Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Tax Bill, And Ideas Associated With It; and earlier bailing out the banks

Today I see this article: 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/16/bernie-sanders-tax-bill-republicans-trump?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=256908&subid=21429986&CMP=GT_US_collection

in which Bernie Sanders criticizes the tax bill which is currently in Congress.  Upon reading the article, here are my thoughts.

Being a tax bill, it would change (a) how much money goes (b) from where to where.

Being a Republican-sponsored tax bill, it has a Republican philosophy behind it.  According to Sanders, it is "trickle-down economics" (which he calls a fraudulent theory).  So what's "trickle-down economics"?  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickle-down_economics )  It is the idea that if the "big" (or powerful or rich) people benefit, then those benefits will "trickle down" so that the poorer people will get some of those benefits.  According to the theory, this trickling down would occur as a natural result of business practices.

I remember the bailout of the big banks ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Economic_Stabilization_Act_of_2008 ).  The slogan supporting that bailout was "too big to fail".  And the idea was that if the big banks were supported and allowed to continue operating as usual, then our society, overall, would be better off than we would be if the big banks were allowed to fall.

If supporting the rich would benefit the poor (via "trickle down"), then would supporting the poor benefit the rich (via "percolate up")?

If big banks are "too big to fail", then are homeowners "too many to fail"?  After the bailout, the thing I noticed was that some people were losing their homes.  (It appeared that a _lot_ of people were losing their homes, because it was in the news, but I only knew a few of them first-hand.  I myself pay rent, not a mortgage, so I might have noticed a calamity to renters, more.)

For example, there was one person at my workplace who, just a year earlier, had told me of her land, and she seemed happy about it and did not show any stress about it.  But after the big banks were bailed out, she lost her land and her home which was on it, and did appear unhappy about that, and had to quit her job here in the metropolitan area, and she moved to another state where she could live more cheaply.

Did the bailout of the big banks benefit that person?  No, I don't think so.  She lost her home, and so had to quit her job, because she could no longer afford to live anywhere near that job.

What if instead there had been a bailout of homeowners?  The slogan could have been, "too many to fail".  That person would have kept her home and her job.  Would the benefit have "percolated up" toward the big banks?  Yes, I think so; using her share of the "too many to fail" bailout money, she would have continued to make her mortgage payments to the big bank, and the big bank (receiving all such payments from the "too many to fail") would have remained solvent, and would not fall.

The current tax bill (assuming it passes) benefits wealthy people.  They will pay less in taxes.  This will create a bigger deficit.  The Republican Congress will then attempt to address the deficit -- and how? -- by making the wealthy people pay as much in taxes as earlier?  No.  Rather, the Republican Congress will address the deficit by reducing benefits of the poor.

Who pays for things?  Where'd the money come from to bailout the big banks?  It came from the government, which gets its money from taxation.  I pay taxes.  So does that person who used to own a home nearby and used to have a job here.

Who will pay, to address the coming deficit (which will be the result of the tax bill)?  The poor will pay, in terms of having reduced benefits.

Who benefits from the tax bill?  Who loses, by it?

-jrl, 2017/12/16

Monday, December 11, 2017

Trump, Scott Adams, Venality

On Facebook I saw a quote attributed to Donald Trump.  The quote is:

"We're losing a lot of people because of the internet ...  We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different peoplel that really understand what's happening  We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some way.  Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.'  These are foolish people.  We have a lot of foolish people."

Upon seeing that, some people are calling it incomprehensible or foolish.  And in a way, it is; but there's another way to look at it. 

Trump doesn't want people to be informed by a variety of perspectives.  He likes people to be ignorant because that makes them easier to manipulate. 

I've seen it before:  A group was against another group, and said that education was the problem, because educated people tended more to favor that other group. 

Regarding manipulation (or persuasion), also see what Dilbert cartoon creator Scott Adams says about Donald Trump:  http://www.businessinsider.com/dilbert-creator-scott-adams-explains-trumps-persuasion-style-2017-10  

One can call Trump incomprehensible or a fool or nonsensical, but if you look at him this other way it could be very simple:  he and his handlers are simply venal; they are not trying to be ethical or truthful; they are merely trying to get some advantage. 

It's like with predator animals:  we don't spend much time wondering about their ethics; we know they just want to eat.  So when the predator animal does something that we would not do (like killing in some unfair way), we don't try to explain it in terms of how we think; we instead recognize it as normal predator behavior.

