All posts by M.J.

MJY Blog Entry #0006: Terminator Genisys Quick Temporal Survey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0006, on the subject of Terminator Genisys Quick Temporal Survey.

For years I have been producing complex analyses of time travel movies, and I expect to continue to do so as the Patreon campaign continues to grow and provide support for all of this (hint-hint).  Such an analysis requires that I obtain a recorded copy of the movie and watch it several times with pen and paper in hand, then carefully unravel it, going back to the recording to check details.  On the other hand, in recent years I have also taken the opportunity to watch movies during their theatrical runs and then given a short synopsis of the time travel problems pending a fuller analysis when the video would become available.  When I left The Examiner and brought all that material back here, those “quick temporal surveys” became the first parts of their respective articles, first with Men in Black III, followed later by Free Birds, About Time, X-Men:  Days of Future Past, and Edge of Tomorrow.  That was then driven in part by the various needs, one, to publish something every week, two, to be a solid source of current information on time travel movies, and three, to keep articles short for the format there.  Only one of those reasons is still applicable, but under the present circumstance, it seems appropriate to do something of the same thing:  to publish a Quick Temporal Survey of Terminator Genisys.

img0006genisys

Those circumstances, for what it’s worth, include that I have seen the movie; I must thank Bryan for buying a ticket for me so I could catch it in the theatre.  As often mentioned, it is not possible to take notes during a theatrical viewing, and even less possible to pause the film and back it up to check something that was unclear.  However, it was possible for me to make an audio recording of the film, and I was working on notes from that audio recording in beginning an analysis.  That was put on hold by the move:  I was not going to publish again at The Examiner, and I needed time to move all of that material here.  Before that task was completed, one of my readers dropped a note promising to ship me a copy of the DVD as soon as it is released, and so the work has been put on hold pending receipt of that DVD.  Meanwhile, there is much that I could say–I had already drafted ten parts and had many more problems to address–and I have access to two other time travel films which I might be able to analyze in the interim, so in view of that I’m going to take this opportunity to give you first impressions of the latest entry in the classic series.

I am terribly disappointed.

Oh, it was a wonderfully entertaining film, with high marks for action, decent marks for plot and character.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.  Further, I am accustomed to saying of a time travel film that it was a temporal disaster.  The problem here, though, is that it is repeated temporal disasters, completely inexplicable events leading to insoluble problems.  As a time travel story, it does not, cannot, work under any known theory of time.

When I first watched Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines, John Cross (who did the analysis of The Final Countdown) very nearly begged me to keep at it until I found a solution–and I did.  I would like to say that there is hope that a solution might be found for this movie, but there is none.  Some of the problems can be solved by assuming certain sets of events, but these very events make solutions to other problems impossible.  Meanwhile, there are two major glaring errors that destroy it entirely.

The second of those was undoubtedly the result of an effort to move the franchise into the twenty teens:  Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese have traveled forward to 2017 to stop the launch of SkyNet at this new later date, and so now they will give birth to John Conner in this new timeframe, and the battle will continue in our present instead of in the past.  That, though, means that John Conner was not conceived in 1984, and all of those histories in which SkyNet sent Terminators back to kill him (or anyone else connected to him) have been undone.  Yet at least one of those histories is essential for the story as we know it, in which John Conner has sent Kyle Reese back to protect Sarah in 1984 because that is the destination of the first Terminator.  Without that, the entire franchise collapses.  It does not matter if John Conner is born thirty some years later; that’s too late to make any difference whatsoever.

The first is bigger, but it’s a bit more difficult to see.  However, if you have been following our series from the beginning you know that we always said that Cyberdyne was not the original creator of SkyNet, that someone else originally launched it at a later date, and the fact that the T-800 was destroyed in Cyberdyne’s facility gave them the parts that gave them the edge to replace the original SkyNet with their own earlier version.  Terminator 3 confirmed that analysis, as the United States Air Force Autonomous Weapons Division launched a SkyNet that was not a Cyberdyne-type hardware mainframe but a software solution that turned the Internet into a hostile artificial intelligence.  Thus we know that when Sarah Conner prevented Cyberdyne from launching SkyNet in Terminator 2 she restored the original launch date.

