Archive for November 24th, 2011

Obama’s Thanksgiving greeting reignites the culture wars

| November 24, 2011 | 1 Reply
Obama’s Thanksgiving greeting reignites the culture wars

Over at FOX News, Todd Starnes wrote this:

President Obama did not include any reference to God during his weekly address titled, “On Thanksgiving, Grateful for the Men and Women Who Defend Our Country.”

And then the culture war was reignited, which you can see in the hundreds of comments to the post. In reaction to Obama’s address, comments indicated that he was an American-hating, Muslim (or Pagan) rotten atheist socialist. One woman commented: “Pray for Obama – Psalm 109:8 ~ ‘Let his days be few and brief; and let others step forward to replace him.’” Another woman wrote: “There is no way I could be more disgusted with this creature who pretends to be a man. He must be eliminated from the public eye. The people who claimed to love god tend to hate Obama. In more recent comments, non-believers jump into the fray to chastise the Christians for their nastiness.

All of this caused by a President who said things like this:

As Americans, each of us has our own list of things and people to be thankful for. But there are some blessings we all share.

We’re especially grateful for the men and women who defend our country overseas. To all the service members eating Thanksgiving dinner far from your families: the American people are thinking of you today. And when you come home, we intend to make sure that we serve you as well as you’re serving America.

We’re also grateful for the Americans who are taking time out of their holiday to serve in soup kitchens and shelters, making sure their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. This sense of mutual responsibility – the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper – has always been a part of what makes our country special. And it’s one of the reasons the Thanksgiving tradition has endured.

I have repeatedly criticized Obama for his decision-making, but I don’t see anything in his address that is hostile to religion.

What have we come to, America? And since when did Thanksgiving become a holiday only for those who believe in God?

Epilogue: Good thing Obama didn’t follow in the footsteps of Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Thanksgiving dinner, a few years ago, each in turn thanked God for food. I thanked scientists for improved farming. Got booed.

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Budget cutting pie

| November 24, 2011 | Reply
Budget cutting pie

Mother Jones reminds us what the budget cutters are up against, by serving up a couple pie charts.

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Revisiting insignificance

| November 24, 2011 | 6 Replies
Revisiting insignificance

I agree with Jennifer Ouellette that it is healthy to periodically reconsider the extremely small place that human beings occupy in the context of the entire universe. She has collected several of my favorite videos and images in this post at Scientific American.

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Visualizing money

| November 24, 2011 | Reply
Visualizing money

In his bestseller, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (1988), John Paulos introduced the term “innumeracy” to refer to “an inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance.” Paulos bemoaned that innumeracy “plagues far too many otherwise knowledgeable citizens.”

Innumeracy causes many people to struggle with their own personal finances.   I’ve personally spoken to people who have taken out payday loans (about which I’ve written quite a bit), who cannot tell me what 10% of $100 is.   One problem, discussed extensively by Stanislas Dehaene (The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics (revised ed. 2011)) is that human animals are naturally rigged to understand zero, one, two, three  and four but on our own we cannot precisely identify or work with greater numbers.  To do that, we need an incredible human invention, mathematics, which provides us with an intellectual scaffolding for comparing and manipulating larger numbers.   Without a solid grasp of mathematics, humans are left only with vague intuitions about the numerical meaning of the world around them.

How can we help those who are mathematically impaired?  Money counselors have often recommend that people stop depending so much on credit cards and operate more on cash. This does two things. First, it keeps you from spending more than you have. Second, it allows you to visualize what you are spending. It causes more pain to hand someone several $20 bills than to swipe a credit card, because you are actually seeing significant amount of cabbage leave your wallet.

I thought of this problem of innumeracy as I viewed an excellent new graphic produced by a website called xkcd.com. The concept is simple, but the execution was excellent and designed to illustrate various salient political issues.  The result is an highly detailed image that allows you to see the numbers that are affecting our government and our lives.  I invite you to take a few moments (or longer) to visualize thousands, millions and billions of dollars.

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