To get to be president of the U.S., you don't have to pass an ethics test; you don't need a past record of honorable behavior; you don't even need intelligence nor relevant experience.  There are a few rules going into it, such as that one has to be a U.S. citizen and past a certain age.

Generally Americans like to say that anyone could get to be president.  I think that originally that meant that anyone who worked hard and developed appropriate qualifications could become president.  But many Americans seem to have instead interpreted it to mean that any mix of talents or lack thereof makes no difference at all.  This may be comforting to a large number of people who don't have much in the way of talents and don't want to work to develop any.  They would like to think themselves as just as able to become president as anyone else.  Wouldn't you?  So for this large number of people -- who really don't know, nor care, what presidents really need to be good presidents -- becoming president is more like winning a lottery, and not so much like studying or working.

Perhaps that's to be expected in our society which:

(1) has a lot of rich people who got that way by (a) being born into wealth, (b) cheating and getting away with it, (c) having some odd talent that is not really useful other than merely that it makes money in a frivolous society, or (d) any other way, most people don't really care how it happened, ethical or not;

and:

(2) admires rich people.  This is the celebrity culture as seen in most supermarket checkout stands.  Oh, we also admire beautiful people (usually the beautiful ones who are also rich).  But even then, it is sometimes more the result of genetics (luck of birth) than the result of the individual's hard work or merit.

So, the lotteries are a fair model of how part of our society operates:  it's not the kind of sense that one learns in academia, but more like games of chance and also like cheering for whichever team is from the same place where you're from.

I think Ronald Reagan was the first of the modern-day candidates who became governor (of California) and then president mainly because he was already famous (rather than having qualifications pertinent to governing).  Since then one of our California governors has been Arnold Schwartzenegger.  And now we have Donald Trump as President of the U.S.

-jrl 2017/Dec./11

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sources of news; ...; truth and human behavior


The San Jose Mercury News; other news outlets; thoughts about the death of Kate Steinle; truth and human behavior

     "The Mercury News" is a newspaper in San Jose, California.  I've been living in San Jose for 26 years.  It's a city with a population close to 1 million people.  It's part of "Silicon Valley" and part of the metropolitan area known as the San Francisco Bay Area.  I was very happy with this newspaper for a few years.  I thought it gave more substantial content than other newspapers (including the San Francisco Chronicle).

     When I started writing letters to newspapers, the Mercury was the first and main one I wrote to.  I was ecstatic the first time I got a letter published in it.

     Letters are up to 200 words in length.  My first published letter was about taxation systems.  After having three of my taxation letters appear in the Mercury, I felt sure that the Mercury would publish my future letters if they were about taxation.  They also published about three of my other letters about other topics.

     I began to be dissatisfied with the Mercury because it didn't hit as hard as I wanted, regarding some topics.  This also showed in how they editted my letters, leaving out the most severe parts.

     Lately I try to look at the Mercury online, at least for a minute, every day or two.  Since it's the big local newspaper, I regard it as part of my agenda for being informed.  Some other news outlets which I've looked at in the past have been rt.com, KPFA of Pacifica Radio, KALW (FM 91.7 in the Bay Area), aljazeera.com (used to be aljazeera.net/english -- I think it may have been filtered or censored on its way to being served to us in the United States as aljazeera.com, but it's still good), and most recently telemundo.com.  My favorite currently is aljazeera.com.  On a typical day I will look at the Mercury and aljazeera.com, plus weather.gov, and my email, which often gives links to The Guardian, which is another favorite of mine lately.  The Guardian is a British newspaper.  I also sometimes like less-well-known local news outlets, and the front-runner among them was usually The Metro, which hit harder than did the Mercury.  I've written 3 or 4 long letters to relatively small, local or non-mainstream newspapers, and they published them in full length.  I haven't even looked at those little newspapers for a while.  The Metro did have a length limit on letters, something like 200 or 250 words.

     Where you get your news is obviously important.  A few times, I've asked people where they get their news.  One person didn't tell me, but kept talking.  Another person told me, and I noticed that all of his sources were mainstream news outlets in the United States, such as Newsweek and Time magazines.  I think some people get most of their news from "Fox" News, and that some of them get their news _only_ from Fox.

     Where do you get your news?

