I’m Thankful For The Way Things Are In China

I haven’t posted much lately, so I thought I’d take you on a tour of a recent stream-of-consciousness of mine.

It was Thanksgiving, recently, and I started thinking about what to be thankful for, and to whom. Then, I thought about whether it made sense for an atheist, like myself, to celebrate Thanksgiving, since most people thought of it as an occasion to thank God. I decided that it was appropriate, and that I was thankful for The Enlightenment, and for the ideas of political liberty that have helped to free so many of us from all sorts of tyranny, and for the explosive growth of knowledge and wealth and happiness that civil and economic liberty have enabled. I was thankful that people in many places in the world (like China) that have recently been severely oppressed are now starting to experience the fruits of liberty as well.

Then, I thought about what sorts of things people were expected to express thanks for. It seems that we say we’re thankful for things that we are not responsible for. You don’t often hear people saying that they’re thankful for things that they have created or cultivated through their own hard work; i.e., for things that they’ve earned. It seems to only be appropriate to express thanks for things that others have done, or for random luck.

Then, I thought about the flip-side (sort of) of expressing thanks: apologizing. When people demand an apology, they won’t be satisfied by someone just saying “I’m sorry” about the fact of their unhappiness. They are expected to be sorry that they screwed up, made poor choices that caused the unhappiness.

So, we’re supposed to be happy (thankful) about things that we didn’t do, and sad (sorry) about things that we did do. That seems pretty twisted and unhealthy to me.

Then, I started thinking about famous examples of people apologizing, and remembered how strange I always found the lyrics to the John Denver song: “I’m Sorry.” Especially this line (the first time in the song that he says “I’m Sorry”):

I’m sorry for the way things are in China.

That’s bizarre! If he was trying to win points with his girlfriend for a romantic apology, he just undercut it by making it clear that when he says “I’m sorry” he can mean that he’s sad about a circumstance that he may have had absolutely no part in causing. That’s not what she wants to know. And, some of his other examples are of this sort (I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be, I’m sorry for myself cause you’re not here with me). But, then, he equivocates and starts being sorry for things that he is responsible for (I’m sorry for all the lies
I told you, I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say, I’m sorry if I took some things for granted, I’m sorry for the chains I put on you

So, when he finally repeats:

But more than anything else, I’m sorry for myself for living without you.

We can’t be sure whether he’s taking responsibility or not (I think we’re supposed to believe he is).

Leave Barry Alone!

A few days ago, a federal grand jury indicted baseball great Barry Bonds, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

I haven’t been following the situation very closely, but the whole thing reminds me of the ridiculous Martha Stewart persecution, where a public figure is punished for lying about something that the government could not prove to be a crime (certainly not one with victims).

Regardless of whether Bonds took steroids, or knew he took steroids, this does not warrant $1 of resources for the government to pursue. If it’s true that this is the most valuable use of federal crime-fighting resources of all available opportunities, then we should start cutting budgets dramatically, and start celebrating the end of serious crimes and threats to safety.

A lot of people seem to hate Barry Bonds, and want to minimize his accomplishments. It seems to be a common trait to want to tear down someone (or some company) that achieves dramatic success. I wish this trait was more widely recognized as a problem. We should certainly criticize actions that warrant it, but we should also praise great achievements.

Whether or not he took steroids, Barry Bonds is a great baseball player whose success on the field should be admired, and not despised.

Maybe he’s not a great role model in terms of character or personal choices (I’m not saying that this is true, I just don’t know). But, he can and should be admired as a great athlete anyway.

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe

I started this blog by writing about a common thing that I had thought about in a way that most people I know don’t seem to have.

Recently, I was reminded of something else like that from my childhood.

When I went to kindergarten, I first encountered a rather strange procedure that kids used to choose “randomly.” When they were choosing from a small set of things, they’d point to them alternately while reciting:

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe (4 beats)
Catch a tiger by the toe (4 beats)
If he hollers let him go, (4 beats)
My mother said (3 beats)
To pick the very best one (6 beats)
And you are it (4 beats) or And you are not it. (5 beats).

And it wasn’t just kindergartners who were doing this! First graders, second graders, third graders, and more were doing this!

I remember thinking initially that it must be some kind of a joke. Were these people idiots?

I didn’t know the term “deterministic,” but I knew that this was a terrible process. It seemed obvious to me that if one used the same process each time, then it would follow the same pattern. Simple experimentation would surely indicate which choice would win. So, I did a few trials and realized that when choosing among 2 or 3 or 4 things, the choice pointed to on the first beat would always win (or with “not it”, the second one would lose). Later, I figured out that there were 25 beats which is 2n+1, 3n+1, 4n+1. I could have figured out the cases for 5, 6, etc., but 2, 3 and 4 were by far the most common cases.

But, nobody I knew gave any indication that they had figured this out. Did it not occur to them? Did they choose to remain willfully ignorant in order to preserve the efficacy of the procedure? Were people phenomenally incurious? Was there an unspoken agreement that figuring out the pattern was cheating (or breaking the spell)?

Eventually, I accepted the fact that many people didn’t think about things the way I did. They were happy to share common beliefs and practices without even wanting to know how they worked or if they made sense.

I know it now, but it still bugs me a little.


I’ve added Reason.TV to my list of Links to the right.

It seems like a great source of libertarian-related videos linked to (or produced by) the Reason Foundation (publisher of the great Reason magazine).

An important feature, currently, is the Drew Carey Project (a series of libertarian-oriented mini-documentaries hosted by Drew Carey). Check it out.

I think Drew Carey is a great spokesman. He’s well-known, funny, and has a personality and attitude that most Americans can easily relate to.

I’ll be checking out the latest videos at reason.tv regularly.