Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Three Years

Three Years

Yes, three years. Three years since I posted here last.

In that time I have been busy teaching, dealing with diabetes, and generally living life as fast as it came at me. My daughter has gone from 11 to 14, nearly 15. Wow! Time flies.

And I have now begun to take up writing again.

Hopefully the stream of consciousness will not be dry from now on. Life still begs to be lived. But I need to write, to slow down enough to hear my own thoughts.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Interview With Justice Roy Moore

Justice Roy Moore of Alabama is exploring running for President of the United States. In case you are not familiar with Justice Roy Moore, he is the famous Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama who proudly installed a two-and-a-half-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the Rotunda of the Supreme Court Building, and then equally proudly defied a Federal Court order to remove it.

With this claim to fame and a preacher's zeal Justice Moore is looking at the Presidency. He is absolutely sincere. He calls things like he sees them. He can quote case law, and he knows it in abundance. One may not necessarily agree with his conclusions, particularly in light of America as a pluralistic society, but one cannot doubt his sincerity.

I received a rare opportunity for a little-known blogger. I had expressed interest in writing about Justice Moore on my blog. Then came an invitation to come to a Meet and Greet with him. The invitation was modified slightly so that I would be able to interview him. Wow!

The first thing that strikes you about the man is his unabashed expression of his faith in God. The next thing that strikes you is his absolute sincerity. The third is his complete confidence in his convictions. The man is totally real, much more of a preacher than a politician. As far as I can tell, he has no grand idea for building the economy, reducing unemployment, or for promoting America's place in the world. His vision is to return America to God.

And in that, I think Justice Moore would be a far better preacher than a politician. His vision of God is absolutely and entirely Christian. Today's United States is a very diverse nation, including a wide variety of faiths -- and nonfaiths. He states that belief in God is an absolute prerequisite for morality. I don't think he can conceive of a "moral atheist". Although I am acquainted with several myself, his inability to understand this point, along with quoting eighteenth- and nineteen-century jurists and presidents on the matter would be sure to rankle many.

Justice Moore seems weak on economic policy. He is not very familiar with the Ryan plan. His talk on economics is broad-brushed, something he doesn't seem to feel comfortable with. Give him something to quote case law with, and he will give you precision answers to make his point. But to compete in a campaign for the Presidency, I think he will need more than a preacher's zeal and a preacher's grasp of economics. He will need to brush up on economics and the great concerns in the nation on the budget, jobs, medicare, social security, financial protections, and the like. As for his openly anti-gay position (you can find this on http://morallaw.org/), he does get a bit touchy on it. To his credit, he later apologized for losing his temper.

This is my very first attempt at such an interview. The questions on my list are below (I didn't get to all of them). The questions didn't always come out quite like I had them on paper. For example, I stutter a bit. Yes, I was nervous (did I say it was my first attempt at such an interview?). At one point I got a well-deserved rebuke. On my last question he rebuked me for using Wikipedia as a source (a rebuke I accept and a mistake I will not make again!). And yes, the interview was done in a car -- on the way from a Meet and Greet to his speech at a local church.

As a note, before the interview and when the interview started, I told Justice Moore to regard me as the liberal press. He said that was fine with him, if I remembered he would answer me as if I was the liberal press.

--  

I am interviewing potential presidential candidate Roy Moore, who had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. Today is Tuesday, May 24, 2011.

I want to thank you, Justice Moore, for this interview. A few questions.

1.  Your claim to fame is the controversy with the Ten Commandments -- both the monument issue which eventually led to your removal as Chief Justice, but also the hanging of the Ten Commandments in your courtrooms previously.

  As President of the United States, you will be required to "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

  How can you do this when you willfully defied a Court Order? In November 2003 you asserted that you would defy another court order  if given an opportunity.

2.    Do you think that the United States is a Christian Nation?

--  Even when the Founding Fathers disavowed such an idea? and Jefferson talked about a "wall of separation" between Church and State?

-- Do you believe that Biblical Law supersedes the Constitution?

-- Do you think the Constitution should be amended to require a religious test?

