Some of the ideas went against my preconceived view of the world, but these ideas always got me thinking.

The problem with our relationship was rooted in our disagreement about how we saw the world. We both seemed to be naïve about how our relationship should develop. She seemed to be looking for some mystical connection that she felt didn’t exist. I felt a strong mystical connection and I expected our relationship to deepen. So I began to create in my mind the way things should play out. And, since we talked a lot we continuously talked about the problem with our relationship. And, finally after some long period of discussion she told me this: “You just have too many expectations.”

At that moment I hadn’t even thought about my expectations. Obviously, I had many expectations, but I just hadn’t thought about them as expectations. In fact, since they were expectations I just expected them to be the way my world was. Yes, I did have expectations. I expected that I would finish college, learn what I needed to know to get a job in some science-related way. I expected that I would meet a girl, fall in love and have a wonderful life. I expected that I would continue to explore and discover the world with travel as well as observation. I expected that all these things would help me live the wonderful life that I expected to have.

But, the next statement that I heard from her changed the way I thought about everything. It was a simple observation that both enlightened and baffled me. She said, “If you don’t have any expectations then you will never be disappointed.”

Reread that sentence again and think about that. It is certainly true. If you don’t expect to pass a test, then how could you be disappointed with failure? If you don’t expect to graduate from school, then how could you be disappointed with not graduating? If you don’t expect a happy life, then how could anything disappoint you? If you don’t expect anyone to fall in love with you, then how could you be disappointed with no one falling in love with you?

Suddenly, the whole picture came into focus. This giddy young woman was a bubbling spring of happiness because she had no expectations. She was on a karma stream. She did nice things for people without expectations, and she was rewarded without expecting it. I began to ask myself if my problems were only problems because of my expectations instead of my lack of luck or skill.

Well, this idea is not a Western idea. In America we believe in setting goals, planning and accomplishing those goals. We set goals with expectations in mind; particularly we expect to reach our goals. We plan our actions based on the expectation that each step will be accomplished. And, we become disappointed when we don’t reach our goals. We can argue that this cycle of goal orientation is what made America strong, and we can argue that this cycle of goal orientation is at the root of the stress in so many Americans today.

It is clear that all of us can not live in the extreme version of this life with absolutely no expectations and still have the society in which we live in. Maybe the society that we would have instead would be a little bit more laid back and a lot less technical. Maybe a Hippie Commune would approach life in this way. But, the question that would bother most of us is: “Where does motivation come from if we have no expectations?” Why would someone choose to excel in anything that they do without the motivation to excel? The woman that I was dating was certainly motivated, but it wasn’t from her own expectations.

In fact, as our relationship gradually withered I discovered that she did have very few personal expectations, but instead she had a multitude of parental expectations to satisfy. She was free to live in a world believing that she wasn’t disappointed because she never expected to satisfy her personal expectations. But I became aware that my relationship with her wasn’t part of her parental expectations for her. And, even though it took me some time to realize this when I finally did I was already in another relationship and it really didn’t matter. I no longer had any expectations that the relationship would work out. And, I wasn’t disappointed. It was an ironic ending to a doomed relationship anyway.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Friday, November 17, 2006


How can we live in a world of uncertainty?

Yesterday I wrote about measurement, in the sense that some things are difficult to measure. But, it is more than that. Some things we just can’t know for certain.

For example, when we plan for the future we try to measure the risks and the benefits, but we never know how the future will play out until it is too late to plan. We generally can’t read minds, so we can only guess what people are thinking, what they are planning and what they will or will not do. For the most part uncertainty is the only certainty that we know.

However, uncertainty can be frightening. In fact, the better off one is the more frightening uncertainty can be. One can imagine two people. The first person living “the Life of Reilly,” that’s Bill O’Reilly, if there is any doubt as to whom I’m referring to. Everything is going fine, nothing can be too good, every experience can be had, most possessions are within reach and problems can be solved by throwing money at them. The second person, however, is quite the opposite. Things began going bad in school, and things continue to be getting worse. Disease, poverty and broken relationships seem to happen day and night. Both people have to deal with the uncertainty of the future, but that uncertainty looks different for the two. Uncertainty for the first person means that there is a possibility that everything might be taken away. Uncertainty for the second means that something “good” just might happen at any moment. For whom does uncertainty hold the most promise and for whom does it hold the most threat? It is quite obvious that uncertainty has both its risks and promises.

Is there any doubt that the current status of a person’s well being influences ones opinion on the subject of uncertainty? The wealthy will buy insurance to protect their wealth. The poor will buy lottery tickets to change their luck. Both will hope for the best and against the worst. Uncertainty may be a friend or a foe.

But, the future isn’t the only uncertainty in our lives. Like I mentioned above, we can’t know what people are thinking. We can’t know what people are going to do. We are limited to what we know about our world, from our own experience. But we have the ability to learn more about our world, or we can choose to ignore the world around us and live by our own guts and feelings. Of course we ignore the fact that we formed our personal feelings from our past experience. At some point we considered our world and chose how we would respond to our world.

