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Friday, April 11, 2014

“Some Lottery Winners Score $400 Million”—An April Fool’s Day Joke




As described in this blog in past posts [see Related Posts below] my mother was not to be trusted on April Fool’s Day.  Every April 1st was a morning that I awoke with dread, or, if I forgot, regretted my mistake.  My sister, Mary Beth Colpitts, has carried on this tradition, though—thankfully—not with me as its intended victim.  As this post reveals, I myself am not above mischief on this traditional day of fun.

I was married this past November to David Vargo, a wonderful man who trusts me.  A perfect setup for April Fool's Day fun.  But I knew I had to play it carefully.  David is a sensitive person and I didn’t want to worry him with some cruel exploitation (“I have cancer”), even if very temporary.  A good April Fool’s prank is harmless, and the best ones raise the spirits instead of depressing the victim . . . er, subject of the joke.  I rejected a number of possibilities before settling on the scheme I chose.

We have two cats, much discussed in this blog: Mama and Barney.  Mama is so named because at the age of twelve months, declawed but not spayed, she got out of her prior home, had an adventure with a tomcat, and produced a litter of kittens in the urban wild before she and two surviving kittens were rescued, taken to a vet, the kittens weaned, and Mama (now spayed) passed on to me to raise (four years ago).  Barney is a tom, large, grey, friendly, dumb, extremely lovable.  He was neutered and declawed when I took him home from a cat shelter also four years ago.    David loves both of these cats very much, and that affection is reciprocated.  Barney follows him around like a dog when David comes home from work.
Mama and Barney at Play


So on Tuesday, April 1 of this year I texted David the following message: 

Mama hacking like hairball caught in her throat so I took her to the vet.  He says she is pregnant!!!  I told him that was impossible but he explained the ways it could have happened, which I’ll detail for you tonight.  In any event, get ready for kittens. 

Almost immediately the phone rang.  It was David calling from work, which he never does, asking for more of an explanation.  I said that it was complicated but that the vet did give us the option of aborting the kittens immediately.  David was horrified at that, and quickly said, “No, no.  We’ll deal with the kittens.”  I thought that was sweet.

When he came home two hours later he was exuberant.  Patting Mama he commented “Preggers, eh?” with a smile, and he picked up Barney and hugged him while cooing “You dog, you!”  At his urging I explained that the vet detailed how it all could have happened, saying that a female cat who is spayed has had her plumbing rearranged, but that is some rare cases it can reconnect, causing her to go into heat.  The vet noted that Mama is something of a butterball and that this occurrence never happens unless the cat gets some real exercise regularly.  As I knew he would David lit up at this.  “Mama is forever tearing around the house at great speeds,” he enthused.  Yes, she does; we call her the “galloping cat” when she goes whizzing by.  “But what about Barney?” David asked.  “Well,” I went on, “the vet says the same thing can happen to a neutered male, and particularly if a female goes into heat.  The vet asked me if Barney shows any signs of an interest in sex.”  “Yes!” David replied firmly.  In spite of being neutered Barney masturbates every night, though his rubbing against the bed clothes produces nothing more than an apparently satisfying climax. I continued, “The vet said that in very rare circumstances neutering too can come undone.”

“This is all really unlikely,” David remarked, shaking his head, puzzled.  I lit up.  “The vet said the same thing—that the odds of either thing happening to one cat are great and the odds that it would occur to both at the same time mathematically almost impossible!  But then the vet added that ‘Someone has to hit the lottery in spite of similar incredible odds, and this is just like that except instead of $400 million you get kittens!’”  David laughed delightedly.  “Can you imagine how wonderful the kittens of Barney and Mama will be?”

The joke having succeeded it was unfortunately time for the decompression.  “The vet also added,” I continued, “that these things are most likely to come together at this particular time of the year.”  David didn’t understand, so I elaborated, “April 1st.”

The light dawned.  NOOOOO!!!” he wailed.  No kittens at all?  My poor husband was torn between laughter and the major disappointment that we weren’t about to have a birth event in the condo as so recently contemplated.

David and the Childless Barney

Our good friend Pamela is now down from thirteen cats to five, and when she heard this story she snorted in derision, “No one could believe that!  When a cat is spayed they don’t just disconnect things, they cut them out!”  But when I carefully related my prank as if it were an actual event to five or six other people (including my prankster sister, who heard the story on April 1st) they all fell for it just as David had.  Pamela is an expert on cats in a way that most people are not.  And we all root for motherhood.

