Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our Brief Visit to Russia

The second stop on our 50th wedding anniversary Baltic cruise with members of our family was St. Petersburg, Russia. My maternal grandparents came to the US from Russia. My grandfather Louis Leibowitz was from Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, virtually at the current line of demarcation between the Ukrainian-nationalists and Russian-speaking separatists). My grandmother Lena was from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, our daughter Lisa has been studying the Russian language at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, where her husband, Jerry, is a member of the faculty, and our 16-year-old granddaughters just completed their second year. Her knowledge of Russian and research into sightseeing and museum highlights in St. Petersburg helped make our visit most effective and enjoyable.

Our visit began with mass confusion at the customs checkpoint. As we debarked the ship we were swept into long lines of our fellow cruise-members who all seemed to have numbered stickers on their shirts denoting the land-tours for which they had signed up. They told us they had obtained the stickers at the theater on the ship, but we had somehow missed that part of the instruction! We attempted to re-board, but could not, so we joined a line and, quite fortunately, ran into our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters who informed us that our particular tour would get our stickers as we boarded the bus.

The lines at customs moved slowly, and, when it was our turn, we discovered why. The customs agents were translating our names and personal information into Cyrillic characters. Thus, my name "IRA GLICKSTEIN" had to be converted to the Cyrillic "ИРА ГЛУКШТЕИN" and so on for all of our information. Although this should have been an easy computer task, the customs agents seemed to be doing it manually, which is why it took so long. So our tour was delayed about an hour.

On to ride into town, our tour leader, who spoke good English, told us that, "in Soviet times" multiple families shared communal state-owned apartments, but that the Khrushchev reforms had changed that, with a goal of separate apartments for each family. Starting in the 1960's, many new concrete-block apartments were erected and, although it took up to ten years, depending upon their position and political connections, most families eventually obtained their own apartments.

Then, in the 1990's under Yeltsin, as the old Soviet Union disintegrated, residents were essentially given ownership of their apartments for free. Now, she said, over 95% of the people had their own apartments. The average apartment was now worth about $40,000 and those who owned more than one, having inherited them from their deceased parents and transferred ownership for a few thousand dollars, would rent them out.

We drove through block after block of massive apartment buildings, some with obvious external deterioration, but generally clean.

The bus took us on a short tour of the major attractions of downtown St. Petersburg. Then, we were dropped off at a souvenir shop, where they had free tea, water, and restrooms, and we were given a few hours "at leisure" to explore the city on our own.

Downtown St. Petersburg is a bustling city, with lots of people hurrying down the streets, many stores of all kinds, and hot dog vendors with carts on the sidewalks. Just as a cat seeks mice*, I focus on fast food. So, I ogled the American fast food franchises, but, alas, was not able to dine there. The main photo above shows the popular golden arches and the inset photos on the right show two other favorites - can you read the Cyrillic characters and identify them?

With the help of daughter Lisa, and my familiarity with some Greek characters from my math and physics education, I got pretty good at sounding out Cyrillic. "Санкт-Петербург, Россия" is "Saint Petersburg, Russia".

Lisa had done her research and intended to walk to the Kunstkamera ("кунсткамера" which means "Cabinet of Curiosities")  Russia's first museum, created by Peter the Great and first opened around 1727.

The long walk was too much for Vi, who was dropped off at a nice park. The rest of us continued the walk. Along the way, as we were crossing a bridge over the Neva River, a Russian man spoke to me in good English, saying that all the bridges would be closed between midnight and 5 AM, a fact our tour leader had earlier conveyed to us, telling us that the bridges had to be raised during those hours to allow large transport ships to pass through.

There was further confusion as our daughter and son-in-law, who had earlier exchanged US dollars for Russian rubles, purchased tickets for the museum. Students and retirees were entitled to an 80% discount on the admission price, but only two of our three granddaughters happened to have their student ID cards, and I did not have my AARP card. However, not to worry. All our granddaughters got student discounts and somebody miscounted, so I got in for free!

Once in, I had to check my large backpack, which I left at the coat-check station in return for a very substantial numbered token. The museum reminded me of the New York Museum of Natural History as it was back when I was in elementary school.

Lisa led us on a beeline to the special section of "Oddities" where photography was prohibited, but, as we were told, there were plenty of images on the Internet (see photos below).