If we think about uncertainty for a moment or two we must come to the conclusion that uncertainty is a fact of life and we can not eliminate it. We can only reduce the amount of uncertainty that we have by studying the world around us. Or, we can assume that the amount of uncertainty that we have is just too overwhelming and so we resolve that we will always be uncertain about the world, therefore we accept uncertainty can not be overcome. So we may come to the conclusion: “Why should we even try?”

When we put this on the table in such stark terms the evidence seems to suggest that reducing uncertainty would tend to reduce risk. Therefore we should put our efforts into learning as much as we can about the things that we can know. But, the human mind is not always rational. Particular people become overwhelmed by things that even other people do understand. The emotion of being overwhelmed by the knowable can be even more dramatic when someone is forced to face the unknowable unknown. And, very early in human history people created stories to calm this emotion by creating simple to understand explanations for the unknown. As people become comfortable, they are less likely to disturb this comfort. Therefore a large number of people tend to stay attached to the stories that give them comfort rather than reducing their personal uncertainty by learning what our brightest have discovered.

What I have just written might be a bit confusing, so let me give an example of this in the real world. In the ancient world most people understood very little about the world. We can imagine creation stories and myths from the different cultures around the world tend to explain beings greater than ourselves fashioning the world in different ways. These stories result in many different worlds described in different ways, and I would venture to guess that very few of these stories describe the final product of the world as a huge sphere where people are stuck to the surface because of the gravitational interaction between objects. We have stories of birds pecking holes in the sky, which resulted in the stars. Or, the earth being a bubble surrounded by a huge bath of water. When someone discovered that the Earth was a round sphere floating in space, a large group of people were not thrilled to leave their stories behind and accept the new revelation. This lack of enthusiasm for embracing new certainty is rooted in the comfort that stories give to people in the attempt to comfort them from uncertainty. In the end some people accept the certainty of myth over the large world of uncertainty of the unknown that overwhelms them.

It is not the case that these stories do not have any use. The stories help people deal with the emotion associated with uncertainty. The emotion can become overwhelming, and stories calm the emotion. This is just like the way that people will make up stories to deal with the behavior of a family member. An abusive husband might be explained away having difficulty controlling his passion, or not being able to deal with a trauma from the past. The story may have some thread of fact with elaborate details that lend comfort to the sufferer.

In summary, there is uncertainty in the world, but happy humans don’t like uncertainty. Happy humans are usually in control, so they like to keep uncertainty under control as well. Since it is impossible to know everything uncertainty can not be eliminated. So, the next best thing is to create stories that explain what is unknown. These stories comfort those who feel uncertain by providing a false certainty. People cling to these false stories even when the truth becomes known through observation and understanding. Some people then end up relying on false stories created in an attempt to comfort themselves from not knowing something that is now known. Now, that is ironic.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Thursday, November 16, 2006


Science is about observation. A scientist asks questions, observes and tries to answer those questions. Actually we all do this to some extent, but a scientist does this in a very careful way. I’m not saying that we don’t try to be careful in other aspects of our lives, but it is easy for us to be confused with the simplest things.

For example, your Aunt Sally might have gotten sick. She might have gotten sick the day after she went skiing, and it might be easy to come to the conclusion that skiing caused the sickness. This would be a flawed conclusion, because we are disregarding all of the other people who went skiing on the same day and did not get sick. This is called anecdotal evidence. We have seen this anecdotal evidence asserted every day in every way. In fact, advertisers use anecdotal evidence to persuade to buy their products all the time. Someone gets in front of the camera and tells you that ever since they started using X they feel Y. This guy in front of the camera may be the only guy on the planet that the product has ever effected in this way, but the advertisers don’t tell you that.

If you think that advertisers are bad about using anecdotal evidence in an effort to persuade you, then consider that the FCC actually regulates what they are allowed to say in their pitches. However, politicians, religious leaders and many other people are not obligated to support their claims in this same way. Politicians are not required to support their claims, simply because it is assumed that the opposition to the politicians has it in their interest to debunk at least the most fantastic claims made. Religious leaders don’t need to support their claims either, simply because religious leaders are protected by the first amendment right to protection. Therefore, in a religious context religious leaders can say just about anything that they would like to say and claim whatever supporting evidence that they would like to proclaim.

Now, most American religious leaders and American politicians are mainstream and the public is protected from outrageous claims simply by American culture. When one of these people make an outrageous claim members who hear the claim come to a conclusion that the guy must be a little bit “whacked out.” The buzz from the statement has little or no support from the evidence, just like the outrageous statement itself. There is no valid measurement that can be used to weigh either of these statements unless it can be proven that one of the statements violates some observed fact. And, this is a major problem, because observed facts and publicly understood facts are not always the same. Politicians, religious leaders and con artists are among the people that use these “publicly understood facts” to get what they want.