The problem should be obvious at this point.  Sarah, working with Pops, has prevented Cyberdyne from obtaining parts from a Terminator, and so prevented the early launch date; that means that SkyNet comes online at the later date, the date of Terminator 3.  Nothing Sarah does, nothing Kyle does, nothing Pops does, and nothing SkyNet does, will prevent that launch.  Note, too, that (as we observed) the T-X sent back in Terminator 3 does nothing to cause the launch of SkyNet; it only helps activate and control the other autonomous weapons.

That means by the time Sarah and Kyle arrive in 2017, SkyNet will have been functional for a decade, Kyle’s home will have long been destroyed, and nothing they find in that time can exist then.

They could have scrapped the entire story and started over with new dates, new machines, new people; they wanted Kyle Reese and Sarah and John Conner (although now I expect he will be John Reese).  To get there, they needed to find a way to intervene in the lives of General Brewster and the Autonomous Weapons Division so that that version of SkyNet would never launch.  They failed.

There is so much more wrong with this story, but this is already longer than I intended, so hopefully it is enough to whet your appetite for a fuller analysis once that DVD arrives.

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MJY Blog Entry #0005: An Image A.S.C.A.P.

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0005, on the subject of An Image A.S.C.A.P..

At one time, if you wanted to hear music, you had very few options.  You could learn to make your own, have family or friends perform for you, attend a concert (either buying a ticket or attending one paid for by a government or arts patron), or hire musicians to provide it.  Technology changed that drastically, beginning with Thomas Alva Edison’s discovery that audio waves could be transformed into physical etchings and recreated as audio waves–the beginning of recorded music, the analog record.  At that point you could buy a Victrola and purchase originally cylinders and later disks on which musicians had recorded their performances, and you could listen to them whenever you wished.  (There were previously of course music boxes which provided a much narrower choice of songs and lower quality of tone, and player pianos and orchestrions, which were far more expensive and demanding to operate.  Recorded music was a game changer, and these others are now novelties.)  Musicians who once made money only by live performances now could make money by selling their performances to record manufacturers so that they could be heard by people who never saw them.

The game changed again with the advent of radio.  It was now possible for the operator of a radio station or radio network to play someone’s music for audiences which quickly went from hundreds to hundreds of thousands.  At first the Federal Communications Commission frowned on such stations playing pre-recorded music, and so music was mostly live concerts–but often such live concerts were also recorded and replayed later, so it was becoming a moot point.  Now a musician could be heard by many people from the sale of a single record–but the sale of a single record would never support the artist for even one day, and he could not produce enough records in a day to do that.  It was agreed that a radio station who played a recording by an artist owed that artist–and indeed, also owed the composer and the publisher–royalties under copyright law.  However, as the number of radio stations burgeoned and the number of available recorded songs multiplied, that was going to be a prohibitive issue.

A solution was found.  The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers came into existence.  Now a musician simply registered his recording with the society, and the society negotiated with radio stations to collect royalties for airplay of songs.  The theory is that every time a radio station plays your song, you split a penny with several other people who also get paid (like your record company and, actually, A.S.C.A.P. itself).  Of course, it was not then possible for anyone to count how many times every song was played on every radio station, but A.S.C.A.P. had a simple solution.  Every week some sample group of radio stations–a different sample group each week–writes down every song it plays, and A.S.C.A.P. compiles these lists and extrapolates from them how many times each song was played on all radio stations in the nation.  Every radio station then pays a license fee to A.S.C.A.P. (there are numerous factors determining how much is paid, largely based on how many people are likely to hear it), and that money gets paid to the musicians.

The system has expanded over the years.  Today churches who wish to sing songs that are not in their hymnals without buying sheet music for everyone buy a license to print or display songs for use in services, and the composers, authors, and sometimes performers of those songs are compensated from that.  It certainly has been taxed by the development of file sharing and the Internet, but thus far it has managed to expand to meet the changing times.

