Tuesday, March 28, 2006

P. Wilson: Churches

Pudinhand Wilson says:

"In a city with so many churches, how can anyone be homeless?"

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Sunday, March 26, 2006


I love this flip-flop.

When I find myself looking both ways before crossing a one-way street, I think, Gee! I’m cautious, I must be getting old. Then I think:

Am I cautious because I’m old, or am I old because I’m cautious?

I’ve come across another instance of this verbal form in my new tennis improvement program, which advocates PLAY LIKE THE PROS.

Most beginners, most players for that matter, are taught that a good stroke is a combination of many coordinated movements: arm, wrist, torso, feet, legs—very complicated. My new guru says that the pros keep it much simpler, and in fact, the pros don’t swing the way most people are taught.

It is a commonplace, when beginners try to imitate the pros, the teacher says not to—that only highly skilled pros can execute those kinds of strokes, and that mere mortals such as we must compensate for our lack of special talent by doing our strokes in the prescribed clunky, mechanical, non-intuitive way.

My new guru says that the pros have become pros because their strokes are so simple, and should be imitated by all other players. So, the issue is:

Do they have simple strokes because they’re pros, or, are they pros because they have simple strokes?

And a different, but similar-sounding form: back before the resignation-in-disgrace, a reporter in a bull session referred to Nixon’s “semi-annual erection.” This was quickly corrected by a colleague, “Don’t you mean his ‘annual semi-erection’”?

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One of the good things about being dumped at our Auntie Ann’s for a Saturday overnight, when my family lived in Lotus Land, was that she let us stay up late. Which meant we could watch the Spade Cooley Show. Spade was a cowboy fiddler, actor, and bandleader who had a popular locally produced TV show.

At that time (’56-’57-’58) rock and roll was still emerging as a distinct style. There was rockabilly, R&B, boogie-woogie and rock and roll all mixed together. And it showed up on Spade Cooley’s show. I mostly remember the rockabilly.

Spade’s is a common tragic flameout story. He’s a James Elroy icon, for being part of the unsavory pill-popping heyday of Hollywood Babylon, but mostly because old Spade stomped his wife to death in front of his fourteen year old daughter--out at his place in the desert, where he landed after boozing knocked him off TV.

According to web sources, Spade Cooley was an exemplar of western swing. It sounds like western big-band with some of Spike Jones thrown in. Check out some SAMPLES.

Today we honor the long career and happy life of Buck Owens. Buck was a giant of country and western music with such hits as Act Naturally, Save the Last Dance for Me, Tiger by the Tail, and my favorite Under the Influence of Love. Unlike Spade, Buck Owens continued to entertain well into his seventies

Buck Owens went his own way. He didn’t do Nashville, he did Bakersfield. Now that’s walking the walk. Situated in the rich farmland of the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is a big old mountain away from LA. And there’s nothing at all glamorous about it. There Buck built a music hall/restaurant called the Crystal Palace, where he and the Buckeroos performed regularly. A nice lady in the office goes there twice a year. She says it’s a relaxed, y’all come down kind of place, good food, affordable, and, you get to see Buck Owens. But, no more.

Buck Owen’s twangy style came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound. The idea that Bakersfield could have its own sound is kind of a joke, but not to Buck’s millions of fans. He uses a lot of steel guitar, which I love. There’s a great steel guitar solo in the snippet of Under the Influence of Love on the SAMPLES page of the Crystal Palace’s website. Then click through to more Buck-iana.

Way to go, Buck Owens!

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Like a kicked cat the Chevrolet jumps
from my frustrated toe, a boss’ butt
the true target. At periphery a bounce,
I stomp the brakes, then more clearly
boy pursuing ball, safely
on the sidewalk. Many autumn
dusks ago a Buick’s skid
stopped inches shy of my young
bee-line toward an ice cream truck.
By such pure life preserving
reflex, drivers’ feet share
kinship spanning generations.

(c) Copyrignt 2006 William Morrissey All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Journalistic Objectivity

A contribution philosophers can make is to help people avoid being misled and swindled. I used to think that philosophers were supposed to find answers to life's big questions. There are no answers to life's big questions. Lots of people and especially organizations promulgate answers which, they claim, have come from supernatural, infallible sources. All these answers are total bullshit.

