Thursday, April 19, 2018

Truth and The Right

Lying is not a new phenomenon in public discourse (read, "politics"), any more than it is new to our human species. In fact, one of my professors told our class, by way of discussing the origins of human language, that one theory is that language was invented to allow lying.

And I have sometimes imagined, as a "thought experiment" (a term used by physicists), that perhaps, if mankind were to make contact with another intelligent species, that species might turn out to have no concept of lying and to be in fact incapable of it. Or, imagine what our world would be like if there were no lying. We are lied to not only by politicians and the like but, sadly, by our preachers and teachers (let's hope that they are not knowingly lying to us but that they believe what they are saying).

And the problem is not simply that mankind is capable of lying, but that those on the audience end believe what that hear and read. A good education--evidently a rare thing--teaches people to be critical. It's a lesson that badly needs to be learned but is seldom or not easily learned. I used to berate my (college) students for being uncritical. I would say, "I could stand up here and say 'Black is white' and it would just go mechanically into your ears, down your arms, through your pens and onto your paper."

I have blogged before about the fact that the Right disseminates a lot of misinformation (or, as I guess the new word is, dysinformation). Just as a couple examples, in a recent PBS (public television) program on John McCain (a very prominent US politician, long-serving US Senator from Arizona and opponent to Barack Obama in our presidential elections), there were scenes where a McCain supporter held a sign about his willingness to personally and physically protect his grandparents. What was that about? I believe it referred to the idea--eventually proved false--that so-called Obamacare (more formally called the Affordable Care Act) was going to promote the euthanasia of sick old people. Another lie in the same TV program was when McCain was speaking one-on-one with a woman who said, of Obama, "He's a--a--Arab," meaning, I'll assume, a Muslim. This was another lie spread by the Right (and McCain, being truly a very decent and principled man, told the woman that that was false).

Who spreads these lies? I think a main channel is conservative radio and TV commentators, but nowadays dysinformation is being spread on the Internet, on web sites, and--as we have recently learned, in a bit of a scandal--via social media such as Facebook.

There is also email. A high school classmate of mine, at one point, was forwarding to me Right-wing propaganda.  I call it propaganda because it was false and I could pretty easily learn that it was false--yet these emails had been forwarded many, many times before reaching me. And how many times were they received and read and believed?

And in the 2016 presidential election, as we know, there was wrong information being spread via Facebook, so-called "alt-right" media, and by candidates.

I am thinking mainly of Donald Trump here.  The New York Times reported that, in the course of calendar year 2017 (and thus not even during the presidential campaign), they caught Trump lying 1300 times. That's about four lies per day, right?

Is Trump an evil man who is coldly and calculatingly trying to deceive his audience (which, these days, must be taken to be the whole world)? That's not clear. Sometimes he may be voicing what is simply an incorrect statistic or other incorrect information (how that might happen might itself be a question to think about).

I'm someone who pretty generally tries to give the Devil his due. So I'm willing to say this: It may very well be that Trump genuinely believes he's doing what is best for the country. However--and there has to be a very big "however"--we must think about what Trump sees as "the country." I have to think that, in Trump's eyes, "the country" is pretty much equivalent to what we've come to call "the one percent"--that is, Trump's rich friends, those who own and control business (and politics) in the United States.

Thus, Trump talks about "getting the EPA off our backs." By this he means relieving or alleviating the "burden" of regulation on businesses under, for example, The Clean Water Act, which Trump has nullified. This means businesses can operate with less care (and cost) due to regulations on, for example, their pouring pollutants into our rivers and streams. Yes, better for Business--but not better for America's children who might be made ill, stunted, deformed by drinking water contaminated with harmful chemicals.

Copyright © 2018 by Richard Stein

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Beware TV Ads

Watch much TV? Do you view those irritating ads for products you order by phone, or by going to a web site? Here are some marketing practices that you should be aware of.

It's become common for these ads to offer you (for example), a second what-ever-it-is for free; "just pay separate fee."

First, I don't know how much that "separate fee" is likely to amount to, but you should consider that, with this fee, it's not actually free.

Second, consider this: Say the item costs $19.99 and the second one is "free." I think you should understand the offer this way: The item really costs $10 each but you are being forced to buy two of them.

