Sunday, April 28, 2013

How many basic, deadly, primary, or great fears are there? Is public speaking one of them?

Well, that depends on which wise man you ask.

In their book Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life, Richard Leider and David Shapiro (3rd edition, 2012) list just Two Deadly Fears on page 125:

1. Fear of Not Having Enough
2. Fear of Not Being Enough

An article in the Spring 2009 issue of the Buddhist magazine Tricycle by Ezra Badya described and discussed The three things we fear most, which were:

1. Losing safety
2. Aloneness and disconnection
3. Unworthiness

In the earlier 2nd edition of their book Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life, Richard Leider and David Shapiro had listed Four Deadly Fears on page 33:

1. Having lived a meaningless life
2. Being alone 
3. Being lost
4. Dying

The third paragraph in the introduction of Jamal Yogis’s 2013  book The Fear Project says:

“The Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra emphasizes that to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened being full of compassion, one must transcend the five primary fears: loss of livelihood, bad reputation, death, negative rebirths, and stage fright. The Buddha apparently wouldn’t have been surprised that public speaking still often tops fear polls.”

In his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill (the emperor of self-help) said that the Six Basic Fears are:

1. Poverty
2. Criticism
3. Ill health
4. Loss of love of someone
5. Old age
6. Death

The Buddhist list of five primary or great fears is the only one that explicitly includes stage fright (sometimes translated instead as fear of speaking before a public assembly). On other lists like Ezra Badya’s it is implicit, like losing safety and unworthiness. 

The image is a recolored version of a poster from 1900 for The Evil Eye.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CST doesn’t just mean Central Standard Time

When a mass casualty event like the April 15th Boston Marathon bombings occurs, it obviously is important to quickly identify whether the weapons of mass destruction  (WMD) include chemical, biological, or radiation threats. Which government agency does that?

The National Guard has 57 Civil Support Teams (CST) equipped with mobile analytical labs.  There is one 22 person team  for every state, and additional units in California, Florida, and New York. The 1st CST is based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, which is about 15 miles west of downtown Boston. They were present during the marathon, along with people from other units.

Unfortunately there are some people who see conspirators under every bed. On April 18th there was a post at lamenting that FBI ignores men with backpacks at scene of Boston Bombings. Of course the FBI did, since they knew exactly who those guys were, and why they were supposed to be there. Another post from Natural News repeated by Infowars claimed Photos: Private military operatives hired to work the Boston marathon. At least one commenter corrected them:

“Those guys are members of the MA Guard’s 1st WMD Civil Support Team which is based out of Natick. They, along with about 800 other Guardsmen of MA, were on duty that day.”

It took Infowars another three days to say Military Men Witnessed at Boston Bombing Identified as National Guard CST Teams. Even then they didn’t apologize, and qualified the obvious with a ‘could’:

“After days of speculation and calls for officials to provide an explanation, it has emerged that the unidentified military style group pictured at the scene of the Boston bombing both before and after the explosions could be National Guard Civil Support Teams (CSTs) that were pre-scheduled to be at the event.”

I don’t think that spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt is useful, so I have nothing but contempt for sites like Infowars. By the way, CST team is as redundant as ATM machine, since it merely spells out the last word of the acronym.

The clock image came from here at Wikimedia Commons, and the 1892 stereograph Girls I hear rats came from the Library of Congress

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don’t use official language!

In the March issue of The Spectator there was an article by Mark Forsyth titled Why do people talk nonsense in public. He lamented pompous cliches like use of a second, unneeded verb:

“The safety instructions are ‘located’ at the end of the carriage. The life-jackets are ‘located’ under the seats. They needn’t be located. They just are.”

Mark also was irritated that police usually refer to an individual (male or female) rather than just a person, man, or woman. That jargon reminded me of an old Firesign Theatre comedy skit called Driving for Dopers (in Dear Friends on YouTube at 1:06:50):

“Say, would you individuals care to walk over to my vehicle, now facing northwest going in a southerly direction at the intercourse of Highland and Exterior avenues, and there purchase 27 grams of illegal hashish?”

The only time people will tolerate official language is within a ceremonial proclamation by a Mayor or Governor, where centuries of tradition call for repeated use of whereas, and a closing like:

“ witness thereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the State of Idaho at the Capitol in Boise on this 28th day...”

Otherwise, almost nobody still talks like that. Neither should you.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How to confuse your audience

On the new books shelves at my local public library I recently saw and borrowed Eric Chaline’s 2012 book, Fifty Minerals That Changed the Course of History.  It is a very pretty book, but also a confusing one. The same things that irritated me about it also are found in informative speeches or presentations. You can learn much about both what not to do and to do from reading this book.