It's my job as a philosopher (with a very small p) to voice my logical peeves, for the safety of society.

One piece of pure bullshit that I keep hearing from people who should know better is the concept of journalistic objectivity. There is no such thing, unless you're talking about a writing style that makes the writer put his opinions in the mouths of others. They'll tell you that objectivity means reporting both sides of a story. More bullshit. There's no story worth telling that involves only two sides. And choice of what stories to report--certainly no objective standard there.

One way to demonstrate the non-existence of journalistic objectivity is photography. These two photographs of the leader of the free world are completely objective. They come from today's AP slideshow of Bush's press conference.

I would contend that these are less flattering than some other photos in the slideshow, but they are no more or less objective. A smart person looking at these pictures would infer that the editor (me) doesn't like George Bush. A less smart person might think that the president actually is like Nixon (per the top photo), and/or Alfred E. Newman (per the bottom).

This doesn't address the issue of the void behind the president's eyes, which would require non-objective photographic tricks to hide.

From which void comes this quote from the objective AP story:

"I understand war creates concerns," the president said. "Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country."

Don't you just hate that sense of uncertainty?

Actually, sometimes philosophers do assert answers to the big questions. They don't believe the answers but find them "interesting." These assertions function like scratching posts for their fellow philosophers. It's a parlor game, or like Prime Minister's Questions, a quaint but for some highly amusing pastime.

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Friday, March 17, 2006


Jacob, helped by his mom, used lies and trickery to gain the leadership of the Jewish people.

Jacob obtained the birthright from Esau thusly: Esau had been out working so hard that he forgot to eat. On his way home he feels faint and sits down and then lays down, too weak to move. Along comes his non-identical twin brother, who asks what the problem is. Esau says he needs food to revive himself or else he’ll just lie there and die.

Jacob says he’ll bring his brother some food, but only if Esau gives Jacob his birthright as the first born. Esau figures better fed than dead and agrees. This is how Jacob got the birthright from his brother. Price gouging seems to be fine with God.

Then Jacob and his momma conspire to fool blind old Isaac into bestowing his blessing on Jacob, thinking he’s bestowing it on Esau. And God honors the outcome of this subterfuge!

We are told that God preferred Jacob because Jacob was smooth-skinned whereas Esau was hairy. Is this a little smarmy—like, if God were shipwrecked on a desert island, which brother would he prefer to have with him?

But wasn’t Esau’s seed's the true birthright? Whatever words were said, the fact of Esau’s birth-first cannot be changed. It's not surprising that the offspring of the swindler Jacob (name later changed by God to “Israel”) would claim in their Bible that God condoned this theft. However, Esau's offspring have an equal right to a version of events in which God disfavors the swindle, honors the rule of primogeniture, and blesses the offspring of Esau.

You know, they say that way back in the days of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Esau, when God was practically a neighbor, that different rules applied. This is total bullshit. It was terrible for Jacob not to feed Esau, for nothing, no questions asked. And, as for God honoring the deception of Isaac, what the heck kind of God is that?

I’m sorry, but my God loves all his children equally, always has, always will. It’s one of the things that makes Him so groovy. And He doesn't like cheating and lying.

The Bible says God preferred Jacob from the gitgo. This is used to justify predestination, the idea that from birth God likes some people and brings them to heaven, and dislikes others and sends them to hell. No way to change God’s mind. This belief is held exclusively by rich assholes who think God likes them. Even God ain’t that stupid.

A really fun website is SkepticsAnnotatedBible.com. (This link takes you to the Jacob and Esau story --see Gen 25-25.) It has full modern translations of the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, with marginal comments of a skeptical nature.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Many critics and listeners (me) agree that Bollocks…Sex Pistols is the best rock and roll album ever made. When “promising” American kids were out thrill killing, these throw-away British dole kids created enduring art. They accepted society’s low esteem and returned it, their basic message, “Yeah fuck you, too!”

