Thursday, October 8, 2015

Weighing-in on 5 of the Most Pressing Issues of the Day


Dear Readers,

In past columns I have tried hard to research and fully thrash out one perspective of a complex issue.  You will get none of that today.  Instead, here is my short 'take' on five really, really important issues that everyone has been talking about (I think).  
____________________________

DEFLATEGATE

Let’s start with the biggest story of the year.  It has been mostly resolved, thank goodness. Yet, there are still lingering questions.  Like why was it the biggest story of the year?  Fear not, I have the answer.  Ready?

Football is fun, and anything to do with football is fun.  And lots of people found it really fun to make up clever double entendres about Tom Brady’s, ahem, balls.  Besides, reading about truly important, horrific stories like the onslaught of ISIS is depressing.  

Anyway, here is a simple solution to avoid any more deflating-football controversies for those of you who are intent on taking the fun out of the news:  

Allow each team to inflate their football as much as they want, but insist that they use the same ball for the entire game.  Here is what would happen:  Each team would default to a similar level of air pressure.   

Why?  

If the ball is too deflated, it would compromise the distance it could be kicked or the speed it could be thrown.  On the other hand, if the ball were too inflated, it would compromise the quarterback’s control or the receiver’s ability to catch it.  So take away the rules and each team will self-regulate the football pressure just fine on their own.  

End of problem.   

Let’s go to another big issue, shall we?  


WHAT SHOULD YOU EAT?

What kind of food should you eat?  Whatever you want!  It’s a free country, right?  Oh sure, we could have a long in-depth discussion about what is the best food to eat if your goal is to maximize your health.  But that wouldn't be any fun, and besides nobody would listen.  Any author of diet books worth his weight (in salt) knows that people will only follow your advice if you can regurgitate "studies" that prove that the bad food you eat is really good for you.  But don't worry, no regurgitating is allowed here.

Instead, as a public service, I would like to share with you a simple method for perceiving the eating experience that should simplify your food choices for the rest of your life.  I call it The Gilfix Food Grid.

Please note the chart below:

THE GILFIX FOOD GRID


Like eating
Hate eating
Like having eaten

A


B
Hate having eaten

C


D


Let’s start with box “C” These are foods that taste great but make you feel awful afterwards, like hotdogs at a baseball game.   

Box “B,” on the other hand, is food that taste awful but makes you feel great after eating, like kale without the seasoning.  This would include any kind of food that is healthy but repugnant to your palate.  

Box “D” is food that is both unhealthy and untasty, like two-week old chicken covered with mold.  Don’t worry about these foods; you’ll never eat them unless you are feeling suicidal.   

Finally, Box “A” is foods that are both healthy -- so you feel great after eating -- and tasty -- so you enjoy them while eating.  Obviously, these are the foods we all should be eating most.

But what if the foods you ‘like having eaten’ because you think they are good for you are really bad for you?  Ah, a very good question!  Of course, in that situation you will still “like” having eaten but your health will decline.  However, you will not attribute your declining health to your diet, so you will stay happy.  

Regardless, the Gilfix Food Grid will help you in your food choices for the rest of your life.

Let’s move along.


TAKE THOSE DORITOS!

Take those Doritos. Just take them and walk out of the store.

What? That's dishonest!

Oh great, now I have to deal with honesty? Well let me ask you something: You know that nobody is watching and you know that the surveillance cameras aren't working, right?

Yeah, but -

Shhh. You're in a rush and you're hungry for junk food. Just take it.

But that's dishonest.

There you go again. Look!  What if I can guarantee you that no one will press charges even if they find out.  Hmm?  You know, everyone does it. (Besides, the Doritos company is rich and doesn’t need your money).

I just can't do it! I wasn't raised that way.

Oh great. I found me a modern day Horatio Alger, Richie Cunningham! Hey listen, I've got just one more question for you.  Have you ever copied a CD that you did not buy?

Huh?  But that’s different.  

Really?  

Absolutely! Oh sure!  It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions of dollars, to create a professional music album, and many people contribute their time and expertise including the composers, arrangers, performers, producers, recording specialists, and marketing group (everyone knows that).   But so what?  Let’s face it, copying CDs and downloading music illegally is widespread because everyone knows that copying isn’t really stealing.  Right??