     Today in the Mercury there is a headline about Trump tweeting a criticism of a court verdict.  I then followed a related article in which a footnote pointed to this:

http://abc7news.com/sfpd-admits-to-lying-to-defendant-in-steinle-case-for-confession-/2592927/

regarding police lying to obtain a confession.  That, in my opinion, may or may not be the most important issue in the matter.  I doubt that most people will even notice that aspect of the case, while perusing the news.

Regarding that same case, elsewhere I read that the bullet had ricocheted before hitting the person.

The case involves a death by bullet, and the case has been portrayed by Trump to be about illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.

In this case, at least, it appears (is not certain, but appears) that the person who fired the gun (or accidentally caused the gun to fire) was indeed an illegal immigrant.  However, I doubt that's why he fired it.

(At this point it would be useful to compare, statistically, how many such acts are done by illegal immigrants as compared with other populations.)

The fact that the police lied to obtain the confession does cast doubt, in my mind, that he even did it.  He may have been disoriented by drugs and not remember clearly what happened, and the police may have brow-beaten him into thinking he did something.  What do the police really want in such cases, anyway?  They want credit for doing a job, and they get a lot more credit when there's a conviction, regardless of truth or not.

One thing we can be pretty sure of is that police do lie sometimes; and according to this news story, the police admit they lied to obtain a confession in this case.

But would it bother the police officers to think of _lying_?  Police officers are like most people:  most people will get an idea into their head and then they feel sure of it, long before doing an investigation, if they ever do any conscientious unbiased investigation at all.  So, feeling sure of their idea, they discount the importance of anything else, such as procedural rules or whether they themselves are going to lie or be truthful.

So, with nothing against police officers per se, I think that they, like many people in general, will sometimes lie without qualms, simply because they already are convinced of an idea, and don't feel the need to check, validate, doubt, nor conscientiously follow any rules for finding truth.

Why follow rules for finding truth if you're convinced beyond a doubt that you already know the truth?  Or, why behave fairly, if you are already convinced that You are Right and They are Wrong?  But in these ways of thinking, these people are wrong, sometimes wrong about an original fact, and often wrong in neglecting to allow for error, and neglecting to follow honest procedures which might uncover errors.

Usually it's good to allow that you might be mistaken.  It won't win you any Assertive Person Of The Month awards, but it will make the world a better place.

It will probably make you poorer in the short term.  It may make you rich in the long term.

-jrl 2017/Dec/01

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Not Denigrating The Other Side; "Britain First"; Fransen; Trump.


  ~   ~   ~

Today in aljazeera.com a couple of titles about Trump caught my attention.  One is 'Trump clearly telling his base they must hate Muslims'. 

The other link title is "Trump is 'trying to stymie progress on climate change'".  I had a few reactions to that.  However, while writing them down, I realized I was denigrating "the other side" -- the people who are on the opposite side of this issue from me.  Recently I read a suggestion to not denigrate, or degrade, "the other side", in discussions about any issue.

Regarding climate change, for today, let it suffice to say that whatever I write about it probably won't convince anybody for a long time.

Regarding the "hate Muslims" topic:  I wonder whether it's possible to write about that without denigrating the other side?  The other side, in this case, would be the people who "hate Muslims".  Aren't they _already_ denigrating Muslims in an extreme way?  So am I supposed to say, like Barney the dinosaur, "I love you, and please be nice to those Muslims?".  Then I would not be denigrating.  But it seems a little weak.  I want to be forceful!  But I should not denigrate.  Aarrgh!!  It's so frustrating!

The article describes a British person (Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of a group called "Britain First") who has been convicted of harrassing a woman in a hijab and banned from entering mosques in the UK.  'Together with other activists from the far-right group ['Britain First'], Fransen took part in regular mosque "invasions".'

In the article, I notice one of the three videos which Trump shared on Twitter from Fransen.  The video (or a still frame from it) shown in the article has a caption by Fransen.  Fransen titled it "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!".

I look at the still picture and I don't see why she even calls him a Muslim or a migrant.  But it wouldn't make any difference to me whether he is or not.  I know that non-Muslims and non-migrants sometimes do such bad acts.

She should have titled it:  "Beating of person on crutches!" (but even then we wouldn't know the background of the beating).  It was irresponsible of her to even associate the words "Muslim" or "migrant" with the beating.  (The essential fact was that a beating occurred.  The association with "Muslim" or "migrant" is stereotyping.)

