Monday, January 19, 2015

I am Charlie - Je Suis Charlie

The most recent issue of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has sold over 5,000,000 copies, amid great controversy, yet, as far as I know, an image of the cover has NOT yet been published by many major US TV news organizations! The cover image has been shown on TV by Fox News and CBS, but not yet by CNN, MSNBC, NBC, or ABC as far as I have been able to confirm.
The graphic shows the original French edition (left) and my English translation (right), with Voltaire's famous quotation superimposed.


By its own admission, Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) is a "Journal Irresponsable" ("Irresponsible Journal") and its stock in trade is satire of various religions and other deeply held beliefs. I certainly do not wish to encourage publication of such divisive material, yet, along with Voltaire, I have to defend the right of publication of such material in a free society.


What do you think?


Ira Glickstein

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moral Foundations - "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt

[From Billlifka, Graphics by Ira. Click HERE for previous Blog postings about Jonathan Haidt's work on moral foundations and how they differ for "liberals" and "conservatives". In his earlier work, Haidt had only five "channels of morality". Here, he has added a sixth: "Loyalty/Subversion". He seems also to have changed "Liberals" to "Progressives." NOTE: When you click, you will see this current posting on top, so please scroll down to the others. They have some sparkling back and forth discussion in the Comments sections. ENJOY! and THANKS Bill! Ira.]

Continuing their attempts to teach an old guy new tricks, a young relative gave me a book by Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind; Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" 2012, Pantheon Books.

A few words about the author may encourage Liberals and discourage Conservatives. Such preliminary thoughts should be dispelled as Haidt’s findings are revealed. Haidt’s grandparents were Russian Jews who worked in New York’s garment district sweatshops and were drawn thereby to Socialism, FDR and the Democratic Party. Haidt attended Yale where he became a Liberal and an atheist. The Yale culture convinced him that Liberalism was absolutely ethical and the Republican Party was for war, big business, racism and Evangelical Christianity. Clearly, it was the Party of evil.

His continuing studies at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania only verified this opinion. His specialty is Moral Psychology and it seems most of his associates in this field are of the Progressive and atheistic persuasions. One might ask why he has pursued a life of research and teaching on morals and be surprised that it has led him to conclusions that aren't exactly what one might expect.

His book is a long plod through research projects but the author’s writing style is appealing and he almost convinces readers of the possibility that Progressives and Conservatives could act together in a constructive manner and that atheists and religionists might coexist and even talk to each other civilly. Most of the book is devoted to the evolution of morality. Regardless of the true source of morality or differing moral views from group to group, Haidt concludes there are six foundations (categories) to all moral codes: Care/Harm, Liberty/Oppression, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

After reading the definitions, I concluded the divisions were reasonable. The surprising thing was Haidt’s conclusion from his research into how three political beliefs (and believers) rate in each of these moral foundations. The following array illustrates the contrasting moral focuses of Progressives, Conservatives and Libertarians based on Haidt’s research:

Foundation................. Progressive Conservative Libertarian
Care/Harm................. 45% .......... 16.66% .......   5%
Liberty/Oppression..... 25% .......... 16.66% ......... 65%
Fairness/Cheating....... 15% .......... 16.66% ......... 15%
Loyalty/Betrayal.........   5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%
Authority/Subversion...  5% ...........16.66% .......... 5%
Sanctity/Degradation....  5% .......... 16.66% .......... 5%

The differences in moral focus of the three political groups provide a good explanation for why respective group members fail to reach agreement on national policy. If 45% of Progressive thought is having concern for the downtrodden, they will propose welfare actions much more than Conservatives think is rational. Conservatives aren't heartless; one sixth of their moral code is focused on care or absence of harm to the downtrodden. However, they value other moral aspects equally and fear lesser focus on these will destroy the “Social Capital” of America. If 65% of a Libertarian’s political concern is for individual freedom, he may well appear to be a rabble-rouser to a Conservative, although both may vote as Republicans.