And then, have you noticed that all prices are "just such-and-such an amount" or "only. . ."? This is a bit of psychology practiced upon you by the merchandiser, trying to make you think (usually unconsciously) that the offering price is low, cheap, a bargain. Maybe a little less subtle is when they say "For the amazing low price of . . . ." Or they imply that the price is lower than formerly. Probably you can't verify that, and I suspect it's most likely not true.

Another trick to make you think the price is a good one is when the screen shows a price with a big red "X" through it and then a lower price, meaning (again) that the price has been reduced. Again, be suspicious of this.

Sometimes, if the price is for some cosmetic is, say, $39.95, maybe you are getting two or three items and the ad will say, "A $170 value." There is no way you can verify that and you should consider it totally phony and made-up.

For more expensive items, it might be something like, "For just five easy payments of $29.99 each." (Note the inevitable "just.") First, I suspect they don't expect you to multiply the amount of the payment by the number of payments to determine the total cost you'll be paying. Face it, you're lazy, and maybe also not good at mental math. And, sometimes the screen will show (for example) five payments, which (again) is crossed out by a big red "X", and then it's four payments--again to make you think you're getting a price reduction and a bargain.

Are these TV offers ever a good deal, or at least reasonable? In one case I compared the TV price with the price for the same item on Amazon. The same.

Sometimes the items advertised on TV--even if the ad says "Not sold in stores"--are in fact available in stores. For example, Bed, Bath & Beyond carries many "As Seen on TV" items--and if you buy the item from BB&B, you won't pay the shipping charge, though you may have to add sales tax to the price.

I frankly don't know whether, buying from TV vendors, you get an okay product, or reasonably fast shipping (the ads often say "Allow 4 —6 weeks for delivery"), or whether you get ripped off on the shipping charges. That's because I've never ordered from a TV ad; I'm too cautious. Though I have occasionally bought "as seen on TV" products, and I would not generalize to say that they are no good.

A final word: A lot of what I say here may be pretty obvious to the more shrewd among us, but, judging from how frequently I hear on the news of scams and so on that people fall for, I do have to believe that, if not actually stupid, my fellow man sometimes is naive, incautious, or just not critical.

© 2018 by Richard Stein

Jews in Spain, 1492

It's unusual for Mourning Dove Hill to give you a little history lesson, but here it is, without further apology:

The year 1492 was a momentous year, and not only because, as we are all taught in school, "Columbus discovered America" in that year (actually, in his first voyage, in that year, Columbus made land on an island in the Caribbean, and not on the mainland of North America).

Also in that year, Queen Isabella of Castile married King Ferdinand of Aragon, thus uniting the two largest Christian kingdoms of Spain.1 That permitted the new, larger and stronger, Spanish kingdom to complete the so-called Reconquista, or reconquest of Spain by Christian kingdoms from the Muslim Moors, who had been controlling an ever-shrinking domain in Spain for centuries.

Again in that year, and not coincidentally, an edict was issued by Ferdinand and Isabella concerning the Jews who, under the Moorish rulers, had lived in peace and, in fact, more than mere toleration (in most kingdoms and at most times). The Jews were given an ultimatum: convert or get out. (Actually and practically speaking, there was a third choice: do neither and be tortured to death--possibly burned at the stake--by the Inquisition. Some Jews submitted to a conversion that was not completely sincere and thus became so-called crypto-Jews or, as the Christian Spaniards called them, "Marranos," which translates as 'pigs'.)

(The Muslims were also promised toleration but, some 30 years later, under King Charles II, they were similarly forced to convert or get out.)

The Jews of Spain, known as Sephardim, spread to many countries including North Africa, Turkey, and throughout the Middle East--all the lands that were then the Ottoman Empire. They brought with them a language of their own, derived from Spanish and known as Ladino or Judeo-Spanish. Ladino traditionally was written with the Hebrew alphabet, and it might be said that Ladino is to Spanish as Yiddish is to German.
1 The two kingdoms were not fully united until the reign of Isabella's grandson, Charles I.

© 2018 by Richard Stein

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guns--Yet Again

I really don't want to blog about guns anymore and had thought (or hoped) that I was done doing so. But, alas, we've had another awful mass shooting of innocent school children.

President Donald Trump held a highly publicized meeting with survivors and parents of victims of three school shootings: Columbine, Sandy Hook/Newtown, and the latest, Parkland, Florida.

