Friday, January 30, 2009
The "door in the face sales method" works basically like this:
A 16-year-old wants a new car, but his parents are skeptical. One day, he says "Mom, can I have a Ferrari? It's only $185,000?" She laughs and says "no." "Well," the crafty teenager says "for 1/20th of that you could put me in a brand new, safe Honda Civic." Suddenly, $9,750 doesn't seem so bad, when faced with the other, Ferrari-sized figure. So the mom buys the smaller car.
I would suggest that the ASCE is aware that $2.2 trillion is a completely impossible amount to ever be allocated to anything other than war. But by making the figure simply enormous, they have padded their chances of getting a sum that is much smaller than $2.2 trillion, but much larger than it would have been if they had simply asked for the genuine amount they figure Congress will allocate.
The rock formerly known as Planet Pluto circles the sun at a frigid 4.58 billion miles (maximum distance of elliptical orbit). That's a mere 1/500th the value of money the ASCE recommends.
The entire DNA molecule in the human body is a mere 3 billion nucleotides, a mere .013% of the value of money the ASCE recommends.
That's approximately $370 dollars for every single human being on earth. It's $7333 dollars for every single American. It's $14,569 for every single tax return received for FY2007.
It's enough money to send another 26 Apollo missions to the moon.
It's enough to build the Empire State Building 55,000 more times. Or you could build the Taipei 101 another 1,500 times.
Anyway, that is, for lack of a better word, a CRAPLOAD of money.
And how environmentally sound are the ASCE recommendations? The Engineer's Code has been amended to include a "and the latest practices in sustainable design." clause in the creed, so it is worth investigating how much of what they are recommending is environmentally friendly.
Despite my earlier tongue-lashing of the ASCE survey, they do have some good ideas, like expanding mass transit, cleaning water through better treatment facilities, and refurbishing government buildings to new cleaner standards.
However, they do mention one idea, which I happen to consider my personal favorite engineering affront to nature: the dam.
The 2005 ASCE survey reports that of the 79,000 dams across the country, an estimated 3,500 of them are hazardous and in need of repair. However, I have to wonder how many of the 3,500 hazardous dams actually still serve a purpose. It is no secret that during the Great Depression the WPA and CCC built many thousands of those dams, with no conceivable purpose other than to keep men employed. Now those dams are in a state of disrepair, and so many have been built that "it would take 3 centuries to inspect [them]" said one Texas official.
Would it not possibly serve a higher purpose, both in terms of renewing the environment and saving money to survey these dams and determine which, if any, could be removed?
However, they should not be removed like this.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Bonus: A quick anagram search on the internet found that Wayne's credentials can be rearranged into "Warped Feces!" How's that for maturity!
Now I'd like to discuss the ridiculousness of their claims. The ASCE report recommends $2.2 trillion be spent in the next 5 years on infrastructure. I'm not that great at math, but that comes to around $440 billion a year, solely spent on infrastructure. For comparison, the Louisiana Purchase cost the U.S. $106 million in adjusted dollars. So for the same money as the ASCE recommends be spent in a year, you could buy over 4,000 Louisiana purchases. This is roughly equal to buying the entire surface of the earth 20 times. A year.
Of course, we've become such monetary wackos in the U.S., tossing out figures like "150 billion rebate stimulus" and "700 billion bank bailout" and "1.2 trillion for the Iraq War" that these numbers make our eyes glaze over and we simply can't fathom their actual value.
Well let me put it differently. The Joe Average infrastructure worker makes anywhere from 40-80k depending on his job, so let's just oversimplify it and say that they all make $50k a year. It would take 8.8 million workers to spend all that money, and they'd have to work for the full five years. I know unemployment is a problem, but do we have 8.8 million trained workers, ready to go? The recommendation is to spend this money asap, so where are we to get the workers? Or, given this is a construction project, how many dozers could you buy to clear all that land for highways? Well, let's assume $120,000 for a 40 ton dozer. It'd take 18, 330,000 bulldozers to spend all that money!
But were' not just talking about building roads, we're also talking about powerplants, and dams, and aviation, and bridges, and public works. All told, the ASCE report lists 15 different areas that need immediate spending. So let's oversimplify it and say each area gets their 1/15th of the money, or roughly $29 billion a year. That means we could build 15 nuclear powerplants a year, 75 total, doubling the number currently existing or in construction. We could then use the $29 billion a year allocated to roads to rebuild every single bridge in America. But wait, roads are a different category than bridges, they already have their money! So instead let's build a 6 lane highway across the entire United States. We could do it, with $145 billion.
I could go on but I sound like I'm ranting. The point is, the amount of projects the ASCE is recommending would take a generation, and cannot possibly be done in 5 years.
But the real problem I have is their claim that "inflation" has driven the price of the infrastructure work from 1.6 trillion to 2.2 trillion in 5 years. Once again, I'm no math wizard, but an increase of 500 billion in 4 years is an increase of 125 billion a year, and 125 billion is 7.8% of 1.6 trillion. Are we to believe inflation was at 7.8 percent over the last 4 years? And if it was, how much will it really cost us to perform this infrastructure work? Assuming one fifth of the spending must occur in the each year, instead of costing 440 billion a year, we get:
Year 1: 440 billion
Year 2: 474 billion
Year 3: 511 billion
Year 4: 551 billion
Year 5: 594 billion
For a grand total of $2.57 trillion.
With that same amount of money you could buy the rest of North America:
Canada $1.27 trillion
Mexico: $1.31 trillion.
Total: $2.58 trillion.
From where exactly does the ASCE propose this money come? This would require each and every taxpaying American to pay $7,300 to fund it. But as I've shown before, only a tiny percentage of Americans end up with the tax burden for stimulus. More likely, the ASCE doesn't care from where it comes, this nation is falling into a debt vortex and we have our eyes clamped tightly shut.
This report comes out hours before the House is expected to easily pass their version of the Obama Stimulus Package, and pass it on to the Senate, where the real debate is to begin.
I have four major issues with the "timely" release of this survey.
1. This is, under a cloak of legitimacy, lobbying for taxpayer dollars to fund private business. This violates the oath taken by a professional engineer when they take their oath and get licensed.
2. The recommendations made by this survey are impractical, given the time frame suggested.
3. The increase of $500 billion in less than 4 years implies the nation will soon need to spend the entire GDP on building roads, which is a falsehood, and makes the dollar figure suspicious.
4. The environmental impact of some of these recommendations fly in the face of the oath a professional engineer takes when they become licensed.
I will explore each of these in due turn, starting with the first.
As an engineer, I am normally all about government spending on public works. As I noted here, government projects typically are large-scale, expensive, and long-term; an engineers dream (if you ignore the documentation and CA that drives your profit down). A massive push by the Federal government to increase infrastructure spending, renovate GSA buildings, and (re)vamp up the country's government properties would serve my industry very, very well.
However, releasing a report that says "give us money, lots of it, and fast" a day before the government is expected to vote on where the stimulus money goes has the stink of lobbying all over it, and I cringed when I saw the report had been released today. If the report had been released with enough time for its validity to be debated, this would not be an issue. Next, I expect the ASCE to say "without this infrastructure spending, the economy will fail. Oversight will also cause the economy to fail. Just give us the money, and we'll take care of the rest. Trust us, we're experts."
