Archive | November, 2012

C.S. Lewis on Faith

26 Nov

C.S. Lewis had, of course, a great deal to say about faith in basically all of his excellent writings.  But when reading an essay titled “Is Theism Important?” (1962) from God in the Dock, I ran across the following, which I feel is an unusual, thought-provoking statement about how faith is sustained.

Emphasis is mine.

“The operation of Faith is to retain, so far as the will and intellect are concerned, what is irresistible and obvious during the moments of special grace.  By Faith we believe always what we hope hereafter to see always and perfectly and have already seen imperfectly and by flashes.  In relation to the philosophical premises a Christian’s faith is of course excessive:  in relation to what is sometimes shown him, it is perhaps just as often defective.  My faith even in an earthly friend goes beyond all that could be demonstratively proved; yet in another sense I may often trust him less than he deserves.”

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What the Heck Does X-Times-Less Mean?

22 Nov

Have you noticed, as I have, that the phrase “x times less” seems to be coming into vogue?  I see it in ads, in marketing campaigns, even in the national news broadcasts on TV.  Where in the world does this come from?  I just wrote a piece this morning on the dumbing down of education, but now this follow-up has come to mind again.

Have we become so ignorant that we cannot deal with someone saying “80% less than”, or “lower by two-thirds”, or “a quarter of the price”?

If we have a six-times reduction of something, will someone please tell me how much we have?

Another One “for the Books” re: Education in America

22 Nov

I was in a fast food restaurant on Tuesday for lunch.  I do eat in a lot of fast food restaurants and, although you will say this is not a healthy way to eat, sometimes we are treated to interesting slices of cultural directions and missteps.

This particular restaurant offers quarter-pound, one-third pound, and half-pound burger options.  Not wanting to overdose myself with what some of you would call poison, I ordered the quarter-pound version.  However, I noticed on the display that the young lady rang it up as a 1/3 pounder.

So — I simply said something like, “I’m sorry, but I thought I ordered a quarter-pounder — I certainly meant to.”  She looked at me for a few seconds like I was confused and should be consigned to a geriatric ward somewhere, but then suddenly caught on to what might be the source of the problem.  She took a couple of steps away from the register and asked someone in the back, “Bobby, is the quarter-pounder the  one-third button or the one-fourth button on the register?”

We all have our stories about [mostly] young people who can’t figure change from a dollar without a calculator or register, or who, if you give them $9.05 for an $8.05 purchase (because you don’t want the 95 cents in change) simply stare at you like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

But this was a new one on me.  This young lady might have been a high school grad, or maybe she was still in high school — I don’t know.  She seemed friendly and bright enough.  But — tell me — in what grade should we pick up on the fact that one-quarter means one-fourth?  Is that a higher math concept that must wait until high school or college?

[But here’s something I couldn’t figure out back when I prepared income taxes professionally.  How do people who are so number-challenged that they have to pay someone to fill out their basic 1040 know exactly how much they can earn in order to maximize their tax rebate that comes in the form of the Earned Income Credit?  Have they actually paid someone else to come up with this number so that the “earner” can stop working at the appropriate time during the year?]

And, of course, I need not remind you of the tests and survey results that show how grossly ignorant our population is (especially our younger population) regarding our history and our government.

The state of our education in this country is deplorable.  If the U.S. is sliding downhill as a nation and a culture, this has to be one of the big reasons why.  The types of jobs that a great and progressing nation has to offer people will lean more and more toward favoring a well-educated population, yet our young people seem to come out of high school and college with less and less knowledge (on average) about things that will contribute to the progress of a great nation.

The extra bad news for our future is that we have not adequately opened the doors to the number of educated immigrants we need to keep the steam up in the engines of progress.

Woe unto us.

 

Oh, for the Days of the Nickel Coke

21 Nov

One of my pet peeves is when people complain about the fact that something only cost $x in, say, 1958 but now costs $y, where “y”, of course, is much, much greater than “x”.  They say, “Where have the old days gone?”  Or we get these circulating e-mails that list the low, low prices of a slew of items in some bygone decade, inviting us to compare the prices to today’s outrageous prices for the same items.

