Aurora and Where We All Went Wrong

It has taken me quite a while to chime in on this gun debate following the murderous rampage in Aurora, Colorado that took place while I was enjoying Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Rises”.  This is for two reasons.  Primarily it has been due to my necrotic hand that has slowed my typing from 50 wpm to about 15 wpm, until I have to stop due to what one would describe as horrific pain.  Secondarily, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making comments in haste.  It’s so easy to scream “Gun Control” or “Second Amendment” without really giving those phrases any thought.

A few lines of reasoning can change the way we see the world – Steven E. Landsburg

Once we examine the issue of firearms, safety, liberty, rights, and more it is actually strikingly funny to me because I really believe that both those who are pro gun and their gun control foes actually are using the wrong arguments to support their points.  When an incident such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Aurora occurs it is almost as though both sides have already had statements, jokes (Stay classy Dane Cook), and spin ready to go. It is quite sad that we have ourselves prepared for the next firearm outburst more than we do for natural disasters or large scale acts of terrorism.

If your joke requires a public apology, perhaps your internal filter is broken and you should stop talking. Forever.

First, let’s consider the pro-gun crowd.  One of the most prevalent quotes after a mass shooting is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.  While this is technically true it’s essentially meaningless mumble.  We could make hundreds, make that thousands of similar statements that are equally vague…  Ovens don’t bake bread, people bake bread.  If we burn the bread we should not blame the oven but the person doing the baking.  It is essentially axiomatic that people are responsible for the operation of most, if not all manufactured products.

Damn this bread. It burnt itself again.

Facing the facts, no, a gun by itself does not kill a person but it does reduce the cost of murder to the shooter.  Here, cost does not just refer to the monetary cost but the entire cost born by the shooter (a little something economists refer to as opportunity cost).  If I want to kill you, I can do so with a gun at a reasonable distance with the possibility of little to no harm to me (low cost).  If I, instead, have to kill you with something like, say, a knife then I run the risk that you are skilled at hand to hand combat and that the entire event could end very poorly for me.  Even if I am successful, I still undertook risks that would not have been present had I had a gun (higher cost).  As Econ 101 teaches us that when something costs less we undertake more of it.  Therefore a world with guns has more murders.

Is an increase in the number of murders a bad thing?  Yes, the question sounds ridiculous but a true intellectual inquiry must ask all questions, no matter how obtuse they seem.  Within the realm of any ethical system I’m familiar with (deontological, consequentialism, religious, economic efficiency) we look at murder as a bad.  And, as makes sense, keeping a bad to a minimum is a good thing.

(At this point I could provide the math or if we want to go more intermediately, the graphs that back this.  If curious about utility functions, convex preferences, and Lagrange multipliers then I will be happy to oblige.)  This does seem like a pretty damning case against guns, using a variant of the argument most often given by the pro-gun crowd.

Next, I am going to move to everyone’s favorite amendment, the second amendment to the United States constitution.  The debate about whether the founders meant everyone could have guns or just the militia or if everyone needs to turn in their Snoopy Sno-cone Machine is one that is untenable, none of us are authors of the amendment, so we really have no idea what exactly the founders meant.  We can only wish they could have provided a little more clarity in the most important legal document in this nation.  Good job Mr. Jefferson and pals.

A government powerful enough to take away your guns is powerful enough to take away your favorite toy.

The part of that which is relevant here is the centuries of interpretations that have said it is okay for the non-felon citizens of this country to legally own firearms.  Other nations that are often cited as having virtually no firearm murders never allowed firearms after the industrial revolution made the musket obsolete.  Legally banning guns would likely turn out as well as prohibition, only with more dead people.

There is the saying that when you ban guns, only criminals have guns.  Well, if you banned crayons, only criminals have crayons.  Making something illegal, that wasn’t before, creates new criminals by definition.

What strikes me as peculiar is that typically the anti-gun crowd tends to be the pro civil liberties camp.  Why don’t lawful gun owners get the same protection as those who want to burn a flag or smoke a little marijuana?

It is important that one war is going well…

Cars kill people.  Sometimes by pure accident (there are some truly accidental shootings but I figure as a percentage it’s paltry) and sometimes because the driver is drunk and knowingly driving.  Should cars be banned?  After all, unlawful people kill innocents by improperly using a legal device.  I still have not heard a good argument as to why a lawful gun owner does not deserve protection of civil liberties.

One thing I hope both sides of this issue can agree on is that people like James Holmes are sick are criminals and deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

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Friendship, Freedom, and the Terrorism of Deuteronomy

Preface

 

I suppose there are lots of reasons why I don’t have very many friends.  The Facebook era has reconnected me with a few people that were once dear to me, introduced me to a few more that I wish I’d known better 20 years ago and has even provided me with a few new companions ex nihilo.  I’m not sure these people count as friends in the traditional sense but virtual friends are better than no friends and I do appreciate the ones I have, greatly.  As far as stereotypical friends I have only a few but they are truly valuable to me.

 

Facebook – increasing my friends by at least a factor of n^6 in the past two years. (Except for Canadians… they’ve stayed constant).

