Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why gender equality matters

When my six-year-old daughter saw Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement for the presidency, her first response was to say, very innocently and matter-of-factly, “Oh! I didn’t know that women were allowed to be president.”

While I don’t mean this as an endorsement of Clinton’s candidacy (far from it – I strongly believe that an uncompetitive presidential primary and an assumed “coronation” is not a healthy thing in our electoral democracy), I’ll admit that my daughter’s response surprised and shocked me just a bit. My first reaction was to think “where did she get the idea that women were not allowed to be president?”

Is it the implicit signals from the “American presidents” dinner place mat she sometimes uses that features the faces of an all-male presidential line-up?

Is it the messages from the culture she’s growing up in where, despite great strides made over the several decades, women are still less likely to be in positions of leadership, prominence, and visibility?

Is it the patterns she internalizes at the church we attend were women are not eligible to serve as the chief pastors in our congregations or in the highest governing councils of the worldwide organization?

Of course much of the responsibility is ultimately my own. After all, it’s my job as her father to teach her about the world. I suppose I’ve dropped the ball by never explicitly explaining to her that “women are of course eligible to serve as U.S. president but no one ever has yet for a variety of reasons…” So my immediate response was to make it clear that YES women are eligible to be elected president and then I showed her on my smartphone pictures of other female heads of state around the world (e.g. Angela Merkel, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, etc.).

In a few weeks my wife and I will be welcoming two more twin girls into our family. I hope that by the time they’re six years old that their environment will have more egalitarian messages and signals about the role of women in society than is the case today.

“Rifts of Rime” Poems

Poems inspired by The Rifts of Rime by Steven Peck. Written by Abigail Knoll, age 6, with grammatical and editing assistance from yours truly.



The Quickening are all helped by the Wealdend,

Protected by the Saffre, the Grays also help with the Folk.

Paper makers and poets are Folk or Keppla.

The philosophers and healers are the Marmots.

The wolves travel around the world:

Tell the Foreteller what they saw!

Ants, the Strange Quickening, no one knows…

But maybe Pinecone and Leaf have the right nose!

Those are the jobs of the Quickening.



Our teeth are sharp

Our howl is strong

Our run is steady and fast

Our claws have the power to take down a moose

But the thing to be aware of the most is the Saffre on the loose!



The foxes are enemies

Their teeth are sharp their claws are sharp

Their feet are slow but quiet

I rush up the tree to escape these features

There’s one thing that’s clear

If you are a trained warrior

This is an opportunity.



The power of the oak, the elm, the pine

Are nothing compared to the power of the Wealdend

Their Foreteller keeps us safe, so does the Saffre.

The Grays have some power,  but nothing like the Wealdend.

We must honor and respect the Wealdend and their helpers.

We are grateful to the Wealdend.

We are grateful to the Wealdend for the Quickening.

Because of the Grays, the Marmots, Folk, and Wolves

We thank the Quickening for the elm, oak, and pine

For they make our nests and our homes divine.

We thank the Wealdend for the water and land

Best of all, for the Quickening of all creatures.

Boyle County Exit Poll 2014: Survey response rate

We had a total of 1,684 individuals who agreed to take our exit poll survey. There were also 1,868 individuals who were asked to take the survey but who declined to do so. Thus, we asked a total of 3,552 people to take the survey and 1,684 of them agreed, leaving us with a response rate of 47.4%.

This is down 3% from the response rate in the 2012 exit poll of 50.4%.

We can also note that 9,720 people voted on Election Day in Boyle County. Thus, our 2014 BCEP exit poll includes 17.3% of all voters on Election Day, and about 7% of all adults over age 18 in Boyle County (voters and non-voters).

Danville mayoral campaign being waged this week through letters to the editor

It seems that the Danville mayoral campaign is being waged this week through letters to the editor in the Advocate-Messenger’s opinion section:

Of particular interest is the letter by outgoing Mayor Hunstad endorsing Mike Perros over fellow commissioner Paige Stevens:

Excerpts from John Stuart Mill on the freedom of thought and expression

The following are excerpts from Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859). I think that these principles deserve careful consideration not only in our political and civic communities, but in our private and religious communities as well.


If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.

Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.

Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

Orthodox Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those persecutors was Saint Paul.

For it is this—it is the opinions men entertain, and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England, than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment.

A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the general principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth, whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by narrowing their thoughts and interest to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then: while that which would strengthen and enlarge men’s minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.

But it is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral?

Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.

There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents undoubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowledge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial objections. Such persons, if they can once get their creed taught from authority, naturally think that no good, and some harm, comes of its being allowed to be questioned.

Whatever people believe, on subjects on which it is of the first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections.

But much more of the meaning even of these would have been understood, and what was understood would have been far more deeply impressed on the mind, if the man had been accustomed to hear it argued pro and con by people who did understand it. The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.”

Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. … Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended.


We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

Three cheers for epistemic humility

In response to today’s conflicting jobs reports, David Leonhardt explains:

Any one jobs report contains a fair bit of statistical noise, as Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy have explained. It’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. The best approach is to take all the evidence — both the household and business survey, as well as multiple months of data — and use it all to tell the most sensible story we can, based on the evidence. [emphasis added]

Right now, that story looks something like this: The labor market appears to be gaining strength. But there are enough conflicting signals that we will need more months of data before we can be sure.

I’m a big fan of epistemic humility, especially in today’s world that values certainty and absolutes. One of my guiding philosophical approaches to life is that since all human sources of knowledge are fallible, the closest any of us can get to Ultimate Truth is obtainable only through taking as wide a sample as possible of as many different perspectives as possible on a particular question or topic, then taking a weighted average of them all to try to come to a tentative (although never final) personal conclusion or belief in some truth, whether empirical or otherwise.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Benjamin Knoll:

Another annual re-post of my St. Patrick’s Day blog post:

Originally posted on Information Knoll:

The following is a re-post from last year’s St. Patrick’s Day post:

Granted, I’m only 15% Irish. The rest of me is German-Russian (35%) and English (50%). But unfortunately, there just aren’t that many German or English heritage holidays to celebrate. So it’s to St. Patrick’s Day that a turn to celebrate my ethnic heritage.

My g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, Michael, was born around 1775 in Ireland. He married Marianne and they had a daughter named Mary around 1799. She married Dennis Rogers (b. 1796) and they had a daughter named Margery. They all came to the United States in the 1840s, along with almost two million of their compatriots, to escape the Great Potato Famine. Margery married Michael Murphy in New York City. They moved Wisconsin where they had seven children. One of these children, Alexander Rogers Murphy, was born in 1854. Alexander married Mary Ellen O’Brien in 1884 in Minnesota. Mary…

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