So, when people intentionally alter one’s perceptions what is one to believe? How can one defend one’s self from outrageous claims. As for religion, one is asked to suspend all disbelief and puts one’s faith in the unknown and the unknowable. As for politics, there are often many ways to look at a problem and there are many possible solutions to the problem. The problem is that politicians know that it is virtually impossible to treat everyone “fairly” in a world where the definition of “fairness” is a legally alterable term. In other words, one can change laws so that the majority of supporters believe that they are being treated fairly. Or, in another attempt to be even more clear: If a candidate can persuade enough people that he will give them the best deal, then they can be elected over and over again even if the minority is being treated unfairly in real terms when “fairness” is defined by the laws that they make. These two groups don’t fall far from the con artists who use slight of hand to convince the unsuspecting of an altered form of reality.

Only true measurements based on reality can compete with the desire to alter how people see the world.

But, even our measurements can be corrupted if we are not careful about how we define measurements or understand the error on those measurements. For example, polls make very good measurements of how elections might turn out, if one conducts a carefully randomized sample of likely voters. But if we were to poll the American public on whom the 23rd American President was, chances are that the results might not give us an answer worthy of the paper it was written on. Of course, this fact can not be reliably gathered by polling, unless the sample of the poll was limited 19th century American History teachers. This is why we value experts in particular fields. But, even experts do not always agree on every aspect of the area of their expertise.

Now, imagine a fictional episode where Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly gets on his talk show and tells a story about the 23rd American President, Benjamin Harrison. Of course, the story is a bit skewed to illustrate their personal political point of view. Some pieces may be left out and other points might be exaggerated, all in the effort to make an “important” political point. A large fraction of the listeners to the program never knew that Ben, was the 23rd President before the story went out to the public. But, now listeners suddenly believe that they are experts at least on this story. They have begun calling him Ben, like he’s an old college buddy and suddenly Ben has become part of the American culture in such a way that disagreeing with the story creates an atmosphere of rancor as if you were saying that Thomas Jefferson was the first president.

This imaginary episode has played out over and over among those who have been trying to mold the American culture into a more conservative light. And, in recent years some liberal radio personalities have been trying to push back with their own versions of this alternate universe. The problem is that these attempts to put forth alternative visions and perspectives alter the way Americans see the world. In fact, it changes the body of knowledge that we call American culture, the things that Americans understand as the facts, even if they aren’t the truth. And, unlike science, we do not have a reliable way to measure the facts. It always comes down to a battle between the opinions of the American people, no matter how poorly those opinions are distorted by those who play fast and loose with the facts, as if anyone really has a way to measure what those facts are.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow

I have recently written about predicting the future based on the cycles of history.

This is based on a book written in 1990 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It is called, “Generations: the history of America's future, 1584-2069”. The book has altered the way I think about history and why people do what they do. We easily acknowledge the fact that people are influenced by what the surrounding culture finds acceptable and unacceptable. If this wasn’t the case, then people wouldn’t try so hard to change how people look at the world. Religious leaders scream and yell at their congregations, telling them how they should change their ways, but when people go back out into the secular world they are drawn into the secular culture and they participate in the secular world ignoring the words of the preacher. This is why so many religious leaders have targeted “Hollywood” and “secularism” as evils that are a threat to our culture.

The reality of the situation is that these very same preachers are part of the larger woven culture of our society. As has been happening for at least the last four hundred years there is a cycle of ebb and flow in our society. Religion is part of that ebb and flow as is the secular world as well.

Man by his nature seeks to solve problems. The trouble is that there are a large number of problems and there are a large number of solutions to those problems. Man seeks to fix problems in broad terms as well as specific ways. And, on the broadest level of all we tend to choose between getting everyone to work together to solve the problems or do we get everyone to take responsibility and solve their problems on their own. A large number of problems can be solved with team work, and also a large number of problems can be solved by assigning ownership of a problem. The problem is that not all problems can be solved in the same way.

The cycle described by Strauss and Howe has two extremes in this respect. There is a time when society believes that teamwork can solve every problem and there is a time when society believes that ownership can solve every problem. Now, of course not every person in society looks at the world the same way. Some people align themselves with the popular majority and some people align themselves with the minority. So, when the majority believes in teamwork the minority is still echoing the positive nature of personal responsibility and vice versa. And, religion plays a major role in this cycle.

Since we are talking about a cycle here the current situation is always evolving. Children born today have parents with different experiences than their parents and so forth. So, let me describe this in our current history beginning with World War II. World War II was a crowning moment for the cooperation of our society. We worked together in a major effort where people sacrificed themselves for the society as a whole. This was possible because the Culture was primed to do this through the experiences of the past leading up to that moment. People learned by experience through the Great Depression that working together paid off as work was created through the efforts of society at large. So, it was a natural progression to realized that everyone needed to sacrifice themselves just a little bit more until their efforts paid off.

