Archive for October, 2012

Scared 4-year-old sick of campaign; don’t tell her it’s back again in 2016

by David McElroy

In another six days, the 2012 election will be over, but that day can’t come soon enough for 4-year-old Abigael Evans.

Abby’s mom posted this video to YouTube Tuesday to show her daughter’s displeasure. The little girl is crying and says it’s because she’s tired of “Bronco Bamma” and Mitt Romney.

Abby, we’re all sick of the election, too, but most of us are old enough to understand that the curse returns every four years. In fact, the 2016 race should be started before you can even dry your tears.

You’re right, Abby. It’s scary.

Unexpected twists took Carl from executive office to begging on street

by David McElroy

It’s not that unusual to see bicycles along U.S. 11 in the suburb where I live, but something caught my eye about this one. It was around noon Monday. Lunch traffic was heavy, so I passed him slowly enough to get a good look.

It was an old man on a beat-up bicycle. On the back, there was a hand-lettered sign that said, “Hungry — please help.”

I’ve seen desperate people and panhandlers many times, but something about him — or maybe just the mood I was in — made me wonder about him. How did he come to be an old man who’s desperate enough to ride around and beg?

It’s easy to look at such people and assume they’ve made bad choices. I mean, we’re not in their position, so we’ve obviously made the right choices and they haven’t. Right? Was it alcohol? Was he lazy? Did he have something unexpected happen to him? What was his story?

I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I felt a tremendous sense of empathy for him. I wondered how life could have taken the turns that led to where he is today.

So I decided to find out.

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If online attack confirms your biases too nicely, it just might be a fake

by David McElroy

Did you see this picture last week? I saw it posted by a number of Democrats on Facebook in order to make fun of those stupid Tea Party types who hate Barack Obama. Here’s an example of one of the many sites that posted the picture after it went viral. Here’s what the caption told us about the picture:

Student’s sign mocking Obama provides compelling argument for education reform. Well, at least a dorm room at the University of Alabama has found its constipated-looking, grammatically challenged sorority girl. This passionately misspelled indictment of the commander-in-chief, which appears to have been scrawled on a discarded pizza box (the official protest medium of college students) makes a pretty effective case for Mitt Romney, but an even better case against Romney’s plan to slash the education budget. Come on, America. This girl is one more cut language arts program away from having the linguistic skills of a Chick-Fil-A cow.

There’s only one problem. None of this was true. A reporter for The Birmingham News saw the graphic and wanted to track down this alleged University of Alabama student. She’s not an Alabama conservative for Mitt Romney. She’s a Massachusetts liberal for Obama. Her name is Kim Stafford, and she grew up in Boston. She goes to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, not to my alma mater.

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Honesty, wisdom and insight teach that we have to live with uncertainty

by David McElroy

When I was much younger and even more foolish than I am today, I had trouble saying three simple words: “I don’t know.” Instead, I had a view about everything. And I was right about everything, of course. I was certain of it.

As the years have gone by, I find that I’m certain of fewer and fewer things. I find that there are a few root-level “first things” that I’m sure of, but there aren’t many things outside of those few principles that I can say I know with certainty.

The list of things I proclaim as “truth” shrinks all the time. I have more questions and fewer answers, partly because I’ve seen myself be wrong so many times and partly because I see that the world is far more complex than I realized even a few years ago.

So the idea of asserting so many opinions as absolute fact seems strange to me now. It feels jarring. I wonder if the certainty I expressed about so many things when I was younger was as annoying to others then as it is to me when I see it in others today.

I find that both science and Christian faith offer insights and truths to me about certain things, but scientists go wrong when they go beyond what they reasonably know to assert things they don’t know — and Christians go wrong when they claim certainty about things where Jesus and scripture are silent.

Why do people assert things as fact when they’re not in the position to know those things? I think it’s because they’re afraid of uncertainty. They don’t mean to “fill in the blanks” when they don’t know things, but they do, because they’re terrified of not knowing. Christian singer Pat Terry addressed this tendency in a song called “Nothing I Say.” He wrote:

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Beauty is everywhere all around us, when we have our eyes open to see

by David McElroy

When I was eating dinner Thursday night at Chick-fil-A, I looked out the window next to my booth and saw a colorful, dramatic sky as the sun set. I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures, including the one you see above.

But I noticed something. Other people didn’t seem to be paying attention to the spectacular light show going on in the sky outside. I stepped outside for a few pictures. People continued to come and go, not bothering to look up at the sky. A couple of people noticed that I was taking pictures and looked up to see what I was shooting. But it didn’t seem to warrant more than a quick glance in their eyes.

Once I had the picture transferred to my MacBook, I showed it to some other people around me. They all thought it was beautiful.

“Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that,” said one woman, as the fading remnants of that exact scene lingered in the sky outside the window.

I was reminded of the scene early in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” in which Clarisse McClellan pointed out the moon to the disillusioned Guy Montag.

“And if you look” — she nodded at the sky — “there’s a man in the moon.”

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Dear Donald Trump: Want a deal? You can buy my transcripts cheap

by David McElroy

Dear Donald Trump:

I was really interested Wednesday afternoon when you made your business proposal to Barack Obama — the one in which you offered to buy copies of his college transcripts and passport application for $5 million. I had heard you had a big announcement coming, but I didn’t know it was going to be this big. Or this exciting. Honestly, the possibilities astound me.