The previous report, released in 2005, made prophetic claims, like the idea that major U.S. bridges were in serious danger of collapse, and when the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing thirteen, the ASCE collectively celebrated (and mourned) their foresight. The report requested $1.6 trillion be allocated to infrastructure building in the next 5 years. Of course, not all this money was to repair bridges. Much was to build new structures, like sewage treatment facilities, expand airports and add runways (good runways cost over $100 million a piece), and expand the railroad system in the country. Many bridges in the report listed as "dangerous" were recommended not to be repaired, rather be replaced with larger, newer bridges.
The report released this morning was not scheduled for release until March, but in the face of a quick stimulus decision by Congress, the ASCE has released a "draft version" which claims the extent of work needed has increased a whopping $500 billion, bringing the grand total to $2.2 trillion dollars. The House stimulus package, as written, includes $150 billion in immediate spending on infrastructure.
The NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) wrote The Engineer's Creed in 1954. A couple excerpts:
I Pledge to participate in none but honest enterprise.
I Pledge to place service before profit and the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage.Neither of these two creeds are being followed by the ASCE in the publishing of this report.
The NSPE Fundamental Canon 3: Engineers Shall...Issue Public Statements Only In An Objective And Truthful Manner.
Report chairman Andrew Herrmann, who happens to be a principal at a prominent civil engineering firm suspiciously close to D.C., obviously is not an objective observer of the nation's infrastructure, given that his firm does major bridge and highway work at the state and Federal level!
The NSPE Fundamental Canon 4: Engineers Shall...Avoid The Perception Of Conflicts Of Interest.
Steve Ellis, the vice-president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, makes it poignantly clear that this Canon has been boldly breached by the ASCE:
The civil engineers' group is "certainly in the position to be qualified to talk about deteriorating infrastructure — but also to benefit," he said, "something policymakers need to keep in mind."
It is not something that policy makers should have to keep in mind. The ASCE, clearly having a conflict of interest (mostly due to the "rush" release of the report right before the vote on the stimulus package) should not have released the report before the scheduled March date.
I have literally no power to report these people for ethical violation, and even if I did, the ASCE would probably laugh it away as nonsense. But if we are to take engineers seriously as professionals who do their work without greediness and with the public interest at heart, then we need to not make rush decisions and try to lobby for dollars.
NSPE Fundamental Canon 6: Engineers Shall Act In Such A Manner As To Uphold And Enhance The Honor, Integrity, And Dignity Of The Engineering Profession.
Chris:(in reference to the governmental collapse in Iceland)
Iceland has been mired in crisis since the collapse of the country's banks under the weight of debts amassed during years of rapid expansion. Inflation and unemployment have soared, and the krona currency has plummeted. Haarde's government has nationalized banks and negotiated about $10 billion in loans from the IMF and individual countries. In addition, Iceland faces a bill likely to run to billions of dollars to repay thousands of Europeans who held accounts with subsidiaries of collapsed Icelandic banks.”
Does this sound familiar to you at all? Bank bailouts, massive debts amassed during years of rapid expansion, Inflation, unemployment, the value of the currency plummeting. I think this is where we are headed if we don’t stop all of our bailouts. Maybe not an exact match of the size of protests Iceland has had, but it is a possibility and something I think our government should be paying more attention to.
You know, sometimes I wonder if a total governmental collapse isn’t just what the doctor ordered. In computers, when your computer runs poorly you add RAM, or run a virus scan, or run spybot, and try to clean up your hard drive and defrag it. Then you maybe get a new graphics card, add more ram, etc etc but eventually your computer sucks and there isn’t anything else left to do to it except throw it in the trash and get a new computer…I guess I wonder if these bailouts…and more bailouts…and stimulus packages…and now more stimulus…are just the government trying to add RAM to itself in order to keep working well enough to get by…when in fact a shiny new computer would work much better, and be much cheaper.
I agree with a lot of that. I have been completely against all of the bailouts and I’ve been saying since this started that its VERY unfortunate but these companies that need to be bailed out just need to collapse. They need to fail so that other companies will pop up in place of them that are better managed. The bad thing about all that is like you said; lots of people would lose their jobs. However, if we keep pumping them up with bailout money we are just staving off the inevitable all the while throwing our country in more and more debt as we decide to just throw more borrowed money at companies to try to keep them afloat.
Chris and I agree that a governmental collapse would be a hard thing, and many would suffer while a new government was established. And I fear that the new government would end up more controlling, more militaristic, and less desirable than the old one. But many are suffering now! The government has unprecedented control already! The military spending budget has never been higher! Before the last election, approval in Congress was at an all time low, and little has changed - certainly not the structure of government, which if anything, is threatening to get larger and even more ponderous and intrusive.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
In short, we are going to become nightmare bosses.
One thing that plagues Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000) is the "Trash Collector Paradox". When teachers ask their students "if you could be anything you want when you grow up what would you be?" there is a 100% chance that every kid chooses a fun, rewarding job, and a 0% chance that any kid will choose "garbace collector" or "sanitation worker" or "street sweeper" or "night shift grocery store restocker" but the vast majority of jobs in this country are those. If we were a nation with thousands and thousands of teachers, pilots, doctors, cowboys, and professional athletes, we would have a colorful society...that simply could not function. This phenomena has really reached new heights with the Y's. Our parents and teachers conditioned us (with good intentions, do not misunderstand me) to think we were all destined to reach new heights of achievement, through our daily lives and work. We should not content ourselves with simply working a job to make money...we should work a job that makes us happy, and benefits society, and uses this super-abundant amount of potential each and everyone of us apparently has.
Unfortunately, not each and every one of us has abundant potential, as noted by the increasing numbers of Gen Y in jail, dropping out of school, or not getting hired at their dream jobs. Suddenly, Gen Y kids are taking whatever they can get. This leads to a weird scenario for the masses of Gen Y kids who grew up planning to be a doctors but are now receptionists at a doctor's office.
Malcontentedness is to what I am alluding. The whole of Gen Y has this idea in our heads that if we aren't working God's Gift To Jobs then we aren't doing the right job, and we should try to get out of it. It's really not our fault, it's the Boomer's fault, for telling us we were so amazing. The only thing we did wrong is believe them. Now it's possible that we do have limitless untapped potential, and the Boomers were looking out for us, pushing us to give ourselves the gift of greatness. But the fact is, someone must collect the trash once a week, and it won't be the retired Boomers.
In a way, the Boomers did us a great service, for they instilled in our generation the ability to dream of something better, which I think was lost to Gen X. They taught us that we can be what we want to be, and in a way, part of the American Dream is wanting something better for your kids than what you had. So we must forgive them, their intent, though maligned, was entirely altruistic.
But they also did our generation a huge disservice by making jobs that are honorable and necessary seem beneath our blessed hands. When a garbage collector comes by my apartment, I do not envy him, because he is doing awful, back-breaking, dangerous work and he makes less than I do. But on the other hand I am grateful to him for doing it. His job, in a way, is more important than mine. But I have to wonder (when I see that he is about the same age as I am) if he dreams for something better. Does he go home at night, exhausted, and look through the paper for a new job? Or has he found contentment simply in work?
My generation has lost the ability to just be happy to work. We feel compelled to find work that makes us happy. I think Gen Y would be served well by having to read the first half of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle every once in a while. With the economy the way it is, dream jobs are disappearing fast, and soon we may be standing in line hoping for a chance to shovel fertilizer 14 hours a day.