As part of what he proposes to do about the problem, which was dramatized to him by some very emotional speeches by the student survivors and parents, he cited the coach who was shot in Parkland, saying that if that man had been armed, things might have been different.

In other words, the answer to the shooting problem so often given by gun-rights advocates and the NRA (National Rifle Association): MORE GUNS! The answer to the problem of prevalent, too-often-used guns in America is MORE GUNS! The idea being that, if I am in a situation where someone is shooting and killing, and I have a gun myself, I can shoot (and presumably kill) the shooter--thus saving myself and others.

I can see one problem with this idea. There is one element in the equation that is being omitted: If I am face-to-face with someone with a gun, and who is using that gun, the outcome--isn't this obvious?--depends on who is the better shot; that is, who can shoot faster (i.e., be quick on the draw) and more accurately--that is, who is the better shot.

I, for one, would not have faith in myself to be the one who comes out better (or alive) from this hypothetical situation. I guess everybody in America must not only get a gun but "learn how to use it," that is, spend time on one of those things I think are called firing ranges.

And, again for myself, I think that, even in a situation where it might be viewed as a case of protecting myself, I would not want to have to make the decision to shoot someone else. Maybe if it was a case of "him or me," a survival or self-preservation instinct would kick in and provide the answer. But just finding myself in that situation seems to me to be the stuff of nightmares.

No, the answer is not more guns, but fewer guns. Australia (and three other countries) began programs to remove guns from their countries--and homicides by gun  dropped dramatically.

Unfortunately, the United States not only has a very strong lobby in the NRA (which is said to have given $31 million to Trump's campaign) but also something called the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which (as it is usually interpreted) guarantees US citizens the "right to bear arms." What is often forgotten is that centuries of jurisprudence have established that limits may be set on this "right to bear arms." We need to be thinking in terms of what limits can be set, short of seriously considering whether we can, or should, get rid of the Second Amendment (which is probably pretty much unthinkable, even after so many mass shootings).

Copyright © 2018

Update, March 1, 2018: Trump has actually proposed some restrictions on guns, and if he is serious about this, and can get this done, I might consider taking back all (well,some, anyway) of the nasty things I've said about him.
However, Trump is proverbially persuaded by the last person he talked to. So someone from the NRA or some Republican politician might get him to reverse himself (which of course he is quite prone to do). So it's premature to do any celebrations or even thanking him.
Plus, he still wants to arm teachers. This is just a paraphrase of the oft-repeated NRA mantra, "The best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
And, let us not forget, the president does not make the law. This would require Congress passing some laws, and the pundits don't seem to feel this is likely.

Update, March 2, 2018.

It looks as though I was right. Today the media are reporting that the White House is "walking back" some of President Trump's comments made yesterday on the need for stricter gun laws, and the need, and ability, of our congressional lawmakers to defy the NRA. This reversal comes after he met with some representatives of the NRA late last night.
As I said, whatever opinions Trump is espousing depends on whom he was last talking to. The man is so intellectually weak, shallow, and worthless that he has no opinions of his own.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What's Wrong with Charities

I contribute money to a lot of things that can be called charities: Social-change organizations, feed the children, help animals and wildlife, save the environment, cancer research, political organizations--the list goes on.

It ticks me off that so many of them, when you send them money, reply, in effect, "Thanks, but now send us more!"

And I'm getting even more annoyed at them over a variety of practices: When they want a contribution, their solicitation will come in an envelope that says something like, "Second renewal notice," which I feel makes me look like a deadbeat (okay, only my mail carrier would notice and he most likely doesn't concern himself).

Online solicitations have their own particular tricks. They say something like, "If you could contribute just $3, it would help us. . . " Then you click and go to the contribution page, and is the default amount $3? No, it's $25.

Also, by default you are agreeing to make it a monthly contribution. You have to uncheck a box to make it one-time. I already make monthly contributions to four or five organizations and basically do not want to commit to any more.

I believe in being charitable. My religion (more or less) commands it. However, I have found, lately, that I've been giving to so many groups: usually small amounts, but a few dollars here and 10 or 15 bucks there, it adds up to hundreds before you know it.

And yet, I go online and here's a "Help my campaign" or "Donald Trump has done such-and-such, help us fight back"--and I can't resist.

It's been making me do some thinking about my finances and just what I can and cannot afford. Wish I knew how long my retirement nest egg needs to last me. . . .

