When Facts and Opinions Collide

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

― Harlan Ellison

I like this. 

I’ve always found it very hair-tearingly frustrating, when attempting a friendly but serious discussion with someone who is unable to defend their position on a subject, when presented with facts and figures that demonstrate, if not prove, their position wrong, to have them say, “Well, that’s my opinion, ” as if that settles everything. 

Well, it sorta does, doesn’t it? There’s just no profit in attempting or continuing a discussion with someone who refuses to consider the possibility that they may be wrong. (Of course, it goes without saying that you, yourself, are always open to be persuaded, naturally!)

It’s one thing to steadfastly hold an opinion on those things that are beyond observation and, therefore, measure – the existence of God, example – but to refuse to concede to demonstrable proof on a subject that can be observed and measured is beyond the pale. Even lacking demonstrable proof, a preponderance of evidence should be sufficient to convince someone that their position is weak and needs further research instead of blind belief.

Climate change comes to mind: there are conflicting results from academic/scientific studies as to the nature and extent of the causes of the exacerbated climate changes around the world, but when those studies financed or run by individuals or groups on either side of the argument who have vested interests (financial or political, for example and are therefore biased) are dismissed, the preponderance of evidence still shows there is a significant change from what has been normal in the past and to hold the “opinion” that it isn’t so is simply ignorant.

Even in a court of law absolute proof is not required for conviction of a crime, circumstantial evidence that rises to the level of above “reasonable doubt” is sufficient for a judgement of guilt. And there is no reasonable doubt to substantiate any opinion that there are no unusual climate change occuring, that I’m aware of.

I mean, the disappearing ice in the Arctic Circle, and the unprecedented calving (that’s the size of the state of Delaware) of a section of the Antartic ice shelf the other day, both due to warming ocean temperatures, the significant increase of violent storms and their intensity in parts of the world – and the desertification and extreme heat waves in other parts – should be convincing in and of itself that something is happening.

And the evidence is that mankind is at least, to some degree, partially responsible in several ways, principally through the accumulative effects of the burning of fossil fuels dating back to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. But that’s another debate that in no way lessens the fact the Earth is undergoing a world-wide climate change.

I have never known just what to say to those who believe that their opinion is a valid response to fact. But now, with the above quote, I now have the perfect comeback to “Well, that’s my opinion”, to those people that I otherwise have no vested interest in, who insist on continuing to argue a point without factual basis. 

They may become so offended by it that they won’t ever speak to me again, but that’ll be okay by me. There’ll be fewer ignorant people in my life who refuse to think and who only accept the judgements of other equally benighted naysayers. Life is too short to waste my time on them. I know that sounds rather imperious, but as the expression goes, you can’t fix stupidity.

Now, how to say the same thing, only nicely and without offense, to those I do have and want to keep in my life, but who are just as hard-headed?

Maybe there’s no safe way. I guess I’ll just have to smile and let it go, and find some innocuous subject to talk about.

So long as it’s not the weather.

– Bill

The American Political Playground (or, Overcoming the Abyss)

“Political Center [:] A demographic segment defined by a population of exactly zero.”

– “B.C.” (by John Hart, 7.18.2017)

When speaking about politics, one hears descriptions of “left”, “right” or “center” (liberal, conservative or neither). I’m not sure what the middle (center, neither) really means – does it mean those described as such are completely and utterly devoid of any political leanings whatsoever, right or left, or does it mean they do have beliefs, some liberal and some conservative, but that, on the whole, when adding them together and dividing them by the number, are canceling  each other out for a zero sum and, thus, they have no meaning or impact politically?

I think many of middles can see value in both liberal and conservative positions, just not to any extreme, which – extremism, that is – seems to be the soup du jour these days.

If one were to liken politics to the Grand Canyon, liberals on one rim and conservatives on the opposite rim, then the “middles” would be somewhere in the center of the canyon attempting to stand in mid-air with nothing – no terra firma beneath their feet, just a gaping abyss – to give them any support, to keep them from falling to their deaths, resulting in “a population of exactly zero.” Were it not a canyon but just a large crack in the ground, it would enable those so inclined to jump back and forth from side to side as the urge dictated. But then they’d never really be in the middle, just flip-flopping.