After our all-too-short visit to the Kunstkamera, we returned to the park where we had left Vi and she told us she had made friends with Russian woman who spoke adequate English.

We all walked further through the active streets, stopped to ogle some cathedral, and further tested our ability to sound out Cyrillic characters. ("кафе" is "Cafe", and so on.)  At this point, I too was pretty much "walked out" and Vi and I decided to walk back to the souvenir shop for some free tea and wait in that area until it was time to catch our tour bus back to the ship. Our granddaughter Alexia was nice enough to walk and wait with us.

There was a very comfortable park near the souvenir shop dedicated to the famous Russian writer Pushkin, and we happily waited there.

As we waited in the park, I noticed the pigeons had an unusual fondness for the famous Russian writer, see photos above. I tested my ability to sound out Cyrillic characters by reading the inscription on the Pushkin statue, "Алекса́ндр Серге́евич ПУШКИНУ" is "Alexander Sergevitch PUSHKIN". Hooray!

------------------------------

Our second day in St. Petersburg was a half-day tour to the impressive Hermitage museum. This time, we passed through customs rapidly.

As we waited to enter the Hermitage, street vendors plied us with novelties, such as Russian nested dolls and souvenir books, and so on. I was pleased that one vendor was selling anti-Communist t-shirts for $10 US currency (similar to the example shown in the lower left inset of the first image in this posting):

  • On the front of the t-shirt, the old Communist hammer and sickle on a field of red is replaced by "McLenin's" - the face of Vladimir Lenin, the (once) highly respected Communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist who served as the leader of the USSR 1917 through his death in 1922, surrounded by the now-universal symbol of western capitalism, the golden arches of McDonalds.
  • The back of the t-shirt shows the defeated hammer and sickle in a red star with the legend "The (Communist) Party is Over".

Indeed, Communism is over. The only people who still believe in it seem to be academics, teaching in western universities!

Our tour leader was a young woman who spoke excellent English. She guided us through the impressive exhibits and explained them to us. Our special tour included a visit to the "Gold Room" where an expert guide explained the exhibits in the Russian language which was translated and repeated by our guide.

PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

Of course a bare two-day visit to one city in Russia is not a basis for any deep political analysis. First of all, St. Petersburg (Leningrad in Soviet times) has, even in the days of Peter the Great, been more western-oriented than the rest of Russia, and is probably far more prosperous than average. Furthermore, the only contact we had with Russian people was the customs agents, who said not a word to us; the tour guides, who spoke disparagingly of "Soviet times" but said nothing about the current situation or their leader Vladimir Putin, who happens to be a native of St. Petersburg, which I guess is understandable; and the guy on the street who told me about the bridges closing at night.

Never-the-less, I got the distinct impression that the policies and customs of the old "Soviet times" had deep roots that affected the current situation. My wife Vi thinks the long delay at customs was likely due to a need to increase employment of people in government jobs. It seems to me that security at their customs checkpoints and museums was more officious than effective.

The customs agents were behind high barriers such that we could see their hands only when they took our passports and gave them back. We could not see whether they transliterated our names to Cyrillic characters manually or with the aid of a computer, but I believe it was the former because of how long it took.

A slip of paper with our transliterated information was tucked into our passports when we left. When we returned from the tour, we had to go through a security checkpoint to get into the customs building. That included an x-ray screening for my backpack and passing through a metal detector. When my belt buckle caused the metal detector to beep, I took my belt off and tried to hand it to the guard, but he just waved me through as it beeped again. We again had to wait at customs, but all they seemed to do was remove that slip of paper from our passports and pass us on. (Upon entering the ship, we had to put our sea card into a machine that instantly brought up a stored photo so the attendant could confirm our identity, and then we had to go through some real security that included an x-ray scan of our belongings and a metal detector where we had to remove our belts.)

On the first day, at the Kunstkamera ("Odditiies") museum, they made me check my backpack, but they did not use a metal detector or inspect the contents of my pockets or jacket or purse-size containers, etc.

On the second day, at the Hermitage museum we were warned not to take any bottled water or other liquids because of an incident not long ago where a mentally disturbed man threw acid on a valuable painting and used a knife to slash it. Thus, I was not surprised to see a metal detector at the entrance. However, it was totally unmanned and beeped merrily as we walked through! I could have easily carried a bottle of acid and a knife without any serious chance of detection.