I’m already planning next year’s April Fool’s Day stunt, but it will have to be carefully executed. 

David’s on his guard now but we’ll see if it holds up for an entire year.

 

Related Posts:
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
“Barney and the Big Mammal Nightmare,” January 7, 2013
“Amusing Pictures of Cats and Other Animals,” May 10, 2013
“My Cats Get Involved in My Knee Surgery and Selling My Condo,” June 7, 2013
"Teaching Cats the Rules of the House," July 16, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How To Respond to a Legal Threat



In a prior post [see Related Topics below] I advised readers on how to craft a legal threat letter.  This post is the opposite of that: how to respond to a threat of legal action (whether in writing or verbal).  There are a number of possibilities, so let’s take them one by one.

1. Keep Calm. Yes, the threat of legal action is scary, but your response should be the result of clear thinking, and you can’t do that if you’re in panic mode.  You need time to consider your options, so if the threat is oral (over the phone or in person) work to get some breathing room.  First make sure you understand the nature of the threat: who is making it (get names and contact information), what the circumstances are giving rise to the claim, what legal theory is being threatened, and what are the time constraints for your response?  Don’t spout off.  A calm, mannered answer, delaying your formal response, will work better than a rant.  If the person says you must respond “NOW!” reply that you will think about the issue, talk to your lawyer (don’t admit you don’t have one), and get back to him/her.  Then walk away or disconnect the phone caller.

2. Debt Collection.  If the legal claim is that you owe a debt, first of all ask yourself if it’s true that the debt is owed and in the amount stated.  If not, dispute that.  If so, can you figure a way to pay it?  In any event, you can stop debt collection harassment by invoking the protection of a federal statute: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 United States Code section 1601 and the sections that follow), the text of which can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/fair-debt-collection-practices-act-text, and the Federal Trade Commission’s explanation of the Act is at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection.   In the statute you have the right to stop the debt collector’s future contacts by giving the debt collector a notice in writing (keep a copy) in which you demand that further contact with you cease, and the collector must then stop contacting you except for the purpose of initiating legal actions (such as filing a lawsuit).  Even without such a written notice from you, the debt collector cannot harass you (and the statute has examples of what sorts of conduct are forbidden as harassment). Violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act give you a legal cause of action against the debt collector for your actual damages plus attorneys fees and punitive damages (up to $1000.00) for outrageous behavior.
 
 

 If you can’t pay the debt, tell the creditor that you don’t have any money (the legal term is that you are “judgment proof” or as the old saying goes “you can’t get blood out of turnip”).  If you have the possibility of paying some of the debt, offer to pay a lesser sum as satisfaction for the whole, mentioning that if you can’t work something out you may have no other choice by to file a bankruptcy petition.  If the creditor agrees to take a lesser sum, send him/her a payment in full check [see Related Posts below].  Without the creditor’s express agreement, a payment in full check will not work.

3. Are You Guilty?  We all justify our actions to ourselves and are very good at coming up with arguments as to why we’re right.  Once these conclusions are fixed in our minds it’s very, very difficult to rethink them.  But when the legal threat arrives it’s time for some soul-searching.  Ask yourself how some objective person, say, a judge, is going to view this matter.  Here is a sobering challenge: put yourself in the position of the other side.  What does this all look like from that point of view?  If this mess ends up in court what ugly facts will come out that’ll be very damaging to your version of the matter?

What are the equities of the situation?  What’s fair and what’s not fair?  Understanding the equities is important.  I tell my law students that if you are filing a law suit and you’ve got the rules of law on your side are while the equities are all on the other, you’re in trouble.  Courts tend to do what’s equitable, and they can adjust the law as needed to reach that result if they’ve a mind to do so.



What should you do if the other side is right?  You really do owe the debt.  You did cause the accident.  Your dog did eat their favorite child.  You certainly want to avoid a lawsuit if you possibly can because even if you win the whole experience will be a real ordeal, and if you lose life could become a nightmare.

Apologize!  An apology, sincerely given, can work wonders.  If you’re guilty, it’s time to propose a settlement.  Sit down, work things out—be the most reasonable person on the planet.  People are often surprised and impressed by a sincere apology.
 