There are at least two reasons why I am not a social butterfly with a contact list.  First, and foremost, I am probably one of the most introverted people who has never been formally diagnosed with a personality disorder (though with Worker’s Compensation paying for counseling due to my injury, that is likely to change).  I don’t like talking to people unless I know I have something to talk to them about and typically people don’t want to talk about the things that interest me… mathematics, philosophy (specifically of science and religion), quantum mechanics, NFL Football, and pharmacology.   What’s worse (and this says a lot about me in a negative way) is that I have to work very hard at having a conversation with someone I believe is less intelligent than I am.  Sure, I have a great gift of being able to explain complex topics to people who do not possess the relevant background but that doesn’t mean that I want to do so.

 

A conversation starting with Descartes is one sure fire way to get me hot and bothered.

The second reason is that my belief system is relatively different than the average person’s and at some point they draw the line and no longer want to talk to me.  I am an atheist.  I’m also a libertarian (fiscally conservative and socially liberal) which means I unilaterally believe in freedom for the peaceful individual.  In fact, the atheism and libertarianism go together logically since they both provide for a sense of self-ownership.  I am the person who is responsible for me… not a deity and not a government.  I also, and equally, believe that you own yourself and are entitled to do anything you’d like provided it does not infringe upon another.

 

Here comes the kicker…  I don’t hate religious people as lots of people assume.  Nor do I hate god or at least not any more than I hate the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, or luminiferous ether.  I enjoy a nice, hearty, passionate, good-natured discussion about religion even if I disagree with the people I’m talking to.   Disagreement doesn’t mean that I like them less or that, in theory, they should hate me for my beliefs.  In fact, you’re most likely to learn something from someone who disagrees with you than you are from someone who shares your belief set.  Actually that’s the beauty of such a discussion is that it allows for the opportunity for personal growth.  Any belief that I have could be changed with a solid, logical argument that I can’t counter.  However, most religious people don’t share the latter opinion which also means that at times the discussions can become the immovable object verses the unstoppable force.  That is quite sad.

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Think of that the next time you’re reading a religious text.

 

North Carolina Amendment 1

 

I lived in North Carolina for seven years.  Five of those were during graduate school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where I became a PhD (ABD) in Economics.  Chapel Hill is located in Orange County and Orange County has attained some fame this week by being the county that voted most adamantly against Amendment 1.

 

For those of you not in the loop, Amendment 1 was North Carolina’s controversial ballot measure to amend the state constitution in order to define marriage as the union of a male and a female.  (For those who will criticize me that the Amendment says more than this, I am including the actual text at the end of this blog.  Read it and enjoy.)

 

Orange County, once again, the home of the State’s largest university had the largest turn out against this Amendment.  The University, which is home to hundreds of thousands of books and many learned people, cast ballots against this bigoted legislation whereas most homes in rural North Carolina contain approximately one book and people who have not read much, if any more than that.

All of the books and knowledge contained in this library (Davis at UNC-Chapel Hill)… or the Holy Bible (choose your own edition). I’ll take the library and all it has to offer.

 

Often cited in these rural communities is the fact that the Bible speaks out against homosexuality.  Well, it goes further than speaking out, it calls it an abomination.  In fact, it says the men (the bible is quite misogynistic, if that comes as any surprise) shall be put to death.  I am not certain of its feelings toward lesbianism.

 

A few days after the Amendment passed, the Christian husband of a Facebook friend of mine posted the following picture showing a brief passage from Deuteronomy 22.  Even though I am an atheist, I have read the bible from cover to cover (there is a probability that those events are partially correlated).  I decided to revisit Deuteronomy 22 in its entirety.  I will share my thoughts with you.

 

Courtesy of the Facebook page of Brandon Mouser; Original source: unknown

An Examination of Deuteronomy 22

 

(Deuteronomy 22 ESV – in bold;  My commentary – in italics)

 

  “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.

Return and/or repair your neighbor’s crap.  Got it.  I am a good Christian to this point in this Chapter.

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.

I am not exactly sure why wearing garments of the opposite gender is abomination.  Actually, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it at all.  This is one of those occasions where something is wrong solely because it’s written into the text of the bible?   Sometimes my wife enjoys wearing a t-shirt of mine.  Has she committed a mortal sin?  While I don’t think that personally getting dressed up in an evening gown and heels is exactly a good time I don’t see where it’s my right to impose this will on another.  Also, since this is an abomination does that mean it is on the same plane of wrongness as homosexuality?

“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.

Seriously, it’s okay to raid a bird’s nest and take a mother’s eggs?   Is stealing puppies from their mom justified as well?  Was Cruella de Vil actually the heroine of 101 Dalmatians?  Yes, I know we as a society take chicken eggs all the time, but just can’t justify taking babies from their mother for sport, recreation, or dinner.

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.

Jesus may have been a carpenter but this is the old testament.  What’s with the building code?

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.

I really am not sure I understand the justification behind requiring specialization of crops (or equipment).  One really should plant all of his/her fields to the point where every plot brings in roughly the same marginal profit.  Why plant crops that are going to go bad because no one will be able to eat them prior to spoilage? 

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.

Why?  What?  Huh?  Seriously?

