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Thursday, October 20, 2005


You See What You Want to See and You Hear What You Want to Hear

This is a line written by Harry Nilsson in his 1970s album "The Point", later made into a TV cartoon movie by the same name. It was said by "The Rock Man" as he was talking to Oblio and his dog Arrow. You see, Oblio was born in the Land of Point with a round head, unlike all the rest of the inhabitants, who all had a point at the top of their heads. He was accused by the evil Count to be in violation of the law because the law said that everyone and everything must have a point and was banished by the King to The Pointless Forest because, after all, the law was the law. Arrow was found guilty of complicity and banished as well.

As Oblio and Arrow travelled through the Pointless Forest they began to realize that it wasn't pointless at all. In fact, all the trees had points and all the leaves had points and there were literally points everywhere. They bumped into the Rock Man who, seeing that the boys were pretty shook up, probably been goofin' with the bees, he proceeded to set them straight about the Pointless Forest. "Say, baby, there ain't nothing pointless about this gig. You see, the thing is, you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear."

Where am I going with this? The FairTax Plan for one thing. I have read many of the reviews of this fine book on Amazon.com and am astounded at how many people incorrectly portray what this plan says. They say it is regressive and will hurt the poor the most, completely ignoring the prebate feature which ensure that no one pays the tax on basic necessities. It completely eliminates the tax burden on poor people, including payroll taxes, something NO other plan accomplishes. How does the poor paying NO taxes hurt the poor?

You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.

One writer states it maintains the IRS to manage the sales tax. Yet the bill and the book states the FairTax would NOT go into effect until January 1st of the year following the repeal of the 16th amendment authorizing the IRS. The Social Security Administration would be in charge of paying the prebate to citizens.

You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.

Another takes issue with the fact that a 23% sales tax would only add about 1% to the total cost of goods. This completely ignores the book's discussion about imbedded taxes in every product we buy because corporations pass their taxes on to the consumer through increased prices for their product. A pervasive business practise. With no corporate taxes, prices of products will drop by roughly 22%, the sum amount of taxes paid by businesses imbedded in their products.

You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.

There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. I hear this stated as a fact, however there have been numerous reports of biological agents found after Saddam crumbled. There were no large stockpiles of these WMDs but they were found. Do you know how much nerve gas or anthrax it takes to wreak havoc on a large city? Not a huge stockpile. A little bit of WMDs is not equal to no WMDs.

You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.

Psychologists have discovered that humans pass sensory information through a kind of personal filter which often times completely changes the meaning. This may explain some of the ignorance exhibited when someone completely "ignores" what was said or done and retells it with a new meaning. Personal filters are formed subconsciously over long periods of time and, as such, are essentially out of our direct control.

However, I believe that we also have installed in our brains our own personal filters that we are completely aware of and work hard to make sure that they are not incongruous with the facts as we understand them. In other words, we craft these filters consciously and with forethought so that our personal belief system is in line with what we want it to be. What we want it to be? Yes, we feel that we should believe in something or that we should feel a certain way even if the facts prove otherwise.

This is, of course, completely illogical and drives the left side of our brain crazy. But the creative right side of the brain will compensate for that and determine that our feelings are just as important as logic, so facts be damned if they don't support my feelings.

You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.

We have left and right side brain functions to help us become complete people. We need balance between creativity and logic to make us whole. Machines, computers especially, are completely logical, totally devoid of feelings. No man can live this way. It takes creative thinking to temper the logical mind. However, making things up without regard to facts, pure creativity, will not produce any useful results. Think lying. Not useful and not good but purely creative. There has to be logic and there has to be creativity in some sort of balance.

I am guilty,too, of seeing and hearing what I want sometimes but whenever I catch myself, or someone else does, I try to rethink my position in light of the facts and allow for the truth of what I see and hear. I don't think I do myself any favors by believing in distorted perceptions of reality. Give me the real thing no matter what it is.

When someone tells you something that you really don't want to hear or shows you something you really don't want to believe, you don't have to confuse the issue with those facts if it makes you uncomfortable. You can filter it however you want. You can see what you want and you can hear what you want. It's up to you.

The Rock Man continued his questioning by asking Oblio if he had ever seen Paris? No. "Have you ever seen New Dehli?" No. "Well, that's just it, he said. You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear."

And with that, the Rock Man fell fast and soundly asleep, leaving Oblio and Arrow, once more, quite alone.


Monday, October 10, 2005


I Remember 1981 When I Started Running

On July 10, 1981 I turned 30 years of age. It shocked me! Not enough to change my entire life but enough to make me change a part of it. I had always believed that I would probably die a violent death at an early age and thought that if I somehow actually managed to make it to 30 years old, I would probably live to be 100. So when the day came and I was still on this earth, I realized I had about 70 years left to live and had better get my act together if I wanted to enjoy them. I realize it is only speculation on my part that I will live to age 100 but hey, I might be right, so I better prepare.