Of course!  Taking a bag of Doritos isn’t really stealing either.  I mean, you’re just going to eat them. 

And now, another important issue ...


MORE STEROIDS PLEASE

Everybody needs a cause.  Mine is to help those anti-steroids enforcers in sports find a new cause that is more worthy of their time and energy.     

Why am I for steroids?  Well first, they help athletes who were not born with top athletic physiques.  Second, most of the arguments against them are really flawed.

Superiority in sports is mostly about luck of the gene pool.  Think back to your school days.  Do you remembers that kid, or a few kids, who were better than everyone else in whatever sport they were playing?  These athletic stars didn’t work harder than everyone else, they were just better naturally.  But why give nature the final say?   Those who were born with great sports physiques didn’t do anything to deserve their luck.  Steroids help to even the playing field.

By the way, I am only advocating that adult athletes be allowed to make their own decisions about steroids.

But steroids are unhealthy.  Sports are supposed to improve your health, not to cause health problems.

Ah, cut it out!  Boxing and football tend to cause brain damage, and car and motorcycle racing cause heart damage (race car drivers  have a nasty habit of dying in crashes - which is definitely bad for the heart); hockey causes irreparable teeth damage; and sumo wrestling is known to cause serious digestive issues.  

Besides, if steroids were legal then probably they would be safer; doctors would be able to help athletes administer them in safe doses, and drug companies would likely create drugs that were less deleterious.

Yes, but steroids are unnatural.  

So what?  Unless you are a practicing Christian Scientist you probably accept unnatural interference in sports, already.  It is “unnatural” to do complex arthroscopic shoulder surgery on a baseball pitcher who has a torn rotator cuff, or knee surgery on a hockey or basketball player.  Years ago such injuries would have ended the athlete’s career.

What about our students? This could have a bad influence on them.     

So are hotdog-eating contests.  And the television.  And almost all news about celebrities.  Perhaps you think that those examples are not comparable to a "bad influence" that encourages students to undertake greater health risks.  Fine.  Then let's also ban boxing, car racing, deep water diving, football, hockey, and climbing Mount Everest. 


And finally...


PLEASE DON’T VOTE

Since we are now immersed in another nauseating election cycle full of distortions, fabrications, conflations, stupidity, and outright lies – all of which are still better than not having an election cycle, I would like to offer the following advice (as a public service, of course):

Please Don't Vote! - (if you have to be convinced to vote).

I'm committed to voting, as are most of my friends.  But I don't want to convince people to vote who are too tired, too busy, too undecided, or who would rather watch TV.

I like the idea that people who don't care enough to vote should be allowed to decide not to vote.  It's the right decision for them.

Of course, if you promise me that you’ll vote for my candidate then maybe I’ll drive you to the polls.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Wrong Way to Sell the Iran Deal
By David Gilfix

Supporters of the Iran deal are trying to convince Americans that everyone else supports it too, except for a few renegades who are either war mongers, America haters, Israeli supporters who don’t care about the United States, or simply inferior analysts – depending on who is making the accusations.  Chuck Schumer has been accused of all four and more, in retaliation for declaring that he will vote his conscience rather than his Party.

But simple logic should tell us that not only are those who oppose the deal not an exception; they might actually be close to the majority.  Obama and Kerry must know this.  That is why they are selling this deal as an “Agreement” rather than a “Treaty.”   A “Treaty” requires the ratification of two-thirds of the Senate, and is binding on future presidents.  Clearly, this deal would have been presented as a Treaty if Obama believed he could win the two-thirds approval.  He didn’t.

Instead the deal is being submitted as an  “Agreement,” under the terms of the recently passed Corker Bill, which requires only a majority approval to pass.  As an Agreement, President Obama would be able to veto a majority rejection of the deal, providing he gets at least one-third plus one members of either the Senate or the House or Representatives to support the deal.  

So Obama is fighting to get one-third plus one votes in either house of Congress in order to pass the Agreement.  Those opposed to the Agreement are fighting to get two-thirds of both houses of Congress to disapprove the deal in order to reject it. 

And it is a fight.

