Monthly Archives: April 2014

On gays, God, and owning Canadians

Here’s a great letter to Dr. Laura. I don’t know what Dr. Laura said to get this guy started, but I’ll answer at the end as if it came to me. I get good comments too, but mine are more thoughtful, and  less funny.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14).

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
Your adoring fan,
James M. Kauffman,
Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

P.S. (It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.)

And my answer is: You CAN own a Canadian: go ice fishing with the right bait; put out some Molson’s or Labatt’s while playing the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme. They’ll come, eh.

Just because the Bible allows something, that doesn’t mean it’s a general good, and just because the Bible opposes something that doesn’t mean it’s a general bad. Generally, it’s not up to the individual “believer” to correct things by smiting. Besides, figuring out what God really want’s of each person is really tricky. He appears in a cloud, as it were (Ex. 16:10; Deut. 31:15, etc.). I’d say it’s up to the preachers to try to understand individual people and help them change for the better, ideally he (or she) first improves himself (or herself). Bible literalness isn’t a great approach to religion, I’d say, not science, not threats, nor miracle stories, but real concern and a fine example. Failing at self-improvement (and I usually do) I’d leave it to God to do the smiting. He does an awfully good job of it in the Old Testament and you wouldn’t want Him to lose the knack. R. E. Buxbaum, April 28, 2014.

It's sometimes hard to guess what God wants if you just read the Bible. Gary Hart, BC.

It’s sometimes hard to guess what God wants by just reading the Bible. Gary Hart, BC.

Is ADHD a real disorder

When I was in school, ADHD hadn’t been invented. There were kids who didn’t pay attention for a good part of the day, or who couldn’t sit in their seats, but the first activity was called day-dreaming and the second “shpilkas” or “ants in your pants.” These problems were recognized but were considered “normal.” Though we were sometimes disorderly, the cause wasn’t labeled a disorder. It’s now an epidemic.

There were always plenty of kids, me included, who were day-dreamers. Mostly these were boys who would get bored after a while and would start to look around the room, or doodle, or gaze into space thinking of this or that. Perhaps I’d do some writing or math in the margin of a notebook while listening with one ear; perhaps I’d work on my handwriting, or I’d read something in another textbook. This was not called a disorder or even an attention deficit (AD), but rather day-dreaming, wool-gathering, napping, or just not paying attention. Sometimes teachers got annoyed, other times not. They went on teaching, but sometimes tossed chalk or erasers at us to get us to wake up. Kids like me took enough notes to do OK on tests and homework, though I was never at the top of the class in elementary or middle school. The report cards tended to say things like “he could do better if he really concentrated.”  It’s something that could apply to everyone.

Then there were the boys who would now be labeled HD, or “hyperactive disordered.” These were always boys: those who didn’t sit well in their chairs, or fidgeted, or were motor mouths and got up and walked about, or got into fights, or went to the bathroom; these were the class clowns, and the trouble makers — not me except for the fidgeting. Girls would fidget or talk too, and they’d pass notes to each other, but they didn’t get into fights, and they weren’t as disruptive. They tended to have great handwriting, and took lots of notes in class: every single word from the board, plus quite a bit more.

There are different measures of education, if you measure a fish's intelligence by the ability to climb a tree it will spend its life thinking it's stupid.

There are different measures of education, if you measure a fish’s skill level by the ability to climb a tree you’ll conclude the fish is ADD or worse.

Elementary and middle schools had activities to work out the excess energy that caused hyper-activity. We had dancing, shop, fire drills, art, some music, and sports. None of these helped all that much, but they did some good. I think the fire drills helped the most because we all went outside even in the winter, and eventually we calmed down without drugs. Sometimes a kid didn’t calm down, got worse, and did real damage; these kids were not called hyperactive disordered, but “bad kids” or “juvenile delinquents.” Nowadays, schools have far less art and music, and no shop or dancing. There are a lot more hyperactive kids, and the claim nowadays is that these hyperactive kids, violent or not, are disordered, ADHD, and should be given drugs. With drugs, the daydreamers take better notes, the nappers wake up, and the hyperactive kids calm down. Today about 30% of high-school seniors are given either a version of amphetamine, e.g. Adderall, or of Methylphenidate (Ritalin, etc.) The violent ones, the juvenile delinquents, are given stronger versions of the same drugs, e.g. methamphetamine, the drug at the heart of “breaking bad.”

Giving drugs to the kids seems to help the teacher a lot more than it helps the kids. According to a famous joke, giving the Ritalin to the teacher would be the best solution. When the kids are given drugs the disorderly boys (it’s usually given to boys) begin to act more like “goodie goodies”. They sit better and pay attention more; they take better notes and don’t interrupt, but I’m not sure they are learning more, or that the class is, or that they are socializing any better than before. The “goodie-goodies” in elementary school (mostly girls) did great in the early grades, but their good habits seemed to hold them back later. They worked too hard to please and tended to not notice, or pretended to not notice, when the teacher said nonsense. When it came time for independent or creative endeavors, their diligent acceptance of authority stood in the way of excellence.Venn diagram of ADHD

The hyperactive and daydreamers were more used to thinking for themselves, a prerequisite of leadership. The AD ones had gotten used to half-ignoring the teacher, and the HD ones were more openly opinionated and oppositional: obstreperous, in a word. Those bright enough to get by got more out of their education, perhaps because it was more theirs. To the extent that education was supposed to make you a leader and a thinker, the goodie-goodie behavior was a distraction and a disorder. This might be expected if education is supposed to be the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a pit. If everyone thinks the same, it’s a sign that few are thinking.

