Archive for August, 2008

Finding a proper perspective

It is an election year and we hear a lot of rhetoric about how bad things are and how change is needed to correct how terrible the current administration is. These assessments need to be placed in a proper perspective to determine just how bad things really are. Two commentaries provide reference that can provide a bit of this needed perspective.

The IBD describes results from a recent Internal Revenue Service report about how The Pie Got Bigger.

We’ve heard a lot about how Bush has mismanaged the economy, but there’s no evidence of this. In fact, incomes began growing in 2003 after falling in 2001 and 2002 and have trended upward every year since. The small bump in 2003 was followed by gains of $2,291 in 2004 and $2,210 in 2005.

A Brief History of Bush’s Time by Randall Hoven at American Thinker takes on the meme about a “failed” presidency.

By November 2001 the recession was officially over, just one month under Bush’s own budget, weeks after 9/11 and just 10 months into a Bush Presidency. It was an historically short and shallow recession. From 2003 through 2006, all under President Bush and a Republican Congress, real GDP grew over 3% per year, considered a healthy and sustainable pace. By early 2008, the real economy had grown about 20% since Bush took office. Since President Bush took office, the economy has grown in every single fiscal quarter; there has been no quarter of negative real growth.

The lesson is that one should use effective measures and a proper referent before drawing conclusions. All too often what we see is only where we look and that can lead us astray.

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Trying to understand

Dr. Sowell tries to explain why it seems there is so much ignorance in one of his ‘random thoughts on the passing scene’

The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied. They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer — and they don’t want explanations that do not give them that.

We seek comfort first and trying to understand new things and change creates dissonance, not comfort.

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Obfuscation in denial

One of the more significant facets of an intellectually dishonest debate is that it tends to set aside reality. Issues of significant concern become whitewashed as minor episodes become made equivalent to major episodes as if there is no difference. The current debate on torture illustrates this. The imperialism of Russia in its invasion of Georgia could be another.

For torture, the examples center on the obsession with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (Wikipedia) and the effort to ‘prove’ that the U.S. is violating human rights or otherwise being evil. A contrast for perspective is pointed out at NRO linking to a video about Real Torture.

We obsess over whether or not waterboarding is torture and a common matter of state policy while we ignore what regimes like Iran do as a regular treatment of prisoners. Remember those videos from the previous Iraq regime where handcuffed prisoners were tossed off the roof of multi story buildings?

A convenient target is a lazy man’s choice. It is easy to find fault and attack a target that is willing to listen and will try to accommodate complaints and where the problems are primarily at the surface of the culture. It is entirely another to go after the severe cases where the problem is embedded deep within the culture and the state will deny or even censure any complaint about its behavior.

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Warfare, up close and personal

One of the problems of trying to use server side software like this blog is that it becomes a soldier in an ongoing war. This blog was attacked by hackers and that resulted in Google blacklisting the blog.

This sort of warfare is being used by some as a means of entertainment; by others for commercial gain, or as a means of waging actual war as in the current Georgia conflict.

For this blog, it meant that it was time to clean up old stuff, get the URL updated so it made more sense, and check through the database to try to find any improperly inserted code.

So you may need to re-establish your user account and change your links. Welcome to the war as collateral damage.

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Trying to avoid the consequences

Little Green Footballs reports on a Stealth Creationist Play Shot Down in California. The issue is about a religion oriented school demanding that their students be accepted to the University of California despite not meeting UC academic requirements.

It is one thing to choose your own way and make your own decisions. It is yet another to force someone else to agree with you.

It is entirely reasonable to choose their schooling. It is also entirely reasonable for schools to establish their entrance qualifications and standards. In this case, these two concepts have collided. The student choosing religious studies has tried for force colleges to accept that as scientific study. It appears that, this time at least, that was held as unreasonable.

Your choices have consequences.

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Dealing with myths

The WaPo editorializes about offshore drilling myths and propagates a few in bashing a few. It appears that some are vehemently opposed to finding new sources of energy – oil based energy, that is. They go so far in rationalizing their view as to create a world that is a bit different from that we actually live in.

The Wapo takes after an ad that asserts that drilling for more oil is pointless because there is so little to get, that the current leases are not being used, and that drilling is dangerous. All three of these arguments are debunked.

Then they assert “The strongest argument against drilling is that it could distract the country from a pursuit of alternative sources of energy.” and bash the current administration. This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. It is a myth that has been tested for decades and yet persists despite a uniform failure of results.

Much of the debate about drilling for oil misses the basic issue of property rights and how government limits them. It then ignores the fact that the purchases of the present are often guided by perceptions of what the future will hold. The third point misses the fact that safety is something purchased and we have spent many fortunes in the pursuit of safety – so much so that there is good reason for concern about the risk versus benefit of such expense.

Finally, on the alternative, anything but oil (or nuclear), fantasy: simple mathematics should be enough to provide pause for thought. These alternative sources are alternative because they have a low power density and are often quite variable in availability. They are power sources rather than an energy supply like oil.

For example, to build a solar power plant equivalent to a modern gigawatt standard plant, you’d need to cover many square miles of country side with fabricated materials and then figure out how to store energy to provide power during night and other times of solar obstruction. That is why the solar plant cost is so high. The fact that the environmental costs of the plant construction and the covering of many square miles is seldom discussed is an indicator that non-rational factors are in play.

The big issue, though, is the balance between freedom and governmental restrictions. If you own land, you still can’t drill or put up a refinery or build a nuclear power plant on it without massive expense and significant risk of bureaucratic walls that limit how you can use your land. Perhaps these restrictions need to be examined.

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Thinking ‘scientific’

StarDestroyer.net is an interesting examination of science and engineering in science fiction. The page on Common Sci-Fi Myths has a section about the role of a formal education and how you can often detect its absence. Those who try to fake it tend to make mistakes on extremely basic physics concepts, analyze scientific treatises from a literary mindset, or assume that every idea with isn’t strictly impossible must be the truth.

This particular type of misunderstanding coupled with hubris often seems to be the source of contentious discussions on public forums, for example. The difference between power and energy is often behind many problems in discussing ‘alternative’ energy. It is also a factor in discussing RV batteries. Force, acceleration, and work often get involved in discussions about weight ratings or braking.

Sci-Fi problems with science and engineering can provide a good foil for gauging our own ability to critically use a good knowledge for making decisions about how and what we do in our own lives.

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