3.  Do you approve of the Ryan Plan for the Budget, which would replace Medicare with a voucher system that would require Seniors to attempt to purchase Health insurance on the open market?

4.  Do you think we should continue to pay subsidies to the Oil Companies?   (Didn't get to this one.)

5.  Do you think Social Security should be privatized?

6.  Since the removal of the Glass-Steagall restrictions, banking has moved to increasingly risky investment strategies, derivatives, securities, the housing crisis, etc. In response to the various crises making up the Financial Crisis, Congress voted to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This agency has been attacked as unnecessary. What is your position on the need for additional consumer protections in the Financial Marketplace?

7.  D.H. vs. H.H.
In February 2002
Your court decision: The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle...

Do you still consider homosexuality to be an act that warrants execution?

---

OK, right at the last was where I made my mistake. I took this from Wikipedia.

He said I misquoted him. Granted, I quoted part of the decision (I only had a couple of minutes left). But from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/al-supreme-court/1303306.html , I can find this:

To disfavor practicing homosexuals in custody matters is not invidious discrimination, nor is it legislating personal morality.   On the contrary, disfavoring practicing homosexuals in custody matters promotes the general welfare of the people of our State in accordance with our law, which is the duty of its public servants.   Providing for the common good involves maintaining a public morality through both our criminal and civil codes, based upon the principles that right conscience demands, without encroaching on the jurisdiction of other institutions and the declared rights of individuals.

The State may not interfere with the internal governing, structure, and maintenance of the family, but the protection of the family is a responsibility of the State.   Custody disputes involve decision-making by the State, within the limits of its sphere of authority, in a way that preserves the fundamental family structure.   The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution.   It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.


The family unit does consist, and always has consisted, of a “father, mother and their children, [and] immediate kindred, constituting [the] fundamental social unit in civilized society.”   Black's Law Dictionary 604 (6th ed.1990).   To reward a parent, who steps outside that unit by committing a “crime against nature” with custody of a child would represent a reprehensible affront to the laws of family government that the State must preserve.   The best interests of children is not promoted by such a subversion of fundamental law, the very foundation of the family and of society itself.   The State may not-must not-encourage the destruction of the family.

So I don't think I misquoted him. But like I said, the way I said the questions didn't always match what I had on paper. The way the last one came out was, "Do you sir, at this point, think that homosexuality should be an executable offense?"

Perhaps that was a teensy bit more inflammatory? I don't know. In any case, by that time we had gotten to the church, Judge Moore terminated the interview, and we went inside. After his speech he came to me and apologized for his reaction. I told him it was alright.

I do think he will need to define his position on minorities and minority rights -- even for the LGBT communities. After all, one cannot be a President for only part of the population. One needs to be a President for all the people.  

Below is the interview, unedited, and the meeting at the church afterward. Critiques (criticisms) of my fledgling interview (non?) skills will be cheerfully accepted. But perhaps this will help you get to know Judge Roy Moore better.

video
 

He spoke for nearly an hour, so I have split the file into four parts.

video

video

video

video

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How To Balance the Budget in One Easy Step

How To Balance the Budget in One Easy Step

We are living in tight economic times. Banks are tight with their lending -- for most people. Interest rates not controlled by law are pretty high. Money flows to where it can be the most productive, and these days that seems to be in oil speculation, in derivatives, the stock market and other speculative interests.

The speculation markets are hot. Factories and sales are not. Employment is down, and while businesses keep lobbying for tax breaks to make them willing to employ more people, the fact is that unless sales go up, they won't employ anyone else. Consumption goes before hiring.

This turns the Republican model on its head. Trickle-down economics has become trickle-on economics as the middle and lower classes seem to be getting the wastes from the upper class. As the lower and middle classes get poorer and the rich get richer, adding tax burdens to the lower and middle classes makes no sense. They *can't* pay it.

So we need to go to where the money is.

The Bush tax cuts did not go to hiring, they went to the speculative markets causing the oil bubble (among others). The success in the oil market has speculators bidding on wheat, corn, and other products they don't intend to actually buy, but control and sell for large profits.

