Sunday, June 15, 2014

What Do You Really Know?

Especially now that Facebook has allowed the speedy delivery of nonsense from all over pop culture, I thought it might help if we all had somewhere equally speedy to look to figure out if what is posted is "the real deal". So, in addition to Snopes.com, here are a few links to help you figure out if your buddy's ladder has a top step:

Engineering Issues:
Now and then, somebody will post something nuts about how human artifacts are built. Try The Engineering Toolbox
Few things online indicate the advanced state of the scientific arts better than this page from the National Institute of Science and Technology...
Keep in mind that technology is not a thing - it is the process that allows things to be made!

Aircraft:
You might have a problem with statements about air travel.
The ultimate crash data center is the Joint Air Crash Data Evaluation Center
A ridiculously complete photographic archive - of everything that flies! - is at Airliners.net
If you want a pilot's perspective of how the aircraft industry is run, including some observations about the current state of American airline security, you can Ask The Pilot

Religion:
Ahh, yes, the subject best not mentioned in polite company!
Here's a list of most of them, along with summaries of their tenets and popularity by sect.
Hope you picked the "right" one...

Earth Studies:
There is a HUGE amount of material to study at Darwiniana . In case you have a problem with the title of that Web site, well, you can independently find many of the same things by going to:

Public Issues:
You might be fond of a particular personality to get your news. You should know the difference between such editorial content and the information source. Do you know where to find the actual content of legislative bills? The Library of Congress 
You might not know how many atom bombs the USA has tested, much less how many have been tested elsewhere; did you think that Iraq had no WMD program, because you forgot that the Israelis bombed it? Anyway, here's a fascinating report on those weapons: The Nuclear Weapons Archive

Discussion Tool:
A fallacy is a statement containing a flaw which immediately invalidates that statement. Here is a list of those fallacies. If you want to make a point and make it true, you don't have a choice - you MUST avoid these!

Check back now and then. I have more!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Miracle!"

Miracle - n. - an event or phenomenon of rare occurrence or circumstances, for which the cause or sequence of events is not clear to the observer.

Recently, I have been asked to support the idea of a belief in "miracles".

I can't - but maybe not for the reason you'd assume, especially if you are in the habit of taking things on faith, without thinking too carefully.

Look at the definition above, then consider any event that you find extraordinary, or maybe one that you have heard described as "miraculous" by some observer. If you look closely, you will find that the observer very simply cannot understand how such a thing has happened.

Please note that for this discussion, the occurrence of the event is not at question here - only its cause and effects.

The short story is that the incredulity of the witness has NOTHING to do with how any event or phenomenon occurs. Suggesting this effectively insists that something happens differently depending on whether Albert Einstein or Forrest Gump is watching.

If you went back in time and handed your cell phone to Dad in 1970, he'd have called it a "miracle" - and you know Samsung or Apple built it, even if you don't know how, so it's not miraculous to you.

On a more personal level, "miracle" is often applied to events with harsh consequences. We hear of the cancer survivor beating horrible odds, or the infant flung a thousand feet from the flipping SUV and surviving. In fact, neither of these events violates a single natural law.

Have you considered the term, "believe in"? I'm very sorry, but that flag indicates a serious emotional investment in whatever is being discussed.

Do the emotions of an observer change the process by which an event occurs? NO.

The laws of cause and effect are not changed by anything. I'm sorry, but this does not change based on how good a person you are, what church you attend or which way you face when the National Anthem is played.

When you see "a miracle", do not stop there, with mouth open in astonishment. Work to understand what happened. If there was injury or death involved, you may discover a way to avoid that risk.

And you will not disperse any of the wonder and awe that attended the event. I think you will marvel, instead, at the forces at play.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Global Warming: Start With The Basics, and Make The Distinction Between Science and Politics

If you think "Global Warming" is not happening, think again.

This issue is being screwed up by fighting over what to do about it, but the facts of the matter are not in doubt. Really.
However, you might not know how to figure out who is lying and who is not. This is pretty simple to figure out, if you can do just two things: see pictures, and understand that heat flows from "hot" to "cold" because the "hot" area has more energy in it than the "cold" one.
Pictures will show you diminished glaciers and polar ice caps, and a picture of the Earth from space will show you cities. Lots and lots of cities. Expending energy, right on the surface of the earth. So here's how that goes:
There are cities where there were none before.
Human population and energy usage grow over the years.
It is hotter in the cities.
It is that simple.

