Category Archives: Rant

Black and White and Grey All Over

The country is politically very polarized, seemingly more so than ever.  You can see it in the town hall meetings, in the blue vs red electoral maps, and in the very people we hang out with.  For instance, an application has been going around Facebook which shows statistics about your friends.  It is very interesting to see that most people’s friends are very strongly either Democrat or Republican.  There aren’t many people with a relatively even split.  So, not only do we limit our news to sites and channels that we agree with, but we surround ourselves with people we agree with, locking our viewpoints even more rigidly on one side or another.

There has been a lot written about this already.  I’ve read, for example, that people who are religious tend to see more connections between seemingly unconnected events, while less religious people do not.  This is in effect a function of brain chemistry and wiring.  And, there does seem to be a correlation between how religious you are and which party you more strongly identify with.

I also wonder if it might also have something, at least a small part, to do with the stories we tell as a culture.  The cartoons I used to watch as a kid always pitted the “good guys” against the “bad guys”.  But, in retrospect what seems to define most of these stories is that the bad guys had no motivation, they are simply bad, or evil.  For example, the bad guys in “GI Joe” are Cobra.  Their only motivation is to rule the world, but they never say why.  They are just evil.  The same with Skeletor in “He-Man”.  And the Decepticons in “Transformers”.  Even in the “Smurfs”, Gargamel is an evil old man, who doesn’t seem to have any real reason for why he is after the Smurfs (except he wants to eat them).  Each story needs a bad guy, and that bad guy is simply bad.  The universes in which these stories take place are completely black and white.  There is no grey.  This is perhaps epitomized in the games that were popular at the time, such as Dungeons and Dragons and the like, and the fantasy novels that fleshed out these types of worlds.  Evil is an inherent part of the fantasy genre, where evil exists explicitly and simply to destroy.  Again, there is no grey.

Our religions, at least how they are interpreted today, also embody this dichotomy:  God is good, Satan is evil.

I wonder how much these black and white views of the universe, or even those universes in which our stories take place, color our perspectives of the real world.  If everything is black and white, good and evil, are those that disagree with us necessarily bad or evil, since we ourselves certainly are not?  Does that mean, if I’m a Democrat, that the Republicans are bad, and vice versa, leading to the polarization we see today?  Or are our stories a reflection of deeper down hard wiring within our brain to view the world in black and white?  Is that a survival mechanism, an evolutionary advantage that helps us more easily determine friend from foe?

I personally do not believe in absolute good nor evil.  I do not believe that there is some ultimate source for either.  Rather, I think that both good and evil are defined by society, by the norms that society creates within which to moderate itself.  And those norms are typically a result of instincts evolved over many generations.  I think that those we typically consider evil — those that live far outside societal norms — have different brain wiring that does not inhibit their base instincts as much as the general populace.  That is, I think it is essentially a different brain structure that makes it so that these people do not see good and bad in the same way as the rest of us.  Unlike the movies and books, I don’t think anyone views themselves as evil, not in an evil for evil’s sake way, hysterically cackling while committing their foul deeds.  Rather, they view the world differently, most of the time, and cannot distinguish right and wrong in the same way.  Either that, or they are like the rest of us, but get caught up by the situation, the power, the moment, to commit “evil” acts but either in the heat of the moment or for some perceived greater good.


The other day, listening to ESPN Radio on the way to work, they had an auction to raise money for the V Foundation.  I don’t know much about it, but it’s something started by Jimmy Valvano, a I believe college basketball coach who was diagnosed with cancer and started this to fight back.  This was in the mid 90s, maybe 94 or 95.  The talk show guys mentioned how, since the foundation started, it has raised $80 million for cancer research.

The next segment was Sports Center and it was reported that some player (don’t remember the sport) had either just signed or was in negotiations for a contract worth $60 million over how ever many years, something like 5.

$80 million over 15 for cancer research and $60 million over 5 for one guy to throw a ball around.  It sometimes feels like our priorities are really screwed up.

To be fair, this $80 million isn’t the whole amount devoted to cancer research in the last 15 years, just what this one foundation has raised.  And the $60 million isn’t the player’s fault.  It’s mine as much as anyone’s, as I’m into the whole professional sports thing, watching the games, playing fantasy football, and owning a couple of jerseys.