If we can't stop the speculation, we can at least tax it.

I propose a 1% Financial Transactions Tax. You buy stocks worth $10000, you pay up front 1% of that, $100. You sell the stock for $12000, the buyer pays up front $120 to do it. As with a sales tax, the FTT is buyer-oriented. Buy a house for $100000 and you owe an FTT of $1000.

All derivatives would have to be declared. All securities would have to be declared. The purchaser of insurance would have to pay a 1% FTT. If the premium for life insurance is $60 per month, add 60 cents for the FTT.

No FTT would apply to depositing money into a bank account or withdrawing money from a bank account. But if you use an ATM that charges you $2.50 to access your money, an extra 3 cents charge would apply.

For most people whose lives aren't caught up in currency trading, playing the markets, etc. the tax would bother us very little. The rising price of food affects us a lot more. But the FTT would make those who play with their money in the market instead of making their money work in increasing production of goods at home and hiring people pay just a little bit more for their fun. They borrow the money short-term anyway. 10% down leverages a large contract. A 1% additional cost would not be a great burden to such players.

We need to understand that there are trillions of dollars worth of transactions in American markets. And no, a 1% tax would not drive away investors out of the US. US laws are relatively lax compared to many other markets, and while you can bet that Wall Street would scream and howl, they can easily afford this.

America needs the revenue. We need to go where the money is.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dear President Obama: Please Wise Up

Mr. President, I know you've heard Sarah Palin's disparaging "man up" challenge. You can ignore that one, I think.

What you need to do is "Wise Up." There is a real world out here, and you aren't getting it. There are real people out here, and your advisers don't represent us. There are real voters out here, and they will vote for your primary opponent(s) if you don't somehow wise up.

Repeat after me. "The Republicans are not my friends." Say it again. Now with more emphasis. The Republicans are not your friends. The conference you had with the Republicans yesterday was sweet and sickening. You are fawning all over people who hate you, who have maligned you, who have declared you the enemy, who have even compared you to Hitler. And you make nice with these guys?

And even before negotiations over the budget begin, you start off with a unilateral giveaway. You freeze the salaries of your middle class employees for two years. You know that won't do one thing for the deficit. Not one. It will make the deficit worse. That's right. Now you have every government employee scared to death. First a salary freeze, then their jobs. And you having cut waste in the bureaucracy far better than Bush ever did! Now these government employees are going to hoard their resources. They will cut back on spending. As a result, companies that rely on them as customers will have to lay off workers. Less money will be collected in taxes. The deficit will go up.

You are a smart guy. You know this. Yet you did this anyway? Who are you listening to anyway? Are you sure they are your friends? No, sorry, you do need to listen to Sarah Palin after all. Man Up, Mr. President. Man Up and Wise Up. Who are you supposed to be fighting for anyway?

You wimped out on Don't Ask Don't Tell. You delayed action, and delayed action again. You allowed a study that would come after the elections. Now the Senate Republicans, your new friends, are going to filibuster it. And you will tell us you'll keep trying? Nonsense. You are the Commander in Chief. If you can't get rid of DADT, you can order a change in the procedures for how DADT is handled. That way unless there is actual sexual harassment by an officer or serviceman, they will not be discharged. Wise Up, Mr. President. You think we don't know these things? You are losing your base.

You kept Bush's generals. Bad idea. They helped get us into the war. All their advice would be to keep us in the war. Wise up, Mr. President. Even as you were discussing withdrawal, General Petraeus was saying we'd be in Afghanistan between 20 and 50 years!

Health Care? You are already offering to compromise to undo what you compromised long and hard to get. Wise Up, Mr. President. Sure, the Republicans won lots of Democratic seats -- the Blue Dogs' seats in particular. The Blue Dogs were the Republicans in Democratic clothes.

Every time you compromise with Republicans, they move the criteria and pretend you haven't compromised at all. So then you compromise some more. And then more and then more.

