#3: Reality versus Experience

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0003, on the subject of Reality versus Experience.

I recently attended a family gathering at which a particular gentleman, not a family member, is often in attendance with his wife.  My father usually seats me near him, as he is an intelligent man, a retired sociology professor with schooling from a liberal seminary, and we both seem to enjoy our conversations even though I do not know that we agree on much.  (That is, after all, part of an education:  examining and considering differing viewpoints.  If you never got that ability, you were probably not well educated.)

On this particular occasion the Supreme Court decision on marriage was still pending, and that introduced a discussion of the subject of homosexuality.  As I often do, I turned to Paul’s Romans epistle, and began to observe Paul’s (and, to my theology, God’s) point that homosexuality (like adultery and fornication) was not so much the sin as the punishment, the self-destructive conduct stemming from yielding to a pernicious and continuous temptation to which some were condemned.

His response was, That has not been my experience.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: Libby Enloe (2nd L) and Amanda Adams, both of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, embrace and kiss after being married outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Enloe's mother, Mary Ann Enloe (L) and Adams' sister, Meredith Boggs (R), were witnesses to the ceremony. A couple for more than 21 years, Enloe and Adams decided to get married outside the court after the justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. The location is symbolic, Enloe said. "This makes it official which is what we were waiting for," she said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 24: Libby Enloe (2nd L) and Amanda Adams, both of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, embrace and kiss after being married outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill July 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Enloe’s mother, Mary Ann Enloe (L) and Adams’ sister, Meredith Boggs (R), were witnesses to the ceremony. A couple for more than 21 years, Enloe and Adams decided to get married outside the court after the justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. The location is symbolic, Enloe said. “This makes it official which is what we were waiting for,” she said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I am fairly certain that there are many things that are outside my experience which are undoubtedly true.  It is undoubtedly true that as you approach the speed of light time slows and mass increases, but I have no direct experience with that.  It is similarly true that I have no experience with the notion that gravity decreases with distance from the attractive mass, and that it is dependent on the mass of that object, but I have never been anywhere where that rule could be directly observed.  There is a degree to which much of what I know to be true is known because someone I trust informed me.  Assuming I trust that Paul was writing what God had told him, I have better reason to trust that than I do my own experience, or that of anyone else.  But that is something of a subjective assessment.  Most people undoubtedly believe the Bible to the degree that it is confirmed in their own experience.  That is theologically dangerous–after all, many of us do not have the experience of perceiving ourselves as villains, selfish brats seeking our own interests at the expense of everyone else, even though the Bible identifies us very like that (and for most of us, there are people who would attest to that description concerning us, although probably not concerning themselves, who to us seem so like that).  Yet it is at least a fair objection that one wants to find that the Bible is true before trusting it.  For some of us, it is sufficient that the Bible have been demonstrated to be God’s message in its totality to support the acceptance of its details; for others, each detail must be individually and independently confirmed before being believed.  That is a fundamental difference of viewpoint that cannot easily be argued either way.  As with a textbook, either I trust that it is fully trustworthy (absent evidence to the contrary) or I do not trust it at all and get my information elsewhere.

I am digressing, to some degree, but that is very much the point which must be demonstrated.

I have within my nearest family and friends circle a man who is, at least to the knowledge of all his friends, an alcoholic.  I do not know whether he believes that about himself.  He is usually among the nicest guys I know, a hard worker, helpful in many ways and the sort of person who looks for ways to help.  He is a diligent worker when he has work.  He has a lot of problems, and probably drinks to escape them.  However, if he is given a paycheck and a day off, he proceeds to drink the paycheck and is largely out of commission for several days, usually losing his job.  Bill Cosby has said (in Bill Cosby Himself) that as an employer he finds that his employees do not know what to do with free time, as they always return to work hungover and complaining about the weekend.  This person epitomizes that, and frequently loses jobs because he is too sick from drink to return to work on the scheduled day.  Yet he does not believe he has a drinking problem; it is not his experience that alcohol is the problem, as for him it is the means temporarily to escape the problems.

We know someone else whom we have helped through some hard times, whose background includes cocaine use.  He is generous to a fault, hard working, helpful, a wonderful nice guy.  His employers are usually glad to have him.  When he was staying with us he told us that he would never do anything to hurt us.  Then he starts using the drug, and although in one sense he does not change at all, suddenly he finds himself in trouble and has to fix it, so he steals from his employer or from friends.  He had a “crackhead” girlfriend who was in trouble with her supplier, so he stole one of our checkbooks and forged checks for about forty times what we had in the bank.  Nice guy, though.  Would give you the shirt off his back.

I can see in these lives that the alcohol and the drugs are destructive.  Yet if you were not with these people long enough, you would not see it.  They themselves do not recognize it in themselves (although they recognize it in each other).

