Mike Kueber's Blog

April 14, 2014

Sunday Book Review #132 – Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey

Filed under: Book reviews,Finances — Mike Kueber @ 8:31 pm
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Dave Ramsey is a radio talk show host and probably the best-known financial guru in America. His book Complete Guide to Money (2011) serves as the handbook to his Financial Peace University, a biblically-based video seminar given to thousands of people each year. In the book’s introductory chapter and its Afterword, plus several times in between, Ramsey asserts that “personal finance is only 20% head knowledge. The other 80% is behavior. This book gives you the head knowledge, but no book alone can do much to change behavior.”

I disagree with Ramsey on both counts. The book is woefully weak with respect to head knowledge, with many half-baked ideas and bromides that can’t withstand scrutiny. A discerning, disciplined reader would be much better off reading Scott Burn, a nationally-known financial columnist who actually understands financial math.

But the book is strong with respect to changing behavior. Wikipedia characterizes Ramsey as a motivational speaker, and the book obviously was drafted to motivate conduct that an undiscerning, undisciplined person might be able to adopt.

The book is filled with Ramsey’s insights:

  • Differences between a man and his wife add spice to life, but the couple need to have an understanding on religion, in-laws, parenting, and money.
  • Parents need to teach their kids to work (money comes from work, not other people), save, spend, and give.
  • Whenever someone asks for financial help, consider whether this will truly help or will it be giving a drunk a drink.
  • By developing a budget and agreeing to live according to it, a couple can automatically remove those continual money fights that plague many marriages.
  • Too often, young adults want to fast-track themselves into the standard of living that their parents spent 20 years achieving, and they do this by accumulating debt.
  • When in the process of paying off all debts, pay off the smaller balances first, not the balances with the higher interest rates, because it is important to achieve quick wins to sustain behavior modification. (Crazy!)
  • Paying off debt should take priority over saving for retirement, even with a 401k with an employer match. (Crazy!)
  • You should always – always – roll your company-sponsored retirement plan into an IRA when you leave the company.” Ramsey suggests this because a regular IRA gives more options, but he fails to consider that some company plans (mine) have much lower expense ratios than even the best IRAs, like Vanguard’s.  (Crazy!)
  • A 401k should be rolled into a Roth IRA if you have saved more than $700k and you have adequate existing liquidity to pay the taxes. (Crazy because most other financial agree that deciding between Roth and non-Roth is subjective, not automatic.)
  • The Pinnacle is the point in your life when your savings and investments make more money for you in a year than your salary does. I remember a time when my co-workers and I, later in our careers, would get monthly 401k statements that exceeded our wages, and once we might have even received a quarterly statement that exceeded our wages, but none of us ever pulled that off for an entire year. An interesting concept, nonetheless.
  • Never use prepaid tuition. (Crazy because Ramsey assumes that tuition inflation is no greater than the COLA when in fact it has far exceeded the COLA for decades.)
  • Avoid mobile homes and timeshares because neither can ever be sold on the secondary market.  (Crazy.)
  • Never do a reverse mortgage because it merely gives a person who has paid off debt the chance to go back into debt. (Crazy because selling off you equity does not place you in debt.)

Bottom line – as a guide to modifying the behavior of people who are heretofore unsuccessful in dealing with their personal finances, this book probably works. But it is not appropriate for successful people wanting to fine-tune their financial game.

April 13, 2014

Race and sports

Filed under: Culture,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 12:14 pm
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A couple of weeks ago, a 40-year-old major-league baseball (MLB) pitcher named LaTroy Hawkins authored a “Point After” column in Sports Illustrated titled “Pitching Changes.” In the column, Hawkins described changes that this seasoned player would like to see with America’s pastime.

The first change recommended by Hawkins was to send underperforming umps down to the minors. This would be analogous to my longtime suggestion to send underperforming MLB franchises down to the minors. That is the way a meritocracy is supposed to work.