And flip-flopping leads to another anology, a see-saw, when assessing politics, with liberals on one end and conservatives on the other. When there is excessive weight to one side or the other, it always wins and throws the other end into the air, where all they can do is hold on for dear life. And I suppose that’s were the middles in the center finally have value, by leaning just a tad one way or the other they can even out the balance in such a way that neither one end nor the other dominates, they both are suspended equally off the ground, and need to negotiate with each other and those in the middle if anything is going to happen.

And that’s the ideal situation, finding balance and negotiating a resolution to the problem. Unfortunately, in America, politically, we’re less see-saw -like and more canyon-like. Today the true middles – those who believe in balance – have zero influence, because the vast majority of those who call themselves “milddles” either really aren’t (they really do prefer one side over the other) or are really apolitical people who get their jollies by voting with no purpose other than to throw a monkey-wrench into the political process just to upset the apple cart and to keep everybody off balance.

I’d rather that we get off of the canyon divide we’re currently in, where all that is accomplished is where the liberals on one side and the conservatives on the other do nothing more than yell back and forth at each other, and there’s nowhere for the true middles to be, and back to the see-saw where the true middles have some influence over the two extremes and the extremes have to negotiate with the middles and each other to get movement one way or the other.

Unfortunately, see-saws are found on playgrounds (to continue the analogy) frequented by children. And in the playground of American politics, the children today don’t play well with each other. The little children don’t or can’t, or don’t know how, to play fairly, understand the concept of compromise to find a win-win solution where all involved can share equally. Instead, they yell at each other, arguing over who’s game is going to be played.

It’s time for the adult middles to step in and take charge, give direction and remove the playground bullies who insist on playing only by their rules.

Which begs the question, “Are there any adults left in America?”

– Bill

Backwards Days

“Dates are important in history because what is done on those dates is of importance.”

― Amit Abraham

I remember when, in my early school days learning history, we not only had to learn what had happened in the past, but also the date of the event. And while I had no problem remembering events – even their most arcane details – remembering dates was my nemesis, they never found a place in my long-term memory for some inexplicable reason. So imagine how giddy I was entering my high school where I learned that memorizing dates in history class (or other such things as tables in chemistry or math) wasn’t deemed necessary, just remember the event and its importance. The theory was that if such information was really needed, it could be looked up in a book, the rationale being that even doctors, for example, don’t remember every little thing they learned in med school, all they need to remember is what reference book to use to read and recall what they need to know. This is supported by research that demonstrates that students forget much – as much as 80% of what they were taught by day 2 if they haven’t needed to think about it in the meantime (even less a week after – usually when a test is given) and remembering only 2-3% after a month. So forget about remembering more than that a year or two after leaving school! My high school was very progressive that way.

Imagine my distress upon entering university only to find they expected one to have memorized dates, tables and such, in high school. I remember explaining why I hadn’t needed to, to one professor and I remember his response, “You’ve a lot of catching up to do if you expect to pass this class!” He was right, and I didn’t pass.

But, as they say, that is history.

Which leads me to an event and its date. Did you know today’s date is 7.10.2017 and why that’s of interest? Look at the numbers closely and you’ll see they are the same right to left, as they are left to right.

Today is a backwards day. We won’t have another backwards day until 8.10.2018.

Which may account for why I’m remembering back to my original troubles with dates.

“Wait!” you say, “Today’s not the 10th, it’s the 12th!”

Well, it was the 10th when I originally wrote this. Then I immediately forgot and didn’t post it!

I told you I have a problem with dates.

– Bill

Ignore The Critics, Dare To Try

“The simplest way to silence your critics…is to do what they claim you can’t do.”

― Israelmore Ayivor

I suppose most of us grew up being told – I know I was – when confronted with something challengingly new, that we could do it if we but tried and applied ourselves. Sometimes we rose to the occasion and succeeded. Sometimes not, but at least we were encouraged to try.

At times, we were told not to do this or the other, that we couldn’t or shouldn’t. And we grew up never trying, never knowing, never thinking that – just maybe – they were wrong. Even as adults, this happens to us all too often. When in doubt, especially when it reaches the chorus level of many family and friends, perhaps we should heed the admonishments or warnings, whatever it’s about could save us or others unnecessary pain (it’s one thing to hurt yourself, but it’s never permissible to do something that might hurt someone else.)