After the crisis was over this generation of people continued to believe that working together could solve even more problems, like medical discoveries, poverty, racism, and even landing a man on the Moon. The question became: “Just what couldn’t be done through cooperation?” Well, all of this cooperation requires a lot of discipline. And, discipline requires an effort that takes away from personal time and personal reflection. Religion becomes something that you do to get it done with so that you can get on with the important things. Memorized prayers and standard sermons filled the churches. There was a great emptiness in the American culture. And, when emptiness abounds those who feel empty invoke the ills of society as the problem. The natural thing for one to do is revolt against the societal order and then reflect on one’s personal relationship to the world. And as people across the country began to do this many discoveries about our society came to light. Some insight was good and some insight was bad. Efforts to change society erupted everywhere. This is known as an awakening. The majority in the society begins to believe that society is flawed on a basic level and changing one’s personal life will eventually filter to the society as a whole. However, when a multitude of individuals create a multitude of individual ways of doing things the organized order in society breaks down. The break down in order creates inefficiency and society doesn’t function as smoothly as it did when everyone knew their place and did as they had been taught. The lack of organization becomes the pole that begins to demand more order.

Since religion offers both an organized component and an individual reflection component it is the most likely place in society where this can be achieved. Man yearns to find meaning and purpose in the complex machinery of society. Man searches and explores for this meaning through alternative lifestyles and religious movements. Organized religion offers organized answers in an easy to digest way. As time goes on the easy answers become an easy way to deal with the complexity of a complex world. Religion teaches us how organization is a solution to religious problems and people eventually realize that working together solves secular problems as well. As problems arise teamwork pays off and problems are solved. And once again man has rediscovered cooperation solves larger problems.

This cycle has played out four times in the history of America, roughly 88 years in duration. And as far as we can tell it continues to play out even today.

The interesting thing is that with this new insight I begin to view history this way and even the books that I read. I am currently reading Alice McDermott’s “After This,” which is a book about a family that roughly follows the time I outlined above. She goes into some detail about each time period by telling some short stories that all fit together. For example, she tells the story of a date in the late 1940s and then she tells another story of a date in the early 1970s as to show the extreme changes in those 25 years. Alice shows us the contrast in our society by telling these stories, but now armed with this generational information I begin to understand a little bit more as to what these people might be thinking that make them decide to do the things they do.

I have also been thinking about this cycle in the terms of whether the cycle is “good” or “bad.” Of course there are “good” aspects and “bad” aspects of the cycle. Each time a group lives through the cycle they believe that they are inventing these things for the first time, but the truth is that people before them have explored many of these ideas and come to similar conclusions. And, as history continues chances are good that this will continue. The cycle can only be broken when the society as a whole realizes that the cycle exists. Or more specifically the society as a whole realizes that organized society and internal reflection are both important aspects for living a “good” life. For example, people need to explore alternative lifestyles, but they need to realize the value of established lifestyles. And, of course it is nearly impossible for a culture to embrace two polar ideas as being equally valid. But, until society comes to that conclusion we will continue to follow the cycle.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, November 13, 2006

Good Christians

On Sunday all “good” Christians go to church. I don’t know if I would be so bold to declare myself a “good” Christian, but going to church on Sunday continues to be something our family rarely misses. As I have said before, I am Catholic, so the guilt of weekly attendance has been worked deeply into my psyche.

The mixture of politics with religion has always troubled me. Politics always seemed to be man’s business, while religion always seemed to be God’s business. The main problem tends to be that collecting God’s answers on every perceivable issue is mostly impossible. Jesus tells us to take care of the poor and sick, but he doesn’t tell us how we should do that. Man has created many ways to take care of the poor and sick, but it isn’t always clear that giving handouts to people is always the most effective way to persuade someone to contribute to society. And, when power comes to the battle, individuals will push their own ideas over the most effective ideas for society. And, worst of all, when someone declares that their own personal idea is the “Christian” solution or God’s solution there is no possible way to know if that is true or not, because man can not ever know what is in God’s mind.

It bothers me when any religion expends an enormous amount of energy fighting for an issue that isn’t even a critical issue. Abortion and homosexuality come to mind quickly. These two issues have very little support in the Bible, and it is clear that religious people that have opinions on these issues use bizarre Biblical readings to support the conclusion they have already decided in advance. The proof of this is in the lack of such a strong response to issues that are out rightly declared in the Bible. For example, divorce, war and the care for the poor and sick are declared as critical issues many more times in the Bible than the “evils” of homosexuality and abortion. But, religious groups have used abortion and homosexuality as litmus tests to determine whether someone is a “good” Christian. Does this even make any sense?

Well, as I began, I was sitting in church on Sunday listening to the priest give us our weekly lesson. Politics does not directly come up in these discussions. However, issues often do come up, because the object of a lesson is generally a discussion on how one should live a Christian life. From these discussions we generally learn what things we should avoid doing, what things we should strive to do better and how we should find strength to do the first two. When we talk in generalities there normally isn’t much of a problem drawing politics into the discussion. Everyone agrees that abusing alcohol is a bad thing. Everyone agrees that violence is to be avoided unless you need to defend yourself. Everyone agrees that the Ten Commandments should not be broken. And, the list of things that we agree on goes on.