The most provocative change suggested by Hawkins was for MLB to take affirmative action to correct the underrepresentation of blacks in baseball. Although most people in the mainstream are not aware of it, African-Americans comprise less than 10% of MLB rosters. This contrasts remarkably with the NBA, which is 78% African American. And most of the non-black NBA players are white non-Americans. Indeed, you can probably count on your fingers the number of white Americans that play NBA basketball.

As Vince Lombardi famously yelled, “What the hell’s going on out here?”

Talking about race and sports has been politically incorrect ever since Jimmy the Greek in 1988 was fired from his TV job for speculating on why blacks were better athletes than whites:

  • The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade … the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.”

The political correctness at that time was so suffocating that Hollywood in 1992 tried to provide some fresh air with a Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes movie titled White Men Can’t Jump. But the movie was unable to ameliorate the self-censorship, and just a couple of weeks ago I heard the irreverent Don Imus comment on the shocking number of whites playing for the Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA Final Four and then asking whether that was a racist comment. His black sidekick Tony Richmond absolved him of any guilt by noting that Imus was merely observing a fact and that is not racist. If only it were that simple.

Getting back to LaTroy Hawkins. Since it is apparently OK for him to bemoan the dearth of blacks in MLB baseball, I will question the dearth of American whites in NBA basketball. Why is it that there are so many white non-Americans playing in the NBA, but so few white Americans? This inquiring mind doesn’t know, but would like to know what smarter people think.

April 12, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #109 – Dallas Buyers Club and Doubt

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 9:08 pm
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Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013) is an Oscar-nominated biographical drama about a heterosexual Texas cowboy, Ron Woodroof, who in 1985 contracts HIV from unprotected sex at a time when the only promising treatment, AZT, was still being tested by the FDA. The story focuses on Woodroof, who, because of his inability to access AZT, resorts to using some drug in Mexico that seems to help him and then becomes an entrepreneur in making the unapproved drug available throughout north Texas. Eventually the feds shut him down, but not before he survives for seven years past the 30 days he was given to live after his initial diagnosis. Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for playing Woodroof, and his transgender sidekick is played Jared Leto, who won a supporting Oscar. Jennifer Garner has a supporting role, too, as a sympathetic doctor, but she seems gratuitous to the plot. Her only significance is to create some discomfort for me in the end when it seems like the heretofore low-life McConaughey, redeemed by his entrepreneurial success with drugs, begins to think that a beautiful doctor might be interested in him romantically.  Thankfully, he doesn’t hit on her, but still McConaughey’s transformation, both social and financial, is too extreme to be plausible. The Rotten Tomato critics love the movie at 94% and the audience is almost as good at 92%. Not me – I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

Doubt (2008) is a drama about a young, progressive priest who is suspected by an elderly nun of being a child molester. I chose this movie because the priest is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has been characterized as the greatest actor of his generation since his death earlier this year. Plus Meryl Steep plays the nun, and she is often described as the best actress of her generation. Amazingly, both Hoffman and Streep were nominated for Oscars, as were two inconsequential supporting thespians, Amy Adams (a naïve nun) and Viola Davis (the abused’s mother). The theme of the movie is intriguing because it is set in 1964, a time when most people were not aware of the problem with priests. Yet Streep is much more conscientious in addressing the problem than Joe Paterno was just a few years ago. The movie’s major disappointment is Hoffman. I was prepared for him to knock my socks off, and while he adequately acted as the young, progressive priest early in the movie, he utterly failed later in the movie to reflect the sick malefactor when Streep exposes him. Rarely have I seen an actor seem more obviously as an actor instead of the character. The Rotten Tomato critics and audiences agree at 78%. I disagree and give it only two and a half stars out of four.

April 11, 2014

The purpose of life

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 2:15 pm
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Yoga instructors at Lifetime Fitness like to insert some words of wisdom into our daily practices. A couple of weeks ago, one of the instructors said something suggesting that the objective of life is not to be happy, but rather to serve others. Because yoga practice had put me in a peaceful mood, I didn’t immediately react to this wisdom. A bit later, though, I started thinking about how contrary this wisdom is to my adopted philosophy as described by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged and concluded that it deserved a blogpost.