But when you’re sure they’re wrong, you know it in your heart, you know yourself better than they do and know what you’re capable of (or at least sincerely believe so) you just have to do it anyways. As I wrote in my post “No? Really?” (9.13.16), sometimes you’ve got to say, “Oh yeah, sez who? Watch me!” – at least in your mind (I don’t recommend that as a verbal response for children, employees or spouses, unless you’re willing to accept the backlash –  it can have undesired consequences.)

History is replete with stories of people who wouldn’t listen to the naysayers, those negative and pessimistic people who project their own personal fears, or find fault, or cannot see the potential, in others:

• J.C. Penny said of an employee, “[He hasn’t] much of a future in the retail business.” That employee was Sam Walton, who founded Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retail business at $485.87 billion in revenue and compared to Penny’s revenue of about $12.5 billion (both, 2016.)

• His high school coach didn’t see any real skill or potential in him and cut him from the varsity basketball team. The wannabe player was Michael Jordan, who (according to his biography on the NBA website) was, “By acclamation…the greatest basketball player of all time” and today has a net worth of $1.2 billion.

• Straight from college and working as a salesman in a computer store, he spent more time cultivating new customers than attending the cash register. One day he was engaging a potential customer and didn’t open the store on time. He was fired. So, with $60 in his pocket, Mark Cuban started his own computer business (which he sold 9 years later for $6 million.) Today, after many more business adventures, he’s worth $2.7 billion.

• Her drama school teacher told her, “Try another profession. Any other.” Apparently he didn’t see any potential. Lucille Ball proved him wrong and became one of the most prolific and well-loved actresses of all time, who had a net worth of $40 million at the time of her death (1989). That would be $80 million, today. 

• Performing in a high school talent show, the audience booed him off the stage. He didn’t let that stop him from writing songs and performing in public. Bob Dylan went on to sell 100 million records, garner world-wide acclaim, even a Nobel Prize, and has today a net worth of $180 million.

They are just a few. There are many more like them who refused to listen to those who told them they “can’t”. Not everyone of them became money-rich, but earned fame and acclaim and made all of us the better for it.

So why should I listen to the critics? Why should you?

And then there is our inner critic. You’ve heard it, the nagging little voice in the back of your conscious whenever you think about or feel the urge to try something new, something out of your comfort zone, when you are unsure of yourself or unable to know if you’ll succeed. Well, you’ll never know, will you, unless you try.

If you want to do something new in your life or even change your life, and when others (or that inner voice) say you shouldn’t or you can’t, and after deciding that the only person that could be hurt if you fail is yourself…

Just say, “Oh yeah, who sez? Watch me!”

– Bill

The Past, the Future, the American Empire

“All empires fall, eventually.”

― Max Barry

Funny thing about empires, like all things else, they’re born and, in time, they die. Some great ones lasted thousands of years. Many more, not so much. And we can learn a lot from each, if we choose, to see just what caused them to fall. The circumstances may differ, in part, but the end result remained the same for each – they came to an end and, inevitably, another arose. 

Such is history.

Being something of an amateur history buff, and as America just celebrated its birthday yesterday on July 4th, I wondered where America is in its life span as an empire. And it is an empire by definition, if one accepts the synonym of “dominion, rule, supremacy” – the United States has been the dominate, most influential (culturally and economic), and militarily strongest, nation on Earth since the early 20th century.

Instead of empire, perhaps we should use the term, “hegemony”, which refers to a dominate influence over others by their consent, as the U.S. has enjoyed from the rest of the “free” world – they have welcomed our military strength as a shield and buffer from our shared enemies. And they’ve avidly adopted our culture (of everything from Coca Cola to pop stars. And that even applies to the peoples of our enemies, such is our influence.)

But where are we, in the life span of empire/hegemony? Many long-lived empires in history, from birth to end as an empire, include the Khmer (632 years), Kanem (676 years), Silla (992 years), Venice (1,100 years), Kush (1,420 years), and Roman (1,480 years), for an average of 1,050 years.

But what of more modern empires? The British Empire, for about 300 years; the Portuguese, 584 years; Ottoman, 623 years; Ethiopia, 665 years; Holy Roman, 844 years. Their average age was around 600 years, something more than 1/2 the age of those of antiquity. Credit technology and speed of communications for the difference.

And if America is now 241 years old, we can be considered middle aged. Or, with the exponential increases in technology and communications in the last 30 years or so, we may be at our end. 

And we all know what can happen when, in an individual’s personal life, with the subconscious awareness of approaching old age and demise, people sometimes mentally regress and – dresssing 20-year-oldish chic and adopting their lingo, buying impractical sports cars, taking up risky sports – start acting like adolescents again.