Since I know you’re such a great and successful businessman — we won’t even mention those unfortunate bankruptcies — I know you always have your eye out for a better deal. And, boy, do I have a deal for you. Since you’re in the market for college transcripts, I just happen to have a very nice set of lightly used transcripts from the University of Alabama that I’d be willing to let you have for less than the $5 million you’re offering to Mr. Obama.

I know you drive a hard bargain, so I’m going to cut right to the chase. I know that owning a set of my transcripts wouldn’t be quite as prestigious as having a set from a sitting U.S. president, so I’m willing to cut quite a deal. What are you thinking? $4 million? Maybe $3 million? Good gracious, no, sir. I’m willing to take a measly $2 million for my transcripts.

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Italy sending seismologists to jail for failing to predict big earthquake

by David McElroy

When an earthquake hit the Italian city of L’Aquila in 2009, it wasn’t much different from any other natural disaster. Earthquakes are impossible to predict with any degree of certainty, so nobody knew it was coming. Unfortunately, 309 people lost their lives.

The odd thing about this case, though, is that that local government is sending six scientists and a government official to prison for manslaughter — because their scientific opinion that a major quake was improbable is now considered “too reassuring.” Somehow, an accurate reading of the science at the time is getting these folks sent to jail.

When there were some tremors ahead of time three years ago, the local government set up a risk assessment committee to look at the scientific information and provide an opinion. There were six seismologists and one government official on the committee. After looking at the data, they concluded that a major quake was possible but improbable.

Other scientists now mostly look at the data and say they agree with the conclusions the committee reached. Still, the fact that more than 300 people died meant that government had to blame someone. There had to be scapegoats.

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Third parties aren’t any better than two parties if they anoint rulers

by David McElroy

I’m just going to say one thing about the third party presidential debate that’s being held Tuesday night. I won’t be watching the debate and I don’t much care about it. I’m sure my rhetorical sympathies would be with the things said by Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, but I can’t say that I want anyone to vote for him. I don’t want anyone to vote for anyone, because I don’t want a ruler.

I don’t want a conservative ruler or a progressive ruler or a Green ruler or even a libertarian ruler. The problem is the fact that someone — anyone — is given power over you, not the identity or party label of the person given that power. Even if a third party had a chance to win, it wouldn’t change the root cause of our political situation. It would just hand power to someone slightly different — until the Establishment took back over. So the problem is the system itself, not who gets elected, which is why the third party debate is irrelevant to me, at best.

If you’d like to argue that the two mainstream parties unfairly keep out the other parties, I’ll agree with you. If you want to argue that the “winner take all” system here makes it impossible for smaller minority opinions to have much of a seat at the table of democracy, I’ll agree with you there, too. But arguing about those flaws overlooks the basic issue.

I don’t want any ruler, no matter what party he comes from.

Minnesota protects its citizens from the horrors of free education online

by David McElroy

What’s the purpose of state regulations? We’re told that the state has to regulate various things to protect the public’s health and safety. We’re also told that regulations protect us from being cheated. But governments prove every day that their regulations aren’t about protecting us. Instead, they’re all about politicians and bureaucrats maintaining control over the world around us.

The latest example comes from Minnesota, where state education bureaucrats told a free online education website that it’s illegal for the site to make its courses available — for free, remember — to the people of the state.

You see, there’s a state law that requires any college operating in the state to get permission from the state. The bureaucrats at the state’s Office of Higher Education informed Coursera (and possibly other free online providers) that it’s illegal for them to offer courses to people in Minnesota.

What is Coursera? It’s part of a growing movement that’s making world-class university courses available online for free to whoever wants them. (Take a look at the list of 33 schools that make some of their classes available through Coursera.) Just to emphasize this again, the people taking these online course pay nothing. They have access to great educational opportunities that other people pay thousands of dollars for.

But because the system isn’t set up as state education bureaucrats envisioned it, they don’t like it. They want to shut it down. They want to take the choice away from people who are getting a tremendous value for free. This isn’t about protection. This is about control.

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Sweet love story or tale of a sucker? Your bias creates narrative for you

by David McElroy

Earlier this week, a friend of mine told a little story that I love. He’s a professional photographer, and he had just done engagement photos for a very happy couple. He got to know them well enough to learn their background. Here’s how he told the story:

A nerdy guy fell in love with a beautiful, beautiful girl in high school. He wrote her love letters. He told her he would do anything for her. She wasn’t having any of it and dated not-nerdy guys all through high school. Then she dated hot guys in college. Her life got vapid as guy after guy used her then ditched her. She had a kid. She kept dating hot but awful guys. Then, one day, she decided that she should call the nerdy guy who fell in love with her from high school, because these other guys were bad people and the nerdy guy was the best person she could ever remember meeting. Now she’s going to marry the nerdy guy and they’re happy and madly in love.

I thought it was a great story about the triumph of love and about how people can grow and change, finally realizing what’s most important in life. It seemed like a pretty clear-cut happy ending to me, so I posted this feel-good story on Facebook for my friends. I quickly found out that other people viewed the story through very different lenses.

“Yeah, now that’s she’s used up,” one friend commented, and he followed it up by expanding on his thought. “This woman has a bad track record and she’s defaulting to her last best option; but, people rarely change, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have an affair or leave him for the next hot guy. Good luck, nerd, I sincerely hope it works out well for you, but keep your eyes open.”

Another woman told the story of her own bitter experience of having rejected a nerd in high school, focusing on the hard lessons she learned from her own behavior.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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