Tory Victory Not Really a Surprise

cameron

There is a sense of surprise at the re-election of David Cameron’s conservative party, which won 331 of the 650 mandates in the 2015 United Kingdom General Election.  That is the smallest number of mandates a majority party has won in a British election since after the second 1974 election.

The result wasn’t as big a surprise as one might think.

To be sure, polls had shown a tight race.   Most showed the Conservatives and Labour tied, or with a slight conservative lead at something like 36-35.  Consider the following graphic:

polls

Blue represents the Tories, red Labour, purple UKIP, yellow the LibDems, and green the Greens.  Although the two major parties are nearly tied at the end at around 35%, Labour had been steadily losing support while the conservatives had been slightly climbing.  If there was momentum, it was for the Tories.

Here are the actual results:  Conservatives – 36.9%, Labour 30.4%, UKIP 12.6%, the Lib Dems 7.9%  Scotish National Party 4.6%, Greens 3.6%

From this result here are the mandates:  Conservatives 331, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Unionists 8,  UKIP 1, Greens 1 Other 15.

One thing a single member district plurality (SMD-P) electoral system provides is that there can be a large swing in mandates won from a relatively small swing in total percentage of the vote.   SMD-P is a system where people vote in districts for one candidate.  Whichever candidate gets the most votes (known as a plurality) wins the seat.  That’s how we run most of our Congressional elections in the US.

This hurts smaller parties.  The anti-EU party could turn 12.6% of the vote into only one seat.  Yet geographically based parties like the SNP could turn 4.6% of the vote into 56 seats as they swept Scotland.   It also means that a 6.5% differential between the two top parties can turn into a difference of almost 100 seats, or 15% of the seats available.

This was a clear victory for Scottish natinalists who could use this to mount another demand for a referendum on independence

This was a clear victory for Scottish natinalists who could use this to mount another demand for a referendum on independence

Think of it this way.  If the vote was perfectly even in every district, a party could win 51% to 49% in every district; a close election would yield all seats going to the party with 51%!   Obviously some districts are safe for a particular party and others are contested at various levels.   But the result almost always is that the party that “wins” has a much larger majority in parliament than the vote total would indicate.

(Aside:  If you follow American politics you might counter that even though in 2012 the Democrats earned more votes than the Republicans, the GOP got a majority.  That happens in part due to gerrymandering — designing districts to get the optimum outcome for a party– but also because Democrats rack up huge vote totals in urban districts, while Republicans win closer suburban and rural districts.  In Great Britain the divisions aren’t so stark, so elections behave more like one would expect).

In 2010 Great Britain had its first hung parliament (no party gaining a majority) since 1974.  That’s because the Liberal Democrats got 23% and 57 seats.  The Conservatives only got 36.1% and 306 seats, while Labour got 29% and 258 seats.

The change from 2010 to 2015 for the top two parties was Conservative +0.8%, Labour +1.4%.  Both parties gained, but Labour gained a bit more than the Conservatives.  So why did the Tories gain 25 seats and Labour lose 26?  The answer is due to the smaller parties.  The LibDems went from 57 seats to only 8, while the SNP went from 6 to 56.  In Scotland alone Labour lost nearly 40 seats to the SNP – that means they gained seats in the rest of the country.

The LibDem loss should have been expected.   Small parties are always at risk when they form a coalition with larger parties, unless they can provide something unique that the voters want.  Nick Clegg couldn’t do that.  That loss of support translated to more mandates for the Conservatives.

That brings us to the polls.  The pollsters were pretty accurate for the small parties, and pretty close for the conservatives too.  The only real problem, then, was that Labour totals were inflated by about 3% consistently.   That’s not a huge amount, but still a significant gap given how much agreement existed in the polls.   The most likely reason is that conservative-leaning voters upset with the Cameron government told pollsters they were leaning Labour, but came home to the Conservatives on election day.  Not that they were lying to the pollsters, but there’s something about actually voting that can cause people to stick with a party they thought they might abandon.

Before the elections some conservatives voiced optimism that by moving Labour more to the left, Miliband might inspire higher Tory turnout than expected.  That sounded like the usual wishful thinking but may have actually happened.

