Sunday, August 31, 2014

Data Access Error -- Code 203

Written in response to a friend who was surprised I recalled some details from a conversation we had a couple of decades ago...she said she wished she had a memory like mine and asked for any memory improvement hints. I replied:

I don't think you really want a memory like mine, sweet girl! It's functioning is really bizarre. We were walking out behind your apartment, and I remember the conversation and how you looked that day quite distinctly, well... I couldn't tell you what you were wearing, bit I recall the look on your face. On the other hand, as I have been wont to confess of late because it's getting hard cover up, many times I don't remember people I know very well.

Sometimes I'll talk to someone (and I know I know that person really well) and I'll try to cover up because it hurts people' feelings when you admit you don't really remember them. They think was because they were not important to you, which is not true. It's because I have a very strange memory. Sometimes even weeks later I will suddenly the remember who that person was and think oh my Lord what an opportunity I passed up to catch up on old times!

It's actually been a problem since I was a little kid. Not recognizing even close friends from time to time. But it's gotten much worse as I've grown older. I suppose there is some elaborate psychological or scientific term for it, but the fact is I would happily not remember details so well if I could remember everything in general more accurately.

Sometimes i see a face. I think, do I know that person? Sometimes it turns out I do and then again sometimes it turns out I don't. A lot of times I don't try to check because, as I said, it's embarrassing to admit it.

I was in line behind a woman I knew I recognized. But I just couldn't place her name. Finally I broke down and asked her. It was Shirley Leary! I mean, I'd only known her for 30 years. Okay, I haven't seen her in a few years, but still!

I'm fond of telling people that it is said that FDR had a forested mind. Meaning a mind with a rich ecology and many varied forms of life, or in this case, ideas. I then note that I have swampy mind. It doesn't look like much at first glance, but you never know what's going to bubble up to the surface, hang around for a while, and then sink slowly out of sight again.

My family is becoming accustomed to it. James takes a lot of time to try to get me to remember certain individuals that he knows I knew very well at one time, and sometimes it does work and I do remember them. Other times it doesn't.

I miss those old walks...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Forgive Me, Lord, For What I Have't Done Yet

In response to a post from a family member meditating upon the issue of those who commit sins believing that it's no big deal, they can always be forgiven for it later; I responded:

An interesting point. TE Lawrence in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom reported that before he was tortured by his Muslim captors during World War I, they often prayed for forgiveness before torturing him. They knew what they were doing was wrong but thought they could get pre-forgiven. Some reports from the captives held in Iran after the attacks on the US Embassy reported the same behavior. It assumes God is a real idiot, I suppose.

He seems to be easily deluded by pre-regret for the crime you're about to commit but haven't actually done yet. Somehow the concept of repentance is lost in this, or at least distorted into a pro forma ritual. You don't need to actually regret your sin; as in you wish you had never done it, promise never to do it again, even wish you could go back and undo it. Instead you simply go through the magic ritual and now you no longer need to have any responsibility for any actions you commit even if they are clearly sinful and wrong.

I do not think this particular attitude is associated with Islam any more than any other religion. I think it is associated with individuals who do not wish to take a careful look at the actual nature of sin and repentance, preferring to think there's always a magical get put of jail free card which can be played to get out of responsibility for your own actions.

I'm inclined to doubt that God is as easily deluded as they think.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Part 2 -- The Best Educational System In The World, And How We Can Have It, Too

So now that we have seen what a superb educational system actually looks like, and noted how radically different it is from our own, it's time to ask the question, "How do we get there?"

In order to answer this question we must begin with an essential element of Finland's schools that cannot readily be applied to our educational system. This reality is that child poverty is rare in Finland. I have pointed out on repeated occasions that the only real problem with the American educational system is child poverty. Eliminate that one factor and we immediately rocket up to being rated as among the best schools in the world.

This does not mean that we do not need to pay attention to the system of Finland. It is a vastly better educational system than ours, even allowing the absence of child poverty. However, the fact remains that the biggest educational problem America faces today is that so many of our children come from poor homes.

That is an entirely different subject and one which would require extensive examination. So, as important as it is, I regarded as largely unaddressable within the context of the current discussion.