 
If you have multiple creditors, get them together and see if you can’t work out a payment plan whereby each takes a “haircut” by lopping off some of the amount due (in order to get anything at all).  Such a workout is called a “composition of creditors,” and the resulting contractual agreement between all involved is enforceable as a contract.

If the other side won’t settle, consider the possibility of filing a bankruptcy petition, which automatically stops all creditor collection activity and lets the bankruptcy court straighten things out.  Threatening bankruptcy can make many creditors more compliant.  The forms should be filed in the Federal District Court Bankruptcy Division nearest you.  You’ll need a bankruptcy lawyer, and it is usually easy to find one who can figure out some sort of fee payment plan.  Ask around among people who have gone bankrupt if they had a good experience with their attorney.  The court itself might be a source of information about which lawyers are experts at handling bankruptcy petitions, and the bar association will have such a list.



4. Violations of other laws. I’ve written elsewhere [see Related Posts below] about fraud, federal or state consumer protection statutes that might be relevant and help you find the relevant defense.  Type “consumer protection” along with your state’s name into Google and see what comes up.

5. Get a lawyer. You wouldn’t do your own medical operations if you were injured, you’d pay a doctor.  If you have legal trouble, it’s time to bite the bullet and pay a good lawyer.  How do you find one?  Friends might have a recommendation, but make sure you get an expert in the particular field of law at issue.  Contact the local bar association, which typically has a list of lawyers in various fields who are willing to take on new clients.  The first thing to ask the lawyer is what he/she will charge.  Without know this, it’s impossible to decide whether to proceed.  Don’t be shy in asking about the fee upfront.  If you can’t afford a lawyer, call the legal aid society.  Use Google to find a legal aid office near you, and then see if your plight will attract their attention.  Or perhaps you have a lawyer friend who could help you pro bono.



6.  Dig In Your Heels.  If you’re sure that you are in the right (don’t make a mistake as to this), but the other side is being unreasonable in pursuing a groundless claim, tell them you have no more to say.  See if they are willing to go to court to press an unwinnable case.  Many people, faced with a flat refusal, will fume and curse you but ultimately give up.  If they don’t, well then a court will have to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong.  But doing nothing can be a powerful tactic if the other side doesn’t have the will to proceed.
 
 
7.  Conclusion.  Legal troubles can be hell on earth, and I don’t envy you your situation.  Good luck with resolving your problem.  Please do not write me for specific legal advice.  I’m retired and no longer practicing law at all, and it’s unethical for me to give legal advice—even free legal advice—when I’m not authorized to practice in the jurisdiction where you live.

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Related Posts:
“The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver,” April 11, 2011
“What Non-Lawyers Should Know About Warranties,” October 11, 2011
“How To Write an Effective Legal Threat Letter,” October 19,2011
“Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article,” February 11, 2013
"Legal Terms You Should Know,” September 13, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?


 


The State of Arizona has recently endured an embarrassing episode where the legislature passed an amendment to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs.  This caused such a national outcry and threats of boycotting Arizona (moving the Superbowl from there next year!!!) that even legislators who’d voted for the bill were startled by what might happen and urged Governor Jan Brewer to veto it, which she promptly did.  The dustup over this caused the withdrawal of similar bills in other states, including Ohio where I live.  Whew!

So consider this question.  If you’re a baker in a town in Arizona and your religious beliefs cause you to abhor homosexuals, and then a gay couple asks you to bake them a wedding cake and you refuse, does this obvious discrimination now expose you to a lawsuit? 

No.  It doesn’t.  Residents of Arizona (except Phoenix, which has a municipal ordinance protecting gays from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations) are perfectly free to be as homophobic as they like in refusing to hire or retain gay employees, rent them rooms or sell them houses, and deal with them in public businesses like a bakery.  There is neither an Arizona statute nor federal law that gives gay people any protection at all in these matters.

What?  If that’s the case, why did the Arizona legislature feel it was necessary to pass the homophobic bill in the first place?  Apparently the legislators were frightened by lawsuits in other states (Oregon, Colorado) where bakers (and retailers in similar situations) were successfully sued by gays who were turned away at the bakery door.  And it’s true that the Arizona statute would have voided the part of the Phoenix ordinance dealing with discrimination as to public accommodation.  Both Oregon and Colorado do have state laws protecting gays from this sort of discrimination, hence the successful lawsuits there.
 