But, still…

Airplane woes

After the news of the crashes of the planes going from Brazil to France and from France to Comoros, it seems one should be greatful whenever their flight arrives at its destination and that “minor” inconveniences that result in “just” delays are not so important in the big scheme of things.  And that is probably true.  But, when we returned from Idaho to Santa Fe via Las Vegas, our delay in Vegas was so bizzare that I feel it is worth sharing.

We were on a direct flight between Boise and Albuquerque, stopping in Vegas but we didn’t have to get off.  We got there a little early because of favorable winds, I think, but when we landed, our gate was “broken” (that was the word they used) which caused a delay as they found us another gate.  That took maybe 15 minutes or so.  At the new gate, they unloaded the Vegas passengers and loaded up a full plane of people flying to Albuquerque and beyond.

And now the, to me, really bizarre part.  We just stayed there, for nearly two hours, at the gate, just waiting.  For what?  No one said for maybe one hour, when they finally explained it to us.  It seems that they are doing construction at the airport in Vegas, so the number of runways is reduced.  It also seems that, depending on the wind direction, either one or the other of the two runways in service are used.  Originally, we were to use one runway, which was fine, but then the wind shifted and we were then supposed to use the other runway.  But, that runway has less clearance — it heads into some mountains — so the plane needs to be more powerful than on the other runway.  Our plane, fully loaded, didn’t have the power to safely clear the mountains — it was overweight.  So, they unloaded passengers who were only going through Albuquerque and about 2000 pounds of fuel.  This took about 2 hours total.  All of this was complicated, somehow, by the temperature, which was 110 F.

Through all of this, the flight crew was great.  One of the pilots explained this to us, for which I was very greatful (I much rather be informed about what is going on than be kept in the dark) and one of the flight attendants even ran back to the concourse to get us some fresh milk for our daughter (who, incidentally, did very well considering she was cramped in the plane for an extra 2 hours).  So, I really commend the crew.

What I don’t understand is the company and the airport.  It seems to me that in a place like Vegas, this can’t be a rare occurance, that it gets hot, that the wind shifts, and that a flight is oversold and is at full capacity.  And yet it took 2 hours to diagnose and fix the situation?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  I wonder how often this does happen and if it always takes this long for them to fix the problem.


According to Howard Kurtz, Newt Gingrich’s reaction to Charles Gibson’s interview of Sarah Palin included calling it “a sad commentary on the growing anti-religious hostility of the news media.”  And McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis claims that the media treatment of Palin is an “attack on Christianity”. I just can’t believe the Republicans have gone this route.  In a country where the majority of people believe in Creationism over Evolution, which necessarily has to include a good number of Independents and Democrats, how can Republicans hijack Christianity?  When every candidate for president and vice-president is an avowed Christian, how can Republicans claim some special relationship with Christianity?

I ask anyone who considers themselves Christian to really think about this question:  Based upon his teachings in the Bible, about judging not lest you be judged, turning the other cheek, about treating others as you would be treated, how do you honestly think Jesus would vote?  Which party better embodies the teachings of Jesus? Not the Old Testament, but the actual words of Jesus.

I have no problem with people voting Republican.  I just don’t understand, however, how a devote Christian thinks the Republican party better represents the teachings of Jesus.  In my view, the Democratic party is the one that more completely embodies the teachings of Jesus.

Just to clarify my position, I myself was raised Catholic, but do not practice and do not believe in religion.  My worldview is based on scientific inquiry.

More about Palin

A letter about Palin, supposedly written by someone who knew her in Wasilla, is currently circulating.  My sister-in-law pointed me to it.  It describes one person’s views of Palin’s work as Mayor of Wasilla and then Governor of Alaska.  It isn’t very flattering.  It turns out that the letter is real, see for both the original letter and Snopes’ diagnosis of it as real.  It is only one person’s opinion, but this is a person that witnessed Palin first-hand.  The points made in the letter are very disturbing, including Palin trying to ban books from the library in Wasilla and then trying to fire the librarian when the librarian refused.  Not what I want in my federal government.