It doesn't matter what volcanoes or other natural forces do at all. Our liberation of energy from chemical and nuclear sources occurs directly into our living environment. Part of this is direct radiation, and part is the emission of gases that were not there before we released them.

Two wrongs do not make a right. If you were downwind of a factory that let off sulfur dioxide, you'd never tell them, "Hey, that's OK, volcanoes do that!"

This does not depend on the idea of government telling you what you can drive, or if you mistake being able to drive for some sort of liberty.

You might have a hard time when some well-meaning duffer blames a severe thunderstorm, tornado or fish kill on "global warming". Hey - I do, too, because warming cannot be credited for an individual incident without investigation. That's not how it's done. You MUST show your work.
That said, a hurricane's wind is the product of a truly tiny differential pressure exerted across hundreds of miles of compressible medium. I bet you can't describe the mechanism, and I bet you don't deny that a hurricane is a real thing.

The laws of thermodynamics will have the final say here. You should know what they are - and realize that when you set fire to something, the fire is the hot part.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is Your Opinion Popular? You May Be Mistaken.

I am reminded frequently that public figures are wrong. Unfortunately, we seem hardwired to believe celebrity, even when it is wrong. Here are a few things to ponder (check back, this will be updated):

1) If you believe a comedian about the Founding Fathers, you need an education. George Carlin, Robin Williams, Daniel Tosh and others decry them as "slave owners" as part of their act.
Hey. It's an act. What you're doing, when you believe something they say, is join the good feeling of the moment with their schtick - even though there are heinously wrong elements to their presentation. What the founders did was make it possible for rights to be extended to all, an idea that just plain didn't exist anywhere in practice. We've just been too comfortable for too long to think about that.
What you do when you believe celebrity is confuse an information source with editorial content. George Carlin was the colloquial master of English, bar none - but that doesn't make him right, in any case. You might like to believe CNN, or Rush Limbaugh, but even on their best days they are merely repeating what someone else said.
Notice this? Whenever you're looking at the big news of the day, there are a hundred talking heads trying to scare you - but they're all talking about the same - one - reporter's story!

2) If you think a corporation needs to be punished in some way, think about their charter - actually, you might want to think about what a corporation is. Yes, it really can be shown to be a fictional person, established on order to coordinate an activity, like manufacturing (on this point, you probably really ought to listen to the multi-millionaire, rather than a professional mouth). It is actually not your business what their CEO is paid (no, it's not). The charter of the corporation states that. If you clamor for the company officers to travel together, for instance, so that you can personally feel more comfortable about their energy use in a time of high gas prices, you probably ought to think about their actual job: protecting the investors in their company. Don't whine just because you're not one. You have that opportunity. Which brings me to another point.

3) Don't base your opinion on wealth envy. Especially when you vote.
I have some harsh news for you: every measure to limit wealth has made it harder for the poor to get there. In fact, every measure to tax wealth has mixed results. A good example is the "luxury tax". Dozens of boatbuilders were put out of business in Florida alone when it was enacted, as a 10% price hike killed business. Very expensive yachts are now built overseas, because only an idiot would pay a million more dollars on a ten-million-dollar yacht when she could have one shipped here from the Netherlands or Singapore for less.
Maybe that isn't obvious, so I'll spell it out for you: trying to punish "the rich" put thousands of ordinary people out of a job - and actually cost other taxpayers as those people took unemployment benefits.
The bottom line is that legal limits are fine, but basing things on simple jealousy is just plain petty, and you will identify yourself as such.

4) If you think the minimum wage is a good idea, think again.
Whenever a hike is mentioned, pundits actually ask a very good question: Why not make it $20 an hour?
Have you answered that? Because that's only a matter of degree. It's logical to ask that.
The fact of the matter is that there is an effect on cost that is invisible unless you know how the market for labor works. When you hike the minimum wage, you hike the cost of everything and you devalue the dollar for real. This is because there is no change in the amount of work obtained for more dollars!

