I Don’t Believe It

I always cringe, at least inwardly, when I hear somebody say, “I don’t believe in science.” I know that I’m not the only one who does. I say it as well, but not for the same reasons.

It’s been my experience when I hear that said, I take it to mean, “I find (insert scientific concept her) so far beyond my understanding that I reject it without pursuing it any farther.” It becomes a de facto argument from incredulity.

When I say, “I don’t believe in science.” I mean something totally different. What I am trying to convey is that Science, in all of its legitimate forms, isn’t a belief system. Science “works” by hypothesis formation, experimentation, observation, reforming hypothesis, rinse and repeat. There isn’t a place for belief because belief, and I’m talking religious belief in this context, is the assertion that one can call something true that one have never observed.

I was raised Roman Catholic. There is a tradition in the Church of Transubstantiation. The belief that during Mass that the wine is turned into the blood of Christ, and the bread is turned into the body of Christ. I remember growing up and Sister Rose Andre telling the class, as we prepared for our First Eucharist, that while these may still look like bread and wine, they are really the body and blood of Jesus. At that time, I did believe precisely that. There was no observable change. We just took it as truth. There is no harm in that belief. There is also no scientific basis for it.

That is the crux of what I’m saying. We believe as true what we can’t experience through our senses. We believe Transubstantiation is truth.

We know from our personal experience that the grass is green, water is wet and when I bounce my head off the sidewalk, it hurts like all get out. That’s empirical. That’s also Science, sort of.

My point is this: One is welcome to believe anything she, he, they want to. I have no problem with that. My problem lies where people substitute out belief for observation and that line blurs.

White Hats and Black Hats

Way back in the day a person could do the the local movie theater and catch something called the Cowboy serials. The type of story that hasn’t aged well and is hackneyed and full of cliches. And one of the biggest of these cliches is the good guys always wore white cowboy hats and the bad guys always wore black cowboy hats. It was an easy way to know good from bad.

This past weekend I watched a documentary film called

Movie Code 2600

. It was, in part, about the subculture of computer hackers. One thing that struck me was that they were divided into two distinct camps called the White Hats and the Black Hats. And it meant the same thing that it did in the days of the serials.

Black Hats are the easy ones to define. They want to disrupt, to cause harm, to steal…

White Hat hackers are a great deal more innocuous. The White Hats that I found in my research are privacy advocates, pointing out to the users of the likes of Facebook, Google, Instagram, and others, where their personal information is going. Maybe even how it’s being used. Is my data being used at directed marketing? I did look at the Pillsbury website last week…The White Hats believe that you have the ABSOLUTE right to know how the data you enter into Social Media sites, and commercial sites are being used. Are you for sale?

Perhaps there is a way that all of us can use these sites that we find useful in the extreme, without surrendering who we are and our personal data.

Holy shit-biscuits! When I started this post this morning, I had no intention that it would be multi-part series.

Give a Journalist in column inch, he’ll take a four part series.

More to come soon, gentle readers.

Peace.

A Word on Journalism.

At work today I heard a coworker say something to the effect that journalists can say (write) anything they want to…

Another time I heard a professional say in front of her peers at her convention, that Journalists, “… twist words to what they want…” (Keep in mind that I was covering this convention on this particular attendants’ behalf.)

The ellipses are essential here because, at this point, whatever these people thought or felt matter.

And what they felt, in my estimation, is this: The Press is the Enemy.

I’ve been asking myself, “Why is this?”

I don’t think there is any simple answer. As a journalist, I’m not a licensed professional, not like a lawyer, not a like teacher, not a like physician. There is no licensing board or ethics panel I may face.

As a Journalist, I only have my reputation and the judgment of my peers to direct me. It might sound like a comprehensive and accessible course, but trust me, it isn’t. Remember Dan Rather and the story he broke about President George W. Bush and the president’s time in the Texas Air National Guard? He failed to adhere to one of the most basics tenants of Journalism: Check at least two sources. That mistake cost him his reputation as even one of the best television news journalists.

A Journalist’s first duty is to the truth. That is it. That is all. The highest example of this was when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal in June of 1972. These two were bullied, threatened, and lied about in other press outlets but inevitably these two were delivered the truth to the American people.

We Journalists must minimize our biases. We, like scientists, cannot afford to start with a conclusion, then find supporting evidence. We have to start with the evidence and follow it to its final conclusion. That is how investigative journalism and science must work. Any other way is wrong.

In this country, journalists have come under attack, sometimes physically, for attempting to reveal the truth. In the recent racial unrest, reporters and photographers have been beaten to the point of hospitalization or shot with rubber and plastic bullets. The reason is clear. People on both sides of the divide, at least at that moment didn’t want the truth to get out.

This brings me to my own conclusion of the question: Why?

Specifically: Why was Freedom of the Press so crucial as to be included in the Bill of Rights? For me, the answer is more than merely an extension of the Freedom of Speech. The answer lies in the Founding Fathers’ belief that the American people needed a direct way to keep an eye on the government.