But there remain many things which we can and should be doing now. At this point I'm tempted to say the key to all of these educational reforms is…but I cannot do so. That is because there is no one key. There is no one magic solution. Well, with the exception of eliminating child poverty, there is no magic solution, there is no one key.

The things we need to do must start with centralizing our educational system in that the federal government should be responsible for education in this nation and it should establish the guidelines and rules by which everyone else operates. At the same time, we must give a much greater autonomy to the teachers and the principals of individual schools. In other words, we must both become much more centralized and much less centralized. This seeming contradiction makes sense when you realize that we centralize in some areas and decentralize in others.

At the same time we must stop the adversarial cancer which is in eating away at our educational system. When I first became a teacher, our district was just beginning to unionize. I was against teacher unions then, and to some extent remain so to this day. I felt that public service employees, such as teachers, policemen, and firemen, should not be unionized. Instead, I believed we should serve the public and in return be treated with the respect due to those professions. 

I was part of the first contract negotiations held in our district. Because it was a new practice to us, a representative of the California Teachers Association was present. At one point in the negotiations, while our group was in caucus, I said that I really felt that we were taking an adversarial position which was unnecessary. I commented that I sincerely believed that if I sat down with the district superintendent, he and I could quickly reach a solution and agreement with which everyone would be satisfied. I suggested that we all should take that attitude which should lead to a win-win situation. 

The CTA representative was shocked and angered. He said I was betraying my fellow teachers. He threatened to report me to the Labor Relations Board for my unacceptable attitude. He declared that we must treat the administration as our adversaries, any suggestion of developing a cooperative relationship he regarded as repulsive.

I responded as those of you who know me well would expect me to respond. A cooler and older head at the table suggested that both of us should calm down and we should continue on. We finally simply ignored the conflict and proceeded.

I tell this story to emphasize what I despised about unions. Why was it necessary for us to be adversarial? What was the need for that? Today I take more nuanced view, I'm not necessarily opposed to unions if those unions have the correct goals. IF.

If the union's goals are to protect its members no matter what... If the union's goals are to create an adversarial relationship with the administration... If the union's goals are not to make education the best it can be...then I oppose unions.

However, if the union's goals are to protect teachers who need to be protected and deserve to be protected while at the same time weeding out teachers who should not be in the classroom... If the union's goals include creating a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with the schools' administrators...if the union's goal is to make education the best it can be for the children's sake...then I strongly support unions.

In Finland a teachers' union works as a cooperative colleague of the administration. We need to create that situation. This requires a fundamental change the attitude of union leaders, not easy to accomplish, but I think my attitude is closer to that of the majority of teachers. So it is possible.

We also must eliminate the adversarial relationships between teachers. Teachers who work together to attain the goal of making their school a fine place for learning will have much greater success than teachers struggling to get the merit or bonus pay available from attaining higher test scores than those of their colleagues' classrooms. Teachers should not be enemies in a zero sum game. They should be professional members of the same team. No merit pay, no bonuses, only a fair wage for a dedicated public servant. 

The competitive model being pushed so hard in American education today, the model created by the Republicans and embraced by the Democrats, is poisonous. There is no competition in Finland, only the accomplishment and the development of the individual child. Our divisive attitude can be changed only if we change the politicians and they can only be changed if we change the opinions of the public. This could be done. However, the likelihood of attaining it in our current environment of political bitterness and hysteria is unlikely. It is not impossible, and it is worth working for, but it will not be an easy task.

Both responsibility and autonomy must be given to individual principals and their staff members. Teachers are professionals. Given the level of respect they deserve (in Finland they are among the most respected of all professionals) and given both the responsibility and the power to control their own schools in cooperation with their principals, teachers will get the job done. I have no doubt of that. They already have my trust and my support. Getting the rest of the country to agree to that won't be easy. Ever since Ronald Reagan first smeared the nation's teachers to shift attention away from his own failures, teachers have been the scapegoat for just about every single thing that's going wrong in our country.

Before Reagan's smears, teachers were highly respected and honored in our country. We can get back there again. I can only repeat that it will not be easy, but it is entirely doable.

