Sunday, April 27, 2014

They earn it

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been in the news recently because TMZ published a recording in which he said some not-very-nice things about racial minorities.  Those private remarks were not well taken by people who participate in or follow the NBA, the professional sports league with the highest percentage of players of color.

I can count on one finger the number of hours I have ever spent thinking about the Clippers and their owner.  Having read his remarks, I have to say they are nothing more than the sort of garden-variety racism that successful white people of a certain age feel comfortable expressing when they don't think anyone they don't know is listening.  They are surprising only because they are so ridiculous.

But I was interested to hear something else he had to say.  At one point in the recording--which is of a conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend--she asks him, "Do you know that you have a whole team that's black, that plays for you?"  And this was his reply:
You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league? 
Now, Donald Sterling is something I'm not and will likely never be--he's a billionaire, almost twice over.  But he and I do have something in common, or at least had.  I have, at various times, had employees who worked for my businesses, just as he has and does.  And there have been times when I've given my employees things, like paid time off and end-of-year bonuses, that I didn't have to give them.

One thing that I understood to be the essential nature of the relationship with my employees was that I was not "giving" them the salaries they earned, nor was I "giving" them anything they chose to buy with the money they earned.  Rather, the money I paid them was for services they rendered to me. It was a financial transaction that I viewed as roughly equal on both sides.

I doubt very much that any of Sterling's employees, from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on down to the janitor that empties his trash, think of the paychecks they receive in exchange for those services as a "gift" from Sterling.  I think it might be quite surprising to them to learn that Sterling apparently thinks his signature on those paychecks is an act of kindness, and not a fair exchange of their time for his money.

As for the players, I expect they would be highly surprised that Sterling believes he "makes the game."

I have often wondered where this idea was coming from, that wealthy people were "job creators" who needed to receive special benefits in the form of low taxes for putting their capital into jobs.  Sterling's attitude, which fits well with ideas other wealthy people have expressed recently, has crystallized for me exactly why wealthy people think they deserve special treatment.

They think the ordinary commercial activities they engage in, specifically employment, do not constitute a fair exchange.  They believe they are doing a public service by employing people, rather than getting fair value for the money they pay.

I don't disagree that we need jobs.  The labor market is tough for unemployed people right now--especially for the long-term unemployed.  But billionaires like Sterling are kidding themselves.  They are getting a more-than-fair benefit from the bargains they enter into with their employees.  They aren't doing a public service.  And they don't deserve any special treatment simply because they participate in the market for labor.  They get plenty of benefit from the time and effort of the people they hire.

Everyone in the media and the sports world will focus on Sterling's racist comments, and rightly so.  But couldn't we get a little attention on the far more anti-social attitude he expressed toward his employees?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Look for the union label

Earlier today, football players at Northwestern University in Chicago cast ballots in an election, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, concerning whether they would unionize.  Recently, the NLRB ruled preliminarily that under its regulations, the football players are employees of the university.  That preliminary ruling is under review, so it will be some time before the results of the election are known.

I am a strong believer in the need for labor unions.  After all, virtually all of the legal protections for workers we have today--the minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, restrictions on child labor, workplace safety rules, and many others--exist because unions fought for them.  In the absence of unions, workers are subject to as much abuse and cruelty as their employers can get away with, because most people cannot simply leave their jobs.  Indeed, employers take great pains to make it difficult for their employees to leave.

A recent class-action lawsuit against large tech companies like Google, Yahoo, and others, alleges that those companies entered into a conspiracy in which they agreed not to "poach" employees from other members of the conspiracy, thereby artificially keeping wages low.  That policy--which is well documented--kept billions of dollars out of the hands of workers.

Often, when this subject comes up, I hear criticisms of unions even from people who trend leftward on most political issues.  "Unions are corrupt," they say, "and they enrich the union bosses at the expense of the rank-and-file members."  I don't think that unions are exempt from criticism.  As with any political organization, there have been abuses.  Unions create a confluence of money and power, and for that reason, they are susceptible to exploitation by corrupt individuals.