But they fail to factor in the influence of compounding (and confounding) inflation.  That item that cost 50 cents in 1958 would be the equivalent of costing $4 today — so if we paid 50 cents in 1958, we should only complain about rising prices if it costs more than $4 now.

On the other hand, I bought one of the first hand-held (four-function) electronic calculators in 1973 – for a discounted price of $126!  That is equivalent to paying $650(!) for this basic calculator functionality today — which I can actually buy for $5.  And I can buy a pretty nice full service computer for that $650 today.  But the calculator is still working 40 years later – I’m lucky to get 7 years out of my computers.  [By the way, this is a 99.2% reduction in equivalent-dollars for this level of basic calculator over these 5+ decades.]

Something a friend keeps bringing up in conversation is how we used to collect just 60 cents a week from customers for delivering daily+Sunday  newspapers to their homes —  now our Sunday paper alone costs $2.50.   Imagine!  But it’s all in your perspective, I guess. The 60 cents a week in those days is the equivalent of about $21 a month today.  This is actually about the same price as our local newspaper delivery currently costs in my area.

I remember during my high school years “accidentally” seeing what my father’s income was – about $10,000 per year.  I thought, “Wow!  If I could only earn what he earns, I’d be on easy street.”  Never mind that we lived in a small concrete block house and rarely was any money spent on luxuries.  But in spite of the outward frugality, I guess he really was doing fairly well, as that income was the same as about $75,000 today.  I guess they were saving for retirement.

It’s all relative.

Even though we like to reminisce about the days of cheap gas — for example, at 25 cents a gallon in 1958 — when Obama took office in 2009 the price of gas was still about 25 cents a gallon in terms of 1958 dollars (a little under $2 a gallon in 2009 dollars) – when adjusted for inflation, there really had been no significant increase in the price of a gallon of gas in over 50 years.

I realize that recently things have gotten a bit out of whack, with the effect of a bad economy, a rogue climate, and disgusting politics bringing about soaring prices for food and energy.  But in order to keep the conversation about these issues on an even keel, it’s sometimes important to remember that that 4 cent stamp in 1958 has really only gone up by about one-third in inflation-adjusted dollars, even though today’s stamp price has risen to 45 cents.

And that nickel Coke back in 1958?  Since Coke was bottled in 6 oz bottles back then, the effect of inflation of the dollar and inflation of the size of the bottle (now commonly 16 oz), a Coke is actually cheaper (by the ounce) today than it was in 1958.

On Being a Successful Human

19 Nov

I admit that I’m an old math and sciences guy, and my career followed the technical track.  However, the more I have aged, the more I have appreciated the value of the humanities, discipline I absolutely shunned in college.  I don’t think I’ve seen the value statement put quite as effectively (in few words, that is) as Kevin Cool put it a short piece in the most recent issue of the magazine Stanford.

A couple of excerpts from Cool’s essay:

“We need people who know how to write computer code, build space rockets and perform heart surgery.  All of these are important and desirable skills.  What humanities education provides that these don’t, necessarily, is a handle on what we value (philosophy), what mistakes we’ve learned from (history), how to understand other cultures (comparative literature) and how to interpret and describe what we encounter from day to day (English).  You know, how to be a successful human.  .  .  .

“Education is for life, not just for the first five years out of school.  And the humanities are great investments for the long term.  They teach you to think critically, measure nuance, calibrate tradeoffs and make a persuasive argument.  .  .  .”

My own life’s walk has been slowly transformed from reading (and enjoying) technical texts and manuals, business-related texts, and publications like Scientific American, to an even greater enjoyment of world and American history, philosophy, religion, politics, etc.

Some of the greatest lessons I have learned from this broadening view of the human experience include:

1.   If I had to choose among all the times of man to walk the earth myself, this amazing era would be the time – from the standpoint of relative peacefulness, relative happiness, relative freedom, etc – “the old days” were horrible for then great mass of humanity;

2.  In spite of all the advancements in medicine, pure science, biology, electronics, etc., we are really no smarter than men and women of old, and there are few “new” humanistic or philosophical thoughts that have not been thought of long ago;

3.  Although somewhat controlled in most parts of the earth today, mankind across all classes still has great capacity for incredible cruelty, stunning oppression, and utter disrespect for human life;

4.  The Christian religion, with all its faults and horrifying missteps and cruelties over two millennia, has also been a tremendous force for good (and perhaps the greatest force for good) in the history of the world.