Update: It was quickly noted to me (acerbically) that we might as well call ourselves the "blame generation" if we are going to blame our parents for every bad trait we have. However, in this case I believe I am justified; if you give your dog scraps from your dinner table, do you blame the dog, or yourself when at the next meal he comes and begs at your feet? Our vocational malcontentedness is a product of how we were raised, and the things that were told to us by our elders.
And we are still bringing home the same paycheck but thanks to the economy our buying power has gone way up. 18 months ago 125,000 dollars in Kansas City would have gotten you a 50's era, single story, slab-type, 2 bedroom, 1 bath home with a single car garage. Basically you were paying $88-100/square foot, minimum. New homes were much higher. Now homes are selling at $60/sq ft and it much nicer neighborhoods. That same 50's era home is probably half the price. And every bit of bad news about the economy pushes oil down farther and farther. In a way, its the worst thing that could happen; a cycle of bad news causing bad economic activity which in turn gets reported later as more bad news, and so on. But if you are shielded, like many, then now is a great time to be alive. People who took low-risk, low-pay jobs, people who were neck deep in the Dave Ramsey debt reduction plan and weren't beholden to a lot of banks, these people are climbing back into their Ford F-250 because they can afford to drive it again.
However, the economy as a whole is in shambles and many lives have been broken. I guess what I am trying to get at is if there is a single high school student who reads this, hear me: go to college, but don't get your business degree. Those high-risk, high reward jobs come and go faster than you can say "Sprint Layoffs", while jobs with lower starting salaries that are probably a lot more work, like engineering, education, and the health industry...those people just aren't getting laid off yet, and many are doing quite well.
Monday, January 26, 2009
I just found out that back in1999, when Poland was admitted to NATO, they needed a highly accurate sniper rifle. The development of said rifle was given the code name "Alex" Probably after the renowned marksman from Kansas City famous for his logic-defying talents with a gun, and also for his dashing good looks.
Speaking of countries that end with "-land" there is no longer a working government in Iceland. How did that happen? I kid you not, with a large amount of cash you could actually buy the island in the North Atlantic formerly known as Iceland.
It wasn't a plane that flew into the Twin Towers, it was shrapnel from the midair collision of a cruise missile and a UFO. Other pieces of debris fell on the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.
So people are incensed that someone with this much experience is getting to compete with the "commoners" that walked in off the street.
This leads me to remember what I have often said: Idol would be best served with a season of "Celebrity American Idol" that pitted professional singers against one another. Obviously it is very, very popular to watch everyday people rise (and fall) on Idol for the last 7 seasons, and this season will be no exception, but I think people would love to see 24 professional singers duking it out with their chops on stage. And it would be easy for the producers to catch every demographic. Want the young, R&B audience to watch? Get Beyonce and Rihanna. Want the middle-age, country crowd? Get Brooks & Dunn and Martina McBride. Want the alternative crowd? Get Fallout Boy and Jack White.
All of these singers are very good at singing what they sing every day, but what if they all had to sing (Sir) Andrew Lloyd Weber songs? Some of them would crash and burn in just as hilarious a way as the current contestants invariably do. And what if some turned a song on its head in a brilliant way, like last season David Cook using Chris Cornell's cover of MJ's "Billy Jean"?
Anyway, I think the season of "Celebrity Big Brother" was a success, compared to seasons before and after featuring nobodies. Perhaps the Idol producers should think about that.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Yes. He gets it. Thank God. Bush's idea that no matter how different the conditions are in states, like how California needs much stricter emissions standards (and wants them) than the Midwest, Federal-control-is-the-best-shut-up-i-cant-hear-you-la-la-la!!! absolutely had to go. And sounds like it is going going gone.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Heroes starts its new season in two (I think) weeks. Last season ended abruptly, and left an open-ended question as to Nathan Petrelli's loyalties. Arthur Petrelli was dead (maybe), Hiro had lost his power, Ando had a new power, and Peter Petrelli had gained his power back.
The reason I mention these and no other characters, is because Arthur Petrelli, Peter Petrelli, and Hiro are the only three time travelers in the show (ignore fast girl, the physics of that make me angry, and I doubt the show uses it again).
I have often preached "special powers are always just a plot device", and fast girl suddenly being able to run backwards and forwards in time "because she's faster than light" makes sense in the backwards direction, but any attempts to run forwards in time by going faster than light will in fact - send you further back in time!
Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make here is that hopefully the writers of the show have realized that time travel is an awful power and it renders the plot almost meaningless (if you don't like something, just go back in time and rewrite the show's plot), and it renders the show's direction impossible to follow midstream. I pity any TV viewer who tried to pick up midseason on Heroes, the show was so convoluted that it would have been nearly impossible. If you had started the show midseason, Suresh's character would have made your head wander: why is this character's power getting worse? And what happened to Suresh's search for his sister, Shanti? The writers, bless them, tend to forget details about characters that are primary motivators for their actions and then remotivate them in new ways to follow the new story arc.
Anyway, I am hoping that the writers have said "time travel is neat, but impractical. A better solution is to let Ando and Hiro explore the role reversal, have Peter only be able to acquire powers he comes in contact with after the injection of the serum, and just work harder at writing so the sudden, end of season deus ex machina are no longer necessary.
Other than that, it's my favorite show, by a long shot. And that concludes my entertainment blogging. BACK TO SCIENCE!!
But they seem to have silenced all my arguments, singlehandedly. Izzie has a brain problem, Alex quit tolerating her Denny delusions, Lexie and Sloan have actually started to develop a relationship, Grey had a breakthrough with Shepard, Bailey showed some compassion...etc etc.
Anyway, I'd like to suggest to the writers what should happen. Izzie must die. Between the off-camera drama and the burgeoning movie career, Katherine Heigl must go. A show's cast must work as a cohesive unit and, just like the Philadelphia Eagles, Grey's would be better served without a distracting Terrel Owens. The writers have already set the stage, with Denny's ghost "coming for her" and her realizing she is deathly ill.
Also, Karev (while traveling to collect organs for a sick child) had a nice conversation with a new castmember, the pediatrician Dr. Arizona Robbins. New love interest that we don't hate? Perfect.
Because everyone wants a happy ending for Alex, but not for Izzie. We're all collectively tired of her and her weird drama. We no longer see her as a cast-member, we see her as a "here while its convenient" actress bent on bigger things. Ms. Heigl, there is no bigger thing on TV. Unless you want to be a judge on Idol?
So kill Izzie, with a brain hemorrhage or something, and free up Karev, the cast, and the writers from continuing the ridiculous plotline she is in.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
It appears on the whitehouse.gov website that Obama does in fact plan to ban assault weapons, and increase restrictions on gun shows. Great.
The gun ownership debate is a classic debate between empirical evidence and liberal agendas. On the one hand you have massive amounts of data showing that the less restrictions on gun ownership there are, the less violent crime there is. On the other hand, you have liberals claiming that by taking away assault weapons, it will "protect children" even though 90-something percent of all child-gun accidental fatalities involve handguns and shotguns, not assault weapons. Throw in the fact that the vast majority of violent crimes occur without the perpetrator having, or using a gun, and you suddenly have a mix of reality vs. ideology.
I have expressed on this blog that I am not in favor of private citizens carrying ridiculously dangerous, fully-automatic type weapons. Successful, fun hunting and home self-defense can be better achieved with other, more practical gun types. I have also expressed that conceal-and-carry permits can be directly correlated with decreases in violent crime in the area the CNC permits are issued.