So instead of a single payer system, you compromised for a public option. Then you compromised the public option away. You still wind up saving money on paper, but nothing like what would have been saved by the single payer system. And insurance companies can still game the system, deny certain treatments, etc. because that is what insurance companies *do*. Insurance companies are there for themselves to make a profit. A single payer system would have been there for the people.

Financial reform? Well you got your agency, which the Republicans intend to defund. But it doesn't nearly have the teeth in the law to make financial predators behave. You had your banking people as advisers in your administration, and they did what they were supposed to do -- they represented the banks, not the people of the United States. That's right. The Recession, "technically ended", threatens to become the Second Great Depression in part because you listened to the banks instead of the people. Wise Up, Mr. President!

Do you know what your compromises have done? They have turned you, a Progressive Democrat, into a Moderate Republican. Technically that is as bad or worse than the Blue Dogs. And the Republicans still hate you. Remember, they are going for the kill, and they have said so. When will you Wise Up, Mr. President?

You know what you should have done yesterday? You should have looked at Mitch McConnell, who said his primary goal was to make you a 1-term president, and told him either to play ball or see every one of his pet ideas go no further than your desk. You should have congratulated Boehner for becoming the Speaker of the House, and then told him that if he didn't do some real compromising and leading, you would parade him around in contempt in the Bully Pulpit each and every single day.

You should have told the Republican Senators, "OK, you want DADT? I am the Commander in Chief, and I make the rules for applying the legislation. Here they are. Now unless someone is convicted of sexual harassment they can't be discharged from the military." You would have so many GLTB people in the military serving honorably that they couldn't change it the policy back to persecution status without destroying the military, even if they won the next Presidency.

You should have fired Petraeus when he talked about a long, never-ending engagement in Afghanistan. Yes, he wants to win where Russia lost. But you promised, and you are failing to keep those promises.

You are the President. You have the nation's pulpit. You are the Commander In Chief. You can do these things. You can parade your victories, denounce the nation's enemies, and order your troops.

You know, Mr. President, I voted for you. But if a bright and committed Progressive comes along to challenge you, one who has stood up to Republicans before, I might well vote against you in the primaries. Although I am afraid you will never wise up, I certainly have. The Republicans don't compromise. They don't even reason. They lie, they spin, they pull you along, and they make you feel like you have won a victory when they run away with the prize.

This can't go on, Mr. President. We can't have four more years of wimpy leadership and promises lost.  Wise Up to your enemies, and Man Up to the challenge, or you are doomed for a single term and all your hard work undone.

Respectfully,

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Republican Purge

In every ideological revolution within a party, a peculiar event occurs. Instead of becoming bigger, the party actually moves to become smaller. It identifies and isolates or eliminates ideological impurity within its ranks so that it may march lockstep in carrying out its agenda.

It happened in Russia after the communist revolution. The communists seized power, overthrowing the Czars. But the party was too big, unwieldy. Too many people had their own opinions and party dissent was evident.

Under Lenin, the first purges were expulsions, not arrests and executions. Those expelled were intellectuals in various disciplines, people who were intelligent, could persuade others, and were not content to be told what to think or how to act. They were not unsympathetic to the Revolution, though. In fact, they agreed with it for the most part. They may have favored other methodologies or different directions going forward.

But in any case, their voices were not welcome by Lenin and other party leaders. They would not participate in the hysteria needed to support the party through hard times.

Stalin, Lenin's successor, continued to carry out party purges under various guises, usually having those purged executed along with their families.

Hitler similarly purged the Nazi party of dissent and challengers, executing those who disagreed with him or sought to challenge his power. The Nazi party was built along rigid lines of control, so that dissent from within would be squashed immediately.

A modern-day analog of the same thing can be seen in Afghanistan. The Taliban, a small group in numbers but fiercely devoted to their ideology, kills villagers who cooperate with the US, attacks schools for girls, and generally controls the population with a reign of terror.