Most importantly of all, education in America must return to being child centered. Children are not raw materials. They are not mere objects to be milled, ground, forged, and hammered into the correct shape. They are human beings who should all be encouraged and assisted in reaching their own full potential as an individual. Such an attitude cannot be attained in a test driven environment. If we are to improve our educational system we must ban standardized tests, or at least reduce the number of standardized test a student takes in his school career to one, as the Finns have done.

This is a mere outline. In order to actually obtain the reforms needed, much more planning is required. However, the outline is valid. We must begin the struggle and we must begin it now. We have one great advantage on our side. That is that even the conservatives admit that Finland's educational system is superb. There is the blueprint; we only need to follow it. There is the pattern; we only need to cut and sew it. There is the model; we only need to copy it.

It is said that it is hard to argue with success. Unfortunately, one of our political parties today has largely taken over the media, has dedicated itself to being pro superstition and anti-science, has based its actions not upon facts and reality but on fear and rage, and thus made sensible change difficult. However, these victories need not be eternal. We can turn the tide back to reality-based decision making.

For another view, see the following:

My disagreement with this article is that it assumes it was necessary to go through the extreme educational system which preceded the blossoming in order to reach the blossoming. I completely disagree. The earlier efforts were in fact failures and I do not see that is necessary to reproduce other people's failures before copying their successes. Nevertheless, I offer it to you for the sake of open discussions. It is a thoughtful article which at least approaches the subject without a rigid sense of Ideology.

Frankly, this is quite surprising since the The Thomas B. Fordham Institute tends to be a self-styled conservative organization which usually displays an extremely rigid sense of ideology. I do not recommend their articles in general, only this particular one and it is presented only as an alternative to my views.

I also cannot help but note that while this organization is forced by facts (a remarkable accomplishment for a conservative organization) to admit that the Finnish system, which is so antithetical to their ideology, is in fact highly successful; they manage to conclude that the only way to reach the Finnish system is via all the mindless rigidity of their ideology.

This attitude reminds me of the great Marxist screed. First we must have a dictatorship of the proletariat. This is undesirable, but a necessary stage. Then it will simply fade away. (As if dictatorships ever simply fade away.) However unpleasant this may be, it is a necessary base for finally attaining the real goals of a classless society.

So we must suffer all the bad, awful things before we can finally attain the good things? How sad.

Ego Sum Omnes -- Primus Iteration

I am the blood upon the altar
The stain upon the stone
Flies cluster thick to feed on me
I feed them with myself,

I brown and darken on the rock
I spread my way across the stair
My gift of life is to the sun
And to his mother, time

Atop the empty temple steps
Lie the masks of breath and heart
In the jungle green with life
infested with genetic code

Peace and comfort that I sought
Were cut from me without consent
You the knife to make me bleed
Then the knapper of the flint

I am the rock that will endure
Only I can cut myself
Bits of me shaped into wedge
To make the stone to bleed

I cannot hate myself reborn
Resurrected in the time to come
I can only lie and die
Bled out by my own love

But I cannot die and then be dead
I am Prometheus renewed
I am the altar,  I am the stone
I am the knife, and you the knapper

Temple, altar, blood am I
The victim and the stage
Knife, knapper, priestess, You
Serving strange and thirsty gods

I am support and I am base
I lift you up above the earth
I hold you down below the sky
This is what I do, this is what I am

I am the blood upon the altar
The stain upon the stone
I brown and darken on the rock
I spread my way across the stair

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Best Educational System In The World, And How We Can Have It, Too

I am accustomed to truly bizarre statements being made by the callers when I am watching C-SPAN's Washington Journal.  However, I simply could not allow the statements made by one truly misinformed individual to go unanswered. During a discussion of how to improve American education, a caller made the following statement:

Finland has a decentralized, consumer driven model where where they use vouchers and local autonomy to direct education.
If you know anything about Finland's educational system, you know that this is a statement which is roughly equivalent to stating that in Germany the economy is doing well because they still maintain plantations where slaves grow and harvest cotton. Germany never had such a system. Germany certainly does not possess such a system now. And the Finnish education system is almost the exact opposite of everything this man thinks it is.

Which leads me to wonder where he got such bizarre misinformation. I suppose it could be FOXNews. But who knows?