The one group _we_ can identify (after reading the article) as being guilty of something is Fransen's own "Britain First" group.  (It regularly invaded mosques.)

There.  Did I accomplish all that without denigrating anyone?  Yes.  I did say that Fransen did an irresponsible thing, but I'm sure I was justified in saying that.

And what shall I say about Trump, who re-tweeted the post which was titled "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!" ?  Well, a person in the position of President of the U.S. might reasonably be expected to exercise some caution in re-tweeting such a thing.  He presumably saw the title "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!" before re-tweeting.

Upon seeing such a title, a reasonable person should easily suspect that there might be some unfair or unnecessary and harmful stereotyping in it.  A person in the position of President of the U.S. definitely should exercise more caution about re-tweeting such things.  That's because, as President, he might be influencing a lot of people with the stereotyping.

Even if he _believes_ the stereotype, he should be more responsible about what he propagates as evidence or indicators of it.  This flimsy (and false) piece of evidence for a stereotype is examined at:  https://www.snopes.com/video-beating-dutch-boy-crutches/ with the conclusion that the beater wasn't even a Muslim nor a migrant.

What Trump did was to propagate a false idea (that the beater was a Muslim migrant), and it is a dangerous idea, too.  It will likely influence some "tweet" "followers" of the President, when they see this video of someone beating a person on crutches, to increase their hatred toward Muslims or migrants or both. 

Many of Trump's followers will not behave any more responsibly than Trump does.  They are likely to do as he did:  propagating the same false idea about this beating.

Was it a one-time mistake, on Trump's part?  Or was it more like a typical instance of his pattern of behavior?

Have I gotten this far, and still successfully refrained from denigrating the other side?  Yes, I think so.  I said relevant things without any unnecessary denigration.  But if I slipped up and failed somewhere in it, let me know where I made the error.

-jrl 2017/Nov/29

Palestine, Israel, Susiya

Hello Readers Of Blog,

Here's a letter I emailed to U.S. Senator from California Dianne Feinstein via her web page:

Nov. 29, 2017

Dear Senator Dianne Feinstein:

I read the Nov. 27, 2017 letter from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) which I have quoted below (after my signature line).  In their letter, I find the latest example of Israelis stealing land from Palestinians.

I'm sure those Israelis have their clean uniforms and official-looking papers to make it look like they're doing something reasonable, but that only makes it a slightly more _sophisticated_ theft of land.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to pick on only Israelis.  I am also against all the land theft, genocides, and various ethno-cultural-religious abuses that, presumably, some of my own ancestors have done in past centuries.

Those Israelis should be tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The fact that the Israelis simply decline the ICC is the lamest excuse ever.  All criminals the world over can say they don't want to be tried in court, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be tried in court.  And they aren't allowed to create their own courts to try themselves, either.  The ICC is the appropriate court in which to try the Israelis.

If you think the Palestinians are at fault, then for God's sake try both parties simultaneously (Israelis and Palestinians) in a joint trial.  Stop giving the Israelis a free pass.  And stop pretending that there's something special about Israel that deserves our support.  I'd much rather support Palestinians.

In the meantime, the least Congress could do is to stop giving my tax money to the Israelis.  You want to support a group of people (Israel) who hold themselves above the law, that is, separate from the ICC, and who persist in actions deplored by most of the world?  Then do it with your own money, not mine.  And don't expect any support from me.

-John Lehman, [my residence address, deleted from this copy]

The letter from JVP appears below.

"November 27, 2017

"Dear Friends of South Bay Jewish Voice for Peace,

"Over the years, we've answered urgent calls to action as Palestinians in the West Bank village of Susiya have organized against expulsion and demolition orders. Our emails, calls and visits have helped made a difference in saving this village and others in the Occupied Territories.  We just received news that our URGENT support is needed once again!  Call your representatives and join in the letter-writing campaign.

"What's happening:

"The Palestinian village of Susiya is again under imminent threat of demolition. The Israeli State Attorney’s Office announced on November 22 that within 15 days, it would demolish some 20 buildings, representing approximately one-fifth of the buildings in the village.  Cody O'Rourke of Sumud Freedom Camp states that, 'Susiya is home to some 300 residents. The residents were expelled from their original village 30 years ago without the state assuming responsibility for their fate and without providing them with any housing solution. To this day, the residents are forced to manage for themselves on their land, which has been recognized by the state as their private land, in shacks and tents, without basic infrastructure. They face the constant threat of expulsion.'