      “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Ahhh the crux of the sign my friend’s husband posted.  So, unless I’m misreading this (and I’m not), the bible requires that a woman be a virgin at the time she is married.  The man… meh.  If the woman is not a virgin then she is to be stoned to death.  I can’t exactly make this jive with any reasonable ethical theory other than ‘The Bible is Always Right’.   That just seems wrong to me and when something sounds wrong (like stealing kidneys from the homeless and donating them to an orphanage) it is probably wrong.

Also, what methodology was used in these days to determine virginity?  An unbroken hymen?  The Bristol Palin virginity pledge?  The honor system?  The husband’s hypothesis? 

“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

Cheating on your spouse is a crime against your spouse not the state.  If we are putting someone to death for a violation against their spouse then my wife would be at the courthouse now trying to get me taken out for missing the toilet on occasion.  (On occasion is my phrasing I am sure that she would suggest a more copious amount in the death affidavit.)

  “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Kill the woman because she didn’t cry loudly enough to get help.  Seriously?  Blame the victim of a violent attack?  How about punish?  Where is the justness or the love we hear about with this deity?

“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

It’s not okay in the city but it is in the country?  What about suburbia?   Exactly where is the line drawn?  I think we should make this official map known to sex offenders so they may keep their souls intact.

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

This is not-so-fancy speak for saying that if a woman is an unengaged virgin and then is raped (seized and lied with) that the rapist shall pay the father fifty shekels of silver and then she shall be his for the rest of his life.  A shekel is roughly 15g of silver, making the entire payment to the father 750g of silver or $697.27 in today’s dollars (as of the Friday 5/11/12 closing price of silver).

While, I realize that I am not her father, my wife was raped about eight years ago.  I can assure you that there is no quantity of shekel that would make this okay with me.  I would bet that father’s even feel more strongly, regarding this point, about daughters they’ve raised since birth.  This is just insulting to humanity.

“A man shall not take his father’s wife, so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness.

Biblical threesomes with your dad are out.  I am fine with this.

Now, the problem I run into as a rational, logical person is that if the bible is the total and absolute word of god then we don’t get to pick and choose which verses of the bible we interpret as true.  And if we do get to pick and choose, how do we know that Deuteronomy 22 is the wrong chapter but that John 3 is one of the better ones?  Of course, there are some which will advocate that Deuteronomy 22 is correct and that it is the belief of a loving god.  Perhaps I don’t understand their definition of loving because, aside from helping to return my brother’s oxen, I did not see any love in that chapter.  At all.

Please understand that I’m not slamming Christianity for the sake of doing so.  I have several friends and acquaintances who have a strong faith rooted in Christianity and they (nor those similar to them) are not the problem.

There are two fundamental styles of ethics: deontological and consequentialist.  The first describes what is right and wrong based upon a set of pre-determined rules and the latter makes it so that only the end result matters.

An example of consequentialism would be that we should equally praise Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis equally for ending slavery in the United States:  Lincoln for his progressive leadership and Davis for his ineffective management of the southern troops.  Both were equally effective in swaying the civil war toward the north.  However, there is no rule that makes sense where we tell people that Davis is the person who deserves the credit for ending involuntary servitude in the United States.

Freeing slaves with incompetent leadership since the 1860s.

 

The same applies here.  Nothing can convince me that the material in Deuteronomy 22 is “right” unless we are going with the ethical theory that everything that is in the bible is right.  I, for one, refuse to accept that.  This is one of the many reasons I am not a Christian.  I do believe there is love and insight in the bible.  I just don’t believe it’s homogenous and that is something I want and see out of life.

Often times I have been told that faith is the key to belief in Christianity (or any religion) and that I must not have any.  For the record, I don’t require “proof”  as I’m not sure that proof as we know it exists on the subject.  But there are lots of other things I don’t require proof of either:   I accept that neutrinos exist though I have no proof; I believe that the laws of physics will remain constant, else I would never board an airplane,  I am confident that Miley Cyrus has no discernible talent even though she still has legions of fans.   Proof isn’t necessary.  A preponderance of the evidence is.  Deuteronomy 22 is enough for me to pass on Christianity.

Summation

It seems to me that this “defense of marriage” came when there was no one actually attacking it.  Very similar to a lot of the United States government’s national defense maneuvers seeming to be from the Department of National Offense.  Anyone else trying to get married does not infringe upon my right to get married (essentially that’s what makes it a right).  Trying to keep people from marrying based upon the results of text that is thousands of years in age seems baffling and just plain wrong.  The sanctity of the bible comes from the bible saying it is the holy text… circular reasoning at its best (and worst).

For those who voted yes (or would have) on Amendment One, I invited you to read another book or two.  Any books you choose.   Any time you’re deriving an opinion that affects the well-being of others, from any single source, then you have done a disservice to everyone involved.

The full text of Amendment 1 is:

 

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION TO PROVIDE THAT MARRIAGE BETWEEN ONE MAN AND  ONE WOMAN IS THE ONLY DOMESTIC LEGAL UNION THAT SHALL BE VALID OR RECOGNIZED IN THIS STATE.

 

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

 

SECTION 1.   Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution is amended by adding the following new section:

 

Sec. 6.  Marriage.

