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.


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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Psychology of Politics

In Psychology there is a term which describes a person’s perception of the ability they have to change the situation around them. This term is “locus of control.”

Psychologists have developed some rather good tests for determining locus of control in individuals. A person who has an internal locus of control sees his or her own actions as the major factor in what happens to them. They tend to have a solid work ethic, a healthy view of self, and an understanding of cause and effect. Because they see the world in terms of guiding principles, these people are less likely to be superstitious and are more willing to view change in positive terms.

On the other hand, those with an external locus of control see the actions of others as the major factor in what happens to them. They tend to see themselves as victims – perhaps not of any particular person, but of fate – and they see themselves as generally powerless to effect change. These people tend to have low self-esteem, see the world as random without any guiding rules, and are likely to get frustrated. People with an external locus of control may be superstitious – it was the “lucky hat” that enabled him to get the home run, not the hours of practice in the batting cage. Change is viewed with fear, since an external locus of control robs the individual of his expectation of making things better.

Of course, these are generalizations. Any individual may have an internal locus of control in some areas and an external locus of control in other areas. There are limits as to how we can effect change on an individual basis. Groups are often more effective, since they combine the power of individual resources toward a goal.
This important attitude of what value one’s own actions have in improving life for themselves and others influences an individual’s political perspectives as well. Progressivism is basically an external locus of control position. It realizes that we can identify problems and do something about them. As individuals, progressives look to make positive changes for themselves and those around them. In groups, progressives realize that they can make positive changes for everyone. Progressivism is a “yes we can” attitude, looking to benefit the whole.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is basically an internal locus of control position. Change makes the conservative feel powerless and uncertain as to what may happen, or where they may fit into the system. Conservatives may not actually like the current situation, either individually or collectively, but because life is random and the consequences of actions cannot be predicted, they resist change. Better to suffer with what we have now than to risk it getting worse.

This may explain why people who could benefit from change may heartily resist it. Fear of the unknown is a strong negative emotion. Even if change is needed, the conservative does not necessarily believe it can be accomplished. The conservative is generally unwilling to let others control or effect change, not because the proposed changes wouldn’t benefit the population as a whole, but because it might not benefit his or her situation in particular. Better to hold onto what control one does have than to let go and see what may happen.

These distinctions explain a lot, politically and morally. Catch a progressive doing something wrong, and the progressive will often show genuine contrition and try to make things right. Catch a conservative doing wrong and the conservative will tend to blame circumstances or others for the situation, or attempt to deflect responsibility in other ways. Remember, an internal locus of control sees oneself as receiving actions, not as responsible for them. Others may be responsible, but not him!

Fortunately, one can change. It is much like “growing up.” When you are young, there are things you can’t do or are not allowed to do. As you grow up you are introduced to a wide variety of different things you can do, should do, and must do. Sometimes, though, as adults we forget these lessons. As a nation, we need to see ourselves as growing up as well. There are things we can do, should do, and must do – and the things we do will make an impact. The more we empower each person to make positive change, the better. The more we restrict corporations from simply imposing their will on others, the better.

I used to be a conservative. It took time and some experience, but I found I can make positive changes for myself and for others. So now I am a progressive. I want a progressive government. I want a progressive faith. God has given me a mind to think with and hands to work with. I can make things better. And God helping me, I will.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Perversity of Hope Deferred

Obama came into the White House riding on the Audacity of Hope. Millions were ready to see a change in America's mission at home and abroad, a change in how the Executive Branch operated, and a change in the attitude of government toward its responsibilities.

What Obama encountered was an entrenched bureaucracy unwilling to change for anyone. Obama, willing to listen to all sides -- a good trait, by the way! -- was quickly taken in by the bureaucratic "experts" who convinced him that "going slowly" was the best course of action.

Obama thus has delayed action on reform of the treatment of gays in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" is still as entrenched as ever. And while Obama delays taking actions that his authority as President allows him to take, the enemies of change are emboldened and the proponents of change are disheartened.