"According to attorney Quamar Mishriqi-Assad, co-director of Haqel: In Defense of Human Rights,  an Israeli NGO currently representing the residents of the village, 'The demolition of one-fifth of the village is an extreme step that will damage the most basic humanitarian needs and the very humanity of those involved, without it even having been proved that they have violated the law. As winter arrives, the imminent demolition will leave 100 people, half of them, children, without shelter… This is contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law. Israel is guided neither by law nor justice, but by the desire to evacuate the area.'

"The Government of Israel is saying that they will demolish 20% of the village of Susiya on or before December 6th — before the High Court even hears Susiya's case, leaving dozens of residents (half of them children) homeless. The Government of Israel is waiting to ‘enforce demolition’ of the remaining homes once new rules are in place supporting expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.The announcement implies the immediate destruction of residential buildings, a clinic, and livestock pens, causing mortal and irreversible damage to the basic rights of some 100 residents of the village (half of whom are children) who have nowhere else to live.

"Over the years, residents of Susiya have attempted to plan and regulate their residence of their land, however, all their requests for permits, appeals, and a plan have been rejected - not even a single building has received a permit.

"What you can do:

"Please join the campaign led by Susiya villagers to stop the expulsion of Palestinians from their village!  Click here to send a letter to your congressional representatives and senators.  (http://bit.ly/Letters4Susiya)

"...

"Let them know that we care about the people of Susiya, just as we care about the well-being of those living in each and every one of the villages in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Ask them to act on their constituents' concerns and let the State Department and the Israeli Embassy know that these demolition and expulsion orders should be immediately rescinded.  A just peace can only be the fruit of respect for human rights and international law.

 ..."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A List Of News (for a broad perspective); and, The Latest In Violence (a missile launch); and, a False Story

Hello Dear Reader.  Today is Tuesday November 28, 2017.  I am writing this from sunny California!  Where I am, in the part of the state, the weather is mild about 99.99% of the time, or so I guess.  We did have some severe weather about 3 times that I remember, including a couple of weeks of very cold weather back in the winter of 1990-1991, with lowest temperatures around 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit I think, particularly near Gilroy where I was doing some work on the weekends.

Today I begin my blog as I began my day.  I began my day with rituals.  I read a suggestion to form "rituals" and I think it's a good idea.  My rituals almost every morning now are about a half dozen things which many people do, for example washing one's face, dressing, and feeding the pets.

Next, I want to know the news.  And then I want to write.  I like to write.  Writing is a meaningful thing to do in life.

Writing about the news seems sensible.  A friend once told me (in the hoary days of yore, 40 or 50 years ago) that one needs to know the news; otherwise one's ideas become irrelevant.  Now as then, I disagree with him in principle, but practically his advice was good.  So now I sometimes write about the news.

The thing about the news is:  what you think and do depend on from where you get your news.

Let's consider an extreme example or two:  Suppose you got all your news from your daily reading of "The Satanic Bible".  Then your store of knowledge, and your behaviors, would probably be somewhat different (maybe even significantly different), as compared to what they would be if you got all your news from, say, "Science News".

Below is my list of news, which I have noticed in the news today.  I am not a quick reader.  I only took the time to scan the headlines and titles of items.

From my email:

a.  antisemitism

b.  toxic chemicals

c.  something from JVP (Jewish Voice For Peace)

From my voicemail:

d.  a junk call from some telemarketing robot -- even robots have to make a living doing something, I suppose

From the San Jose Mercury News:

e.  sexual harrassments

f.  guns and shooting

g.  mail bombs

h.  missile

i.  escaped convicts

j.  Charles Manson

k.  unlawful sex

l.  "Nov. 28 Letters:  Net neutrality concept dates back to 1971"

From weather.gov:

m.  mild weather (and sunny)

(but a "chance of rain" for Saturday -- ooh, maybe somebody will do a 360 in the middle of an intersection -- I saw a 270 once -- and I'm almost sure it was an accident -- somebody who didn't know how to drive in even a mild rain) (we who came from Oklahoma and Kansas are more used to a variety of weather conditions)

