27 October 2010


CARTER. A dear friend and I were discussing politics a few days ago, specifically how election campaigns have become exercises in slander and mean-spiritedness. My view at the time was that there is no single U.S. president who, if all the secrets in his closet were revealed, would be immune from scandal. This includes those regarded as great presidents, e.g. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, or John F. Kennedy. Further reflection has led me to amend my cynicism. Our thirty-ninth president has led his life according to high ideals, both in and out of office. Jimmy Carter might not be the first name to pop into the minds of many as one of our great leaders, but this decent and humble man has achieved much.

Consider: "In his one term, his administration oversaw the creation of the Energy and Education Departments, the Israel-Egypt Camp David Accords, the Soviet Union Salt II Treaty and U.S. diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. After leaving office, he founded the Carter Center and has been tirelessly active in Habitat For Humanity and international public policy. He's a Nobel laureate, a "Best Spoken Word" Grammy winner, and best-selling author who has written more books than any other president."

The above quote appears as a brief bio for Carter on Tavis Smiley's website. Smiley interviews public figures for his programs on both PBS and NPR. I chanced to see Smiley's most recent interview with Jimmy Carter earlier this week, and was reminded that Carter never ceases to amaze me. At age 86, he is a deep and profound thinker and an articulate speaker. His self-deprecating sense of humor and his insights into the motivations of human behavior are a model of decorum and wisdom. This elder statesman has been asked to act as a peace broker between warring nations on numerous occasions, with good reason.

Here is a link to Smiley's complete interview with Carter. Click on the third "play" arrow down, labeled "Full Interview." Carter discusses his newest book, a candid memoir based on notes he took while president, and he also offers pointed observations on today's squalid politics. The man is a national treasure.

SUPERSTITION. Virtually all myths and superstitions (including religious beliefs) are based upon limited anecdotal evidence, often taking the word of one or a few individuals on faith. The facts may be further distorted by repeated inaccurate translations from one language to the next, or by the personal agendas of those in power. In reality, events which may seem remarkable or even miraculous lose their power when considered in a wider context. This is where the lens of statistics comes in handy, as colorfully described by Tarik Moosa in his essay Statistics - Destroyer of Superstitious Pretension. Using examples both ancient and modern, Moosa demonstrates how certain popularly-held beliefs do not hold up to the scrutiny of mathematical common sense. For those who dismiss statistics as a tool capable of proving or disproving anything, please note that it is the interpretation which is at fault, not the tool itself. This is why it behooves each of us to learn as much as we can about the world -- science, the arts, math, language, economics, human psychology -- so that we may intelligently grasp when we are witnessing truth, and when we are being led down the garden path. In today's world, there is no excuse for willful, intentional ignorance.

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