Remember asking when you would ever use algebra in the real world? Remember applauding some comedian's appeal to ignorance about this? Well, here you go: what happens when you add the same amount everywhere? Yes, when you hike everyone's pay, nobody is better off. They just feel that way momentarily because they see a bigger number on ther paycheck.
Go look on the shelf at the supermarket, at the gas pump, in a jeweler's cabinet and see what you're supporting by way of price hikes. It's not "them" - it was you, supporting minimum wage. The entire reason illegal immigrants are here and textile jobs are overseas.

5) Don't believe any organization has the same goals you do.
There may be a coincidence, but you will find that if there is a choice between representing you and preserving the existence of the organization - you lose. Sometimes you can see this in others. Right now, some in Detroit are clamoring that because they supported President Obama, Detroit should be bailed out of their financial mess by the rest of the country's money. Do you think that this cannot happen?
This principle means a lot more than "watch out" - it means you have to recognize the difference between an editorial and an information source. It's more fun to believe Piers Morgan or Rush, but they are not sources of information. Keep that in mind!

6) Don't believe you have a handle on an issue because you associate with someone who has a presence or following.
On-line or off, the cult of personality doesn't convey any special understanding to you. This is especially noticeable when people do not transfer the same critical evaluation skills they use in their job to a subject under discussion. For instance, an engineer who would never think of using hearsay in evaluating an industrial process might jump on the bandwagon when a prominent biologist cites CNN as an authority. George Takei is a wonderful person, a great American citizen and a fine actor, but that doesn't make him an expert on the Federal budget any more than your expertise at the bowling alley or pool hall - and being a fan of his doesn't make you any smarter about that issue, either.

7) Don't believe your past performance indicates any sort of future success.
The investment people cite this in their sleep, because idiots continue to believe that a cash cow is infinite.
This principle extends over a wide range of human activity, because hope and denial are basic survival mechanisms people use to fight off despair. The fact remains that no matter how successful you are, rush-hour traffic does not care about your philanthropy or kindness to animals.
I know you have kids, have made your way, etc. The cruel world does not give a damn about what you did back in the day. You still need to look out, especially if you venture an opinion about a subject you have never studied.

8) You need to vote more - and not just for a President.
One of the enduring stupidities of elections is that Presidential candidates will promise to do things they are expressly forbidden, or are not their duty once they take office. It appears that the public consistently gives them a pass on that, either ignorant or uncaring about the actual structure of government.
If you call for the manager every time, rather than the first person who can solve your problem - my French fries are cold, damn it! - you may be the type of personality who thinks they shouldn't waste their time on "lesser" elections.
Guess what: The House of Representatives has 100% of Federal money.
What can you do without money?

9) Don't believe a law or bill says what anyone says it does.
The law is specific. I don't know if you knew this, but crime has a specific definition, which you will not hear from anyone: A crime is a violation of a statute. If there is no statute, there cannot be a crime, regardless of what you think of the story you heard about some poor unfortunate soul.

Law is not what your friends or family say it is, no matter what you think of them. Dad's a good guy, but he's outnumbered a thousand to one by people with the power to change the law. Look it up yourself. Then...
You will notice that Congress routinely misleads people with the title of bills. In 1993, for instance, Congress passed The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Read it, and you'll find that it allowed the Attorney General of the US to determine if a religious group was a "burden", and allowed him/her to disband the group by force. What 1st Amendment?

Activists will deliberately lie about the law or a bill to get what they want. Sometimes - and there is evidence that many Congressmen do this - the Constitution is ignored. Good luck with that.

10) Don't believe the Constitution says what someone else says it does.
Read it yourself. Then brace yourself when someone claims "it's a living document", or that what they're doing is either mandated or supported by it.
If you take a look, you'll find out that "popular" opinion differs from what it says, and some people with authority make claims about it - curiously, these claims usually support a power grab by the speaker.
The Constitution actually limits government. You do NOT get anything from government that you do not pay for - either directly, in taxes, or by the surrender of some liberties. That's another dish, rich food for thought.
Another couple of dishes: consider whether "the establishment of religion" meant "religious organization, plural" when the 1st Amendment was written. Note that Congress routinely passes laws affecting religion in the USA. Then, if you think that the National Guard is the "militia" mentioned in the 2nd Amendment, go read the fence down at the National Guard Armory. I think you'll find it says "US Government Property".