Because I couldn’t remember the precise quote or its author, I paraphrased it on Google, which responded by referring me to a website with quotations describing the “purpose of life.”  One of those quotations was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Emerson is one of the wise men often quoted by my yoga instructors, so I’m pretty sure this is the one that I heard in class.

Other quotes on the purpose of life reflected a different philosophy:

  • The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
  • You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.” ― Steve Maraboli
  • It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters.” ― Amit Ray

The Google inquiry also directed me to a website that discussed Ayn Rand and her disdain for altruism:

  • Ayn Rand was not exaggerating when she said, ‘The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.’ That is the theoretical meaning of altruism. And the altruistic philosophers know it—and state it forthrightly.”

In the place of altruism, Rand espoused a doctrine called rational egoism, which says you should pursue your life-serving values and should not sacrifice yourself for the sake of others.

There is much about Emerson’s philosophy that I like, but Rand wins this argument.

April 10, 2014

Profiling – where are we now?

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:23 pm

According to an article in today’s NY Times, the Obama administration has finally gotten around to broadening the anti-profiling rules guidelines President Bush implemented in 2003. The Bush guidelines were directed at race and ethnicity profiling and carved out common-sense exceptions for national security and border security.

An article in the Times earlier this year explained why the common-sense exceptions had to go:

  • The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations.

The new Obama guidelines expand the coverage to religion, gender, and sexual orientation, plus eliminate most of the national security exception. Because AG Eric Holder directed this broadening, he had no authority over the border-security guidelines of Homeland Security.

So at least Homeland Security, when dealing with illegal immigrants near the Mexican border, will be able to pay attention to whether an individual appears to be Mexican, but the FBI working counter-terrorism will not be able to pay heed to a gathering of Muslims from the Middle East.

Common sense be damned.

April 9, 2014

Gender pay gap

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:56 pm

The issue of the week in D.C. seems to be the gender-pay gap. President Obama and the Democratic Party are up in arms because women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.  As reported by the Washington Post, President Obama expressed outrage over this inequity while loudly trumpeting two amazingly feeble actions:

  • President Obama will take two executive actions Tuesday aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, forcing federal contractors to let their workers discuss their earnings with one another and to disclose more information about what their employees earn.”

I always assumed that gender pay inequity meant that women made less even though they had a similar job with similar education and experience. But today I read an article by my favorite analyst, Nate Silver, examining the relationship between a state’s gender pay equity and that state’s political philosophy (pro-Obama vs. pro-Romney), and he did his analysis merely by aggregating men and women, without regard to job, education or experience.  In fact, he even suggested that those differences might cause the gap:

  • “The gender pay gap has been the subject of hundreds of academic studies. These studies seek to sort out how much of it has to do with overt or implicit discrimination against women, as opposed to labor force characteristics that are not well accounted for by aggregate statistics. For example, the gender pay gap is narrower when measured by hourly rather than annual wages; that’s because women tend to work fewer hours than men. Men also tend to be concentrated in higher-paying industries. They may have more educational and work experience, and they may have higher-ranking positions within their organizations.”

Based on this caveat from Silver, I commented to a liberal friend on Facebook:

  • I didn’t realize the gender pay gap is based on aggregate numbers. All this time, I thought they were comparing men and women in the same jobs with similar education and experience. Is the Democratic Party suggesting that women should earn as much as men even if men are more experienced and better educated and have a better job?”

My friend suggested that, although Silver used aggregate numbers, perhaps other public-policy researchers tried to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. To confirm this, I simply returned to the WaPo article:

  • Obama and his aides often say that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, which compares the annual earnings of women working full-time jobs over the course of a year with the earnings of men working the same amount of time. Some academics argue that the gap between the sexes is smaller if you account for a number of variables, including an employee’s length of time in the workforce, specific occupation and education level. Even the most conservative estimates, however, suggest that women earn 5 to 12 percent less for doing similar jobs as men.”