Now former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resigned his leadership role after the election.

Now former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resigned his leadership role after the election.

Polls can be off, and as noted, just a few ticks in one direction can make a major difference in the result.  I am not surprised that the conservatives gained a majority.   The 2010 election was the first since 1974 with no majority, and it was obvious that the Lib Dems were not going to gain many seats this go around.   So it appeared that either the Tories would gain a small majority (which they did), or that Labour would have to work with the SNP.

A change in power to Labour was unlikely for another reason.  Labour leader Ed Miliband had not generated a sense that his leadership would provide a positive change.  Labour had been declining in the polls and people weren’t warming to Miliband.  Late deciders may have been swayed by Cameron’s positive economic results (compared to the rest of Europe).

Cameron has five years now to govern as a majority party, unless he calls an early election.  He has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017.   The Cameron era continues.

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A Twins Fan Again!

bremerblyleven

In 1970 at the age of ten I became a serious Twins fan.  I kept a scrapbook, including a story from the Minneapolis Tribune about a 19 year old rookie named Bert Blyleven who looked “too young to shave yet.”   By the time I was 13 I was keeping score and kept a notebook with info from all the games, including who hit homeruns, the pitcher of record, and if there was a save.  I’d listen to Herb Carneal call the game, glued to the radio.

My first live game was  a double header against the Oakland A’s in 1973.  That was the A’s heyday with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, etc.  The A’s would win their second world series in a row that year, but the Twins had their number, winning 14 of the 18 games they played.  That included the two I saw, with the second being exciting.  After starter Jim Kaat was knocked out of the game early, a rookie named Bill Campbell came in and pitched brilliantly as the Twins caught up.  In the 10th Tony Olivia would double and George Mitterwald hit his second home run of the game to win 7-5!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

In 1987 I was in grad school at the University of Minnesota, following the team as Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek led an unexpected drive to the Twins first world championship.  In 1986 they had been last in their division.   Nothing can replicate that experience for Twins fans – the first championship (unless you count when they were the Washington Senators in 1924), unexpected, with a core group that had come up through the farm system and endured some rough years.

Then four years later, in Berlin Germany to do research, I listened to every game of the 1991 series as Vin Scully and Johnny Bench called the play by play carried over Armed Forces radio.   In the wee hours of the morning as Jack Morris pitched ten scoreless innings and Gene Larkin hit a game winner I was jumping around the apartment I was in, thrilled!

This all ended in 1995.  I got a job in Maine, loaded a Ryder truck and took off.  I spent the summer in Europe, and as I threw myself into my new job and home, baseball seemed distant.  Moreover the 1994 strike and cancelled world series left a sour taste in my mouth.   Baseball seemed tarnished.   I was surrounded by Red Sox fans, and soon I lost track of the Twins.  Oh, the years they made the playoffs I would watch.   But I didn’t know the players or feel connected.  But now, 20 years later, I’m finally a Twins fan again.

This year I got Directv’s “extra innings” major league baseball package.  And so far I have managed to watch every one of the Twins first 25 games, albeit a few via DVR.  Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven are the announcers – the same Blyleven who was a rookie when I first started following the Twins .

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

It didn’t take long to get to know the team. Watching daily after following them somewhat close in spring training I am learning about each player.  It’s my team again.   The only bummer is a black hole in my Twins memory.  I can recall Steve Braun, Bobby Darwin, Larry Hisle, Ray Corbin, Danny Ford and a host of others former players, some good some utterly forgettable.  But there are twenty years of names – some very important – that are meaningless to me.  Still, I’m even learning those, bit by bit.

The game has changed some.  They’re really strict on the check swing rule now, pitchers are yanked earlier, even when pitching well, and I can’t believe how the fielders are shifting some hitters.   I like how they show the speed of every pitch as well as keeping the pitch count (which I used to do myself).   Still, it’s like coming home, reuniting with an old friend after 20 years, and realizing that you feel as close and connected as ever.

