Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Facts are Clear: That's My Opinion!

What I propose to examine here is how we so easily criticize things which we don't like but tend to be less critical of things which agree with our own beliefs.

The idea for this article came after I had seen the accompanying photo on Facebook and re-posted it.

After a couple of comments were made on my posting, I decided to follow up and find the original webpage where this photo appeared and found that the article basically was opposing the US government's ban on marijuana.

I decided to look around that website to see what else they were publishing.  I found an article in which they are soliciting signatures for a petition to ban certain food dyes in foods sold in the US.

Now, it's OK in my view to campaign to support any cause anyone wants but when you compare these two web pages there is one stark contradiction that popped out at me.

The first article is critical of US laws that were formulated on opinions rather than proven health claims, and the second article cites laws in the UK prohibiting food colours as grounds to ban them in the US.  The second article does not examine the basis on which the UK laws were formulated, but the name of the website suggests that it has a built-in bias in favour of natural foods.

I haven't examined the basis on which the laws in the UK were passed, but far too often, even when there are scientific evidence backing up claims they may be Bad Science, which is gathered to support a previous bias of the people who are proposing the law in question.

In summary, I'm not passing judgement on either of these pages, just pointing out how this illustrates how easily we will use evidence without question when it supports something we believe in and yet criticize the same kind of evidence when we see something that doesn't support our beliefs.  

If we really want to be objective, we should be examining all evidence with the same degree of vigour.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Never Question Facebook?

The photo displayed is linked to a FaceBook posting which I recently received.  As I sometimes do (although probably not as frequently as I ought to) I searched a bit further to learn more about this strange term deuterostome.

There were two surprising things I learned, the first being that there is nothing at all rare about deuterostomes.  Almost all of us humans and other mammals are the same even if we've never heard the term before.

The other surprising thing is that while the sign above might be amusing it is based on a complete  misunderstanding of the process of development which we go through.   We deuterstomes do not start out as "assholes," but rather as a hollow ball which at some point develops a single hole which is the anus, followed by a second hole which is the other end of the digestive track: the mouth.  The fact that the anus develops first and the mouth second is what distinguishes a deuterstome from its opposite counterpart called a protostome.

So the correct interpretation of the facts is that we develop assholes first followed by our mouths, not that we "are" simply assholes to start with.   Of course, if you still wish to stick to the illogic expressed in the sign, writing this blog would likely mark me as an exceptionally arrested deuterostome!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Visiting the Holy Grail

A YouTube recording I recently watched brought to mind the thought that many people in the US --or at least border officials-- might think outsiders consider the USA to be the Holy Grail.

US-Canada border crossing via Wikipedia
I've had my own experiences that testify to the ludicrous nature of US border officials, but I must agree that the attitude of the Canadian man in the linked recording was definitely confrontational almost from the start.  In fact when you consider that the recording was likely made in anticipation of something happening, you might wonder if it was done in order to deliberately provoke some kind of reaction.  After all, why would a completely innocent person, who had absolutely no agenda, even want to record such an event unless, perhaps, they had been continually subjected to unpleasant treatment in the past.

A great number of US officials who I have had contact with have been so much less welcoming than they might have been leading me to wonder if the DHS has an unstated mandate to disingratiate as many visitors as possible.

In fairness, however, take note that this video is about 3 years old, and earlier this year I was surprised at how pleasantly we were processed when we arrived at the immigration inspection when passing through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  On the flight which took us to DFW airport, a video was shown which depicted a warm welcome being given to arriving visitors by US border personnel and I commented to my wife that I'd be amazed if what we were to experience was even half as pleasant as what the video portrayed.  In fact, I was so favourably impressed by the improvement we experienced that I even complimented the official who processed our entry.

While I'd still think that there's too much of a hassle for passengers in-transit, now, at least there is a glimmer of hope that visitors to the US might not need to be afraid of one-day being water-boarded just for stepping on the soil of the USA.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Questioning the Unquestionable

I read the following in a blog called Sovereign Man:
Human beings are not meant to exist in isolation. We strive for inclusion and acceptance of our peers. And the forming of social groups, whether families, tribes, dynasties, and kingdoms is as old as human civilization itself.

I'm sure few people would argue about that.  It seems to be one of those universal truths on which we all agree.

Yet, I am going to question.  I do agree, however, with the second and third sentences in that paragraph.  They are observations which reflect my own experiences.  It is the first sentence which I want to examine.  

Begin with the principle that just because you observe something doesn't establish the cause.  Just because you see a black cat running in a field of red poppies doesn't mean that red poppies are the reason black cats exist.  Even if you observe this hundreds of times and you've read about this in writings of scientists and artists and religious leaders written hundreds of years ago, still does not establish that red poppies have anything to do with the reason why black cats exist.

