Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The Fallacies By Which We Live

[With this post, I introduce my preferred usage in referring to people in my writing: the genderless pronouns. I use sie to replace he and she, and I use hir to replace him and her. There are other genderless pronouns floating around, but these are the ones I prefer.]

There is an identifiable need in humans to find a role within the group dynamic that fulfills the person’s requirement for self-identity and a clear understanding of hir place within that group. Using technology levels as a comparison point, anthropologists have shown that this need has been expressed according to the current level of survival skills present for the group. Hunter-gatherers have well-defined roles for each person. Agriculture-centric groups have well-defined roles. As groups evolve into more complex models, specialization becomes increasingly important, and one category begins to develop into a self-sustaining role: the leader.

Speculating freely on the evidence: a hunter-leader is the person who demonstrates the most success in hunting; a farm-leader demonstrates the most accurate knowledge and decisions concerning crops and weather. In a complex culture, though, competence begins to lose its importance due to two factors: the difficulty in developing an objective method for determining who leads, and a person’s ability to take the leadership role by force and without having any objective qualification for that role. Modern cultures have shown that any objective method is increasingly eclipsed by the use of force.

Force is not just the use of violence. It can be any medium that facilitates the acquisition of the leadership role. It can span the spectrum from outright coercion to subtle persuasion. In modern terms, there are broad categories: violence, economics, religion and nationalism.

Regardless of which category hir actions fall within, the putative leader’s competence to lead is always secondary. In cases of subtle persuasion, the leader’s competence is at issue but there need not be any accurate connection between hir actual competence and hir appearance of competence. All that counts is the leader’s ability to successfully manipulate the process by which sie becomes the leader.

An important premise is the observation that human personalities fall within one of two groupings: followers and leaders. This is independent of a person’s desire to be in either grouping. It foms the basis for a fundamental cause of group strife when an individual refuses to accept hir appropriate place in one of the groupings or, as a consequence of manipulations, becomes convinced that they obtain some negative connotation to belonging to that grouping.

In earlier cultures, followers accepted leaders readily because they had objective proof that the leaders deserved to be leaders, proof which was often continuously provided. In later cultures, epitomized by modern cultures, proof is formalized and institutionalized, allowing any objectivity to be avoided or suppressed.

For your consideration...

The Aristocratic Fallacy: the leader is qualified to lead on the basis of birth or other arbitrary entry into the role.

The Democratic Fallacy: the leader is chosen by the followers using an arbitrary and, most often, subjective decision process.

The Egalitarian Fallacy: anyone can be a leader.


Why the Electoral College is ridiculous

Or, the irony of the lie "My vote doesn't count". Politicians have wet dreams about having a small, captive electorate to manipulate.

This is admittedly an extreme example, but it doesn't take much to translate it into a stolen election. If you thought the final "result" in 2000 was bad, consider:

Sort the states in ascending order by the number of electoral college votes. Alaska, DC and Delaware are at the top of this list with 3 votes each, and NY, Texas and California are at the bottom with 31, 34 and 55 respectively.

Next, determine the number of eligible voters in every state (not hard, these stats are published... don't worry, I've done this for you). An important assumption: ignore the fact that a few states allow for a split in their electoral votes, rather than winner-take-all. This can skew the results by a measurable but small amount. For our purposes, this is a safe assumption.

Now, calculate the minimum majority vote in each state, starting at the top. This is 50% plus one-half, rounded to the nearest integer.

Okay, stay with me. Add up the electoral votes until you get enough to elect the President. On our list, Georgia becomes our lone "swing" state, because the total up to that point is 267 and 270 is needed to win, which means that the winner in our little exercise gets 282 electoral votes. (In case you haven't heard, it is possible to have a 269-269 tie. Go ahead, shudder.)

Finally, add up the minimum majorities in each of those states that go to our winner. Here is what the numbers would have looked like in 2000:

Total eligible voters (obviously an estimate) -- 205,815,000
Total % of eligible voters to get 267 electoral votes -- 21.536%
Total % of eligible voters to get 282 electoral votes -- 22.968%

That's right, my children. You too (if you are a native born citizen) can be elected President with only 23% of the popular vote.

But wait!! The actual voter turnout in 2000 was 105,284,707, which is 51.155% of the eligible voters. If we redo our calculations, but use the actual turnout presidential vote in each state, our numbers look just a little (snerk) different.

