Mind-Sets Revisited

I recently had a discussion with someone regarding the Constitution Project Report on “extraordinary renditions” and torture encouraged by the Bush Administration.  This man still tries to make excuses for his own behavior or that of people he ideologically identifies with (right-wingers). 

 He argued that the U.S. had engaged routinely in torture prior to the Bush Administration, as though,  if that were true, it would excuse the Bush Administration for its unlawful actions.  But the logic of that argument doesn’t hold up; if it did, one might be tempted to go out and rob a bank, and then try to justify it by saying, “Bonny and Clyde and Willie Sutton robbed banks.”   (Bonny and Clyde were famous bank robbers from U.S. history)

When we are children, it is quite common for us to try to justify wrongful actions committed by ourselves or our friends when we are caught by saying, “So-and-so did it.”  But hopefully, as we grow up we learn that is no excuse. 

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Liberals and Conservatives Part II

In my February 2011 post ( https://corticalsense.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/liberals-and-conservatives/), I pointed out that during the American Revolution, conservatives were sympathetic to the British aristocracy, not the colonial rebels.  But in today’s world of politics, conservatives will often claim to be the “real Americans,” and attempt to brand any liberal or progressive President as being a “dictator!”\

So, are things any different today?:  Read the Constitution Project’s report on torture during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:  http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/684407/constitution-project-report-on-detainee-treatment.pdf and pay special attention to the description of the conservative Bush Administration’s treatment of detainees and how strongly it correlates with the British treatment of American revolutionary fighters, and how radically it diverges from the history of the United States during various wars throughout history.  You’ll find the comparison on Page 161, Chapter 4.  Elsewhere throughout the document, numerous examples are given of how that conservative administration tried to wrest power from Congress and distort existing laws.  

The document also quotes a letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail: 

I who am always made miserable by the Misery of every sensible being, amobliged to hear continual accounts of the barbarities, the cruel Murders in cold blood, even the most tormenting ways of starving and freezing committed by our Enemies. … These accounts harrow me beyond Description. …

I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this — Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won’t prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed.

and quotes George Washington as well: 

Let them have no reason to complain of us copying the brutal manner of the British Army. … While we are contending for our own liberty we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case, are they answerable.”

And note:  the Constitution Project is a non-partisan enterprise, neither liberal not conservative; it’s sole purpose is to monitor how closely our government adheres to the Constitution and laws.

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On Education

Someone called me recently for assistance with a problem. They reported that they could access the internet via their cable ISP, but could not access their inherent email account from either of two computers. They called the cable provider first for assistance, and the “techie” at the other end performed a number of “services” over a period of about ninety minutes. In the end, little had changed.

When the problem was described to me, I suggested that they should look to the most common element — the cable modem/router. I did not know at the time that the ISP’s technical assistant had not ordered the modem to be reset. While waiting to see if I would be called upon to show up and solve the problem, I received an email from the caller stating that everything was fine. He had reset the modem.

It is this sort of thing that leads me to conclude that our educational system fails, at all levels, to teach people elementary problem solving skills, including the rules of logic, how to formulate a problem, critical thinking and analysis, etc. Even elementary math is most often taught as a set of hard and fast rules without any attention being paid to the practical consequences of applying those rules to the real world. That, I believe is what “statement problems” in math were meant to do, but many students simply don’t seem to be able to understand those practical applications; perhaps because they didn’t learn to read.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.


Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Learn to Manage Your Health

Here is a link to an excellent article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Upon reading this article, I found myself recalling the many quarrels I have had with the medical profession over the years. Somewhat more realistically than stated by Maureen Dowd, doctors are often more like members of a priesthood than gods; witness the furor throughout the medical profession when Barry Marshall proved that peptic ulcers were caused by helicobacter pylori, it was as though he was preaching some heretical doctrine.

My own experiences with doctors date from childhood bouts with tonsilitis, when my family physician and the school physician offered opposing views of what the proper treatment should be. “Medicate!” said one, “No! Have the tonsils removed.” protested the other. Then there were the three doctors who, when fully informed by me of the etiology of a problem that I was having, took three subsequent visits to arrive at the diagnosis I suggested on my very first visit, meanwhile prescribing medication — NSAIDS — that had no effect; and if I had continued taking the NSAIDS, they could very well have caused additional problems. Eventually, we all agreed on my original self-diagnosis, and the problem was healed by taking a one-week vacation and ramping up the therapy that I had begun before ever consulting any doctors.