So, in this case, the fact that humans have from, the beginning of time, tended to form groups doesn't establish the fact that human beings must form groups.  All that we can say with absolute certainty is that, based on all recorded evidence we could expect that humans will want to form groups with others.

Where does this notion come from?  Who, or what established that humans "are not meant to live in isolation"?  

There are religious arguments that God may have decreed this and will point to various scriptures in sacred books, but even if a person does believe in God, it cannot be known for certain that what is written in these books are really the true words of their deity or merely a widely accepted interpretation created by some man.

Some people might argue that humans need to couple with others in order to reproduce, and survive as a species, yet in spite of being true it does not establish a cause for a long term or permanent relationship between several or many other humans.

I don't raise this objection because I have concluded that this is an issue which merits a great deal of debate, but rather as an illustration of how passively we let very basic questions go unanswered in our lives.  Perhaps, the question is of gigantic importance and if we were to seek to find an answer to this we might start to completely reshape society.

The attitude I'm proposing, more than anything, is that we should be continually questioning statements we hear, and habitually examine ourselves to see if things we say or believe are based on solid principles and, if not, start to wonder how things might be different if a new foundation were established.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stop the Petition!

A recent edition of a newsletter I receive called Editor's Notes brought to my attention a petition which is circulating to stop Amazon's practice of allowing Kindle book buyers to receive a refund for books which they have purchased.  I believe this is a dangerous petition which is detrimental to the very people who are striving to have it passed.  Their viewpoint is extremely myopic and out of touch with today's reality.
This is an issue on which I've turned 180˚ … piracy and the whole topic of Intellectual Property.   One of the best examples of how this applies to the real world today is in the position of Paulo Coelho who reports that because of piracy he has sold 12 million copies of his books in Russia that he would have never sold otherwise.  See:  

The petition explanation makes two gross errors:  First it states that if anyone buys, then returns a book from Amazon, the author is "out of pocket" a certain amount of money.  This is absolutely false.  You can't lose something you never had.  Yes, you have received less than you would have if the person kept the book.  But you certainly are not poorer because you are in exactly the same position you were in before that potential buyer ever appeared on the scene.

Next, it compares the sale to going into a restaurant and eating a meal then asking for a refund after you have eaten it.   In the case of the restaurant, the eater has physically used up the food and the owner of the restaurant is "poorer" because he cannot sell it again, eat it himself, or do anything else with the food which was consumed.  In the case of the book, the author still has the ideas which he is free to use, to offer to others, or to modify in any way they wish, but also, as Coelho points out he is actually potentially richer because he may have gained a supporter who will advertise his work for free.

Amazon's policy is like having your books put out in millions of public libraries (which wouldn't have been possible without Amazon).  I don't know if I'm typical, but I have borrowed books in a library and because I enjoyed the work of a certain author have subsequently purchased something from them.  If I hadn't read that "free" book I might never have bought the thing I did.  If you had a choice between having your own book in just a hand full of libraries, or millions of them, which would you choose?   

I would suggest that even if you received nothing, and if your book were given free to everyone on the planet, you would still be better off when it came around to the next thing you write because you would have a certain number of recipients of your first book who would love to read whatever came next.  Cohuelo gained 12 million of those, and that was just in one country.

An essay  which really convinced me of the errors in current IP laws was written by Stephan Kinsella: Against Intellectual Property.  I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in IP.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Symbol of American Failure

The term "American" may a symbol of its greatest failure.  Term is closely related to the notion of manifest destiny which is the dream of uniting all of the countries in America into one gargantuan nation which would be called the United States of America.

This was never declared as a specific plan or objective, but has been almost openly pursued by some US presidents and there is evidence that the idea of creating one super-nation may have been in the back of the minds of at least a few of the founding fathers when they created the US constitution. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Monroe, wrote that "it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent."

The plan never played out but the notion lived on and through a distorted sense of democracy it might be considered justifiable to expropriate the name "American" as a moniker for  exclusive use of the USA.  While the number of states involved in the union is a majority of the separate states in all of America, the union represents a majority only if it is agreed that each state has only one vote, but it is far from a majority of all the people in the area.

A search of "population of America" in Google returns a result for the population of the United States of 319 million whereas the population of South America is 387 million, Central America is estimated at some 47 million and we still haven't included the populations of Mexico and Canada which add another 140 million to the equation. The total population of the Americas is well over 893 million of which 319 is barely over a third.