Which means that not everyone approves the deal, despite the smug assumptions of some of its supporters. 

Not only is there disagreement among elected representatives, but also among voters.   Recent polls show mixed results.  According to data provided in an article posted on TheHill.com, the most recent Quinnipiac University poll indicates that 57 percent of Americans oppose the deal, while just 28 percent supported it (presumably the rest are undecided).  A July 20th ABC/Washington Post poll indicated the opposite, that 56 percent of Americans support the deal, while 37 percent oppose it. However, a Pew Research Center poll, released at the same time, of people familiar with the deal indicated that 48 percent rejected it and only 38 percent accepted it.

It is possible that, as the vote nears, some Democratic representative who are ‘on the fence’ about the deal will jump on the “support side” if they believe that Obama will get his needed one-third plus one votes either way.  But right now I think it is accurate to say that neither a majority of representatives or a majority of Americans clearly support the Iran deal.

Of course, none of these polls address the actual issues around the deal.  They simply demonstrate that the argument that ‘you should support the deal because everyone else does’ – which is a stupid method of decision making, anyway – is factually wrong.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thomas Friedman Tries To Ruin My Day with Conflation
by David Gilfix


If I were to teach a course in critical reading I think that I would include Thomas Friedman’s most recent article, “Go ahead, Ruin My Day,” as one of the required texts.

This was vintage Friedman.  Well written, well paced, covering all the hot topics, and definitely pointed.  (Here’s some news to “ruin my day”).

Friedman is a master of conflation, a persuasion technique that usually has as its goal inflation.  It works like this:  you include, or “conflate” different examples in order to inflate the severity of the least valid example.   In this case, the three example of bad news that might “ruin” your day were the Israeli elections, ISIS, and Iran. 

Of course, Friedman doesn’t actually ‘say’ that each example is similarly bad, and perhaps he doesn’t even believe it himself.   But by including each of the examples in the same column he is signaling to his readers that we should consider the elections results to be something very bad.

Conflationists like to lump together certain themes, such as bigotry.   ISIS is a bigoted, racist group, and Netanyahu made some campaign comments that could be considered bigoted.  Yes, except that ISIS cuts off your head and pushes gay citizens to their death off of high buildings.  And they kill you if you refuse to convert to Islam.

By that way of thinking we could certainly lump Churchill and Hitler:  Winston Churchill made many comments that could be considered racist, and so did Hitler.  Therefore let’s include them both in the same column.   (I hope that doesn’t  “ruin your day”).

To support his cause, Friedman throws in some examples that will appeal to critics of Israel who like simple answers to complex issues, such as the settlements (as if everyone ‘knows’ that they are both illegal and the cause of the conflict).  Also, to appear fair, Friedman discusses the lack of peace and concedes that we should not “put all of this on Netanyahu,” and then points to the “insane worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer,” and the fact that the Palestinians “spurned” two previous “two-state offers” from Barak and Olmert. 

But if the Palestinians spurned two previous land-for-peace offers and if Hamas initiated a war last summer after Abbas walked out on negotiations and made an alliance with Hamas, then why blame the lack of peace on Israel?

Friedman doesn’t, he is much too clever. 

Instead he simply conflates different “wrongs” to make his point:  Israel has settlements and the Palestinians rejected two peace treaties and started a war in Gaza.  (But remember, we shouldn’t “put all of this on Netanyahu.”).

What happened in Israel, yesterday, was Democracy.  Yes, the campaigning got dirty at times, and some of us (and Mr. Friedman and President Obama) might not like the results, but that is how it works in democracies.

By the way, one result of the election is that the number of Arab members of the Israeli Knesset increased from eleven to seventeen.   




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Strategy for Failure in the Middle East
by David Gilfix

It is difficult to believe that anyone really expected success in the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, especially US Secretary of State, John Kerry.  In case you were too busy or fed-up by the whole process to follow, I’ll explain via analogy.  

Let’s imagine that a man who has been unemployed for several years finally lands an interview at a major firm.  The manager of the firm phones this man to arrange a time, but the man questions, “What are you going to give me to come to this meeting?”

“I don’t understand,” says the manager.