Women Don’t Like the Republican Party? Really?

17 Nov

An insightful analysis of the so-called “gender gap” in politics by Kay Hymowitz in City Journal exposes the faulty conclusions of those who claim the Republican Party is out of touch and out of favor with women.  Titled “The Misunderstood Gender Gap”, you can see the whole piece at http://www.city-journal.org/2012/eon1116kh.html

Excerpts:   [Emphasis is mine]

There’s no denying that if you put all individuals with female reproductive parts into a single category, more of them voted for President Obama (55 percent) than for Mitt Romney (44 percent). Men, by contrast, went for Romney, 52 percent to 45 percent; hence the press’s conviction that an important gender gap exists.  .  .  .

The truth, though, is that other demographic characteristics have considerably more significance. A widely reported example is marital status. Fifty-three percent of married female voters went for Romney. Among single women, by contrast, Romney was about as popular as an extra 20 pounds; a mere 31 percent supported him. The gap between married and single women, then, is wider than the male-female gap that the media have been touting.  .  .  .

But the obvious reason for the marriage gap is that for several decades now, married women have become likelier to be white, educated, affluent, and older—demographic groups that leaned Republican in this election. Romney lost the black, Hispanic, and Asian vote, while he won the college-educated vote (though not post-grads), the votes of those making over $50,000 a year, and the votes of older Generation X-ers, Baby Boomers, and voters over 65. In other words, married women voted less as part of a sisterhood than as part of a cohort of white people holding college diplomas, earning more than $50,000 a year, and wearing reading glasses.

Similarly, unmarried women voted just the way you’d expect them to, considering their age, income, education, race, and ethnicity. A large number of unmarried women are single mothers—and minorities are disproportionately represented among that population.  .  .  . Single mothers are also likely to be younger, less educated, and poorer than married women are. Sure enough, all these groups went Democratic in this election.  .  .

The chatter about the “largest gender gap on record” ignores one last surprising fact: women, like men, were less likely to vote for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. The gender gap expanded not because more women went blue but because so many men switched to red. Obama won the male vote in 2008 by 2 points; this year, again, Romney won among all men, 52 percent to 45 percent.

So yes, taken as a group, women vote more Democratic than men do. But that has little to do with their sex, which is why analysts would be wise to pay a little less mind to the gap.

[End of excerpts]

The Role of Race in the Election — What Does This Mean for the Future?

16 Nov

From Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard, 11/14/2012.  Food for thought.

Excerpt:  [Emphasis is mine]

But one thing jumped out at me in the exit polls as being cause for real concern. And that’s the tremendous influence of race in this last election.
If you listened to the morning-after commentary about the election, you heard all the usual litany of Democratic dominance. Obama won women (55 percent to 44 percent), young people (60 percent to 37 percent), even Catholics (50 percent to 48 percent). But when you broke these top-line numbers down you saw enormous racial cleavages.

For instance Obama lost white women by a good margin (42 percent to 56 percent). Same thing for young white people and white Catholics. Which means that when you look at the numbers for minority groups in these cohorts, they broke for Obama by enormous margins. In every one of those groups—women, youth, Catholic—the minority cohorts broke for Obama by 80 percent or more. (Save young Hispanics, who “only” broke for Obama 74 percent to 23 percent.)

What that suggests is that we’re living in a world where, in terms of politics, racial identity is overwhelming every other bit of voters’ demographic identity. Pollsters and demographers have long been able to ask people a battery of questions to figure out how they’ll vote: Where do you live? How old are you? How much money do you make? Where do you go to church, and how often? Are you married? Do you have kids? It used to be that if you got all of that information about a person, you could make a pretty good, educated guess about their politics.

The evidence from this election suggests that we may be moving toward a point where we can replace that entire battery with a single question: What race are you?

I don’t know about you, but I find this deeply depressing. More so—much more so—than the actual result of the election.

[End of excerpts]