Archive for February, 2008

When will they ever learn?

We have a lot of people dreaming about utopia – always have, probably always will. Communism, Marxism, Socialism, and other ‘isms’ are of this ilk. For the real world, we also have a lot of history to examine to find out what can make dreams come true and what cannot. Dr. Sowell notes A Lesson from Venezuela at Real Clear Politics.

Venezuela is currently giving us a lesson on the consequences of price controls. The government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has imposed price controls — and seems to be surprised that lower prices have lead to reduced supplies, even though price controls have led to reduced supplies in countries around the world and for thousands of years.

What is remarkable is how little interest there is among the media and among the public in how often and how consistently this has happened in the wake of price controls.

When politicians today say that they are going to “bring down the cost of medical care” or make housing “affordable,” what are they talking about other than price controls?

There is a place where the dreams are closer to reality than nearly anywhere else. That seems to create some sort of guilty envy that stimulates trashing and bashing – of what has created that dream and not what has destroyed it elsewhere. It should be enough to make you wonder.

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Politics for the lawyers

The matters of court used to be the court of kings. Now it is the court of lawyers and judges. The selection of judges is a primary matter of concern in favoring presidential candidates. The lawyers get involved as lobbyists for issues that involve their paycheck and market. The US House of Representatives recently demonstrated that national security is not high on their priority list and there is reason to believe that lawyers were a part of the reason.

Robert D Novak described Why Torts Trumped Terrorism. His view is that the tort immunity for companies that cooperate with the government would reduce the lawyers’ market. Therefore pressure was put on members of Congress to set aside the FISA legislation.

The true reason for blocking the bill was Senate-passed retroactive immunity to protect from lawsuits private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government. The nation’s torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity.

The FISA law involves a very difficult intersection of surveillance, privacy, personal versus national rights, and espionage that has prompted paranoid delusion rather than effective debate. Litigation issues also have a long history in the internal wars of the 5th columns who see their enemy as domestic and not foreign. Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy Newspapers reports on one of the other fronts in the litigation theater: Clinton would seek to try 9/11 plotters in established courts. One of the reasons why foreign terrorists are not being tried in criminal courts is due to a national security need to reduce information disclosure about national secrets. That doesn’t keep the lawyers out of it and there have been continual efforts for lawyers to be ever more involved in matters of foreign captures.

It is interesting that the same folks who are promoting this court of lawyers and judges are also claiming that everything is going towards the court of kings. They are full of accusations about the executive running roughshod over personal rights and abusing authority. That also showed up in Congress when the House decided that citing executive staff for contempt for failing to tell all about political appointees was more important than national security legislation.

Yet another effort to support this priority on lawyers over national security has been to rationalize FISA related issues as insignificant or irrelevant. That stands in contrast to the legislation having gone through a public process only to be stopped at the whim of the Speaker who failed to put it on the agenda. The significance is determined by the opinions of the whole and that is reflected by the bill surviving the process to get to where it is submitted for vote. The Congress over the last few years has made good use of many procedural tricks to prevent such issues of standard business from a final decision. That is particularly visible in the matter of judicial appointments.

Does this sound confused? The point is that these matters are all related and interconnected by values and philosophy: tort reform, national security, judicial appointments, jurisdiction over military matters, espionage, personal privacy rights, and political procedure shenanigans. It is like an iceberg where you only see a part of one or the other aspect above the surface now and then. It will take care to avoid getting the hull ripped by what is under the surface.

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Back talk on torture: is it serious?

Torture is another one of those obsessions, like the casualty numbers, that tends to illustrate just how serious some people are in considering the issues of the day. Back Talk shows how the talk on torture is tortuous in How Personal Income and CIA Interrogation Techniques are Alike

A sensible debate would ask this question:

What is the harshest method of interrogation that can be used against high-level al Qaeda detainees in a time of crisis?

That’s an excellent question, and phrasing it that way helps to avoid the moral exhibitionism that generally accompanies any discussion about this issue. However, to almost everyone (especially in the mainstream media), the real question is this:

Does waterboarding amount to torture?

This is a silly question that elicits copious amounts of holier-than-thou finger pointing.