Similarly, Obama has been roped into long-term commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan -- obligating us to ruinously costly wars in an area where the culture and religion are inhospitable to systemic change. He has been convinced of this by the military establishment, of course, which has had a long time to justify anything it is doing, whether it is justifiable or not. When Obama was taking the broad view of the situation on the campaign trail and promising disengagement, he was on the right track. He has been buffaloed by bull-____ , derailed by details, and managed by minutia. He has surrounded himself with experts -- but the wrong ones, time and again.

Similarly, the reform of the banking system has been systemically weakened by its opponents because Obama has trusted the Insiders who have been a part of the problem. Corruption cannot reform corruption, it seems, and Obama would have been wiser to rely less on insider experience than on the ability to learn and root out the problems.

Health care has been another place where "hope deferred makes the heart sick." Obama chose not to lead, not to "name and shame," but to strike deals with the pharmaceutical industry and to trust the insurance industry to do better at keeping costs in line. Again, it makes no sense to put the wolves in charge of guarding the sheep.

Obama has failed in this first year, not because he deliberately meant to fail, but because when he came into office he trusted the wrong people and delayed keeping his promises.

I hope this new year will be a year of lessons learned, of new resolve and a willingness to right wrongs, even in the face of stiff opposition.

But I don't have much hope for it now. Obama is a genuinely nice person, but much too manageable by people dedicated to the status quo. Had he become President during the civil rights struggle, civil rights legislation would never have been passed. It took a stubborn leader to make it happen.

Still, miracles can happen. I wish Obama the best this year. Because if he doesn't clean house, right wrongs, keep promises, and rein in the financial slavemakers he will have wrestled defeat out of the jaws of victory. May God forgive us if such opportunity is lost.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Thinking about Thinking in A New Year!

Hmmm. It is nice to be back. I had a nasty bout of illness over the holidays that just left me rather flat and weak. I am beginning to get back into the swing of things.

OK, over the next several blogs I am going to try something dangerous.

We are going to explore a "Theory of Knowledge." I am going to do this without a textbook, I promise. I know courses exist on epistemology. I am going to do some "feeling around" about knowledge, what we see it as, how we use it, what components make up "knowledge", and just generally *how* we "know" things.

But as important as knowing things has to be, something with potentially even more significance is knowing the state of your knowledge and reacting to it. So you have studied those history dates. Do you know them? If you answer yes, how do you know that you know them? Well, how would I know that you know?

Questions like those fall under a category called "metacognition" or "thinking about thinking." Sounds fancy, but it is really a very significant topic and enormously useful if approached right.

Well, what else? We will need to see what happens when we put knowledge together with other knowledge. We will need to see what kinds of knowledge have been the most significant in human history, and well, …

IF I GET THROUGH AN UMPTIETH of this, I will have done a good job.

But why, you ask, am I so worked up about this?

Well, I find that in some ways, people are becoming more susceptible to a "soft-knowledge" mode of thinking. Yes, that is essentially the same thing as saying that their brains are full of mush, but with the hint that there might be some external forces at work helping to mushify the thought processes.

This leads to all sorts of problems. People make all sorts of easily avoidable mistakes they would never make if they were thinking properly. People are easy prey to advertising which promotes emotion-based decision making instead of knowledge-based decision making.

I mean, doesn't it make you cringe when you hear some general explaining the reason for years of failed military and political progress in the Iraq War was a failure to understand the culture? Why would we send troops in with no cultural training? (We did!) Why would anyone in their right mind think that Iraqis would want to be just like the US anyway, as if they had no culture of their own, and no local or national pride?

Or how about the strange case of Governor Sanford who went off "walking the Appalachian Trail"? What kind of muddy thinking made him say he was trying to work on his marriage and yet call his mistress his "true love"? And what kind of thinking allowed him to be so strident in demanding that Bill Clinton resign because of his affair and attendant sins, yet insist that God wants him - Mark Sanford - to remain in office? Hypocrisy is a sign of muddy thinking, too.

Ultimately a culture cannot maintain a level higher than its general ability to think. That means that the American people are in more trouble than they realize.

So, hopefully we will get this project going. Stay tuned!

In the mean time, I will be preparing for a new batch of eager (or less than) math students.

No, I haven't said anything about New Year's Resolutions. You've had too much of that already.