However, I cringe when particular political issues are mentioned in church. During the last election here in California Proposition 85, “Parental notification of a minor seeking an abortion” was on the ballot. I don’t believe that the church should have an opinion on this issue, or seek to influence the members of the church to vote one way or another on this issue. However, in the announcements at the end of mass on several occasions we were asked to volunteer to canvass our neighborhoods in support of this issue.

On the other hand, a local “pregnancy services” group is supported by the church. This group helps pregnant woman have their baby and offer it up for adoption if they can’t keep it for whatever reason. This action does not seem any more political to me than helping the poor. This service offers an alternative for some women who would use it. Even though I understand that the motivation for creating this group is to reduce the number of abortions I don’t believe that the actions of this group will actually result in changing the law and making all abortions illegal. The group’s goal is just to make abortions rarer.

This Sunday was a little different. This Sunday we had a short political insertion and it made me cringe again. I actually agreed with what the priest said during the service, but it still made me cringe because I believe that these political proclamations should not be made in church. Making political proclamations in church is divisive by the mere nature of being political.

This is a paraphrase of what he said. I am so proud of the American people. In my country of Mexico there is widespread corruption and hypocrisy in the government, and it is very difficult for the people to do anything about it. But I am very impressed with how the American people were able to defeat their corruption and hypocrisy in the recent elections.
Even though he did not say anything in particular about any particular political party it was quite clear that he was happy that the Democrats gave the Republicans a thumpin’. He is also saying that he viewed the Republican Party as a party of hypocrisy and corruption. Now, anyone that has read what I have written over the last few years knows that I agree 100% with this idea, but I still cringe at the thought that this idea is being expressed in church. What bothers me is the implicit conclusion that Democrats are now the new “Party of God.” Obviously I personally don’t feel this way, and very few people that I know would believe this, but there still exists a large number of people who take what the priest says as coming directly from the mouth of God. When the priest praises a political party we suddenly have people in the group believing that God sanctioned a political party. In the long run this only leads to more hypocrisy and corruption coming from the other side of the aisle.

I think we need to get religion back to talking about generalities and leave the specifics to the lawyers and the politicians. For the most part people know when they deliberately sinned against God. They have a good understanding of how they should lead their lives by protecting the weak and loving their neighbor. They also know what God expects from them and what actions could be abusive. When people are left to judge themselves they are typically tougher on themselves than the society. However, for those few who don’t feel guilt or compassion the government offers another solution: laws and punishment - the political solution. Society functions best when we keep these two prods separate from each other.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


Thursday, November 09, 2006


As I wean myself off of the subject of politics I find that I need to reexamine why I started thinking and writing about the subject at all. This introspective examination of my own thoughts is part of my previous life. I have always wondered why I think the way I do. What events influenced the opinions I have, and how have they done this? So, I find that I still need to write about politics, but I will write in a more abstract way.

Obviously we were all effected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. After the profound effects of the first few weeks the stress from that event began to subside. From my point of view there had to be a response to this attack, but it wasn’t that clear to me what that response should be. Clearly, in my opinion, understanding the politics of the terrorists was the key to an effective response. Terrorists create provocative events to provoke their followers as well as their enemies. Understanding subtle cultural issues is needed to mute the terrorists, which would make their attacks less provocative and less worthwhile. At least, that’s how I felt about this issue since I first studied the subject of terrorism twenty-some years ago.

So, when I saw my government playing into the hands of the terrorists and reacting the way that these terrorists expected my stress level increased. Calling the terrorists names and implying that all Muslims or all Middle Easterners should be suspected as terrorists, makes America less moral and ethical. Creating the image of an “axis of evil” of countries that don’t even deal with each other in an organized way raised my stress level even more. As time went on the number of actions by my government continued to raise my stress level. The inability of anyone in the government to apply any pressure against this charging rhinoceros only raised my stress level higher.

Viewing your leaders, as “out of control maniacs” is one thing and I actually only reacted in small ways at first. I brought up the craziness in dinner conversations where politics is not always tolerated. I protested the invasion of Iraq at silent vigils. I even hosted a political discussion group. But, I always felt like these efforts were only preaching to the choir, and wasn’t likely to change the minds of many people. The inability to do anything meaningful lead me only to higher stress and little reward for my efforts.

I have never been strongly political. I had some ideas about what things shouldn’t be tolerated and I had a sense of fairness that I believed in. I also enjoyed my American Freedom and felt that my government should listen to everyone, not just a few special interests. I followed politics in passing as an observer, but I was never active in any way. I have good memory for my observations of the history that I lived through, and I also have an interest in learning the details of some of these events. I believed that most Americans are like me, but my experience was beginning to prove me wrong. How could the Republicans that campaigned against the “special interests” of the Democrats now be so tied to the “special interests” pushing a different agenda?