 

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering  into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

 

SECTION 2.   The amendment set out in Section 1 of this act shall be submitted to the qualified voters of the State at a statewide election to be held on the date of the first primary in 2012, which election shall be conducted under the laws then governing elections in the State.   Ballots, voting systems, or both may be used in accordance with Chapter 163 of the General  Statutes. The question to be used in the voting systems and ballots shall be:

 

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

 

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

 

SECTION 3.   If a majority of votes cast on the question are in favor of the amendment set out in Section 1 of this act, the State Board of Elections shall certify the amendment to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State shall enroll the amendment so certified among the permanent records of that office.

 

SECTION 4.    The amendment set out in Section 1 of this act is effective upon certification.

 

SECTION 5.  This act is effective when it becomes law.

Absolutism, Exploding Toilets, and True Love

Absolutes should rarely be used.  They just cause problems and lead to disappointment.  For example, saying ‘always’ or ‘never’ in a sentence is rarely a good idea and more than likely not true.  Germany ‘never’ invaded Poland.  Yet September 1, 1939 came around and low and behold if you looked out your Polish window, you would have seen German tanks strolling by taking out your neighbor’s house and rounding up the women and children.

Another absolute is the use of ‘un’ such as ‘unstoppable’, ‘unsinkable’, and ‘uncloggable’.  There is a popular movie, I hear, about this fictitious ship, the RMS Titanic.  This vessel was so massive that it was deemed unsinkable by a person that I can only imagine was one of the worst maritime engineers of his time (if maritime engineer is such a profession).  Well, the tale is that this boat sank in the frigid Atlantic Ocean after the captain (or his designated representative) missed missing a large iceberg.

This ship was so 'unsinkable' that it can still be found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Good job, Captain Smith. Bravo!

This brings us to three days ago.  Now, the toilets in this house are described by their manufacturer as uncloggable.  I am not one of these disgusting males who tells everyone about how great my bowel movements are, and goes and gets my neighbors to come examine it and stare in awe of it.  I prefer not to mention them at all unless talking to a medical professional about a relevant problem.

If you own this, splurge and get the good plunger. Think of it as a smoke detector for your toilet.

Well, considering the amount of medication I’ve been on I have the regularity of a dying yak in heat.  After using the facilities, standing up, and pressing the flushing mechanism I experienced the sheer terror that no one wants to face… the ‘water’ level started rising.  Quickly.

In a home with uncloggable toilets a plunger is not an investment one makes.  The extra money spent on the toilets was totally worth the savings on a $2.99 plunger… until that day.

A few hours later, the water level had diminished some.  I flushed again.  [expletive deleted]  With in millimeters of the top, the liquid stopped.  I almost became religious.  Almost.

Instead of making the brave, death defying 0.1 mile drive to Rite Aid to buy a cheap plunger, my bravely insane wife went in hands first (gloved) to unclog the clog.  Of course, the clog was so deep that her hands couldn’t fully reach it so she sacrificed her toothbrush to shove the ‘crap’ (and I use that in both a literal and figurative sense) down the drain.  That is true love.  At this point, to paraphrase a Weird Al song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”, she could “make it with a whole hockey team” and I wouldn’t have to forgive her.  I couldn’t even be mad in the first place.  Hockey players, this is not an invitation.

Hard to believe that an amalgamation of this man's song best describe my relationship with my wife.

This actually lessened my anxiety about the pain clinic the next day.  Why, I’m not sure, but not much is worse than a malfunctioning toilet that’s been used.  My pain doctor has decided that his best guess as to why I’m having too much pain is that my brain is not functioning as intended with respect to the nerves in my hand.  He’s going to inject an anesthetic into a nerve in my arm pit which will effectively kill communication between my brain and hand.  When my hand “wakes up” he’s hoping my brain will interpret that signal as normal and not pain. (Note from Christi:  once Trav’s hand is better, he has to unclog his own toilets)

I am very impressed that he gave this some thought.  He even admitted this was a longshot.  He could have just whipped out a prescription pad and led me down the road to addiction, which no one writing this blog wants.  However, it’s going to take some time for worker’s comp to approve the injections.  I do wish he’d pulled out the prescription pad to help between now and then but he’s the doctor and I will assume he knows more about medicine than I do until otherwise proven.  I do not see that happening.

This is not the answer to every problem. Not even mine.

Today’s trip to the psychiatrist went about as well as I could have expected.  They did a lot of cognitive testing, which should show some diminished capacity if depression is present (and it is).  It will also cause memory and concentration problems, which it has.  No big deal.  At least in the short term.  It can be fixed.  They are recommending I see a psychiatrist and psychologist so that I can get medication and therapy regarding the life changing event that I have gone through.

The doctor was pleased that I have made plans for the future.  For this I thank my wife for helping me confront the fact that there will be a future and I must make plans for it.  Going back to graduate school next fall will be a hoot.  I have always dreamed of being Dr. Raines and I was so close during my five years at UNC-Chapel Hill.  ABD in Economics is still respectable but it’s not a PhD.  I will get there.  Soon.  A few more months of my hand in rough shape and some emotional healing and then it’s back to learning and teaching and loving life again.  I can’t wait!