Jack Morris' ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

Jack Morris’ ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

My nine year old son is watching with me quite often.  I explain the game to him and he’s a quick study.  He impressed me after a runner was held at second by a ground out to short.  “Dad,” he said, ” you know, if you have a guy on second you should hit it on the other side, then he’d be able to get to third.”   So cool that my son, on his own, re-discovered one of the fundamentals of baseball.   “Yes,” I said, “that’s right – they say you should hit behind the runner.”  He thought about that and smiled, “I get it!”

It’s not just about baseball, or the Twins, it’s about my youth.  How often did I hear on the radio, “The Minnesota Twins are on the air!”  Followed by the jingle, “We’re going to win Twins, we’re going to score…”  Following Rod Carew’s quest to hit .400, every year thinking “this will be the year!”  Even now when short stop Danny Santana makes eight errors early in the season I think, “wow, he’s fielding like Danny Thompson back in the 70s.”

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

Seeing the fans in the stands at Target Field – a place I have not yet visited, but will with two sons on July 8th – has me remembering many games at the Dome and the old Met.  Back in grad school I’d often on rainy days get a $3 outfield bleacher ticket just to watch the game.

One of the more surreal experiences I had was at the Metrodome. It was 1986 and the Twins led the Angels. Ron Davis, their “ace reliever” (who that year blew almost all his save opportunities) was pitching and a storm outside caused the roof to tear and the dome to start to collapse.  People went running for the exits, one lady screamed and pushed me aside as she dragged her kids down – I stayed on the second deck to watch.    Soon the dome re-inflated, and then the Angels defeated the Twins.  I miss the dome, but am glad they’re playing outdoors again!

Sunday after my son and I batted and played catch for about an hour we went in.  We were watching the Twins together when they loaded the bases.  I had told Dana about what a grand slam is, but he never saw one.   “Maybe you’ll see your first,” I said.  We then watched together as Trevor Plouffe launched a home run to left to give the Twins the lead.   Dana jumped up and down with excitement and I realized that he’s where I was all those years ago, starting to become a fan.  I’m glad I’m back and who knows – maybe this will be the year!

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Religion and Freedom

One pizzeria in Indianapolis claimed it would not cater a gay wedding on religious grounds

One pizzeria in Indianapolis claimed it would not cater a gay wedding on religious grounds

Events in Indiana this week have created an emotional national debate about religion and freedom.  Conservative Christians claim that they should have the right to not offer services for gay weddings, on religious grounds.  Others argue that not serving gays is an act of discrimination that violates American values.  After all, opposition to interracial marriage and equal rights for blacks were also couched in religious terms.

Homosexuality is not a choice but a genetic predisposition according to both the American Medical Association and the American Psychology Association.   This means it is like being black – a part of who a person is, not a choice they have made.  More importantly there is a fundamental contradiction in the approach from the religious right.

Homosexuality is mentioned as a sin three times in the Bible.  Unlike adultery, theft, and covetousness, for example, it isn’t mentioned in the ten commandments.   In fact, most sins are talked about far more often than homosexuality.  In the Old Testament it’s in Leviticus, right there along side admonitions against eating shell fish or touching women who are having their period.  That part of the Bible also gives rules on how to treat slaves, and other clearly anachronistic laws!

stone

Jesus does not mention homosexuality at all.  When Jesus talks about sin it’s usually in the context of forgiveness, and he warns his followers “Judge not, lest you be judged.”  Paul brings it up in Corinthians and Timothy, two letters where he lumps homosexuality with a number of other things — covetousness, drunkedness, trickery, etc. — as unrighteous behaviors.  Even that is a bit unclear since the Greek word being translated could mean masturbation, pedophilia or something more vague.

So if there were a hierarchy of sins, homosexuality isn’t high up on what the Bible worries about.  But there is no hierarchy of sins.  Christians universally agree that everyone is a sinner.  Therefore, singling out homosexuality as a special sin is anti-Christian.  A real Christian business owner recognizes every customer as a sinner, with each sin is of equal distaste to God.  Jesus didn’t turn people away because they were sinners, after all.  The only time he got mad was when the capitalists of his day were using the temple for business!

The only time Jesus gets really mad in the Bible is with the capitalists of his day!

