cheating, communication, cooperation, Design, lies, politics, POTUS, Putin, quantity, science, truth
“A little’s not a lot.
A swing may be a miss.
You must remember this:
A kiss is not a kiss
Without the bliss.
A single sword does not
Offers don’t make bought.
A day does not make old.
All that glitters is not gold.
Ads do not make sold
Without the goods,
A tree is not a woods.
A giant sea of coulds
Does not imply a single spoon of shoulds.”
I just reheated a lukewarm half cup of French Roast coffee. I zapped it in the microwave for 18 seconds. That seemed about right, and it turned out very close to perfect. If I’d put it in for 17 seconds or 19 seconds, I would have been equally satisfied.
Do you think 1 second would have worked equally well? My “microwave,” despite the name, does not let me control the time to a microsecond, or even a millisecond. Do you think a millisecond would have been sufficient heating time? What do you think would happen if I put it in for 18 minutes or 18 hours instead of 18 seconds?
I’ve been watching the US Open on TV. There have been some amazing matches! Like the folks on TV, I can hit a serve. I can volley. I can hit topspin or slice. I can hit backhand, forehand, swinging volley, and overhead. I can aim the ball toward the empty court, or hit behind a player racing to cover the empty court. Yet, I don’t think any of my readers, however much or however little you know about tennis, would ever confuse my play with any of the contestants in the US Open! Why? I mean, is there really much difference between my forehand and Rafa Nadal’s forehand? Sure, he puts more topspin on and hits it with more speed. Why should that make a difference?
On a completely different topic, let’s consider nutrition for a moment. Do you think water is good for you? Yes or no? Without any access to fresh water, people die. How long it takes to die of dehydration will depend on health, activity, ambient temperature and other factors. As a general rule, three days without water will kill you, but it could be much shorter or slightly longer. But you won’t die in a millisecond. And you won’t survive for a year. It’s obvious; right? So water is good for you!
But wait. You can also kill yourself by drinking too much water. It takes about 6 liters of water to kill a 165 pound person. Of course, it depends slightly on the person and the situation. But you will not die from 6 teaspoons and you will certainly not survive drinking 60 liters in an hour.
You can certainly drown in water. People do it ever year. In 2015, it is estimated that over 300,000 people died from drowning! It seems to me that water must be bad for you! Yet, you cannot live without it.
What about exercise? Good or bad? If you never exercise, that is certainly bad for you (which is why I wrote Fit in Bits). If you run as fast as you can for as long as you can, you will injure or kill yourself (as did the very first marathoner). Again, it depends on your health and the situation. Some people can survive a 50 mile race. Others will have a fatal heart attack sprinting 100 yards.
How can life be so contradictory?
Life is not contradictory.
But neither is it composed of a set of perfect dichotomies.
We like to impose dichotomies because it makes thinking and decision making quicker and less painful. In some limited circumstances, this strategy is appropriate. It’s fine to try to avoid cutting yourself. Under most circumstances, you don’t really have to say to yourself, “Hmm. It’s Tuesday, September 3rd. I wonder how much I should cut myself today?” No, any cut means a chance of infection and will take some of your biological resources to heal and recover from the blood loss.
Nonetheless, there is a difference between nicking yourself while shaving and being beheaded. There is a difference between stubbing your toe and being stoned to death by an angry crowd.
I must confess to feeling a bit foolish pointing these things out, because I imagine everyone reading this is well aware that “some” does not equal “all” and that in many circumstances, how much and under what circumstances make a huge difference. If you want to give a pint of blood some day so that others may live, good for you! You’ll be doing it lying down and in the presence of medical personnel who will minimize the chances of infection to near zero. But you can’t give six pints of blood in one day. And, it is not advisable to “do it yourself” by slashing your wrist, collecting a pint of blood and then putting on a bandaid before transporting the blood to a blood bank.
Again — isn’t this all obvious? Well, I would have thought so.
Yet, over and over, when I talk to supporters of the current US President and mention that he has told over 12,000 lies since taking office, people almost always say, “So what? Everyone lies.”
