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Mutt and Jeff: Don’t take it to the extreme

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Extreme. What in the world do we mean by extreme?  When we speak of temperature we say that something is too hot or too cold, or perhaps that it is pleasantly warm or cool, or perhaps tepid. The highest and lowest temperatures would be at the extremities, thousands of degrees in the case of the sun, and on the other end, absolute zero.  My understanding of possible extremes of temperature is probably out of date.

If we consider the speed limit on Colorado highways, it ranges from 20 mph on snaky mountain roads to 75 on rural freeways. Traveling 20 mph on a rural freeway is dangerously slow, while doing 60 on a mountain pass is too fast. Land speed records at Bonneville have climbed into the upper 700s. I may have hit the slow record pushing my car out of the driveway in January.

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Phenomena such as temperature and automobile speeds can be shown on a continuous spectrum — a simple horizontal line — with the maximum quantity on one side and the minimum on the other. Anything quantifiable can be charted this way, from wavelength to medical charts, as long as it is only one value being measured.  

For example, my English papers at Bread Loaf ranged from 3 to 4. Anything below 3 was considered a failure. The possible grades from 1 to 4 could be graphed on a line. If I had gotten a 1 or 2, I would have been kicked out of the program. Such a spectrum might be labeled “Quality of Writing” (as assessed by a handful of English professors). You could average all my scores and specify the resultant GPA on the line. The spectrum is such a useful measuring device, not only for gauging the extremes, but also for appraising the middle ground.  

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To take another example, exposure to noise levels of 100 decibels, such as one might experience at a rock concert or a monster truck rally, can lead to hearing loss. Total silence could also be hard to endure, especially in such circumstances as confinement in an isolation cell. I probably should not go on multiplying examples, though it’s tempting to add a few more.

What if a sound truck comes through the neighborhood at 3 every Tuesday morning, broadcasting raucous music at such a volume that it wakes the neighbors? If someone wants to complain, they would be wise to purchase a sound meter in order to get a precise measurement. That way, they can back up their complaint.

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My grandmother Etta’s brother was a gambler and entrepreneur. Dad always spoke of him admiringly as a “promoter.” He would borrow money off Grandmother during the Depression in order to spend it at the Santa Anita race track. She said of him that he could sell you sand on the desert.  I’m imagining a scene where my great-uncle is selling real estate to some gullible person, offering a terrific deal on lush property with manicured lawns and superabundant fruit trees. The yokel realizes he’s been sold five acres on the Mojave Desert after my great-uncle has already pocketed the cash. To make the illustration more outlandish, I suppose I could imagine him representing a parcel on the Atacama Desert — where there is practically zero rainfall — as if it were a tropical paradise with annual rainfall of twenty or thirty inches.

In my mind, this presents a picture of our current unreal discourse about politics. Some mistakenly equate increasing governmental control with increasing freedom. The more the government suppresses and circumscribes us, some suppose, the freer we are. But the nature of government is to govern, if necessary at gunpoint. Governments make laws and enforce them; that’s what they do. Ultimately they have the power of life and death over their citizens.   

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The political spectrum is frequently misinterpreted to show a concentration of power on both ends of the scale. This is dishonest. Some also imagine one end of the spectrum transmogrifying into the other. It’s like saying, “The sun so hot I froze to death.” The accumulation of power does not lead to paradise on Earth; it leads to slave camps and genocide. That can be demonstrated.

Part of a planned series of columns by Paige Meredith and Stan Badgett.

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