The only time Jesus gets really mad in the Bible is with the capitalists of his day!

So clearly this is not really about religion, but bigotry.

Still, if we expected religions to actually live up to their teachings, we’d have quite a peaceful world.  Muhammad says don’t fight against people who do not want to fight, and that war should only be to defend the community as a last resort.  ISIS and Al-Qaeda are decidedly un-Islamic.  And how many people have been butchered in the name of Jesus?

So maybe that logical argument – that this is bigotry, not Christianity at work – sets the bar too high.  Maybe we need to accept that people are going to use religion to justify hate and bigotry.  Disappointing but, OK, that’s our world.  How much leeway should we give religious freedom if we set the bar lower?

I think we can agree that groups like ISIS who commit human rights atrocities can’t claim religious freedom.  The acts they engage in are crimes in and of themselves.  No one can hide behind freedom of religion to justify a crime.

But what about acts in the public sphere – you know, like a pizzeria catering a gay wedding.

Believe it or not, pizza is sometimes a choice for a wedding reception - and why not, it's the greatest food ever invented!

Believe it or not, pizza is sometimes a choice for a wedding reception – and why not, it’s the greatest food ever invented!

Libertarians might argue that any business should be able to buy or sell to whomever it wants.  That sounds good in theory, but in practice it can and in history has led to segregation and second class treatment for whole groups of citizens – those who went and saw the movie Selma this year know that!

Within the church itself, religious freedom usually trumps.  No clergy should be forced by the government to conduct a gay wedding.  Some liberal churches may require their clergy to do so, but that’s within the religion.  And if a church believes interracial marriage is wrong, well, they can refuse to conduct one of those too.

However restaurants, shops and other businesses that serve the general public do not have such leeway.  If you limit your customers with a rule – say, coat and tie required, it has to apply to everyone equally. You can also choose to refuse service on rational grounds – someone has disrupted a business in the past, counts cards against the rules, etc.  But you can’t choose to limit service against a group that suffers discrimination – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  There is some leeway for private clubs that aren’t completely open to the public, but even there it’s problematic.

Seen this way, the argument that this is some kind of “liberal fascism” makes no sense.  It’s just applying a principle that has been law for decades.  Just as it took until the 60’s for America to truly recognize the necessity of treating blacks as equal, it took until the early 21st Century to recognize the same about gays.

Perhaps the best argument for the religious right is a cultural one – religion is a defense of tradition; traditionally homosexuality has been seen as a perversion.  But the culture is changing.  Due to both science and evolved thinking we now consider that old view to be false – much like the view that said women shouldn’t vote, or blacks should be slaves.   When culture changes, religion has to give way – at least in the public realm.  Privately they can still argue for tradition. That’s unlikely to succeed, ultimately most religions will adapt.

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The nature of reality

supersymmetry

I’ve been thinking about modern physics.

Reality consists of quantum fields.   That’s it – just fields.  These fields can vibrate.   Those vibrations are perceived by us as particles: numerous vibrating fields create what we perceive as solid reality.   Apparently those particles don’t really exist, they just are there when we observe them – it’s how our minds perceive the vibrations.   If reality is not being observed in some way, it doesn’t exist.   The fields may still be vibrating, but the “stuff” we understand to be reality is the result of our perceptual framework.

A paradox: if there are only fields, which sometimes can vibrate, and if our material bodies are a manifestation of these vibrating fields, why do we have consciousness?   Why do we perceive these fields as “matter,” and are able to act within them as if there were a solid real world out there?   And what about the symmetries that make all this possible?

The only reason "stuff" has mass and particles can form what we perceive as matter is the existence of a Higgs field permeated all space-time.  The existence of this field was verified by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN on July 4, 2012

The only reason “stuff” has mass and particles can form what we perceive as matter is the existence of a Higgs field permeated all space-time. The existence of this field was verified by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN on July 4, 2012

Five possibilities come to mind:

1.  This is all one really elaborate virtual reality game, and when we die we’ll find ourselves in the real world, suddenly realizing we’ve just been playing.  Sort of a cool idea, but when you think of the pain endured by those experiencing rape, genocide and intense poverty, it seems a rather harsh game.  But maybe our “real” selves want to experience that, at least sometimes.