Sometime at the end of 2003 my stress level got so high that I needed a release for it. I remembered other high stress moments in my life and I recalled that writing was one way that I had dealt with stress in the past. I had written a journal throughout High School and much of College. It was a way to put that stress down, and then I could read it back and realize that I wasn’t going crazy. However, as my life got busier I lost the time to put my thoughts down in a notebook. Instead I began meditating which allowed me to go over the events in my day or life without being encumbered with a notebook and pen. Slowly that technique had fallen away as my stress level was lowered with other distractions. It wasn’t until the return of stress that I found a new need for relief. And, so I began to write again.

By March of 2004 I had discovered the blogosphere and I began to keep these thoughts online. Since my stress revolved around politics I found myself writing about politics more than anything else and my effort turned toward putting my opinion out into the public eye. Coincidentally I also started working out at the pool every morning about this same time. So, the combination of writing and swimming seemed to be a great stress reliever. I lost fifty pounds over the next 18 months, which I have been able to maintain. I also reduced my waist size to a 28-inch waist, which is smaller than my High School waist size. My High School aged son currently wears the same size pants as I do. And, last but not least I believe that my writing has improved over the last couple of years.
I am very happy about all of these things.

As I have said before, I was never a political person. I was a spectator as far as politics was concerned over much of my life. I have been changed over the last three years by my reaction to the stress caused by my government’s incompetence. I am guessing that I will never be able to ignore politics and go on with my life again. This is a good thing, because I will be much more difficult to be swayed into supporting or objecting to any political issue again. I feel like I have been transported to Missouri, because politicians need to “show me” before I believe them again. But, I still yearn to not need to worry about my government. I yearn to believe that we can vote for our representatives and then it is their job to take care of our problems. That is why I am happy about what happened on November 7, 2006. Democrats can now be a check in the balance of our government. Unfortunately I also know that Republicans and Democrats have worked together in the past to ignore the problems that they chose not to deal with. I assume that they will attempt to do the same in the future.

The two Political Parties got themselves into this mess by making back room deals to handle problems outside of the view of the public. They had agreed to disagree on a few issue in front of the public spotlight and direct the agenda along the lines that they had previously agreed to. Occasionally one party or the other would bring up a new issue, maintaining the decorum not to rock the boat. Pork barrel projects went to officials with seniority and the objective to stay in office became important for the district as well as the official.

You need to give a hand to the Republicans that were able to break this old mold and create a new agenda. Democrats behaved like the American automobile manufacturers in the 1970s when the Japanese introduced their much more efficient cars during the energy crisis. The dinosaurs in both cases lost their power and influence because they couldn’t evolve fast enough. But, with the new power came arrogance and greed that wasn’t good for America. After all, the one party system was big problem sighted most often as the evil of the Soviet Union and Communist China so why would we expect one-party Republicans to be any less corrupt?

Fortunately with the success of the Democrats on November 7,we hope to have a check on this corruption of American politics. But as Americans we also need to remain responsible to watch our government and prevent another tyranny from within.

So, now with the election results finally in I find my stress level reduced several orders of magnitude. (I had been plotting it on log paper for some time now.) I certainly intend to write less about politics, as I stated yesterday, but I also realize that I can’t ignore politics anymore. It has become a part of my life. But at least for now I don’t have to fight against tyranny quite so hard anymore.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Change in Focus - Less Politics

Three years ago I became irate with the direction the Republicans were driving the country. They claimed to be Christians, but they believed that violence and war are legitimate means further the goal of Democracy. They obviously didn’t understand that the premise of Democracy is to reduce violence with the solution of self rule by the people through representative government. They failed to realize that it is impossible to force a country to end their internal violence by imposing violence on them demanding that they use a peaceful form of government. And, this especially will not work with out making the effort to understand the culture of the people involved.

So, for three years I have been driven to point out the hypocrisy of the Republican leadership and the administration in the hope that some people mainly in the middle of the political spectrum would at least begin to think about the real situation that have in Washington. With the leadership being completely controlled by an ideology that is made up of attracting voters with promises never meant to be fulfilled in an effort to carry out their narrow goals I pushed and argued and wrote whatever I could in an effort to change just a few minds, or at least get people to question what they have been told to accept as fact.

But, now with the election of an opposition to this leadership I believe that my job has been done. Whether I have influenced enough people to make a difference I will never know. Whether my effort was worth while I will never know. But, what I do know is that I made the effort and today I see that my goal has been reached.

So, I resolve that I will be writing a lot less about politics from this moment on. Instead of writing nearly 90% about the hypocrisy in Washington I will begin to write more about my other interests, like science, religion, philosophy and whatever else pops into my head from time to time. I hope that my readers will not be disappointed with my change in focus, but hopefully this change will be healthy for me.