So I guess I walk the fence on this issue. However, most issues that involve a large, equal division between interested parties do not come down to a solution involving more regulation. In the case of guns, the trick to making them less dangerous is not to regulate their sales or their existence, rather the solution is education.
Instead of classifying guns into multiple type and use categories, and providing complicated, involved legislation for each class of weapon, would it not be simpler to just pass a law that, like driver's licenses, you MUST complete a short training course before you can buy a gun anywhere? Then, once you have completed that course, you are free to use whatever gun you own within the safety restrictions and season requirements of the area in which you reside?
Anyway, I digress. The point is that in this country and others, time and time again, decreased gun restrictions has decreased violent crime. Remember the phrase "if you take away the guns, on the criminals will have them" comes from this very fact.
Nevertheless, I'll be buying my suppressed MP-5 at the first gun show I can find. I apologize to everyone I told that Obama would not become a liberal weiner on this issue.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Roddenberry's thinking (and that of many notable sci-fi authors of his era) was that a crude, pre-warp society had not reached a theoretical milestone in it's ethical development that predated warp technology development. To introduce warp drives, the idea that alien civilizations exist on other planets, and other advanced technologies like food replicators and teleportation would create an "indians with guns" society, where the natives, armed with things they did not fully understand, would use them inappropriately.
Could this philosophy be not only testable, but true? This report out of China is that the sudden access millions of Chinese have gained to the internet is quickly destroying their teen and young adult populations. The kids "can't sleep, can't concentrate and are wracked by bouts of anxiety or depression" and they "escape" to internet cafes and find it hard to leave.
Could it be that China, having blocked widespread internet usage for years, made a terrible mistake not introducing their society to the internet back when the internet was in its' infancy? It's likely, I believe, that what is happening now is that the young, supple minds of the Chinese are being sucked in not by the internet itself, but by the fact that they have no resistance to the highly-developed systems the internet has in place.
Can you imagine, if you were using the internet for the first time and no one had warned you, how you would react when a pop-up window opened up and told you "YOU'RE A WINNER!!" and asked you to "click to win a PS3!!" You would undoubtedly click. Here in the states, people quickly learn to filter out the garbage. Open any page, even a google search, and you see ads everywhere. But you have to look for them because we've learned to filter garbage, and advertising. We've learned that all those "singles" who happen to live in our town are actually stock photos of bikini models and they'll never surface if you click the link.
So I think China is faced with a violation of the Prime Directive, they're basically being exposed to wildly advanced technology and they (through no fault of their own) don't yet have the maturity to handle all they can access. I'm sure they'll catch up, and soon. But for now, as far as the internet is concerned, they are a society of children holding the car keys.
Is it because the libertarians prefer to make high-handed we-are-better-than-you-reds-and-blues comments while not actually hitting the streets, or is it because most of the people that claim to be libertarians don't even know what that means, other than that it is some sort of "better" option to Democrat and Republican?
Third option: Libertarians, by nature, are unelectable. If your opinion is simply that everyone else's opinion is wrong, usually no one likes you.
I just don't understand what happens to Senators where they are incapable of retirement even when they are having severe medical issues. Maybe the fact that there are no term limits makes them think that its a bad idea to end their term...ever.
The same for Strom Thurmond, he was a Senator until he died.
I guess what I feel is...
...oh man, I thought I had this memorized so I didn't bring note cards!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
It's down from $50 to $34, and expected to drop more. The February contract expires today, however, but the March contract is already trading lower than the February was this time a month ago.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Service to my fellow human has been a goal of mine since I was a young man and desired to enter med school. My wildly improbable plan, at the time, was to become a plastic surgeon, make a fortune for 4 months of the year doing boob jobs for housewives, then spend the next 8 months in Burundi, or Costa Rica, or somewhere awful, really awful, plying my surgeon skills for free.
Unfortunately, I had way too much fun in college, and the dream got lost somewhere between the girls, the Keystone Light, and the late nights. I scraped my way into graduate school and have since grown up.
But therein lies the problem. Now that I have matured, and found academic and social success in my life (and the security of a full-time job), the desire I always had to throw my life away in service to God has rekindled itself in my heart. Last night's sermon was mostly about being a good Christian witness to your fellow man, and showing, rather than telling, people how to be a good Christian. A man that follows Jesus will invariably attract others to Jesus as well. This I believe to be absolutely true. Jesus teachings are by far the single most attractive set of philosophical values and rules I have experienced. If you do not choose pure hedonism and if you believe in anything before or after your own life, you must, I feel, be drawn to Jesus, because his arguments are simply airtight and perfect.
That's all good and well for me to say, but the truth is, I want to show it.
The problem is, I cannot possibly ever become a plastic surgeon; the field of medicine is way too dismissing of my GPA, anyway, I'm too ingrained in engineering, and frankly I don't think my family could manage that kind of career move. So I must find some other way to make an impact on society. Or do I? The doubt creeps in and I begin to wonder if simply living a good life for my family is enough. If I work hard at my job, raise my kid to be a good person, and love only my wife, have I done enough? It pains me to say so, but no, I have not. Not by my standards.
God gifted me. When I was a little kid I went through some testing and was told I was gifted and talented. But "gifted" holds that double meaning now, doesn't it. A 'gift' is an ability to do a thing or things extremely well. But on the other hand, a 'gift' is something you have received from someone else. Obviously, through genetics, I received my brain from my parents and ancestors. But more than that, my soul, I believe, was the lucky one that got to inhabit the body that my genetics had prepared. The maker of my soul is God. So in a way, I am in debt to my parents for having me, but I am also in debt to God, who chose this body for me to inhabit.
So I've got all this brain and talent and I, for the sake of my sanity, must use it for the greater good. Designing the guts of buildings is a great way to keep a roof over my family's heads, but I don't feel a swelling pride in my soul at the end of a work day. I have simply done what any good man would do. But I want to be a great man. Not for my own glory, but rather because I live with the huge debt I owe to the Almighty, and the sooner I can get started paying it off, the better.
Simply put: God did not give me the brain I have so that I could design the guts of buildings for snobby architects. God gave me this brain to use for His work.
I just wish I could figure out what His work was.
I'm sure the blogo is chock full of tributes to Luther's work, both as a civil rights leader and as a Christian theologian. On days like this, writers are basically required to write something (though writing about MLK is, and always will be, more of a priviledge than writing about say, Bush).
Anyway, I figured I'd put my own spin on things and write about something else, for the reading world who hasn't read MLK's biography.
Did you know MLK had a PhD in philosophy? Nice. That's something I can grab on to, because it validates for me that Luther's thought processes were not just the anger of the oppressed, rather they had been refined and organized through vigilant study and practice. One does not become a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy without learning how to philosophize.
It also validates, for me, that many of his arguments were logical and therefore must be timeless. Philosophical truths are true forever, and the truths that Luther preached, both from the pulpit and from the streets were not just the voicing of an angry minority. They were the carefully thought out, valid, Christian-based, systematic arguments of a man who saw the world for what it was and what it easily could be. Luther did not make radical predictions about a far-off future. Luther recognized shrewdly that he was standing at the corner and the traffic lights had but to change for the whole country to turn a new direction.
The tragedy of MLK's death was for me the tragedy of a lost mind. Did you know MLK skipped two grades and never graduated high school but just went right to college after his junior year? I often have joked that the idiots are statistically outbreeding the smart people in the world, but in all fairness, the smart people of the world are just not getting as much TV face time or literative output anymore. Smart people, it would seem, are the first to become jaded and turn away from public service. The gaps are filled with the average, and the corrupt.