On the second day, we again had to go through the customs checkpoints, both leaving and returning. This time, however, they passed us through both ways without giving us that slip of paper or demanding it upon our return. Perhaps the customs agents scanned our passports with a computer, but it was hard to tell.

Once aboard the ship I looked more closely at a Russian language advertising leaflet I had picked up and was proud to recognize that "Эрмитаж магазин" sounded out as "Hermitage Magazine" and meant "Hermitage Store".
Ira Glickstein

*As a cat is genetically drawn to see mice, I am ineffably drawn to focus on fast food joints. Recall the childhood poem:

"Pussy cat, pussy cat / where have you been? / 
I've been to London to visit the Queen. / 
Pussy cat, pussy cat / what saw you there? / 
I saw a little mouse, under a chair!"

Yes, the cat missed all the finery and luxury of the Queen's palace in favor of that lowly mouse under the chair! Perhaps we all miss some majestic sights as we are drawn to the familiar? 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Important message of immediate relevance

Message from the People of Israel to the World


Click here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=573162559463244&fref=nf

Timely, well stated, brief and to the point.

Please watch the video and share it widely.

advTHANKSance

Ira

PS: For the sake of unity, I'll take the brief image of the polar bear stuck on a bit of ice as being ironic.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Our Excellent Helsinki Kayak Adventure (or men in skirts :^)

The first stop on our 50th wedding anniversary Baltic cruise with most of the members of our family was Helsinki, Finland.


Our 16-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, is a bird expert who loves the outdoors. She expressed interest in a kayak adventure to the eastern archipelago of Helsinki that was available as a land tour during the Baltic cruise we had scheduled to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Her dad, Jerry, and I agreed to join her and it turned out, for me, to be the most worthwhile tour of a wonderful cruise!

The photos above capture some highlights of our paddle, including our wearing of kayak skirts (more about that below :^).

NO SKIRTS REQUIRED

Ira, Lorin, and Bill
My kayaking started relatively late in life, in the 1990's in New York where I purchased a kayak and did some mildly white water. I brought my kayak with me when Vi and I moved to Florida and continued paddling here where the waters are calm (except for the occasional street sign or alligator :^)

I sold my kayak when we moved from our private home in The Villages, FL to our current digs in an Independent Living facility, where storage space is at a premium.

I had not been in a kayak for over two years when I accepted Samantha's invitation.

Lorin, Bill, and Frank
Naturally, I was concerned that I might make a fool of myself in front of my granddaughter in Finland, so, a couple weeks before our Baltic cruise I invited a few friends from Freedom Pointe to join me in a refresher paddle. We had a great time on the Rainbow river, as the photos indicate!


In over a decade of kayaking, I've never wanted to do an "eskimo roll" and so have never worn a sprayskirt that seals the cockpit opening. 

So, I was totally unprepared to wear a skirt on our Helsinki adventure!


SKIRTS PROVIDED - AND MORE !

On the Helsinki paddle, we didn't do any rolls, but we did wear skirts. The lower right inset in the top photo shows our group that consisted of Claudia and Tanya (from Australia), along with Ira, Samantha, and Jerry.

We highly recommend the outfitter, NATURA VIVA, and the able leader of our tour, Outi, for their high quality equipment and enjoyable adventure. (See http://kauppa.naturaviva.fi/en/kayak-tours/helsinki-by-kayak-p-81.html/)


Outi and Anna and the others at Natura Viva made us comfortable and were highly professional in helping us don the skirts and life vests and rain gear.

At a stop at an island, we enjoyed some amazing refreshments, including the juice of the "Sea buckthorn".
Samantha, Jerry, and Tanya drink        --   Our leader, Outi, pours   --         Jerry and Samantha enjoy the view !
"Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) ... known as nature's most balanced fruit. ... The Sea buckthorn fruit is also known throughout the world as Sandthorn, Sandorn, and the "Wonder Berry". Consider sea buckthorn's nutritional profile: Sea buckthorn contains more than 190 biologically active compounds and with its full range of omega fatty acids in perfect balance. Sea buckthorn contains more than 60 antioxidants and high ORAC value. The fruit of sea buckthorn is very rich in vitamin C (300-1600 mg/100 g), which is 4 - l00 times higher than any vegetable and fruit."


Outi told us they had diluted the highly concentrated sea buckthorne with pineapple juice to make it palatable for us. REFRESHING !!!