I am going to suggest that it expand a bit more, or perhaps that it be imitated.

img0005camera

One of the problems on the Internet is that there are a lot of pictures–“images”, whether photos or computer drawings or scans of artwork–and that it is extremely simple to copy an image and use it somewhere else.  For most of us, that’s not a big deal–what little artwork might be labeled mine is of meager quality.  We would object to our personal photos being used in some corporate advertising campaign, but probably wouldn’t think twice about someone using something we drew somewhere else.  In fact, we frequently post and repost probably thousands of images per day on Facebook, knowing that they are gone beyond our control and we will never be compensated for any work we invested in them.  However, there are people who are dependent on being able to sell their images–photographers, artists, animators–and when we “steal” their work we are robbing them.  Often, though, we have no way of knowing whether any particular image we encounter is free to use as is, free to use in other ways, or something that requires the purchase of a license.

It might be argued that in a world in which everyone carries a digital camera in his pocket there is no longer a place or a need for professional photographers.  When was the last wedding you attended at which “a friend of the bride” did not shoot the pictures?  Photographers may be a profession of the past.

That is not necessarily true.  We do not get many photos from tourists visiting war zones, or admitted to peace talks or legislative sessions; for these, at least, we need professionals.  We probably need them for many other things.  If, though, we do not compensate them (not to mention others in the visual arts) for their work, they will be forced to cease doing it.  Yet it is a simple thing, a small thing, to use an image that you find floating out there on the web and float it a bit further, without any notion of its origin.  Is there a solution for this?

Certainly it is possible for photographers, artists, animators, and filmmakers to surf the web seeking their stolen images, and sue any offending web site; however, absent some clear indication that the thief was aware of the ownership status of the image, United States law only allows for an order to remove the image from the site.  Something more is needed for compensation.  Yet the tools all exist to launch something like A.S.C.A.P. for artists and photographers.  We already have systems monitoring traffic to various sites, so we know how heavily any site is visited.  We have “spiders” crawling the web, and Google has demonstrated the ability to identify images by subject matter.  Digital signatures can be implanted in images that alter nothing visible but make the image recognizable to such a spider.  Let’s let people who create such images sign their work digitally.  Then every company that provides web site hosting space can be required to buy a license on behalf of those whose sites are hosted on its servers, price based on server size and traffic volume, costs to be passed to those who build the sites.  Then if you happen to use a photo from an Associated Press photographer, or an image from an unfamiliar artist, or any other work on which someone holds rights, the system will count it and tell A.S.C.A.P. to compensate the owner.

It works for registered songs on the radio; why not for images?

I have previously written on copyright law, including Freedom of Expression:  Copyright and Intellectual Property.

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#4: Just Do the Job

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #0004, on the subject of Just Do the Job.

There has been an increase in “self-driving” features on new automobiles.  The popular one is the car that parallel parks itself.  I remember that parallel parking was one of the most difficult parts of the driver road test, not only when I took it but for several of my sons.  People failed on that frequently, and here in New Jersey we joke that you know you’re from New Jersey if you could negotiate a traffic circle before you could parallel park.  What, though, if you take your road test in one of these self-parking cars, and when instructed to park you simply activate the car’s self-parking feature and remove your hands from the wheel so it can do what it is designed to do?  Would the instructor be obligated to pass you, or to fail you?

Digital Drivers License
Digital Drivers License

Bear in mind that most people who receive their standard passenger vehicle drivers license are unable to drive a standard transmission.  I was unable to do so when I got my license, and had only the vaguest notion of the purpose of that extra pedal.  I learned eventually, but know many people who drive all the time and cannot drive “stick”.  It is not really required that the driver is able to operate every motor vehicle in the class; only that he demonstrates the ability to drive one such vehicle.  Further, note that our laws creating opportunities for the handicapped permit them to obtain licenses operating vehicles specially equipped to accommodate their specific disabilities–hand controls for accelerator and brake for those without the use of their legs, for example.  In these United States, driving is for many a necessity, the only way to go to work, to obtain household supplies, to reach medical care.  We attempt to facilitate the right for as many persons as possible.