“I’ve had a great deal of experience with adolescents…and I’ve discovered that as a group these awkward half children take themselves far too seriously. Moreover, appearance is everything for the adolescent. I suppose it’s a form of play-acting…Most people go through this stage and outgrow it. Many, however, do not. The pose becomes more important than reality, and these poor creatures become hollow people, forever striving to fit themselves into an impossible mold.”

― David Eddings

And I think Eddings makes a good point. Americans are notorious for their cult of youth. We hold on to it. We refuse to grow up and old graciously. We are teenagers at heart. We strive to be what we once were, but are – in truth – no more.

We are in denial.

Individually, and as a nation, as an empire.

Our time is coming to an end, but we strive to mentally fit ourselves into the impossible mold of what we were.

The rest of the world is growing up, there are new nations or blocs growing more stronger and worldly influential as I write. How much longer will the United States have a significant say in world events?

I’m not ready to predict when. But the day will come, whether we are ready for it or not.

Such is history.

– Bill

What Your Eyes Have To Say

“[I] found a stuffed animal, a fluffy wolf with bright blue eyes, and was immediately drawn to it. ‘I want to get this for [him]. It is telling me it needs to go home with [him].'”

― Christine Feehan

I’ve altered the above quote to apply to my oldest son’s first child. He had blue eyes (now gray). And his middle name is Connor, of Irish, meaning, “Wolf Lover”. And wolves play an important role in Viking lore. Since we are of Gael (Irish) and Norse (Dane and Norwegian) lineage, when I saw the blue-eyed, stuffed wolf in the hospital gift shop shortly after holding him in my arms just after his birth, I knew I had to buy it for him, my first gift to him, a token of his name, his heritage. He still has it and has two more, besides. He cannot go to bed at night without them, even now, six years later.

People’s eyes have always fascinated me. Not so much the shape or distance between them, but their color. And I think that’s probably true of everyone. It is probably the first thing we notice when first looking at someone (maybe just after noting the color of their hair and skin) and is a deciding factor in our first impression and decision about what we think of them (absent any other information.)

And scientists have proven this to be universally true, world-wide.

I decided to do a little research on eye color the other day after watching a couple of cooking shows on TV (I’m crap at cooking, but I love a well-prepared meal with interesting ingredients) and am fascinated with the talents the 8 to 12 year-old children on shows such as Master Chef Junior, Chopped Junior (among others) exhibit – their knowlege and skills rivals and often surpasses those on the adult versions. As I’ve watched, I’ve begun to notice that almost all the children were blue-eyed.

Curious. Are blue-eyed people more creative? Not necessarily, but scientists at Orebro University in Sweden have found that our eye color is affected by the same genes that form our frontal lobes, where critical thinking and social skills takes place, and there are distinctly shared behaviors in people with similar irises. Multiple studies have shown that blue-eyed people are more successful when it comes to thinking strategically compared to people who have brown or hazel eyes, are more successful at planning and structuring their time (which is a key component in a timed cook-off challenge!) and perform better in exams than those with brown eyes (that doesn’t mean they’re more intelligent, just better test-takers – a result of inherent time management, perhaps?)

[A few facts: Every human throughout history had brown eyes until about 6,000 years ago when one person born had a genetic mutation and research shows that this person was located somewhere around the Black Sea. As a result, every blue-eyed person has that one common ancestor and is why it is a very common European trait. In 1900, more than 1/2 of non-Hispanic Whites in the U.S. were blue-eyed. By the mid-1900’s it fell to 1 in 3. A study by Loyola University now estimates that fewer than 1 in 6 Americans have blue eyes. Brown is a dominate gene; blue recessive. That means, as more blue-eyed people mate with brown-eyed, the dominate brown will cause fewer blue-eyed in the general population. But genes never really disappear from the genetic pool. It just means that, in the far future, those with blue eyes will be a rarity (same with red-heads. Contrary to popular myth, neither are slated for total extinction.)]

Which led me to look at what those other “distinctly shared behaviors in people with similar irises” might be. You can do your own research (I found near universal agreement among those scientists who have studied it), but one’s personality characteristics are closely related to the color of one’s eyes:

•  Those with brown (light, medium or the darker shade, black) eyes are outgoing and social, loyal, trustworthy, respectful, and gentle (but not necessarily submissive.)