I believe that these self-destructive lifestyles reflect the wrath of God on the world–not necessarily on these people individually, but on humanity as a whole.  Paul says in Romans that people who fail to acknowledge God are subjected to such self-destructive judgements, immorality, impurity, and depravity–that is, infidelity and fornication, homosexuality, and the inability to identify destructive and self-destructive conduct and make wise choices.  Just as the alcoholism and the drug addiction of my two examples are destroying their lives, so I believe the temptation toward homosexuality is destroying the lives of these people.

It is, of course, entirely the choice of the alcoholic and the cocaine user to pursue their addictions, and something only they can choose to stop.  In one sense, it is not up to me to decide for them–impossible on its face–and if they prefer to continue destroying their lives that is their choice.  That does not mean I ought to affirm that choice.  I can recognize and disagree with the choice and still love the people who are so destroying themselves.  If, as I am persuaded, homosexual conduct is a similar choice and “homosexuality” is a self-destructive condition like alcoholism or addiction, then I should not affirm such choices.  I need not have experienced that self-destruction first hand to know that it is there.  My experience tells me that the Bible is usually right about such things, and just as the adulterer and the fornicator are destroying some important part of themselves in the ability to form fidelitous long-term relationships, so too I think that the self-identified homosexual is destroying some part of himself related to the image of God and the nature of humanity.  The Bible and I might be wrong, but my experience has been that the Bible has always been right, and that when it does not immediately comport with my experience it is usually that my experience is too limited.

The author has previously addressed homosexuality from theological, legal, and psychological perspectives in Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E. L. C. A., In Defense of Marriage, Homosexual Marriage, and Miscellaneous Marriage Law Issues.

#2: Planned Parenthood and Fungible Resources

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0002, on the subject of Planned Parenthood and Fungible Resources.

I’m remembering being a kid.  I’ve saved two dollars from my fifty cent weekly allowance, and now have permission to walk the couple miles down the busy road to the corner store.  I’m planning to spend my allowance on candy and comic books.  Candy is usually ten cents a bar, with gum and Lifesavers® a nickel; comic books are, if I remember aright, a quarter.  I have not decided how much I will spend on either candy or comic books, because I haven’t seen what they have, but I’ll probably split it down the middle, a dollar on each.

Hey, this may sound like fantasy to you, but that’s what it was like when I was a kid.  Also, New Jersey did not have a sales tax then, so I don’t have to worry about that in my calculations.  Only the next part never happened–but it might have.

So as I’m leaving my mother in a fit of generosity gives me an extra dollar–but she says I am not to spend any of it on candy.  So now I have three dollars, two of them my own to spend as I like and one that is specifically limited as “not candy”.

I look over the comic books and find four that I like, and that’s a dollar; so I spend my mother’s dollar on the comic books, and buy twenty candy bars with my two dollars.

Of course, I did not spend a dime of my mother’s dollar on candy; I spent it all on comic books.  However, because I had that dollar from her, I could get four comic books with her dollar and free up my own money to spend on candy.  The result is that I got the same number of comic books (half of the money with which I started would have bought those four books) and twice as much candy, because having my mother’s dollar for the comic books I did not have to spend my own money on them and I could get the candy.

planparlogo

Planned Parenthood swears that it does not spend any Federal money on abortions.  I believe them.  They undoubtedly have strict accounting procedures that enable them to track where the Federal money goes, so they can account for it.  That money goes into services that are certainly valuable to men and women alike.  In fact, those services are so important that Planned Parenthood would probably make the effort to fund them by other means were there no Federal money to provide them.  Fortunately, mom gave them a dollar that they can spend on those other services, which frees up that much money that would have gone to those services to pay for abortions.

Certainly Planned Parenthood does not spend as much on abortions as it gets from the Federal government; for one thing, that would be obvious, and for another they have plenty of other services for which to pay.  It is undoubtedly true that the Federal money makes it possible for them to provide more of those services than otherwise, as well as divert other monies to abortions, and that without the Federal money they would still offer everything, including abortions, but that they will provide fewer services overall to fewer people.  Yet no matter how you argue it, it is still obviously the case that the Federal money makes it possible for Planned Parenthood to put more money into abortions, money which would have to go to other services if they did not have that Federal money to pay for those other services.  The administrators who are paid in part from Federal money are in part running the abortion services of the organization.  The buildings that are funded by Federal money are used in part to facilitate abortions.  Money that keeps Planned Parenthood operational is de facto money that supports its abortions programs.

The argument that no Federal money goes to abortion does not work.  The fact that Federal money pays for programs, services, facilities, and personnel that would otherwise be paid out of money that now pays for abortions means that abortions are being subsidized by that money.  We can argue–we are indeed still arguing–as to whether an abortion is a means of freeing a woman from the enslavement of an unwanted child or the murder of a child by its mother; we can argue whether we want tax money to pay for such things; we cannot argue that it does not enable them rather directly.