How appealing in a pop culture of coked-up lock-step disco clones! And the music was so exuberant and visceral. They were having more fun than anyone, including themselves could ever have expected. The involvement was as complete as black gospel.

So I was overjoyed to see that the Sex Pistols said, “SCREW YOU,” to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. No one’s perfect, the Sex Pistols probably included, but this rejection of the music industry’s highest honor is a supreme act of artistic integrity. Read their letter HERE, and click through for bios etc.

Who says all news is bad?

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Monday, March 13, 2006


No one’s perfect. Most of us have done things that we regret, that we’re even ashamed of, that we’d rather not talk about.

Many criminals refer to their crimes as “mistakes,” like making a wrong turn on their way to church, or buying diet when they wanted real cola. It’s probably true that even with the best intentions we innocently do things that have bad consequences for others. Would that were the problem. Failure to resist bad impulses: that’s the problem.

We can’t forgive mistakes. Nothing to forgive. Mistakes just happen.

One friend of mine can’t forgive Maya Angelou for being a madam.

I question how appropriate it is for a Hitler Youth to be pope.

I definitely don’t feel like forgiving (Vietnam-war architect) Robert McNamara. Poor guy, he was using the publication of his new book, Wilson’s Ghost, to further his vain attempt to rehabilitate his bloodstained reputation. The book was beginning to get some public discussion in September, 2001. What a dagger in his heart when his puling self-concern was swept from the talk shows by the 9/11 attacks and subsequent war on terror. How sweet that he missed perhaps his last chance to defend himself. We have new crimes against humanity to think about now.

If McNamara admitted to being a war criminal and mass murderer and turned himself over to the Hague and offered his complete net worth for reparations to his victims, I would definitely consider “forgiving” him. But he says that based on what was known at the time, his decisions were correct, and he would do the same things given the same set of circumstances. This is pretty much the definition of a guy who should be locked up. Noam Chomsky has an amusing TAKE on McNamara's apologia.

There’s a sense that true remorse and worldly success are incompatible. There was that swindler Milkin who was hired to teach college courses. Charles Colson turns up on TV in nice suits talking about his successful prison ministry inc.com. Obviously Maya and the pope are undeterred.

Name some powerful criminals with true remorse? You can’t, because they go away and don’t bother people any more. Kissinger won’t go away. He still pretends he’s not a mass murderer. We’ll be seeing that fucker Colson once or twice a year until he dies. And Tookie? He was a leader. That’s why we even know his name. Powerful people want to stay that way, by any means necessary.

Particularly uncool is the religious rehab scam. If Jesus gives you power, then praise Jesus. And rehabbing for money? “As my virulent atheist friend, Pudinhand Wilson, always says, “Professional preaching's just a tax on being afraid of the dark.”

So now we have a thrill killer going to be preaching in Berkeley, some Episcopal preaching. I guess he’s got a lot to preach and teach. It’s not every day you get to meet a thrill killer. (Pudinhand thinks some parishioners might be getting a little vicarious tingle.) And his eighteen years in prison give him street creds with the congregation’s youth, showing them that thrill killing or gang banging or whatever are all just opportunities to cozy up to God.

The story says he was the ringleader of kids that killed at least one homeless person in Santa Barbara, for the thrill. So now he’s a ringleader for Jesus. I wonder if he ever even considered a monastery. If you read the ARTICLE you’ll note that while incarcerated he obtained a degree in business before starting his divinity studies.

With business skills, religious cover, and a compelling story, heck, the sky’s the limit! He’s not exactly starting at the bottom in his first grown-up job. According to the Chronicle he’ll be assistant pastor of the “Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, an exquisitely refurbished Victorian structure in West Berkeley.” He’s got a fiancee and everything. Way to go!

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Thursday, March 09, 2006


Using those drugs is cheating. Barry Bonds, according to accounts he hasn’t contested, is a cheater. This cheating isn’t a technical violation of some arbitrary rule, like driving 68 in a 65mph zone on a clear day with zero traffic.

This kind of cheating is a form of theft. It aims to steal the benefits of victory from those who follow the rules. You could calculate the money, plenty, and intangibles, much more. The problem is the disparity between drug users and non drug users.