Some of Haidt’s research aimed at finding the extent to which Progressives, Moderates and Conservatives could empathize with members of the other groups. He found that Moderates and Conservatives could imagine themselves inside each other’s head and also within the heads of Progressives. Progressives could not do the same for either Moderates or Conservatives. Haidt didn’t include Libertarians in these particular studies but I believe they, like Progressives, would find it extremely difficult to empathize with the other groups, they’re having such a high focus on one or two moral foundations to the near exclusion of the remainder.

It shouldn't be understood that every Progressive will be 45% focused on Care/Harm nor will every
Conservative be exactly balanced across the moral range. Some Progressives have more equal balance
and some Conservatives will be somewhat unbalanced. (That’s a straight line for the loyal opposition.)

However, Haidt used an averaging of individual scores and I accept his characterization of the groups as a whole. The finding doesn't mean that Progressives are good because they are overly focused on Care/Harm nor does it mean they are bad because they have little focus on three of the six moral categories. It just means that the respective moral codes of different political groups vary and this should be considered in any attempt to attain bipartisan action on policy and process.

In theory, one can visualize how this could be done with numbers. Imagine if Progressives want to push through legislation that is very strong on category one rationale. Conservatives may well be repelled by such a proposal quantitatively, if not qualitatively. One response would be to deny all parts of the Progressive proposal. Lines would be drawn causing much talk and no results except hard feelings.

Another approach might be a compromise proposal by Conservatives to support the Progressive ideas if they accepted Conservative proposals in moral categories four, five and six, each having about one third the impact of the Progressive proposal in category one. If quantified so neatly, the math is obvious but the point is by “horse-trading” on issues not directly opposed, agreement might be reached in a spirit of accommodation.

Some lawmakers and some citizens believe compromising with the opposition is fundamentally wrong. That may be a correct point of view, at times, but such times and issues should be few and far between. If large percentages of the American population are directly opposed on a key issue, the only options are: 1. Reach an accommodation. 2. Avoid going either way. 3. Fight it out; violently, if necessary. A #2 choice may not be possible, given the situation. If #3 is an only resort, American society will have failed. Political implications of differing emphases in moral codes will be continued in future notes and essays.

Grampa Bill

Saturday, December 27, 2014

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Chanukah (and why I transliterate the Hebrew this way)

On 23 December 2014 we light the final Chanukah candles to celebrate a great victory for religious freedom that occurred some 22 centuries ago. As I wish a very Happy Chanukah to all, I beg you to indulge me for a relatively minor complaint, namely, how some people mispronounce the name of our holiday and how it is, IMHO, misspelled by the major media!

Too many people (including some in my Jewish congregation who should know better) say "Hanaka" as if it is "Canada" in disguise, with an "H" for a "C" and a "k" for a "d"!

And, if that isn't bad enough, the media and Wikipedia (and sometimes even the newsletter of my Jewish congregation) spell it with an "H" at the beginning and a double "kk" in the middle, which, if you know anything about the Hebrew spelling, makes no sense at all.

In Hebrew, the name of our holiday is written with vowel points as "חֲנֻכָּה" (or as "חנוכה" without vowel points).

As my graphic above demonstrates, the first letter "חֲ" is the Hebrew Chet, which is a back-of-the-throat guttural sound (like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch") that has no directly equivalent English letter representation. There have been efforts to represent that sound as "Kh" (which I find ugly) or "" (a dot or line under the letter "H"), but, why not stick with what, until the past decade or so, has been traditional, "Ch"? The vowel points under the letter stand for the short "ah" sound.

The second letter "נֻ" is the Hebrew Nun, which sounds like the English "n". The vowel points beneath it are sounded like the English "u" (or the "oo" in "too").