It really cannot rationally be said to be otherwise, as long as the one organization receives money from the Federal government and spends money on abortions.  I can argue that I used my mother’s dollar to buy the comic books and bought the candy with my own money, but obviously I would not have spent as much on candy if I did not have that dollar because I would have bought some of those comic books with my money.  Planned Parenthood can argue that the Federal money does not go to abortions, but just as obviously they spend more on abortions because they have the Federal money to pay for other programs that would otherwise come out of their regular budget.

The author has also written Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?, Professor Robert Lipkin, the Concert Violinist, and Abortion, and the song Holocaust, addressing related issues of abortion, on this site.

#1: Probabilities and Solitaire

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0001, on the subject of Probabilities and Solitaire.

solitaire

I expect that this blog is going to tackle a lot of issues–I am already working on another on marriage and another on copyright and another on why I left TheExaminer–and judging from past response I will get a lot more hate mail than thank you notes (although I appreciate both). However, I thought it best to begin with something light and inconsequential, something that has been nagging at me periodically for a long time that more than anything else shows how foolish we “superintelligent” people can be, as we get mentally stuck on little things that bother us.

I had been thinking about part of this article for a number of years, and kept saying it would be a silly waste of time. Then probably a year or more ago I was watching the TV series Scorpion. As one episode opens, math savant Sylvester has been charged with entertaining Paige until the rest of the team returns from somewhere, and he hands her a deck of cards, recommends she play Solitaire for a while, and then–this was the part that bothered me–tells her the odds of winning. The more I think about it, the more I think he can’t know that.

I have played Solitaire since before high school, and I won’t argue as to whether he did the math right; my argument is that there are too many variables, things he cannot know. Never mind that Hoyle has an entire chapter on solitaire card games, even if we assume agreement that it is the standard seven-pile variant in which there are increasingly from one to seven cards in each pile with the top card faced, there are still too many variants. Even in the popular MicroSoft® computer version you can switch between advancing the pile three cards at a time (the traditional version) or each card individually, and with the latter your odds of winning rise significantly (because with the three-at-a-time rules there are often cards you cannot put in play that would move the game forward). Too, I was taught that with the three-card variant when you got to the end of the pile you went back to the top, but with the one card variant you got only one pass through the deck–which significantly lowers your odds. I have also known players who believe that after each pass they are permitted to shuffle the deck before beginning the next pass, or that if as they reach the end they have only one or two cards (not three) in the pile these go on top of the others so that what was the first card becomes the second or third (both rules making it much easier to free cards from the deck). Before you can calculate the odds, you have to know the rules.

So maybe Sylvester was thinking of “standard” rules–three cards at a time, repeated passes, no rollover or shuffle–and maybe on that basis you might calculate the odds. However, there is still the matter of strategy, and some people enforce rules that interfere with strategy.

I know about this because when I played Solitaire for years as a youth (what, you thought I was a popular kid always out with friends?) I played with real playing cards. Whenever I lost, I faced all the cards to see why I lost–I learned that you could be stopped if a card on top of a pile was sitting on the card you had to have to move it, and exactly what that meant, and how sometimes to avoid it. I think it a shame that the computer version does not let you do this, look at cards in the piles when you lose. It was a significant part of my education in game probabilities. In the game, you can make choices, and the way you choose impacts your ability to win.

What you have to understand is that winning Solitaire is achieved by freeing all the trapped cards. As the game begins, twenty-one cards are trapped on the board–six under the right-hand pile, five to its left, down to one in the second pile from the left end. In order to free these cards you must legally move the cards above them. There are also cards trapped in the deck from which cards are drawn. In traditional rules games the hardest of these to reach is the top card, as you must move both the second and the third to reach it; note that you can reach the fourth card in any of several ways, as it can be reached by moving the sixth and fifth, or by removing the third and waiting for the second pass, or by removing the third and second then on the second pass removing what was the original fifth and is now the third. Because of this, cards in the deck are the easier ones to free, and progressively more so the further down the deck they are. (There are initially twenty-four cards in the deck, and on the first pass eight will be accessible if none are removed.)

So how do you improve your odds of winning?

The first rule is do not make a move simply because you can; make a move because it improves your position. There are people who play that if they can move they must move, but if for example the three of hearts is sitting in the left pile (atop nothing) and the four of spades is on the right pile (atop six cards), there is no advantage to moving the three of hearts to the four of spades, and in fact it can cost you the game. It might be that the only way to move that four of spades is to play it to the spade pile atop the three of spades, and putting the three of hearts on it will prevent that. It might be that the three of diamonds will appear in a position in which it must be moved. Assuming the rule does not say that you must make any move you can make, the only reason to move a card that leaves an open space is that you have a king to place in that space immediately. As long as the three of diamonds does not appear, you can move the three of hearts when it becomes useful; if the three of diamonds appears and must be moved, you will be glad you did not move the three of hearts.