Oh, and Samantha pointed out a hooded crow (grey except for black head) and a muted swan, among other birds we saw.


Ira Glickstein

Friday, June 20, 2014

WHAT IS IMPORTANT?

[From billlifka – Posted with his permission. Images added by Ira]


Influx of Latin Children >>>










SEX IN THE TOWN SQUARE GAZEBO
It’s been an exciting week in the Villages. A 68 year old woman was interrupted by the sheriff’s police having sex with a man young enough to be her son. Both were inebriated. Their mistake was to choose a town square gazebo as their trysting spot so they were hauled off to jail. I’m guessing their defense will be similar to the question of whether a tree falling in the middle of a dense forest makes any noise. The event was at 10:30 PM which is 1 ½ hours after the sidewalks are rolled up on the square. As for the police, I doubt if they were traumatized at the sight. The event, itself, wasn’t all that exciting but it was published in our dot-com newsletter (http://www.villages-news.com/) with pictures and details. It’s the opposite of the local paper which only prints the good news. Both are quite professional but the electronic one encourages immediate reader feedback. As you can imagine, there were many reader comments. Amazingly, quite a few were of a serious nature.


TRIAL OF LARGER-SIZED GOLF HOLES
One more dot-com-encouraged subject of intense debate was the decision to have a trial of larger sized golf holes on one of the nine-hole courses. The way that one is going, I think there may be a request for a formal hearing before the International PGA Board.


UNSIGNED LETTERS ABOUT DIRTY CURBS
A little closer to home, some mysterious local person wrote unsigned letters to three households in our Village chastising them for having dirty curbs along their section of road. It has become a subject of intense oral and electronic debate over who might be responsible for such “hate” mail.


PARKING PROBLEMS AND FLORIDA TURNPIKE ACCESS
In fact, there are many current, important happenings here. Examples include: a major hospital expansion which poses a huge parking problem; a major expansion of the Church on the Square and change to a Performing Arts Theatre which poses a huge parking problem; a decision to stop plans for a direct connector to the Florida Turnpike in favor of improving the routing through a small, local city, likely at the behest of favored persons and businesses. I could go on. None are earthshaking issues but all have much greater consequence than the first named matters.


As you may have guessed, this isn’t a news bulletin but another comment on human nature.
 
FRUITS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA’S PULLOUT FROM IRAQ
In the same period those earth-shaking events were occurring in The Villages a few important events were in progress around the world. The fruits of Obama’s pullout from Iraq ripened and are being harvested. Militant Sunni fighters captured important Cities (over which much American blood was spilled) on the way to Baghdad and creation of a Caliphate home to terrorists bound by religious vow to terrorize America.


POSSIBLE MUSLIM EXTREMIST ACCESS TO PAKISTANI NUKES
Taliban successes in Pakistan foretold the day when those Muslim extremists will control the third largest cache of nuclear weapons. (The challenge is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.)


INFLUX OF 90,000 to 250,000 LATIN CHILDREN [Image top right]
Closer to home, seemingly less daunting, were 90,000 Latin children dumped over the border into America. They have been made our problem and the prediction is that next year’s annual rate of child dumping will be 250,000.


I could go on.


THE PRESIDENT’S RESPONSE
The president’s answer is, “I’ve instructed my people to come up with options to deal with it.” Off he flies to a fund-raiser in California. These were also his words and actions at the time of the Benghazi disaster and nothing has happened except major efforts by the Administration to stonewall and obfuscate. Hillary was a major player in all these major blunders. If America was a professional sports team, Barry and Hillary would’ve been fired long ago. As my own beloved Villagers demonstrate, Americans seem to have lost a capacity to focus on what’s important.


billlifka

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Discover Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type

I presented "Discover your MBTI Personality Type" to the Discussion Group at Freedom Pointe Independent Living, The Villages, FL, on Wednesday, 18 June 2014.
 
The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator is:
  • A measure of Jung's theory of personality styles.
  • An aid to learning to work with others in an organization or on a team.
  • A quad-dichotomy based on:
    • Introvert vs Extrovert 
    • Sensing vs iNtuitive
    • Thinking vs Feeling
    • Judging vs Perceiving
  • There are 16 MBTI Types, as indicated in the graphic.
 