That summer I made a vow to myself that I would get myself in better physical shape and as a means to that end, I declared that I would run and finish the Honolulu Marathon the following year, December 1982 to be exact. Yes, I decided that I needed to make my body endure 26.2 miles of running in order to help me be able to live for another 70 years. I allowed myself until January of 1982 to begin training, so I had another 6 months of party time before I had to get serious.

I thought about how I was going to accomplish this goal during those six months. Hawaii had a lot of runners, at least at that time, and there was a road race scheduled pretty much every weekend somewhere on the island of Oahu. At least I could accumulate various t-shirts from the races as part of my endeavor. I decided to enter my first road race in my town of Wahiawa in March of 1982, a 7 mile run that covered territory I would be using for training.

I began my training in January of that year. As a prelude to this, I quit drinking alcohol and coffee on January 1st and I quit smoking pakalolo that day as well. All of this was temporary and was to help me get on track with my running program. I bought a new pair of running shoes, I think they were New Balance. I took off on my very first run one afternoon and managed to run non-stop for about 3/4 of a mile before I stopped, leaned over the edge of the sidewalk and puked my guts out. What a nasty feeling! And here I was now 3/4 mile from home and feeling very sick to my stomach. Apparently not drinking alcohol didn't mean I would never puke again. I walked home and vowed not to run as hard the next time.

I don't think I puked any more during my practice runs and little by little I increased my distance from less than a mile to about 5 miles without stopping. By the time the March race came around, I was able to run the 7 miles in about 52 minutes, which averaged about 7 1/2 minutes per mile. Not too bad for a 30 year old beginner! And I got my first of many Hawaii race t-shirts.

But the feelings I had coursing through my body after that run were amazing! My body felt so alive and so strong and vibrant, I could hardly believe it. This was truly the way I wanted to spend this coming year, runing and running and running. Honolulu Marathon, watch out. I would be ready and I would complete it.

Funny thing about living in paradise, nearly everyone drinks. And I don't mean social drinking, I mean lots of drinking. One would think this wouldn't be the case, after all it is paradise, but I saw more drinking in Hawaii than anywhere I've ever ived. And road races are no exception. What I found after my first race was a beer truck. Wow! A beer truck parked there dispensing free beer to any runner who wanted it, and we all wanted it. I ended my dry spell for beer that day. I had already started drinking coffe again. But I kept on running. There was always a beer truck at the end of the race. Sometimes two or three and plenty of food and all for the $10 or so entry fee.

I entered road races most every weekend that year and got many t-shirts and lots of experience running with pain. The body never, ever feels 100%. Especially as it gets older, there is always something or other that hurts or aches or doesn't feel quite right about the human body. But I managed to run through all of that and steadily increased my distances working towards my goal of the marathon in December.

In October I ran in a half-marathon, a prelude to the full event. I started the race with a friend of mine, George Giddens, a 6 minute miler. I was pacing about 7 minute miles by then but running with George, I needlessly kept up a near 6 minute mile pace for the first two miles or so before I let him pull away from me. That fast start nearly killed me and by the end of the 13 miles, I had to walk a small distance to finish. Clearly I wasn't yet ready for a full marathon.

None-the-less the day came around for the marathon. Getting practically no sleep the night before I was downtown by 4:00 AM, ready to start this thing off at 6:00. There were 12,000 runners that day and it took several minutes just to get up to the actual starting line. I had a good kick going and the split time after the first 10K was less than 40 minutes, way too fast! I slowed down going over Diamond Head and maintained a steady pace until somewhere around the 20 mile mark. My legs were like butter by then and I grudgingly slowed down to a walk to get some water and continued walking for a mile or more.

I didn't like being passed by so many people, so finally I started running again, slowly at first, then picking it up as I felt able. By the last 2 miles or so the adrenalin was rushing and my legs were pumping like they never had before. I stormed towards the finish line, and my picture, with a smile on my face and a very exhausted body. 10 minutes of cool down time and lots of water and I was fine and dandy and ready to drink some beer. I finished in around 3 hours 40 minutes, an average of over 8 1/2 minutes per mile, and something like number 7,000 out of 12,000. Not terribly incredible but then again not too shabby for a 30 year old just having fun.