2.  A wild accident of nature.  No meaning, somehow within this system of fields it’s possible for entities to emerge that can perceive it as a reality.  This seems unrealistic to me, but it’s possible.

3.  Some kind of God created this, and we’re the product of its imagination, living based on that God’s whims, laws and dictates.  That seems even less realistic than 2, but again, it’s possible.

4.  An entity (God, for lack of a better term) exists and wants to experience interaction and challenges.  So it creates this realm and then is able to experience a variety of things stemming from its imagination.  This is different from 1 in that we’d all be aspects of this God, experiencing this field-based vibrational reality from different perspectives.  This view has some appeal, and harkens back to Platonist and especially neo-Platonist philosophies (e.g., Plotinus).  Or, as Bishop Berkeley suggested, we’re just part of God’s dream.

5.  There is something about consciousness that gives us the ability to perceive a world in this series of vibrating fields.  That would mean that this world is not an accident, but was meant for us to be able to perceive reality.  This option differs from the rest in that it doesn’t posit this as a product of a God (even if we are aspects of that God), a game or an accident.

symmetry

Why does this matter?   It’s easy to get caught up in the every day routines – the problems, the ambitions and concerns that drive us.  Taking care of our kids, earning money, dealing with others, etc.  But somehow that feels a bit empty – is that all there is?  And why is it?  Is there something more?   And if we just live going through the motions, as dramatic and sometimes distressing as they are, are we just sleep walking?  Are we going through life hypnotized, thinking this is REALITY, when really it’s a kind of illusion?

And if there is something more, is there something to gain by trying to understand it, probing with our minds, meditations and philosophy?  Can studying world religions provide a hint?   And if we can get a sense of a kind of deeper meaning, one that transcends this particular brief dance in space-time, will that actually pay dividends?  Will it make this life more meaningful, can we have more control over the reality we experience?

That’s it for today.   Just questions.

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Irrational Fear of the UN

anti-un

If you read some of the extremist literature about the UN, it’s alarming.  The UN is out to get our guns with the Small Arms Treaty!  Absurd.  The UN wants to stop us from spanking our children with the Rights of the Child Treaty!  Hardly.   Though if you spank your kids, you’re really doing some bad parenting.   Some even claim net neutrality is a doorway for UN control of the internet.  And now – a UN Security Council resolution will bind the US to an agreement with Iran, circumvent Congress and sacrifice US sovereignty!  And least so claim the latest UN-0-phobes.

Bottom line:  The UN can do nothing to hurt the US.   Nada.  Zilch.   In fact, the UN has proven itself very useful to the US given our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power.   We often use the UN to support US foreign policy.   The most dramatic examples are the Korean war and the 1991 Iraq war.

So why the irrational fear?   Part of it comes from a kind of animosity towards anything cosmopolitan among the tea party crowd, and a fear of losing American sovereignty.  The truth is that globalization has already weakened sovereignty by creating deep interdependence.   But that’s not the UN’s fault.

The UN Security council approves US led action to liberate South Korea in 1950.  A Soviet boycott of the council due to the US not seating the Communist government of China on the council allowed approval.

The UN Security council approves US led action to liberate South Korea in 1950. A Soviet boycott of the council due to the US not seating the Communist government of China on the council allowed approval.

Not approving the Small Arms Treaty means its harder to stop the use of children in war zones.  AK 47s are $6 a piece, that treaty is a fundamental tool in stopping atrocities in the third world.  No one is going to use it against the US or American gun laws.   That’s not possible.  The Rights of the Child treaty has been approved by every country except the US and Saudi Arabia.   UN soldiers aren’t going to round up people who spank their kids.

The only body that can approve enforcement of international law is the Security Council, and the US has veto power.  The UN by definition cannot hurt the US.