 
But, really, isn’t there some federal law being violated by discrimination against gays?  No, and so far Barack Obama has refused to issue an executive order in hiring matters to protect gay federal employees.  For years Congress has made attempts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [“ENDA”] which would add anti-gay discrimination in hiring (but not housing or public accommodations) to the Civil Rights Laws.  It has always failed to clear prior Congresses, but the current Senate did manage to vote for the bill (with admirable bi-partisan support, including Republican Senators like John McCain).  Alas, the bill stands no change of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representative. 




Senator Ted Cruz (R. Texas) has recently introduced a bill in the Senate which would allow states to refuse to recognize marriages validly entered into by gay couples in other states (it is co-sponsored by Senator Mike Lee (R. Utah)).  The bill has no chance of even being voted on in the Democratically-controlled Senate, and, in any event, would be vetoed by President Obama.  But Cruz says that his “heart weeps” over the progress that gays are making, and his anti-gay activities make him the darling of the Tea Party just as the 2016 Presidential campaign begins to awaken.
 
 
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people (some of which also protect transgendered individuals), and many municipalities have ordinances doing the same.  Below is a chart on point that the ACBL has created; for a clickable-version see //www.aclu.org/maps/non-discrimination-laws-state-state-information-map.



Finally let me note that, as I’ve said before, I’m very sure that gay marriage itself will be completely legal in all states by 2016 when the United States Supreme Court takes the happy step of using the 14th Amendment to grant equal protection to gays who love each other and decide to claim the legal status that marriage bestows in so many ways.
 
 

Related Posts:
Boycott ‘Ender’s Game’?  Orson Scott Card and Profiting From Homophobia,” September 20, 2013
“Disowning Your Gay Children,” October 9, 2013
"Falling in Love, Turning 70, and Getting Married," October 21, 2013

“Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?” November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On Stage Again: Acting in Edward Albee’s “Seascape”


 
 

Edward Albee
When I retired from fulltime law teaching at Ohio State in 2004 I went back to doing things I’d much enjoyed when younger: playing bridge, writing fiction, and doing theater.  One of the first community theater groups that I was much involved with was Little Theater Off Broadway, located in Grove City, Ohio, a Columbus suburb on the south side.  I have done five previous shows there (acting in four, directing one), but the last was in 2008.  However weeks ago I auditioned for and was given the lead male role of “Charlie” in LTOB’s next production: Edward Albee’s “Seascape.”  The play was originally produced on Broadway in 1975, directing by Albee himself, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year.  Though I read it when it first came out, and it has always been a favorite (right behind “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in my list of his finest plays), I have never seen a production.

The play is best described as a comedy, but like all of Albee’s plays it contains big themes, and in this case the theme is evolution.  As readers of this blog know, I have a lot to say about evolution, so I’m thrilled that for the eleven performances of the play I will get to explain the concept in Albee’s wonderful words.  Here are some of my lines on point:

 
The four-character plot takes place on a beach where an older couple (Charlie and Nancy) are discussing their life together when two giant lizards come crawling out of the sea, exploring the idea of evolving to a life on land.  In this fantastical tale the lizards speak English, and are very funny as they try to comprehend what humans do up here on the surface.  It all ends well, and I think audiences will be both fascinated and entertained.  It’s certainly fun to rehearse, and the other cast members (Sue Rapier as Nancy, and Kaylee Johnson and John Sorenson as the lizards) and our terrific director, Lisa Cravens-Brown are excellent.  If you want to come see us, here is the postcard LTOB sent out with all the relevant show information:

 


I might also mention that my husband, David Vargo, who was a professional actor earlier in his life, has also been cast in a play here in Columbus, opening at the same time.  He’s in “Play On” (a farce about a community theater putting a play by a local playwright who keeps changing the lines right up to the opening) at Worthington Community Theater.  Details as to that production can be found at http://wctpresents.org/?page_id=21.

Finally, changing topics, I’ve agreed to teach the course in Debtor-Creditor Law (i.e., bankruptcy) this fall at Ohio State, so I’ll be back in the classroom again, the first time since 2012.  But, of course, that’s not open to the public, so come see the fun I’m having in “Seascape” instead.
 