Take note of the fact that every single moral exhibitionist on the left simply refuses to think along these lines. They actually think that the question is all about torture, and the only thinking that is required involves whether or not to declare waterboarding as amounting to torture or not. Once they and their colleagues browbeat everyone into agreeing to characterize waterboarding as torture, they think the debate is over. But whether or not to attach a verbal label to a particular technique is a side issue. Waterboarding is only one of an infinite number of techniques that could be used, and these various techniques all fall somewhere on the 1-to-100 scale. That’s why you really have to do the hard work of drawing the line, not engage in the ridiculous game of declaring waterboarding to be “torture” (thereby immediately characterizing yourself as a noble humanitarian on the cutting edge of an evolving standard of moral decency).

Very few issues of any concern are simple yes or not decisions. Everything lives in a context and a continuum. Any decision will have side effects and unforeseen consequences. This is where the idea of relativism creeps in. An honest assessment accepts neither relativism nor absolutism. Yes, torture is unacceptable but what is torture and how far should it be allowed under what circumstances?

It does not do to say all is relative and the risk of killing thousands makes it acceptable to kill one. It also does not do to say that one should be protected from all harm no matter the risk to others. What kind of harm? physical? psychological? or is it harmful to be uncomfortable? – What risk and how likely? certain and massive? tenuous and minor? property or lives?

I agree that one cannot say categorically whether or not a particular practice – as described in general terms – is torture or not. For example, a slap may not be torture, but a thousand slaps that result in “severe pain” – itself a nebulous concept – may be torture.

A warm room isn’t torture. A searing hot room that results in burns is torture. And so on. In other words, it’s a matter of degree, and highly fact-dependant. Those who pretend otherwise are deluding themselves.

Making complex issues simple is as dishonest as making simple issues complex. Neither the idea of no standards nor the idea of absolute standards will fit many the more significant issues faced by societies. There is almost always and “if” or “but” that must be weighed and considered.

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Aspect ratio

Aspect ratio is about how wide to how tall the picture is. There is a conflict about this in video presentations because humans tend to see or notice what is side to side much more than up and down (your eyes are side by side) yet the lenses used to focus an image on a capture device tend to be circular. Another complication is that the capture device tends to be rectangular.

Old movies, up to the fifties or so, and analog TV standards all used an aspect ratio of 4:3. This was nearly square so the lens artifacts were only a big problem near the corners and most of the glass in the lens was put to good use and the film used to record images was also used for images from edge to edge.

With movies, the film could be made wider and each frame less tall and still use all available film surface for images. This lead to wide screen movies. The ‘waste’ was in the lenses used for capturing an image and its projection. Some tricks used for backwards compatibility such as anamorphic techniques.

The 2008 HDTV Buyers Guide, Part 3 discusses how aspect ratios are noticed in modern TV’s. The new high definition TV has a 16:9 aspect ratio screen. This is wider than the old 4:3 but sill narrower than many modern movies.That means that there is a lot of content that requires adjustment to use the entire screen area of a modern wide screen TV,

If you just fit the image to fit the narrowest dimension, you will get bars of blank screen area around the picture. 4:3 images will have bars on each side and wide screen movies will have bars on top and bottom. The image doesn’t fill the whole TV screen.

A second technique is cropping or masking. Crop off the top and bottom of a 4:3 image until its width is the same as your screen or crop off the sides of a wide screen movie until its height is the same as your screen. This method means you loose some of the original picture. The pan and scan technique is cropping with a bit of judgment thrown in so important objects or person near the edge of a wide screen movie can be shown – this helps keep speaking actors on screen, for instance.

A third method is similar to the anamorphic technique, This is to squish the picture to fit. 4:3 images are squished vertically making things look stubby – football players look real hefty! A wide screen movie gets stretched vertically making things look skinny. This can be rather distracting depending upon the content.

Other methods try to use intelligence to stretch, squish, crop, and adjust the image depending upon content and composition to fill the screen without making the adjustments very noticeable unless you are looking for them. This takes a lot of picture analysis and picture processing power. Modern TV’s have this sort of capability.

To show a wide variety of movies and TV shows in their original aspect ratio is one reason for a big screen TV. A modern 40″ 16:9 wide screen TV can show a 4:3 old style TV show the same size as a 36″ old style TV. This is a ‘backwards compatibility’ issue.

Another issue that is less visible is that all TV images are processed to fit. There is a long line of processing techniques used to get the image from camera to your screen and they influence picture quality. It is easy to fall into the trap that digital means the image is a pixel to pixel map directly moved from the camera sensor to the screen but that isn’t how it works and never has been. This is a fascinating field involving codecs, modulation schemes and many other technologies.