A Week of the Unknown and Way Too Much Depression

This coming week is one which is going to prove challenging for me.  This is not something that I would often admit freely as, though I like things that challenge me, I prefer to live in a world where I am knowledgeable and familiar with any topics that could arise during discussion.  However, I find that this week is filled with ‘events’ that I’m not comfortable with and I am not exactly sure how to prepare myself.  My hope in writing this is that I can receive some advice from the faithful readers of my blog as well as any people who accidentally stumble upon this message while looking for bleeding pictures of Miley Cyrus.

(C) TMZ It enlightens me that this 'woman' will end up with a less disfiguring scar than I will. She can't use a kitchen knife. I was attacked by bacteria and their exotoxins.

The simplest way to begin is to suggest that since I suffered this hand injury six months ago, I have fallen deeper and deeper into depression.  I’m sure there is some sort of depression scale but I’m much more partial to the Richter Scale (the exponential Earthquake scale where each integer represents an event 10 times more powerful than the previous event.)  Right now on the Richter Scale, I’d consider my depression about a 7.7.  That’s a relatively powerful earthquake.  Not quite destructive enough to take out San Francisco or Tokyo, but definitely enough to dismantle Haiti.

Yes, my current funk is worse than this. No disrespect to the Haitians.

On Tuesday, I early in the morning, go to the ‘pain clinic’.  I have no real idea what to expect and this is causing me a great deal of anxiety.  Part of me feels like I could be stepping into some hippie like commune where everyone is sitting in a circle smoking marijuana until they no longer feel pain.  I, for one, have never smoked marijuana (or anything for that manner).  This makes me very uncomfortable.

Of course, we all know that marijuana does not really alleviate pain.  Especially the kind of pain I’m having.  I guess this would be a good time for an interlude about what I’m going through,  First, the hand, on the surface, is healing too well.  The scar is raising up, in some places as much as 2mm above my hand.  This is known as a keloid.  I am not a fan of this.  My family doctor looked at my hand and said that it looked “Frankensteinish” (Thank you Dr. Johnston).

A medical professional thinks my hand reminds him of this. It might not be bad but it certainly can't be good.

I have pain in my wrist.  Dorsal or palmer flection causes tremendous pain.  I’m not exactly sure why there is pain there, as the incision stops 0.8 mm short of the area of pain.  There is a natural gap between the ulna (arm bone) and the lunate (a carpal bone).  Severe pain persists in this region.  Next, in the region below the three fingers that were not infected are painful to the movement.  I still cannot, nor will I ever, extend my index finger at the PIP or DIP joint.  My PIP joint started at a 30 degree downward measurement.  As of my last therapy session it’s down (or up) to 35 degrees.  This will continue to worsen at best.

Any usage of the hand is painful.  I am often dropping objects if I try to hold them in the right hand.  It’s embarrassing.   I can’t eat.  Cutting meat and using a fork present a challenge and I am often quite embarrassed in public.

Dinner often involves me crying, like this, except for real. My goodness, this dude is a really bad actor.

So far I’ve only described the physical feeling… I will get to the emotional part later.

I would be remiss if I didn't include this, showing you why I'm in pain... and specifically why my hand doesn't function as intended.

Getting back to the ‘pain clinic’, I also have this fear that the pain clinic will still be a bunch of people sitting in a circle, but not smoking pot, but instead alleviating their pain using black tar heroin.  This, also, is not ideal to me.  Not that I mind a narcotic, but this is going a little too far.

Never would I have guessed this was an opioid. I'd give it to a kid to play with since it looks like a grainy Play-Doh.

Seriously, I have no idea what to expect Tuesday morning and that frightens me.  I don’t like not knowing.  There are three things I am afraid but the primary one is ignorance.  Remember, I read Wikipedia for fun… and not just the popular items like Brad and Angelina’s engagement.  This trip on Tuesday has me to the point where I foresee myself getting to the point of feeling like I could wet myself.

An excellent evening's read... though, I oppose this legislation in principle.

Following this pain clinic fiasco, I’m then off to physical therapy, where I’m not quite sure I’m getting much help but it is required as part of Operation: Hand Get Better.  Right now, I’m wadding up a paper towel with all fingers except my index finger.  Yes, I know this sounds silly and easy but it is actually difficult and quite painful.  A few more exercises per day and I’m not sure my wrist would function.

Tuesday night should be easy, as I will probably lay in bed and lament that my hand/wrist hurts.  No biggie.

Wednesday is the big day.  I see a work related psychiatrist.  Now, this isn’t a psychiatrist who will treat me but one who will decide whether or not I am actually mentally incapacitated due to my injury.  This is where I start running into trouble.  If I am completely honest with this doctor, I fear that he will place me in a 72-hour psychiatric hold (and that doesn’t work well with Christi’s plan to go to Michigan before my May 1st appointment at the Cleveland Clinic).

I do have a general rule that a person should never lie to their priest or their doctor.  I’m not religious, but the rules still apply.  The doctor is the one person you should tell the truth to and not say, “I fell into the vacuum, penis first, with an erection.”  No one else will believe your cockamamie story, but you should still tell the doctor the truth.  Same principle arises if you’re doing crack.  There are many drugs which are contraindicated with crack and if you tell your physician that you do no street drugs, he may prescribe you Ritalin and then your heart will explode.  Oops.  Honesty with the doctor is good.