Map  of ADHD variation with location for US kids ages 6-18, Scrips Research.

Map of ADHD variation with location for US kids ages 6-18, Scrips Research. Boys are 2-3 times more often diagnosed as ADHD; diagnosis and medication increase with grade, peaking currently in early college.

This is not to say that there is no such disorder as ADHD, or no benefit from the drugs. My sense, though, is that the label is given too widely, and that the drugs are given too freely. Today drugs are pushed on virtually any kid who’s distracted, napping or hyperactive — to all the members of the big circles in the Venn diagram above, plus to athletes and others who feign ADD to get these, otherwise illegal, performance enhancing drugs. Currently, about 10% of US kids between 6 and 18 are diagnosed ADHD and given drugs, see figure. The numbers higher for boys than girls, higher in the US than abroad, and higher as the kids progress through school. It’s estimated that about 25% of US, 12th grade boys are given amphetamine or Ritalin and its homologs. My sense is that only a small fraction of these deserve drugs, only those with severe social problems, the violent or narcoleptic: those in the smaller circles of the Venn diagram. The test should not be that the kid’s behavior improves on them. Everyone’s attention improves when taking speed. ADHD appears more as an epidemic of overworked, undertrained, underfunded teachers, and a lack of outlets, not of disordered kids, or of real learning, and real learning is never pretty or easy (on all involved).

Robert Buxbaum, April 18, 2014. In general, I think people would be happier if they’d do more artmusicdance and shop, and if they’d embrace their inner weirdo. It would also help if doctors and teachers would use words rather than initials to describe people. It’s far better to be told you’re hyperactive, or that you’re not paying attention, then to be called ADD, HD, or ADHD. There’s far more room for gradation and improvement. I’m not an expert, just an observant observer.

Amazing tornado drought of 2014

At 143 days as of April 10, 2014, the span between major tornadoes (EF3s and stronger) is the 6th longest in the last 60 years, and it isn’t over yet. Even small tornadoes are becoming more scarce. Last year saw few hurricanes and tornadoes, and so far we’ve had only 100 total tornadoes (see below); in a typical year there’d be 323. The good news has gone unreported, I think, because there’s no event, no photo-opportunity; no interviews with survivors, police, and experts.

US tornadoes: typical and year to date, January 1 to April 10 2014,  NOAA

US tornadoes: typical and year to date, January 1 to April 10 2014, from NOAA, storm center

Perhaps this is a bonuses from global warming, or from the very cold winter just passed, or from the chaotic, weatherit’s hard to tell weather from climate. Whatever the reason, it’s happening and good. Here’s how tornadoes lift stuff up, with video (Einstein’s explanation). Here’s an explanation of hurricanes (my explanation).

Robert E. Buxbaum, April 11, 2014. In other good news, the ozone hole is shrinkinggenetically modified foods don’t seem to cause cancer, and many bad things are good for you, like sunlight. Enjoy the good.

Dada, or it’s hard to look cool sucking on a carrot.

When it’s done right, Dada art is cool. It’s not confusing or preachy; it’s not out there, or sloppy; just cool. And today I found the most wonderful Dada piece: “Attention”, by Gabriel -Belladonna, shown below from “deviant art” (sorry about the water-mark).

At first glance it’s an advertisement against smoking, drinking, and eating sweets. The smoker has blackened lungs, the drinker has an enlarged liver, and the eater of sweets a diseased stomach. But something here isn’t right; the sinners are happy and young. These things are clearly bad for you but they’re enjoyable too and “cool” — Smoking is a lot cooler than sucking on a carrot.

Dada at it's best: Attention by Mio Belladonna. The sinners are happy.

Dada at it’s best: “Attention” by Dadaist Gabriel (Mio) Belladonna, 2012; image from deviant art. If I were to choose the title it would be “But it’s hard to look cool sucking on a carrot.”

At its best, Dada turns advertising and art on its head; it uses the imagery of advertising to show the shallowness of that, clearly slanted medium, or uses art-museum settings to show the narrow definition of what we’ve come to call “art”. In the above you see the balance of life- reality and the mind control of advertising.

Marcel Duchamp's fountain and "Manikken Pis" Similar idea, Manikken is better executed, IMHO.

Marcel Duchamp’s fountain and “Manikken Pis.”