When we attack Journalists, physically and otherwise, we are attacking our own ability to watch the government. By the same token, when Journalists don’t put aside bias, they are blinding the population to the truth. This is very much a two way relationship.

Somehow we’ve lost that and it needs to be rediscovered. Let’s work on that.

Most likely I’ll be revisiting the subject of Journalism in the future. Fair warning given.

Until the next post, Peace.

On Math…

I have nothing to say.

Well, practically nothing.

Math and I don’t get along. That is to say, that I am one of those people that have a great deal of trouble when it comes to understanding math. So much so that I barely passed the two Mathematics courses that I needed to fulfill the requirements for my degree. When I say that I barely passed, I mean that I received a midling C. I really don’t thing of myself as a dummy considering that I was doing A level work in my other courses, especially English.

I never knew why I had this particular difficulty. I was extremely lucky to have two phenomenal math professors that took the time to hold my hand and walk me through many problems during their office hours. Doctor Hussein and Doctor May, I owe my Journalism degree to you as much as any of my J-school and English professors. Thank you so much.

I was determined to have nothing to do with the subject ever again. Then I came across this YouTube video:

Something clicked. This video made me want to learn more math. These scientist and mathematicians made me want to take another look at math. In short, these fifteen-odd minutes made me curious about math.

With that in mind, this last Saturday, I went online and looked into the Khan Academy website to see what I could learn in Mathematics. I logged in and signed up as an adult learner. I then started to watch the lessons on Algebra. And then it happened. Math started to make sense to me. I know this isn’t Earth-shaking or anything, and I would venture a guess that a good number of my friends will always understand a lot more about math than I ever will. For me, it was an initial step. I found myself enjoying learning about mat, even if it was only Algebra and only a review from a few years ago.

Maybe this math thing isn’t so bad.

Or maybe it’s a combination of the right time and place for me to pick up some adult learning and it just happening to be in an area that I am weak in. To quote the old adage, “Build upon your weaknesses until they become your strengths.”

I’ll have to work on algebra for now. Differential Calculus is still a good ways off. I hope we can all find something that we want to revisit the idea of learning.

Peace, gentle readers.

It’s Early in the Morning

It’s early in a beautiful, late summer morning. The breeze is light and warm. I have two short-form pieces that I’m working on and I could publish either one. But I decided to do this instead: remind myself why I write.

I just poured my first cup of coffee and I have one of my cats, James Joyce by name, staring on at me from the chair next to my desk. His litter-mate sister, Nyanerz, is busy attacking the cat tower in my office. The windows are open and I’m listening to the crickets chirp importantly to themselves. Somehow, this all seems just right.

Photo: My own.

Funny how it took this guy to remind me that I need to be enjoying what I’m doing with this.

There comes a time that I have to remember that I shouldn’t be writing this blog to allow myself to sound smart. For the love of everything that is good and beautiful knows there are enough pedantic voices out there attempting to do exactly that. The one thing that these people have in common is that the only people that are reading them are other people who are trying to prove how smart they are.

Even though it’s early in this project, I need to think about where I’m taking it, I need to find what works best for me and move in that direction. It could be so easy to get lost trying top sound smart and have what I should be loving become a chest-deep slog through molasses.

I don’t want to write like that and I’m as sure you don’t want to read anything like that.

I need to find more of what I enjoy writing so you will enjoy what I write more.

Peace.

Why I Find the STAR TALK Podcast So Good

Not too long ago, I started watching the Star Talk radio show. Hey, it’s the days of social media; it IS possible to watch radio. It’s a science show hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and often co-hosted with comedian Chuck Nice. Focusing mostly on astronomy, Niel is especially adept at explaining complex topics in very plain and approachable terms. The subjects covered in the show form a wide range from astrophysics to the physics in everyday life, to why there is no symmetry in nature and pretty much every point in between.

https://me.me/i/if-you-cant-explain-it-simply-you-dont-understand-it-5171416

Neil certainly lives this quote. But his explanations are far removed from being dry. What I find that really makes this show a stand out from other science shows, is the interplay between Neil and his co-host Chuck.

There is great chemistry (no pun intended) between the two of them. Chuck Nice does so well as the “everyman” asking questions and making the topics at hand within reach of most everyone. His sense of humor never for me seems out of place or forced. While at the same time Chuck is serious when the situation calls for him to be so. I find it rare that two hosts do so well together as a team.

If you’re new to science or have been away form it for a while or if you’ve found science to be intimidating, this show could be a good fit for you. It could even be a jumping off point for you to look into the realm for science more in depth. For the person who is more acquainted with scientific subjects, you may well find enough to chew on as well. As much as I find this phrase hackneyed this is a show that is truly, “entertaining and informative.”

What Science Means (And Doesn’t Mean) to Me

One of the most important characteristics of #science Is that it’s self-correcting. If a hypothesis is tested and the results aren’t expected, the hypothesis is reworked taking into account the new results and tested again. Experimental results are carefully recorded and these further observations again compared to the hypothesis’s predicted results. It’simple elegance through critical thought. Please note that it’s the Scientific Method that is simple and far less often than not, than the experiments themselves. Don’t believe me? Ask any grad student that has requested observational time on any of the major telescopes or anyone working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

In the scientific realm, we’ve moved from Newtonian Mechanics and Newton’s Laws of Motion to Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. Why? Because even though Newton’s laws work perfectly well here on Earth, they don’t work so well as objects approach the speed of light. Personally to me, this is one of the best historical examples of how science “works.” It’s not just science history either.

