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....

My Photo
Location: California, United States

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ideology vs. Experience

I recently listened to an outstanding interview of Jean Vanier by Krista Tippett on the radio program “Speaking of Faith.” Jean Vanier has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and has been considered a “Living Saint” by many people in the Roman Catholic Church. Jean Vanier is mostly known for the founding of the L’Arche movement. But, what I found more interesting was how he came to the conclusion to change his life.

In our culture we don’t always think about the journey we make through life. Or, when we do, we think about all of the career moves that we make in our effort to obtain some tangible goal. We mostly think about our personal change as a matter of growth. There is nothing wrong with this perspective, but it leaves out some important changes that we as humans go through during our lifetime.

Human beings may change in linear ways, where we grow and progress. We also know, but we don’t think about it, that human beings change in linear ways as we degrade when we get older. These types of changes assume that knowledge and power are the key attributes that make human beings human. But, for the most part this assumption ignores the fact that relationships make human beings human. We ignore the fact that people who are weak mentally and physically can have strong relationships. And, as a culture we ignore the importance of relationships - unless they are business relationships.

It is also possible that a strong and knowledgeable person may fail at forming meaningful relationships. But, in our society we don’t believe that failure in forming relationships is an important aspect of our culture. This is because we are constantly exposed to what we value in our culture through the widespread marketing in our culture.

As an aside related to this I’d like to tell a story. My daughter is currently taking seventh grade history. The curriculum has changed since my son took this four years ago. My son learned about Middle East culture in one chapter. My daughter now has several chapters covering the years between 600 CE and 1500 CE that go into quite a bit of detail. Some of this detail pertains to Middle Eastern culture. She learned that the Persians brought the west the sport of Polo. They also brought the west many geometric patterns and designs. Her assignment was to explain why these things are important. Well, her first draft explained why geometric patterns and Polo were not important to the west. Somehow it has been communicated to her that things like mathematics and medicine are important, while art and entertainment are not. After I pointed out that without Polo we might not have had Arabian Horses, because they were bred for that sport. And, Arabian Horses were sought after throughout the world, until the automobile was invented. Similarly the widespread pattern of paisley is Persian in origin - based on the silhouette of a tall tree blowing in the wind. Maybe paisley doesn’t have a life altering influence on western society, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had an effect on western society. Art in general is part of the cultural nourishment that builds social relationships. We relate to the artist and we relate to the other people who are relating to the artist’s piece of work. Movies and video games might be the last piece of art that we have in our culture that performs this function. We are cutting ourselves off from bits of our history.

The point of this story is that our current culture interprets what we believe to be important. Currently we believe that technology is important. We are persuaded into believing this because technology saves lives, and lives are important. We can save hundreds of lives by keeping them alive on life support with technology. We can store thousands of lives in homes and hospitals. But, what Jean Vanier is saying that we need relationships to make those lives valuable. And, he is saying that people’s relationships with each other make both people more valuable. They become more valuable to each other. And, the relationships help people grow more able to form relationships with more people. This is not a generally accepted cultural value today in our society.

So, when human beings change from valuing our current societal norms to valuing relationships a human being grows in a non-linear way. They used to call this a paradigm shift, where the way one looks at things changes completely. And when Jean Vanier changed his life he went from being a Naval commander where his life was based on getting things done in the most efficient way possible to a new life where making a couple of mentally ill people happy by helping them to live.

He made this change in part because he had recently finished his dissertation on Aristotle’s philosophy of experience. Based on his study, he began to realize that reality was more important than ideology. And, this message echoes today through our culture.

So, what is the difference between ideology and experience?

For the engineer this is the difference between the design and the actual creation. Some very detailed designs have been built, and in the process it is eventually realized that the finished product has deviated from the design. This happens when a product is over designed for its application. Another thing that happens is that all of the possible applications could not have been predicted ahead of time. And, in the long run reality always trumps whatever the designer may have begun with, because we all live in the real world.

Aristotle is saying the same thing. He is saying that we can hypothesis all we want about how a system should work. But, until we actually put the system into practice we will never know exactly what we need to make it work.

Government is a grand example of this. A politician sees a problem and he thinks about it. Then a group discusses the problem and a solution is proposed. Another politician envisions a solution and she proposes a new law that will fix the problem. Unfortunately the process can never account for every possible way the new law will be used. And, often the application of the new law might be worse than the original situation. There are two ways that people react to this. In an ideology based world the law is right and the new problems are ignored, or fixed with new laws. In a reality based world the intention of the law is understood and the enforcement of the law is where the problem is corrected. We currently live in a culture where law triumphs over intention of the law.

Both extremes lead to abuse. In a law based culture the details are exploited by those who learn to work the system. It isn’t unusual to find organized crime families with lawyers that are meant to exploit the flaws in the law. Of course the exploitation would fall to the police and prosecutors if the intent of the law were to somehow triumph in another parallel culture some day.