Granted, the purge happening in the Republican Party is not as dramatic, not as bloody, but it is just as decisive in its ideological isolation. The party began emphasizing lack of cooperation with Obama and the Democrats right after Obama's election in 2008. Since Obama took office, the constant mantra of the Republicans has been "obstruction." The rhetoric against the administration, against the Democratic members of Congress, and against Obama personally was marked by hate, vitriol, and outright lies -- often colored with racism. The point has always been to de-legitimize the President and his administration.

And threats have been made against Republicans who would dare to cooperate. Several Republicans , characterized as RINOs - Republicans in Name Only -- have lost their primaries, having incurred the wrath of Tea Party purists who believe in no cooperation with a black president and a democratic congress.

The Republican Purge, begun when Obama became President, has intensified. It will continue. The party is moving toward an ideologically "pure" position -- no taxes, no government, no regulation of business, no health care, no protection of the poor and the destitute, no Social Security or Medicare, survival of the richest, no rights of birth control or abortion, an enhanced police state, allowing racism and discrimination, intolerance of Islam and homosexuality, and a perpetual state of war. All of this in the name of Christianity, mind you. Many of the positions taken are ostensibly "Christian" positions -- the fundamentalist variety. More moderate or liberal Christians would see concern for the poor and social justice as Christian virtues.

Now not all Tea Party Republicans hold to all these radical positions. But you can bet that unless a wave of sanity comes over the party, there will be more purges. We have already seen accusations of "tea party in name only" as candidates try to outconservative the other.

Remember, the purge began when Obama got elected. One by one even mainstream Republicans have adopted more radical language and attitudes in an attempt to survive politically.

Although the Democrats technically have had control of the Congress and the White House, control does not mean the ability to get things done. Senate rules require a super-majority of 60 votes to move a bill to a voting position, and the Democrats do not have that. Nor do Democrats act in lockstep. The Democratic values of diversity and differences of opinion mean that they are less united against a lockstep minority -- and the Republicans in adopting that kind of attitude have won the day time and again. They scream for the Administration to treat them fairly, to include their ideas, to compromise -- and then vote against whole measures. Health care was significantly weakened because the Administration wanted to treat them as reasonable and rational when they were determined to be unreasonable, irrational, and obstructionist.

The public values getting things done. A diverse majority will wind up at the mercy of a united minority moving with a single purpose. It happened in Russia. It happened in Germany. It may well happen here, if we don't learn the lessons of history. George W. Bush presided over the greatest deconstruction of government that has ever occurred, while increasing its police powers and warmongering. The Tea Party Republicans will make Bush look like a big government regulator.

Rand Paul wants to deregulate the coal industry after the terrible Massey coal mine accident. Who needs safety regulations? He also wants the ability for individuals and businesses to discriminate against blacks. Sharron Angle has called for the elimination of Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance.

Think they can't do it? Look what chaos crazy minorities produced in Russia and Germany. But this is America! Yes, but the Tea Party folk do not like a tolerant America where people do what they please and government is there to help people in trouble. They object to things like the 14th Amendment which outlawed slavery and gives citizenship to people born in the US. Some object to the people being allowed to vote for their Senators! Some have even objected to the amendment giving women the vote.

A reasonable majority is usually helpless at the onslaught of a determined, single-minded minority. And if the Republican Tea Party seizes control of Congress, the dismantling of America will begin.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Compels Us to Believe Lies?

The news is certainly compelling! Here is a lady serving in the a government administration. Lady gives speech. Speech is about discriminating against a white client who has a haughty attitude. Video shows speech and goes viral, with the help of certain "news" agency.

Other news agencies pick up on it. Prominent organizations call for lady to be fired, and she is.

Except that the story which got Shirley Sherrod fired was a lie -- a vicious, terrible distortion of the truth -- and no one bothered to get the lady's explanation. By twisting perceptions of time, and cutting the video at a particular place, Shirley was presented as a black racist in the Obama administration, and fired.

And ohhh, how many people believed she was guilty as charged!

What is it that compels us to believe lies? We do, you know. We hear them and believe them. We tell them, and wind up believing them even though we know they are lies. Somehow lies can compel belief far stronger than truth can, and we fall prey to them. We need to know why so we can control this tendency instead of the tendency controlling us.