From aljazeera.com:

n.  North Korea fires ballistic missile

o.  An Indian woman's fight to marry a man of her choice (that's listed under "women's rights")

p.  Rabbis petition against Israel in support of Royingya

q.  Scotland still wants independence

From "Noticias Telemundo:  Ultimas Noticias en Espanol del Mundo ...":  www.telemundo.com/noticias:

r.  Corea del Norte Lanza Otro Misil

s.  Administracion Trump (regarding the role of the First Lady)

t.  Tormenta politico por un tuit de Trump contra inmigrantes

(and other articles regarding immigration)

u.  Cuales son las tres ciudades mas pecadoras de Estados Unidos?

v.  Diario desenmascara a mujer que intento' venderle historia falsa sobre Roy Moore (this is the "False Story" item I mentioned in my title)

w.  Lo Mejor de Caso Cerrado

 ~  ~  ~

I notice a lot of the news is about violence.  All three of the news outlets (Mercury, Al Jazeera, and Telemundo) have the North Korean missile launch as one of their top stories -- and in two of the news outlets, it is the firstmost top story.

So today I'll write something about missiles.

Got missiles?  Missiles appear to have been a "must have" item both in Russia and the United States, dating back at least as far as the beginning of the "Cold War", so that there could be mutual assured destruction.

Not to be deprived, a lot of other countries have gotten onto the bandwagon, getting missiles of their own, so that now there can be more than just "mutual" assured destruction, there can be "common" assured destruction (involving more than just two countries being deliberately destroyed, before most of the rest of the world gets indirectly also destroyed or damaged)

Why did all those countries get missiles?  I think it's for the same reason our country has them:  for defense.

For example, I notice that the U.S. bombed Iraq, which didn't have "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMDs), but the U.S. did not bomb North Korea, which did have one or more WMDs.  So it appears that by having WMDs, North Korea may have saved itself from being bombed, because the WMDs were a deterrent, thus serving the defensive purpose.  Iraq, which did not have WMDs, was unable to deter the U.S. from bombing it.  The U.S. also did not bomb Russia or the U.S.S.R., although a lot of people in the U.S. would have _liked_ to bomb them.  It seems plausible, at least as one hypothesis, that the reason the U.S. did not bomb them is that the U.S. feared retaliation.  So the U.S.S.R.'s WMDs (including missiles) may have successfully served a defensive purpose, just by being there.

And vice versa:  the U.S.'s WMDs may have successfully served a defensive purpose (at least hypothetically).

As examples to the world, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have illustrated that having WMDs (including missiles) is the thing to do.

So it's no surprise that North Korea, for example, would have missiles, and occasionally launch one, the same way the U.S. does, either for testing, or for defensive posturing, or for intimidation for other political reasons.

Some countries probably also occasionally launch missiles for yet another reason:  to provoke some response which may lead to some advantage to some group of rich and powerful people (say, corporate leaders of arms manufacturing companies, to take a fairly obvious example).

I can think of a good use for missiles.  More about that, below.  But first, what I am thinking about missiles is that all countries are roughly equivalent in their desires and rights to have missiles.

I do not subscribe to the theory of American exceptionalism.  American exceptionalism is the notion that when "we" do it, it's for good, but when "they" do it, it's for bad.  It's American when Americans say it.  It's North Korean exceptionalism if North Koreans say it.  It's Russian exceptionalism if Russians say it.  From what little I've heard of North Korea, it's got a rather bad government, and I used to think our government was a lot better, but my faith in our government has been declining with the Reagan, Bush II, and Trump administrations, all of which have seemed to have too much American exceptionalism in their thinking, talk, and actions.  One more thing about exceptionalism:  imagine me saying the following:  if _I_ do it, it's for good, but if _you_ do it, it's for bad:  now how do you feel about that?  That's what exceptionalism is.

Now about that good use for missiles:  they can be used to stop or divert meteors or asteroids which are on a collision course for earth or the moon.

Ideally, countries will cooperate and collaborate in the development of missile technology for the good purpose of saving the earth from future collisions from asteroids or big meteors.