On the local level Jean Vanier has found a way to make experience triumph over rules. The needs of the people in his home triumph over the rules. Everyone becomes a bit happier when people become more attuned to the needs of each other. Real interactions of real people with real needs informs better than that one king sitting on his throne thinking about what the people should be doing to make each other happy. Just image that. No, don’t just imagine that, instead go out and experience that by doing something to make a difference. At least that’s what Jean Vanier is trying to say.


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

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Turbulent Times

I recently read a Mallard Fillmore comic strip that bothered me. If you don’t know Mallard Fillmore, he is a conservative duck that makes Rush Limbaugh type outrageous remarks on the comic pages of many newspapers. I sometimes wonder if Bruce Tinsley the author listens to Rush Limbaugh and puts Rush’s words in Mallards mouth. Nice work if you can get it.

Many of the points that both Rush and Mallard make can be argued in a way to use facts to point to their predetermined conclusion. The same could be said for many extreme points of view.

But, Mallard (or Bruce) made the following statement about global warming in his January 5, 2008 strip.
“Mallard’s New-Year’s Prediction #12: All of those Scientists who predicted, wrongly, for the past two years… …that global warming would cause lots of catastrophic hurricanes will do it again!! (Eventually, they’ll be right.)”

There is a problem with this statement, and that is that Mallard is wrong. It is like the tree falling in the woods, and no one is there to hear it. Did it fall? Mallard is saying that there weren’t any major catastrophic hurricanes in the last two years, because they didn’t strike the USA. At least that’s what I am guessing, because in the last Hurricane season there were some quite dangerous storms that hit Mexico and South East Asia. In fact, two years ago there was a massive storm that hit China. Just because the storms don’t hit the USA doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen. Unless you are a conservative American with blinders on and don’t acknowledge that the rest of the world exists.

Global Warming causes the oceans temperature to rise. As the seasons change the heat generated in the latitudes nearest to the sun (Northern in the Summer and Southern in the Winter) will redistribute by convection. This means that heat rises in the tropics and it is redistributed toward the poles as the seasons change. If there is more heat, then the redistribution may become more vigorous. Hurricanes are nature’s way of pushing massive amounts of heat toward the poles. More heat creates more powerful redistribution. Whether the CO2 in the atmosphere is causing the global warming or not the heating is happening and undisputed. The conservatives that don’t want to cut our dependence on oil don’t even argue about heating any more. They claim instead that the heating is due to some natural cycle of overall heating and cooling. That position doesn’t matter for the point that the Hurricane intensities will rise if the Earth is truly heating up - regardless of why it is rising.

The problem with Mallard making this blatantly wrong statement to a national audience of people who are centered on America and not the globe in total is that these people are willing to say, “I didn’t see any Hurricanes hit the USA this year, so Mallard makes a lot of sense.” This is just irresponsible manipulation for political self-interest.

The point is that the Earth is heating up, CO2 levels are increasing and the heating of the Oceans will require redistribution of that heat by convection. That heat is pushed toward the poles more vigorously when the temperature differences are high. And, one thing that many people forget, those massive amounts of warm air pushed toward the poles actually impart momentum into that cold air that may actually be pushed further south than would normally occur. So, if you get snow in Florida it could be due to global warming. This is because a strong surge of warm air could push into Russia with such high intensity that the cold air sitting at the pole might be forced south over the United States and in effect freezing Florida. The over all effect is to mix the warm air and cold air as the overall temperature of the Earth increases.

The whole idea that weather changes in one part of the world are connected to other parts of the world doesn’t make sense to a person that only thinks about what they see when they look out their window. A person sitting in Boca Raton, Florida and sees the temperatures drops to record low temperatures isn’t likely to believe in global warming if they aren’t curious enough to ask the question - why? Rush and by extension Mallard see the record cold in Florida and say “Ha Ha Ha, those scientists were wrong.” But, the reality is that the record cold they are witnessing is due to the global turbulence induced by global warming. Ignorance is bliss when you only see things the way that you already knew that they were. Unfortunately ignorance also leads to inaction and disaster if we don’t try to do something before its too late.


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

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

Monday, January 07, 2008


As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I got a little freaked out this weekend. But, the story actually starts a couple of years ago.

I have mentioned in passing that I had a great uncle who was a Socialist. He has since passed away, but he has left a legacy. He wrote for a local paper that at least some of my family called a Socialist paper. Many of those papers have been saved, so we have them to look back on his life and examine the things that he wrote about. But, the problem is that those papers are not in a digital format, therefore they are not easy to access. It turns out that maybe he wasn’t quite as Socialist as I had been lead to believe.