In more recent years, I have experienced intermittent problems with an irritable bowel, with a herniated disc and with rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t consult any physicians for any of these problems because I understood what they were and how to deal with them. The irritable bowel was tamed by varying bulky and granular foods. The herniated disc was healed by careful exercise, increased food intake and more bed rest. And the arthritis was handled with careful exercise and the addition of a bit of honey to my diet.

Think of the body as a vehicle and the brain as a navigator. If we had to pass a “driving test” to operate our bodies, too many of us would fail. Instead, we try to use physicians like chauffers, and expect them to do the navigating for us. We need to improve public school education in the areas of health and wellness. But we also need to rethink the uses and abuses of health insurance. People who can afford to hire chauffeurs to drive them around do not use insurance to pay for that privilege. Insurance was devised to cover extraordinary losses of ships, cargo and buildings, due to things like fires, floods or maritime mishaps.

In my own case, I have worn corrective lenses since adolescence. But even when replacement of my glasses or contacts has been covered by my health insurance, I have paid the costs out of pocket; I considered such replacement a “standard living expense,” one I could easily plan for and afford, and I no more considered using insurance to cover those costs than a business should consider using insurance to buy replacement laser cartridges or copy paper. And on the few occasions when I have been involved in auto accidents, bitten by a dog, etc., I have strongly opposed compensation by insurers of the people who felt responsible, insisting that I would prefer to sign a quitclaim absolving the insurer and the insured of any responsibility, and in every case but one, that is precisely what I did; in the exceptional case, the insurer sent me a check to reimburse $10.50 in doctor’s fees.
 When I was a child, many people seemed to believe that exposure to cold air, standing in front of an open refrigerator door or going out in the cold improperly dressed, could cause you to catch cold.  But as an active member of a Boy Scout troop that often went pup tent camping in late fall or winter I learned that was nonsense. 
If I had a cold at the beginning of the weekend, when I returned home the cold would be gone.  I thought that the cold air made it difficult for germs to survive, but that was not the reason — at least not entirely — for the cold symptoms disappearing.  Today I have a more complete, better reasoned and imperically verified picture of what it takes to control cold symptoms or symptoms of chronic bronchitis and it is quite against conventional “wisdom” on the subject.   

 So what is the answer, more bed rest?  No, that is precisely the wrong thing to do.  When you are resting, your breathing is diminished and irritants in the nose, lungs and bronchial passages tend to remain pretty much in place, perhaps even accumulate.  Suppose that something on the stove was burning and pouring smoke into the kitchen.  You would get rid of the smoke and odorous material by turning on an exhaust fan.  And so it is with congestion and mucus in your body.  To expel the irritants that cause them, you should get more exercise to increase breathing activity.  When my cold symptoms disappeared on camping weekends, it was because of my increased activity and the corresponding increase in breathing — much like turning on the fan in the kitchen. 

 As a smoker, I occasionally experience bronchitis, and when I do, I take a brisk walk for a couple of miles and the bronchia quckly clear up.  If I don’t do that, mucus builds up and I find myself trying to cough up phlegm.


If you wish to learn more about managing your own health, there are a limited number of free online classes available at ALISON.com.

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Toward a More Effective Congress

As a result of the grandstanding and squabbling in Congress, the latest polls reveal that more than eighty percent of Americans disapprove of the performance of Congress and believe that Congress doesn’t care about the welfare of Americans in general (a stated goal of the Constitution which Congressmen swear to uphold). And it has become increasingly clear that Washington has become so remote from what is happening in the rest of the country that it might as well be located on some desert island.

What could make Congress more aware of and more attentive to the needs of the country as a whole and their voting constituencies in particular? Perhaps we need an amendment to the Constitution which would forever fix Congressional salaries at a level equivalent to the median income of all Americans. Then, when Congress votes for something which causes economic decline, the Congressmen themselves would be forced to share the pain experienced by Americans as a whole. In other words, they would no longer be able to ignore the undesirable consequences of their actions. Then if Congressmen want a pay raise, they will have to vote for things which will benefit the rest of the country and create a rising tide which will raise their boat with everyone else’s.

