Saturday, March 29, 2008

L/C Good Vibes vs Good Deeds

Do liberals earn less money that conservatives? Nope - liberal's family income averages 6 percent MORE than conservative families.
Do conservatives give less of their income to charity than liberals? Nope again - on average, conservative headed households give 30% MORE!

This surprising (to me) statistic throws new light on our ongoing L/C discussion. For the details, see Washington Post columnist George Will's recent column at:

Perhaps "compasionate conservative" is not an oxymoron? Perhaps liberals like to talk about helping the poor and downtrodden, but when they take action it is by taking higher taxes from the rich and giving it to the poor while keeping a bit for themselves in the form of bigger government with more social services jobs for them and more votes "bought" with government help programs paid for by us taxpayers?

The data in Will's column are from a Syracuse University professor's book and include the following:

  • Conservatives give more blood and donate more time.
  • Do you REJECT the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality"? If so, you belong to a group that give FOUR times more than those who accept that statement!
  • People who live in the reddest states give nearly twice the percentage of income to charity as those in the bluest states.

Also mentioned is the strong correlation of altruism with being associated with an organized religion. Perhaps religious belief is the "The God Delusion" (Dawkins) and "god is not GREAT" (Hitchens), but that type of faith leads to actual, personal giving while the opposite leads to talking about it and getting "good vibes."

Ira Glickstein

Friday, March 21, 2008

Voting and Notions of Fairness

In our continuing discussion of L/C (Liberal/Conservative) mindset differences, let us consider the relative importance attributed to fairness versus effectiveness. It is my belief that conservatives tend to rate effectiveness more highly than do liberals, and the reverse applies to fairness.

The current controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegations to the Presidential party conventions is what got me thinking about this issue. (I do not intend to stray into partisan politics that favors Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama or the Republicans or the Democrats. Please try to keep any comments clearly on the issue of fairness and effectiveness and L/C differences.)

Both political parties made an attempt this year to discourage states from "jumping the gun" and holding their primaries prior to February 5th. Exceptions were made for the traditionally-first New Hampshire primary and caucuses in Iowa and a few other states. As a result, some 26 states complied and scheduled their primaries or caucuses for February 5th, named "Super Tuesday," and most other states scheduled for after Super Tuesday.

1) Fairness of Penalty for "Jumping the Gun"

To discourage states from going before Super Tuesday, both parties imposed penalties. This provides us with the first example of notions of fairness.

The Republican C-minded penalty was loss of half the delegates. The Democratic L-minded penalty was far more strict. Any offending state would lose all their convention delegates. Any candidate campaigning in those states would lose all party funding.

At first glance, The Democratic Party penalties seem more fair. We would be appalled if a rule-breaking racer was given half credit for winning the race! Imagine if the "halfies" rule was applied to criminals - the robber who was caught would be allowed to keep half the haul!

On the other hand, Florida and Michigan are important states when it comes to winning the general election in November. Any political party that upsets the voters in those states risks losing them. In that light, the "fair" penalty seems harsh. Indeed, the Democratic Party is scrambling to give Florida and Michigan some kind of representation at their convention. Schemes for a re-vote seem to have failed (see next item).

On second thought, the less fair C-minded "halfies" penalty seems more effective and less divisive than the more fair L-minded strict penalty.

2) Fairness of a "Do-Over"

Clinton, who won both Florida and Michigan, would like the Democratic Party to recind the penalty, or, failing that, allow a "do-over" primary in June.

A revote would cost tens of millions of dollars that would have to come from the state or national Democratic Party coffers since the taxpayers of Florida and Michigan have already paid for one primary. A less-costly mail-in primary was considered in Florida but had to be dropped because five counties are under legal restrictions against changing voting rules due to previous racial discrimination. Here is another case where fairness (preventing future racial discrimination) runs into effectiveness (re-doing the primary at reasonable cost). The Michigan legislature seems to have failed in their attempts to schedule a "do-over".

So, why not simply recind the penalties and give Clinton and Obama the delegates they won in the original primary? Clinton would love that because she won Florida. Obama removed his name from the ballot in Michigan and Clinton also won there. Quite understandably, Obama, who leads in elected delegates, opposes that plan. Why not just split the delegates evenly between Clinton and Obama? Quite understandably, Clinton objects.

Once again, it appears that L-minded fairness (representation of the Democratic primary voters in Florida and Michigan) will take a back seat to the C-minded idea of not changing the rules in the middle of the game.

3) Fairness Schemes for Scheduling Primaries

Fairness advocates favor some national rule for scheduling primaries. One idea is to schedule a primary in a different geographic region each month. To make that fair, the order of regions would be random each election so no one region would go first each time.