If the rules were changed to permit all performance drugs, then if a user beats a non-user, no big deal. The only problem with simply allowing performance enhancing drugs is that some of them are harmful, and can fuck you up pretty bad.

If it means breaking Babe Ruth’s record, it would seem, a professional athlete should be allowed to do his or her own risk/reward analysis. Unfortunately, if the drugs are seen as necessary for success, all athletes will take them and they’ll cease to provide an advantage. Those closest to the pinnacle would want to experiment with new stuff to take them to the stratosphere, like test pilots, like Barry Bonds.

It’s a societal issue. Any sane parent would rather have little Johnny chilling with a little weed than raging around on roids. But if the pros do it, every Pony League middle schooler will be looking to bulk up. If you think of fame and fortune as the benefit of taking roids, very few users will realize any benefit at all, but all will pay the price.

If Barry Bonds plays this season he’ll pass Babe Ruth in all-time home runs. The Babe was a regular guy. He’d stand at the bar and down a beer and a hot dog with you. Barry won’t look you in the eye. Poor Barry is not a regular guy. I gather from the local sports press that players don’t like him much.

Ty Cobb was one of the greatest all around players in history. He was a prick. Everybody hated him. So when his name comes up they say, “Great player, what an asshole!” But don’t believe me about Ty Cobb’s NASTY PERSONALITY.

Being a regular guy, comfortable with yourself, and comfortable around others, is not a skill, it’s a disposition that poor Barry Bonds just lacks. It comes from thinking of yourself as a reasonably, but not especially, good person, and having the natural reflex to treat everyone as your equal (which of course, they are).

A rookie for the A’s, just up from the minors, asked in a post game interview about his sudden increase in income said, “I’m just glad to have a car that doesn’t die at every red light.” That’s a regular guy.

I guess it’s not impossible that MLB will successfully clamp down on performance enhancing drugs. If so, and other things being equal, the home runs per season ceiling would return to 60, where it had been for at least sixty years. MLB record books would show a major spike in home runs in the steroid seasons. Barry would be hung up on that spike like a parachutist on a radio tower, more an oddity than anything else: “Look at the steroid guy!”

Or, if performance enhancing drugs continue to be used, Bond’s records will be eclipsed soon enough anyway, and still nobody will like him. He can’t win.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good Taste Means Knowing When to Stop

“Don’t speak ill of the dead”—as a rule has a short half-life. It’s force lasts not much longer than the deceased stays warm. I have nothing to say against Dana Reeve who died today. Dana Reeve? Wife of Superman-actor Christopher Reeve, who, on the other hand, is plenty cold by now.

For seemed-like-forever we were subjected to painful, awkward “interviews” with the crippled actor. The guy couldn’t move. His backrest had little tuxedo-wings to keep his head from flopping sideways. To breathe, he had to stop talking and take this long, labored suck through his tracheotomy. Breathing time at least equaled talking time.

So why were we subjected to this pathos? Supposedly because Mr Reeve had become an advocate for spinal-chord injury sufferers. Interviewers would ask him how he was doing physically, and he’d say he was determined to recover, and to promote medical advances that would help other paralyzed people recover also. It was hard to watch. They patronized him, “We’re pulling for you, Chris.” Everyone knew it was a fantasy.

Who can blame him for continuing to crave some spotlight. But way beyond me is what motivated the ongoing interest in him. The whole ritual seemed smarmy, like selling personal pictures to the tabloids. Or like a freak show.

And how did Christopher Reeve sustain his paralyzing injury? Was he rescuing a baby from a burning building? Interceding in a street attack on an old lady? Did he get injured on a construction site doing manual labor to support his family?

Hell no! He got injured riding a goddamn horse, in the middle of the day, when most people were at work. He was jumping. He fell off the horse. He landed on his head.

There’s no moral content here. Some rich guy, enjoying a highly risky rich-guy sport, fucked up and broke his neck. And we’re supposed to care?

