(This is a guest editorial, from an old friend, Russ Farris. Here he opines on the subject of same-sed marriage; something our President now says he favors. It was so well expressed, I wanted to share it with you, my readers!)
Spinning Same-Sex Marriage
I’m opposed to same-sex marriage, and a friend asked if I would follow the will of the people when they start voting for same-sex marriage. I will, though I’ll do it with bad grace. Let me explain why.
Fifty years ago I worked at Cape Canaveral and I occasionally calibrated and repaired the Sperry Gyrocompasses used on missile recovery ships. A gyro is sort of like a spinning top, but instead of spinning on a table top, a gyro spins in a system of “gimbals” that allow it to move in any direction. By using a subtle system of weights, you can make a gyro orient itself so that its axis of spin is exactly parallel to the Earth’s axis of spin. In that case, you have a gyrocompass; one end of the gyro always points towards the North Star.
The Sperry gyrocompass had a gyro that weighed 14 pounds and spun at 3,000 rpm. When you stopped or adjusted it, the gyro had a distressing tendency to “tumble,” much like a spinning top tumbles as it slows down. When the gyro tumbled, it would sometimes destroy thousands of dollars worth of gimbals and electronics. It would also snap your arm like a toothpick if you happened to be working on it at the time. People who could work on Sperry gyrocompasses without making them tumble made a lot of money (at least it was a lot of money for a young man just out of the Navy).
If you apply pressure to the axis of a gyro, the axis won’t move in the direction of the pressure, it moves at a ninety-degree angle to the pressure. When you turned a Sperry gyrocompass on, the weights and electronics would start nudging it towards its north-south alignment. It typically took 12 hours to “settle.” Customers didn’t like watching us twiddle our thumbs for 12 hours, so we would nudge the gyros into place manually by pressing our thumbs against the gimbals. If you did it right, the gyro would settle in half an hour. If you did it wrong, the gyro would tumble and break your arm.
The Sperry gimbals supported the weight of the gyro, its motor, and its feedback mechanisms–about fifty pounds altogether. The accuracy of the gyrocompass depended on the entire assembly being carefully balanced, and I was getting the big bucks to make the compass accurate, i.e., balanced. Resting a penny on one of the gimbals would, over a period of hours, introduce an error of several degrees. A captain using such a gyrocompass could make some very bad decisions.
Working on gyrocompasses made me aware of how small forces working over a long time can produce large changes. In gyrocompasses, the phenomenon is called precession. In politics, it’s called spin.
I’m a big fan of a book called The Wisdom of Crowds .The book gives a good theoretical explanation for the success of democracy. The author argues that a large bunch of ordinary people can, under favorable circumstances, make better decisions than a small bunch of experts.
He also explains how democracy can be undermined by whims and fancies, and how those whims and fancies can be generated and manipulated by small groups of “experts.” He cites at some length a 19th Century book called Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds . I read Popular Delusions about 30 years ago; it’s one of the books that turned me into a skeptic and a conservative.
In social, political, and scientific issues, misinformation and disinformation act like pennies resting on the gimbals. Over time they drive us off course. Saul Alinsky discovered the power of spin in the Thirties and his disciples have been trying to steer the ship of state this way and that by pressing their thumbs against the gimbals ever since.
I don’t have a good reason for opposing same-sex marriages. I just sense that it is a bad idea. The majority of people have agreed with me in election after election. Still, the handful of people who strongly support same-sex marriage have kept their thumbs on the gimbals and they are moving us in the direction they want to go–especially in California. I hope there are no rocks or shoals on our new course. Russ Farris http://www.polymicrobial.com/