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The NRA was founded as an organization dedicated to marksmanship and gun safety. As such, they should be the group that is driving gun control in this country, not the one that is thwarting such efforts. I can’t help wondering why the NRA isn’t furious about the fact that there are people out there misusing guns, wounding or killing innocent people. No one should be more upset about gun violence, and the needless suffering that it causes, than the NRA. The NRA is all about marksmanship, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. Why aren’t they first out of the gate being “up in arms” when children use guns to kill other children? Why isn’t it the leadership of the NRA demanding to know how an arsenal fell into the hands of the San Bernardino terrorists?

The NRA seems fixated on two things: “protecting” the Second Amendment to the Constitution by stopping all gun legislation, and promoting useless slogans.

As I have said before, if there were no gun violence in American, there would be no attack on the Second Amendment. The amendment works just fine when guns are in the hands of responsible owners. The best way for the NRA to defend the Second Amendment is to work to end gun violence. Not only will that save the Second Amendment from the slings of gun control advocates, but, it will win the NRA accolades from the entire nation – gun owners and critics alike.

“I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”, declared former NRA president, Charlton Heston. But here’s the thing – I don’t want to pry the gun from Heston’s cold (now actually dead) hands. I doubt many people did. I don’t want to pry the gun from Wayne LaPierre’s very much alive hands. My bet is that LaPierre is an excellent marksman who takes his gun ownership responsibilities very seriously. I have no problem with LaPierre owning a whole rack of guns. But I do have a problem with Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik (the San Bernardino terrorists) getting guns. I do have a problem when guns fall into the hands of James Holmes (the Aurora theater shootings), Adam Lanza (Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School), Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine High School massacre), Christopher Harper-Mercer (Umpqua Community College shooting), Dylann Roof (Charleston church shooting), and on and on.

Today the NRA is promoting their tired idea that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” They continue to spout this line even though it is demonstrably not true. Even if it were true, it puts quite a burden on good guys who might have guns but might not want to get involved in a firefight with a bad guy. Furthermore, it promotes vigilantism. Do we really want self-proclaimed “good guys” patrolling our streets? Besides, unless they are wearing a uniform and a badge, it can be very hard to tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy when they are pointing a gun at you. Furthermore, if a cop tells a criminal to drop his weapon, the “bad guy” knows that the officer is trained, backup is on the way, and if you kill a police officer the justice system will show no mercy. However, if a citizen “good guy” confronts an armed “bad guy”, the “bad guy” might just decide to take his chances in a showdown – endangering both the “good guy” and innocent bystanders.

But most important, what we really want is to stop “bad guys” from getting guns in the first place. No one wants to counter bad guys with good guys; we want to stop the situation before it starts. Worse yet, the soundbite that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, puts an end to the legitimate search for other solutions. If that is “the only thing”, then there is no point in trying to find other ways to solve the problem.

So, here we are. There is terrible gun violence in America. There is the Second Amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms. There is the NRA defending the Second Amendment instead of championing responsible gun ownership. Now what? The NRA isn’t going away, nor should it. (See my post on why you should join the NRA.) We live in a country where special interest groups have a right to exist – be it a gun owners group, a cooking club, or collectors of Britney Spears memorabilia. The Second Amendment isn’t going away either. The judiciary has upheld the Second Amendment – though I disagree with their assessment (See my take on the language of the Second Amendment.) To change it would require a new constitutional amendment, but there isn’t the political will, nor the votes among the electorate, to make that happen. Even if there were, it would take years to propose and pass.

I have a proposal that I believe would allow the NRA to meet all of its goals – promoting responsible gun ownership, helping its members, and protecting the Second Amendment – while working to end the tragic misuse of guns. It doesn’t impact the Second Amendment in any way and it leverages the NRA’s role as advocates for gun safety and responsible gun ownership. Under my proposal, the NRA would work as partners with federal and state governments, and the American people, defending the rights of gun owners while stopping the “bad guys” from getting firearms.