But the fact that unions aren't perfect does not mean that they are bad for America.  On balance, we have historically done better as a nation when union membership has been high.  It is no surprise that real wages for the middle class and the working poor have eroded steadily just as has union membership.

Unions have the greatest potential for good when they address the conditions under which workers labor.  That makes the situation at Northwestern--and at hundreds of other universities--ripe for the application of organization to the labor force.

We think of college athletics as "amateur" sports, but that's a convenient fiction.  The reality is that college athletics are big business for the universities and for the organization--the NCAA--that regulates them.  Universities use athletics as a vector for fundraising and recruitment, and with a wink and a nod make certain that their athletic arms have top-flight facilities first and foremost.  The head football coach (or the basketball coach, at some schools) is usually the highest-paid university employee, earning a seven-figure salary in many if not most cases, and the assistants often have salaries that exceed those of tenured professors. 

Moreover, the universities, the conferences, and the NCAA use athletics to derive billions of dollars in revenue from television contracts.

None of those people are doing it for "the love of the game."

College athletes who receive scholarships do receive benefits associated with the work they do to make college athletics possible.  Northwestern pegs the cost of attendance--tuition, fees, books, room and board, and personal expenses--at about $66,000 a year.  College athletes receive additional benefits associated with their performance, including free medical care for sports-related injuries, specialized training, and expense money and meals when traveling to events.  But despite these nominal benefits, college athletes, especially football players, are nonetheless exploited by the NCAA juggernaut.

Athletes are severely limited in the outside and summer employment they can hold.  They do not receive anything from the use of their images and names by their universities, by the NCAA, or even by the commercial entities that make money through NCAA licensing.  They are prohibited from sponsorship and endorsement contracts.  Their scholarships last one year; the university can unilaterally decline to renew a scholarship for any reason, including injury, or for no reason at all.  But athletes who sign with a university are bound to that university for their entire eligibility.  Transfer is possible, but the athlete is almost always held ineligible to play for an entire year--and in certain circumstances, that year can count against the athlete's total eligibility.

But perhaps the most significant exploitation is this:  An athlete who sustains a serious injury as a result of competition is owed no long-term care by the university who benefited from that athlete's work.  Football is a dangerous sport that carries a substantial risk of serious trauma--broken bones, damaged knees, concussions, even in rare cases serious spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis.

I don't know whether unionization will fix these issues.  But what I do know is that no one--not the coaching staffs, not the universities and conferences, and not the NCAA (especially not the NCAA)--is looking out exclusively for the best interests of student-athletes.  All of those entities make their living on the exploitation of the labor that student-athletes provide, and for that reason, they cannot be trusted to have students-athletes' best interests at heart.  Unionization, at a minimum, would give voice and organization to student-athletes in a way that the current system does not allow.

I'm a fan of the college game, and I root for my alma mater to win every time they play.  I believe that college athletics has a place in our society.  But there is no reason why the athletes cannot organize and have a direct say in matters that affect their interests.  In the end, I think it will result in a better game if they do.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We are not alone

As my regular readers* will remember, I travel fairly frequently for work.  With alarming frequency, the purpose of travel is a meeting that lasts no more than an hour, but my physical presence is required.  Often, this necessitates a full day or more spent flying and driving to the meeting place, together with long periods of isolation in hotel rooms, working as best I can while on the road.

* - Assuming, of course, that I have regular readers. It wouldn't hurt you to write once in a while, just to let me know you're out there.

Lately, however, it's been a bit worse.  A few weeks ago, I injured my back.  I've now had four separate doctor's appointments, with the latest diagnosis being a ruptured disc (L5-S1, for those keeping score) that's pressing on my sciatic nerve, causing pain and numbness down my right leg.  This injury is actually a very ordinary one, one that happens to a lot of people of middle age, and in some respects I feel a little silly because it's affected me in this way.  There are many people who suffer through much more pain than I'm experiencing.  But the pain is significant enough that it interferes with my ability to concentrate on work.