Total turnout -- 105,284,707
Total % of turnout voters to get 267 electoral votes -- 22.745%
Total % of turnout voters to get 282 electoral votes -- 23.972%

Adjusted % of eligible voters in 2000 to get 267 EVs -- 11.635%
Adjusted % of eligible voters in 2000 to get 282 EVs -- 12.263%

So, my children, it's even easier than first meets the eye. All you need to do is convince a bit more than 12% of the eligible voters in this country to take the highest office in the land, to become the most powerful leader in the history of the world.

If you need to vomit, be sure to use a bucket.


Rights, privilege and the legislation of morality

The key element of danger in the legislation of morality, particularly when religion is allowed to dictate (even in the smallest degree) the creation of and the enforcement of civil laws, lies in the distinction between a right and a privilege.

A right must apply to everyone, without exception, or it is no longer a right, it is a privilege. The legal state of marriage, as it stands in the US at present, is not a right, it is a privilege -- because it bestows benefit and/or advantage to some but not to others. Health care is not a right, it is a privilege because without the position of having money, it is not obtainable.

The right to freely practice and express my religion is predicated on the necessity that the exercise of that right does not result in my obtaining any privilege along with it. A case in point is the tax-exempt status of churches -- in the US, any place of worship of any religion, so long as it complies with the regulations involved, may be tax-exempt. The moment a place of worship is denied tax-exemption solely on the basis of what religion it is, this right becomes a privilege.
At no time is any importance placed on whether a given religion is in the majority, whether it be locally, regionally or nationally. The principle of distinction between right and privilege remains the same.

I'm sure some of you will notice that I've apparently ignored some things, like what is (and should be) the legal definition of a religion (or a place of worship for that matter). However, that question is critical to the whole structure, and the apocryphal "wall of separation between church and state", while not codified in our laws, remains the fundamental requirement if the right of religious freedom has any chance of surviving in the US. I hope this last point serves to explain to some why any governmentally-sanctioned display of Christian religion in this Christian-majority society is an alarm bell for non-Christians.

Like it or not, my Christian fellow citizens, the reputation of your religion's history precedes you, and visions of Crusades, Inquisitions and coercion of belief are impossible to avoid.


None of the Above

I love numbers. Like the spinmeisters, numbers can say pretty much whatever I want them to say, but my main love is in the beauty that numbers can have by simply letting them express themselves without interference.

Take the "none of the above" concept. In the US, we vote for candidates for office, and if we don't vote, we don't get counted in the election numbers. If you will suspend your disbelief for just a few moments, I will ask you to make an assumption with me: that all those who did not vote in the 2000 Presidential election were actually casting their votes for "none of the above", or Nota. Please also note that I am ignoring any of the candidates besides Bush and Gore. Their numbers do not greatly affect the illustration I'm about to present.

I'd say I'm pretty safe in my assumption. Think about the ramifications, and I believe you will feel safe also. Then, if you start to feel scared, you can join me in wondering about paranoia and conspiracies.

Every state has an estimated number of eligible voters, the vast bulk (but not all) of whom register to vote. Thus, the numbers I'm about to describe cannot be called exact, but as an illustration, if most of them are close enough, my point is safely made.

Calculating the total vote for Nota is not difficult. Setting up a chart showing the total votes for Bush, Gore and Nota is quite easy with modern spreadsheet programs. What is shocking is the result: except in exactly four states, Arkansas and Wyoming for Bush, Maine and Minnesota for Gore, Nota is the clear winner in every state election count.

Let's take a small sampling of some of the results in the states.

Rhode Island: Bush 130,555; Gore 249,508; Nota 345,089
Nebraska: Bush 433,862; Gore 231,780; Nota 538,961
Maryland: Bush 813,827; Gore 1,144,088; Nota 1,906,164
Missouri: Bush 1,189,524; Gore 1,111,138; Nota 1,745,543

There were states where the margin was smaller, and Nota "won" by smaller numbers than in the sampled states. There were states where the margin was larger. But if you look at election numbers as the pulse of the nation, as the ultimate referendum, the voice of the people, the numbers speak for themselves.

On second thought, I'll add the two largest states (in terms of number of voters) to my sample.

Texas: Bush 3,799,639; Gore 2,433,746; Nota 8,443,130
California: Bush 4,567,429; Gore 5,861,203; Nota 13,925,526

I think it's shameful that in our two largest states Nota got more votes than both of the major candidates combined.

At the very least, any winning candidate better think long and hard before claiming that he or she has a mandate from the people. Nota will haunt them every time.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Who is this guy, and why does it smell like moose droppings in here?