There was a time when engineering for the government was considered a dream job. It was the Space Race from about 1953-1972. In that time, the government had a small army of engineers doing their dream job: developing something radically new for the betterment of man and country. NASA had the pick of the litter, and if you want a quick summary, the engineers of NASA designed, built, tested, and flew to the moon 7 times in less time than it takes to build a football stadium in today's world. This, I believe, is because the smart minds of the world are scattered, unorganized, and under-utilized. Or, in the case of MLK, their vast potential is snuffed out by a bullet. One might argue that smart minds are still organized, into "think tanks." But show me a think tank that doesn't have lobbyists and an maltruistic agenda? Show me the think tank that works for the government and whose members are all making middle-class income. They simply do not exist. Today, a "think tank" is just a code word for "lobbyists, inc."
Anyway, Yglesias makes a good point: MLK's stance on non-violence was radical. Similarly, Ghandi's stance on non-violent resistance was radical. Where are the radical Christians today? Because there are certainly still the oppressed who need a genius to raise his voice for them. And there is still a lot of hate left to end.
City of Blinding Lights was written by Bono as a tribute to New York City, and how naive he and the rest of the band felt when they arrived there early in their careers. Criticized as "Where the Streets Have No Name" Redux, the song really does sound a lot like their previous work. It's a great song, don't get me wrong, but there just isn't any subtle or obvious symbolism in it.
On the other hand, Marley wrote "Redemption Song" in 1979, after being diagnosed with the cancer that would later claim his life. Rita Marley reports that at the time of the song's writing, Bob Marley was already in a lot of pain. The song stood as a cry out from Marley's soul about his faith, his mortality, and his belief in a better life.
Now, on the day before Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and two days before the first black president is sworn into office, it seems to me that rather than playing a song about New York, perhaps U2 (who have covered Redemption Song before) should instead have played a song by Marley, who wrote about overcoming difficulty, about faith, and send a message that there are things in this world deeper than the skin and those things are universal, no matter your race.
Further, a song that reminds one of his own mortality would be a fitting song to sing to Obama, who surely is beginning to feel the soft glow of absolute power, and could use a healthy dose of humility.
And also, it is a soft, beautiful song that makes the listener reflect on their life, on the amazing life of Marley, and on the awesome power of God's redeeming grace.
You can listen, free, to Redemption Song here, by typing it into the search frame.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Danny Glover stars as "President Wilson" and Thandie Newton stars as Laura Wilson, the "First Daughter."
Now, probably they chose a black actor to play the president because Obama will be in office at the time, but the portrayal of Thandie Newton as the First Daughter made me wonder:
What is the governmental protocol for those titles? Because, in case you hadn't heard, Obama has two daughters.
Is Malia referred to as "First Daughter" and Natasha referred to as "Second Daughter"? And what if, God forbid, the President's wife passed away and he remarried? Would the new wife be the "Second Lady" because the President's late wife had been the "First Lady"?
Part of that is that most engineers are too damn busy. We work like dogs, mostly, and if you want to see an industry that has helped screw up the American work ethic of 40 hour weeks, just look to the engineers, who seem to pride themselves on 60-70 hour weeks. It's to a point where many of us start to worry about our job security if we aren't getting obscene amounts of overtime.
Another part of the problem is that you can't be a professional engineer and a professional blogger. The engineering industry is one that requires immersion for understanding, and unlike philosophy or politics, you simply can't make a career writing about it while being involved in it. Engineer blogs, like this, are for fun, not for a living. In my case, I do this partially out of egotism, and partially to fill a gaping whole in the blogosphere thought-base.
The other part of it is that engineers are not technical writers by trade. In college we have to take one, maybe two english classes, and usually we get average marks in them. We are taught to write on "engineering paper" which is essentially green graph paper where writing in a straight line is optional. Usually we write short bits of information, and then draw a figure that better illustrates our point.
Anyway, I don't mean to self-aggrandize, but the blogosphere needs unique voices from each sector in order to be a medium that can effectively analyze the issues. Just as people turn to Ross, Matt, Huffington, and others for political analysis, and TechCrunch and others for technology news, there should be leaders in the industry of engineering that can fact-find, and address the issues with sufficient eloquence to make them accessible to the layperson. In the case of engineering, this means boiling down a complicated process like why the Hyatt Regency disaster happened and explain that "the engineers didn't realize that the Hyatt would have a huge party on the skywalk and it got too heavy and collapsed" rather than talking about "shear modulus in all-thread hanging rods based on bolt location".
And as surely as comments are crucial to the success of blogs like McCardle and Yglesias, and the fuel for healthy modern debate, so too are they crucial here, and elsewhere.
Look for a roundup of good engineering blogs here, as soon as my obscene work schedule allows time.
But what's to stop this, I ask, from turning into a boondoggle? Take the Halliburton scandal during the Iraq rebuild. Faced with a massive, country-size rebuilding effort that would need massive, massive engineering and contracting efforts, the government awarded the contract to Halliburton, whom Vice-President Dick Cheney was closely tied. Beauracracy, bad engineering, unfulfilled promises, and billions of dollars have gone down the tubes while other capable engineering firms didn't even get a chance to bid.
For the Obama plan to work, it must involve fair competitive bid opportunities for national (but not international) firms that guarantee all drafting done in the U.S. A popular new strategy for engineering firms is to only hire designers, and then outsource the drafting to small companies in India. The quality of the drafting is usually poor.
In order to stimulate the U.S., the engineering firms must have a workforce that is American, and the companies, if faced with more work than their current staff can handle, must hire only nationalized Americans.
I am not saying foreign-born, or foreign-national engineers are sub-par, I am just trying to argue that for this to stimulate the U.S., the money must stay in the U.S., and not be paid to employees that might send it overseas to family in Asia.
Because we're talking about a lot of money here. The Halliburton contract to rebuild Iraq was 2.5 billion, and Obama is talking ten times that much money, just for the civil engineering work.
Fortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers is at a unique point where they might be perfectly suited to oversee much of this work. The Corps used to have their own designers do much of the work, and only rarely awarded private contracts to firms. Lately, however, there has been a push to eliminate the designer side of the Corps and just be project managers and reviewers, and almost all work is done by private contract; it's cheaper and usually quicker.
So if the ACE is in a position to award contracts and review drawings for large engineering projects here in the United States, why not allocate the funds directly to them? They already know what to do.
The worst thing that could possibly happen is if the money is mindlessly thrown at large businesses with no oversight, just like the first half of the TARP money has disappeared without any documentation whatsoever.
And please, Obama, when you are doling out the billions, think of me.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Steve is actually a zombie. The facts all match up. In 2004 Steve was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his pancreas, and at first tried alternative medicine and denied the need for surgery, much like all people with zombie-viruses try to hide their condition at first.
Then, I'd like to suggest, Steve died.
However, the people at Apple then resurrected him as a zombie, or he resurrected on his own, or whatever, because by 2006 he was back, giving the keynote speech at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Reporters wrote that Jobs seemed "listless, and gaunt", which is exactly how I would describe a zombie, wandering the streets of a city looking for live humans to eat.