The traditional early-primary states object to that idea. It would also be hard to get the various interest groups to agree on how the regions would be designated.

On second thought it seems this L-minded fairness idea is dead on arrival.

4) Proportional vs Winner-Take-All

In winner-take-all primaries, the candidate who gets, say, 51% of the popular vote gets 100% of the convention delegates. That seems unfair to the candidate who got 49%. L-minded fairness advocates are rightly concerned about this and favor a proportional system where convention delegates are awarded by county or proportionately by state.

Nearly all Democratic primaries and caucuses are run on a proportional system, confirming their generally L-minded attitudes. The reverse is true of most Republican primaries.

As a result, the Republicans settled on a presumptive candidate in February. This is quite effective but it seems unfair to deprive the late-primary states of any voice in the selection process.

It appears the Democrats will be going at it until June or perhaps even at their convention. The candidates will continue spending heavily and attacking each other. This seems less effective, but it does give a voice to Democratic voters in late-primary states.

On second thought, it appears L-minded fairness may lead the Democrats to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." (Advocates of eliminating the Electoral College process or requiring all states to award Electoral College votes proportionately might want to rethink their positions based on this example.)

6) "Superdelegates"

This is an ironic example of where the Democratic Party has taken what I consider a more C-minded approach than the Republicans! The voice of the people as expresssed in primaries and caususes counts for 80% of the delegates to the Democratic convention, while the remaining 20% are seated automatically on the basis of the offices they hold. This system was put in place in 1982 after some convention disasters to assure that people with demonstrated knowledge and experience would help select the party's Presidential nominee. (The Republicans have a similar system, but with far less power.)

It appears the superdelegates are Sen. Clinton's only hope to reverse her deficit in elected delegates. She is trying to convince them she is the more experienced and safest candidate with the best chance to win. Most superdelegates will probably follow the will of their constituencies, but it will only take a hundred or so to flip the Presidential candidate selection to Clinton.

I generally favor a system where the raw vote "voice of the people" is tempered by something like the old "smoke-filled room" expertise of political pros.

7) "Open" vs "Closed" Primaries

Many states and counties are so "Blue" or "Red' that whoever wins the primary of the dominant party is virtually assured of election. For example, most inner-city counties are Blue and many suburban counties are Red.

L-minded fairness advocates are rightly concerned that members of the minority party, and independents, have no say in the election of their representatives. Therefore, many primaries are "open" - allowing independents and members of the opposite party to change their party affiliation at the last moment or vote in whichever party primary they choose.

Most Republican-dominated states have closed primaries. Of course, anyone can register in either party and some members of the minority party do register in the majority party to get a voice in the primaries. However, the decision to switch party affilliation must be done well before the primary date.

L-minded independents and Democrats generally favor open primaries. Ironically, some conservative talk show hosts have exploited the open primary system and asked their listeners to switch parties and vote for Sen. Clinton to increase the chaos and extend the Democratic primary contest.

I generally favor closed primaries. I don't like the idea of people flipping parties at the last minute. However, if I lived in a jurisdiction where the other party was dominant, I would change my party affilliation to that party to get a voice in their primary.

I'd be interested in your opinions on these issues. Please don't be partisan. Try to stick to the philosophical issues of fairness vs effectiveness.

Ira Glickstein

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Toffee, RIP

Today it was my sad duty to take our devoted golden retriever, Toffee, for his last visit to the veterinarian. Over the past year he's lost strength in his hips, a common malady for dogs of his size, breed and age. He was 13, over 84 in human-equivalent years.

Despite shots, special food and medication he got to the point where he could not get up by himself and, once up, could not walk very well or more than ten or twenty feet without lying down. The NSAID medication necessary to keep the inflamation under control caused him to lose his appetite which is what convinced me to do the compationate thing.

Toffee was (at least in our opinions) the world's best and nicest dog. We went through obedience training, tracking, and agility together.

He knew lots of tricks. In the morning he would fetch his collar, my pool shoes, and the newspaper. He would follow hand signals or voice signals and stay, come, sit, roll over, and so on.

One of his best tricks was balancing a dog biscuit (or four, see photo) on his nose until you snapped your fingers.

I wrote to our daughter that "Toffee was so smart he must be partly Jewish!" She wrote back that she thought Toffee was telling his dog friends that his master "Ira was so smart he must be partly golden retriever."

Our granddaughters loved him and called him "uncle Toffee". Vi made him a food dish with that appellation. We were "mommy" and "daddy" to him.