Since I can remember, except those times where I was deep in ego fulfillment, I've always had a jaundiced view of the image I see in my mirror. Not for any physical anomalies (of which I've had my share) or for any essential vanity (I have some, but less than other men, or so I've observed), but for the sheer comedy of it all. I am my own best comedian. I firmly believe that this is true for all of us.

I am also as stubbornly opinionated as anyone you will meet, and likely moreso than most. But I've also learned the value of empathy, and the need to understand this skill independently of sympathy and the reactions of a friend to another's adversity. Empathy is understanding, but without agreement or any value judgment. The flipside of this is that I don't have to like you to agree with you. I work hard every day to live up to this dualistic ideal, and I seem to succeed most of the time (defined as greater than 50%).

I have, so far as I've encountered, a unique background. One part I share with several hundred others, and that's being a once and future Patron of the fiction-made-real incarnation of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, created and conveyed with genius and heart (and the most outrageous puns in history) by Spider Robinson. It is at this incarnation, the Usenet newsgroup alt.callahans, that I learned the simple and beautiful truth of the gift of sharing, where pain is lessened by its dissolution, and joy is increased by its propagation, and those who understand and apply this principle are by and large people I am more likely to want to trust, love, or just spend my time with. Spider, if you ever read this, it is quite deliberate that I give the influence of your work the top spot in this self-description. I love ya, man.

The second part is a lifelong obsession with human behavior, with the mechanics of it as much as with the motivations for and effects of it. I didn't fully appreciate the sheer elegance of the human psyche in all of its glory until I developed and honed that skill of empathy. I didn't understand my obsession until I discovered the other abiding aspect of my personality: mediator.

The third and perhaps crucial part is my pursuit of the skills and accomplishments of mediation. I don't plan to put them to use much in a place like this blog, but to understand me is to understand the power of objectivity, and to fully grasp its narrow limits in conducting the human condition. I would never, I think, be capable of being a judge (my opinions of lawyers will get their own post(s), to be sure), nor do I think mediation skills are so much a prerequisite for that difficult and honorable job.

I like being right as much as the next person, some would say moreso (and would not be far off the mark). I strive instead, though, to get it right more often of late, this being for me a much more long-term satisfaction than crowing over a soundly defeated opponent. So, because I like that sort of explicit structure, here are the ground rules for this blog, and in no particular order.

1) Don't apologize for your feelings. If you are passionate about something, then have at it and pull no punches, so long as you avoid using ad hominem or dismissal of others as your mode of expression.

2) I don't post things about which I want to avoid commentary. I may, occasionally, post about personal things that some might consider TMI or just painful to consider. If that is true about you, simply skip the post. I will try to avoid such topics; I have a Live Journal account, and people there who will read such things without needing alot of details to understand what I'm feeling.

3) Be civil to each other. I mean it. If you have a history, or you just rub each other the wrong way from the start, take it outside. I expect this blog to embody the speech clause of the 1st Amendement to the Constitution of the United States. But I also expect you to understand the two-way street it defines, not the me-me-me part that many seem to get stuck on in recent decades.

4) IANA: stands for I Am Not A and gets completed with various things like lawyer, doctor, physicist, etc. This means two things in my mind: I choose to speak in authoritative mode only about topics for which I have a high level of confidence that I not only have my facts straight, but I have my concepts straight and I have a valid opinion or conclusion to state; I make mistakes, and your default assumption is that I want to be corrected, and I want reliable citations to help me carry that correction forward. Nothing ruins a debate more than lack of data. I respect data, and I appreciate elbow room to assimilate and apply new data. This also means that I will listen respectfully to your comments in the same mode, and you can lubricate the way a bit by clearly caveating your statements and providing factual citations as appropriate.

It is very important to know and remember that I am not territorial. I occupy this space, but I do not own it, and unless you intend to injure I will not take even the most intensely expressed opinion as an invasion. I do have a water pistol, though, and I will use it if the heat gets out of hand. But that does not worry me.

As for details of my personal life, you may find it interesting that I am an international folk dance instructor (retired), but that doesn't tell you why I think Robert A. Heinlein was one of the geniuses of our age in the realm of politics, patriotism, and the roles gender and sexual preference play in human relationships. He was a rolicking good story teller as well, but this blog is not (only) about literary criticism.

So, did you hear the one about what the pig said to the moose whilst sitting at the bar...?

Sunday, June 25, 2006


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