I suspect it is more likely that he assumes Finland is doing those things because he has decided that they will magically work. Since he knows the magic formula (or, at least, believes he does) he assumes that a highly successful system such as Finland's must be using the methods that he knows will magically work. This is of course totally wrong.

It would be like saying I know that blowing your nose on paper napkins rather than Kleenex prevents cancer. I then find that there is a city in which cancer rates are unusually low. Therefore, without any further fact checking, I assume that everyone in that town must be blowing their noses on napkins rather than Kleenex. After all, how else could you explain the success in keeping cancer rates low?

Just to cover a few of the areas:

1.  Much of education is far more centralized in Finland than in the United States, but only in some ways. Most importantly, their system is a function of the national government and it controls many essentials such as the certification of teacher education programs which are not under the control of the US government. After all, in America, education is a function the state governments.

However, the caller was partially correct in that the national government of Finland has wisely delegated much control to local levels, including giving principals and teachers strong control over their own schools.

Therefore, the Finnish system is BOTH more centralized and less centralized than ours.  It depends upon which area you are discussing.

2.  There are virtually no voucher schools or charter schools in Finland. The creation of such a school is highly controversial and is generally regarded as damaging and negative to the nation's children. 

3.  Yes, parents are very involved in education, but they do not control education as parents do in America through local school board elections.

4. Finnish educators do not believe in homework.

5. Finnish educators regard the arts as critical to a child's education. These programs have not been cut back severely, as they have in the United States.

6. Finnish children get far more recess time then do their American counterparts.

I can go on and on but I've already addressed this in the following blog posts:

Interesting Link:

Anyone interested in factual data should click the link above. It lists many of the the things Finns are doing correctly in their schools. The authors say that the schools are decentralized, but as I pointed out above, this is simplistic.  They are more centralized in some ways, while less centralized in others.

Further, the authors don't mention a couple of matters which they should have included.  First, retention is very rare in Finnish schools. And second, charter schools and voucher systems are not used in Finland. Third, schools are non-competitive. Teachers don't compete with other teachers, children don't compete with other children, school districts don't compete with other school districts. The entire focus of the entire school system is on the benefit of, to, and for the children

Excerpt From A Reference Article:

-- School Management and Organization

The Ministry of Education and Culture oversees all publicly funded education, including the development of the national core curriculum through The Finnish National Board of Education and the accreditation of teacher training programs. Below the national level, Regional State Administrative Agencies and Centres for Economic Development oversee education.

At the local level, the authority comes from the Regional State Administrative Agencies and the Centres for Economic Development. The local government is responsible for providing basic education (grades 1-9) in 3,100 schools, 45% of which teach fewer than 100 students. However, larger schools exist, with the largest comprehensive schools enrolling more than 900 students. For upper secondary education, the Ministry of Education and Culture provides licenses to local authorities, municipal authorities and registered associations and foundations to establish schools.

Schools are managed by the teachers and staff. The local municipal authority in any given region appoints principals for six- or seven-year terms, but apart from this appointment, they largely leave the running of the school to the principal and his or her teachers. Principals are responsible for managing the school staff, ensuring the well-being and success of the students, and managing the school budget, although they do this generally in collaboration with the teachers. --


Final note: in a previous version of this post I stated that the central government was responsible for teacher certification. This is not correct. Only universities may issue teaching licenses in Finland. However, one of the functions of the central government is the certification of the teacher programs offered at those universities.  Once accepted into such a program, the potential educator receives his training at government expense.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Amnesty International Protects Citizens From Their Own Government -- The USA

It isn't that America is a failed democracy, it is that we are a failing democracy. I believe we will turn things around and return to being a successful democracy, but it will not come soon nor be easily accomplished.

Posted  in response to a news report that Amnesty International has, for the very first time, sent observers to America in order to monitor possible human rights violations. I'll bet you can guess to which city these observers were sent.

Note:  I regard the ongoing failure of democracy in America as a direct result of 30 years of Republican dominance of American politics. Even when a Democratic president was in the White House he was pushed to the right by the growing extremism of the GOP.  The same applies to Congress.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mexico Or Bust! ...And Bust?