I am a dinner guest for the first time at the house of an acquaintance and they serve overdone salmon with way too much salt for my taste. I might say it’s “good” or that I “like it.” Depending on the situation, and how much they press me, I might also mention that I also eat sushi so I’m okay with having it less done. I might or might not mention that I’m never add table salt to my food.
If they say, “I like it…but I think I might have put too much salt in. What do you think?” At that point, since they are asking for honest feedback, I am going to tell them that I agree with them and that it tastes very salty.” Generally, I like to give people feedback that is honest, unambiguous, and offers a positive suggestion for how to improve. In the case of cooking, it makes a lot more sense to mention my preferences before the meal whether I’m at a restaurant or at someone’s home. Now, if I am nonetheless served over-salted, over-cooked food, I have a basis for being more frank than if I hit them with new requirements after it’s too late (at least this time) to do much about it.
Giving feedback that is honest, direct, and offers an actionable suggestion is a good heuristic to use in the design of user interfaces as well. An error message that says, “Illegal syntax!” is fairly useless in and of itself as is “Stack overflow!” Error messages such as these are written from the developer’s viewpoint. They may serve as useful error messages during debugging. They are useless for the typical user.
All humans are created equal. But not all lies are equally evil. And many many lies are not the same as a few lies. If you still think that publicly telling 12,000 lies that are told by a person who is supposed to be leading the country — lies that are told for the liar’s own short term benefit — if that ocean of lies is the same as a teaspoon of a lie told to encourage a child, or spare someone else’s feelings, then, please re-read this post from the beginning.
Human language enables us to communicate over time and space. It is a wonderful thing. Without language, we would basically be living lives not very different from those of primates in a zoo. Human language allows us to work together harmoniously; to specialize in particular skills; to build roads and buildings; to discover things about nature and ourselves; to invent and to improve. Human language can be used for no other purpose than to attempt to con people.
There are even cases, where being “conned” is understood and acceptable. If you see a play or a movie or read fiction, you suspend your disbelief. At one level, you imagine that what you are seeing is actually happening. That makes the story and the experience more compelling. But you know that it’s a move, play, or novel. The same fiction, if it is touted as a documentary, is a lie.
It is fun to see a competent magician perform. Their patter is meant to distract you, to misdirect your attention. It is part of the illusion. It is not “evil” because you know it is all part of the show. As an adult, at least, you don’t think that the woman was really sawn in half and then magically healed. It’s a perceptual challenge. It’s meant to be fun. It would be quite different if the magician murdered his assistant by actually sawing them in half!
Twelve thousand lies. Twelve thousand lies. Not twelve. Not twelve hundred. Twelve thousand. Each one is a cut to American democracy. Each lie reduces the credibility of America on the international stage. Each lie makes people feel less confidence in government.
Yes, there are cases where it makes sense for POTUS to lie. Say that a reporter says, “A source tells me that we are going to try to capture Bin Laden on May 2nd (2011) at his compound in Abbottabad around 1 pm local time.” And then, imagine the reporter asks the POTUS at a Press Conference, “Is that accurate?”
Let’s further suppose that POTUS knows that this is accurate. Should he say, “Oh, yes, in fact, your source is precisely correct.” No, of course not.
That is not at all the same quality of lie as it is to lie in a self-aggrandizing way about your abilities, your height, your vote total, whether or not you have Russian help in getting elected. It is not the same as lying that the Mueller report “exonerated” you.
All lies are not created equal. And one lie or even a dozen lies does not equal 12,000 lies. One cut does not equal 12,000 cuts. One liter of water does not equal 12,000 liters of water. Heating my French Roast in the microwave for 12 seconds does not give the same result as heating it up for 12,000 seconds. No-one would carelessly equate any of these things.
So, why do the apologists for the POTUS respond to 12,000 public, provable, and important lies by saying, “Well, everyone lies sometimes.”
A little is not a lot.
Books on Amazon by Author:
The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on strategy, tactics, & the mental game for all sports, for business, and for life.
Turing’s Nightmares uses fictional scenarios to explore ethical issues around robotics and AI.
Fit in Bits suggests numerous ways to fit more fun and exercise into daily activities.
Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences and relates them to contemporary issues and events.