The Second Amendment to the constitution says that “…the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” That has been the sticking point in all efforts by the Federal government to regulate weapon sales and ownership (with certain exceptions), and the courts have upheld that restriction. But, states appear to be able to regulate gun sales within their borders, and certain other aspects of gun ownership and transportation – this is why we have a patchwork of gun regulations varying from state to state. But most significantly, the Second Amendment in no way restricts non-governmental organizations from interceding in the gun sale process. [I don’t entirely follow the legal arguments as to why local governments can enact some kinds of gun legislation while the federal government can’t, but that is beside the point here.]

Therefore, I propose the following:
  • Each state would enact one new law (which could stand alongside existing state laws, or could superseded them, as the individual states desire.) The law would require that guns may only be sold by vendors that are licensed, authorized, inspected, trained, and approved by the NRA.
  • The NRA, as the nation’s leading experts on gun safety and responsible gun ownership, would establish rules for gun purchases by their member stores. These NRA rules would apply nationwide. The Federal government would provide data to determine if a potential gun buyer is unfit based on criminal record, age, mental status, etc., but it would be the NRA that would manage the interaction with the government.
  • The NRA would also be responsible for tracking ownership of guns that are sold under their aegis. Thus, they would be able to determine if someone is building up an arsenal of weapons – or, as experts on the subject, if a buyer who has many guns is simply a collector. Since all stores in every state would confirm their sales through the NRA, it would be the NRA, not the Federal Government, tracking guns at a national level and raising the red flag if someone starts accumulating stockpiles of weapons and ammo.
  • To stop “strawman sales” and illicit alterations to guns, and to make sure that firearms weren’t lost or illegally transferred, the NRA would require gun owners to have their guns inspected once a year. Gun owners could have their guns inspected at any NRA office, or NRA approved gun store, or at any law enforcement office (in which case law enforcement would provide the information about the inspection to the NRA.)
This would be a great boon for gun stores and the NRA. After all, while you’re getting your gun inspected, maybe you’d like to buy accessories, supplies, and ammo, or have your rifle cleaned and serviced. Maybe you’d like to take a look at some new guns that have just hit the store shelves. Maybe you’d like to join the NRA if you aren’t a member, or renew if you are. Gun stores could charge a fee for the annual inspection, or they could use fee-free inspections as an incentive to bring customers into their store.

It is very fair to ask, who will monitor all these gun stores? Well, who spends a lot of time in gun shops? Gun owners. Many of whom are NRA members. They will be the “good guys” who will help to make sure that gun stores are acting responsibly. Since any customer could be watching for unapproved sales activity, licensed vendors would tread very lightly. The police and FBI would still have the responsibility to stop arms traffickers, but the NRA and its membership would police legitimate stores.

There are those that might say that this is putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. But I believe that the NRA has a vested interest in stopping firearms getting into the wrong hands. This proposal also financially benefits the NRA and gun store owners. The NRA would have a strong incentive to make the system work and to innovate new and better solutions to the problem of gun violence. With the NRA leading, coordinating, and certifying such a program, any decrease in shootings would win them praise. Should gun violence worsen, it would be on their heads – and put the status of the Second Amendment back in jeopardy – a result that the NRA would not like to see.

I am sure that there are enhancements and refinements that can be made to this proposal. I look forward to hearing suggestions for making this idea into an even more effective strategy for bringing an end to gun violence in America.

NRA - National Rifle Association 1871

I am a liberal. I am in favor of gun control. I just became a life member of the NRA. If you want to see effective changes to gun policy in America, regardless of your political leanings, you should become a life member of the NRA too – as soon as possible. I know that doesn't make sense, but, read on... there's a good reason.

Many people are frustrated – even angry – with the NRA. With daily reports of gun violence, the NRA seems to be the #1 impediment to even modest gun control legislation. Gun control advocates wish the NRA would go away. However, there are no grounds for anyone to shut down the NRA, and wishing won’t make it so. The NRA is a properly incorporated non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation; it is legitimate for them to exist.
A 501(c)(4) organization is a social welfare organization, such as a civic organization or a neighborhood association. An organization is considered by the IRS to be operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. Net earnings must be exclusively use for charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

501(c)(4) organizations may inform the public on controversial subjects and attempt to influence legislation relevant to its program and, unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as their primary activity is the promotion of social welfare and related to the organization's purpose.
Furthermore, I argue that gun control advocates shouldn’t press for the dissolution of the NRA. Instead we should recreate the organization to fill the role that was its primary mission for most of its existence.

The NRA was established in 1871 to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” If you read their history of the NRA statement, you will see that it mainly discusses the importance of marksmanship, education, and gun safety. It is only in the final paragraph that they mention support and defense of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and even then they soften it by writing “While widely recognized today as a major political force and as America's foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, been the premier firearms education organization in the world.”

Though their history statement minimizes their role as a political organization, that clearly is not the case today. Since I joined, all the emails I have received from them relate to attacks on the 2nd amendment and things I should do to protect it. All the snail mail I get is thanking me for joining their fight to protect the 2nd amendment. Easily two thirds of their Rifleman magazine is about politics.

But the NRA seems to be missing a fundamental truth: there would be no issue about the 2nd amendment if it weren’t for people using guns inappropriately. If there were no mass shootings, accidental shootings, and murders of and by children, then no one would be talking about limiting gun access. The best way for the NRA to protect the 2nd amendment is to work to end gun violence. No gun violence, no attack on 2nd amendment rights.

NRA members and their leadership should be the most angry, upset, and offended people in the world when guns are allowed to fall into the hands of individuals that shouldn’t be allowed to have them: terrorists, children, criminals, or the mentally unstable. The NRA should be enraged when one citizen turns a gun on other innocent citizens and wounds or kills them. They should be demanding background checks and pioneering other methods for insuring that only qualified, responsible adults are able to acquire the weapons that they hold so dear.

The NRA has more information about gun safety and the effects of gun legislation than anyone in the world. They have been tracking gun legislation for decades. They have the research that shows exactly what legislation has been enacted, where and when, and what the ensuing rates of gun violence have been. The NRA should be the first place our nation turns when seeking to solve the scourge of violence in our country. But they’re not. In fact, they have recently blocked funding the NIH to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Why is this? Why isn’t the NRA the beacon of sane and responsible gun ownership in America. Why don't they insist that guns remain available to people who are likely to handle them responsibly, but also demand that guns stay out of the reach of those they have dubbed “bad guys.”

The history of the NRA as a political organization is well documented elsewhere, so I wont go into a lengthy expose. But briefly, since 1977, the NRA has been significantly involved in the political process, and in 1991, named lobbyist Wayne LaPierre to be Executive Vice President. Since then the they have largely turned away from their stated mission as a group concerned with marksmanship and gun safety, and have instead become an institution primarily dedicated to blocking any and all gun legislation. I believe that this conversion is due to the entrenched board of directors, and in particular, the leadership of LaPierre.

Wayne LaPierre
Wayne LaPierre

Though estimates suggest that more than 70% of NRA members favor some gun controls, it is clear that the current NRA membership is not prepared to remove the board of directors and Mr. LaPierre. Meanwhile, no outside influence can do so. But, those of us watching from the sidelines - you and me - can join the NRA and work to change it from within.

There is no application process for NRA membership - there is no background check. You do not need to be a gun owner to join the NRA. You do not need to be pro-2nd Amendment. You do not need to be a US Citizen. You do not need to live in the USA. As far as I can tell, there is no age minimum. All you need is $35 and a pulse.

However, the leadership of the NRA isn’t stupid – they want to keep their jobs, and so, have put impediments in the way of newcomers trying to rock their status quo. You cant just join the NRA, vote at their next election, and then walk away. Their bylaws state that though anyone can join, to vote in board elections you must have been a member for 5 years or be a life member. Also, only US citizens can vote, and you must be over 18. Furthermore, only life members are allowed to nominate people to run for seats on the board of directors. [Note: all members are allowed to vote for one of the 76 directors, but that single board seat is hardly going to effect change. Voting for the other 75 board members is limited.]

It is the opportunity to vote immediately and to nominate candidates that makes joining as a life member so important. Besides, a life membership lets you vote every year for the rest of your life - allowing you to pressure the NRA from within for as long as it takes to create the changes that are needed.

So here’s the thing – NRA life memberships are $1000. That price is going up to $1500 in March, 2016. But, from now until the price increase, life membership is on sale for only $500. If you are a US citizen over the age of 18, just $500 gets you the opportunity to influence the direction of the NRA for the rest of your life.

The NRA is the most important organization in this country when it comes to firearms policy. These issues are vital for all of us. By working within the NRA, your voice can be heard. In today’s multi-million dollar elections, a $500 donation to a candidate for national office has little impact. For most people in America, a single vote in a national campaign is functionally irrelevant. If you live in a “swing state”, your vote may hold more value. If you live in a state like California, forget about electing our next president. But a vote in an NRA election counts! The NRA currently has just over 3 million members (LaPierre told congress that the number was 4.5 million, but research by the Washington Post indicates that was an overstatement.). Estimates vary, but it has been suggested that fewer than 700,000 members are eligible to vote, and that less than 10% of those that are eligible actually do vote. If these numbers are correct, something like 70,000 people - less than the population of an average city - choose who will run the NRA. This means that, right now, for a limited time, $500 could get you a meaningful vote in the organization that determines firearms policy in America.

Let me say that again: $500 get could you a meaningful vote in the organization that determines firearms policy in America. That is the cheapest price you will ever pay for a seat at the table where gun policy is being made. The effect of a similarly sized donation to a gun control organization would pale by comparison. The NRA leaderships sets the tone for American legislative policy on gun issues, and no outside effort is going to change that leadership. Change in the NRA can only be effected by its membership, and its membership is only going to change if moderate voices join the group.

I must admit that my proposal is in no way foolproof. Any attempt at a sudden putsch is almost guaranteed to fail. We need a lot of people to read this and follow-up by joining as life members (that means you!) However, it is going to take time and could be thwarted by NRA leadership. Only 30% of the directors are up for election in any given year. If at the next annual meeting - May 21, 2016 - a huge number of new life members vote en masse for the most moderate candidates, the entrenched leadership could realize that their jobs would be gone within the following two years. It is likely that they would then change the bylaws, further limiting who could vote. They could also make changes restricting who can run. Further, though 25 directors are elected each year, only a handful of the candidates for board positions face true competition. Changing the composition of the NRA board will take time, but it can be done. A new body of life members that are intent on returning the NRA to its roots as an organization dedicated to gun safety is the only way to make it happen.

I am not simply asking others to do the heavy lifting. I have put my money where my mouth is. I have put up $500 to enter this arena. I consider that price tag cheap, especially when compared to donations that I have made to candidates and charities in the past. If you have $500 and are concerned with gun violence in America, I hope you will join me by signing up for lifetime NRA membership. The worst that can happen is that the leadership changes the rules, diluting or nullifying your vote. But, at best, we can work to change this organization to reflect the true beliefs of its members and the American people.

Remember – prices go up in March. I believe joining after that would still be worthwhile - it would just cost you three times as much. Here is the link to sign up at the sale price (if you just go to the NRA web site and choose membership, it will not show you this discount.)

NRA life membership on sale $500


I have been watching the Republicans for some months now, and I've learned a lot from them. I am now ready to announce my candidacy for President of the United States of America.

I will be running as a Republican. Some of you might be asking what qualifications I have to be President, and why am I running on the Republican ticket. Clearly you are not familiar with my record, so let me fill you in.

I spent 16 years as the chairman of the Republican National Committee, during which time I took that organization from a $3 million deficit, to a $14 billion surplus. Using those funds, I personally increased Republican voter registration to unprecedented levels.

I have outstanding executive experience from my time as governors of both Massachusetts and Alabama. My fiscal policies in Massachusetts allowed me to lower taxes in that state to the lowest in the nation, while I tripled job growth in Alabama.

As for foreign policy experience, I was the chief negotiator for the Allies at Versailles. Later, as Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, I was instrumental in bringing about his famous 1972 visit to China and meeting with Mao Zedong. I have a proven track record that shows that I know how to manage foreign leaders. In fact, just last year Vladimir Putin tried to kiss me in a bathroom at de Gaulle airport, but I was able to say to him, "No, Vlad. Not here. Not now."

Don’t bother to fact check any of this, I promise you that it is all 100% true. Besides, only a terrorist would question the veracity of a Republican.

[Oh, and I happen to know that Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina are having an affair.]

Thank you. I look forward to your support.



My fellow Americans, my candidacy is rooted in a platform of freedom and liberty. Nothing is more important to Americans than the freedom to have liberty when they are free. I will safeguard your liberty and make sure that freedom freely rings across this great land - a land grounded in the free expression of that liberty. I will liberally use the word "freedom", and freely speak out for freedom and liberty in this land of the free. I will use the freedom that I feel when liberty courses through my veins to inspire free liberty and freedom for all.

Thank you for your support. Stay free.



As your President, first thing, day one, I will make it illegal to give a child a name that is hard to pronounce. I will also direct the office of homeland security to stop letting anyone into the country whose names involve funny letters like that "O" with a slash through it. What is that anyway? My name is made up of good old USA American letters. That "O" with a slash through it, I just don’t know about that. No one whose name contains an "O" with a slash through it, or unnecessary dots on top, will be let into the country until our representatives are able to investigate what that is all about.



As your President I will secure our borders. I will set up a 3000-mile-long row of piñatas across our southern border, since it is well known that no Mexican can pass a piñata without having a party.



Under a Sigal presidency, you can rest assured that I will punch terrorists right in the nose!



When you make me your President, I will bring American jobs back to the US from China using a bold, three-part plan:
  1. I will move all the people from China to the US.
  2. I will give them jobs.
  3. I will mandate that lists of 3 things may include only 2 things.
I will do this on my first day of as your President.

Vote Sigal!



Nothing is more important to Americans than feeling that they are safe. No other President will give you the sense of security that I will. I pledge to you that first thing, day one, I will work tirelessly to improve the perception of security that all Americans hold so dear.



As your President, I promise that first thing, day one, Walmart greeters will no longer be allowed to use the internet.



I am deeply angered by my opponents’ baseless accusations that I am an atheist. According to Wikipedia, Christianity is the #1 most common religion in America, with Protestantism being the #1 form of Christianity. Evangelical Protestantism is the #1 sect of Protestantism, making up more than one quarter of the citizens of this great nation - the greatest nation that God has ever put on earth.

In keeping with my pledge to uphold American values and the American way of life, I say to you today that I have never been more proud to be an Evangelical Protestant.



Andrew Sigal is the only candidate that has been endorsed by both Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow.



I am the only candidate who has the guts to tell our enemies, and our friends, across the globe, that we don't like them. Other candidates are willing use strong language to condemn those that would attack this country. But none among them will come out and say to our allies, "we hate you too." It is easy to stand up to your foes and threaten retaliation for their actions. It takes a really strong leader to go up against our supporters and let them know that they are on thin ice too.



I want to be known as the Education President. I won’t do anything to improve education in this country, I just want to be known as the Education President.



The stature of this nation on the world stage has fallen embarrassingly low. World leaders no longer want to come here to meet with our President. Even religious leaders such as the Pope refuse to visit America.

As President I will be committed to reversing this deplorable situation. To show the world that I mean business, I will direct the office of Homeland Security to deny entrance into the country by any foreign leader who refuses to come here.



I want you all to know that I know you are in pain, and I feel your pain. So, you rub my back and I'll rub yours - if you catch my drift.



All of the candidates from both parties are old. I mean really, really, old. None of them understand the internet and technology the way I do.

As an engineer at Bolt, Baranek and Newman, I invented the internet, the mouse, and the iPhone. I am the only candidate who knows how to send an Evite to ISIS. Ask yourself, would you trust Jeb Bush to get the invite list right? Would Bernie Sanders know how to send out a reminder message? Does Ben Carson know what a computer is?

I don’t want a President that might be tricked into giving the nuclear launch codes to a Nigerian prince. Do you?



On my web site you will find an eleven-point plan for developing a 14-point plan for reducing the deficit. All of the other candidates will tell you that they have a plan for reducing the deficit, but, when pressed for details, they always evade the question. This is because in reality they don't have a comprehensive plan for developing a plan for reducing the deficit.

With my detailed eleven point plan I am ready to hit the ground running, day one, to develop a plan for reducing the deficit.



Never before in our nation’s history have we faced more certain destruction. This country deserves a strong leader to lead it through these dangerous times. I am that leader.

My fellow Americans, as President, I will do whatever it takes to keep our country safe. Nothing is more important than the safety of this, the greatest nation on earth. Not even the first amendment is more important than our safety. Not the third, forth, or fifth amendments. Not even the sixth through 27th amendments to our Constitution are as important as our safety. After all, if we don’t feel safe, how can we enjoy those liberties that we each take for granted every single day.

As your leader I will act strongly, swiftly, and decisively to protect America and its Americans. If those in Congress won’t act with me, I will appoint Congress-people that will. It has never been more important for the Congress to line up behind their Republican leader.

Everyone knows that there is nothing more patriotic than supporting your democratically elected Republican President. As my mother told me, if anyone in Congress or the media doesn’t have something nice to say about their Republican President, then they shouldn’t say anything at all.

Now is the time for all citizens, young and old, tall and short, Christian and Catholic, white and tan, boy and man, to pull together as one. With Congress and the Judiciary solidly supporting a true leader - one that knows that leadership means leading - we will restore the safety and security of our country once more. I am that true leader.



I am the only candidate that really understands the threat that global warming poses to America and our American way of life. As your President, I will face this threat head on. I will direct the Army Corps of Engineers to build a wall across our southern border to stop the hot air from Mexico entering our country. I will also build a wall of fans along our northern border to keep our country cool.

I will do this first thing, day one.

As for the impact of global climate change on other countries? Let 'em buy their own damned fans.



The other candidates for President have shown time and again that they cannot be trusted. They will lie for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Tonight I want to assure you that I will always tell you the truth - except when you don’t want to hear it, or when it would be bad for you, or when it might hurt my chances of being elected.

A Sigal White House will have a policy of 100% transparency about every issue where we feel that you need 100% transparency. With Andrew Sigal as your President, you need never worry about discovering something terrible that you didn’t want to know.

This is my pledge to you.


Vote SIGAL in 2016
Thank you for your support!



I recently stumbled across a blog post discussing the idea that a lot of people think that there are 52 states in the United States of America. Apparently, the purpose of the blog, “The Mandela Effect”, is to consider why it is that different people remember the same event or historical fact differently. The blog’s author has a theory that people may have different memories because they slide back and forth between alternate realities (or something like that.) I think that the author is serious about this idea - but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

In the post in question, she wonders if people might think the US has 52 states because they mistakenly believe that Puerto Rico and Washington D. C. are states. She asks “is this simple confusion or a glimpse into alternate geography in another timestream?” [sic] To stimulate the conversation, she provides illuminating anecdotes from a number of readers.

I would have just left this alone, but, after a brief internet search I found that the question of 50 vs. 52 states has come up repeatedly. You can find it on Ask.comYahoo Answers, and even a site entitled “Debunking the Mandala Effect”. Even though I am not a cartographer, sociologist, or psychologist, I couldn’t resist throwing my ring into the hat.

As on The Mandala Effect blog, in the attempts to answer the question, “why do people think that there are 52 states”, one of the most common themes is that some people believe that Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. are states. [FYI – they aren't. At least not yet... in this time-stream. ] I find it highly unlikely that misunderstandings about Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia is the right answer. Here’s why: the intersection between the set of people that believe there are 52 states, those that know that Puerto Rico is related to the USA in some way, and those that know that Washington D. C. isn’t just a city, is vanishingly small. Here is a Venn Diagram to illustrate:

The intersection isn't zero, but it's pretty close.

Granted that my only qualification for answering this question is that I possess a functioning frontal lobe, I believe that this has more to do with two other factors. The first is visual. Here is a fairly ordinary map of the USA – the kind that people run across all the time:

If you have heard that there are 50 states, but you don’t really know much about the geography of the US, you see this big blob cut up into pieces. It is unlikely that you are going to count them. It is easy to assume that there are 50. Then there are two other sets of blobs. I doubt that many viewers think about this consciously, but, somewhere in the back of the mind, over time, it is easy to turn a blob assumed to be made of 50 pieces, plus two other blobs, into 52 states.

The second factor is the way peoples' memories work. Our brains are bombarded with vast amounts of information, some important and some not. It is normal for humans to remember approximations, unless, for some reason, they really need to know a fact with precision. If you don’t have a compelling reason to know how many states make up the United States of America, your brain is likely to store it as a fuzzy "50-ish". This would be true for a great many non-Americans, and a terrifying number of American citizens as well.

In "western” nations we have the number “52” trained into us, because there are 52 playing cards in a standard deck. This exact number is stored because you learned it while playing cards - especially if your father ever taught you “52 pickup.” (Aside: why do I say "your father" and not "a parent"? Because I don't think many mothers are that cruel, and besides, they know that they might be the one that has to "pick up.")

If someone asks you how many states there are, you may recall that it is about 50, but, of course, you want to give a precise number. Your brain’s memory systems start looking for the number. Along the way they bump into the big, bold, shiny number 52. You don’t want to appear “slow”, so as soon as you come up with a number that seems right, you use it. Fifty-two is about 50-ish, so that is the answer you give. If questioned about your answer, self-justification circuits kick in which solidify it in your mind. Also, you just heard someone say that there are 52 states. Even though that someone is you, brains sometimes don’t realize that, and furthermore, as far as your brain is concerned, you are an authoritative source. If you said something, you can believe it.

Voila. A pair of really solid  reasons why a person that doesn’t need to know how many states make up the USA could easily think there are 52, and feel quite convinced that they are correct. No need to slip into a different timestream, the answer is right here.

New York (AP) -- December 15, 2015 -- Donald Trump withdraws from presidential race.

Speaking to a capacity crowd at Trump Tower, Donald J. Trump announced today that he is withdrawing his name as a candidate for President of the United States.

Earlier in the day the Trump campaign put out a press release saying only that he had an announcement to make, and that “it’s going to be huge.” Expecting a signature remark insulting a major ethnic or religious group, the media packed the lobby of the 68-story tower venue. But no one knew how “huge” this announcement was really going to be. Trump’s surprise statement drew gasps from the crowd.

Trumps speech was uncharacteristically brief. He noted that his goal in running for the nomination as the Republican candidate was to ruin the Republican Party and demonstrate what a “bunch of numbskulls” they had fielded as candidates. He stated that by taking positions that were “idiotic”, “unconstitutional”, and “wildly inflammatory”, he was able to prod the other candidates into showing their true colors as “demented and even demonic.”

“Trying to meet or beat the nonsense that I was spouting off, each of the other Republican candidates have made statements that pretty much guaranty they could never be elected”, said Trump.

After his prepared statement, one member of the press regained their ability to speak long enough to ask Trump what made him decide to withdraw from the race at this time.

“My work is done here,” he stated flatly. “I expected to have to stay in until Super Tuesday, but this was a slam dunk.” He added, “Everyone knows I am the greatest in the world at selling people shit, but even I didn’t know I was this great.” Though he did concede that “no one could have predicted the impact of that lunatic Carson,” in helping to unhinge voters, candidates, and the party. “Every time I made a crazy statement, Carson would reply with something even more off-the-wall. That was a gift that kept on giving,” said Trump, smiling broadly.

“I’m really excited about getting this thing put to bed so I can get some golf in over the holidays,” he noted.

Mr. Trump turned from the podium as audience members variously fainted, cried, reached for hip flasks, or began speaking gibberish into their microphones.

But Trump had one more surprise up his sleeve. Turning back to the audience he made a final comment. “Before I go, I just want to apologize to women, Mexicans, Muslims, golfers, and thinking people everywhere,” he said. Trump then ripped off his toupee and used it to wave to the crowd, while stepping onto the up-escalator of the building, ascending into the tower from which he had emerged just six short months earlier.

The Republican Party was not immediately available for comment.

# # # # # # #

With Hanukkah just ended, I have received many inquiries asking what the heck that was all about. More specifically, people want to know what the significance is of each night. I am happy to provide this brief primer to help everyone understand this important holiday.

The First Night:

This is the first night that we remember a time when a bunch of idiots in the desert (my cultural ancestors) failed to correctly calculate the burning time of a vial of oil. However, celebrating the first night of Hanukkah is really pretty stupid. After all, the oil was supposed to last one day. At this point it had, in fact, lasted one day. So what else is new? I recommend skipping the first night.

The Second Night:

Happy second night of Hanukkah. The second night of Hanukkah is important because it represents the first night on which the Jewish people realized that they had underestimated how long oil burns. As noted, for the entire first day, they were burning a vial of oil that they expected would last for one day. No big whoop. But, by the second night they had to be saying to themselves, "Hey, look at that! The oil is still going. Guess we were wrong."

It was this famous miscalculation that caused the Jewish people to conclude that maybe they should learn to be accountants.

The Third Night:

Shalom! It's the 3rd night of Hannukah, or is it Chanukah, or Hanukkah? Whatever. As long as you've got some h's, some n's, some k's, and some phlegm, you're good.

By this point there were a whole bunch of Maccabees scratching their noggins under their yarmulkes, wondering who measured the oil and what they were smoking at the time. Everyone knows that smoking and oil don't mix, but hey, they were under attack. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

This is the night when modern Jews make a special blessing that Hanukkah happens at about the same time as Christmas, which is very convenient for piggybacking on Christmas sales.

For those of you that don't know, "Christmas" the holiday in which Christians celebrate the birth of yet another Jew. No one knows how much that particular Jew understood about volumetric measure and the combustion rates of lipids, but we do know that his parents appear to have had a rather shaky understanding of the relationship between sex and conception.

The Fourth Night:

It's the 4th night of Hanukkah! Woo hoo! Half way, baby!

You might be wondering why we light the candles from right to left. Well, go ahead and wonder. I could tell you, but then I’d have to convert you.

Hanukkah Episode V - The Maccabees Strike Back:

By now it was becoming clear that there was a major fuck-up. The oil had lasted five days. All along the big machers were going on and on about the calamity of running out of oil. No doubt the people must have been pretty peeved that they were warned about this huge, fat emergency, but it really wasn’t a problem at all. Clearly this is when someone penned the first version of the parable of the “boy who cried wolf.”

[BIG MACHER, n - Hybrid English-Yiddish term for big shot. A man who is (or thinks he is) really important. Usually refers to someone who is showing off in some way.]

The <yawn> 6th Night <yawn>:

If you’re not Jewish, by now you should be just about as sick of this whole thing as we are.

If you are Jewish, yes, we have to keep on doing this, and no, gifts for the final nights aren’t going to be crappy, and we don’t appreciate that kind of language in this house. It’s not easy coming up with eight nights of gifts for each of you. Your mother worked very hard finding presents that will be fun, educational, age appropriate, non-violent, locally made, hypoallergenic, and avoid gender and racial stereotypes. I think you owe your mother an apology, or you can just give back the gifts right this minute!

The 7th Night:

I’m out of ideas, and making this post format correctly is getting on my nerves. Here’s a quarter and some mediocre chocolate wrapped in gold paper that’s supposed to look like coins.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

The 8th Night:

Amongst much bickering over who was going to lose their job from this massive screw-up, someone came up with the brilliant idea of declaring it a miracle. The true miracle was the whole lot of them weren’t fired.

Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 nights because that's how long it took to come up with an explanation that covered their collective asses.

I hope this clears things up and puts the eight nights of Chanukah/Hannukah/Hanukkah in an appropriate historical perspective. Regardless of your faith or anti-faith, may you all have an entertaining holiday season.


[PS: Thank you to the many web sites from which I stole the images used in this post.]

Last night while watching VSauce, I was made aware of the rate of technological advancement in a way that I had never thought about before (of course, I did more research and added to the original germ of the idea.) I knew all these facts, but hadn't put them all together.

For all of the history of human kind, and probably well before historical times, we have imagined flight. But, for countless thousands of years no one ever got more than a few feet into the air (unless they jumped off a cliff.)

That was true until the first successful balloon flight in 1783. It then took another 120 years for the Wright Brothers to create a viable airplane (1903.) But here's the shocker - from the time of the Wright Brothers' first flight until Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon in 1969 was just 66 years.

In my mind the first flight at Kitty Hawk was ages ago. But, It wasn't really that long. According to Wikipedia, there are 43 people alive today that were born before Orville Wright took flight in a powered airplane on December 17, 1903. Meanwhile, I was alive when Armstrong made a "giant leap for mankind." On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man made object to leave the solar system - 43 years after we got to the moon. If you are reading this anywhere near the time that I wrote it, you were probably alive when that happened.

Thousands of years of dreaming -> 120 years from balloon to airplane -> 66 years from airplane to moon walk -> 43 years from moon walk to leaving the solar system.