So why the paranoia about Iran?   Well, the Republicans just got a majority in both Houses but yet they can’t box in the President.  They’re feeling a tad impotent, and resent the fact that he is using his executive powers deftly.  Rather than admit that this is how split government works, they have come to believe that he’s “lawless” or ignoring the Congress and the Constitution.   And of course, some of it is just to rile up the base.  They know the UN doesn’t have the kind of power to somehow undermine the US – but fear that it does can be a powerful and emotional motivator!

obamphobia

The claim:  President Obama seeks an executive agreement with Iran to get Iran to agree not to have a nuclear weapons program.  An executive agreement – a common foreign policy tool – only binds the President during his term, and it does not need to pass Congress.   A treaty would require ratification by 2/3 of the Senate, and that’s not going to happen.  But if the US votes approval of a Security Council resolution calling for the removal of sanctions, then it is legally binding and voila, Congress has been bypassed.

Except that’s not how it works.

First, even if it all played out that way, the US Constitution and Supreme Court are clear that this would not be binding on the US.  And even if it were, the only body who could enforce that agreement is the UN Security Council, and the US can block any Security Council action.    But that’s irrelevant – if the US votes yes on a Security Council resolution requiring Congressional action and Congress does not act, then the US can’t follow what the resolution requires.  That’s the way the law works.  It will not be binding on the United States, just as an executive agreement cannot prevent Congress from acting as they will, and is not binding on the next President.

As always, the anti-UN paranoia is irrational…and very strange.

 

 

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Raising Independent Children

The parents committed the heinous act of letting these kids, Rafi and Dvora, play in a park and walk home.

The parents committed the heinous act of letting these kids, Rafi and Dvora, play in a park and walk home.

In Silver Spring Maryland a couple were found to be negligent parents because they let their children, aged 10 and 6, play in a park alone and walk home.   In Silver Spring leaving anyone under 18 unsupervised is neglect.

OK, “under 18″ is simply insane.   What happened to the idea of kids being able to go out and explore, have fun with friends, go on bike rides, hike in the woods…without some adult or supervisor tagging along?  But I’m not going to focus on the law now, but the culture – the idea that people would consider a couple negligent for letting their kids play in public without supervision.

People put such an emphasis on “being safe” that they go way overboard.  Whenever someone says to me “safety is our main concern” or “my job as a parent is to keep my kids safe” I feel like screaming.   No!  Safety is important but has to be balanced with factors such as learning, exploring and enjoying the world.  After all if safety were really the most important thing we’d ban cars – accidents kill nearly 40,000 people a year!

Recently I read an article by an American mom living in Germany who was surprised by the way Germans take care of their children.   As she put it:

All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

“Achtung! Nein!” I cried in my bad German. Both kids and parents ignored me.

Kids know how to handle themselves, and the odds of someone getting seriously hurt on a playground are certainly less than in a typical car ride.   She also noticed that they didn’t push young children to read, allowed kids run errands and be on their own.   What is “normal” parenting for them (and for my parents when I was a child) is now considered a radical form of “free range parenting” here.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, it’s illegal.

My children are 11 and 9, and my view of parenting is definitely along the “free range” side.    I trust them to go out and play and explore on their own, usually with neighborhood kids.  At the local mountain they each ski on their own.  If they’re bored in summer I tell them: “go take a bike ride, explore.”  Kids develop self-esteem, autonomy and confidence not by having everyone win a trophy, but by allowing kids to work as much out as possible on their own.

The same goes for “protecting” kids from videos, songs, movies and other things that are meant for adults.  Kids can handle more than we give them credit for, and as long as a parent can explain things they don’t understand and give guidance on behavior (e.g., explain why using swear words in public isn’t a good idea), they’ll be fine.  My nine year old has learned the lyrics of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” by heart (he sings along every time it comes on the radio) – and his questions about the meaning of the lyrics have been real teaching moments.

Yes, there are limits, and the limits change as they grow older.  And as kids explore the parents have to be cognizant of their children’s activites: ready to answer questions, provide guidance, listen and explain.  If I lived somewhere less safe, I’m sure I’d change how I construct those limits.  But overall, I don’t think we do children any favors by treating childhood as some “protected” time of their lives where they are shielded from the supposed dangers of the real world.   Too much of that and kids will not be able handle the real world, and will fear it!