It also interferes with my ability to sit at a desk, so nearly every piece of work I've done in the last several weeks has been lying in bed, with my laptop** in front of me.  My productivity is way down.  But, more importantly, it's interfered with my ability to interact with the world.  It's been weeks since I spent any significant time with my friends, in part because sitting for the car ride over or at a restaurant table for several hours has at times been virtually unbearable.

** - Which, if we are to be accurate, ought to be called a tummytop.

I have had to travel three times for work since I suffered this injury, and I'm proud to say that I have muscled through it each time. But aside from the primary purpose of my travel, which left hours of free time, I haven't felt like doing much other than lying in the hotel bed, contemplating my circumstances.  In fact, on each of those trips, I have been to a city where a good friend from high school lives, and I just haven't even bothered to call him because I couldn't do more than the minimum.

The experience of the last few weeks, however, has shed some light for me on how pain and isolation can lead to depression and loneliness.  I can feel those creeping in at times, lying to me about how alone I am, how alone my injury has made me.

When that happens, I turn to the humanism that animates my worldview and force myself to remember that we are not alone.  There are seven billion of us.  We are all interconnected.  Everything we are is the sum of the triumphs and failures of our forebears, of humans working together to tame our world, to build a life beyond bare survival, to stretch our reach and secure our grasp.  Even in the quiet times, when I lie in my bed, when I am feeling tired and in pain and alone and depressed, I can think of the humans who created the environment in which I live:  The woodworkers who made my furniture.  The technicians who designed my computer and television. The writers and producers who scripted my entertainment, and the technical workers who executed the script so that I would be entertained.

When I am on the road, I think of the workers who paved it, the engineers who designed it, the politicians and bureaucrats who planned it.  When I fly I marvel at perhaps the defining miracle of the modern age:  rapid, safe, comfortable, inexpensive travel to nearly anywhere I would want to go, all of it the work of humans.

In the smallest moments, when the world seems its darkest, when my life seems so much like marking time, to feel better about the world of which I am a part, all I need to do is to think about the work of all those people who came before me, preparing the way.  In a way, they did these things for me.  Or, perhaps in a better way, they did all these things for us.

This idea, this sense of connectedness, is simultaneously frightening and humbling and exciting.  It spurs me to do more, to be more, for my fellow humans, now and in the future.

The earth we call home does us humans no favors.  We had to pull ourselves from the primordial ooze by our own merit.  Other species have had their time, and vanished.  We have survived and thrived because we worked together for our common survival; that adaptation, among many, is responsible for our relatively secure position in this world. 

If there is anything we can learn from the story of human evolution it is that working together as a civilization confers upon us an advantage over the harder parts of our environment.  Our civilization requires laws and customs and specialization and trust.  Some people believe that a supernatural being has conferred these things upon us, but I see it differently.  Our civilization, with its laws and customs and specialization and trust, is simply an expression of natural selection in action:  What works is what allows us the opportunity to survive and reproduce; what does not work is conveniently discarded.  Our DNA is the vector of that natural selection, and it has hard-coded us to be this way.

We endanger the survival of our species when we go against these things.  Although I am usually willing to view religion as a benign influence that supports our civilization, there are times when I am troubled by the way in which some religions discourage their members from humanism, compel their members to disconnect from reality and rational thought, deny their members the full depth of human experiences in ultimately futile attempts at "purity," and practice hostility toward learning.

These moral guardians of humanity are superfluous at best and malignant at worst.  They claim moral superiority, to the point at which they falsely accuse humanists of being morally ungrounded opportunists who desire most to be free of rules in order to engage in a game of the survival of the mightiest.  In a great irony, the common tenet of all of the world's major religions--that a moral person treats others as they would want to be treated, known as the Golden Rule--is an essentially humanist principle, being derived not from the supernatural, but from our innate sense of self-interest and our empathetic response to the realization that we are all the same.  For an understanding of what it means to be human, or to be a humanist, you need not look any further.