As usual, WaPo is too generous to the liberal ideology. Wikipedia provides a more balanced description of this issue:

  • The most basic way to look at differences in pay between the genders is to look at the median wages of men and women. However, this comparison is of limited usefulness because men and women exhibit very different characteristics for many of the factors that affect pay. For example, men tend to choose fields with higher average pay, and tend to work more hours per week. Because of these differences in order to determine what effect discrimination has upon the wages of men and women in the workplace the differences in career choices must be accounted for. The raw median wages of men and women are often used in misleading ways to inform public policy, without explaining the reasons behind the gap.
  • A study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor, concluded that “There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent.” The study also concluded that while in principle more of the wage gap could be explained by differences between the groups, the data that would be needed to account for additional factors were not available.
  • While the conclusions of the study commissioned by the United States Department of Labor regarding the adjusted wage gap are generally in agreement with other research, there is disagreement on what factors explain the remaining 5–7%. Some studies assert that the remaining gap is due to discrimination, while some others, such as the Department of Labor study above conclude otherwise. Many researchers also believe that the differences between the choices men and women make are actually a result of discrimination or social pressures, with women being discouraged from high paying fields, and men being discouraged from making choices such as prioritizing job satisfaction over pay.

Summary – despite President Obama’s political grandstanding, which even WaPo seemed to recognize, there is nothing here that requires significant government intervention. Ironically, though, I agree with the Executive Orders.  A couple of years ago, my brother Kelly and I got into a big argument regarding whether employees should share salary information. He is old-fashioned about the subject, but I think this type of information is critical to pay equity, regardless of your sex.

April 8, 2014

Sunday Book Review #131 – Social by Matthew Lieberman

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:33 am
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Last week, one of my yoga instructors posted on Facebook a poster showing a multitude of thoughts that typical yogis have during savasana. For you non-yogis, savasana is the 5-minute period at the end of class when the practitioners are supposed to relax flat on their backs in the so-called corpse position and clear their minds, but as the poster suggests, many minds drift toward a wide variety of mundane subjects. I commented as follows on the posting:

  • Coincidentally, I’m reading a book titled Social that argues our brain is hard-wired to immediately shift to thinking about personal relationships whenever it isn’t being required to do any more important brain work (motor, memory, visual discrimination). The author believes the brain defaults to thinking about relationships because there is nothing more important to achieving a successful life. Interesting.”

So, although the book provides some support for the poster’s position that people don’t naturally shift into an empty-headed meditative state, it suggest that most of the thoughts would not involve hard-thinking, but rather would naturally gravitate toward personal relationships.

My Facebook comment was made after reading only the introductory chapters of the book. Sadly, the remainder of the book wasn’t as interesting because Lieberman pivoted into discussing the neuroscience that supported his introductory statements. The neuroscience, much reliant on a new technique called fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), supported three ways that the human brain is wired to be social:

  1. Connection – Maslow’s pyramid is wrong because social needs often trump physiological and safety needs.
  2. Mindreading – a person’s brain probably spends more than 10,000 hours on trying to figure out how others think before it is ten-years old, thus more than satisfying Gladwell’s standard for achieving excellence.
  3. Harmonizing – the human brain has developed a natural tendency for getting along with those we encounter.

Lieberman also refers to other scientists who have done related work, including two whom I discussed years earlier in my blog:

  • Psychologist Daniel Pink in his book Drive discusses why American business needs to move away from the carrot-and-stick approach to motivation and shift toward jobs that satisfy a person’s innate psychological need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. (During my City Council campaign, I was often asked at forums why I wanted the job, and I used Pink’s formulation – i.e, the job would challenge my abilities, afford me two years of complete autonomy, and consist of highly important work.)
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow discusses how the brain tends to think quickly and instinctually with amazing success, but sometimes this leads to serious errors. Therefore, people need to train their brain in certain situations to override the quick, instinctual thinking and instead rely on analytical, thoughtful decision-making.