Now I'm not the first person to realize that Jobs is a zombie. The editors at Bloomberg realized Jobs was an undead legion and published his obituary on August 28th, 2008. However, they were unable to determine the exact date that Jobs had died, and the left out mention of his resurrection as a worker of the underworld. Later, Jobs was spotted by faithful members of the Church of Apple, who failed to acknowledge the gaunt, haunted look of Jobs (and the human arm he was consuming) and demanded Bloomberg publish a retraction.
Spotted at the 2008 Apple event "Let's Rock", Jobs claimed his blood pressure was 110/70, although this was probably a cipher to other zombies around the world. The meaning is not known.
So why is Apple keeping this zombie alive, rather than releasing his soul? Well, for profit, obviously. The management of Apple know their companies' health is intimately tied to the health of Jobs, so they'll do whatever unholy act necessary to keep him in the spotlight.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
However, the entire country is not located on the East Coast, nor is it a collection of densely populated cities. I do not understand at all how bus and train routes work, because here in Kansas City, they are basically non-existent. The reason for this is that if you drove from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the only place cities are organized well is in the first 45 minutes of your drive.
East Coasters like to extol the virtues of a well-developed mass transit system. Many of them talk in befuddled amusement about not having a working car for weeks. This is simply impossible west of the East Coast. Cars, highways, and four lane roads with strip malls are simply the way of life for a HUGE chunk of this country, and I think people that live packed in like rats don't understand the hugeness of America at all.
For example, I live in a very well developed area of Kansas City, however it is an 18 mile drive to downtown. It's a 35 minute drive to a baseball game, and that's if traffic is light. It's an hour to the airport by car, on a major highway. All three of these are at widely different locations throughout the city.
People on the East Coast have the same problem, but their solution, it would seem, is to add more railroads, because, you know, you can ride the train anywhere in Boston, DC, or New York.
Unfortunately, its just not that simple in the Midwest, Plains, Rockies, Southwest, Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, or most of California. In those places, the cities have been built as a focal point surrounded by large suburbs, and people continue to commute large distances by car in order to reach the city. People don't just do this to work, because if it was just a work-time commute then rail and bus might make sense. But in places like Kansas City, urban attractors, like Arrowhead Stadium, are not remotely close to other urban attractors, like the Power & Light District, and it would take a complete change of city planning and infrastructure to connect the whole of Kansas City's metropolitan areas with mass transit.
That is an achievable goal, however, if you threw enough money at it. What you can't change via money is the mental state of this country, and despite the longings of the East Coasters for more mass transit, the rest of the country doesn't agree.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Amount Tim Geithner owed in back taxes: about $38,000.
Here's my incredibly offensive, probably racist, isolationist way to help: Cancel visas.
Before 2001, the U.S. granted approximately 65,000 H1-B visas a year, plus up to 20,000 for foreign applicants with a Master's degree or higher, plus a "no-ceiling" number of foreign applicants who will work at universities or non-profit research centers.
In 2001, Bush raised the cap to 195,000 regular H1-B's for that year and the two years following. By some estimates, 115,000-130,000 visas have been awarded every year since. Include the visas for foreign workers at universities and research centers, and you are talking about 200,000 visas a year. If we cancelled all these visas, there might be a sudden worker shortage in many lucrative, high-paying industries! Oh no!
Universities might be forced to hire new professors that are naturalized citizens! Oh no!
In fact, given the definition of applicants are anyone who is wishing to acquire a "specialized job in architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialities, theology, and the arts" we can quickly see that there'd be lots of job openings if we cancelled all H1-B visas!
Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with foreigners working in America, its just that my allegiances are strongly towards the naturalized citizens of this country regardless of nationality, and when several hundred thousand naturalized citizens can't find jobs but we are awarding 200,000 work visas a year to foreigners, I see a problem. And a solution.
Then it hit me (and I hope I don't offend too many people with this):
Obama: Who should I nominate for Surgeon General?
Advisor: A liberal-media-friendly, minority doctor, or something.
Obama: What about that Indian fella on CNN?
Obama: Schedule a press conference.
I only mention this because I have seen no coverage of it anywhere, like it isn't a big deal.
He then punched the air while grinning widely, which stunned BPM Gordon Brown and French President Sarkozy, who had overheard the Bush comment.I think I voted for this guy the first time around. That's really embarassing, in retrospect, to think that I had some good reason, like "my dad told me to" for voting for a total crank who never learned a single thing while in office.
What really, really amazes me is that even now, in the twilight of the Bush Presidency, he is still making jackass decisions and "sticking to his guns" over things that only someone completely insane wouldn't admit were mistakes. I mean that, there are two groups of people who won't admit their obvious mistakes: lunatics and Presidents.
Just to show President Bush how to do it, I'll use myself as an example: I was wrong to vote for Bush. In 2004 when I voted libertarian, that was wrong too. I should have voted for John Kerry to express my disgust at Bush.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
There are many, many bright young athletes amongst the 100+ NCAA schools, but the American culture has promoted a "get quick fast" philosophy where highly-paid athletes are hero-worshipped, and when they become over-paid crybabies, no one seems to care. And when they leave the NFL, they are instantly no longer worth mention. Unless they kill their wife or something.
Evolution didn't make us brilliant athletes as a species (compared to other animals). It's neat to see a quarterback throw a ball 60 yards to a receiver who catches the ball with arms outstretched while sprinting full speed. But neater yet is the Large Hadron Collider, and the Theory of Relativity, and open-heart surgery, and all the accomplishments of the human mind.
There was a time when collegiate sports were no more than a method to help young people afford college via scholarships. For most sports, like track and field, that is still true. But a few sports, like football and basketball, have become a playground for irresponsibility, and it is a disservice to these young impressionable men and women to tell them it's a good idea to quit school early and play ball.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Dungy is of course "retiring" now while he's still young enough to come out of retirement in a couple years when a deal gets sweet enough.
Am I the only one who thinks the word "retire" doesn't mean what it should? "I stopped working at my job because I got tired again?" When were you tired the first time, and why didn't you quit your job then?
Anyway, don't be surprised if Tony Dungy is back on the sidelines in another city by 2012.
The Yellowstone Caldera is a giant supervolcano that sits underneath most of Yellowstone National Park in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The caldera is composed of unusually light, hot magma that sits very near the surface. Almost like clockwork, the caldera has massively erupted every 700,000 years or so. The last eruption was approximately 680,000 years ago. Do you see where I am going with this?
One good way geologists have of predicting how soon a volcano will erupt is to track the frequency of the earthquakes near or in the volcano. In the case of Yellowstone, thousands of small to intense earthquakes have been recorded since the 50's. It is believed the intensity of these earthquakes is increasing (3000+ earthquakes in 1985).
Another good way geologists try to predict how soon a volcano may erupt is they track the elevation of the plug...the plug being the solid rock that is sealing the opening of the volcano. As the pressure builds, the volcano will slowly push the plug upwards until it is sufficiently loose and the volcano blows it off. The height of the plug at Yellowstone Caldera is rising, and the rate of rise is also rising. That is, the plug is accelerating upwards.
So just how devastating will it be when Yellowstone explodes again? Well, nuclear winter is a good way to put it. It might cool the temperature of the earth by 2 degrees or so, causing an extended, devastating winter in many parts of the world. It would cause acid rain to fall on much of the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada, devastating forests and farmland. Ash from the explosion would reach China, and Russia. The sun would not appear in some parts of the world for many, many days.