I had mainly only heard from my relatives what my uncle had written. And, I was thinking that it might be interesting to read some of the things that he wrote now that I am writing a blog. I didn’t really know what to expect, in that my family had told me how bizarre and strange his ideas were. I became interested in finding out what he had written, but all of those papers were clear across the country gathering dust in some storage closet.

Well, I suggested that we should try to post some of his writings on the web so that we could share them. One friend of the family took on the task of scanning a large number of the columns into a gif format that I could read, but in order to post them on the web I would need to type the columns into the computer. This was a daunting task that always seemed to get a low priority when I considered tasks to do. I received over 100 of his columns which he wrote in the weekly column. I estimate that he must have written at least 2000 over about 40 years. I opened up one file and read about a dancing escapade that he went on to an ethnic recreation center. I was a bit let down by the column. I was expecting something much more political, but I read about dancing.

It must have been luck of the draw. And, unfortunately it was bad luck for the project. I didn’t really feel like transposing a column on ethnic dance into a digital format, so the project took a back seat to other things - like writing my blog.

However, this weekend I decided to send out a Christmas picture to the relatives. Then I decided to clean up my e-mail when I came across an e-mail pertaining to this project. I had forgotten about it, but I thought that I might as well give it another go. I opened up a couple more of these gif files that were simply named by what seemed to be arbitrary number. I read a column he had written in 1971 when he went to a talk given by Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I thought that it was quite interesting from its 1971 perspective. She had just won her school prayer case and she was starting a new religion that she proposed in order to get tax exempt status for businesses willing to be bought by her church. I quickly transposed this interesting article.

I opened a new gif file once again at random and read a 1970 article about Martin Luther King’s sex life. This column was a bit scary to me, because it sounded like something that I might write. My uncle delved into the all the Biblical sex stories. He went on to tell us about new religions like the Latter Day Saints that believed that polygamy was sanctioned by God. I never read that article before - I was nine when it was published. But, what was happening to me? Was I channeling my uncle in some strange way in my current blog? Was there some common DNA that his father and my great grandfather had both passed down to us? Or, was this just a random chance coincidence?

After I had transcribed this interesting column I opened another gif at random. This one was written in January 1958. That was 50 years ago this month. It was about his experience of being called up for jury duty. Suddenly I had a strange déjà vu experience. I had written a blog entry about my jury experience in 2005.

The jury duty column wasn’t the freaky part though. It was his style. He wrote like me. Or, actually he wrote like me before I was born. So, I guess that means that I wrote like him. But, I had never really read any of his stuff. He wrote over 2000 articles for a Socialist paper that my parents wouldn’t even have in our house.

His jury duty piece started by describing the basic process of jury duty. But, as he told his story he told us about his friend who was “being indicted by the government as a conspirator against the Non-Communist provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act.” He told of how he questioned people in the room and asked them what they thought about Communism. He told us how this was a typical jury. And, then he laid the bombshell on us by saying that if he were to be tried on similar charges he would not opt for a jury trial. The conclusion put everything into a nutshell. Americans may not be able to mete justice in every case. Wow! That’s how I might try to make a similar point - it was freaky.

Anyway, if you want to read these pieces they are posted at: “My Mixed Up World.”

If you like what you read you might like to bookmark the page, because I plan to add more articles. And, you might want to read my jury duty article just for grins.


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

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

Friday, January 04, 2008

Four Years Later

Four years ago it was clear to me that I needed change. I was fat and out of shape. I wasn’t doing what I always thought that I wanted to do. We had an idiot as a president. And, it seemed like America was going in the wrong direction in every possible way that it could.

Could Americans really be this stupid? Could I be this stupid?

As I saw it four years ago, I was part of the problem - and not part of the solution. If I wasn’t taking the time to take care of myself, then why should I expect the typical American to care about our country?

As 2004 began I knew that I had to start to make a difference by first changing myself. I needed to learn about the situation that I was in. I needed to learn about the situation that Americans were in. And, perhaps if I could learn something I could begin to be a part of the solution and no longer a part of the problem.

Those first few months of 2004 I made some changes. I began to exercise a little bit. I began to read everything I could on the Internet on all sides of the issue. I began to listen to talk radio. I began to watch news shows. I began to read the newspapers religiously. I knew that I couldn’t be a part of the solution until I educated myself. I knew that I could speak from a perspective of authority unless I understood what the experts were saying. I knew that I couldn’t tell people to live like me, unless I liked the way that I lived. This was a total remake of myself that I did by myself without being told what to do. I played the skeptical scientist, where I didn’t believe anything that I read unless I totally understood as much about the issue that I possibly could.

This was a process of trial and error. I made a lot of errors along the way. At first I thought that I could walk around the block once in a while and hope that I could lose some weight. I thought that I could spout crazy ideas and spark discussions online. I thought that everyone would give advice and be helpful when I asked questions. Well, actually I was quite experienced in the flame wars of Usenet in the early days of the 1980s. But, I thought that it wouldn’t really matter if I disliked a politician and I asked why I should like them. I figured that I would get some well thought out answers to my curious questions. Instead these questions seemed to produce flame wars quicker than answers on every side of the political aisle.