The use of the term "American" is widely rejected throughout Latin America and is considered by many to be an inappropriate misuse of the term to describe a person or any thing which is specifically attached to only the United States.  In Spanish the denomyn for a US citizen is "estadounidense," and the official Spanish dictionary states its view quite plainly: 
But the use of americano to refer exclusively to inhabitants of the United States should be avoided; this abusive usage is explained by the fact that U.S. citizens often use the abbreviated name América (in English, without an accent) to refer to their country. One should not forget that América is the name of the entire continent and all who inhabit it are americanos.        Translation from Wikipedia 
It is clear that anyone from the US who wants to make friends with others in the rest of the Americas, would be wise in employing another term and although they may have a long list of reasons to take pride in the country where they were born, they might reconsider the word they use when that word, in itself, reflects a dream that has never been realized.

The Delights of Thinking

OSHO international Asharam
OSHO International Asharam via Wikipedia
I have just had an epiphany and it is the first time I realized that "epiphany" is what it is called!

Isn't it great when you make these discoveries?  It seems that all of a sudden a veil has been lifted from something you've been straining to see so long it seems like forever.

This discovery comes from reading some of the thoughts of a controversial, possibly misunderstood original thinker who I have only recently stumbled across: Osho, also known as  Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

For most of my recallable past I have been a person who has not subscribed to the popular way of thinking about life and the things that we see and hear around us.  I have been aware of this and occasionally have tried to share or explain my ideas to others.  Most of the time, however, I have not tried to recruit others to join my viewpoint.

It's not that I don't care, the fact is that I would like to have more people think the way I do but the idea that came out of the blue after my introduction to Osho was a notion that says:
 I would like you to agree with me, but I don't want you to accept my ideas without thinking about them.
Now, I don't consider most of my ideas to be original because I have adopted the majority of them from others, but I tend accept the ideas I hold because I have thought about them, examined them from a number of different angles, compared them with my experiences, attempted to extrapolate them into other situations which I haven't had but think might possibly come to pass, and after all this still conclude that they could be useful to me.  I believe that if anyone else passes through a similar process and THEN adopts my ideas, then it is healthy for them and for me to be in agreement.

I don't believe it is healthy, or perhaps a better term might be "reliable" for you to agree with me simply because I happen to present the idea in a way that sounds good, or because you wish to please me or avoid conflict with me.  If that is the only basis of your agreement, I would be reluctant to accept that I could count on your support if some kind of harsh test were to arise.

In addition, I don't think our world would be better off if everyone agreed with me about everything.  Yes, it is something that might feel good, but in the long run it would lead to stagnation and boredom.

If everyone agreed with everyone else about everything, there would be no change, no growth, no progress.   Of course it's nice to think how pleasant it might feel if we could experience a life where everything was perfect, where we had no problems, where everything went just as we wanted it day in and day out, but I submit that sooner or later we would become bored with that kind of life and, if nothing else, we would start inventing problems just to have a bit of variety.

So then the question arises:  How much disagreement is the optimal amount? Is it even possible to measure this and would it be possible to agree on the answer?

That's the delightful thing about thinking -- you think you've made an important discovery about yourself, or the world around you and when you start to examine your discovery you find out that there are more questions to be answered each time you reach a new level of understanding.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Disturbing Thoughts on Education

The following graphic comparing the percentage of educated people with voting patterns could be interpreted in some disturbing ways.
One of the immediate conclusions which might be drawn from this is that people who are "stupid" vote differently from others.   The unfortunate thing about this conclusion is that people who do not have a higher level of education are not necessarily stupid, or unintelligent, to use a more precise term.  There are many reasons why people have not attained a higher education which have nothing to do with intelligence.

Note that I am not claiming there is absolutely no correlation between intelligence level and education level, only that one is not a cause of the other.  I only wish to point out that on an individual level it is not valid to suspect that just because a person is uneducated that they have less mental capacity and decision making capability.    

Next, take into account that the fact that a person has a higher level of education does not necessarily mean that they are better thinkers or more agile in solving practical problems than a person with a lower level of education.  In fact, it is commonly know that many highly educated people get their degrees by cramming for exams and then promptly forget a large amount of what they crammed into their minds after their final exams have been completed.

In one way it is only normal for people who have a higher education to favour government involvement in their lives, because if it weren't for government funding and subsidies a great many of the institutions where they were educated wouldn't even exist.  Just as animals don't bite the hand that feeds them, educated people would tend to support the forces which made it possible for them to get the education they received.  And, in addition to this, since most of the institutions are supported by government largesse all of the teachers would have a tendency to reinforce a kind feeling at the least toward their benefactors.

From this perspective then, it is quite understandable that bigger governments will tend to support more higher education and expand opportunities to make more people able to receive higher education because it will result in a larger number of voters who would continue to support their existence.