The major problem of religion is not in its adoption of this idea, but in all the many ways in which religions, whether in their orthodoxy or in their practice, stand fundamentally in opposition to this idea.  I have seen religion motivate people to great service, and make no mistake, that is a good thing, but I have also seen religion motivate people to unspeakable acts of brutal inhumanity.

I have written previously about my internal conflict as I struggled with overcoming, then finally succumbing to, disbelief.  As I have had time to adjust to my new worldview, I have taken comfort in the realization that this world, this life, is all that we have.  It is a precious thing, not to be wasted, but grown and extended as best we can.  It is especially not to be wasted on empty exercises that amount to prophylactic measures undertaken in the event that there is a world beyond death.  I have talents and skills.  I live in a world of sensory experience, of pleasure and pain, of beauty and disgust.  I am of a world that will have an existence long after I am gone, no matter what I do.  I will not live forever, so the best I can do is to do my part to enrich the world of those who come after me.

It's easy to view our ultimate mortality as grim, and to adopt the fantasy of a further life to cope. But this central fact of our existence is not a reason for despair.  Instead of lamenting that this is all we have, or giving up what we have in the hope of something better, the task of our lives is to make the world a better place.  When that happens, we thrive--together, as we are in all things.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The eschatology of lunar eclipses

Oh, when the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the moon turns red with blood
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
There are plenty of resources on the Internet where you can learn about lunar eclipses--what causes them, when they occur, why they are (sometimes) red, etc.--and I don't think I need to lay all of that out in detail for today's purposes.  But I will draw your attention to a handful of facts, the importance of which will become apparent.

First, as I'm sure you are aware, the phenomenon of "moonlight" is actually sunlight reflected off the surface of the moon.  At any given time, approximately half of the moon's surface is illuminated (just as half of the earth's surface is illuminated) by the sun.  Depending on where the moon is in relation to the sun and the earth, we can see all, part, or none of the illuminated half.  This is what is referred to as the "phases" of the moon--full moon (we see all of the illuminated part), gibbous moon (we see more than half the illuminated part), crescent moon (we see less than half the illuminated part), and new moon (we see none of the illuminated part).

The full moon occurs when the moon is on the side of the earth opposite the sun, because we have to be positioned between the moon and the sun in order to receive the reflected light from the full lunar surface.

Just as a person standing in sunlight casts a shadow, the earth casts a shadow into space.  Occasionally, the moon's orbit carries it into that shadow, and the sun's light is (partially or completely) blocked.  That means that there is no moonlight, so the moon seems to disappear. We refer to that as a lunar eclipse.

Thus, a lunar eclipse can only occur when the moon is on the side of the earth opposite the sun, because the earth has to be positioned between the moon and the sun in order to block the moon from getting sunlight.

Those two "thus"es, by the way, combine for an important observation:  a lunar eclipse can ONLY occur at the full moon.

(We don't get a lunar eclipse at every full moon because the moon's orbit is somewhat tilted, and most of the time it "misses" the earth's shadow.  Often, the lunar eclipse is only partial because the moon's orbit only partially carries it through the shadow.)

Last night's lunar eclipse was a full eclipse, and is the first in a set of four, called a "tetrad," that will occur over the next 16 months, without any partial eclipses in between.  This is a fairly frequent occurrence when the tilt of the moon's orbit is as it is presently, but there can be long stretches without that arrangement.

By the way, lunar and solar eclipses always occur in pairs.  There will be a solar eclipse on April 29, but it will only be visible in the southern hemisphere, mostly in Australia and Indonesia.

Last night's lunar eclipse is also called a "blood moon."  During the eclipse, as the earth's shadow creeps across the moon's surface, the moon takes on a deep red color.  This phenomenon is due to something called "Rayleigh scattering."  When the moon is red, it's because the sunlight that gets to the moon is passing through the earth's atmosphere en route.  It's the same phenomenon that causes red skies at dusk or dawn.