Copyright © 2018

Update, March 1, 2018: I've continued to have the problem of contributions being made "recurring" when I did not intend that. I am quite certain that the little box, "Make this a recurring contribution," was not checked, and yet this has happened at least three times. I've responded to that by unsubscribing to emails from those organizations so that there's no danger that I will forget that I should not contribute to those guys. And, where they asked for a reason for the "unsubscribe," I told them about this, and the fact that it's made me very angry. Are they going to take any note? I doubt it. Still, I feel I've done what I could to punish them for how they (as I feel) tricked me.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Three Religions Have This in Common

Fundamentalist Christianity, Fundamentalist Judaism, and Fundamentalist Islam all condemn homosexuality. Their agreement on this point, and most likely a number of other points, does not make them correct. But it does make me wonder why they have this (and presumably quite a few other things) in common.

So here are my thoughts: The molders (and I use that word with much careful consideration, so as to encompass both ancient, historical personages and modern religious leaders) of these religions feel that life needs to be tightly controlled and regulated--presumably by their scriptures and their clergy. So they see life--behavior--as being about a lot of rules, for what we must and (maybe more importantly) what we must not do. What clothes we should wear, how we must wear our hair, what we should (or, more likely, should not) eat. Maybe there is a view of human nature implicit here: we are all wild, savage beasts, and our natures--our lusts and other baser impulses--need control, examination, regulation, corseting.

And what about the people who are drawn to these sorts of religion, who embrace them and gladly follow them? I believe there is a certain personality type that positively likes having a lot of their conduct prescribed. I'm not sure whether this is the same personality type as the "molders" I referred to above, or a complementary type that fits that of the molders like two pieces of a jig saw puzzle.

Well, it's usually believed in modern, western democracies that people should believe and observe what they want. That's fine; but too often the attitude is, "I don't think such-and-such is right, so I am going to try to prevent you from doing it"--whether it is  homosexuality, abortion, or any of countless things which most of us feel a human being ought to be free to do.

Copyright © 2018

Monday, November 6, 2017

Yet Another Shooting

Yet another shooting.

It just goes on, even getting more frequent. And the National Rifle Association, which has lots of members, lots of money, and a very effective lobbying apparatus, nips in the bud any talk about imposing new restrictions on gun ownership.

Donald Trump said, "It's a mental health issue, not a gun issue."  Speaking from Tokyo, he said, "We have mental health issues, just like any other country." Yes, Mr. Trump, but have you thought at all about the fact that most other countries don't have these mass shootings? If every country has mental health issues, and mental health problems in the population cause these shootings, then why don't those other countries have numerous and frequent mass shootings similar to ours? Simple logic shows that Trump is wrong.

In Great Britain, just as an example, it is illegal to own a gun. There are still a few guns anyway, and no doubt guns are sometimes used in the commission of a crime. But do we hear about mass shootings in Great Britain? If my rhetorical question needs an answer, No, we do not.

In fairness, it must be admitted that it's not quite so simple as just widespread ownership of guns. I understand that, on a per capita basis, there are a lot of guns in Canada. There are a lot of guns in Switzerland. But those countries don't seem have the equivalent gun use in shootings.

One thing that may make a difference: I have said before, the United States has a gun culture. Possibly this is as simplistic as some other comments on our mass shooting problem, but I think that Western movies glorified, and normalized, using guns to shoot people. Some people in other countries think all of America is the Wild West; and to some extent that's true.

If we look at other countries' experience with gun control laws, it looks like they do work. Australia had a problem with mass shootings. For example, motorcycle gangs were engaging in wars with guns. A turning point came in 1996. "The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. 35 people were killed and 23 wounded when the gunman opened fire on shop owners and tourists with two semi-automatic rifles. This mass killing horrified the Australian public [Wikipedia, s.v. Gun laws in Australia]."

Under Australia's new laws, no one may own a gun without showing a good reason. With money raised from a levy, a million guns were bought back by the government. The result?

Between 2010-2014, gun related homicides across all of Australia had dropped to 30-40 per year. Firearms in 2014 were used in less than 15% of homicides, less than 0.1% of sexual assaults, less than 6% of kidnapping/abductions and 8% of robberies.
Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and has stayed on that lower level since then [Wikipedia, s.v. Gun laws in Australia].
I don't understand why no one in the US Congress calls the attention of the public and the rest of the government to the experience of Australia.

Copyright © 2017