Notes taken from Thom Hartmann's presentation on c-span referring to his book, The Crash of 2016:

In spite of bubbles, busts and booms, one thing was true of our economy for the first 200 years or so of our existence. As productivity increased, wages increased.  Workers were rewarded with higher salaries or shorter hours which is, as a practical matter, the same thing. This changed under the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

The author points out that in the 19th century people worked anywhere from 60 to, in some cases, 80 hour work weeks.  By 1900 the average was 60 hours.  By the 1920s the average was 50 hours. By the 1950s the average was 40 hours, and that was generally a matter of law as well as simple economics.

In the 50s, 60s, and 70s we saw, for the first time in American history, three consecutive decades of GDP growth of over 3.2%. During those decades, America had the richest middle class in history. That middle-class had large amounts of equity in their homes giving them a net value which was the highest in the history of the world for an average population.  During those decades, the average American, while not what we would call wealthy, nevertheless was acquiring more wealth than ever before.  They may not have been rich, but they were definitely worth something more than their fathers or grandfathers or great great great great grandfathers had been.

Even more:  They had leisure time. They had pensions.  They had job security.  They had paid vacations!

Where did they get all of this? They got it from the well regulated, smoothly functioning,  free-market economy created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Before Ronald Reagan, and yes, right up to Ronald Reagan, we were:

The greatest creditor nation in the world. After Ronald Reagan we became the greatest debtor nation in the world.

We were the largest manufacturer and exporter of finished goods. After Reagan we became the largest importer of finished goods.

We were the largest importer of raw materials to make finished goods. We are now the largest exporter of raw materials to make finished goods.

So, in the 30 years since Ronald Reagan we have gone from the leader of the world in wealth to a state which we would have thought back in the 1970s could only happen to a Third World nation.

Now to be clear, remember that productivity has continued to increase, wages have not kept pace.  Average worker income in the 1980s was about $25,000. Average worker income today is about $25,000.Back then, a single worker earned enough money to keep the house, to support a household, and to accumulate wealth (usually in the form of home equity). Today both partners must work to barely keep afloat, and we have a long way to go before we recover from the devastating effects of the housing bubble.

What the hell happened?

Hint: What happened to destroy all of this was not the Democratic Party. Neither was it moderate or liberal Republicans (yes, Virginia, these things used to exist).

Conclusion: Keep voting Republican. They will turn America into a Third World country. We are heading toward Mexico as it was 20 years ago, even as Mexico benefits from a growing middle-class.The Dons and the Patrons will rule America. The rest of us will be peons. By the next century it is possible, if we keep electing Republican administrations and congresses, that Americans will be desperately trying to escape the poverty north of the border by sneaking our way across the Rio Grande to find jobs in Mexico.  That'll teach them a lesson! Let's see how they like it!

“Everyone loves a conspiracy.” ― Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

Based on a photograph of  mars showing a trail a boulder has created by rolling down a martian hill. I commented:

I'm surprised I haven't yet seen a post declaring that NASA is once again hiding proof of alien life on Mars.  I expect believers to state that the life form is silicon-based and moves by hopping in a kangaroo like manner.

Dan replied:

 Wait a minute!  That looks like the boulder trail in Death Valley!  The whole thing's a fake, just like the '69 moon landing (which was filmed pretty much in the same place)!!!!

I replied:

 As all intelligent, non gullible people know, when the Soviets first managed to crash a spaceship onto the moon, (Luna 2 on September 13, 1959) the moon popped. It was, after all, nothing but a giant balloon. Therefore, they had no choice but to fake the moon landings.  Ever since '59, he moon has been an elaborate optical illusion created by Stephen Spielberg and Industrial Light and Magic.  Super moon? Super fraud!

Remember, the truth shall make ye fret!

Free Market Drug Deals

Recent reports indicate that states which decriminalize marijuana have reduced crime rates and increased revenue by considerable amounts. Conclusion: we must continue to keep marijuana illegal for two reasons.

Reason number one: we must starve government by preventing it from increasing revenues.This will keep it small and ineffective.

Reason number two: we must continue to maintain strong drug laws so that we can continue to send vast numbers of young minority men to prison. This will allow private industry become very wealthy by running private prisons.