Drugs are bad. Batman can't kill the Joker, but drugs can.

My quandary comes from the fact that I’m not sure that honesty with my doctor can help me but I am pretty sure that it will severely disrupt my travel plans over the next week, which will endanger my marriage and I’m not a fan of that.  Christi really wants me to see Kaeson and is pretty well forcing it on us even though we don’t have the money to do so.

Which brings me to one of my main points… I’m not capable of providing for my family.  I have an education worth over $120,0000 and I can’t find a job better than managing a Bob Evans… and apparently I did not do that well because I injured myself to the point that I’m permanently maimed and still may lose my finger.  I’m 35 years old and I am unable to take care of my wife and cat.  If not for my generous brother and his fiancée I would be out on the street.

I have a very hard time with this.  And now this hand injury has hampered my ability to find another job.  One, it limits the things that I can physically do and more importantly,  studies have shown that physical blemishes, ceteris peribus, generate lower earnings than their blemish free colleagues

At this point, I don’t know what to do.  I know I have a minimum of six months of healing ahead of me.  I am doing it.  I want my hand to work as well as it will so I will do what it takes in terms of therapy.  The problem I run in to is that I feel worthless and that I have no purpose.  I look in my wife’s eyes and I can tell that she’s upset with me, deep down.   There’s disappointment.  She doesn’t want there to be but there is.

The rest of my family doesn’t seem to get it.  They ask how my hand is but much in the way you’d ask a person how’s the weather or what time is the football game.  Not to mention, I owe them all so much money that I can’t even fathom being able to pay them back.  I am essentially a parasite.  I live off the work of others.  I try.  I have tried.  The last time I tried I ended up with a life threatening surgery for methicillin susceptible staphylococcus aureus.  The most depressing part of this for me is that I did it while working for Bob Evans.  No offense to those who do work at Bob Evans but I should be working somewhere, using my talents in a way that is much more in line with my skill set.

I just have this utter feeling of failure and though they’d never say it, I think my family would agree with that statement.  I think they all had high hopes for me… as did I.  I do spend a lot of time learning for fun but that doesn’t bring me any closer to a career.  At one point in life, I was an award winning instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill and now I’m essentially a squatter who, at times, can’t afford toilet paper.

I bet no one else who won this award doesn't have a residence of their own... or a job.

This of course doesn’t address how I feel about my hand itself.  It sort of looks like one of those scars you get from having a shark bite except that I was bitten by a bunch of tiny, tiny, tiny bacteria and their exotoxins.  I still think there is a significant chance the finger will come off.  I am so thankful to have it at this point, but it is getting in the way and its movement has less and less range.

This doesn’t change the fact that I will never again (properly) throw a baseball.  Playing cards or Legos is a challenge.  Typing has become a newly trained skill (for example, I would already be finished with this blog pre injury).  I can’t even sign my name or write any longer.  Sure, I can use a pen but it looks worse than most five year olds’ writing that has Parkinson’s.

It is very possible that it’s because there is not much that I can do but I am quite sad, pretty much all the time.  I do take an SSRI (Celexa) and Klonopin for breakthrough anxiety.  It doesn’t seem to really help.  I don’t think that I’m mentally ill in the sense of having Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder or others.  I see myself as sad, even depressed because I can’t live up to my potential but I don’t know how.  I don’t know how to find a job that uses my talents.  I don’t know how not to feel like a failure who has let my family down.  I certainly don’t know how to feel like I haven’t failed.  My life is approximately half way over and I consume more resources than I create.

This is my grandfather. He has worked hard his entire life so that I could have a better life. I can only feel that I have failed him.

The ‘golden question’ will pop up at some point.  “Do I ever think about hurting myself?”  Here is where it gets tricky.  If I tell the truth, the answer is yes.  In fact, I think about death often though not particularly at my own hand.  Sometimes I think of plane crashing into the house (we live, just off the glide path of Runway 5 at Yeager Airport).   What’s wrong with walking in traffic and hoping for the best (worst)?  A healthy person injecting insulin… that would just be horrible.  If only one could acquire cyanide pills these days.  I am not sure that I am at this point, but I do think about them.  Though, I think we all do think about things like this but are afraid to admit it.

I am sure the psychiatrist will chide me for not having friends… but I think that is just part of my personality disorder.  Friendships for me are like binge drinking… I can’t have just a little relationship.  It’s either all or nothing.  This has certainly gotten me in trouble a time or two.

To be most honest with this doctor, I would have to say that I am thinking of removing the index finger myself.  The only thing I’m lacking is the sterile field, numbing agent, proper tools, and other various surgical tools.  The interesting part is that I have mapped out how to do this procedure.  It is pretty straight forward… not like amputating a diabetic foot which requires the saw.

Yes, I've been studying.

The point is… if I tell my psychiatrist the truth, I am afraid for my liberty.  Legally I can be held for 72 hours.  The problem is that I think a lot of things and it doesn’t mean I’m going to act on them.  I think the point that I want to make is that I am hurting, both physically and mentally.  I want both to be over soon because I don’t like the way it feels.  I want the old me back.  More importantly, I’m sure my family wants the me of 10 years ago back.