 
 
 

Related Posts:
“Douglas Whaley, Actor,” August 14, 2010
“Directing 'Closure',” June 5, 2010
“I Am an 89 Year-Old Russian Jew,” January 31, 2011
“Another Opening, Another Show: Doug is in ‘Hamlet,’” April 29, 2011
“Acting Crazy: Doug in a New Show,” October 25, 2012
Speaking at Atheist Conventions, Directing a Play, and that Move to Florida,” July 5, 2013
“Is Evolution True?” July 13, 2011
If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?” January27, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction



 
After United States v. Windsor,  the United States Supreme Court decision last June that struck down the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] forbidding the federal government from recognizing gay marriages validly performed in a jurisdiction where they're legal, I wrote a blog post predicting that the Court would go further next time and rule that a gay marriage valid in one state is valid in all states.  [See Related Posts below.]  Now, on Valentine's Day, I go further.  Certainly by the end of June of 2016, and quite possibly by the end of June in 2015 the Court will rule that any state law forbidding gays to marry is unconstitutional.  That will instantly make gay marriages possible everywhere, a stunning development.



Edith Windsor Celebrating
When the Court handed down the DOMA decision it allowed Edie Windsor to get back the $363,000 the federal government had forced her to pay as an inheritance tax when her wife died, and made Edith a hero of the gay movement.  But the Court’s sweeping language in swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion used both the Constitution’s due process and equal protection mandates to invalidate DOMA, stating: 
DOMA under­mines both the public and private significance of state ­sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects . . . .
The opinion carefully noted that it was not deciding the validity of state laws that forbade recognition of gay marriages valid in other states, but dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia wryly commented that “no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe. . . . By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”
 
 

And Scalia was right.  Suddenly all over the country lawsuits are demanding recognition of gay marriages granted in other jurisdictions.  In Cincinnati, Ohio, United States District Court Judge Timothy Black handed down a decision on December 23, 2013, that required the State of Ohio to issue a death certificate to a gay man indicating he was married to another man even though Ohio has a constitution amendment (adopted overwhelmingly in 2004) forbidding any recognition of gay marriages.  Judge Black stated

The question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot – i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). . . . Under the Constitution of the United States the answer is no. . . .  Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away.

This was followed immediately by a similar lawsuit filed in the same court on February 10, 2014, but this time the issue was the refusal of Ohio to recognize both gay parents as parents for children they’d adopted elsewhere as a married couple.  "At both ends of our lifespans, a marriage is a marriage. A family is a family," said the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

But this suit, and others like it (on February 12, 2014, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that that state must recognize gay marriages valid in another state), are only challenging the right of one state to resist what another has done.  Making even bigger news are attempts to have federal courts declare that any state law or constitution that forbids gay marriage is itself unconstitutional.  Courts in Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia have so ruled in the past few months.  There are at least 45 pending lawsuits in 24 of the 33 states that ban gay marriage challenging that ban, with more filed each month.  The resulting judgments tend to favor the gay couples at the trial level, but we have yet to hear from a federal Court of Appeals, where results will almost surely vary.

However the Courts of Appeals decide the issue, it will be presented to the United States Supreme Court, probably before the end of 2014.  The same five Justices who voted in favor of Edie Windsor last June are still on the Court, and unless they have lost their nerve they’re highly likely to grant appeals in one or more of these cases, with the result that Justice Scalia unhappily predicted.  The Court hands down all decisions on which it’s heard oral arguments since October by the end of the following June.  So perhaps by June of 2015, and almost certainly by June of 2016, historic decisions in favor of gay marriages are coming.

Let’s use some big words to add to the prediction I’m making.  “Zeitgeist” is a word referring to the “spirit of the times,” and—gaining force day by day—there’s now a powerful Zeitgeist in the United States in favor of gay marriage.  It’s so strong that it amounts to a juggernaut, another big word, this one meaning an “unstoppable force.”  All across this country an amazing switch in the Zeitgeist has made acceptance of gay marriage a foregone conclusion, with the question not being whether gay marriages will legally recognized but simply a question of when.  Seventy percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 support it.  Everyone has gay friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, etc., and know that they are not the demons once routinely assumed.  What was not that long ago thought impossible to imagine is now commonplace.  Judges are not exempt from being influenced by the forces at work here; they are human too.  And, it is famously said, even “the Supreme Court reads the newspaper.”  The gay marriage juggernaut rolls on as the Zeitgeist turns the wheel.