Strong anti-drug laws, a real win-win! 

Note: I have not even mentioned the incredible sums collected by drug lords thanks to our laws since SOME people ( you know who you are) are against free markets.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

You Say Democracy And I Say Kleptocracy… Let's Call The Whole Thing Off!

In response to a friend's post about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, I posted the following:

This is why I refer to governments as a necessary evil. Tom Paine was the first to express this truism that I know of, though I expect that the concept stretches back to classical antiquity.  Clearly, governments cannot be avoided. In the absence of an organized system, some thug will simply say, "Okay, I'm the boss now," and government is reborn.

This makes governments necessary.

The difficulty is that once a government exists it cannot seem to control itself. Unless it's populace is alert and vigilant, the government will turn from a necessary protector into a cancer which eats away at the very values which it was created to protect.  SWAT teams were originally created for quite reasonable purposes. Thanks to our bizarre drug laws, another example of government gone insane, the opponents of good government in the form of organized criminals became quite wealthy. They could afford to possess extensive and highly advanced weapons systems.

The problem is that once a SWAT team was created in an environment where it was necessary, let us say New York City; everyone, everywhere wanted to have a SWAT team.  It was a matter of prestige. The city that did not have a SWAT team, even if it was quite a small city, felt that it was not on the cutting edge of new policing methodology.  Not to mention, SWAT teams are cool and sexy. What mayor or governor wouldn't want to be cool and sexy?

And now we had the structure of a growing problem. Huge amounts of money were expended to create SWAT teams that were totally unnecessary. That didn't sit well with voters. So SWAT teams began to be assigned to perform tasks that did not require anything but a uniformed officer or two.

Some unknown person phoned in an anonymous tip that a residence was being used for manufacturing drugs? Instead of sending over an officer to investigate, let's send the SWAT team, smash the door down, terrorize the residents, and then later apologize because they were totally innocent.

I'm not opposed to the existence or use of SWAT teams. I'm not opposed to them under very limited and specific circumstances. I am opposed to their indiscriminate creation and their unnecessary application.

The LAPD has as its motto, to serve and protect. That is the appropriate application of the police power of the state. No policeman, no police department, no chief of police, should ever forget this.

Turning policeman into soldiers and then trying to use those soldiers to deal with civil problems is insanity.  It makes citizens into enemy combatants. It not merely justifies, but practically requires, the use of deadly force.  

Of course, I regard America as a kleptocracy. Just like other governments that once were democracies but now have fallen apart and degenerated into something never intended by its founders and certainly not supported by its citizens, the United States has turned into a criminal organization a very basic level.

Whoever is in power, and I primarily refer to congressmen, although administration officials are not exempt, are quickly bought off by what would once been called bribes but which now have become legal campaign contributions. What was once a felonious example of usury now becomes normal business practice. And instead of using thugs to threaten to break your legs with a baseball bat, the courts force you to pay your "legitimate" debts.

I could go on for quite some time, but I think I have made the point. By the way, I am not referring to America as kleptocracy as a sarcastic or satirical comment. I mean that I literally believe that America has become a form of kleptocracy. The Republican Party, seeking to create a one party state, has so rigged the election system that while the number of votes cast for Republicans and Democrats are virtually equal in the last house election, the House is totally dominated by Republicans. It should be 50-50.

One man, one vote? Not in America.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Of Pseudoscience and Paradoxes and Cabbages and Kings

On paradoxes:

I'm on record as having stated that paradoxes are always either a misuse of language or a misunderstanding of a logical presentation.  I will add that they can also simply be a lie.

For example: which came first, the chicken or the egg? This was never a paradox under any terms.  If you accept the scientific explanation of evolution, the the egg came many millions of years before the first chicken. In fact, before the first bird. On the other hand, if you accept some variation of special creation, then the chicken came first. God, or the gods, created chickens. Later these chickens laid eggs.

Either way no paradox.

Addendum: I just watched the video that was attached to the original post. In it, the posters take a very long, and I admit amusing, time to make a point which declares the egg, in fact, came first in a rather different way than the simplified manner I stated above.  They ignore the fact that there is not even a paradox for creationists.