Luckily rural Maine isn’t suburban Maryland, and if my kids go play at the park and walk home, no one will call the police and I certainly won’t be seen as negligent.  But the problem we’re creating is cultural – if we raise a generation that thinks it’s their birthright to be “protected” and “safe,” they’ll not really learn how to live.   When confronted with reality they’ll be more likely to escape, either into safe routines that give order to their lives but prevent true living, or something worse like drugs and alcohol.   That is as dangerous as anything parents are protecting them from!

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Why is there Something and not Nothing?

(This blog entry is a bit different – I’m in an introspective mood today)

We live in a world.   Everything about our existence says that every effect has a cause, everything has a beginning, and you can’t get something from nothing.

So why does a world exist?   Why is there something and not nothing?

It seems that there should be no world, no existence.  The existence of a world requires a contradiction.   Somehow something came from nothing.  If you posit a beginning or a cause from something else, you just push back the problem.  If one says “God created the world,” then the question becomes “why is there a God rather than no God?”

If one posits the big bang as creating space-time, the current popular theory, then what came before the Big Bang?

Therein lies a hint of an answer.  If the big bang marks the creation point of space-time then whatever “caused” the big bang or “came before” it must be outside space-time.   Yet we are fundamentally unable to even imagine a world that is not predicated on space-time.   Our minds can only think in terms of a progression of events, one thing causing another, with time marching only forward, the present ceasing to exist as it continually becomes the past.

Our minds think of material cause and effect.   That limitation is the main reason we cannot answer the question why is there something and not nothing.   In our space-time frame of reference this is a paradox, a contradiction.  Existence should not exist.

Contradictions are funny things.  Aristotle says that two sides of a contradiction cannot both be true.  A house cannot be both white and not white.   But it’s not so clear cut.   Reality isn’t the same as our linguistic symbolic representations of reality.  We can create statements that contradict each other, but those statements may be poor reflections of reality.  The fact light is both a particle and a wave — a contradictory state of affairs that is nonetheless apparently true — doesn’t really violate a law of contradictions.  Our language constructs a contradiction because it imprecisely describes reality.   We don’t really understand the nature of light – either the photons or the waves.

Thus it is very possible for two contradictory statements to be true.

So the contradiction behind the notion that a world exists is really a paradox.   There may be an explanation, but it is outside our ability to comprehend – it is outside of space/time.

Is this an argument for the existence of God?   Well, some conceptions of God claim that God is incomprehensible, and certainly whatever is outside space/time is by definition incomprehensible for us beings trapped in this space-time universe.  However particular God-stories (various world religions) are of little help.  If the concept of God is broadened to mean whatever force can explain the existence of this space-time universe and its attributes, then we have a form of Deism.   But we know nothing about this God.

More convincingly is an argument in favor of some kind of non-material or “spiritual” aspect of existence.  Since existence itself rests on the necessity of both sides of a contradiction being true, it’s clear that the material world itself is limited in scope.  Any meaning or purpose this world has cannot be determined by looking at science or the material attributes of this world.   That will give us knowledge on how we experience the functioning of this world, but not any meaning.

Of course, it’s possible the world is meaningless – that whatever created space-time was a kind of accident, and as soon as this universe runs its course it will collapse on itself and space-time will be “forgotten.”  Yet that seems a dubious proposition to hold on purely pragmatic grounds.   If the universe is meaningless and yet we search for meaning, we haven’t lost anything – in fact, we can create our own meaning for the brief dance we have on this planet.  If there is a deeper meaning, then searching for it may connect us at least intuitively with a better understanding of why we have physical lives, and how we should best handle this experience.

Moreover, psychologically it’s very easy for us to become “hypnotized” by the world in which we find ourselves.   Hypnosis operates on suggestions, and our world hurls suggestions at us all day, coming from our culture, media, friends, etc.  We can lose ourselves in the routine doing what we think must be done, taking time for a distraction now and then, but not really making our lives something we consciously shape, reflect upon, and experience as truly meaningful.

To me, that would be boring – sort of like going through life half asleep.

So why is there something and not nothing?   I don’t know.   But contemplating the question gives me a stronger sense that I should reflect on what my experience here means, and look inside myself as well as out into the world.

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