The news is full of it this evening. Dana died, but it’s mostly about Christopher’s paralysis. Oh, and by the way,

Two bombs killed sixteen people in Varanasi a holy city on the Ganges, sparking fears of sectarian violence. Coming up, celebrities and common folk alike respond to the death of Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher Reeve…”

Richard Farina did it right. In the mid-sixties he wrote a generation-defining novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, and co-wrote a folk-standard, the dulcimer-sweet Pack Up Your Sorrows. He married Mimi Baez, a true beauty with a smallish voice so sweet it made sister Joan’s sound like braying.

Then, at twenty-nine, successful but still hip as hell, totally on the scene, Richard Farina had a motorcycle accident. He did the right thing and died instantly. Forget that he was a passenger—it was a Harley, he was ripped to the tits (most likely), and he died. RICHARD FARINA ascended directly to the firmament, and shines there today.

Think what a god BOB DYLAN would be now if he’d had the same good sense. Dylan also had a motorcycle crash in 1966, but he survived. “Where there’s life there’s opportunity for disaster,” as the Greeks used to say, and Dylan’s reputation couldn’t survive his later conversion to Christianity. It made him kind of a joke. Too bad! He wrote so many good songs!

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Monday, March 06, 2006


To the Beheaders:

America is not the Great Satan. It's Satan's close friend, does Satan’s bidding, and wallows in Satan’s largesse, but it's not Satan. Not in the sense that if you eliminate America you eliminate Satan.

Demonizing aside, you’re correct that America is your enemy. When American cultural imperialism achieves its destined world hegemony, people who think like you will no longer exist. Arab and Islamic culture will be memorialized as just another theme hotel on the Vegas Strip.

“Bally’s Mecca” sound good? The Prophet's Playroom serving the stiffest drinks in town. The showgirls won't exactly be wearing chadris. The complimentary condoms--Sheiks. Piss you off? Of course you’re pissed off. Of course you want to go out and do some beheading. But please understand: beheading won’t work.

Hacking some poor guy’s head off with hundreds of chops from a Swiss Army knife definitely makes attention-getting television. The screams of the hackee are particularly chilling. But in the long run it’s just “content,” like the Paris Hilton tapes, tucked away in some corner of the web for perv delectation.

And look at the expense. Your beheading videos must take time and money to produce. The masked chorus. The highly-paid hacker. Kidnapping costs. Video stuff. This is a lot of trouble to kill just one person.

If you guys want to survive, you have to get smart about weaponry. Instead of running around beheading people one at a time, you should be in school, studying engineering, physics, chemistry, rocket-science. Face it, you need nukes.

In the same way that you want to do some beheading, our guy George Bush felt like he wanted to do some invading. So who did he invade? Nuclear armed North Korea? Nuclear-vague Iran? Hell no. He's went after the guys with the knives and videotape, and the puppy-killer, Saddam. Until you replace your knives with ICBMs, the Great Satan only laughs at you.

Another thing: what’s all this uptightness about sex? If it's dick-size, not to worry. Dicks are like dogs, big or small they are all potentially lovable, and lovability has nothing to do with size. People like the loyalty—the way they jump up and get all excited when mommy or daddy comes home. They can make a person feel wanted, even if they're only a tenth the size of a Great Dane or Saint Bernard.

And besides, if your partners crave big ones, they’ll always want more, no matter how big yours is. For them God created sex toys, and barber poles*. The whole idea is to have fun, not to measure up. Sheesh!

Last piece of advice. This seventy-virgin thing—don’t go down that road. If you get hooked on virgins, seventy isn't nearly enough. Let's say your last few days on earth were spent terrorizing and beheading and stuff, and you didn’t have much time for sex, you'd arrive in heaven kind of horny, right? Come on, you’ll go through your seventy virgins in a week. And they're virgins only once. Then what? You'll be spoiled.

Think it through. There you are for eternity, surrounded by seventy women, all non-virgins, constantly nagging you for sex. It's a trap. You could do better on earth.

In summary:

  • Find a girl or guy you like, who likes you, and have lots of sex until the two of you are a really good sex-team. Then you don't have to be uptight about sex any more.
  • Be serious about your cause, go to school, learn to build nukes.
  • With nukes you can rival any Great Satan.