My Powerpoint Show is available at: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxpcmFiZXN0cHBzfGd4OjY2Zjg5NzI2MTg4M2FlOWE

This Powerpoint Show includes a "quick and dirty" personality test that will allow you to make at least a preliminary assignment of your personality to one of the 16 MBTI (Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator) types.
Enjoy!

Ira Glickstein

Friday, June 13, 2014

BROOKINGS: FOX NEWS MOST TRUSTED NEWS SOURCE OF ALL AMERICANS

According to a report issued this month by the BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, which is generally thought of as a rather liberal academic outfit, the single MOST TRUSTED TELEVISION NEWS SOURCE of ALL AMERICANS this year is FOX NEWS!

THIS GRAPHIC TELLS THE STORY

These statistics are an inadvertent result of a survey that centered on Immigration Reform titled "WHAT AMERICANS WANT FROM IMMIGRATION REFORM IN 2014, Findings from the PRRI/Brookings Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform Survey, Panel Call Back". You can download the whole document at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2014/06/10%20immigration%20reform%20survey/finalimmigrationsurvey%20(2).pdf.

Figure 13 from that report, reproduced above with annotations by me, shows the results.
FOX NEWS is MOST TRUSTED by ALL AMERICANS “to provide accurate information about politics and current events”!

Among ALL AMERICANS:
  • 25% TRUST FOX NEWS THE MOST
  • 23% TRUST ABC/CBS/NBC MOST (which is about 7.7% each)
  • 17% TRUST CNN MOST
  • 12% TRUST PUBLIC TV MOST
  • 8% TRUST JON STEWART MOST
  • Only 5% TRUST MSNBC MOST !!!
BUT THE BROOKINGS AUTHORS DO NOT SEEM TO GET IT

Although the above conclusions are clearly shown in the very first column of the graphic as it appears as Figure 13 in their report, the authors do not seem to recognize or understand their own results! Clearly, they intended to focus on divisions of opinion regarding "immigration reform" and were therefore blind or perhaps embarrassed by the inadvertent result of their careful survey.

Here is EXACTLY what they wrote about Figure 13:
As Figure 13 illustrates, while more than half of Republicans list Fox as a trusted news source, no other source comes close. The traditional broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) are listed by 22% of Republicans, and all other television sources are in single digits. Similarly, 48% of self-described conservatives list Fox News as a trusted source, with the broadcast networks a distant second at 19%.
By contrast, there is no dominant trusted news source among Democrats or liberals. Four different sources are in double digits among Democrats -- the traditional networks at 31%, CNN at 26%, public television at 14% and MSNBC at 10%. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is listed by 9% of Democrats. Among liberals, five sources are in double digits -- the broadcast networks (24%), Jon Stewart and public television (both at 17%), CNN at 16%, and MSNBC at 10%. These figures may partly reflect the ideological diversity of the Democratic Party. Whereas Republicans overwhelmingly identify as conservative (74%), the Democratic Party is more ideologically diverse, with 46% calling themselves liberal, 31% moderate, and 20% conservative.
Among independents, Fox is the plurality leader (as we have seen, at 26%) followed by the broadcast networks at 17%, CNN at 16%, public television at 14% and Jon Stewart at 11%. Among political moderates, broadcast news and CNN are the preferred choices (at 25% and 23% respectively), followed by public television at 17%, Fox at 15% and Stewart at 8%.
It is not possible from this data to offer a precise solution to the chicken-and-egg question -- whether the more important fact is that those with very conservative views are already attracted to Fox, or whether Fox turns its viewers into conservatives. What is clear is that conservatives are drawn to Fox, and that Fox may, in turn, reinforce and perhaps harden conservative views. The survey also suggests that our discussions of political polarization need to take account of the unusually large role Fox News plays among conservatives and Republicans. At the moment, liberals are subject to a wider range of influences than conservatives are. Put another way, conservatives show a greater degree of solidarity, at least where their media habits are concerned. At the same time, divisions within the Republican Party can be defined at least in part by attitudes and habits related to Fox News. This could have important implications for future battles over Republican nominations and arguments over the party’s philosophical identity.
That is ALL they wrote about Figure 13.  Please notice that in the above four paragraphs, they NEVER mention that among ALL AMERICANS FOX NEWS garners 25% in the MOST TRUST category, while MSNBC garners only 5% in that category. Nor do they bother to divide "Broadcast News" into separate results for ABC, CBS, and NBC, which would result in each gaining 5% to 10% (averaging 7.7%) in the MOST TRUST category. OY!