Of course, I will never completely stop writing about politics, because interesting things happen when people are forced to react in public to what is happening in our country. But, now government finally has a check in place to prevent the Republicans from going full steam ahead in the wrong direction. Republicans can keep the Democrats from going full steam ahead in the wrong direction as well. With these two poles of opposition firmly placed at odds with each other cooler minds will prevail in the long run. So, I feel comfortable enough with government that I can finally ignore the details for a while and concentrate on the other loves in my life. I will leave the details of these efforts to the representatives that we have elected to oversee this process.

But, finally if things begin to go wrong again I will certainly step up the plate again and work to write the wrongs down so that everyone can see the hypocrisy revealed once again.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

George W Bush Liar in Chief

On Wednesday November 1, 2006 George W Bush voiced his strong support for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. In an effort to make this support clear a reporter asked whether Cheney and Rumsfeld would stay on until the end of the administration. And, George W Bush answered that they would. Today, one week later George W Bush announced the replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates.

When the president was asked today why he expressed that Rumsfeld would be Secretary of Defense until the end of the administration, and change that opinion with today’s announcement. At first he said that he gave that answer because he was just trying to get on to the next question. Then he said that he hadn’t met with Robert Gates yet. Then he said that Rumsfeld hadn’t resigned yet.

Any thinking person needs to understand that these things don’t happen so fast. Obviously if Robert Gates was being considered for the position to replace Rumsfeld he must have been put on the schedule some time before his meeting with the president last Saturday, November 4, 2006. But, in order to even draw up a short list of replacements, the idea that Rumsfeld might resign must have been in the air. To say that Rumsfeld was staying on until the end of the administration was simply a lie, because the president knew that he wasn’t going to stay on.

Unless, George W Bush was going to replace Rumsfeld only if the Republicans lost either the House or the Senate yesterday. So, if this was the truth, it could be cleared up with one simple question by a reporter at the news conference today. And to that question George W Bush answered that Rumsfeld was going to be replaced whether the Republicans won or lost.

So, if we are to believe George W Bush, on Wednesday November 1 George W Bush believed that Rumsfeld was going to serve until Jan 20, 2009. But, sometime between that press conference and George W Bush’s meeting with Robert Gates on Saturday November 4 Bush came to a realization that he needed to replace Rumsfeld and he called up Robert Gates and met with him. With the fact that George W Bush admitted to brushing off the question we must come to the conclusion that George W Bush gives answers that are convenient and false rather than answers that are inconvenient and true. And this is clearly the mark of a liar.

The problem with having a president that is a confirmed liar is that we can never believe what he says. If we know that he lied for convenience on November 1, 2006 then how do believe him in the future. And, of course in all of the difficult things that have come to light in the past, but were brushed off we know that we should doubt their truth as well. The truth is that we know for certain that George W Bush lied here. When and where else has he lied and denied those lies?

A liar doesn’t just start to lie as a matter of convenience because of some simple issue. When will this guy break with these lies, admit he lied and vow to be honest for the rest of his term?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What’s Next?

I was listening to David Gergen give a talk to the World Affairs Council a few weeks ago. For those of you who do not know who David Gergen is, he is a former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. He knows his stuff, and he knows people who know what is happening in the current Bush administration, even with their code of secrecy.

So, it was quite interesting to hear him tell us what we already know about Iraq in the light of someone who has been in these types of situations before. He could have told us about all the mistakes that the Bush administration has made, but he chose to tell us about “Plan B.”

As everyone knows, Plan B is what you do when Plan A fails. As most of us agree at this point Plan A, the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq has failed. The latest sign of this failure is the Bush administration’s excitement about not only Saddam Hussein’s hanging, but also his effort to get the Iraqis to hold hands in peace. You know that you have failed when you are excited about your enemy encouraging the country you occupy to make a Coke commercial.

Since most of us agree that the US’s plan A has failed in Iraq. Hopefully today’s election will send that signal to the leadership of our country, by giving us a few new leaders with new ideas. And, we have been promised that by Christmas we will have a new bipartisan report on the options in Iraq. So, what are our options in Iraq?

Obviously the new report has several options, and unfortunately the Bush administration will select what should be done in Iraq. Hopefully the administration will really listen to the experts on this issue, instead of pretending to listen and then going off to do what they want to do anyway. If history is any evidence, the Bush administration is bound to “stay the course.”

But, if the president really means that he is willing to “not stay the course, because it really wasn’t the plan,” then there will be some new options on the table. According to David Gergen, the most likely option is to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 100,000. That is almost doubling the number of troops that are already there. This is almost certainly the only way that Iraq can be won, David points out. And, since this is the most likely option we should realize that this is why the Republicans did not want to reveal this plan before the election. This will most certainly be an unpopular decision. But, in an effort to prevent loosing even more seats in congress the Bush administration wisely chose to wait until after the election to reveal this study.