The man explains that his time is busy and he needs some sort of ‘enticement’ before he will show up for the interview.   The manager is flabbergasted. 

How would you respond if you were the manager?

Now back to the Middle East.

Sixty-six years after the birth of Israel, the Palestinians were given yet another opportunity to negotiate a land-for-peace deal, courtesy of Obama and Kerry.  Of course, this comes after the Palestinians rejected the 1947 UN Palestine Partition Plan, which the Jews accepted.  The Palestinians opted, with other Arab nations, for war that they hoped would win them all of the land.  They lost.  This also comes after they rejected Israel’s land-for-peace offers in 1967 right after the 6-Day War, again in 2000 at Camp David, and 2001 at Taba, and then again in 2008 (then ironically complained about the Israeli settlements on the disputed territories, which never would have been an issue had they accepted land-for-peace).

In this latest round, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to negotiate, but Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, reacted in a manner eerily similar to the job candidate seeking enticement: “What are you going to give me to come to the meeting?”

“I don’t understand,” essentially replied Kerry.

Abbas explained that Israel must first release 104 Palestinian criminals from prison, including many terrorists convicted of murdering civilians.  Otherwise, the Palestinians would pursue unilateral “diplomatic relations” in the United Nations, which has a well documented history of bias against Israel. 

Netanyahu actually complied – to a point.  Israel released 78 of the 104 convicts.  However, as talks staggered, he also requested guarantees from Abbas that the Palestinians would continue negotiating throughout 2014 before Israel released the final round.  Instead of committing to negotiations, Abbas, who had already secured the release of 78 convicts and given nothing in return, ceased diplomacy, declared that he would take his case before the UN, and serendipitously announced a “reconciliation agreement” between Fatah (his group) and Hamas, which continues to pursue a charter that explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews.

True, it is more complicated than that.  We can hash out the play-by-play of who said and did what when, as if the details are the cause of the negotiations breakdown.  But the first move should have told the story. 

If you want murderers released as a prerequisite to peace negotiations, then chances are the negotiations will fail.  So why pretend?

Meanwhile, as a demonstration of its true devotion to “coexistence,” Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran issued a call to members of the Al-Qassam Brigades to kill Jews on the West Bank. 

The real question is whether Abbas was ever committed to negotiations in the first place.  Certainly, if he truly wanted land-for-peace then he would have found a way to negotiate with Israel.  However, if he was committed to land without peace (or if he didn't want to suffer the consequences of signing a peace treaty with Israel), then he might have believed he could achieve this through the UN.  The problem is that he couldn’t go back to the UN unless the negotiations with Israel broke down first.  But could he find a way to make sure that the negotiations would fail?

Yes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eulogy for Dad
by David Gilfix


                                   My father, Edward Gilfix, passed 
                                              away on March 17, 2014 (the 15 of Adar)

There was a movie scene that disturbed my father that I will never forget.  The movie, Bound for Glory, was based on the autobiographical book by folk singer Woody Guthrie, and in the scene that disturbed my Dad, Woody Guthrie walks out on his wife and family.  I still remember my father’s reaction, as we watched it together on television in the early 80s.  He said, simply, “I don’t respect that.”  It didn’t matter that Woody was frustrated with his work or experiencing marital strife, or even that had he stayed the “glory” that Woody would later achieve as perhaps the greatest American folk singer might have eluded him.   Dad did not respect that.

My father believed in taking responsibility.  It was at the core of his identity; being able to respond when anyone needed him, including friends, family, neighbors, strangers.  If anyone needed advice he was always willing to help.  He was great at solving practical problems, but also wise in a moral/ethical sense.  What ever you needed he was the go-to person. 

My father respected religion, but he was not religious, even though he was a proud Jew and a Zionist and he certainly knew a lot about his Jewish heritage.  Yet, I have never known anyone with higher “middos,” which is a Hebrew word meaning “measures” that refers to character traits.  In my entire life I never heard my father say a really mean comment about anyone.  I never saw him treat anyone with disrespect or prejudice or belittlement; I never saw him cheat anyone, or try to escape a responsibility when it would have been easy to do so.  He took the very worst news, like getting ALS, about as bravely and as maturely as anyone could.  He didn’t complain; he just tried his best to keep enjoying life.  One challenge at a time.