The third letter "כָּ" is the Hebrew Kaf, which sounds like the English "k". (Please note there is only ONE "כָּ", so there is no basis for the double "kk" misused by the media nowadays.)The vowel points under it are sounded like the English long "aw" in the traditional Ashkenazim pronunciation my wife and I learned as children, or "ah" in the Sephardi pronunciation that was adopted by the time our daughters went to Hebrew school.

The final letter "ה" is the Hebrew Hey, which sounds like the English "h".

Put them all together and you get Chanukah!

This past Sunday our Jewish congregation hosted a ceremonial lighting of the large Chanukah Menorah in the Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages, FL. Despite some scattered showers, we had a huge turnout and a good time was had by all. The Chanukah spelling conflict is nicely illustrated in the songbook we prepared for the occasion, where "Chanukah" appears some 27 times, and the "kk" version appears only 10 times!

Ira Glickstein

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Squat Toilet ("Squatty Potty" on "Shark Tank")

Want to "POOP BETTER"? The squat position helps me get GOing more easily and finish more completely. A recent episode of Shark Tank (ABC TV) featured a squat toilet product you may purchase at the Squatty Potty website - or you may use my alternative solution inspired by that product (see images below).
I got the black folding step-stool at my local Walmart. It is about 12 inches high. They have smaller ones available in different colors. Images above: 1) Folding step-stool in position. 2) Folded and tucked away, only two inches thick. 3) Unfold the stool. 4) Stool in position with one leg lifted, 5) Both legs up and ready to GO (of course, remember to pull your pants down :^).

The images below, from the official Squatty Potty website, illustrate why a squat toilet works so well.
Your dog and all humans -until relatively recently- naturally squat to fully relax their puborectalis muscles and thereby POOP BETTER. It is amazing to me that the modern toilet allows only partial relaxation of the muscle that prevents you from pooping freely. Despite my positive experiences with the squat position while pooping in the woods, and with squat toilets in Egypt and on other foreign travels, I never thought to try to approximate that position at home. Now that I've adopted the squat position, I cannot GO back :^)

BETTER POOPING TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD LIFE!

Ira Glickstein

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Altered States of Mind

[From David Dingee] This was presented to an interactive audience at the Philosophy Club of The Villages, FL on Nov. 7, 2014. Download the PowerPoint Show by clicking HERE.
This presentation looks at various states of the mind apart from the “norm”. The information about such states as sleeping, dreaming, hypnosis and meditation were selected for the presentation because they have considerable importance in our lives.  However, despite much research and accumulated information these states of the mind still appear to be poorly understood.

The presentation considers a cross-section of the information available to support various hypotheses of how the mind works in each of the selected mind-states.  It appears that the work of Sigmund Freud underpins much of the conjecture using his “iceberg” analogy which sets the conscious mind, the normal cognitive/action state, as the top of the otherwise submerged mass with two levels under water. The first submerged level is depicted as the sub-conscious mind, the active memory bank, and the lower submerged level being the unconscious mind, the “forgotten “or unwelcome  memories.

It is proposed that sleep and dreams provide a means for the individual to access that deep-seated unconscious memory bank to address concerning issues in an acceptable format, thereby relieving potential future stresses. Similarly, some academicians believe hypnosis is also a means to access the unconscious mind for therapeutic hypnosis treatments.

The presentation also addressed meditation as a therapeutic method to relive anxieties and to resolve a number of physical stressors. The method described was “Transcendental Meditation” which was made popular by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi following the apparent beneficial meditation visits by the “Beatles” in the late 1960’s. It is believed to work by the meditator reaching a “dreamless sleep” state of mind wherein the brain releases beneficial hormones which help the body..

Several rarely recognized features of sleep were identified. Some animals can operate with as few as 2 hours of sleep; some can operate with half their brains sleeping while having full cognizance of their environment.  Sleep deprivation by humans from a few days to a month were reported.  The consequences were generally very unhealthy, demonstrating the strong connection between mind and body.

The meeting presentation was followed by questions from, and discussion by, the audience.  A key question was whether hypnosis would be effective in treating Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).  The answer is that there has been reported success.