Tech support for TV manufacturers indicate that the aspect ratio problem is one the big items in their call list. Customers complain about the black bars or about misshapen objects. Even if you figure out why wide screen movies can have black bars on your wide screen TV you may still be stumped by the set’s menu options for adjusting the picture to fit the screen in various ways.

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Understanding flame wars

Dr. Santy gets to the core in Hillary and the politics of personal destruction. While the example is politics, the behavior describes what you can see in many I’net forums and discussions.

To the extent that a person’s behavior is mostly motivated by perceived insults to their self–i.e., their narcissistic core; then the “insult” will usually prompt a typical display of narcissistic rage directed toward the unfortunate individual who threatens them.

Such rage responses are invariably destructive, mean, and petty. Additionally, these rages are generally not beneficial to society-at-large (in fact, such actions often have strong sociopathic or antisocial elements to them) , although the person in the throes of narcissistic rage will often convince themselves that they are behaving perfectly appropriately and even for “the good” of others.

Their sense of self is starkly invested in the desire for power over others (always, of course, “for their own good”) , constant admiration and adulation and grandiose ambitions. This makes them remarkably adept at what is called the “politics of personal destruction”.

For the narcissist it is always a zero-sum game she plays with other individuals. From the perspective of the narcissist, if someone else “wins”, the narcissist “loses”. … Thus, the behavior of the classic narcissist is mostly directed toward making others lose so they can win by default. To that end, there is no behavior or tactic that is considered out -of-bounds or over-the-top.

While politics still occasionally brings out those who have strong personal integrity and values; often it is the people of no demonstrable integrity and elastic values who are obsessively attracted to the field and who triumph

those who would actually make the best leaders generally opt out of the process, because they tend to be too healthy to generate the continual rall-consuming age necessary to destroy all opponents; or they lack the required– and mostly distorted –sense of personal “perfection” and grandiosity that drives the power-hungry.

It is the win/lose approach towards others in discussion that leads towards personal attacks and disingenuous ‘debate’ that drive the more mature individuals who prefer less conflict, less stress, and less abuse elsewhere. It can be in politics but we experience it more directly in online discussions and in our clubs and associations.

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Image and reality

The gap between what many have established in their minds and what is actually in front of their eyes gets notice in a report about police training in Iraq.

There is the image we get from the ‘Boomer elites:

“[T]he films…present the war as incomprehensible mayhem,” he wrote, “and they depict American soldiers as psychopaths who may as well be wearing SS uniforms. The G.I.s rape, burn, and mutilate corpses, torture detainees, accelerate a vehicle to run over a boy playing soccer, wantonly kill civilians and journalists in firefights, humiliate one another, and coolly record their own atrocities for entertainment.

There is the reality that can be seen on the ground:

Have these things happened in Iraq? Many have. But in the cinematic version of the war, these are the only things that happen in Iraq.

American soldiers and Marines aren’t the bloodthirsty killers of the popular (in certain quarters) imagination, and that they are far less racist against Arabs than average Americans. They are also, famously, less racist against each other, and they have been since they were forcibly integrated after World War II. This is due to sustained everyday contact with each other and with Iraqis. The stereotype of the racist and unhinged American soldier and Marine is itself a bigoted caricature based almost entirely on sensationalist journalism and recklessly irresponsible war movies.

See The Final Mission, Part III. Michael J Totten

There is much to change and its happening will not a flipping of the switch. Experience and culture and circumstances all make the transition from ‘might is right’ to a more modern ethic difficult. There is explicit instruction in the words of international law about conflict and human rights but those words are so far from the current reality in Iraq that their meaning seems to be a dream. It is just one part of the message. Over time that part will connect with others. One of those others is the behavior of the American Soldier that actually illustrates those words in practice and whose behavior is watched and experienced. That example is why the words of those soldiers are being heard, if not yet fully understood beyond simple meaning.

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The insidious flavor of avoiding the unpleasant

It has been 40 years since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. 40 years of self deception, propaganda, and the defense of self from the ugly reality of the world. The Lies of Tet by Arthur Herman in the Wall Street Journal describes the reality as now being seen in hindsight.

Media misreporting of Tet passed into our collective memory. That picture gave antiwar activism an unwarranted credibility that persists today in Congress, and in the media reaction to the war in Iraq.

the desperate fury of the communist attacks including on Saigon, where most reporters lived and worked, caught the press by surprise. (Not the military: It had been expecting an attack and had been on full alert since Jan. 24.) It also put many reporters in physical danger for the first time.