My question however is, “How do we know that 100,000 troops are enough?” I am guessing that 250,000 troops might have worked in the beginning when there were only a few bad apples to take care of. These troops could have been used to preserve order and prevent the looting that we know began the spiral out of control in this country. But, now the situation is much worse. We may be in a situation where 500,000 troops are needed to crack down on violence through out the country. And, once that is done we may be able to use 250,000 troops, alongside another 250,000 Iraqi troops plus the regular police force just to maintain order.

But, even with this forced effort to crack down on violence, there must be a way to give ownership of Iraq back to the Iraqis. The symbolic government that the US has created in Iraq is being viewed as lazy and corrupt. Lawmakers who may legitimately fear for their lives are not showing up for government sessions. The government has been having trouble conducting business, because they haven’t been able to even get a quorum to show up.

We need to ask ourselves that if the lawmakers are not motivated to get their own government functional, then why should we care? Well, like Colon Powell said before the invasion, “It’s the Pottery Barn rule. If you break it you bought it.” It looks like George W Bush crushed this one, and the American people own the rubble.

Listen to David Gergen at the World Affairs Council on October 10, 2006.

Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fear and Despair

How does one win an election? The answer doesn’t have anything to do with what kinds of plans you have for the future. It doesn’t have anything to do with your experience or education. People do not win elections based on anything other that emotional reactions.

This has been known for a long time. For example, when I was in school there were two traditional forms of debate. One form was based on presenting facts and arguments based on facts. The other form of debate was based on persuasion. The persuasive debate form was called “Lincoln - Douglas” debate, based on the famous presidential debates of 1860. It was obvious that these politicians were pulling emotional strings in an effort to persuade the voters to vote for them.

With the “information society” politicians have acquired another tool to fine tune which strings they could pull. First of all radio and TV allowed politicians to reach huge masses of people nearly simultaneously. But, this mass communication also allowed others to reach these huge masses of people as well. Second in line were the religious leaders. Some of these preachers took advantage of the radio and TV opportunity early on. However, with the advent of cable TV the opportunity for religious leaders to get their message out increased substantially.

With Computers and the Internet Information was no longer a one-way street. As Politicians learned about smaller subsets of society they learned that some groups were more susceptible to suggested fears than others. Some groups are primed with fear from their personal experiences. Prejudices aimed by one group at another form the seeds of fear. There are often fears that those you are conditioned to hate might gain power. Religious groups are susceptible to a whole range of fears created and passed on at church groups and community gatherings. In fact every group has its own personal fears and Republicans have succeeded in targeting these fears over the last twenty some years by using these fears to take over the entire US government.

It isn’t surprising some of the most powerful fears were stoked by the Religious groups. Fear is a power motivator and has very strong roots in the Christian Bible. Christian Preachers have often used the Fear of the Old Testament God to provoke emotion. After stoking fear the solution of the “Power of Jesus’ Sacrifice” is revealed to the congregation. Playing with the people’s emotions is an art form as some churches, where Kleenex boxes are distributed around the church before each service. And, a whole group of mega-preachers became extremely powerful on the National Political Stage by playing with people’s emotions.

When you make it your business to play with people’s emotions in order to make a profit you must yourself from the world of emotions. When you learn how easy it is to manipulate people with their emotions, then those emotion become symbolic of human weakness. Some of the worse offenders find themselves distanced from whatever emotional manipulation they are using. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when the leaders we had put our trust in are revealed as hypocrites.

Rev. Ted Haggard, a prominent evangelical preacher, resigned from his mega-church after it was revealed that he paid for drugs and gay sex. Before the reality of the situation set in Rev. Haggard admitted to paying for drugs and gay sex but stated that he hadn’t partaken in any of the hedonism. Rev. Haggard was a very out spoken preacher on the dangers of Gay Marriage. And, Colorado, the state where Rev. Haggard’s church is located is trying to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment. Rev. Haggard was a principle element in stoking the fears that drive the people to act by voting against their fears. The problem isn't what Pastor Haggard supported, was against or did. The problem is that people are emotional beings and they allow themselves to be persuaded by emotional arguments.

Political Parties and Politicians have learned or have always known that emotions sway elections. Emotions such as fear and despair are used to influence who votes, and who votes determines the outcome of elections.

The Republicans were guilty of using fear in the 2004 elections. They used gay marriage and terrorism to provoke fear and get the voters out to the polls and vote for those who promised to save them.

This year people are combating the Republicans fear hype with despair hype. Democrats or the supporters of Democrats are pointing to hypocrisy of those who promised to save those who voted on fear in 2004. Now, the message to these same voters is, "Look, these guys are just as bad as your other choice, so don't even bother voting." The emotion is despair in the process.

I don't agree with either policy, and I believe that voting based on emotional reaction will only be giving power to those who don't deserve it. But, my message is not despair, but instead we can be saved by thinking about the issues rather than reacting to our emotions. Unfortunately it may take some time to teach Americans to think. It isn't going to happen over night.

So, like the emotion of fear that dominated the 2004 elections. This election will be decided by despair...

If you don’t like the fact that people prey on our emotions, then do our society a favor and read and understand what you are voting for before you go to the polls.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit