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The FAA planned, designed, and implemented NextGen (their "Next Generation" air traffic control system) with very little public input or scrutiny. Since the rollout, there has been a huge outcry from people on the ground that have been impacted by the new flight paths. Until recently, the FAA seemed intent on ignoring all complaints and feedback.

As readers of this blog may know, I am fond of thought experiments. They help me get my brain around an issue. The other day I got to wondering about what would have happened if the impacts of NextGen were not the discomfort, annoyance, and potential loss of property values that are currently being reported. What if NextGen were fatal?

What if, for every day that NextGen were in place, some number of people living under the new flight paths died. Random people. Not young or old, or with impaired immune systems. Not people of any particular race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. For no apparent reason, every day, when a plane went over, some number of people would die.

Lets think about what would happen if in every region where NextGen was rolled out, one thousand people per day living under the new flight paths died. I would hope that NextGen would be rolled back instantly. They wouldn’t just stop the rollout. They wouldn’t form committees to study the problem. They would immediately roll back the implementation of the plan. There would be mass migrations of people away from the affected areas – even after the rollback. There would be congressional hearings, firings of engineers and scientists, lawsuits, and massive reparations. Right?

OK. That’s an extreme thought experiment. One thousand people per day is a lot of deaths. What if it were one hundred, or ten, or just one? There are millions of people in the bay area. What if NextGen measurably improved airplane safety and efficiency, but, as a direct result of the changed flight plans, one person on the ground died every day that wouldn’t have died under the prior air traffic system? I imagine that the effect would be the same as with one thousand people killed per day.

Let’s continue. What if it were one person per month? Or one person per year? What if the implementation of NextGen would cause the random death of one person per century? What if there were a one in a million chance that in any given year a person would die? It could be this year, or, it could be a million years from now. At what point would we say that was acceptable “collateral damage” for a new level of aerospace safety and efficiency? After all, even if the one death happened this year, it still probably wouldn’t be you. Right? What number would you choose? Or, is there any number of deaths that would be deemed acceptable? If we knew for certain that the chances were one in a million, or one in a billion, or one in a trillion, would people be willing to live under flight paths? I live quite close to the Hayward fault. We are overdue for a major earthquake. When that happens, some number of people are likely to die. But housing prices in my area have never been higher.

What about the other end of the spectrum? What if airplanes were silent and invisible? What if they were undetectable without radar or other special equipment? Now imagine that some people living under NextGen flight paths complained that they were scared by the idea that there were airplanes above them. What if some people said that they were terrified by the possibility of an engine falling off of a plane, or an invisible airplane suddenly crashing into their house? What if they said that they couldn’t sleep, their health was failing, and they could no long work, just from the thought of airplanes above them?

Would we expect the FAA to accommodate one person complaining that their life was being ruined by the fear of airplanes, even though there was no tangible impact on them? What if ten people were so effected? What if 10% of people under the flight paths were having their lives significantly affected by the knowledge that airplanes were flying over their neighborhood, even though there was no evidence of their passage? Would the FAA, Congress, and the nation declare that these people were just nuts? Would they say that progress should not be impeded by delusions? What if it were 20%? Or 50%? What if 100% of people living under NextGen flight paths indicated that they were being negatively impacted simply because there were airplanes up there somewhere? Is there any number of people complaining of "irrational" fears that would cause a change in NextGen?

To me the most important question is, who gets to make these decisions? The benefits are some amount of predicted increase in safety and efficiency*. The impacts lie somewhere on a scale from millions of deaths to the unfounded fears of one person. But who gets to decide the trade-off?

As it currently stands, Congress empowered the FAA to make the rules, and then directed them to develop a Next Generation air traffic control system with little or no further input. It was the FAA that decided how many decibels is “loud”, and how much of a change in decibels is an “impact.” The FAA themselves then concluded that the NextGen changes did not create an impact. There have been lawsuits against the FAA over NextGen, but they are failing, since there aren't grounds to sue. If you sue the FAA claiming that the noise is impacting you, and the FAA says that the numbers show no impact, then your suit is baseless. Is the fox guarding the hen-house, or does the FAA just not appreciate the true impacts of these changes in certain areas? How much do we trust the FAA to make the right choices, and who gets to decide?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but, I find them inherently interesting. They help me to think about the actual impacts of NextGen and the FAA’s lack of response. I would love to hear your thoughts.

* Note: According to the FAA's Environmental Assessment for Northern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex, section 5.7.1, "The Proposed Action would result in a relatively small increase in aircraft fuel burned: 0.40 percent in 2014 and 0.36 percent increase in 2019." This implies that NextGen is less efficient. However, it is not clear from the wording of the section if this refers to total energy use, fuel used by airplanes in while flying within the metroplex, or an increase in fuel purchased in the region for refueling of aircraft.

Airplanes crash into my quiet life

My peace and serenity have been taken from me. Nine years ago I bought a home in a quiet neighborhood of Oakland, California. I then spent over two and half years designing and building my “dream house.” I am very proud of what I created, and I love being here. But, recently, the FAA took the quiet life from me and my neighborhood.

For the past couple of years the FAA has been rolling out “NextGen”, the “Next Generation” air traffic control system. I won’t bother going into the details of NextGen – it is a very complicated set of changes, and is well documented elsewhere. Suffice it to say that NextGen has had noise impacts in every city where there is a major air traffic hub. The City of Phoenix, Arizona, was the first to sue the FAA over NextGen noise. Other citizens and cities have sued or threatened lawsuits. Congress-people are introducing bills to stop the changes and require the FAA to respond to complaints. Groups are organizing all over the country. The reason is that NextGen has changed flight patterns around airports, causing new routing of airplanes, and concentrating air traffic in narrow bands of high noise. Two of those bands go over my home.


The relationship between airports and communities

Since the start of commercial aviation, airports and communities have been involved in a conversation. Depending on where and when an airport was built, it may have been sited well away from the city (e.g. the new Denver International Airport), or, it may have been placed close in to facilitate easy access - the airport in Phoenix is downtown.Many airports are built on the edges of metropolitan areas.

But cities grow and change, and airports grow and change as well. Airports that were once on the edges of town may find themselves engulfed by the cities they serve, surrounded by commercial or residential areas that weren’t there when the planners first chose the site.

During the 90 years since its founding, Oakland airport and the community have been having a conversation about noise and air traffic impacts. Sometimes it has been explicit: When neighborhoods were excessively impacted, the airport met with the communities and attempted to accommodate their needs. The airport has worked to be a good citizen, serving the needs of Oakland and the region.


The invisible conversation

At the same time there has been an invisible “conversation” going on. Businesses that serve or rely on aviation, and other forms of transportation, have located near the airport. Real estate prices in these loud areas are generally low, so operations such as warehouses and storage units, that depend on low real estate costs, find the area around the airport to be attractive.

Some people want to live near the airport. They may work for airlines, aviation support companies, or the airport itself. They choose to accept noise in exchange for proximity. Frequent travelers may also make this choice, and there are hotels that cater to travelers by being as close to the airport as possible. Some people might live near the airport because they don’t mind the noise and choose lower real-estate costs over quiet. Finally, of course, there are far too many people who are forced to live in uncomfortable and unpleasant places due to financial hardship.

Others choose to live away from transit, airports, city centers, and other sources of disturbance. Such choices may mean long, difficult commutes; poor access to restaurants, shopping and entertainment.; they may face high real estate costs and property taxes. Some people are willing to go deeply into debt to purchase homes where there is peace and quiet.

This is not limited to the area around the airport. Any place in the metropolitan area that airplane noise can be heard will experience this kind of natural, organic separation. Residents self-sort by the priority they place on silence vs. other needs. Over years, people vote with their dollars and their feet to be closer to, or farther from, noisy locations. They also vote in elections for representatives that support their needs and desires. City planners establish zoning laws that enforce the decades old patterns created by peoples' choices of buying and selling, building and demolishing. These zoning regulations create the framework of stability that give residents and businesses the confidence to invest in the community.

This is not novel to Oakland. It happens everywhere in America. Through generations of explicit and implicit negotiation, a city falls into a certain shape.


The FAA upsets the apple cart

Then, suddenly, without any notice or conversation, the FAA upended the apple cart - showing no consideration for the delicate balance of quiet and noise worked out over the years. Formerly airplanes flight paths were spread out over a broad area. The NextGen system is now concentrating air traffic in narrow bands. Many of these fly above areas that used to be quiet - the very places where the most noise-sensitive individuals have settled.

As for myself, I have sacrificed proximity to transit, recreation, and city services. I have sacrificed time, effort, and energy. And I have sacrificed money. All because I place a high priority on peace and quiet. I would love to live downtown, with all it has to offer. But I can’t stand the noise! So, I live in Montclair where it is quiet – where it was quiet.


The FAA's mistaken mission

How could this possibly happen? Our communities have had an ongoing relationship with our airports. How can the FAA ignore that? I believe the answer is in their mission statement, which reads:
Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.
Period. Therein lies the root of the problem. NextGen achieves this mission. NextGen makes the aerospace system safer and more efficient. Mission accomplished. The problem is that while the FAA has succeeded in their mission, it was the wrong mission.

I propose that the first step in stopping the noise problems created by NextGen is to change the mission statement of the FAA. I believe that the FAA’s mission statement should proudly proclaim:
Our continuing mission is to create and maintain an aerospace system that best serves the people of the United States.
If this had been the mission of the FAA, NextGen would have been designed very differently. The needs, comfort, and safety of people on the ground would have been every bit as important as the safety and efficiency of the system in the air.

The FAA is no doubt reluctant to meet with us, and take our needs into consideration, because NextGen is fulfilling their mission. Changing their mission to reflect the needs of the people will change the whole conversation.

The mission statement that I propose will not be alien to the FAA. Their “Vision Statement” says,
We strive to reach the next level of safety, efficiency, environmental responsibility and global leadership. We are accountable to the American public and our stakeholders.
Somehow that vision of accountability to the American public has been overlooked. The mission overran the vision.


How do we move forward?

We need to remind the FAA that we are their ultimate customers, and we are the arbiters of their success or failure. They should be reminded every day by putting this into their mission statement. The Federal Aviation Administration exists for the benefit of the American people, not for the benefit of abstract notions of safety and efficiency. Change the mission statement and NextGen will naturally change to serve the new mission – one that enhances the lives of all Americans, in the air and on the ground.







Life is dukkha.
The hummingbird does not know this.
Oh to be a hummingbird.




The second amendment to the constitution of the United States states reads,
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Gun rights advocates vigorously support the Second Amendment. They point to writings by the founding fathers to bolster the argument that the amendment was well considered and precisely expressed their intent. These advocates maintain that along with the Constitution itself, the Second Amendment has helped this Democracy survive for over two hundred years. Consistently they use the Second Amendment to the Constitution as proof against regulating gun ownership. 

Meanwhile, those that support gun control suggest that the Second Amendment is flawed. That it is outdated. That the authors did not mean what it said, or were not in agreement about its content and how it was written. Gun control advocates maintain that the founding fathers could not have envisioned the power of modern weaponry – if they had they would not have used such strong and absolute language as, “shall not be infringed.”

As a thought experiment, I like to imagine an alternate reality, or parallel universe, in which the Second Amendment has different text. Let’s call it “Amendment 2A” (i.e. “Amendment 2 Alternate Reality.”)
Weapons, being capable of creating great harm and suffering, Congress shall strictly regulate the manufacture, possession, and use of arms, and shall enact and update laws from time to time to ensure that new weapons may not circumvent the regulations hereby compelled.
I wonder if, in this alternate reality, gun control advocates would support the 2A Amendment with the same kinds of arguments that gun rights groups use to advocate for the 2nd Amendment in our universe. Would people fighting for the rights of gun owners attack Amendment 2A, claiming that their founding fathers couldn’t have foreseen the dangers of the modern world – thieves, rapists, terrorists, and drug-lords. Would they suggest that Amendment 2A was outdated? That the authors hadn’t meant it to be so strongly worded? That gun rights should be expanded in spite of the 2A Amendment?

I ask this because there seems to be a strong correlation between conservatism, the belief in the fundamental rights of gun ownership, and originalism (the doctrine of interpreting the Constitution’s meaning as fixed at the time of its enactment.) Conversely, Liberals usually favor gun control and also tend towards loose Constitutional interpretation [except with respect to the first amendment, for which Liberals will fight to the death for the rights of the worst people in the world to say horrible things about them.]

I wonder to what degree these sets of corresponding attitudes are based on underlying beliefs. Is strict versus loose interpretation of the Bill of Rights simply a tool to defend or attack on this specific issue, or, do opinions on constitutional interpretation and gun ownership live within the people on the two sides of these issues, regardless of whether or not the constitution supports their position on guns.

If the Bill of Rights contained Amendment 2A, compelling gun control, instead of the 2nd Amendment that we actually have, would gun control advocates favor originalism and strict constitutional interpretation? Would gun rights groups call for loose interpretation? Or are attitudes towards guns, constitutional interpretation, and liberal vs. conservative values, connected at a deeper level. Would conservatives who favored gun ownership rights fight for strict interpretation of Amendment 2A, in spite of the fact that it would weaken their claims with respect to guns? Would liberals call for loose constitutional interpretation, even if 2A was the tool they used to compel gun control?

I wonder. What are your thoughts?




Punxsutawney Phil says, "There will be 30 more winters before groundhogs become extinct due to global climate change. Then you'll have to predict your own damned weather."

- Cartoon by Andrew Sigal -

SIGAL 2016 – A NEW CANDIDATE FOR A NEW DAY

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.

SIGAL 2016 – BECAUSE 14 CANDIDATES AREN’T ENOUGH



SIGAL 2016 - BECAUSE STRENGTH MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY

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.

SIGAL 2016 - WILLING TO SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR




SIGAL 2016 – A WORLD APART

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.

SIGAL 2016 – OUR ALPHABET IS OUR FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE



SIGAL 2016 - KNOW YOUR BORDERS AND BORDER YOUR KNOWLEGE

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

SIGAL 2016 – BECAUSE LAUGHING IS BETTER THAN CRYING




SIGAL 2016 – IF YOU VOTE FOR SOMEONE ELSE, THE TERRORISTS WILL HAVE WON

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

SIGAL 2016 - FAKE IT 'TILL YOU MAKE IT



SIGAL 2016 – BOLDLY THINKING WHAT NO ONE HAS THOUGHT BEFORE

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!

SIGAL 2016 - CRAZY RHETORIC FOR A NEW AMERICA ®




SIGAL 2016 - KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT IS HALF THE BATTLE

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.

SIGAL 2016 - MAKING YOU FEEL SAFE BY ENHANCING YOUR SENSE OF SECURITY



SIGAL 2016 – GREETING SAFETY FOR OUR CITIZENS

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

SIGAL 2016 – I KNOW A THREAT WHEN I SEE ONE




SIGAL 2016 - PUTTING THE PEE BACK IN PANDERING

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.

SIGAL 2016 - IF ITS GOOD ENOUGH FOR PINOCCHIO, ITS GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME



SIGAL 2016 - EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE

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

SIGAL 2016 – BRINGING AMERICA TOGETHER BY SPLITTING IT APART




SIGAL 2016 - STANDING UP FOR NOTHING BY STANDING UP FOR EVERYTHING

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.

SIGAL 2016 - STANDING UP FOR EVERYTHING BY STANDING UP FOR NOTHING



SIGAL 2016 - BAKING COOKIES FOR A BETTER TOMORROW

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.

SIGAL 2016 - AN APPLE A DAY IS A HELL OF A LOT OF APPLES




SIGAL 2016 - TALKING TOUGH WHILE TALKING

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.

SIGAL 2016 - CIRCULAR LOGIC IS BETTER THAN NO LOGIC AT ALL



SIGAL 2016 - WHERE FACT AND FICTION ARE ONE

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.

SIGAL 2016 - WISHFUL THINKING FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM




SIGAL 2016 - THINKING THE NEWEST THOUGHTS

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?

SIGAL 2016 - DELUSIONS ARE JUST CREATIVE THINKING THAT YOU DONT UNDERSTAND



SIGAL 2016 - ALL CAPITALS ARE FOR SLOGANS

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.

SIGAL 2016 - A SLOGAN IS A SOUNDBITE WITH EMPHASIS




SIGAL 2016 – A TOUGH LEADER FOR TOUGH TIMES

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.

SIGAL 2016 – LEADING THROUGH LEADERSHIP




SIGAL 2016 - COOL IDEAS FROM A HOT HEAD

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.

SIGAL 2016 - BREAKING WIND FOR AMERICA




SIGAL 2016 – A NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TRUTH

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.

SIGAL 2016 – WHEN THE TRUTH JUST ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH


Vote SIGAL in 2016
Thank you for your support!

#SIGAL2016

SIGAL 2016 – TINFOIL HATS FOR EVERYONE





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.

A-men.



[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.

Wow.