One Vietnamese province after another witnessed new peace and stability. … However, all this went unnoticed because misreporting about Tet had left the image of Vietnam as a botched counterinsurgency — an image nearly half a decade out of date.

To Congress and the public, however, the war had been nothing but a debacle. And by withdrawing American troops, President Nixon gave up any U.S. political or military leverage on Vietnam’s future

The collapse of South Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia, soon followed. Southeast Asia entered the era of the “killing fields,” exterminating in a brief few years an estimated two million people — 30% of the Cambodian population. American military policy has borne the scars of Vietnam ever since.

It had all been preventable — but for the lies of Tet.

Those reporting had no context for their perceptions. Very few had any experience directly under fire or under oppression. They had the luxury of being able to safely deny the actual horror of what they could only see at a distance or through the eyes of others. What they could see, served up on the plate in front of them, was a small horror. This was an individual horror of battle casualties and spattered blood. It was not the collective horror of oppression and social fear. It was tangible and terrible and not easily hidden behind psychological defenses.

Even now there are those who cannot grasp the reality of the killing fields of Cambodia or the suppression of the Vietnamese since the U.S. quit and abandoned that country. That is why Rumsfeld’s (Wikipedia) favorite satellite picture was that of the Korean peninsula at night. The stark contrast of a bright, lighted South Korea compared to a dark North Korea was testament to something otherwise denied.

As Brokaw called the parents the The Greatest Generation (, their children, known as the baby boom generation, will be seen as something else. It is a generation with a seemingly overabundant hubris and cynicism, one that runs from the ideals that drove its parents and one that hides in denial of the oppression, terrorism, and the lessons of history to reach for idealized constructs that bury the reality of human nature. Sometimes called the ‘me’ generation, it is one where only base emotions such as greed and envy are given weight and the ends justify any means.

The denial of the truth of the Tet offensive was perhaps the apogee of this generation, its defining moment marking the start of its expression.

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Sound, speakers, and ears over the last 50 years.

Up until the 1960’s the big deal with recording and reproducing sound was fidelity. That was the effort to make a speaker reproduce what a microphone heard as accurately as possible. Once fidelity goals started to approach what the human can hear, the fun began.

The first enhancement was to notice that humans have two ears. Two ears means we need two sound sources so stereo was added to FM radio and recordings. The Beatles recordings provide an illustrated history of the transition from monaural to stereo to the realm of multi-channel recording (see Wikipedia). This transition from consumer monaural to stereo took place in the 1960’s for the most part.

Multi channel recording was the transition from using one microphone to using many of them and then mixing the sound from each channel to achieve a one or two channel stereo recording. This was the beginning of the multi-channel audio that did not achieve broad market status until the 1990’s.

It was noticed that, despite the two ear limitation, human hearing could detect more than what two sound sources could deliver. That resulted in the four channel systems of the 1970’s. These were mostly experiments and novelties. Standards did not get well defined or accepted and recording techniques were having enough trouble getting cost effective two channel recording media with good fidelity and low noise. The digital audio developments of the 1980’s were the key to the next phase. That was illustrated by the arrival of Dolby Digital 5.1, also known as AC-3 in the movie Batman Returns in 1992.

The problem with a good sound system is that the ear is a sophisticated hearing device and sound is a complex signal. At the very basic end, this is seen by the problems of wiring polarity in stereo speaker systems. Hook one speaker up backwards and the sound would seem to come from the wrong place. Then there was the problem of microphones that heard the same sound but at different times and with different room ambiance due to their having different locations. Some efforts to solve this problem have involved putting microphones inside the ears of a dummy head but even that doesn’t work because people don’t sit still for a 3 hour concert and move their head to ‘see’ sound.

Where it is now is in the computers. The old style bass and treble controls are still there, sort of, but they have been superseded by digital audio processing that can be tuned for a particular speaker’s characteristics and its position in a particular room and its position relative to the listener. This is, in part, where there is the “.1” in 5.1 channel audio and why modern home theater speaker systems are often much smaller than they used to be.

Back in the heyday of hifi, speakers were combined units designed to produce the entire sound spectrum. They had big ‘woofer’ speakers to handle bass notes, medium sized mid-range speakers for common frequencies, and small tweeters for the high pitched sound. There were internal filters that split up the signal sent to the speaker so each of its components would get the part it was designed to handle. These were all-in-one acoustic transducer designs.