Around the world every day, experiments are concluded and the data from them is compared to the hypothetical predicted outcomes. And a large number of those hypotheses have to be reworked. If you would ask any scientist if their incorrect predictions were seen as a defeat, I would guess that a large number of them would say “no” in no qualified terms, It gave them the chance to discover something unknown and that is the reason for “doing science.”

https://www.needpix.com/photo/1157074/laboratory-care-health-medical-medicine-experiment-professional-biology-hospital

This brings me to what Science is not, at least to me. And that in a word: Ridged. Science is not a belief system. Science doesn’t bring a dogma to the table. It doesn’t come with presupposed outcomes. While Science has a very strong base in ethics, it doesn’t compel adherence to a moral system based on religious text.

I understand that faith-based systems give the follower a foothold on how to interpret the world and apply meaning to what they see, I feel the same way about science. As the writer I am, science gives me the tools to interpret and understand the world as I see it. You don’t have to agree with me, but understand that I see the world through hypothesis, experimentation, data interpretation, re-visitation of hypothesis; repeat as necessary. (It’s always necessary.)

If you look at the world through a different lens, I would love to have a constructive conversation with you,. Or if we agree on some points, let me know that too. Let’s start a dialogue.

Peace, gentle readers.

This Is What I’ve Been Thinking

Like so many people, I have always had more than passing interest in science. And like many people, I have a lack of math skills that would have allowed me to pursue a career in science. While earning my Journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, I had to fight long and hard to get my below B grade for the two math courses I needed to complete my education. English and my Literature Theory classes came far more easily. I was one of those lucky souls to whom reading came naturally.

That brings me to the re-launch of this little corner of the blogosphere. I have found myself losing a good deal of time in the last few months with my eyes glued to YouTube. Not the popular content creators but far more often than not the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Dr. Becky Smethurst, Practical Engineering, among others. These people are REAL scientists and engineers with degrees that are proof of knowledge gained through university study. And they know how to create engaging content. In other words, they know what they are talking about and how to share that knowledge.

https://www.needpix.com/photo/download/317074/carina-nebula-space-cosmos-gas-dust-pillar-star-formation-light

I’ve been thinking at length about what to do with this blog. I think this is the right direction to go with it; Sharing what I find interesting along with the occasional longer piece based in some research. Why not? It’s my blog and I really can do with it as I please. Some subjects will be heavier than others, of course, and that is just going to have to be the nature of the thing.

Another purpose is to sharpen my writing chops and to present to the world what is my writing voice and level of skill. Why do the work to have a university degree based in writing and not use it? With that, I would like to have some feedback from you, my gentle readers. a bit of constructive criticism to guide me. I would greatly appreciate the help.

For the moment, the plan is to write two short-form posts like this one a week and a longer piece once a month. This should be doable for me. Along with this bit of writing, I have a factory job that pays for this writing habit that I am doing my best to cultivate. Have to be able to pay the bills in some way, right?

My writing desk, supposedly where I do my real work. Note the two coffee mugs.

So that is the story with this blog. I’ve set it aside for a good bit of time, considering what I should do with is and I have decided to shift the focus of it a bit to what I want to write. I turn it over to you, gentle reader, What do you think? What would you like to write about if given the chance, or what do you write?

When It All Goes Sideways

As I was making what I thought was some fairly impressive progress on my novel “Requiem for a Laborer,” moving right along with finding research for the opening of the story, I hit a small snag.

Well more of a major disaster, really.

I lost the file where I had an annotated map of the setting for the opening, as well some character notes and plot points. You know that feeling you get when you’re already late and you are about to step out the door for an important appointment just to realize, at that point, you have no idea where your keys are? That is a pretty good summation of how I felt. Just when I was going to start the rumbling engine that is to be my story, somehow I had lost the keys.

NowI know what a lot of you are thinking, “Why didn’t you back up the thing, to begin with?” I have a perfectly reasonable answer for that: “I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking.”

“I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking.”

We all make bone-headed play like that, don’t we?

So after the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and finally coming to acceptance, I thought that what I would need was a little time away from the site of the now key-less story. So that Is what I did. I worked on the house some and the yard a little. I read a good bit, too.

What I am learning, as a writer is to take these inopportune happening and see how I can turn them to my advantage. In this case, I reread my first draft and I am trying a different angle to open Requiem. Although I liked the changes that I had made, I felt that I was still telling more than showing. This had been the demise of many of what might great novel

This had been the demise of many of what might great a great novel. If the writer doesn’t grab the readers’ interest early on, it’s pretty much, “Ya know? I could be doing many more fun things than reading this. Sitting in a dentist’s chair come to mind.”

So for me, this has been a learning experience, Not only will I be saving more often, but also taking the chance during something negative to build something positive.