Anyway, just a spot of great news to cheer up your week!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
With the Duggar clan now well past its 60,000th member, Joshua Duggar (son of the famous Jim Bob Duggar) is lobbying for Congress to declare Duggaropolis an independent state, citing Constitutional clauses requireing 60,000 willing persons to petition for statehood. Jim Bob, featured on a TLC show at the turn of the century "17 kids and counting" set a precedent in his family for offensively high numbers of children, a trait he proudly passed on to his 18 children. Each of his 11 sons went on to marry, and raise equally large families of their own. His daughters also raised large families as well, but in the strict "Quiverfull" traditionalism of the Duggar clan, the daughters were all required to take their husbands' surname, though all descendents of the first Duggars, Jim Bob and Michelle, are taking part in the statehood petition.
Scientists marvel not only at the fertility of the Duggar clan, but at their amazing ability to not grasp the simple fundamentals of global overpopulation. "In poor countries, women have this many children, but because of malnutrition and disease, many children die," stated Dr. James Archin, a biochemist from University of California, Berkeley. "The women in the Third World have to have 13 children in order to ensure that a few may survive. In the case of the Duggars, all their children survived, all their grandchildren survived, and so on and so forth, and the family has really upset the balance of nature."
All told, Jim Bob Duggar had 18 children, 288 grandchildren, 4896 great-grandchildren, and 86,124 great-great-grandchildren. At this rate, approximately 240 Duggars are born each day in Arkansas (medical records showed 251 Duggars born the day before this printing). Joshua Duggar is arguing that the state of Arkansas can no longer suppor the infrastructure needed for the Duggar clan; only a new state run by the Duggars with all civic positions filled by the Duggars could do so effectively. "We'll run the state the way God tells us, just like how we have sex all the time and then marvel that God that got us pregnant...again..." Joshua Duggar said in an interview with the AP.
The average birth rate in the United States has declined since the turn of the century, and now stands at about 2.2 children per household. That differs from the Duggar clan, who estimate that since Jim Bob had his original 18 kids, the average Duggar has 16.9 children per household, seven times the national average.
Dr. Archin continues: "Unfortunately, the Duggars face a real threat of not being able to find spouses outside their own family to marry; when you need 88,000 spouses, that's hard to find. Especially if you don't travel much, as the Duggars don't." When asked if the Duggars could marry one another, Dr. Archin replied "They don't already?" Dr. Archin estimated that at their current rate, the Duggar clan will grow to 442 million in the next 40 years. By this time next century there will be 126 trillion Duggars. "That would imply the entire surface of all the land on earth is covered with Duggars standing shoulder to shoulder, stacked three Duggars high. The massive spread of Duggars on this planet would pose a greater threat than any other man-made cause in the last 200 years."
When asked to comment, Joshua Duggar smiled broadly, looked to the sky and replied "What a blessing from God that would be, for the Duggar family and for the world."
In future news, George the lobster has been eaten by a Cod.
But seriously, was anyone aware that lobsters live to be over 100 quite regularly? I somehow missed that episode of the Blue Planet (narrated by Richard Attenborough). Apparently, lobsters exhibit something known as "negligible senescence" which is basically that they never grow old. The idea is that every time a lobster molts, it sloughs off all the unhealthy cells and starts fresh, giving it a vitality boost.
Note to self: molt more often.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Chris: "The medical industry is a business. Whether people decide to view it as such or not does not change the fact that they are tyring to make money."
Chris makes a great point. I often argue that cures don't make money, only treatments do. I have to wonder: is there no cure for cancer because cancer is a strange, complex disease that we know little or nothing about, or is there no cure for cancer because if we cured cancer nobody would need chemotherapy anymore?
Isn't the most likely case a combination of the above? That the pharmaceutical companies are nowhere close to a cure for many diseases like cancer, and it doesn't make much sense for them to do research to get any closer?
In a related note, astronomers and physicists long believed the universe formed during the Big Bang, in a massive expansion that would eventually slow and reverse, leading to an event they dubbed "The Big Crunch." Recently, however, astronomers announced that the universal expansion is not slowing, it is in fact accelerating, and at an alarming rate! But trust us, we're experts. Because gravity causes large objects to move towards each other, there must be a force, the physicists surmised, that is pushing the heavens farther apart. They named this force "Dark Energy" and then concluded that the only way there could be Dark Energy is if there is Dark Matter. By calculating the amount of mass in the universe required to explain the acceleration, the physicists surmised that 96% of the matter and energy in the universe is Dark.
Unfortunately, they cannot locate or explain either dark matter or dark energy. But trust us, we're experts!
Now scientists are broadening their scope:
Recently researchers using NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe -- rapidly becoming the favorite spacecraft of TMQ, owing to its string of puzzling findings -- proposed "dark flow." Distant galaxy clusters exhibit "a small but measurable velocity that is independent of the universe's expansion and does not change as distances increase," according to lead researcher Alexander Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: "The distribution of matter in the observed universe cannot account for this motion." Kashlinsky and fellow researchers speculate they have found the footprint of some force that lies entirely outside the universe, dubbing this new power "dark flow."If dark flow is real, then we cannot measure nor account for 98% of the universe. I suspect that humanity is very, very early in its quest for knowledge. If we cannot account for 98% of the universe, if we cannot explain why three of the four fundamental forces of physics work together but gravity doesn't, then we very possibly have a long, long way to go until we really know as much as some arrogantly think we know.
I am not saying this to make fun of astronomers, or physicists. I am saying that if we only know like, one percent of all the stuff there is to know in the universe, we must fund research and we must do so on a massive scale.
The same is true for medical research. It's more than likely that - despite all our advances and CT scanners and open-heart surgeries - that we are still basically bumbling through the dark in terms of our knowledge of the human body. We must, if we truly are committed to improving the human condition, fund medical research and fund as aggressively as we can.
Someday, maybe our progeny will laugh at their dinosauric ancestors who used crude "needles" to "innoculate" themselves against "viruses", but we will not get there without research. My concern is that people see the lack of knowledge in the medical industry, and rather than seeing it as a challenge to overcome, instead they turn away from modern medicine and turn to voodoo therapies that they see on infomercials and hear about through pyramid schemes.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
That's really special, and I respect your right to protect your kid from the frying pan by placing them in the fire.
But here's the thing, and for some reason I hadn't thought about this before:
My daughter is protecting yours from polio, and that's not fair.
You see, if nobody got the polio vaccine (like they did before 1955), then polio would rage unchecked through America (like it did before 1955), and the health problems would abound (like they do in countries without polio vaccine availability). But widespread use of vaccines has made diseases like polio and smallpox rare if not non-existent in the United States. Parents that choose to not vaccinate their children against these diseases may get away with it; the vast majority of children get the polio vaccine and act as a buffer, making the disease essentially intransmissible by factor of the lack of viable hosts.
So what you end up with is a bunch of liberal elitists, refusing to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases for fear of autism or other possible drug side effects...who are completely depending on the masses to go ahead and vaccinate their own children and protect the unvaccinated from the disease. But these anti-vaccine parents are dependent on the U.S. drug machine to keep something like 80% of kids vaccinated, or some of the diseases could catch hold. And then who'll be looking down their nose?
The funny thing is, you see it in their eyes when they tell you "we've figured out how to skip 19 of the shots doctors recommend for babies between 0-18 months of age." and you say "well I just let my doctor give my kid whatever shots he thinks my kid needs. You know, because he's a doctor and I'm an engineer and therefore he knows more than I ever could about this." and they respond "well that is your choice" but what they are really saying is "thanks for keeping my kid safe while I make stupid decisions based on my the-man-is-out-to-get-me-and-playing-Russian-roulette-with-my-kids-health-is-okay philosophy towards the drug industry."