Modern speaker systems take note of the fact that there is little directionality in low frequencies. The job of producing low audio frequencies and even sounds so low you really don’t hear them but only feel them is left to the “.1” of the 5.1. This is called the low frequency effects (LFE) channel and takes care of the massive air pushing so the other speakers don’t need to be as big or as bulky. Splitting the audio signal for the frequencies needed is done in the amplifiers or even farther upstream in the recording studio when you have a multi-channel sound source.

While the 5.1 or six channel audio is becoming rather standard, there are still productions that provide additional channels for better sound environment creation and there are many viewers who have only two channel systems to play them on. This is the backwards compatibility problem. Techniques that grew out of the quadraphonic experiments of the seventies are often used to help handle this problem.

For more, see WikiPedia on loudspeakers and Dolby Stereo and a good rundown on what modern electronics is doing to improve speakers at answers,.com

The key to note is that you can use those old massive 70’s style hifi speaker systems in your modern home theater. The new generation of AV receiver can be programmed so it knows to use their woofers for the LFE channel and how much signal to feed each speaker for your seating arrangement and room acoustics. Those old speakers might not be as efficient or convenient as the new ones but modern electronics is making it much easier to accommodate for any deficiencies of individual components.

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Captain Ed blows right by the issue

In a look at Expelled: The Movie at Captain’s Quarters, Ed stumbles for what should be a bloody nose. He tackles the wrong question with the wrong issue. In doing so, he totally discredits the value system of science and academia and accepts disingenuous modes of debate.

Overall, though, the film presents a powerful argument not for intelligent design as much as for the freedom of scientific inquiry. If scientists get punished for challenging orthodoxy, we will not expand our learning but ossify it in concrete.

Claiming persecution is a common tactic of those whose position does not fit where they want to put it. It is one of the characteristics of the arguments by those who advocate intelligent design that illustrates the weakness (or worse) of their position.

The academic community has often been derided for arguing about how many angels will fit on the head of a pin. What Captain Ed is doing is deriding the science part of that community because they won’t tolerate positions that have no evidence to show for them. That is a cheap and ignorant shot.

Credibility in science is established by adherence to a set of values. The mere existence of an idea, no matter the passion behind it, is insufficient to warrant its tolerance in an effective science community. It must have evidence to support it; a rationale for its existence that has its roots in the observable world.

When and if those scientists being “punished” have evidence to support their views, then there might be something of concern. The fact is that anyone promoting change, whether in the fields of science or elsewhere, is going to be subject to ‘punishment.’ That is human nature. But to confuse that resistance to change with bigotry in science is disingenuous. The arguments of intelligent design are not new, they do not represent change, and anyone who wants to put them forward as science has to demonstrate that there is something there that has not already been inspected and found wanting.

What Captain Ed says implies that the movie at issue is an insidious propaganda movie and a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

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Seven warning indicators for potential bad science

Perusing Dr. Jos de Laat’s weblog uncovered another article about how to tell real from fantasy. This one is by Robert L Park and appeared in The Chronicle issue dated January 31, 2003. The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate.

I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

These are indicators that the skepticism level should be raised, not that an idea or presentation should be dismissed out of hand. The reason for the skepticism is because these particular indicators are not a part of honest scientific dialog and are often used by charlatans. These kinds of behaviors get in the way of finding the truth, they do not reveal it.

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The manner of debate

David Whitehouse takes note of behaviors stimulated by his description of temperature data over the last seven years in When the data isn’t good enough. It is one thing to have an opinion and be willing to support it but yet another to go after opinions in the manner that has often become common.

Finally, there is another aspect to the debate that worried me far more than an environmental ‘activist’ getting the science wrong. It is one of double standards and it has become rather predictable.

Provide any criticism, even mild or supportive, or even suggest that we might be wrong and that we don’t know everything and one’s integrity is attacked.

The summary is another quote from T.H. Huxley:

“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”

One needs to be very careful about one’s perceptions. It is one thing to note that temperatures have been flat for seven years. Trying to understand, explain, or rationalize that fact is another. What happens here is that those who have a lot invested in a particular viewpoint feel threatened by the observation. Rather than try to come to grips with it, they deny it, rationalize it, attack the person who took note of it, or otherwise demean, denigrate, deny, or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Not being able to deal with reality is usually not healthy.

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