There is the famous Jewish joke about the two highly accomplished men who passionately pray on Yom Kippur.  Each of them begins his prayer by saying, “God, even though I am nothing please listen to me.”  After these men finish praying, they overhear a beggar begin his prayer the same way, “God even though I am nothing …” where upon the two accomplished men turn to each other and whisper “look who thinks he is nothing!”   My father was humble not in the fake sense of someone who thinks he is superior but knows enough not to act that way.  Rather, he truly respected people for who they were.  I would love to brag about his many professional accomplishments but I know that he wouldn’t like it.  In fact, Dad probably wouldn’t have liked me even to mention the words “professional accomplishments” (sorry Dad). 

The essence of my father really had to do with his love of life, love of learning, his interest in almost everything, his love of family and friends, his love and devotion to my mother and her love and devotion to him.  My parents were married for 62 years (which is 55 years longer than most marriages).  They had to be doing something right!  Whenever we would visit my father would truly light up, he was so happy to see us.


I was talking this morning with Dad’s friend, Arthur Kaledin, who couldn’t be here today.  Arthur called Dad one of the “few truly good men that I have known.”  I am very grateful for the years I have had with my father.   He was a truly good man and a truly good father.  I love you, Dad.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Do We Really Choose Our Presidents?
by David Gilfix


Everything you need to know about elections can be learned from the frumpy lady, Susan Boyle.  You remember her, right?  She appeared on the 2009 Britain’s Got Talent television show wearing clothes designed not to impress and a hairdo designed not to impress, and as Simon Cowell talked with her he was clearly not impressed.  The YouTube recording of the episode, which has been viewed almost 109 million times, shows audience members smiling, rolling their eyes, and shaking their heads.  Dismissive.  Unimpressed.
And then she sang. 
The audience melted in her arms.  And Simon Cowell became the bad guy.  How dare he make assumptions about her talent based on her looks? 
Today, sufficient information is available to indicate that the whole episode was a set-up.  Simon Cowell and the other two judges probably knew beforehand that the frumpy lady (and according to one source, more than 95 percent of the articles about Susan Boyle have used the same adjective) was a phenomenal singer.  By playing the bad guy with the prejudices, Cowell allowed the audience to experience the surprise of Boyle’s talent with impunity by pretending that it was Cowell ­– not they – who had prejudged.  
We would like to believe that we assess others objectively, and that even if prejudicial elements cloud our judgment, in the end we will overcome these shortcomings, just as Simon Cowell and the audience (and we!) overcame initial skepticism about Susan Boyle.  To misquote the adage, it ain’t over until the frumpy lady sings.  Right?
Not in presidential elections.  Unlike Britain’s Got Talent show (and much of the entertainment world), a statistical case could be made that the race is over long before the candidates sing.  In order to succeed, to misquote the Beatles, all you need is looks.
Here’s how we elect our presidents:
First, of course, we require the candidate to be male.   In our egalitarian 21st century society this might change, but for now it is still a statistical guarantee.  So fifty percent of our population is automatically eliminated.
Of the 50 percent remaining, the next factor to consider is weight.  There have only been five overweight or obese presidents: Taft, Cleveland, McKinley, Taylor, and Teddy Roosevelt (data taken from A History of Fat Presidents, Forbes Magazine).  Of these five, only Taft was elected after 1900.  President Clinton struggled with his weight, but in my opinion it would have been more accurate to call him “heavy set.”  (Incidentally, Clinton has recently adopted a vegan diet and eliminated all his weight problems).  