I continued running the following year even running around the island in a relay event that was more demanding than the marathon. 6 of us took turns running 3-5 mile legs around the island of Oahu, a total of 133 miles. We started at 10:00 PM and finished the next afternoon at 3:17 PM. 17 hours and 17 minutes. I ran six legs for a total of about 23 miles and that was a real killer. Our relay team called ourselves the Naval Athletic Distance Striders or NADS. Thay way when our fans cheered for us they could say "Go NADS, Go NADS!". It's true. I never ran another marathon and the next year, 1984, when I got out of the Navy and moved to Orlando, Florida, I ran in a few more road races but the desire wasn't in me anymore. I quit running as a hobby and took up golf instead. It's much easier on the body.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Bell Curves

There are theories that purport pretty much everything in life can be quantified by a bell curve representing the normal distribution of certain results. This is a mathematical concept describing events or phenomena and how the graphing of the results tends to result in a curve resembling a bell; the most common occurences are toward the middle of the bell and the less common are toward the outside of the bell. There are always occurences that fall on the smaller part of the curve and cases that fall outside the curve, the outliers. These are the cases that interest many people.

Given the concept that most things occur in the shape of a bell curve and most events are covered in the biggest part of the curve, there are always exceptions to the common. When examining the results of an analysis of a bell curve, one should focus most attention to the large part of the curve because this represents the biggest majority of cases. Why is it that we seem to have become so obsessed on focusing on the smaller part of the curve or the outliers or exceptions to the rule instead of dealing with the majority.

I think majority rule has gotten a bad break in the past 30 years or so (I think it was my generation). The big movements of the 60s and 70s focused on the minorities not the majority of everything. Certainly the Civil Rights movement's whole purpose was to focus on the minorities. The majority had their rights but the smaller parts of the curve needed some teeth in the laws to ensure they had their rights also. The Women's Liberation movement focused on a minority also, women in the workplace; another necessary target to focus upon, since the heart of the bell curve was under control. The Environmental movement focused on an overlooked segment of our economy, waste and pollution. Also a needed wake up call.

But what grew out of all of this new awareness around us was an abnormal amount of attention being given over to the smaller part of the curve and even upon the outliers of all kinds rather than upon the exceptions that really mattered. We had grown into a large, wealthy and powerful nation through the efforts of vast numbers of people focusing on the meat of the bell curve. The smaller parts of the curve had been ignored and demanded their share of attention. So we started to give them their due and in tipping the scale towards the smaller end and the exceptions we gave them way more than their share. We still do.

How can we justify spending 200 billion dollars of federal money on the gulf coast to rebuild a city that is below sea level? Yes, I understand the importance of the oil business and the fishing industry and the river traffic to the country as a whole. But it is still a small segment of our country not the meaty part of the bell curve. We have lots of smaller parts of our nation and all parts are important in their own way. We cannot justify throwing large amounts of money at a small section of the country to make ourselves feel good in helping someone. There are problems everywhere in this country that need attention and focusing on the small part of the curve is not going to be cost beneficial.

I think our federal government needs to focus on the meaty part of the curve and leave the smaller part to the local governments. There is a reason why we have several layers of governments. Each level has its' own priorities to deal with and its' own ways of dealing with them. When we elevate a small segment to an important fountainhead, we ignore the efforts and responsibilities of the local levels. The feds should be sweeping over the grander aspects, the larger problems and leave the smaller parts of the curve alone.

Take a look at the Abu Ghraib or prisoner of war situation for a minute. A normal distribution bell curve would show most occurences of prisoner handling well within the meaty part or the smaller part. But the media and many other naysayers have focused exclusively on the outliers, the exceptions to the rule and use these cases to state that the entire military prison situation is out of control. When you focus on the exceptions, you will have that philosophy.

I have worked with people in my field of computer programming that enjoy focusing on the exceptions rather than on the mundane. Try to design a software system that handles every possible exception and you will never arrive at a finished, working piece of software. The main goal in designing software is to get something that works most of the time. One can always deal with the outliers on a case by case basis. A friend of mine once told me he liked to program where it would give a "bigger bang for the buck". He was not one to focus on the exceptions. In general, if you can handle the meaty part of the curve, you will be better served.

But what I observe far too much these days is an undue amount of attention given over to the rare cases and less attention spent on the mundane or routine cases. Get the routine cases right and you can achieve success 80% of the time. If 80% is working right, then you can spend some time on the other 20% and improve those chances. The Law of Diminishing Returns will kick in somewhere along the line and you will achieve less and less with more and more energy and attention and resources. You have to quit focusing on the exceptions at some point.

With the explosion of technology there are many ways for smaller parts of the bell curve to be heard. The Internet is an amazing equalizer! Small companies become big, local business goes worldwide, a mom and pop store in Pakistan sells goods to a family in Montana! Virtually anyone with a desire to be heard can voice his/her concerns to anyone in the world instantly. There is no need for government to champion any group's cause. They have that power themselves.

Government needs to refocus on the big part of the bell. The means are available for the smaller parts of the curve to be heard. There is no need to dwell on the exceptions, there will always be exceptions and they can never be completely prepared for. This is not a bad thing, it is just the way it is. Sometimes we have to accept that something has occurred that we did not anticipate and leave it at that. Focus on the "biggest bang for the buck" and be satisfied. No one on earth is God.

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