The Toronto Globe and Mail’s holiday guide from last December described this book as follows:

“This series, which has already featured Fifty Plants and Fifty Animals That Changed the World, has hit the nail on the head again. Fifty Minerals offers the same gorgeous design, luscious full-colour illustrations and – most important – intriguing and entertaining bits of information. Writer Eric Chaline presents dozens of elegant small essays, offbeat sidebars and captions, about everything from clay to diamonds and salt to arsenic.”

Eric begins by stating that:

“Minerals, in the broadest sense of the term, encompass a huge variety of natural and man-made materials, including metals and alloys, rocks, crystals, gemstones, organic minerals, salts and ores.”

His Table of Contents lists the fifty materials he chose to discuss:

Diamond (adamas)
Copper (aes cyprium)
Bronze (aes brundesium)
Alabaster (alabastrum)
Alum (alumen)
Aluminum (aluminum)
Asbestos (amiantos)
Amber (anbar)
Silver (argentum)
Clay (argilla)
Arsenic (arsenicum)
Asphalt (asphaltos)
Gold (aurum)
Chalk (calx)
Coal (carbo carbonis)
Coral (corallium)
Ivory (eburneus)
Slate (esclate)
Iron (ferreus)
Kaolin (galing)
Graphite (graphit)
Gypsum (gypsatus)
Mercury (hydrargyrum)
Potassium (kalium)
Marble (marmor)
Nacre (nakara)
Natron (natrium)
Obsidian (obsidianus)
Ocher (ochra)
Petroleum (petroleum)
Phosphorus (phosphorus)
Platinum (platinum)
Lead (plumbum)
Plutonium (plutonium)
Pumice (pumiceus)
Quartz (quartzeus)
Radium (radius)
Sand (sabulum)
Saltpeter (sal petrae)
Salt (salio)
Flint (silex)
Steel (stahl)
Tin (stannum)
Sulfur (sulphur)
Talc (talq)
Titanium (titanium)
Uranium (uranium)
Jade (venefica)
Tungsten (wolfram)
Zinc (zink)

Why did Diamond come first? Although he listed their English names first, Eric didn’t bother to tell readers that he’d alphabetized them by using their Greek or Latin names, which he’d listed second. You have to go to the Index at the back of the book to find them alphabetized in English.

This is a curious list. Twenty items are elements. Carbon is listed twice under two allotropes - as Diamond and Graphite. Fifteen items are metallic elements, and two others (bronze and steel are alloys). Quartz (silicon dioxide) is on the list, but Silicon (the element used to make integrated circuit chips) is not. Asphalt is included, but another very important construction material, concrete, is missing. For asphalt he incorrectly lists the formula for carbon disulfide, which will dissolve asphalt.      

Some of his stories are personal and compelling. He begins his four-page article on gypsum by describing a bicycling accident that required him to get a plaster cast put on his arm. Plaster of Paris is made by dehydrating gypsum. When it is mixed with water, it cures to form gypsum. Eric also discusses how one of the first uses of gypsum was for carving intricate ornaments and statuary. But, he only has a single-sentence figure caption saying that gypsum is the main ingredient for household plaster. Most homes built in the last fifty years have interior walls made from drywall, which is gypsum covered with heavy paper. He didn’t clearly say that the same material used for casts is also found within ten feet of us, right at home.   

Other stories are almost pointless and could have been replaced by better ones. His discussion of Titanium as a space-race metal on page 198 has a first paragraph about how the heat shield for Sputnik I contained 0.2 percent titanium - in an alloy consisting primarily of 93.8 percent aluminum with 6 percent magnesium. That paragraph logically should have appeared under Aluminum.

At the top of page 201 is an image captioned:

“TOP SECRET The U.S.’s titanium X-15 space plane.”

That image doesn’t show the very successful X-15 rocket plane, which had a titanium structure and an Inconel X nickel-alloy skin. Instead it shows another much less successful jet plane, the Douglas X-3, which never got remotely near space.    

The Lockheed YF-12 and SR-71 are the best examples of titanium aircraft. A fact sheet from the National Museum of the Air Force notes that:

“To enable the YF-12A to withstand skin temperatures of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (generated by air friction), 93 percent of its structural weight is made up of titanium alloys.”

Another fact sheet points out that:

“Throughout its nearly 24-year career, the SR-71 remained the world's fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth's surface per hour. On July 28, 1976, an SR-71 set two world records for its class -- an absolute speed record of 2,193.167 mph and an absolute altitude record of 85,068.997 feet.”

The audience image came from Benross814 at Wilimedia Commons.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

12 Million Americans Believe Lizard People Run Our Country (and 276 Million Don’t)

On April 2nd, at the Atlantic, Philip Bump used the startling headline 12 Million Americans Believe Lizard People Run Our Country to discuss the survey on conspiracy theories released that day by Public Policy Polling. Out of their twenty conspiracies, Q13 had the lowest percentage of people who believed. But Philip multiplied that percentage by an estimate for the US population (313,914,040) to produce a surprisingly large number - until you compare it with the number that don’t believe in that theory.