My point being that this, like all paradoxes, was always a misuse of language or of logic.  In other, words,  the logical eqivalent of a visual trick, a trompe l'oeil.

On pseudoscience in "science class" in religious schools:

Why don't the ultra religious have the honesty to admit that their beliefs are religious not scientific? If they are correct, why lie about it?  If they are wrong, why persist?  Why appeal to a warped falsification of science if science is so wrong?

Why can't they be honest about their most cherished beliefs?  The only credible answer, I think, is that they themselves doubt their beliefs.  If their faith was strong, they would let it stand on it's own.  They shore this faith up with pseudoscience because they have doubts and need to convince themselves that science is on their side.

That is sad for many reasons.  I make no scientific claims regarding my mystical experiences. They are internal, subjective and not amenable to scientific verification. Since I have confidence in their reality, I see no need to seek outside confirmation.  (Or conformation, as spell check had it!)

I start from the foundation that reality is real and facts are real.  We know this to be true because when we base our actions on   fact, things work as predicted. You can test a fact.  You can perform an experiment to see if something is real. 

That means that evolution is as real and factual as science can make it.  Look  around you and see how accurate science is.  Our world has been built by science.

But I could just us honestly say I start from my knowledge that God is real and present. This is not an objective, testable belief. Unlike science, this is something one knows inside oneself. It's not testable because God is, by definition, beyond the ability of science to test. This is because God is supernatural, in the old sense of that word. Super meaning above or beyond natural. Science can only test that which is natural.

In short: I have no doubt that God is there and loves us and cares about us. I also have no doubt that evolution is as science has described it to be. And I don't see any contradiction in those two beliefs.  This world operates on a scientific basis, and God is present throughout this world trying to guide us to make appropriate decisions within the framework of the scientific reality we inhabit.

A Comment To A Family Member Worried About Her Spelling

There is a man in history whose signature has only been found written out in six places.  It did not seem to bother him that he never managed to spell his own last name the same way. Today we spell it William Shakespeare.

Spelling isn't everything.

-- There are six surviving signatures written by Shakespeare himself. These are all attached to legal documents. The six signatures appear on four documents:

a deposition in the Bellott v. Mountjoy case, dated May 11, 1612
the purchase of a house in Blackfriars, London, dated March 10, 1613
the mortgage of the same house, dated March 11, 1613
his Last Will & Testament, which contains three signatures, one on each page, dated March 25, 1616
The signatures appear as follows:

Willm Shakp
William Shaksper
Wm Shakspe
William Shakspere
Willm Shakspere
By me William Shakspeare. --

Excerpt from Wikipedia.

A Letter To My Middle Daughter, In A Time Of Suffering

I knew you'd go through times like this the moment they first said that Ed might have cancer. We talked about it back then. It's easy to say, "I'll make it through", at the beginning.  It gets harder and harder as the burden grows greater, as the time drags on, as your body begins to break down under the stress. You are in a situation that in many ways is like a soldier at war. 

You don't want to do this. It's really more than any reasonable person would ask another human being to endure. But there it is. You must keep soldiering on.

You know that what Ed is suffering is causing him to experience severe confusion. In many ways this body is literally being poisoned by the treatments.  But we must continue on with it because the poison is harder on the cancer than it is on him.

I wish we were closer and could provide you with more support. But we all out here, so far away.  We  know what you're going through. No, we've never been to the cancer thing at this close a level but we've been through enough medical problems that we understand. I wish there was more we could do.

But all we can be are your support troops. You are the frontline soldier. You're the one who has to face the daily suffering, fight the daily battle.

Because you are the primary caregiver, it all falls on you. Every hurt, every bit of pain, every suffering that happens to those around you, it all falls on you.

You're suffering is second only to Ed's. I wish I had a way to just make it better for you, but all I can do is let you know that the family here is with you and behind you. What we can do is not good enough, but what we can do, we will do. You must simply find the strength to carry on, as hard as that is.

I know you will do this. Your love for Ed will carry you through. I hope that with the cancer shrinking, things will begin to get better and better. I hope this is as low as things get and you have finally hit the bottom. But we can't know that for certain. All you can do struggle on, day by day and hour by hour.