We all prejudge and draw conclusions before all the facts are in. How we judge depends on what perspectives we have going into the situation. If you are a Democrat and believe that people need help, then you will believe Republicans are hardhearted for voting against unemployment benefits. If you are a Republican and believe that people are milking the system, you will believe that Democrats are too softhearted and are simply gullible. The judgment depends upon your value set.

Mind you, the typical Republican won't go out to meet the unemployed and understand their desperate situation. Neither will the typical Democrat go examine the cases of fraudulent claims. They have enough information to suit them, and more information would upset their sense of certitude.

"I know what I believe. Don't confuse me with facts."

Situations are complex. To save time and energy, we judge first, then look at evidence later. This is likely an evolutionary adaptation to being hunted. Better to flee first than think too much and get munched! But in a civilized society, the "fight or flight" reaction is not very efficient. And once you have reacted, you have the tendency to support your reaction rather than support acting another way. We all want to be "right." So we select the evidence that supports our position and reject the evidence that does not.

In cases where partial memory is relied on, the brain fills in the gaps in its own way -- according to the bias of the owner. This is why some women who were raped have misidentified their attacker, and helped send an innocent person to prison. They genuinely believe they made the correct identification, the police and prosecutors support them, and the ones they identify are convicted. But all too often, it is based on a lie. Scores of convicted rapists have been exonerated once the DNA evidence has been examined.

Unscrupulous people take advantage of our tendency to believe lies, so they construct scenarios that certain people will find irresistibly believable. Advertisers, political spin doctors, con artists, certain religious leaders -- want to form your perception of reality for you. Selecting which parts of the truth will be shown can create a lie as well. People may know they are being victimized, but not know how to stop it.

For Shirley Sherrod, the lie about her nearly destroyed her life. It was only when someone stopped and actually listened to her that the lie was broken. So here are some tips on how to keep from being fooled by lies and liars.

First, doubt your own certitude. That is, you aren't always right. You aren't God. Once you admit that you don't know all the facts and can be wrong, there is a way to change the outcome.

Second, be willing to listen to the other side -- even if they are not willing to listen in return. Truth is inevitably balanced. Truth is not a fringe holding. Perhaps the information the person conveys is completely unreliable -- you have still been willing to listen to it.

Third, be suspicious, even of good news or news you are inclined to jump at believing. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Remember that fish get hooked by tempting bait, and someone may know what tempts you. Better to forestall judgment and investigate further than jumping on a bandwagon or biting the hook.

We are all very visual. If we see it for ourselves, we tend to believe it. It used to be that video or picture evidence was reliable. But in today's age of Photoshop and video editing, pictures can be altered and videos can be manipulated. Picture and video may be telling lies, too. So be suspicious!

Fourth, recognize the human condition. We are programmed (DNA) and conditioned (socially) both to lie and to believe lies. It is rare for someone to have a clear grasp of the truth, unencumbered by some falsehoods on the matter. Your sources can lie or can be deceived. Yes, your enemies lie. But so do your friends (maybe less often, but they ARE human!), and most importantly, so do you and me. We can't help it. We are what we are.

Fifth, wanting to believe something doesn't mean we should believe it. The fact that you want to believe something indicates that your prejudices are oriented in that way. The act of prejudging a situation is not wrong by itself. We are wired to do that. However, we should remember that prejudging can lead us to wrong conclusions. So even if we want to believe a particular way, we should be willing to investigate alternatives.

Sixth, remember we can do better. We may be what we are, but we also have a choice to make ourselves better. By remembering our own tendencies, we can act to balance them and gain more truth with less error.

Let me know what you think. Where do you see yourself as most vulnerable and why? Once we do this kind of self-reflection, we can begin to make progress.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How a Stomach Ache Changed the World

What causes ulcers? How do we know what causes ulcers?

Think about it for a moment. Don't cheat by looking ahead.

When we talk about learning and knowledge and matters of faith and science, then these questions illustrate some important principles. Science is a human activity. Obtaining knowledge can be a tricky process.