If you are offended by this, take a good long look at your kids. Do you want them to look like this? Because that is what polio looks like.
UPDATE: Just spotted this coincidentally timed post by Melissa Lafsky, the web editor at Discover Magazine and blogger at Reality Base. Worth a read, because I am so right it makes me laugh sometimes.
I also recommend "Robot Building for Beginners."
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
If you travel to Borders or B&N, or any local book store, you notice that interspersed within, or adjacent to, the science fiction section is the "Fantasy" section. In this section, dominated by L.E. Modesit and Andre Norton and J.R.R Tolkien (ever heard of him?), the most widely accepted historical fact was that in medieval times there were elves and dragons. Should we then believe that it is true that at one point dragons breathed fire at elf rangers who were hunting through the forests with their animal companions? Or should we instead believes that humans somehow exist on other planets where elves and dragons do in fact exist, and they engage in magical adventures? Notice: the fantasy section is not next to the science section.
Authors do not use, and reuse, and reuse a plot element because it is an absolute truth. They use it because they are lazy. Time travel is another good example. In many works of science fiction, future humans eventually find a way to travel through time in neat little capsules and mess with the timeline. However time travel is most likely impossible without harnessing the total energy of a solar system for a one-way trip. That is, time travel in the future is not impossible, but is extremely unlikely, yet authors use it all the time as a plot element. Why should a robot uprising be any different?
I don't understand Yglesias' irrationality on this. Please Matt, read my previous article on this.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Within a decade, the Army will field armed robots with intellects that possess, as H.G. Wells put it, "minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic."
Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments. Commanders will order them onto battlefields that would mean certain death for humans, knowing that the worst to come is a trip to the shop for repairs. The writing of condolence letters would become a lost art.
First off, Pike needs to turn off the Terminator 2: Judgement Day DVD and think before he writes an article that is basically a summary of the movie, except reality. What's the plot of T2? A scientist develops a better microchip that leads to the super-assassin Terminator robots, who kill with precision and without mercy? Isn't that what Pike just surmised was reality? Perhaps I should write an oped piece about a giant grasshopper shaped space vessel that is on it's way to earth and will release 36 giant saucers that are 15-miles in diameter that will strategically position themselves over major cities and use our satellite system against us to coordinate their attack. Then we'll fight back by planting a virus in their computer systems to lower their shields, and a rogue, alcoholic fighter pilot (who looks like Randy Quaid) will destroy one of their ships by flying an F-18 up its kazoo.
But seriously, here's my real problem with this future-death-robot scenario: If we can make robots that are hyper-precise shooters, and can run into gun-battles without hesitation and fear, why not program them to disarm the enemy? If they can shoot an enemy dead with computer precision, surely they could also shoot the enemy's hand off so they can't fire back? Doesn't it make more sense to incapacitate your enemy, rather than kill them? From a psychological standpoint, forcing the surrender of your enemy, rather than killing them, is better for you and worse for your enemy. The enemy army cannot easily rally behind the image of a martyr if you instead have that person rotting in a jail, and your troops will not feel the effects of possible psychological damage associated with killing another human being.
There is, of course, the future scenario where our hyper-precise death-robots battle our enemy's hyper-precise death-robots, in which case, may the best robot live and the other die. But if we are to use our armed robots as a replacement for the combat infantryman in battles against other humans, it makes ethical and logical sense to program them to super-effectively injure, disarm and capture, not to kill.
And if the government wanted to encourage people to buy homes, wouldn't it be a great idea to offer them a hiatus from property tax? If the county whined that they couldn't afford to not charge property tax, then maybe the government could give people an income tax credit equal to their property tax.
Here's an idea: First-time homebuyers get a 5-year income tax credit equal to the amount of property tax they owe each year.
Repeat home-buyers get a 3-year income tax credit equal to the amount of property tax they owe each year.
Current homeowners that refinance from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage get a 3-year income tax credit equal to the amount of property tax they owe each year on their home.
Now, I'm sure it'd have to be more complicated that that, but it seems like a nifty way to encourage people to start buying homes...because lowering interest rates really isn't working, it's just encouraging refi's.
If you ignore that his message was extremely compelling; both TAE and Mrs. were moved and felt like radically changing our lives after both services, and purely look at his public speaking style, the man is as fluid a speaker as I have seen. Imagine the opposite of George W. Bush. Hamilton's cadence is perfect, his rise and fall in volume is well timed. The President-Elect seems amateurish in comparison. Seriously. Though his message was nearly half an hour long, he interspersed several shocking examples which jolted the audience right when they threatened to fade. Though I have seen ministers get overcome by emotion week after week at some churches, Hamilton is composed, to the point that when he did show emotion, it was shocking and real, and unexpected.
His message was basically harsh, attacking his fellow Christians for their hypocrisy, but at the end the audience felt uplifted and motivated to change their lives. We did feel admonished, we felt we were in fact hypocritical, as he had accused, but we also felt very capable of self-improvement. He made no less than 13 references to Jesus teachings, citing every time Jesus uses the word Hypocrite in the Bible.
As Mrs. TAE and I continue our search for a church home, we consider 4 factors.
1. How compelling is the preaching from week to week?
2. How compelling does Mrs. TAE find the worship music?
3. Does the church regularly partake in communion, which TAE finds critical to a relationship with Jesus?
4. Does the church have a fun, not-anti-science Sunday school program from which the Abstracted Daughter can learn about God and Jesus?
On these things, COR scores a 4/4, and Mrs. TAE is eager to return. I am hesitant, however, to sign on at a church so large. Megachurches are (in my mind) that size because for a reason, and I have to believe the reason in this case is Rev. Adam Hamilton. TAE is concerned that at a church so large, individual ministry is impossible. However, a family friend named Darlene stopped me after the service and reported that when she was in the hospital for brain surgery, a minister from COR visited her every day all ten days she was there! Although access to Rev. Hamilton is almost impossible, I was informed the church retains a small army of ministers who have no other duties except to minister to the lay, each responsible for a section of the alphabet like the three counselors at my high school.
Anyway, if a reader finds themself in Leawood on a Sunday, visit the church, if for no other reason that to hear Hamilton preach. He is a once in a lifetime talent.
However, it has come to my attention that no matter where you donate money, seeking acknowledgement for the donation is not a Christian activity.
Matthew 6:2 says "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."Basically that means don't shout from the hilltops "Hey, I made a donation to a private school!"
Which is exactly what Oprah has done. I laud Oprah for donating money to an inner-city school. I find her charity efforts in the U.S. and Africa very good and worthy of praise. However she always puts her name on her charitable activities; most of the money comes from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, that way the public knows exactly who it is that is donating the money.
It's not that Oprah doesn't want to help people, I just fear that she, becuase of her wealth, is doing it to improve her image. I am afraid she doesn't want to be seen as a mega-wealthy tv star, so she tosses checks (with her signature clearly written) at charitable foundations and holds a press conference to show what she has done.
The teachings of Jesus encourage tithing, and donations to charity, and helping the poor. However, I'd love to see a press conference where a private school got a $365k donation from "anonymous." I understand Oprah's chagrin at being considered a mega-wealthy jerk, and her urge to do good with her wealth. However, she shouldn't care what people think. She should only care what God thinks.