As I realized my failures I recalculated and continued to seek solutions. I joined a Health Club and committed myself to 1 hour of exercise everyday come rain or shine. I started a blog and committed to writing at least one piece everyday come rain or shine. I opened myself up for criticism on all fronts. I believed that I could listen or read anything and everything about what I did or said. I continued to believe that sparking a community discussion among those who cared was the key to turning our country around. I learned that many people were already having this discussion, but they all seemed to be on one side of the political aisle. How could America have fair political discussion if half of the citizens didn’t even come in the door?

When I started my journey I was registered as a Libertarian. When I registered I believed that the government was making too many laws on issues that it shouldn’t be concerned about. For me Libertarian was about Freedom and Liberty. When I registered I got some strange phone calls from other registered Libertarians in the area. Their main concern was taxes. They almost sounded like Anarchists from their hatred of the government. I didn’t worry about how I was registered to vote for a while, because I thought that it didn’t matter. But, at the beginning of 2004 the primaries were approaching and I began to be more interested in the process of government. I knew that George W Bush was predetermined to be the Republican nominee regardless of how dysfunctional his government was performing. Republicans are too conservative to change horses midstream no matter how bad a job their leaders are doing. The 2004 election season proved that point. So, I became convinced that I couldn’t effect change unless I changed party registration so that I could vote in the Democrat primary.

Well, I learned a lot when I went through the process of learning about my new political party. Democrats, like Republicans, don’t like you to question their established ideas. Democrats might be better before their ideas have been determined, but once they are determined disagreements can get ugly. And, currently we have two determined party views of the world that we live in. The party views have been predetermined, and unfortunately that means that the party solutions have been predetermined based on these party views. This means that new ideas are very rare to come by. It takes a superior person to be able to see through the predetermined party ideas and understand their weaknesses. It takes a superior person to not only propose new ideas, but to be able to reform the predetermined political vision and create a new one. And, this is the case on both sides of the political aisle.

Social experimentation is not an option. People’s lives can not be treated like the lives of lab rats. So, trying new ideas without evidence is a poor method for fixing problems. Instead, measuring the situations that present themselves in reality must be the way social experimentation is done. This means that every variable can be changed when we compare one situation to another. Any fifth grader can tell you that science experiments should be done by changing one variable at a time and measuring the results. However, since we can not have the data that we want we must make arguments based on the data that we have. So, this allows each political party to find data that supports their predetermined political vision.

Sometimes the data gets refined and improved. This might be the result of passing laws based on faulty data. It also might be improved methods for measuring the data. In any case, this data often results in altering the political vision of a party. But, the curious thing is that sometimes the predetermined political vision is so entrenched that reality will not alter the vision. When this happens some followers will leave the party with the obviously flawed vision in an attempt to find the correct political vision. The reality is that both political parties in the USA today have flawed political visions in different ways. People general determine which party has the fewest flaws in their personal opinions, and then they will join that group. The opposition will always point to the opposing party’s flaws while they try to cover their own flaws.

If one stands back and looks objectively at a political party the reality begins to shine through. Lots of people buy into the party political vision. Most party members at many levels never question the vision. Everyone focuses on the political task at hand, which is to gain power or remain in power. The political vision becomes a method instead of a reason to obtain or retain power. However, when that rare individual comes forward and is able to reshape that vision the party actually becomes more powerful. There is hope that the new vision has lost its flaws that everyone secretly worries about, but are to frightened to mention. In reality there will be new flaws, but the party still has hope that these new flaws are even smaller than the old flaws.

The interesting thing with the Bush administration is how rare it is that an individual can maintain adherence to a vision that is so flawed and still pretend that the flaws are not part of the vision. It is almost the complete opposite of a person that has a new vision and brings forth a new hope. Instead, the Bush administration continued to believe their own lie that it would be possible to have a flaw in their old vision. They pushed forward and proved that the government really did have a role to play in disaster relief. They pushed forward and proved that taxes to pay for infrastructure really does matter. They proved that it takes more than just test scores to make schools better. They pushed on and proved the most important fact. They proved that Democracy doesn’t just happen when you remove an evil dictator. They proved that people need to care about Democracy or it just won’t work. The Bush administration did this in a social experiment that killed many people, which is sad in itself.

Well, four years ago I started this process. I believe that I have become a better person in those four years. I have lost and kept off fifty pounds of ugly fat. I have been able to run 16 miles continuously. I have swum from Alcatraz to San Francisco - twice. I have clarified my thoughts on the American political process and continued to try to learn more. I have improved my writing by contributing to the American political process. And, whether its true or not, I believe that I have made the world a little bit better than it was four years ago with my contributions.


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

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