(You can perform a simple experiment with an aquarium, water, Pine-Sol, and a strong white light source, like a slide projector.  Fill the aquarium with water, pour in and stir a generous amount of Pine-Sol to make it cloudy, and shine the light through the aquarium.  The water nearest the light will appear blue, and that farthest away will appear red.)

The blood moon is important in Christian eschatology (belief in End Times) because of a verse of Joel:
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
 Joel 2:31

The problem, of course, is that the "blood moon" actually occurs with some frequency.  In fact, virtually every total lunar eclipse could be said to be a "blood moon" because of the phenomenon that causes it.

John Hagee and other prominent pastors have been talking of late about End Times, referring to the blood moon, pointing out not only that these four blood moons in a row will all occur on Jewish festivals:  two on Passover, two on Sukkot, in successive years.  Hagee wrote a best-selling book about it, which proves, I suppose, that some people will buy anything.

The discussion of this coincidence is essentially of a piece with the supposed Lincoln-Kennedy connection, which have been thoroughly debunked.

The essential fact that you need to understand why this is actually just a coincidence, not a "sign":  Passover and Sukkot occur on defined dates in the Hebrew calendar.  Passover begins on 15 Nisan, and Sukkot begins on 15 Tishrei.  The Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar.  It is based upon months that begin at the "new moon"--the day on which the first sliver of moon is visible in Israel.*  In other words, the first day of a new month is at the new moon.  And because the full moon is about two weeks after the new moon...presto:  15 Nisan and 15 Tishrei always occur at the full moon.

* - The "solar" part of lunisolar refers to the practice of adding months, periodically, to keep festivals in time with the seasons, which are determined by the position of the earth with respect to the sun.

And remember what else occurs at the full moon?  Lunar eclipses.

This is simply a coincidence.  There is a one-in-six chance that any given lunar eclipse will occur at the start of Passover or Sukkot--in ANY year.  To have four in a row is simply not that unusual.  And in fact, since the first century C.E., there have been 62 such tetrads, and eight of them have coincided with both feasts.  That's fairly rare, but not so rare that we could reasonably argue for some sort of design or signal.

Now, I'm willing to tolerate people who want to believe in this kind of stuff.  Just because I choose to apply critical thinking and evidentiary standards and don't believe in supernatural occurrences doesn't mean that others must conform to my views.  It is entirely foreign to me to hope for the end of the world, but it is probably harmless to do so.  But a red flag is raised for me when people use this kind of thing as a pretext for helping to usher in the end of the world.  When you cross the line from passive to active intent, when you urge acts that you believe are foretold in the Bible in order to bring about the end of the world, then it is time to oppose that which we would ordinarily tolerate.

Monday, April 14, 2014

This land is your land

I won't pretend to understand the nuances of the dispute between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management. 

The basic facts are these: Bundy and his family own a 160-acre tract of land near Bunkerville, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas.  Bundy uses that land to raise cattle.  As is consistent with ranching practices in that area, Bundy's cattle have historically roamed freely--freely in the sense of being not limited by fences--off that land onto public lands surrounding Bundy's ranch, which are owned by the U.S. Government and managed by the BLM.  In 1993, the BLM imposed new rules governing grazing in the area where Bundy's cattle roam, partly to protect the habitat of the then-endangered desert tortoise, and partly to reduce overgrazing of the lands.  In response, Bundy ceased paying the grazing fees BLM charges for the privilege of using those public lands for grazing, but did not cease using the land for that purpose.

Over the last twenty years, the BLM has allowed the unpaid fees to accumulate without much action.  The dispute has gone to court twice, and in both cases, the court has sided with the BLM.  According to the fee schedule that went into effect in 1993, Bundy owes the BLM about $1.1 million.  Bundy contends that he owes only about $300,000--calculated under the old schedule--but, more importantly, that he owes the money to the State of Nevada.