For those still reading, I apologize.  I needed to vent badly.  and I don’t expect anyone to do anything or to even think anything about it.  Writing is my therapy.  Thank you for indulging me.

Writing, Stress Relief and Not Much Else in A Purposeless Blog

I am in the early stages of writing a book, which is one of the reasons that I haven’t been blogging as often.  I am currently optimistic that I can get roughly 10,000 words on paper per day and you don’t have time, or more importantly the desire to read such drivel on a daily basis.  One of the more challenging aspects of undertaking the writing a book is that I overly speak in parenthetical clauses and the like, often times giving the appearance of a run-on sentence, even though the syntax is correct.  If only there was an award for words per sentence, I certainly would take first place in my weight class (at least regionally).

The second worst part about writing a book is trying to organize my thoughts in some sort of linear progression.  Most books, less the classic Choose Your Own Adventure series, have a very linear flow to them.  You start reading on page one, followed by the second page and so on, until the book ceases to keep your interest or until there are no more pages to read.  As an author, I always hope for the latter but it is something to contend with.  Also, the linearity of reading caps my thinking.  I like to think in the shape of an elliptical hyperboloid (You know one of those things you put your penny in and it spins 20ish times before falling into the donation bin below).  My thoughts go from place to place although they always wind up supporting the conclusion.

Image

It surely is magic that those conic sections you studied in Algebra II would actually have a useful purpose... giving your little people a fun way to give away your money.

Not that my blogs aren’t written in a similar, completely disjointed fashion but most blogs are capped at 1,000 words.  I like that amount because it means you can read what I write during the average bowl movement if you have an iPad, other electronic device, or just print blogs for elimination enjoyment.

The best part about writing is that it offers stress relief that not even the strongest benzodiazepine can provide (disclaimer: I mean legal in the United States benzo.  Rohypnol can pack quite a punch, I’m told).  It helps me vent, even if I’m not writing about whatever troubles me.  As most of you know, I am still going through quite an ordeal with my right hand, specifically my index finger.  Typing is still a challenge, but one that is good therapy.  I probably would not be as far along in my recovery if I chose to hang up writing (well typing) until my finger was better.  And for the past month or so, I’ve let my surgery and recovery dominate the blog.

However, it doesn’t have to work that way.  If I told a story about something I’m passionate about, such as why efficiency wages causing a disequilibrium in the labor market[1], I could write and the deep feelings toward such an invigorating topic would come forward and I would temporarily forget my stresses (such as, but not limited to the fact that I may still lose my index finger… and not lose it in the way that I could find it later in last year’s winter coat). Sharing good ideas, with friends, is best done over drinks and good food.  However, across the internet is another valuable method.

Image

I strongly recommend this book. But not that you read it. I actually wish you wouldn't. Though it is a great book. You wouldn't think so, ergo you would no longer listen to my future recommendations which you might actually enjoy.

Good day!


[1] This brilliant idea came from George Akerloff and Janet Yellen’s “Efficiency Wage Models of the Labor Market,” 1986. Cambridge University Press.

Knowledge, Beliefs, and Living in the Past

Knowledge can be tricky thing.  I’m not sure it’s even it is something of which we have a firm grasp.  Philosophers have narrowed a definition that knowledge is a justified true belief (JTB).  This is a really a difficult threshold to pass because it requires all three components in order to consider something known.

Do I know what I think I know? That has to be what this dude is thinking. Or he's constipated. I'm hoping for the former.

Take electrons for an example.  I believe that electrons (and other subatomic particles) exist.  Why do I believe this?  Experimental evidence confirms the theory of electrons.  Now, is it true?  Do electrons exist?  I don’t know the answer to that.  No microscope on this planet can see them.  And it’s not that we’re just short on technology, the power of our microscopes is pretty well capped due to the visible spectrum of light.  Until our eyes mutate to see further in the spectrum, our microscopes aren’t going to improve. It’s not like I can walk into the physics department at any university and ask to get a jar of electrons (the jar example is blatantly taken from a lecture from Dr. Jeff Koperski).  So, do I know electrons exist?  No.  Even though my belief is justified, I still cannot say that it is 100% true.

I can't see any of these but I'm pretty sure they are all real. If anyone has seen the Higgs-Boson particle, I will give you $5. And a cookie.

The same type of reasoning can go a long way toward showing that none of us know anything about religion.  We all have justified beliefs, but we can’t say, with any certainty, that they are true.

"Jesus loves me, this I know. For the bible tells me so." Something here seems like circular reasoning.

Another example would be considering a situation where a belief is true but not justified.  Take the sentence, “I know I could become a serial killer”.  Well if I believed it, that would be a good start.  And it is, technically true… I could do it.   However, there is nothing justified about such a belief.  I can’t bring myself to killing (or watching) animals killed.  (Yes, I know were my lunch comes from but I don’t have to watch the life leaving a creature to enjoy a nice steak.)  If I’m not capable of firing a weapon in the direction about a deer then I should have some serious qualms about slaughtering a plethora of humans.  This means, of course, that without the justification for such a belief it’s not knowledge.

Not me.

