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In most cases, we recognize excess as unhealthy. The classic example is substance abuse, most notably alcoholism Read the rest of this entry »

Imagine if you will how much better our national elections would be if we had the choice of “None of the Above.” The first thing to understand about this choice is the difference between “NotA” and declining to vote. Declining to vote, contrary to what some would claim, is the equivalent of “Any of the Above” which is the exact opposite of “NotA.” “None of the Above” means disqualify everyone on the ballot and start over. Think of how much more would we get from candidates who had to campaign against “NotA.” No longer would we be forced to choose the least of the evils. The political establishment would need to guard against this ultimate vote of no confidence, which is not currently an option. As it now stands, there are any number of corrupt and near-corrupt strategies employed by the Republicrat-Demolican duopoly that makes their current abysmal approval rating a non-issue for them. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, negative campaigning, all become moot if the American voter can call for a do-over. How do we cope in the meantime if “NotA” wins? Who cares? How much worse could it be?

In nature, there are few more than a handful of strategies that together are employed by the vast majority of sexual species to reproduce and care for their young (or not care). There’s the solitary female (bears), the harem (gorillas, lions, most antelope species), the matriarchy (elephants), pair bonding (many birds), spawning (many fish), and  others. An examination of human societies and human physiology lead to the conclusion that humans are by and large adapted to the pair bonding strategy. Forming pairs, also known as marriage, is natural for us and remains so whether child rearing is involved or not. Read the rest of this entry »

“Democracy encourages the majority to decide things about which the majority is ignorant.” – John Simon

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholsome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” – Thomas Jefferson

Many noteworthy issues of the day are controversial because of the disparity between the level of risk as determined by experts and that as perceived by the public. A common example is the difference between the risk of flying in a commercial airliner vs. driving one’s own car. For trips of equal length, driving a car is statistically much riskier than flying, but most people’s perception of the risk is reversed. John Stewart recently juxtaposed two sentiments expressed by the Governor of New Jersey in justifying first the quarantine for Ebola of a woman who had arrived from west Africa, and second his state’s policy on vaccinations. In both cases, the Governor sided with public perception over a position that would concur with the advice of informed experts. Other controversies that arise from the same source are climate change and GMO foods.

The only way a democracy can effectively function is with an informed electorate, yet the electorate seems to be becoming less and less informed as the years go on; being educated enough to make decisions on complex issues has become far more difficult since Jefferson’s time, largely because the sum of human knowledge has expanded to such a vast extent. How, then, can we as voters make the best decisions possible under the circumstances? We can’t all become experts. One possible answer lies in knowing the motives and qualifications of the experts we choose to trust. In judging information about a topic in which you yourself are not an expert, ask yourself:

  • What are the qualifications of the person(s) espousing this position? Being highly qualified in one area does not qualify someone as an expert in other areas. A Nobel prize-winning physicist is still not qualified as a medical practitioner.
  • What kind of financial or personal interest do they have in policies that might result from this position?

Then ask the same questions about those who hold the opposite position, without relying only on what these two groups say about each other.

Many on the religious right insist on drawing a distinction between freedom of religion and freedom from religion, the implication being that atheism and other positions seen as non-religious are not protected by the first amendment.

Those who wish to draw the distinction must answer the question, who will decide what is and is not religion? To simply answer “it’s obvious” or  “I know it when I see it” is an admission that one is tacitly seeking the job of arbiter and gatekeeper, or at least claiming the right to nominate the job candidates. If no such gatekeeper exists, then one could label as “religion” any view for which one sought first amendment protection. If the distinction does exist, then one must adopt the trappings of religion (at least, that which everyone seems to agree constitutes “religion,” generally mimicking Christianity) in order to claim such protection. In effect, one must engage in deception in order to claim religious protection for any idea seen as unpopular by the powers-that-be. No doubt anyone can easily think of a number of crackpot schemes that have already done this. In many cases this is done to take advantage of tax breaks, but there are other legal advantages to being an established religion. For example, confessing to a bartender is not the same as confessing to a clergyman.

If the of/from distinction does not exist, then the religious establishment in effect surrenders some of its power and would be forced to recognize or even tolerate the growing percentage of people in this country claiming no religious affiliation. They seem to fear this greatly. On the other hand, the existence of a gatekeeper in any form encourages deception, and the risk is that someday he might rule against you. This is admittedly a very small risk, but its existence should be bothersome. My suspicion is that it is not even recognized.

Islam is a religion of peace, we are told. Then someone posts a YouTube video designed to upset Muslims, and succeeds in spades. There are enormously violent protests by Muslims demanding retribution against… well… I don’t think they’re quite sure who, but of course whoever they’re angry at must be American, and they want an apology from the American government. Read the rest of this entry »

We have a dysfunctional Federal government. Clogging congressional phone lines must be only a precursor to the real solution, which is this: do not vote for incumbents. If ever there was a time to heed the old truism that politicians are like diapers (they need to be changed periodically, and for much the same reason), it is now. Yet every two years, most of the voters across the country expect every other district to throw out their bastards while refusing to throw out their own. Re-election rates are obscene, and the average congresscritter seems to have little incentive to push for real change. Partisanship has ensured that districts are drawn to favor one party over the other. The sad truth is, we have the government that we deserve. That can all change if we all just once hold our nose (a little harder) and pull the lever for the other guy.

No Incumbents!

Far from being a ‘digital democracy,’ the Internet is dominated by the opinions of rich, powerful people, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley.

You needed to fund a study to figure that out? Hey, whadya know, the internet has a learning curve! If you thought “the Internet would give the poor and disenfranchised a voice” and are disappointed that they haven’t dropped everything else in their lives to (learn how to) use it, and in the meantime, the wealthy and educated have used some of their copious spare time to take the lead, was hindsight really necessary? You didn’t see this coming? Sorry to break it to you, but a couple of decades is not enough time to create a world where money does not equal political power, no matter how revolutionary the proposed mechanism might be.

In light of this week’s Supreme Court decision, here are a few words of advice from a former marksmanship instructor to anyone tempted to run out and buy a handgun for home defense. Read the rest of this entry »

It occurs to me that something I’ve been saying for a long time is probably applicable to the most recent financial meltdown, and it has to do with the widely held sentiment that, no matter what it is that we do, “We are in business to make money.” My blood boils every time I hear this statement uttered as though it were common knowledge and inherently obvious. The problem is that it is not only misguided, it is 180 degrees wrong! We are not in business to make money, we make money to stay in business. Read the rest of this entry »