There's nothing wrong with the knowledge and with appropriate testing.  Don't suppress knowledge; rather, develop good international relationships and sharing modalities.  One of the best things about the space programs, in my opinion, is the international collaboration that happens on the International Space Station (ISS).  Before the ISS, the first I knew of international collaboration in space programs was when Soyuz and Apollo docked together in space.  For me that was the best part of the space programs.  I don't know how that developed, but I believe it happened because scientists and engineers from both countries wanted it to happen, not because politicians nor corporate leaders wanted it to happen.  Just look at how scientists and engineers behave, and look at how politicians and corporate leaders behave.  Who do you think is more likely to produce international cooperation?  And why would they?  Scientists and engineers have enough intrinsic interests in their work that they are probably more interested in the scientific or engineering advances themselves than they are interested in which nation is ahead of the other.  But politicians and corporate leaders have a greater tendency to care about themselves having more power than somebody else, and they don't have as much interest in the science and engineering for the sakes of science and engineering.

From corporate leaders and from politicians, I would expect exceptionalism and wars.  From scientists and engineers, I would expect curiosity, knowledge, and pride in their work.

-jrl 2017/Nov/28

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Day and Original Civilization

As is traditional among my people, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  On this day annually my parents, sister, brothers, and I used to eat a Thanksgiving Dinner including (1) a turkey, (2) stuffing, and side dishes, usually including cranberry sauce.  Sometimes we had it at home, and sometimes we had it at my aunt's house 60 miles northeast, and sometimes at another aunt's house 100 miles east.  We would see fall coloring on the trees.

The times we had Thanksgiving Dinner at home, my mother served it with her best serving things (silverware and china).  It was that kind of day, probably more than any other day in the year!  At Christmas and New Years Day, we also had feast meals but they were not as dependably bolstered by tradition and we (or at least I) didn't think of them as often.

Thanksgiving was the only time of year when we _always_ got a four-day weekend off from school (not including summers).

And when I was in grade school, we had traditional decorations which we made and which were displayed by the teacher around the room on the walls at about 6 or 7 feet high, just above the level of the blackboards.  I like gradeschool seasonal decorations, such as for President's Day or Washington's Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Halloween.  Now I have on the wall in my little room at the back of the house, at about 7 feet up, a construction paper decoration showing the head of George Washington, made by one of my daughters when she was in grade school.  It's been there for years because I like that kind of decoration.  It reminds me of a harmless, usually easy part of school (excepting the glueing, which I hated, of heart-shaped people for Valentine's Day in second grade, which I didn't complete, if ever, until about April); and the neat, clean classroom and agenda; and the safe, simple homogeneous part of our shared culture, which did not require (at that time in our lives, anyway) any questioning.

Such traditions were comfortable and seemed rather wholesome.  My thinking about them didn't diverge from the norm until about age 40 or 50.

The seeds for divergent thinking (in general, not just for traditions like Thanksgiving Day) were sown much earlier, however, perhaps starting in my life as early as age 12.  I mention age 12 because that was my age when, one day, my father and I were out riding horses and I thought I had a duty to be playing baseball at the regular team practice, which I usually did not enjoy much; and my father asked me which thing I'd rather do; and I said I'd rather just be riding horses; and he said, "Then that's what you should do."  What a novel concept!  Usually in my life there has been a nagging sense of duty or obligation to do things which were actually somebody else's ideas, not mine.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I definitely had some divergence in my thinking; and the reason for it is that conformance had proven insufficient; particularly I had found that default behaviors in high school did not work out well.  In addition, I remember sitting in Psychology, Sociology, and History classes in high school, and feeling that divergent ideas were quite discouraged there.  It felt very stifling.  Those classes were all taught by the same person, the Superintendent of our tiny school.  More about him, below.

Default behaviors in high school did not work well when there was any kind of bullying going on, which was the first big spark which eventually propelled me toward divergent thinking.

The same Superintendent was the one I had to approach to ask to have Spanish III.  The new Spanish teacher had suggested I tell him that I wanted to take a Spanish III class.  When I did tell him, he responded by asking me why didn't I want to take Chemistry?

In our little school, the curriculum was limited to two years of foreign language (always Spanish).  The new teacher's suggestion to me that I take Spanish III was her new idea.  She would have created a class for it.  At our school, the normal thing a student like me would take in Junior year, instead, would be either Physics or Chemistry (they were taught in alternate years, and it happened that Chemistry was being taught in my Junior year.)