Before 1982, doctors knew what caused ulcers. Too much acid caused ulcers, and usually as a result of stress. You might be a successful businessman, but if you had ulcers, it indicated something wrong with your mental health. Your stress might be caused by remembering your overanxious mother.

How did we treat ulcers? Antacids were the first line. Rest and relaxation was prescribed to help you reduce stress. Go on vacation -- but take the antacids with you in case you were too stressed there. If you can't handle the stress, change your job to something less stressful! And yes, psychotherapy would be in order. You just have to get that issue with your mother resolved.

So now we visit an Australian team of scientists who were looking at the corpses of people who had died from ulcers. They noticed that small, curve, rod-shaped bacteria were always found in the inflamed tissue, and the more inflamed the tissue was, the more bacteria was present.

This was rather a puzzler. First of all, they knew about this bacteria, H. pylori. You couldn't culture it. Besides, the stomach was an acid environment. Stuff that went into the stomach got digested. These particular stomachs especially. Lots of acid.

Still, that every corpse was infected with H. pylori was strange. So they tried culturing the bacteria, of course, without success. You just couldn't culture it. That is, until a culture sample was left for six days by accident, instead of the standard two days. So they discovered that the bacteria could be cultured after all, and that the bacteria grew slowly.

So now they could culture the bacteria. That was good. But there wasn't any proof that the bacteria caused the ulcers. Maybe the bacteria were able to infect the stomach because of the ulcer? After all, many people had H. pylori in their system, but did not have ulcers.

You see, medicine has rules for understanding disease. If you want to prove that an organism like bacteria causes a disease, there are some principles to follow. Koch's Postulates say that the organism should be found in the bodies of those with the disease (and not in the bodies of those without the disease). The pattern of infection should explain the lesions. So then, grow the germ outside the body, introduce the germ to a new, disease-free body, cause the disease, and see if the pattern of infections there explain the lesions. Neat and nice.

Except that this involves people. It is unethical to try to cause disease in a person. But the researchers believed they were onto something, so Marshall and anther volunteer ingested a culture of H. pylori.

That's right, they cultured a sample, put the bacteria in a beaker with water, stirred, and down the hatch. Feel free to be ill at the thought. But they did it!

In very little time, they had developed gastritis -- an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. At that point, they were well on the way to developing ulcers, but they took antibiotics to kill the infection they knew was there. They recovered and did not develop ulcers.

The researchers hadn't proven that H. pylori caused ulcers. They were close, but they stopped short of it. Still, their experiment suggested a new treatment for ulcers. Use antacids to lower the acid levels of the stomach, and use antibiotics to cure the infection. The results? For the first time, ulcers became curable.

Warren and Marshall eventually won a Nobel prize for their work. They had completely changed a medical paradigm. Instead of the "stress causes ulcers" notion, they substituted, "H. pylori causes ulcers. And if you have little beasties eating holes in your stomach, you are going to have stress, you betcha."

But even today you will hear people say that stress causes ulcers. Old "knowledge" is hard to replace, even when the new knowledge is so much better.

Which brings up a few things about how we know things.

First of all, we don't always know what we think we do. It pays to try different approaches, even if you fail with most of them. Yes, rules are still important, but you can use the rules to explore different ways to do things.

Creationists criticize science for changing. But change is what makes science so important. If you want to understand a problem, you have to follow the pattern of evidence. So what if you don't understand it all? Partial success is still success, and can be used to help you even further.

You learn things by doing, by trying, by pushing the envelope, and even by mistakes and serendipity. Just pay attention. Even the authorities are wrong from time to time. It makes sense to check things out.

Other things that brought about this learning were volunteering and collaboration. Scientists are pretty good at those things. They worked this problem hands-on, and they made a discovery that changed our world. We now know what causes ulcers, and we can treat them effectively. From once being a major cause of death, ulcers now rank as an annoyance.

What do you know? How do you know it? Are you so sure that you wouldn't be willing to have your mind changed if the evidence indicated it?

Learning is a human endeavor. Start exploring and see what you can discover, too.