In Ohio there’s currently a big debate between gay advocacy groups as to whether to put on the ballot in 2014 or in 2016 a question to the voters on repealing the Ohio Constitution’s ban on gay marriage.  The argument for waiting is that 2014 is not a presidential election year, and the key thing on the voters’ minds will be the reelection of popular governor John Kasich.  That means a big Republican turnout and not much participation by young voters, who will be more energized by the 2016 presidential election.  If the issue fails to pass, that would be a major setback for another attempt in 2016.  What to do? 

I played some minor part in gay rights battles in Ohio, and I’m certainly in favor of getting rid of the homophobia ensconced in our state constitution during the anti-gay fury of 2004.  But it’s time consuming and expensive to mount a campaign, win or lose.  If my predictions above prove true—which I believe to be highly likely—we ought to hold off on the 2014 effort and see if the United States Supreme Court doesn’t make the whole endeavor moot before the fall of 2016.

 
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Related Posts:
“The Aging Gay Rights Activist,” March 24, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World,” February 8, 2011
“The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio,” June 4, 2012
“Gay Marriage, the Supreme Court, and the Future,” June 26, 2013
Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?” November 26, 2013
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Monday, January 27, 2014

If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?


 
 
Recently two close friends of mine, whose intelligence I respect, when the subject of evolution came up casually in conversation repeated the comment that's the title of this post: “If humans are descended from apes, why are there still apes?”  Frankly, I was appalled.  The slightest investigation of evolution answers this question.  It’s as if they had said to me, “We can tell that the sun goes around the earth because we can see it move through the sky.”

Humans are not descended from modern apes.  Instead on the tree of life both humans and modern apes share a common ancestor from whom the two species then split off.  We are most genetically similar to chimpanzees, so our common ancestor likely was shared with them, and finding the “Chimp Human Last Common Ancestor” has been one of the goals of evolutionary scientists.  Current thinking is that the split occurred around 6 million years ago, though there are arguments for both a longer and a shorter time.  The CHLCA is likely to be Sahelanthropus tchadensis (or a very similar species—there are various candidates), and here is a reconstructed picture of that handsome critter:
 

Moving on from Sahelanthropus tchadensi our ancestors evolved into Australopithecus afarensis, around 4 million years ago, and that creature is shown here:


Evolution of our species continued and eventually we split off from Homo sapiens neanderthalensis around 500,000 years ago:
Neanderthal

to become modern humans under the designation of Homo sapiens: 



As I’ve said before in this blog, the slightest objective investigation of evolution shows that it's not only true, but not even subject to scientific question.  In my prior posts (see below) I’ve explained why it’s clear that evolution is the only explanation of life that’s consistent with the incontrovertible facts.
The Tree of Life [Click To Enlarge]

J.B.S. Haldane
Famed biologist J.B.S. Haldane was once asked what would convince him that evolution was not true and he replied that the discovery of a fossiled rabbit in Precambrian rocks would do it.   Rabbits had not evolved prior to the Cambrian period of rock formation, so their presence in older rocks would throw all of evolution out of sync.  Of course rabbits appearing at the proper moment are only one example of what the rock/fossil record must show.  What is telling is that the scientific evidence is perfect: all fossils are found in the rocks in the exact order that evolution predicts.  Isn’t that evidence of the highest kind that evolution is rock solid (pun intended) right? 
 



Not believing in evolution in the 21st century is an embarrassing confession of ignorance.  It’s the same as not understanding that the earth is billions of years old or agreeing with conspiracy theorists who think that the moon landing was a hoax.  Basic understanding of how the world works requires that some knowledge of evolution be part of your resume. 

 
Finally, note that a belief in evolution says nothing about God.  To a prior post of mine a commentator remarked that my championship of evolution meant I was saying God doesn’t exist.  I am certainly not saying that, and never have.  I don't know that God doesn't exist---you can't prove a negative, and no one can “know” a negative assertion.  Many people who believe in evolution also believe in God, and a large number of religions find no contradiction between God and Darwinism.  I'm an atheist, but that word only means I don't believe in God (a provable fact: I don't believe in God).  But that's not the same as saying that I know God doesn't exist.  I also don't know that fairies or unicorns don't exist.  But we have to live our lives based on as much provable knowledge as possible, and not cloud our thinking with what we wish were true.
 