At that time I didn't know what to do when the subject was deftly changed like that.  It looks like our Psychology-teaching Superintendent didn't want to change his school curriculum to accommodate something new, but instead of discussing it directly, he instead laid a guilt trip on me about a different topic:  What did I have against Chemistry? he wanted to know.  As for me, I had clearly requested Spanish III and had not said anything about Chemistry.  I certainly didn't want to say anything negative about any class, not in that school at that time.  The new Spanish teacher was my friend and next-door neighbor, and the science teacher who would teach Chemistry and Physics would also be my friend.  They were not really "friends" exactly but we were on good friendly terms.

That's how I ended up taking Chemistry my Junior year, and never found out where the new idea of "Spanish III" class would have gone had he allowed the possibility of it.

For the record, I've got nothing against Chemistry, if anybody cares about that.  The first thing I notice is that the class I took had so little to do with my own choices, but much worse than that is the way the Superintendent sidestepped my request and made me feel guilty for even asking it.  If he had more directly said he wasn't willing, or couldn't, change the school's offerrings, that would have been better, and then my thinking about it henceforth would have been straighter and more clear, and less shrouded in the spirit of deviously forced conformance.

About the bullying, I never have gotten that all sorted out, but as the years went by I sort of figured out that wherever I stood was distinct from where the "helping professions" stood -- not always against them, but sometimes.  This is what I mean by saying I have some divergent thinking; it's an example where I have diverged from the normative thinking.

The next big spark toward divergence came in my 40s when I had to be in court a lot and found out that courts (even including court reporters' transcripts) were untrustworthy.  This helped open the door to a lot of divergent thinking about government.

Exposure to people from other cultures, and experiencing how normal behavior doesn't work, are both doorways into alternative perspectives or divergent (variety in) thinking.  Or, radical experiences lead to radical differences of perspective.

Not forgetting the topic of Thanksgiving Day, the history of it is relevant.  It turns out that there are multiple histories of this country.  I had no clue about this in grade school when we were making construction-paper turkeys and pilgrims.  These multiple histories emphasize different perspectives.

By accident, probably at a garage sale, I got a copy of Howard Zinn's _A People's History of the United States_ (copyright 1980) by Howard Zinn (1922 – 2010).  I read part of it.  Later I obtained the children's version of it, which is easier reading, and I read all of that.  _A People's History of the United States_ is to history what ... but we won't get into that.  Well, there is another example I can share:  _A People's History of the United States_ is to history a little bit like what Huston L. Smith's _The Religions of Man_ is to many local churches.  The idea is that there are multiple perspectives on religion and multiple perspectives on history.  They are not only multiple; they are valid -- or at least some of them are.

Now that a few hundred years have passed by -- and I sympathize in this -- a lot of us are less embarrassed by the things we did back when.  So now some things have come out.  We now know, and a great many of us are somewhat in agreement, that things like the institutionalized slavery of black people in the South and the exterminations of native Americans were bad things.  Back in the day when they were happening, it did not seem so obvious (to our kind).

An early chapter of Howard Zinn's _A People's History of the United States_ tells Bartolome de las Casas's view of what Christopher Columbus did.

According to wikipedia.org, at the article for "Bartolome de las Casas," he (Las Casas) wrote a "history of the Indies from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 to 1520, and most of it is an eye-witness account".

At "the famous Valladolid debate, which took place in 1550–51," Las Casas said "that the Indians were not at all uncivilized nor lacking social order ..."

He wrote about "the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples."

"In 1514 ... Las Casas was finally convinced that all the actions of the Spanish in the New World had been illegal and that they constituted a great injustice."

Hundreds of years passed; and now I have noticed that annually around Columbus Day and, now, Thanksgiving Day, there are some articles published telling a more Native-American view of these events then what I had been exposed to previously.  Today I encountered this one, which is forceful and clear:  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/thanksgiving-annual-genocide-whitewash-171120073022544.html :

"Thanksgiving:  The annual genocide whitewash"

by Belen Fernandez

which was published in Aljazeera.com on Nov. 22 or 23, 2017

How could they have known (back in 1492 and in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, and going forward from there) that what they were doing to the natives was wrong?  They could have known, if (a) they had been more open to multiple perspectives, and (b) did not have interests at stake (thus corrupting what they were willing to admit in their thinking).

All of us can be pretty sure that we're still doing something very wrong about something.  We may not recognize what it is right away though.

-jrl 2017/Nov/23