Today, I’m going to spend most of my time writing about the last way the things we know are not the things we know:  justified, true thoughts that no one believes.  Well, at least most people don’t believe them, though I do and I have a strange suspicion that I am right about such matters.

I do have a set of what I would call questionable beliefs… and I mean that most people would think that I’m nuts for believing what I do.  In fact, there is a technical term for believing things contrary to the norm and that is delusional.  The problem being, I’m not delusional about certain things even though I’m in the 1% of humanity that truly has such justified beliefs.

Just as some examples: color does not exist without something to observe it (for humans it is entirely created in our brains), in spite of what it seems we do not have freedom of our will, the existence of life is proof of the law of large numbers, fire is not something you can see, and many other controversial topics that I will be happy to write about in the future.

If colors exist in a wheel, then...

Why is the spectrum of visible light linear?

Today, I want to talk about the present.  As in time.  As in now.  No, now.  No, seriously, now.  There is the often quoted passage about the present:

Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, That’s why it’s called the Present

The earliest I can attribute this quote is to 1255 in the writings of St. Marher (if anyone can find an earlier work with this quote, this blog values intellectual honesty and promoting credit where credit is due).

The first reason I believe that the present doesn’t exist is that it is an incoherent concept.  This idea was first introduced by a young chap named Einstein.  I hear he was a bright cookie.  In his paper on special relativity, “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” (Einstein, 1905), he developed the notion that there is no privileged reference frame.  Depending upon relative speeds, what appears to be happening “now” to me could have already occurred for you or you could experience a moment or two later.  Now is not the same for any two people.

As mentioned earlier, Einstein was on the ball.  He changed our beliefs about physics, about the universe. However, there are other ways to deflate the notion of presentism.  I’ve not seen the following argument in print before but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t appeared yet.

This is the man who made Newtonian physics obsolete as far as being correct about the fabric of the Universe.

As humans, we perceive the world through our five senses:  sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell.  We are familiar with these as we’ve used them nearly our entire lives to understand our surroundings and to appreciate the other happenings around us.

The only problem with this is that all five of our senses tell us about things that have happened in the past.  Not one sense reveals any information about our concept of “now”.

Light travels at a speed of roughly 3 x 108 meters per second (technically 2.99792458 x 108 m/s).  This is probably not something we think about often but light is necessary for sight.  This is something we probably take for granted but if we remember way back to our science classes we remember that it takes about 8 minutes and 14 seconds (at average distance) for the sun’s light to reach the earth.  So, when we see light from the sun, you’re experiencing the photons released 494 seconds ago.  Similarly, in the beauty of the night sky, sun’s reflection on the moon takes 1.3 seconds from the time it leaves the moon until we see the wonder that is Luna.

Here’s where things get interesting (For those still reading I’m sure you’re praising something for that).  When you see your child standing a meter away, it takes 3.3 nanoseconds for the light to travel from your loved one to your eye.  That’s not much time but it is some.  Count the time it takes your brain to process what you’ve seen and you’re looking at a hearty 4-5 ns (for those not familiar with nano, it means 0.000000005 seconds).  While that is not a long time, it is time and what you are not seeing is the present.

The same argument can be made for sound.  Sound moves at a paltry pace compared to light  (340 m/s). This means that even the best mother doesn’t know their child is crying from a meter away for 0.0029 seconds after the bawling started.  And you thought you were a good parent… ha!

This is the speed at which your child cries. Yes, it's fast. Please keep that in mind when I'm in a hospital waiting room or an airplane.

Similar arguments can be made regarding touch, smell, and taste.  They all take time from source to your brain which processes them.  Certainly they may seem instantaneous but being touched and feeling touched do happen at different times, specifically the time it takes the sensation to travel from the location the touch via the nerves to the brain.

The good news of course, is that this does not have to change any of your life.  You’ve been living a lie for a long, long time but it’s not going to affect you in any way.  Even if you wanted to, there is nothing you can do to change it.  Live in the immediate past and enjoy it while looking toward the future… which will still happen before you observe it.

A great read for those with a modest background in mathematics and physics.

Mortality, Queasy Stomachs, and Seriously, Don’t Puke on Me!

Yesterday was the first day that I realized that I was human.  I always suspected this was true but never really had any direct proof.  I often fantasized that perhaps I had some sort of indestructible endoskeleton that would allow me to continue living until my power source ultimately depleted.

 

Then came this hand infection/injury.  Most of us have had hand X-rays at some point in our lives… But that doesn’t prove bone it just shows material that is too dense for the high wavelength of light to pass through.

 

This does not prove bone... just density. My Terminator endoskeleton is much more dense than the surrounding tissue.

Then I, in my usual jovial manner, joked with my physician about wanting to see my surgery pictures.  Even better would be to have them to look at any time I felt depressed.  Then he showed me two pictures of my hand during my initial surgery and I was just in shock.

 

Yes, those are my innards. They look rather ordinary, well except for the tendons that I have been removed... but damn, I am human.

I am human.  I am not special.  I’m nothing except for a group of cells with identical DNA that choose to express themselves in a way that makes me human. I don’t know how to take this.  It really has me quite upset.  Not quite mortality upset but like they overcooked my steak upset.   Now, pass the Prosac.

You are not your infection. You are not your DNA, crap, actually that is all that you are.