David Dingee

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lies, Computer Models, and Government Subsidies


Updating Mark Twain's famous opinion that "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" were three types of untruths, with "statistics" being the worst, I presented "Lies, Damned Lies, Computer Models, and Government Subsidies" to an astute audience at the Science-Technology Club at The Villages, FL, today. You may download the Powerpoint Show HERE.

COMPUTER MODELS ARE VERY USEFUL (BUT MAY BE MISUSED)

I generally love Computer Models, having produced several useful ones myself *. However, when it comes to the misuse of Climate Models to justify spending hard-earned taxpayer money for unworthy projects, my love has its limits.

I showed the attentive and interactive audience how I was able to model the latest NASA-GISS Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index using two sinusoids and one exponential. (See the graphic, above. The bright red line is the 5-Year Running Mean of the Temperature Anomaly in °C from 1880 through 2014. The blue and red sinusoids, representing natural cycles, have periods of 33- and 70-years, respectively, and the green exponential represents the increasing levels of "greenhouse" gases. Note how the thick black line, which is the sum of the sinusoids and the exponential, fairly closely matches the NASA-GISS Temperature Anomaly.)

Of course, the easy part of computer modeling is retro-dicting the past. As John von Neumann famously told Enrico Fermi, “With four parameters I can fit an ELEPHANT, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.”

The hard part is predicting the future, and I make no claims regarding my simplistic model's ability to do that. However, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the rest of the Official Cliimate "Team" do take their models seriously. In the latest IPCC Assessment Report, they continue to predict a catastrophic future based on their failed models.

These models failed to predict the current 15- to 18-year "pause" in Global Warming, despite the increasing -even accelerating- levels of Atmospheric CO2. Furthermore, as Dr. Roy Spencer recently showed, only TWO out of 90 CMIP5 Climate Models, used in the latest IPCC Annual Report, agree with the OBSERVED SURFACE and LOWER TROPOSPHERE TEMPERATURE DATA.  Thus, over 95% of the IPCC models AGREE that, in Spencer's satirical words, "the OBSERVATIONS must be wrong" :^)

Climate Alarmists and Warmists have convinced the US, UK, and many other governments to spend tremendous amounts of taxpayer money to study the problem and to impose costly regulations to curtail human production of "greenhouse" gases.

The problem with attempts to model the Climate is that it is a combination of linear and chaotic elements, and the latter makes it virtually impossible to correctly predict the future beyond a relatively short period. See my PowerPoint Show for how I demonstrated that a chaotic model is very sensitive to initial conditions. Indeed, in my chaos model, a change in initial conditions of less than one part in a million, produced very large changes in longer-term results.

GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES MAY BE USEFUL (IF NOT POLITICALLY ABUSED)

My talk concluded with a review of how necessary government spending, such as the vast expenditures on military aircraft during WWII and subsequent conflicts, may benefit industry and consumers, such as the commercial aircraft and airline industries. Similarly, the Space Program and Medical Research expenditures are mostly justified by the benefits they have brought to the taxpayers.

However, there is great danger when the government unnecessarily expends large sums and burdens industry and consumers with un-affordable costs for environmental purposes that are "justified" by failed Computer Climate Models.

For example:

Ethanol: The requirement that up to 15% Ethanol, derived from corn, must be blended with gasoline, despite higher costs and reduced MPG, appears to be a politically-motivated subsidy for the agricultural industry and states where corn is a major crop.

Solar Panels: US taxpayers lost $500M when solar-panel producer Solyndra went bankrupt. It appears that political influence was used in 2009 to push through a loan for them to produce solar panels in the US, despite the fact that their cylindrical technology cost several dollars per watt, as compared to flat panels available at less than a dollar per watt. They went bankrupt in 2011, only two years after the loan, and all employees lost their jobs.

There are many other examples, too numerous to mention!

Ira Glickstein

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