•  Those with blue eyes tended to be introverted and shy, wary of new things and are considerably less open with others. (Unfortunately, others may erroneously see them as untrustworthy, or competitive and even egotistical, aloof to others.)

• Those with grey eyes (a shade of blue) are well-balanced but defensive. 

• Those with hazel eyes are balanced and not likely to go to extremes. (Hazel’s change color back and forth from green to brown, or as an iris with the two different colors, and no one really knows what makes hazel eyes – researchers “guess” that hazel is simply a combination of brown and green eyes.)

• Those with green eyes (another blue shade and the rarest of all colors) are self-sufficienct, unpredictable, original, creative and perform well under great pressure. (“Sexy” seems to be the unanimous first choice description by others and surveys have found, when asked what eye color they’d like to have, given the choice, a majority of non-greens would choose green.)

Eye color is also associated with some health conditions and behaviors (for example: blue-eyed are more prone to skin cancer. They also have a higher tolerance for alcohol, that allows them to drink more than the brown-eyed and may account for the fact that the majority of alcoholics are blue-eyed.) And how genetics determine eye color is also interesting (my parents were both brown-eyed, as are my sisters. I have hazel [brown surrounded with green]. My wife, green, one son blue and one brown, all the grandchildren, blue.) Hummm, maybe grist for another post, another day?

Of course, the personality traits by eye color are group characteristics and an individual is not always reflective of their eye color (or vice versa); who a person is, how they think and how they behave and respond to others is also a matter of their upbringing and life experiences (which probably carries more weight.) But the basic personality tendency is always there.

Dr. Anthony Fallone of Edinburgh University (who has studied the links between eyes and personality) has said, “The eye is so closely linked neurologically to the brain that you might call it the only part of our brain you can see from the outside. It seems to hold vital clues to our brain function.”

Interesting, that. Don’t you think?

– Bill

In the Arms of Morpheus, Part II

“Had I slept?”

― Samuel Beckett

My post, “In the Arms of Morpheus” (June 1), related how I really enjoy sleep and why we need to, mentally and physically. In the past couple of days, I’ve read two things on Facebook that rekindled memories of the best sleep I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t in a bed.

It was in a hammock.

Almost 50 years ago (wow, has it really been that long?), while in the navy, two of my squadron mates had rented an old house off-base. It was a three bedroom place and they offered me the chance to get out of base housing. I jumped at their offer, it would give me the opportunity to have a break from being encased 24 hours a day in a military environment. The house was furnished, all except for the very small third bedroom, which would be mine. I didn’t want to buy a bed, nor just a mattress for the floor. For whatever reason, I remembered as a boy watching movies where sailors of old slept below decks in hammocks, which swayed back-and-forth with the motion of the ship, and how that had intrigued me. I went to the local military surplus store and bought a cotton canvas sleeping hammock (this was before the days of light-weight synthetics.)

[Now, for you uninitiated, a sleeping hammock differs from your garden variety lounging hammock. Whereas a lounging hammock’s ropes at each end are of a lengh and looped so that the hammock lies flat open – easy to roll off – a sleeping hammock’s, on the other hand, are of a length and looped in a way that the sides of it curl up so as to keep you from falling out. I secured its rope ends to a heavy screw-in hook in a stud on either side of one of the room’s corners, just high enough that my feet touched the floor while sitting up in the hammock – simply swiveling my hind side allowed me to lie down or get out – with the middle somewhat lower than the two ends. There, you have your DYI instructions.]

The beauty of the thing, in a corner (as it was), was that all I need do was reach out to the wall, give a push, and the hammock would sway like a pendulum. I kid you not, I’d be asleep before it stopped moving and would sleep the night through, never needing to toss or turn to get comfortable, and awake in the morning more refreshed than ever before or since in a bed.

Never awakening, tired, wondering, “Had I slept?” Not once for the almost one year I lived there. Sleeping in that hammock.

I now read where hammocks are becoming more popular among the camping set, replacing tents. The benefits are obvious, no dirt nor rocks nor roots nor uneven ground to lie upon, no creepy-crawlers looking to share one’s sleeping bag at night.

And there are hammocks that sleep two. And while the two may start out the night closely side-by-side, there is during the night, of course – given the sagging nature of the beast – a resulting “spooning” of the two.

But when has that ever been a problem?

– Bill