Anyway, out of the 28 elections since 1900, only President Taft could be considered overweight or obese, which means that in 96.43 percent of the elections a non-obese candidate was elected. 
This means that the 72 percent of American males who happen to be overweight or obese (according to The National Institution of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, NIDDK) have a tiny chance of ever becoming president of the United States. 
If we eliminate 96.43 percent of the 72 percent of males that are overweight or obese, equivalent to 69.12 percent, we are left with 31 percent of the male population or 15.5 percent of the entire population.  The talent pool is clearly shrinking!
The next factor to consider is skin pigmentation.  Of the 28 elections since 1900, only one was won by a non-Caucasian, President Obama.  Therefore, based only on the post 1900 election data, there is also an overwhelming 96.43 percent chance that a white candidate will be elected.  Of course, raw figures don’t tell the entire story.  Whereas only non-overweight/obese presidents have been elected after President Taft, we can’t infer a similar statistical trend with skin pigmentation since President Obama is African American.  As such, it is difficult to determine whether the last election was an aberration or a sign of changing trends from more non-white voters or shifts in social attitudes.   
But the frumpy lady still hasn’t sung.
What about height?
The average height of an American male is 5’9.2”, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.  For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that the average is the same as the median. I realize that the real statisticians out there would probably want to tweak my number, but a quick glance at one on-line bell curve chart of heights-by-percentage did indicate that this assumption was not too unreasonable.   Since, by definition, half of the population is at or below the median height, one might presume that there would be an equal number of presidents above and below 5’9” in an unbiased environment.
 
Fat chance.  (Or perhaps we should we say, less than obese chance).
Since 1900, voters have not elected a single president who was below average height.  Therefore we can eliminate half of the remaining 31 percent of males or 15.5 percent of the entire population.  We’re left with a talent pool of 15.5 percent of all males, or 7.75 percent of the entire population.
And the frumpy lady still hasn’t sung.
In the 28 elections held since 1900, the candidates were of equal height twice; and of the remaining 26 elections, the shorter candidate won only 7 times.  This means that in 73 percent of the elections, the taller candidate has won.  
Therefore, even if you never read a single analysis or followed a single poll and simply placed your bet on the tallest candidate to be elected president, you would be right more often than many of the “experts.”
But the 73 percent figure might be misleading.  Of the seven elections in which the shorter candidate won, three were of unusual circumstances:
  •     In 2000, George W. Bush defeated Albert Gore.  However, Gore won the popular vote, so we could say that the majority of people did vote for the taller candidate.
  •     In 1976, Jimmy Carter, 5’9 ½” (average height) defeated a taller Gerald Ford.  But this was right after Watergate, and Ford was the only president, ever, for whom nobody voted.
  •    1972, Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern.  Nixon eventually left office over the Watergate scandal.  I believe it is legitimate to question whether Nixon would have won if he had run a clean campaign.  
If we eliminated those three elections from our pool, then we are left with only four occasions (out of 23 elections) in which the shorter candidate has won. Expressed differently, the taller candidate has won 82 percent of all elections.
Incidentally, for all you serious statisticians out there, I have assumed that overweight/obese characteristics are evenly distributed among people who are above and below median height.  But that might be incorrect, so, again, these figures might need to be tweaked.
What about facial characteristics?
In 2007, a fascinating study was conducted by researchers at Princeton University in which graduate students were shown photographs of senatorial and gubernatorial candidates that they did not know and asked to determine, based on looks alone, which one appeared more competent.  As reported on ABC News by Raja Jagadeesan, M.D., the participants correctly predicted the winners of the actual gubernatorial campaign 69 percent of the time, and the winners of the senatorial campaigns 72 percent of the time.  This is without ever actually seeing the candidates or knowing anything about their policies, experience, or political party.
While the study was small, and a larger follow-up study might provide more credibility, the results still are eye opening.  Of course, a similar study could not be conducted on presidential candidates since almost all voters could identify them by appearance.  However, it should be noted that if the Princeton study were accurate, then it would suggest that the major presidential candidates have already gone through a facial “vetting” process in order to have become governor or senator, and be in a position to run for president. 
So how do we choose our presidents?
First we eliminate over 90 percent of the population: women, heavy or obese men, and men who are below average height.  Facial characteristics also play a significant role.  Then, of the remaining pool of candidates, which in my view is clearly below 10 percent, we try to find decent candidates.  And then, usually, we elect the tallest one.
Usually.
Statistical likelihood doesn’t mean certainty.  Obama, at 6’1” might defeat Romney at 6’2”.  Either way, it is probable that neither would be in the contest if they didn’t have the requisite looks.
In presidential elections often the winner isn’t the candidate who sings best but the one who best looks the part.  And we’re just touching the surface of the difference between the appearance of competence and actual competence.