Back in 2009, I showed that More DEMOCRATS watch Fox News than CNN or MSNBC

See here.
FROM MY 2009 POSTING

Could it be? YES IT BE!

Analysis of ratings data from respected Pew Research and Neilson
shows that more Democrats watch Fox News than either CNN or MSNBC.

Fox News has come up on this Blog several times. The data in this posting sheds more light on the situation.

THE PIE CHARTS ARE NOT TOO SURPRISING

The first pie chart shows the distribution of the MSNBC audience. As one would expect, 45% are self-declared Democrats and only 18% are Republicans. The remainder are Independents (27%) and "Don't know" (10%).

The second pie does the same for CNN, with the only surprise being that a higher proportion of Democrats (51%) watch CNN than MSNBC. 18% of Republicans watch CNN.

The third pie does the same for Fox News. 39% of their viewers claim to be Republicans and 33% Democrats.

It might be surprising to see the Fox News "balance" between Republicans and Democrats. 39/33 = 1.18. MSNBC has a balance between Democrats and Republicans of 45/18 = 2.5. The balance at CNN is 51/18 = 2.83.

THE REAL SURPRISE

Fox News has a considerably higher viewership than either CNN or MSNBC. I combined that (from the 2009 Neilson data) with the data from the most recent (2008) Pew Research report, to generate the graphic.

The bars show the number of viewers using Total Audience (all ages) and averaging over the Entire Day. The Blue bars are MSNBC, the Red Fox News, and the Yellow CNN. The surprise is that more Democrats choose Fox News than either MSNBC or CNN. Indeed, if you combine the Democrats who watch MSNBC and CNN, they total only a bit more than Democrats who watch Fox News. If you consider Independents, more of them watch Fox News than CNN and MSNBC combined!

BUT, WHO IS "FAIR AND BALANCED"

Of course, what appears "fair" or "balanced" to one person on MSNBC may appear biased to another person, and vice-versa on Fox News. This is a subjective issue that each person needs to resolve for him or herself. My personal opinion is that MSNBC leans way to the left and Fox News a bit to the right. CNN appears to me to go right down the middle, or a bit to the left of middle.

The above data indicates that, given a free choice, people who seek out cable TV news and talk tend to choose Fox News over the competition. If you add the presumably "fair and balanced"-minded Independents to the presumably left-leaning Democrats, you find that more of that cohort watch Fox News than CNN and MSNBC combined. And that is true despite the fact that Fox News is available to fewer households.

BUT READ THE "FINE PRINT" BELOW

In the above analysis, I used Total Audience averaged over the Entire Day. I did that because the Pew Research data was for all ages and did not ask people when they watched cable TV. Fox News tends to have a slightly older audience, so had I used the 25-54 year old demographic, the results would have been a bit less surprising. However, they would still have shown that more Democrats and Independents watch Fox News than CNN or MSNBC.

The statistics for Prime Time are also a bit different from averages over the whole day. However, Fox News is also ahead on that measure. For example, for the 25-54 demographic, Fox News leads with 446,000 to MSNBCs 250,000 and CNNs 143,000. For the Total Audience including us old folks, Fox News leads with 2,036,000 to MSNBCs 753,000 and CNNs 621,000.

Ira Glickstein


Sunday, June 1, 2014

I presented the "Fallacy of the Excluded Middle" to an interactive audience of over 50 at The Villages Philosophy Club on 30 May. If you would like a copy of my animated Powerpoint slides send an email to me: ira@techie.com (my attempts to upload the slides to my Google site have been unsuccessful so far).

PASCAL'S WAGER
"Pascal's Wager" as to the existence of God is an early example of how the rhetorical FALLACY OF THE EXCLUDED MIDDLE may be used to push an unsuspecting audience to unwittingly accept an argument that is lacking in basic logic. Blaise Pascal, 1623–1662, was a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, yet even he was taken in by this fallacy! He argues as follows:

 
God is, or He is not. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is.

Wager, [that God] is ... There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, … against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

 
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's Wager Based on Pensées, part III, §233)

 
This argument seems reasonable at first glance, particularly if you are motivated to want to believe in God. Our life here on Earth is difficult, short, and FINITE while our potential life in Heaven after our Earthly existence passes is INFINITE in length and high in quality.

 
Reason alone cannot answer the question as to God's existence, so we should assume a 50% chance either way.