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Related Posts:
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Rock Around the Sun,” December 31, 2010
“Is Evolution True?” July 13, 2011
“Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?”, May 12, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Silly Personal Games


Don't Try This One
I’ve chosen throughout my life to adopt self-imposed challenges in the stupidest areas, or, as phrased in this blog post title, silly personal games.  I’m a person who is fascinated by the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy, about which I’ve written a good deal (see Related Posts below), and so some of these games are left brain (words/numbers, abstract concepts) in nature, while others are pure right brain (physical things).  I play bridge, for example, and that’s a left-brain activity (except for holding the cards in your hand and playing them), while bowling, which I no longer do, is right brain oriented (keeping score being the only left brain part of bowling).

Every morning I read the newspaper and use my left brain to work the puzzles, and every night before going to sleep I play one round of Angry Birds on my iPad until I score a perfect three stars, a purely right brain endeavor. 
Typical Angry Birds Screen
Left Brain Silly Game:

The silly left brain game that I play on top of the usual ones has to do with Sudoku.  You may know the basic game, which starts with a grid that looks something like this:
 
The goal is to complete the missing squares with the digits one through nine so that these digits will be repeated in each block, each row, and each column. 


While this involves numbers, math has nothing to do with it.  Instead it’s a test of logic.  The game was invented in France and then popularized by a Japanese company in 2005.  Like most players, I started on easy puzzles (with very few missing numbers), and worked my way up to a level that http://www.websudoku.com/ calls “Evil.”

The silly game comes from my keeping score how often I finish the puzzle successfully, and how often I fail completely (and end up with, say, two “8”s in the same column).  Failing is frustrating because it’s almost impossible to trace back to the mistake and right things from there, and this means I have effectively wasted half an hour or more.  I estimate that I solve about 60% of the puzzles, and my record is nine in a row before a failure occurred.  [Interestingly, that percentage is about the same as mine for solving any given Angry Birds screen with three stars without having to go to YouTube to find the winning strategy.  I hasten to add I never go to YouTube unless I have at least solved the screen with a rating of one star.]

Right Brain Silly Games:

There are a number of these right brain games. 
The Pin Drop Statistics.  For decades I’ve worked out in my own basement on a gym machine with the usual mechanism that uses a pin to change weights [see photo].  Whenever I drop this metal pin it clangs annoyingly on the floor, and so I challenged myself to see how long I could go without dropping the pin.  As the statistics below show, the periods between drops range from days to years.  I’ve become very careful about moving that pin from one weight slot to another, to the point where I’m a little nutty about it.

[Part of My Workout Statistics Sheet]

The Toilet Paper Roll Toss.  The nuttiness of the pin drop game is nothing compared to this one.  The game started innocently enough, though more recently in 2006 when I moved into my condo.  Sitting on the toilet and finishing off a roll of toilet paper I would toss the cardboard tube into the wastebasket about four feet away.  Eventually I became proud of how often I accurately hit the wastebasket, and a running count of the statistics began.  My old record was ten tubes in a row before a miss, and that record stood for years.  But since I got married and David moved in, the use of toilet paper has of course doubled, so there are more opportunities for this exciting contest to occur.  In the beginning David was astounded to learn that I wanted him to save the tubes (he caught me taking one from a wastebasket in the guest room half-bath and asked me what I was doing, so I, chagrined, explained).  But now he's resigned himself to the madness.

Even better, I’m currently on a roll (so to speak), having successfully tossed thirteen tubes into the wastebasket without missing.  Very exciting!  Whenever I have a new victory I spontaneously shout out the number (“Thirteen!”), which originally caused my hubby to come running, worried there was some emergency erupting in the bathroom (Thirteen what?”).  Now David  just humors me (“Should I call Sports Illustrated with the news?” he sarcastically asks when I emerge triumphant from the bathroom, doing a victory lap of the bedroom).
 

So, blog readers, those are my silly personal games.  Now fess up.  You yourself have some personal games that are similar, don’t you?  Send them to me, complete with details and even photos, and when I get enough of them I’ll put out a new blog post highlighting the best of the best.  I’ll even protect your anonymity if you’re too embarrassed to own up to your games, though having confessed myself to the toilet paper roll toss how could you top that?

Send those emails to me at dglswhaley@aol.com
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Related Posts:
“Benjamin Franklin Riding Shotgun,” May 29, 2010
“The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life,” January 17, 2011
“Life's Little (But Important) Rules,” April 23, 2011
“How To Be Perfect,” March 17, 2012
“Life’s Unexpected Pleasures: “¡Más Bueno Que El Pan!” November 5, 2012
“Douglas and David Get Married,” December 20, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013