Bundy's arguments--which, bear in mind, have been fully considered by the courts and rejected on two occasions--include that the federal government does not own the land; that the BLM lacks the authority to impose grazing fees; that he is the heir to grazing rights established when his family (he alleges) began grazing on the land in 1870; and that he lacks a valid contract with the BLM for grazing, meaning that he has not agreed to the fees.

I have a great deal of experience in dealing with federal judges.  While I have had my differences with some, and while I have on an occasion or two seen judges' prejudices affect their ability to comprehend a dispute and decide it objectively, in my general experience, federal judges do try very hard to examine facts fairly and render decisions that are both correct on the law and fair to the parties.  I have seen nothing that would indicate something different in this case.

In fact, Bundy's arguments appear more akin to the long-discredited arguments of tax resisters and conspiracy theorists, than to carefully considered, legitimate disputes.

As I see it, then, this dispute is relatively simple:  Bundy has grazed his cattle on public land without paying for the privilege of doing so. He owes the money, and BLM is within its rights to prevent Bundy from doing so in the future and to seize--with an appropriate court order--Bundy's assets to pay the debt.

Against that backdrop, however, there is much more serious issue.  As the radical right wing has long threatened to do, Bundy has been supported in his effort by armed individuals who have presented themselves in the area, ostensibly to protest but also to provide armed resistance to the BLM's efforts.  They see themselves as a bulwark against an overreaching federal government bent on taking their liberty away.  (Apparently they believe they have the unrestricted liberty to run their cattle on federal lands without interference.)  Some of them--the amateur Constitutional scholars--have suggested that it is illegal for the government to own the land (it isn't) or to charge fees for grazing (it isn't).  Some have even posited that the BLM's activities are part of a UN/federal government conspiracy to give that land to the Chinese, or some other whackadoodle Dale Gribble fever dream.

After several days of tense conflict and protest, the BLM--which had collected about 350 of Bundy's cattle--backed down, returned the cattle, and withdrew from the scene.  The protesters regard this as a victory, and they no doubt feel emboldened by BLM's withdrawal.

I am conflicted by the BLM's withdrawal.  On the one hand, this is mostly a dispute about money, and it is not worth the spilling of blood that may have ensued if BLM had elected to press its interests.  On the other, we cannot tolerate a situation where an individual can avoid a lawful court order with the assistance of a private army.

Regardless of the withdrawal of the BLM--and I'm certain they will seek another way of enforcing the order--the protesters should not see this as a victory.  They have not proven that they are more powerful than the federal government.  They have proven only that they are willing to provoke an armed conflict in which the federal government is not willing to engage.  Unfortunately, that places them above the law in that sense, because a law we cannot bring ourselves to enforce is not a law at all. 

Moreover, should enforcement attempts resume, and the protesters turn violent, well, that would be war.  And for that, there is a ready remedy in the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Actually, the sun does revolve around the earth

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  As I write this, I am holed up in my bedroom due to some sort of muscular injury that is causing partial numbness in my leg (all the time) and pain when I stand or sit, which is terribly inconvenient for doing any sort of anything except sleeping.

The social media is all a-twitter (pardon the pun) about a new "documentary," narrated by Kate Mulgrew, erstwhile Star Trek captain Kathryn Janeway (my least favorite Janeway), in which the central premise, supposedly, is that Galileo was wrong and the earth is the center of the universe.

Apparently, this film, which was produced by an ultra-conservative Holocaust denier and scientific skeptic,* features interviews with a number of noted scientists on this subject, some of whom have been rather quick to deny, variously, (a) that they believe in a geocentric universe, (b) that they intended to appear in a film of this nature, or (c) that they appeared in it at all.

* - Unlike most of the time, when I use the term "scientific skeptic" in this sense, I am referring to people who are skeptical of science, not people who, based on science, are skeptical of supernatural phenomena.