See #9 up there? Your own Congressman will lie to you to get and maintain power. They will tell you that the National Guard, establish in 1905, was what the Founders were talking about, so you can be disarmed.

So you - YOU - can be disarmed. You are a threat, to power, if you do not do what you are told.

11) Don't believe your education ends, OR that it is ever complete.
I have actually heard someone say, "I'm done with school."
That person, by temperament or upbringing or both, has consigned herself to menial work. She will never matter.
The rest of the world is in competition with you. Other people will get the nice apartment, raise a family and so forth based solely on their intelligence and ambition (shut up about "the rich" - they know about money, and chances are, you don't). You don't get a choice about participating.
Of course, you could sign yourself into the slavery of welfare, where you are a commodity, a mere thing, cultivated for your vote.
That's how poor people are made.

12) Don't take the first impression or meaning from any statement in argument. Look for the underlying, real, issue. Examples:
There is a protest against the rule prohibiting the use of portable electronics in aircraft, with a lot of noise being generated about how they can't really interfere with the plane, or, on the other hand, that they do. That's not the point. That rule is to make your dumb ass pay attention to the plane, and what is happening around you. This might be a surprise, but aircraft, when things do go wrong, make a hell of a bang when they hit something. I'm really sure Tapfish or Farmville can wait for you.
Extend this principle to other scenarios. I think you'll be surprised what you find.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's Elementary - And Not Just A School Shooting

So, it's come to this: a peaceful nation has been rudely awakened by a madman's meleƩ, as he mows down children in a Newton, Connecticut school.

The hue and cry is deafening. This makes thought difficult. Let me sum things up for you.

1) Violence is timeless. Humans have engaged in it throughout human history.

2) The availability of weapons has nothing to do with violence until society imposes restrictions on that availability. A weapon allows the expression of violence. Bans, if you look carefully, are just for some people, and in every case they reduce the security of those who would NOT misuse them.

There is supreme irony in the President's and Attorney General's calling for gun restrictions. Such restrictions allowed their ancestors to be terrorized and killed by Klansmen - with the full cooperation of law enforcement personnel who thought blacks were animals to be kept in line, not citizens.

3) The gun is not going away. If you look, you will see a service mark inscribed on Beretta firearms: Pietro Beretta and Sons - est. 1591.

4) You should think about the charter of this country. Throughout history, we can identify the leaders of any group by their access to arms. Our founding documents insist that you, the citizen, are responsible for this country's direction. If you cannot be armed - and that is the result of laws you, generally, have clamored for - just who are you?

5) You are being sold your own fear. When you are shown the results of buyback programs, shown pictures of a black gun (black is evil, how?) or someone publishes a list of gun owners, you are being manipulated into betraying your own neighbors. Subtly, you come around to the idea that the idiot (always an anonymous "someone else") who cannot do things the way you want them to should be stripped of her right to defend herself with effective weapons - that is, the same weapons that would be used against her.

6) If you are only a consumer of popular media, you do not know what gun laws are. Do not seek editorial material, however pretty it is; Rush and CNN, to cite just two popular examples, are both wrong about important details. Yes, wrong! Go to your State's Web site, and those of the Department of the Treasury to find these things out.

Yes, even the President and Attorney General do not cite actual law. They hold political office, and their goals are different from yours. At the link above, you will see that government reserves access to arms for itself. Who are you, again?

The bottom line is that the timid have been comfortable for so long, protected by rough men who would do violence on their behalf, that they have forgotton that massacres like the one in Newton happen only when the good rough men are not there. This is the price you pay for abject foolishness, the folly of the insane, the stupidity of thinking that words on paper in the form of a law or regulation have the power to stop a killer.

The operative syllable in the term, "law enforcement" is force. The operative syllable in the term, "self-defense" is self. This is because of the laws of physics as well as how the legal system works: there cannot be a reaction by law enforcement until a crime has already been committed. That means that is only the law is depended upon to protect you, you will be a victim before it can act.
If you cannot figure this out, if you are intent on fantasizing a world where paper protects you, you doom your neighbors as well as yourself.

That's elementary.