Although I am not a literal believer, I have no doubt Toffee is now in a beautiful park just outside of Heaven, restored to his youthful vigor and playing with all the other dogs.

Every once in a while, one of the dogs stops playing, sniffs the air and perks up his ears ... and then runs to greet his master. Together, they cross the crystal bridge into Heaven.

God be with you Tof - See you on the other side

Ira Glickstein

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Only Sadness

Although I am on the other side politically, had I still lived in New York when he ran for governor, I would have voted for Eliot Spitzer because I thought he was a genuine latter-day "untouchable" Eliot Ness. Perhaps he is and was incorruptable in the ordinary sense of that word. Why must our heros have feet of clay?

I confess that in the case of "toe-tapping" Larry Craig I found some thrill in his exposure, as I did in the cases of homo- and hetero-sexual politicos and defrocked televangelists who got their tail caught in a crack.

But I take no joy in Spitzer's forced resignation. He was and is different and all I feel is sadness. Not just for his wife and daughters - I was also sorry for Craig's wife and the wives of the others - but also for Spitzer the man.

I believe deeply in democracy and know that capitalism is the only economic system that provides independent centers of weath and influence and makes true representative democracy possible. (In other systems where the government absolutely controls all or most means of production and, therefore, everyone is dependent upon the government for their jobs and welfare, real democracy is all but impossible.) For capitalism to function well, the bad apples on Wall Street and in corporate board rooms must be exposed and convicted when they violate the law. Spitzer did that effectively. We will miss him.

Why am I giving Spitzer a partial free pass for his crimes? I hope it is not because he is Jewish. Is it less of a crime to obtain adulterous sex in a fair business transaction with a high-class professional hooker than it is to accept "voluntary" sex from a low-class underling in exchange for keeping a job or getting a promotion, or for the distinction of having a close relationship with a high-powered celebrity? In the former case, the bad actor is exposed to blackmail that could affect public policy, particularly since illicit sex operations are often controlled or allied with organized crime. In the latter case, there is a tremendous unbalance of power between the underling and the celebrity. I just don't know!

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Does Curbside Recycling Make Cents?

Curbside Recycling in New York

Curbside recycling started for us in the '90's in upstate New York when they gave everyone a tub. To encourage people to recycle, they started charging $2 per bag for regular garbage so it paid to recycle to the max, which we did.

Voluntary, Non-Curbside Recycling in Florida

I did not think much about the economics of curbside recycling until we moved down to Florida in 2003 and were surprised they did not have it. All they had was recycling of aluminum cans, newspapers, and plastic bags. We had to do most of the work involved in separating and transporting them.

Aluminum cans had to be dropped off at the postal facility where volunteers from the Lion's Club would collect them. That raised money for that charity, which proves that the aluminum is worth more than the recycling effort, but only if most of the work is done by end users and volunteers. Since I had to drive past the postal facility daily it did not cost me any extra gasoline or wear and tear on my car to participate.

Newspapers had to be dropped off at a local church or synagogue, and those charities made money, again proving that newsprint is worth more than the recycling effort, again only if most of the work is done by volunteers. There was no extra transport cost for end users because these religious facilities are centrally located and people drive by regularly.

The same is true of plastic bags, which end users drop off at grocery stores which most of us visit a couple times a week.

Recycling of glass, plastic containers, and cardboard was only available at a distant location. Few of us participated in that aspect of recycling. Apparently, those items were not worth the cost of recycling them. Since cost is closely related to energy usage, it is not economical to recycle glass, plastic containers and cardboard even if the end user does the separating and most of the transporting at the source end.

Apparently Wasteful Curbside Recycling in Florida

The economics of recycling changed this month when they started curbside recycling here in Central Florida. They raised our monthly garbage bill by $1.47 and required us to buy special clear plastic bags. It will cost me about $2.00 per month for the convenience of curbside recycling. That means the extra cost to the recycling company for the gasoline and manpower and wear and tear on their trucks and the plant for separating and processing the recycled materials is more than the value they will get when they sell the stuff for re-manufacture into something of value. Again, since cost is a good analog of energy usage, it appears curbside recycling wastes more energy than it yields.

The example of charities making money recycling aluminum cans and newsprint proves that that part of the recycle stream has real value and saves energy overall. Therefore, since the curbside recycler will make some money selling aluminum and newsprint, it is clear the other stuff (glass, plastic containers ...) and the extra energy expended in curbside pickup, will waste far more energy than it saves.