So if a young driving license candidate uses the automatic parallel park feature on his father’s new car, should he pass, or fail?  There is no evidence that he can park without that feature, and honestly the first car he buys for himself is unlikely to have it.  Yet he did manage to park the car, and there is no proof that he could not have done so without that “assist”.

Yet how far can this be permitted?  If a candidate arrives in a Google® self-driving car, so that all he has to do is give voice directions to an onboard computer which will operate the car using its sensor array, onboard maps, and computer uplink, does the fact that he can direct the car adequately to complete the driving test, without ever touching any of the controls himself, mean that he qualifies for a license?

What if he is blind?

Yes, certainly there are vision test requirements which must be met before one can take the road test, but if cars are made able to drive themselves with their own superior “vision” installed, that could well become “discriminatory”.

Now, imagine that you are a local motor vehicles agency test certifier:  it is your job to test candidates for driver licenses, and to sign a form certifying that this candidate is qualified for a license.  Remember, as I previously said concerning licenses:

…a license is government permission for someone to do something which would be illegal without a license….a license both permits specific categories of conduct and imposes certain responsibilities on the licensee….a license is a means by which the government regulates specific conduct, both to prevent conduct it wishes to discourage…and to encourage conduct it desires….

In the case of a license to drive, the signature of the test certifier asserts a belief by the certifier that the candidate is sufficiently skilled at driving as to be permitted to drive on the public roads unsupervised.  It is therefore the certification that the candidate is qualified for the license.

I have of late seen many Internet images with the suggestion that there are people who do not agree with their jobs, or did not expect that their jobs would require them to do certain things, but they do the jobs anyway because these are the jobs.  They are of course aimed at the Kentucky clerk who will not sign her name to marriage licenses for homosexuals (and to avoid being charged with discrimination, she will not sign her name to any marriage licenses).  Yet this is the heart of the problem:  the clerk does not believe that couples incapable of becoming biological parents can be certified as “married”.  It is her job to make that determination, the determination of whether a particular couple is qualified for such a license; the voters placed her in that position for that purpose (among others–it is not the entirety of her job).  She is undoubtedly expected to refuse such licenses to persons who are not qualified–incestuous relationships, bigamous marriages, applications from minors, cases of coercion or duress.  Her signature on the license is not “just doing her job”; it is certifying that she is persuaded that the applicants meet the requirements for marriage as she understands them.

That to some degree puts her in the same position as the motor vehicle road test supervisor who is asked to sign a form stating that this blind person has passed his road test because he happens to have come in a car capable of driving itself based on his verbal instructions.  It may be that this person has passed all the legal requirements technically, but in the opinion of the person required to make that certification the candidate is not qualified.

There are certainly arguments that Kim Davis should just sign the licenses, based on the fact that the candidates are fully qualified under the laws of her state; there are also arguments that she should not sign them, because under the constitution of State of Kentucky such marriages are unlawful.  This is what is called a conflict of laws issue, and technically the Supreme Court decision requires the State to amend its constitution to comply with the Court’s ruling–but until it does, that constitution is a valid basis to conclude that her personal assessment that these persons are not qualified for a license is also legally supported.  It is a weak argument, but in law it remains an argument made stronger by the fact that her oath of office (which I have not specifically read) undoubtedly requires her to “uphold” and/or “defend” that state constitution.

So stop saying that Kim Davis should just do her job.  She is doing her job:  she is assessing whether applicants are qualified to receive marriage licenses as she understands them.  She is refusing to certify licenses for persons she believes are not qualified, and so as not to be discriminatory about it she is also refusing to issue licenses to persons she might believe are qualified.  You might think that these people are qualified, but she does not, and she is the one who has to certify that they are.  It is, as she has said, her name on the form.

In addition to the articles linked in this post (Homosexual Marriage and Miscellaneous Marriage Law Issues), the author has also written In Defense of Marriage, Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E. L. C. A., and blog posts in both the Law and Politics and the Bible and Theology categories bearing the Homosexuality and Marriage content tags.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.
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