 
As the decision matrix above shows, existence of God is either FALSE (TOP ROW) or TRUE (BOTTOM ROW),  and we can take ACTION to CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IN GOD (COLUMN A) or CHOOSE NOT TO BELIEVE (COLUMN B).  We have no control over the rows, but we do have control over the columns.



 
If we pick COLUMN B (NOT TO BELIEVE) if we have chosen rightly we get "nothing lost, nothing gained" OR, if God exists and we have chosen wrongly, we get damned for disbelief in Eternal Hell.

 
On the other hand, if we pick COLUMN A (BELIEF IN GOD) if we have chosen wrongly we get to do some unnecessary prayer ritual and curbing of some pleasures OR, if God exists and we have chosen rightly, we get the ultimate reward of Eternal Life in Heaven!

 
On balance, it is clear that COLUMN A (BELIEF IN GOD) is the better wager by far.

 
WHAT IS WRONG WITH "PASCAL'S WAGER" ?

 
So, what is wrong "Pascal's Wager" argument?

 
The LOGICAL fault is that we have EXCLUDED a bunch of possibilities that lie between GOD is FALSE and GOD is TRUE.

 
For example, assuming God exists, WHICH GOD should we choose to believe in? The KIND, LOVING, and FORGIVING GOD of many branches of major religions, or the STRICT, VENAL, and UNFORGIVING GOD of, for example, the Spanish Inquisition or the Islamic Jihad?

 
If your answer is the KIND GOD, I invite you to set up a decision matrix where the rows are KIND GOD and VENAL GOD and the columns are belief in the VENAL GOD or belief in the Kind GOD. If you follow the logic, you will determine that your best bet is belief in the VENAL GOD! (My Powerpoint charts give the details, but, in short, the KIND GOD is more likely to forgive you if you happen to wrongly choose to believe in the venal God, while the venal God will not forgive you if you happen to choose wrongly!).

 
HOW THE FALLACY OF THE EXCLUDED MIDDLE WAS APPLIED TO THE GLOBAL WARMING DEBATE

 
In an earlier posting (here) I showed how "One Guy With a Marker" DID NOT  MAKE "the Global Warming Debate Completely Obsolete".

 
The decision matrix below shows what he wrote in each box (in Black) and my comments (in Red).


 



Let us review the boxes (again with his writing in BLACK and mine in Red:


  1. L GLOBAL DEPRESSION: This box is included to make it appear he is being “fair” to Skeptics. He assumes that taking Action to stop GCC will be so costly that, if it turns out to have been unnecessary, the result will be a “Global Depression”. Certainly, maximum environmental spending will damage the world-wide economy, but I doubt that type of spending, alone, will trigger a “Global Depression”. When we get to box #3 we will see that he doesn’t really think so either! HIGHLY UNLIKELY
  2. J SMILEY FACE: GCC is “False”, we take No Action, so all is well! But, is it? Does his “GCC” include NATURAL PROCESSES and CYCLES that have caused Global Warming (and Cooling), Floods (and Droughts), and Violent Storms (and Blessed Rain) prior to the advent of Humans on Earth, and before we Humans had the capability to affect the climate? Apparently not, else “GCC” could not be totally “False”. Therefore, by “GCC” he is referring ONLY to the HUMAN-CAUSED variety, totally ignoring the evidence from the geological, ice-core, and historical records of NATURAL Global Climate Change and some Catastrophes. WHAT ABOUT -- NATURAL -- GCC ?
  3. J SMILEY FACE: This box is totally inconsistent with box #1! If Action to stop Human-Caused Global Warming is so costly as to cause a Global Depression in the first box, would it not also cause such a Global Depression in this box? So, why the Happy Face? Realistically, even if we in the US and other nations in the Developed World take maximum Action to reduce our CO2 emissions, it is totally unrealistic to expect those in the Developing World to do the same. Indeed, China, India, and other countries will continue to build power plants, nearly all of them coal-fired. CO2 levels are bound to continue their rapid increase for at least the coming several decades, no matter what we do. CONTRADICTS BOX #1 (GLOBAL DEPRESSION)
  4. L GLOBAL DEPRESSION:  This box is filled with terrible consequences and is intended to scare us into taking maximum Action. He assumes the worst-case Global Warming of several degrees predicted by Climate Models despite the failure of those Climate Models to predict the past 17 years of absolutely no net Global Warming. (The most realistic prediction is continued moderate change in Global Temperatures, mostly NATURAL but some small part HUMAN-CAUSED. As standards of living continue to improve world-wide, populations will stabilize which will allow reasonable action to be taken to moderate CO2 emissions, and Human Civilization will ADAPT to inevitable Natural and Human-Caused Climate Change as we have throughout history.) BASED ON -- FAILED -- CLIMATE MODELS

