Friday, March 16, 2012

Conception to Birth - Visualized

Some amazing images here. Lots of implications, too. From the TED Talks YouTube channel:

"Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are We Smart Enough for Democracy?

Are we smart enough for democracy? Check out this article from Yahoo! News:

"People Aren't Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say" by Natalie Wolchover

"The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies."

"The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments."

And that is why, in my opinion, it is so critically important to elect people with strong beliefs. People who won't compromise those beliefs. People like Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barrack Obama are perfect examples of people who DON'T have any core beliefs. They just want power, and will say anything to get it.

"As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, 'very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is,' Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries."

I would suggest that ending the Federal Reserve would be an example of such an idea. Fiat money, subject to manipulation by government, is doomed to failure.

"Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters' own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won."

"Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they 'effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.'"

Wow, I'm so inspired (not). We truly get the (crappy) government we deserve.

And from
"Democracy May Depend on the Ignorant" by Joseph Castro

This article is a little more technical than the previous one.

"Strongly opinionated members can determine a group's consensus decision, even when they make up only a small minority. New research of animal behavior shows, however, that adding ignorant or uninformed members to the group can counteract the minority’s powerful influence and promote a more democratic outcome."

"When the strength of the two packs' preferences was equal, the group was much more likely to follow the majority. But when the minority had stronger feelings than the rest of the group about its direction, it was able to control the decision."

"'It's very counterintuitive,' said Iain Couzin, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University ... 'We previously assumed that uninformed individuals promote extremism by being easily exploited by the [strong] minority.'"

I wish I could say I was surprised. But I'm not. Lots of sheep among us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Your Government Can Kill You

Provocative title, eh? Exaggeration? Check out this article and decide for yourself. From Mother Jones:

"When the US Government Can Kill You, Explained" by Adam Serwer

Attorney General Eric Holder:
"'"Due process" and "judicial process" are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.' Holder said. 'The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.'"

What? Sounds like Holder is using weasel words to justify doing whatever the hell he wants. Remember when those on the left said George Bush was a cowboy, taking the law into his own hands? Can you imagine what they (and their lapdogs in the media) would say if George Bush used these exact words?

"If the standards for when the government can send a deadly flying robot to vaporize you sound a bit subjective, that's because they are. Holder made clear that decisions about which citizens the government can kill are the exclusive province of the executive branch, because only the executive branch possess the 'expertise and immediate access to information' to make these life-and-death judgments."

Amazingly, I happen to agree with the ACLU:
"In a statement, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's national security project, called the authority described in the speech 'chilling.' She urged the administration to release the Justice Department legal memo justifying the targeted killing program—a document that the ACLU and the New York Times are currently suing the US government to acquire. 'Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.'"

We know that Holder doesn't bother reading laws before offering an opinion (Arizona immigration laws, for instance). I wonder if he has read the Constitution...

Quoting anonymously from a mailing list that I am a member of: "This is completely appalling and goes far beyond any of the totalitarian powers that Bush II sought during his term. How can a president who prided himself on being a scholar of the constitution have reached this point?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Imagine the Future

What will the future look like? Here's one man's opinion. From the Wall Street Journal online, their weekend interview with physicist Michio Kaku:

"Captain Michio and the World of Tomorrow" by Brian Bolduc

Always fascinating to think about what the future holds. In one man's opinion we won't even use the word "computer," not because they won't exist but because they are everywhere, and it will be superfluous to even use the word.

"Instead of one chip inside a desktop, we'll have millions of chips in all our possessions: furniture, cars, appliances, clothes. Chips will become so ubiquitous that 'we won't say the word "computer,"' prophesies Mr. Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York. 'We'll simply turn things on.'"

But there is also concern. Kaku worries that the U.S. is falling behind technically.

"And woe to the nation that loses its edge. Great Britain became a world empire when it pioneered steam power in the 19th century, Mr. Kaku recounts. In the 1920s, however, Britain began to rest on its laurels. British industry lost its focus on developing the latest technology, thus solidifying the country's status as a declining world power. 'And who took over? Germany.' German scientists split the atom and developed aeronautics. 'So the cutting edge in science shifted from England to Germany with catastrophic results' in World War II, Mr. Kaku concludes."

"Now, he says, the U.S. is losing its edge because we're not producing enough scientists. 'Fifty percent of Ph.D. physicists are foreign-born, and they're here compliments of the H1-B visa,' Mr. Kaku relates. 'There's a brain drain into the United States; that's why we're still No. 1. But it can't last forever.' China and India are slowly luring back their natives, while our top students are eschewing the hard sciences for lucrative careers in areas such as investment banking."