He noted that the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. But, then his article showed a table with the theories ranked from most to least believed, and three columns listing the Conspiracy, Percent Believing, and Number of Americans Believing. For that third column he didn’t use units of millions like in his headline. Instead he listed eight or nine digit numbers (like 12,566,562  for the lizard people), which is a ludicrously phony level of precision.  

The eight-column table shown above (click on it for a larger version) gives a more balanced view for the top ten conspiracy theories. I’m still somewhat amazed that more people than not believed in a Kennedy assassination conspiracy. But for the other nineteen more people didn’t believe than did.

By the way, the Public Policy Polling survey was of registered voters rather than the total population. For 2010 the Census Bureau estimated there were 229.7 million in the voting age population, and 59.8 percent were registered, so there were just 137 million registered voters rather than the 313 million total population. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Do a quarter of Americans really suspect that President Barack Obama is the antichrist?

Nope. That’s what a page on the Coast to Coast AM web site said. But, it was just repeating a misinterpretation from an article in The Guardian with the sensational title of One in four Americans think Obama may be the antichrist, survey says. The original question and three answers (Do, Not Sure, and Do not) from that survey by Public Policy Polling are shown above. I think that “not sure” means maybe yes, or maybe no, so if you try to go from three answers down to two you should split it between “Do” and Do not” rather than just add it to “Do” to double that percentage. 

Coast to Coast did the same addition on another question, as shown above.

The phone survey done between March 27th and 30th asked 1,247 registered voters twenty questions about a wide variety of conspiracy theories:

Q1: Do you believe that global warming is a hoax, or not? 37% Do, 12% Not sure, 51% Do not.

Q2: Do you believe Osama bin Laden is still alive, or not? 6% Do, 11% Not sure, 83% Do not.

Q3: Do you believe a UFO crashed at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, and the US government covered it up, or not? 21% Do, 32% Not sure, 47% Do not.

Q4: Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not? 28% Do, 25% Not sure, 46% Do not.

Q5: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on America, or not? 28% Do, 22% Not sure, 51% Do not.

Q6: Do you believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism. or not? 20% Do, 34% Not sure, 46% Do not.

Q7: Do you believe the moon landing was faked, or not? 7% Do, 9% Not sure, 84% Do not.

Q8: Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, or not? 13% Do, 13% Not sure, 73% Do not.

Q9: Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War, or not? 44% Do, 12% Not sure, 45% Do not.

Q10: Do you believe aliens exist, or not? 29% Do, 24% Not sure, 47% Do not.

Q11: Do you believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s, or not? 14% Do, 30% Not sure, 55% Do not.

Q12: Do you believe the government adds fluoride to our water supply, not for dental health reasons, but for other, more sinister reasons, or not? 9% Do, 17% Not sure, 74% Do not.

Q13: Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies, or not? 4% Do, 7% Not sure, 88% Do not.

Q14: Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, or was there some larger conspiracy at work? 25% Oswald acted alone, 24% Not sure, 51% There was some larger conspiracy.

Q15: Do you believe in Bigfoot or Sasquatch, or not? 14% Do, 14% Not sure, 72% Do not.

Q16: Do you believe media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals, or not? 15% Do, 15% Not sure, 70% Do not.

Q17: Do you believe that the exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons, or not? 5% Do, 8% Not sure, 87% Do not.

Q18: Do you believe that the pharmaceutical industry is in league with the medical industry to “invent” new diseases in order to make money, or not? 15% Do, 16% Not sure, 69% Do not.

Q19: Do you believe Paul McCartney actually died in a car crash in 1966 and was secretly replaced by a lookalike so The Beatles could continue, or not? 5% Do, 14% Not sure, 80% Do not.

Q20: Do you believe the United States government knowingly allowed the attacks on September 11th, 2001 to happen, or not? 11% Do, 11% Not sure, 78% Do not.

I was happy to see that 15% or less answered “Do” to a dozen questions: Q2, Q7, Q8, Q11, Q12, Q13, Q15, Q16, Q17, Q18, Q19, Q20. Also, 30% or less answered “Do” to another five questions: Q3, Q4, Q5, Q6, Q10. But, over 30% believed that (Q1) global warming is a hoax, (Q9) the Bush administration misled the public about Iraq, and (Q14) there was a Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Their detailed survey results also are categorized by gender, political party, age, and ethnic group. It’s an interesting look into the American psyche.

Before you use a startling statistic in a presentation, you should go back to the original source, rather than depend on something like a silly web page, third hand like a newspaper article, or second hand like a press release.