The whole point of recycling is to reduce our carbon footprint, yet, curbside recycling appears to waste far more energy than it saves. Please note, before curbside recycling, our garbage bill was paying the full cost of curbside pickup and sanitary landfill disposal of non-recycled garbage. Charities were making money from our aluminum and newsprint waste. It seems to me that curbside recycling is a sham when it comes to the ultimate goal of reduced energy consumption!

Does anyone have economic data to disprove my assertion? (And don't give me the old baloney that they lose money on every recycled item but make it up by the volume of recycling :^)

Ira Glickstein

Monday, March 3, 2008


Unlike Christopher Hitchens's "god is not Great", written from an historical/literary point of view "THE GOD DELUSION", by a respected biologist, contains actual science-based arguments.

Evolution of Memes

Richard Dawkins previously wrote "The Selfish Gene" (1976) where he introduced the word "meme" (from "mimeme" derived from the Greek "mimeisthai" which means "to imitate"). The word "mneme" was used by others in a similar way as early as 1927 (from the Greek mimneskesthai" which means "to remember").

A meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene. Dawkins wrote: "DNA is a self-replicating piece of hardware. Each piece has a particular structure, which is different from rival pieces of DNA. If memes in brains are analogous to genes they must be self-replicating brain structures, actual patterns of neuronal wiring-up that reconstitute themselves in one brain after another."

The etymology of the word "meme" itself is an excellent example of the evolution of the cultural equivalent of genes. “Meme” is one letter shorter than “mneme” and far easier to pronounce. A challenge arose in 1980 when E.O. Wilson introduced a new word, "culturgen" for the same concept. That word has all but died out as “meme” survived and replicated in the natural human selection process. Clearly, the word “meme” is the “fittest” (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure).

A Personal God IS a Delusion – But is it a Useful Myth?

Although I agree with Dawkins that the concept of a personal God, external to the Universe, is, strictly speaking, a delusion, I am surprised at the vehemence with which he attacks it. He minimizes the significance of the fact that the various religions which survived and reproduced over millennia and encompassing the belief systems of billions of people are the “fittest” beliefs (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure, regardless of whether or not they are literally true). As such, they must have provided some real benefit to believers and the societies that promoted and still cling to religious beliefs.

About half-way through the book, he finally acknowledges, however grudgingly, the facts. He writes [pg 163 …166]:

[W]e should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse toward religion. … Religion is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste. …no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming,hostility provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion.

David Wilson and Group Selection

Dawkins searches, in vain, for rational explanations for the survival of the God delusion. He mentions David Wilson [pg 170] a colleague of Howard’s and one of my favorite professors at Binghamton University who Dawkins rightly calls “the American group-selection apostle”.

Group selection makes the claim that groups, including religious associations, which promote cooperative, altruistic behaviors, survive at the expense of less religious groups. While I accept multi-level selection (gene level and meme level), I am not sure that true, pure altruism exists and have gone round and round discussing this with Wilson.

David Wilson has an annual “Darwin’s birthday” event at his home that my wife and I have attended. He gave me a plastic knock-off that is like a “Jesus fish” but this one has feet and the word “Darwin” on it. He also gave me a copy of his excellent book, Unto Others .

I agree with Dawkins that what appears to be altruism is actually kin selection (favoring those with common genes) or reciprocal altruism (helping others of the same or different species in return for a benefit). In complex human society it is often difficult to know who is kin or who may provide a reciprocal benefit, so we generalize the concept and indoctrinate our children to help all older people, cooperate with all neighbors, and so on. That is an “accidental” side-effect of kin- and reciprocal altruism, but it never-the-less benefits those societies who imprint generalized cooperative behaviors, so long as altruism is not taken too far.

Dawkins ultimately rejects group selection and is left with the only remaining alternative, that religion is an unintended byproduct of something else. What is this “something else”? Well, he concludes [pg 174-176] it is “obey the tribal elders … For excellent reasons related to Darwinian survival, child brains need to trust parents, and elders whom parents tell them to trust.”

Religion as a “Mind Virus”

Religion, Dawkins asserts, is a mind virus that feeds on the need for a child to obey elders without question, just as computer viruses are based on the need for a computer to follow instructions. The implication is that all societies of the past have had the mentality of children. With the advent of the age of reason we have the opportunity to grow up and reject religion once and for all. I find that “logic” kind of haughty and simple-minded.

Perhaps, with the rise of science and modern technology and so on, literal belief in a personal God is no longer as adaptive as it was in the past. In coming centuries, we humans may modify our beliefs to something like what Dawkins calls the “Einsteinian religion”, or the “Gaia” of Lovelace, or some other science-based concept of that unifying thing we all feel that is larger than all of us.