* Per the Sanskrit saying: “Go sit on a barber pole.”

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Religious War: ANOTHER HERO

Scary thing about heaven-seeking religions is that they discount the importance of life on earth. If one is going to spend eternity in bliss, events in the temporal world don't matter much.

Laughter in the face of overwhelming doom is existential heroism. We're all going to die. Death is the end. Let's have some fun now. Kurt Vonnegut is a hero.

Cat's Cradle is a hilariously depressing end-of-the-human-race fable set on a failing tropical island. Bokonon created a religion for the natives to get their minds off their miserable conditions. The religion, called Bokononism, became part of the hippie canon. In the late sixties everyone was fimiliar with the concepts of karass, or granfaloon, and especially boko-maru.

If you're depressed these days watching religious fundamentalists tear up the world, find solace in Bokononism, a practical religion that makes sense in a world that's going to hell. Read Cats Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, today!

Terry Southern wrote a great synopsis at the time.

Eugene Wallingford has pulled together the sayings and writings of Bokonon into a sort of Bible.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006


I know about the Mississippi, and the people who work on it. No matter how many people work on it, or for how long, it’s never finished. Like a hit musical, it just goes on and on.

What I never could locate was the Oh Man! River. First I thought it must be near the Mississippi, no luck. Then I scoured maps of places with English speaking inhabitants on the theory that “Oh Man!” doesn’t translate. Then, I gave up, looking, even hoping.

Until George Bush started democratizing the mideast, and I started paying more attention, and, there it was all along, southeast Arabian peninsula.

Hardly anyone has seen the river. It exists only for brief periods—after rainstorms. And it doesn't rain too much in Oman. We are reminded that a river is actually a land formation along which water runs if there’s running water.

Come on, just one chorus: “Oman River, dat Oman River, he must know…”


There are two versions. The one I know is “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Recently I found it with if-then added, “If March comes in like a lion, then it will go out like a lamb.” This leaves us wondering about the reverse, converse, etc., so I prefer the former, for its certainty.

Yesterday, the First of March, was mild but a storm was gathering. It didn’t hit till almost midnight, then hard and brief, thumping the roof like boulders, as if the Maid of the Mist spent a couple of minutes actually under the fall.

This morning I thought to ask a co-worker who was raised in the Philippines if she "heard the lion roar last night?" I found myself rehearsing how I'd explain it to her. About how most “old sayings” in our dominant culture come from England, Northern Europe, and New England, and that the transition from winter to spring in those climes usually happens in the month of March.

Then I figured, what’s the use! So I said, “Did you hear that rain last night!”

Later, I was talking to a highly educated East Indian woman about my possible career moves. She started a comment, “You don’t want to burn your …”

I expected to hear “bridges behind you.” But, she said “boats behind you.” For a millisecond I was on the beach where Scamander surrenders to the wine-dark sea, ready to sack the citadel of Troy and punish the miscreant son of Priam, lover of horses.

What was so great about Paris (Alexandros) that Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth, would run away with him? For an amusing profile of this dude, click here


So, I'm over that hump, how will I handle the ides?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

2 + 2 = (answer below)

Microsoft Excel is the greatest arithmetic thingie since sliced bread. It does all the hard stuff, like adding 2 + 2, so we don’t have to.

Excel’s standard toolbar contains numerous buttons that allow you to enter formulae, change fonts, create borders, and a whole lot more. I like the buttons that let you change the number of decimal places displayed. This button removes one decimal place and rounds the remaining digits:

For instance, you could enter pi as 3.14159. If you click the button once, 3.14159 would become 3.1416. We lost the 9; and the 5 was rounded up to 6.

This can be fun, as in the chart below showing simple addition problems.

Section A shows three original addition problems as typed in. (You can probably do the math in your head to verify the answers.)

Section B shows the same problems after a click of the button has removed one of the decimal places from all the numbers. (It still adds up.)

Section C shows the same numbers after one more click. (Whaaah!)

(Answer: C. 3 or 4 or 5.)