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Pig in a poke

“Pig in a poke” is an expression dating back to the middle ages that is as applicable to today’s world as it was back then. It referred to various practices of substituting less-than-satisfactory products for what people thought they were buying. And when crass marketing enjoys a higher place in the priorities of any company than the quality of their products, that is precisely how their products should be described: “Pig in a poke.”

Paradox vs Access vs dBase

Back in the early nineties, I was a consultant for an insurance company that was owned by a much larger insurance company. This company needed a good database package to handle a large volume of data, but the owning company had a hard and fast rule that dBase would be the only database package. Not knowing that fact, I brought Paradox into my client’s offices, installed it on a PC and demonstrated the remarkable intuitive nature of Paradox, its ease of use, and other features and benefits. When my clients saw how easily it could handle their data and how versatile it was, they immediately opted to use Paradox.

A bit later, the head of their local data center revealed the company policy mandating dBase for such applications. I cautioned him that it was a bit foolish to put so many eggs in one basket and that dBase had so many inherent bugs and problems that it would not be surprising to see it disappear from the marketplace within a year. Six months later, while that fellow was attending a corporate conference in West Virginia, it was announced that Ashton-Tate, the owners of dBase were disappearing (they were acquired by Borland, the owners of Paradox. Weeks after returning to Pittsburgh, the data processing manager came to visit me in my office. He expressed both appreciation and admiration that I hadn’t descended on him to gloat about the accuracy of my prediction.

If Ashton-Tate had been as effective managing the technical nature of their product as they were at marketing it, the end result might have been totally different. But there is more to the story than Borland and Ashton-Tate. One of the accountants who worked for my client left to work at another company, and asked for my advice about an appropriate database package. Of course I recommended Paradox, but his new employers opted for Microsoft’s Access. Eventually, in 1999, I received a call from my former client seeking help with a serious problem: his new employer’s database simply would not open. When I investigated, I found that the size of their database file had exceeded what was then the maximum file size supported by Microsoft operating systems.

Pending a revision to the operating system to enable larger files to be handled, I recommended that they revert to a previous version of their database and move older data to a “historical” database to reduce the size of their current database. Eventually, Microsoft did improve the operating system, but the incident created a lot of additional work for the customer in the interim. I pointed out that the problem was not just the size of files that could be handled by the Microsoft OS, it was the propensity for Access to put all elements of a database into a single file (tables, forms, reports, indexes, etc.). If they had been using Paradox, they would never have experienced the problem because Paradox placed each type of element into a separate file.

Sprint vs WordPerfect

Around the same time, WordPerfect was rapidly gaining ground in the marketplace as the wordprocessing program of choice. But what I found occurring at my client’s sites was that far from providing the ease of use and flexibility one might wish from an application, WordPerfect required extensive training and experience to use and was riddled with bugs. In those days, I had chosen a product called Sprint (another Borland product), and I recommended it to many clients. Almost all of them initially objected, claiming “We know how to use WordPerfect.” (which wasn’t true, many of them couldn’t even find WordPerfect’s elusive menus). Today, WordPerfect is owned by Corel, and Corel has significantly cleaned up the product. In the interest of disclosure, I have been using Corel’s version of WordPerfect for years. It is far superior to the original product.

In those days, a friend of mine was working on her dissertation for a doctorate in anthropology. When she indicated to her faculty advisors that she wished to include tables of words in the language and vernaculars of the people she had studied, they tried to discourage her, telling her that it simply wasn’t possible to print such tables in a readable form. I bought a copy of the Sprint wordprocessor for her and helped her learn how to use it. Admittedly, it was a bit more complex than the standard word processors of the day, but it could do so much more, because it could be modified by a simple macro language to produce very impressive formatting, and it could also send its contents to a printer in the PostScript format, and the university had many PostScript printers available. Needless to say, her faculty advisors were astounded by the professional appearance of her finished dissertation.

So how did WordPerfect become such a marketing force in spite of its numerous flaws? WordPerfect Corporation, the originators of the product hired people all over the country to go into prospective customers’ offices and make all kinds of promises for training and support. If they had spent more money on product maintenance and development than they spent on sales, it might still have been as successful. But they didn’t do that and it took a company like Corel, with its meticulous attention to detail, to ultimately deliver on WordPerfect’s promises.

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