Second, always target moves that release the maximum number of cards. At the beginning of the game, there are six cards blocked by the card on top of the right-hand pile. That is at that moment the most important card to move. Once it has been moved, there are five still blocked–the same as the pile adjacent to it on the left–and so they become the most important cards to move. Throughout the game this changes, and when you have a choice of moves you want to be aware of what move will free the largest number of cards. It is almost always the case that moving the top card from the piles is a better move than moving one from the deck, by this measure. The computer version is your friend in this regard, because at the top of each pile the edges of the cards below appear, permitting you to count how many are still in each pile. Absent that, you probably have to remember.

As to the deck, keep track of how many cards remain in it. If the number is evenly divisible by three, you are going to see the same cards on the next pass. This is the most difficult bit strategically, as unless you have the kind of memory that allows you to keep track of the order of all the cards in the deck (and I do not) you are not going to know what moves are still possible from the remaining cards in the deck. However, on the first pass through the deck you need either to remove a number of cards from the deck, preferably nearer the top, that is not divisible by three, or you are going to have to change the board sufficiently that cards near the top are going to come into play in the next pass. Sometimes you will pass on a possible move because it will worsen your situation rather than improving it. It is better to play a card that will shift the deck on the next pass than to play a card that will restore it to the same sequence.

As an example, with the situation previously suggested, the three of hearts on the left pile atop nothing and the four of spades to the right atop six cards, you might well turn up the three of diamonds in the deck. At this point you have to decide whether or not to play the three of diamonds on the four of spades, and there are several competing issues in answering that. If the three of diamonds is the first faced card, that is, the third card in the deck, or if you have not yet played a card out of the deck on this pass, there is a strong argument not to play it–it will be in exactly the same place on the next pass, and you can see what other moves are possible before making that decision (e.g., if the king of hearts appears as the next card, and you need to move the queen of spades off the fifth pile and so moving the three of hearts is the better choice). This applies, too, if the three of diamonds is the last card in the deck, because it will be there on the next pass. On the other hand, if moving the three of diamonds out of the deck will give you new cards on the next pass, you want to do that, as it frees up cards in the deck. Note that deferring the decision to the next pass in the first instance has merit, because you might play two more cards from the deck in the next turn or two, and had you played the three of diamonds that would mean you played three cards from the deck and will see mostly or all the same cards on the next pass.

Another factor in the probabilities is that there are more ways to move a low card than a high one. If you are trying to decide whether to open a space for a king by moving the three of hearts or the eight of diamonds, it is probably better to put the three of hearts on the black four because once the ace-two of hearts are played it will be possible to remove the three. If you put the eight of diamonds on the nine of clubs, it is going to sit there until you get seven other cards played to the ace pile, or you have the unlikely opportunity to move it to the nine of spades (which again is something some players do not allow: splitting a pile to move part of it).

It is also advisable that you not let your ace piles become too disparate. If your diamonds pile gets up around seven or eight and you still don’t have your black aces, it is going to be much harder to find places for all those black cards that have no ace piles and no diamonds on which to be played. This is again a balancing issue: it is more important to get the cards in the piles into play than to worry about the disparity on the ace piles, but that ace pile disparity can prevent you from doing so if it goes wrong. You can (in most games, again some have a rule against this) play cards back from the ace piles to the main piles, but only if there are places for them, and that, too, can be blocked.

One last note: kings are ultimately the easiest cards to move after aces. (It is never a bad move to start an ace pile, unless moving the ace will lock your draw deck.) A queen can be moved to one of three places–the two black kings and the proper suit ace pile. A king can go to the ace pile and to any of the seven board piles once they are open. That makes moving kings a lower priority than moving any other card, and the other cards should be moved first if you have both moves available, unless it is clear that the king is blocking a significant number of other cards and the other move is not.

Hopefully this is enough to get you thinking about what moves in Solitaire will improve your position and what ones will reduce your chance of winning. Before I drop the subject completely, I will mention a strategy rule I got from a Contract Bridge expert: if you can only be prevented from winning if the cards fall one way, you must play as if that is how they fall; if you can only win if the cards fall one way, you must play as if that is how they fall. Note, then, that understanding the odds of how the cards might fall will help you win more games than solitaire, and will even carry to other games of chance such as dice games.

I hope this nonsense was at least entertaining; and perhaps it was educational as well. It also probably won’t be too controversial, but if anyone has comments you know how to find me.