"'I have nothing against investment banking,' Mr. Kaku says, 'but it's like massaging money rather than creating money. If you're in physics, you create inventions, you create lasers, you create transistors, computers, GPS.' If you're an investment banker, on the other hand, 'you don't create anything new. You simply massage other people's money and take a cut.'"

"It's a shame, because Mr. Kaku believes humans are natural-born scientists. 'When we're born, we want to know why the stars shine. We want to know why the sun rises.' But then we hit 'the danger years' for young people: high school. 'And we lose them by the millions—literally by the millions. Why? It's a combination of bad teachers and no inspiration.'"

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lessons From the Past

This is an old essay (obviously) from Michael Crichton. But I was reminded of this recently. It is, in my opinion, still very relevant. It recalls a shameful period in our history, a period that many on the left still seem very comfortable with. And it draws some parallels with another similar issue today. Give it a read and see what you think. See what happens when mindless groupthink sets in, and people go along with the popular trend without thinking.

"Why Politicized Science is Dangerous" by Michael Crichton

I was shocked to see the people who supported eugenics when I read this article. I can't say I'm surprised, though. I have always viewed people like Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as big government blowhards, and this is just more evidence of it. Think about that for a second when you hear about the "consensus" that now supports the CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) theories that are in vogue. The consensus doesn't mean shit.

Crichton writes about eugenics: "Those who opposed the theory were shouted down and called reactionary, blind to reality, or just plain ignorant. But in hindsight, what is surprising is that so few people objected."
I believe that global warming will be viewed similarly in the future.

I was also fascinated by this statement:
"Third, and most distressing, the scientific establishment in both the United States and Germany did not mount any sustained protest. Quite the contrary. In Germany scientists quickly fell into line with the program. Modern German researchers have gone back to review Nazi documents from the 1930s. They expected to find directives telling scientists what research should be done. But none were necessary. In the words of Ute Deichman, 'Scientists, including those who were not members of the [Nazi] party, helped to get funding for their work through their modified behavior and direct cooperation with the state.' Deichman speaks of the 'active role of scientists themselves in regard to Nazi race policy ... where [research] was aimed at confirming the racial doctrine ... no external pressure can be documented.' German scientists adjusted their research interests to the new policies. And those few who did not adjust disappeared."

And this is what we are seeing from scientists right now, with respect to global warming. No need to induce them to kowtow to the government, to help push the government agenda (claim global warming is a problem to institute more government control over our lives). They do it voluntarily!

As an engineer I would expect technical people to know better. I would expect them to analyze the evidence and make up their own minds. But I have seen first hand that this is not true. Even technical "experts" ignore the facts when they have an agenda. People can rationalize anything, and it disgusts me.

I completely agree with Crichton's final paragraph:
"That is the danger we now face. And this is why the intermixing of science and politics is a bad combination, with a bad history. We must remember the history, and be certain that what we present to the world as knowledge is disinterested and honest."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Forward

Did you know that setting our clocks forward an hour increases the suicide rate? From Wiley Online LIbrary:

"Small shifts in diurnal rhythms are associated with an increase in suicide: The effect of daylight saving" by Michael Berk, Seetal Dodd, Karen Hallam, Lesley Berk, John Gleeson, and Margaret Henry
Published in the Sleep and Biological Rhythms Journal, January 2008.;jsessionid=EDF5DBB92D01B525F774FEA35F8C2696.d02t01

Large disruptions of chronobiological rhythms are documented as destabilizing individuals with bipolar disorder; however, the impact of small phase altering events is unclear. Australian suicide data from 1971 to 2001 were assessed to determine the impact on the number of suicides of a 1-h time shift due to daylight saving. The results confirm that male suicide rates rise in the weeks following the commencement of daylight saving, compared to the weeks following the return to eastern standard time and for the rest of the year. After adjusting for the season, prior to 1986 suicide rates in the weeks following the end of daylight saving remained significantly increased compared to the rest of autumn. This study suggests that small changes in chronobiological rhythms are potentially destabilizing in vulnerable individuals."

I don't want to make light of this because this is a serious situation. But I had to ask myself, is losing one hour really enough to push someone over the edge? One hour? Listen, committing suicide doesn't strike me as the kind of thing that you do unless you're sure of it. And if losing one hour is the thing that makes the difference, well, I don't get it. Actually, I can't see committing suicide ever. But certainly don't do it because you lost one hour.

I started off typing this as ... well not as a joke, but as a somewhat lighthearted post. Imagine Jerry Seinfeld doing a routine. "Well, I wasn't going to do it, but losing that hour convinced me!" But the more I type the more I feel sad. Seriously, you have to be in a bad place for that to make the difference.

Don't do it.