Any mention of dada should also, I suppose, mention Duchamp’s fountain (at right, signed fancifully by R. Mutt). In 2004, fountain was voted “the most influential artwork of the 20th century” by a panel of artists and art historians. The basic idea was to show the slight difference between art and not-art (to be something, there has to be a non-something, as in this joke). Beyond this, the idea would be that same as for the Manikken Pis sculpture in Brussels. Duchamp’s was done with a lot less work — just by signing a “found object.” He submitted the work for exhibition in 1917, but it was rejected as not being art — proving, I guess, the point. Fountain is related to man: his life, needs, and vain ambitions; it’s sort-of beautiful, so why ain’t it art? (It has something to do with skill, I’d say.)

Duchamp designed two major surrealist exhibitions — a similar approach, but surrealism typically employs more skill and humor than Dada, with less shock. Below is another famous work of dada, Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea-cup (Breakfast in fur — see it at the Modern Museum in NYC) compared to a wonderful (and in my mind similar) surreal work, “Ruby lips” by Dali. Oppenheim made the tea-cup and spoon disgusting by making it out of a richer material, fur. That’s really cool, and sort-of shocking, even today.

Duchap's tea cup (left), and Dali's ruby lips (right). Similar ideas treated as Dada or Surreal.

Meret Oppenheim’s fur tea-cup (Breakfast in fur) and Dali’s ruby lips; the same idea (I think); dada vs surreal.

Dali’s “ruby libs” brooch took more skill than gluing fur to a cup and spoon; that adds to the humor, I’d say, but took from the shock. It’s made from real rubies and pearls: hard materials for something that should be soft; it’s sort of disgusting this way, and the message is more or less the same as Oppenheim’s, I’d say, but the message gets a little lost in the literal joke (pearly teeth, ruby lips…). I could imagine someone wearing Dali’s brooch, but no one would use the fur-lined cup. 

There is a lot of bad dada, too unfortunately, and it tends to be awful: incomprehensible, trite, or advertising. An unfortunate tendency is to collect some found pieces of garbage, and set it out in an attempt to scandalize the art world, or put down “the man” for his closed mindset. But that’s fountain, and it’s been done. A key way to tell if it’s good dada — is it cool; is it something that makes you say “Wow.” Christo’s surrounded islands certainly have the wow-cool factor, IMHO. 

Christo's wrapped Islands. Islands near Miami Beach wrapped in pink (fuscha) plastic.

Christo’s surrounded Islands: Islands near Miami Beach wrapped in pink (fuchsia) plastic.

A nice thing about Christo is that he takes it down 2 weeks or so after he makes the sculptures. Thus, the wow factor of his work never has a chance to go stale. Sorry to say, most dada stays around. Duchamp’s “fountain” sits in a museum and has grown stale, at least to me and Duchamp. What was scandalous and shocking in 1917 is passé and boring in 2014. The decline in shock is somewhat less for “breakfast in fur,” I think because the work is better crafted, a benefit I see in “Attention” too; skill matters.

Paris Street art. I don't know the artist, but it's cool.

Paris Street art; it’s just cool.

At the height of his success, Duchamp left art for 30 years and played chess. He became a chess grand master (life is as strange as art) and played for France in international tournaments. He later came back to art and did one, last, final piece, a very fine one, seen only through a peephole. Here’s some further thoughts on good vs bad modern art, and on surrealism, and on the aesthetic of strength in engineering: what materials to use; how strong should it be, and on architecture humor

Robert E. Buxbaum. April 4-7, 2014. Here is a link to my attempt at good Dada: Kilroy with eyes that follow you, and at right some Paris street art that I consider good dada too. As far as what the word “dada” means, I translate it as “cool,” “wow,” “gnarly,” or “go go.” It’s dada, man, y’ dig?

Einstein’s fuzzy slippers — and a fetish lawyer joke

First, the joke about the fetishistic lawyer: He got off on a technicality.

It’s funny because  ….  it’s a double entendre, a multi-word, sexual homophone (no insult  to the homophone community). It also relates to a fact as true and significant as any in life. What a person considers enjoyable, fun (or not) depends mostly on what’s in his mind. Whether judging sexy or scary; pleasant or disagreeable, it has relatively little to do with a physical reality, and is mostly in the imagination of the person. As a result, the happiest people seem to be those who embrace their inner weirdness. They try to find jobs that they are good at, that allow them to take perverse pleasure in their own weird way within the bounds of a civil society.

Take pleasure in your own weirdness.

Einstein in fuzzy slippers outside of his Princeton home; take pleasure in your own weirdness.

Einstein, at left, seems to have enjoyed doing physics, playing the violin, and wearing odd clothes: sweaters, and these (pink) fuzzy slippers. the odd clothes didn’t detract from his physics, and may have even helped him think. Boris Spassky (the Russian chess champion) was asked which he preferred: sex or chess, he said: “it very much depends on the position.” Do what you like, and like what you do. As the old joke goes, “I don’t suffer from insanity: I enjoy every moment.”

Robert Buxbaum. April 1, 2014; I mostly blog about science and hydrogen, but sometimes, like here, about personal relations, or last week economics (dismal). Here’s a thermodynamic look at life. And a picture of an odd sculpture I made. I take my own advice, by the way: this blog doesn’t get me any money but it’s fun, and maybe I’ll help some day — e.g. maybe it’ll spark my creativity. Here’s a bit about Einstein’s mustache, and the universe being curved in.