I know how they feel.  I am continually plagued by film producers who put me into their projects without my knowledge or intent.

But I will leave others to comment on the absurdity of such a view.  I mean, everybody knows that the earth revolves around the sun.  In fact, although I do not often write about science in this blog, I have written about this very topic.  Indeed, the story of how we came to heliocentrism is more about breaking down paradigms than about the actual science behind it.

Which is why I'm going to surprise you (I hope) and explain how it is that the sun really does revolve around the earth.

Wait, what?

Yeah.  It does.  To help you understand why, a story:  In 1998, my wife and I moved to the Washington, D.C., area so that I could go to law school at Georgetown.  We packed up our material possessions, loaded them into a large truck, loaded a car onto a tow rig, and drove the entire thing from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to our new home.

At one point, I pulled this giant rig--a 28-foot truck pulling a 20-foot trailer--into a rest area and parked it among the semis.  I was sitting in the cab waiting for my wife to return from the restroom, engine off, when suddenly, as I looked out my side window, I became aware that the rig was moving.  And I didn't like that, because we were in the Tennessee mountains and the parking space looked out over a rather high embankment.  I stepped on the brake, mashing it down as hard as I could, but we were still moving.

I was panicked.  I couldn't turn the steering wheel (because the engine was off, which locked the steering wheel) and I couldn't stop the truck.  But as I looked out my side window, I could clearly see how I was moving along in comparison to the truck that was parked next to me, pointed in the opposite direction.

It was only when my window cleared the back of that truck that I realized that I had been stationary all along.  It was the truck next to me that was moving in the opposite direction.

When my wife came back to the truck, we had a good laugh.

As any physics student can tell you, and I was one once upon a time, in classical mechanics, you cannot describe how two objects move with respect to each other, just by observing them, without having a frame of reference to compare them to.  When I was in that truck, all I could see was the other truck, so I couldn't tell the difference between my movement and the other truck's, since I lacked a frame of reference.  Once the other truck moved past my window, and I could see the rest of the parking lot, it became clear that the other truck was moving, and I was stationary.

In ancient times, when we lacked such modern technology as telescopes and calculus, we lacked an independent frame of reference to help us understand whether we're moving or the sun is.  From our perspective, the earth feels firm and unmoving.  The sun appears to move across the sky through the day.  A geocentric perspective is not unreasonable.  In fact, it was probably the only thing that ever occurred to anyone.  (Even Galileo didn't realize it until he looked through his fancy telescope and discovered the moons of Jupiter.)  And, perhaps more importantly, if you are only talking about the sun, and perhaps the moon and those planets that can be seen with the naked eye, it really doesn't matter which way you describe it.

Consider for a moment that wherever you are, reading this, you probably feel stationary.  (You might be in a car, but humor me.)  I know I'm stationary right now, because it hurts to move.  But even when you are completely still, you're riding along as the earth spins** at perhaps 800 miles per hour, give or take depending on your latitude.  And the earth is hurtling through space at 66,600 miles per hour as it orbits the sun.***  And the whole thing--sun, earth, moon, and the other planets--are orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy at a speed of approximately 447,000 miles per hour.****  And none of this takes into account the expansion of the universe.

** - Or does it?
*** - Or does it?
**** - Maybe.

But you feel like you're standing still.  And I'm just lying here on my back.

None of this means that Galileo was wrong.  There are 500 years' worth of science, plus the onset of the general theory of relativity, that demonstrate beyond any doubt that the earth orbits the sun, and not the other way around.*****

***** - But there is a conclusion that can be drawn from all of this.  If you recall in my prior post on this subject, the Bible is quite clear about how the earth "be not moved."  See, e.g., I Chron. 16:30; Ps. 93:1; Ps. 96:10; Ps. 104:5; see also Eccl. 1:5. ("The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose").  If it turns out--and it does--that the earth actually does move, what conclusion might we draw about the Bible?  Perish the thought. *wink*

What it means is that the frame of reference matters.