In his conclusion, Lieberman tries to apply his findings in practical ways to improve our personal lives, our work lives, and our failing schools. Unfortunately, he is a scientist and practical applications are not his forte.

Social is an important book, especially as a supplement to Pink’s and Kahneman’s.

April 6, 2014

Saturday Night at the Movies #108 – Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and Homeland (season three)

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:17 pm
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My cable/internet bill with Time Warner has grown so much (over $160) that I recently called to cut back, but after a few minutes with their salesman, I left with an equally expensive package, but one that included HBO and Showtime for my viewing pleasure. My first order of business with these premium channels was to watch the inaugural season of True Detective with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and as I noted in my blog, that was time well spent.

My next order of business was to watch season three of Homeland. I had already watched and enjoyed the first two seasons, and this would bring me up to date. Unlike True Detective, season three of Homeland was hugely disappointing.

Part of my disappointment was probably due to Dagan McDowell failing to give a spoiler alert on Imus in the Morning a few months ago when she announced that Brody died in the last episode. Nothing ruins a series more than killing a popular, leading character – a la Game of Thrones, season one.

Even without McDowell spoiling the ending, I would not have enjoyed season three because Brody (Damian Lewis) had a much reduced role and the other star (Claire Danes as bi-polar Carrie) is entirely unappealing and getting more so each season. I thought bi-polar meant a person swings back and forth from manic to depressive, but Carrie is forever unstable and erratic and neurotic. I just want to get away from her. Mandy Patinkin as Saul has a much expanded role in season three, but, although he does well, he can’t salvage the Carrie carnage.

The other annoyance in season one is Brody’s daughter, Dana (played by Morgan Saylor). Way too much time is wasted on her difficult time in dealing with having a terrorist father. Who cares? (The series 24 also had a similar problem with Jack’s daughter. When she was integral to the story, she was fine, but when she was gratuitous to the story, she annoys.)

According to press reports, season four of Homeland will show up in the fall this year (each season has earned better ratings than the previous one), and it will revolve around Carrie. Although there are rumors that Brody will do a Lazarus, most people give that little credence, and without Brody, I don’t think this series survives.

12 Years a Slave (2013) tells the true story of a free black man in antebellum days being abducted in the north and then shipped south into slavery. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the noble black man and a succession of evil white people, culminating with Michael Fassbender as his final owner. Lupita Nyong’o plays Ejiofor’s plantation love interest (she won a Supporting Oscar), and Brad Pitt in a minor role plays one of the few non-evil whites. Although the movie won the Best Picture Oscar, I think it fails as a drama. It reminds me of Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips, where you get the feeling that much of the middle of the movie is merely filling space instead of creating drama. I guess that’s a problem when the viewer knows the basic story arc from the beginning. The Rotten Tomato critics loved the movie at 97%, while the audience was at 91%. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

I was warned by a friend that Gravity was disappointing, but I watched it with an open mind because it was a Best Picture nominee, plus I’ve always like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

My friend was right. Although the 90-minute film is characterized as a science-fiction thriller, so much of the action was so implausible (kind of like later episodes in the Die Hard series) that the viewer has to suspend all critical thinking. And with Clooney’s early disappearance from the screen, the viewer is left with a shallow Bullock in a massively truncated version of Tom Hanks in Castaway. I would have preferred the director taking an additional 30 minutes of filming to develop the characters and the drama. The Rotten Tomato critics give it a 97% score, with the audience less giddy at 83%. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

April 2, 2014

More on PISA

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 10:26 pm
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A few weeks ago, I blogged about a book by Amanda Ripley titled The Smartest Kids in the World. In the book, Ripley described her study of why the kids in certain countries – Poland, South Korea, and Finland – appeared to be much better educated than American kids.