As I said to you once before, I can't help but quote Thomas Payne, these are the times that try men's souls. Your soul is being tried and you are passing the test. This kind of suffering is wrong and terrible, but sadly, we don't know how to prevent it.

However hard it seems, however much you wish you could just give up, I know that you will endure and carry-on. I say again, you know who really cares about you now. They are the ones still there behind you, doing the best they can to help you.

You are loved and Ed is loved. Hold on to that. Don't try to struggle to find a way to solve everything. That you won't be able to do. But you can keep going from hour to hour and day to day. And with the cancers shrinking there's good reason to hope that this will have a good ending and that it may not be too far away.

We love you.

Whiny Guy, Part 465

I wrote the following a couple of weeks ago:  It's very good to say that after a very difficult month things are getting better. However,  I'm at that point where I am not so down that I can't function at all, but not well enough to get much done.  Still, if things keep on track, I will be functional in about a week.  It's hard to be patient, but experience has taught me that if I push now I will mess things up rather than make them better and, in the process, push myself back into a black hole.

So now, two weeks later, I'm still struggling to get better, but I must actually be getting succeeding as I'm managing to make some posts, including old posts from Facebook which I'm reapplying to my blog that's progress.

The Dark Side of Star Trek

A response to a friend's Facebook post:

I did not like Deep Space 9 when it first came out. I only watched a few of the shows. It was dark, unpleasant, and just felt soiled compared to the  usual Star Trek fare.  Years later I found out that the producer had made it that way deliberately. He wanted to create a more gritty, realistic Star Trek. He was tired of all the hope and brightness that was typical of the series.

About three years ago I decided to give it a try again. After all, a lot of time had passed since the series was new.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  You could say it's because I had matured, but I think it's more accurate to say I was looking at it with fresh eyes. That is to say, I was not judging it by the usual Star Trek standards, but as a standalone series.

It is now one of my two favorite Star Trek series.  The classical argument of which you prefer, Kirk for Picard, makes no sense to me. They're both inferior.

Why Not Just Walk Away?

This is my (now proofread) response to an article (which I can no longer locate) suggesting that all our efforts to make things better in the Middle East simply makes things worse. The author feels that we would actually be doing the people in the Middle East a favor by simply walking away, not to mention the benefits to ourselves. He makes a good case and it is an interesting contribution to the discussion:

Interesting idea, but American domestic politics make abandoning peace efforts in the Middle East impossible. Large segments of the American electorate are intellectually and religiously tied to Israel in a way that is not always understandable of those of us who do not share their obsession. If you do not accept the Bible as infallible, literal, and inerrant; then you can consider such a policy. But if you accept the Bible as those things, then it is clear that Israel is the center of the world. Even while proclaiming that we are a Christian nation and one nation under God and even a blessed nation superior to all others; these voters believe that, biblically, Israel is the only nation that really matters.

I also cannot help but be reminded of the situation in Northern Ireland. Any attempts anyone made to intervene made things  worse, for three centuries of occupation. In fact the US was often accused, with some real justification, of providing essential financial support to the terrorists. It was regarded as an impossible place, as unsolvable a problem as is the Middle East.

I don't think we can simply walk away. We have involved ourselves too deeply. To walk away now would say to the world that when the United States makes agreements we don't really mean them. It would prove that we will maintain our  commitments only so long is convenient for us to give a damn about you. This is a  message we cannot afford to send.  If we cease to be the leader of the world, Russia or China will be happy to take over.

Obviously, much of what we've done in the Middle East has made problems much worse. That's because we've done things which are self-destructive and even stupid. Rather than end all involvement in the Middle East, I suggest we take a more Northern Ireland approach. Peace did not come until both sides were told that they must both make sacrifices and new commitments. The worst thing about the Middle East now is that we always see only one side.  

Americans who support the Palestinians ignore the bitter, even genocidal, hatred of groups like Hamas. Americans who support the Israelis somehow cannot understand the horrors of so many dead Palestinians.  

A more just and fair positioning of American power, with attention paid to both sides as victims and victimizers could make a difference. In any event, it's too late to get out now.