Scientists who Invoke "God" - Is such Belief Genuine Religious Feeling?

Dawkins knocks Stephen Hawking [pg 13] for ending his A Brief History of Time with a reference to God. Hawking wrote:

However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we should know the mind of God.” [Emphasis added]

Dawkins, quoting only the phrase I have highlighted, criticizes Hawking for being "dramatic (or was it mischievous?)".

Dawkins includes Einstein’s famous references to religion and God [pg 15]:

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists ….

God is subtle, but not malicious … God does not play dice …

Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

What I see in Nature [notice uppercase “N”] is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

Is Scientific Pantheism “Intellectual High Treason”?

Dawkins, in a statement worthy of Anne Coulter, dismisses [pg 19] the metaphorical use of the word “God” by scientists as “intellectual high treason” because it deliberately confuses the distinction between the personal God of “supernatural religion” with the Pantheistic God of “Einsteinian religion”.

It is amazing to me that the originator of the idea that memes evolve in a way similar to genes can be so blind to what is happening! Memes evolve by building upon previous memes. The pagan “rebirth of the Sun” winter solstice meme evolved into Christmas when early Christian authorities co-opted that time period for the birth of Jesus, and, later, when Jewish authorities glommed onto that same time period and elevated Chanukah to a higher significance than it originally claimed. Similarly, IMHO, the traditional supernatural God meme is evolving into a more naturalistic Pantheistic meme. Perhaps the Gaia idea that the Earth biosphere has developed some sort of Global Consciousness will ease the transition. Perhaps it is even true!

Dawkins Quotes Carl Sagan:

A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe [note upper case “U”] as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

Perhaps, when Sagan talks of a new religion, he is describing the naturalistic yet genuine religious beliefs of Hawking and Einstein and Spinoza. It seems to me it is better to believe in something than in nothing. Sagan also wrote:

In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must of course ask next where God comes from. And if we decided this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and decide that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or, if we say that God has always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed. [Emphasis added]

Scientists are in the same boat with religious believers when they conclude the Universe (like the God of literal believers) always existed! Where did all that energy and matter come from? Where did all the wonderful Laws of Nature that scientists struggle to discover come from? Like the religious believers who say that God always existed, and He created the Universe, scientific believers, in Sagan’s words, “save a step” and assume the Universe always existed! The origin of the Universe is, like the origin of God, an unanswerable question.

Bashing the God of the Old Testament

According to Dawkins [pg 31], the OT God is “… jealous and proud of it; a petty , unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Mischaracterizing Intelligent Design

Dawkins mentions intelligent design (which he calls “creationism in a cheap tuxedo”) on nine pages of this book, but he does not appear to understand it. Intelligent design proponents claim the origin of life on Earth by purely random processes is highly improbable and therefore conclude the initial biological cells were planted here on Earth by some extraterrestrial designer. After that, some of them accept the scientific explanation that something like evolution and natural selection took over and resulted in the wide variety of species on Earth. That theory, per se, is certainly possible. Life on Earth may have been planted by some visiting alien life form. Of course, this raises the question of the origin of the alien life forms.

I, like Dawkins, believe life originated on Earth through un-directed mixing of atoms and molecules. Though highly improbable from a statistical point of view, it seems clear to me that life originated by random chance either here on Earth (or on some other planet in the Universe and was later seeded here).

Dawkins Agrees “Chance is not a solution”

On the positive side, Dawkins [pg 119] realizes that, given those first primitive biological cells, subsequent evolution was anything but a random process.

... the greater the statistical improbability, the less plausible is chance as a solution: that is what improbable means. But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.” [Emphasis added]

Dawkins Belief there is “A generalized process for optimizing”

He goes on his apparently subconscious defense of pantheism [pg 139]:

It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times. … if we wait another ten million years, a whole new set of species will be as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species are to theirs. This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. [Emphasis added
Dawkin’s “generalized process for optimizing” is Omnipresent (“all continents and islands … all times”), Omnipotent (“whole new set of species”) and Omniscient (“as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species”). Change it to “Generalized Optimizing Device” and we have our familiar Pantheistic “GOD”. QED :^)

Opposition to Homosexuality by the “American Taliban”

In another passage worthy of Ann Coulter, Dawkins [pg 289] notes the Afghan Taliban punishment for homosexuality was execution by being buried alive and compares that to a statement by what he calls the “American Taliban” Rev. Jerry Falwell who said “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” One does not have to agree with Falwell to recognize Dawkins’s analogy as an awful exaggeration.

Ira Glickstein