Ripley selected these countries based on their PISA scores.  PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) is a test of critical-thinking skills (not curriculum-centered knowledge) that translates fairly from one country to the next. The PISA results, as do many other test results, show American students to be mediocre in science and math and fairly strong in reading. But the PISA rankings are dominated by Finland, South Korea, and fast rising Poland.

A few days later, I blogged more specifically about the PISA and concluded by warning that, while the test was promising, the prospects for American achievement were not:

  • This 61-question test is so fascinating because it is directed toward the ability to use your education in a practical manner, your ability to engage effectively in the modern world. When people can use their critical thinking, our need for a nanny government is diminished. That is why Ripley and I are both worried for America.

Well, an article earlier this week in the NY Times suggests that maybe I was too pessimistic. According to the article, the PISA was expanded in 2012 to test not only reading, math, and science, but also problem-solving skills. And problem-solving appears to be an American forte:

  • The American students who took the problem-solving tests in 2012, the first time they were administered, did better on these exams than on reading, math and science tests, suggesting that students in the United States are better able to apply knowledge to real-life situations than perform straightforward academic tasks.”

The article went to great lengths to congratulate America on its problem-solving success:

  • The types of tasks that appeared on the problem-solving tests asked students to demonstrate practical thinking. At a basic level, for example, students might be asked to identify the cheapest lines of furniture in a catalog showing different brands. At a more advanced level, students could be asked to develop a process for figuring out why a particular electronic device was not working properly. American students were best at what the test writers described as ‘interactive’ tasks, in which students were asked to discover some of the information needed to solve the problem. ‘This suggests that students in the United States are open to novelty, tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuition to initiate a solution,’ the O.E.C.D. said in a statement.”

But the article also noted that, although American kids seemed especially skilled at problem-solving, they were not leading the pack:

  • Fifteen-year-olds in the United States scored above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, but they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada, according to international standardized tests results released on Tuesday…. including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain all outperformed American students.”

I choose to see the glass as half full and look on this performance as something of a success that we can build on.

April 1, 2014

Aphorism of the Week #19 – If a tree falls in the forest….

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 11:05 pm

If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I always thought this in an interesting question because sound waves don’t have a physical manifestation. Thus, if there is nothing to detect the sound waves, it seemed to me that there was no sound in that vacuum. But during a recent conversation with my literate leprechaun Mike Callen, he pointed out that this riddle was actually philosophical nonsense in support of the broader proposition that nothing (even physical manifestation) is real unless someone perceives it.

For further information, I referred to Wikipedia, which seemed to agree with Callen:

  • The most immediate philosophical topic that the riddle introduces involves the existence of the tree (and the sound it produces) outside of human perception. If no one is around to see, hear, touch or smell the tree, how could it be said to exist? What is it to say that it exists when such an existence is unknown?

But when I read further in Wikipedia, it eventually got to my point:

  • What is the difference between what something is, and how it appears? – e.g., “sound is the variation of pressure that propagates through matter as a wave.” Perhaps the most important topic the riddle offers is the division between perception of an object and how an object really is…. people may also say, if the tree exists outside of perception (as common sense would dictate), then it will produce sound waves. However, these sound waves will not actually sound like anything. Sound as it is mechanically understood will occur, but sound as it is understood by sensation will not occur…. This riddle illustrates John Locke’s famous distinction between primary and secondary qualities. This distinction outlines which qualities are axiomatically imbibed in an object, and which qualities are ascribed to the object. That is, a red thing is not really red (that is, ‘red’ is a secondary quality), a sweet thing is not really sweet, a sound does not actually sound like anything, but a round object is round.

What would I do without Wikipedia? Well, I might refer to the fun and interesting Urban Dictionary, which suggests that the riddle “symbolizes the ineffectiveness of unheard opinions/thoughts.” That meaning seems like a strain of Callen’s thinking, which is not surprising since Callen in an urban sort of guy.

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