 
The following chart of Warming Predictions vs the Real World traces temperatures from 1979 (when satellite-based global temperatures first became available) to the present. It shows how badly these THEORETICAL Climate Models have failed to agree with the REAL WORLD measurements.

 

 

 
The black and green wiggly lines are ACTUAL measurements. Over some 34 years, they show a net Global Warming of less than 0.2° C (about 0.3° F), and a "PAUSE", since 1997, of 17 years with no net Global Warming at all.

 
The red line is the AVERAGE of 102 OFFICIAL IPCC CLIMATE MODELS. Note that it predicts Global Warming of more than 0.8° C (about 1.5° F), OVER-ESTIMATED by more than 400% !



 
NONE of the 102 models predicted the "PAUSE" ! The model that predicted the least Global Warming was about 100% high, and the one that predicted the most Global Warming was about 1000% wrong! Please note that during the entire 34 year period, CO2 (carbon dioxide), which Global Warming activists say is the major cause of temperature increase, has continued to rise rapidly!
 
SUMMARY OF THE LOGICAL PROBLEM OF THE FALLACY OF THE EXCLUDED MIDDLE

ABSOLUTE DICHOTOMIES: All or nothing … Camelot or Catastrophe 
EMOTIONAL: Powerful in political rhetoric, but dangerous in science
HIDDEN ASSUMPTIONS: Each choice is perfectly TRUE or FALSE, Action is totally YES or NO 
NOT LOGICAL: The real world is mostly shades of

DICHOTOMIES ARE USEFUL IF WE UNDERSTAND HOW WE ARE SIMPLIFING REALITY 

 
As long as we understand that almost all measurements are continuous and our classifications are made for convenience, dichotomies can be useful.

 
For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator divides all humans into some 16 different "Personality" types, using four dichotomies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator).


 

As the graphic illustrates (according to Jung as interpreted by Myers-Briggs) each of us is somewhere along a continuum between:
  • Being an EXTROVERT (outward-turning) or being an INTROVERT (inward-turning), 
  • INTUITING (viewing information in an abstract, theoretical way) or SENSING (viewing information in a tangible, concrete, present way)  
  • THINKING (in a detatched, logical, reasonable way) or FEELING (in an empathizing way seeking hamony) and  
(added by Myers-Briggs)
  • JUDGING (Detailed thinking or feeling) or PERCEIVING (Contextual sensing or intuition )

 SO WHAT PERSONALITY TYPE AM I ?
  • When I was tested I was married, with children and a successful career. I scored as an Extrovert, but close to the border with being an Introvert. Had I been tested while in college, I would probably have tested as an Introvert.
  • I scored as rather solidly iNtuiting (rather than Sensing, and solidly Thinking rather than Feeling, and would probably have scored about the same while in college.
  • Finally, I scored as slightly more Perceiving than Judging, and I am not sure how I would have scored on this dichotomy while in college.

One of my favorite graduate school professors, the late Walter Lowen, wrote a wonderful book about "Dichotomies of the Mind", where he utilized and adapted the Myers-Briggs methodology, and added his own spin to it. (See http://www2.binghamton.edu/news/inside/news.html?issue=2006may11&id=9 and http://www.amazon.com/dp/0471083313/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=32558223871&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=s&hvrand=4187338426078731296&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_5598tj0ph5_e)



As the graphic indicates, while I score as an ENTP (which is called an "Inventor" by Myers-Briggs or a "Suspector" by Lowen), my personality extends a bit on all sides, particularly to the INTP ("architect" or "theoretician"),  ENTJ ("General" or "Analyst"), ENFP ("Journalist" or "Perceiver"), and ESTP ("Promoter" or "Operator") categories.


Bottom Line: Dichotomies are OK to use for convenience and for compacting lots of information into a single package (like a "Personality type") as long as we recognize that we are not really confined into a single discrete box!


Ira Glickstein