The Candidates Did Respond… and it’s underwhelming

Both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign have answered sciencedebate.org’s 14 questions.

Just a cursory glance and it appears that they both punted on a lot of the questions.  Especially the education one.  We have a lot of unemployed (underemployed) STEM graduates.  What we need is a fundamental shift in education to emphasize critical thinking skills for all graduates, not just STEM grads.

Romney utterly failed the global warming challenge.  Every single reputable scientist and scientific body has stated that global warming is real, it’s a danger, and it may already be too late to do more than survive.  There’s a fundamental difference in how science uses ‘theory’ and how the lay person uses ‘theory’ and that is so important that misunderstanding that is doomed to failure.  Romney failed.

Of course, Obama didn’t do much better.  Yes, our dependance on foreign oil is lower than ever, but out domestic production is high and getting higher, while subsidies to make renewables cost competitive with (the heavily subsidized oil industry) languish in congress.

The issue of vaccines is also a failure by both parties.  Just a list of talking points about medical care.  The entire point of vaccines is the concept of herd immunity and everyone should have these vaccines.  There’s a reason that diseases like whooping cough are coming back.  Shockingly, the places where vaccinations are optional are the places where whooping cough is worse.  That’s not a talking point, there are real children dying from an easily preventable disease.

That’s all I can deal with tonight.  Read through it and see what you think.

Personally, I think the Green part candidates would have done an infinitely better job on these questions.  But they really don’t have a prayer of being elected (sadly) and I see them as seriously lacking in foreign policy, defense, and economic experience.

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Posted in Culture, Debate, Education, Environment, Government, Science, Skepticism, Society | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2012 Presidential Election Predictions

Well, I’ve been saying this all along, so it shouldn’t be any surprise, but Obama will win.  Very likely, he will win in such a landslide as the modern age hasn’t ever seen.  This isn’t going to be Bush/Gore, this is going to be a slaughter.

Here’s why I think so.  The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has some interesting numbers.  Now, keep in mind that this is one poll out of dozens, but the majority all say the same thing*.

Of likely voters in swing states**, Obama claims 94% of the black vote, while Romney gets 0%.  There’s more, but that’s a pretty stunning statement.  Romney has basically lost an entire demographic of likely voters.  Of course, examples from the RNC tend to show what the GOP really thinks of non-white, non-male groups.

The Latino population favors Obama by 2-1.  Finally, Obama has majorities (50+%) in the under 35 group and female voters.  Obviously, there is some overlap here.

Just consider, if there is an approximately equal male/female population in the US, then Obama has the majority vote.  Right there.  Of course, add in male and female blacks and male and female Latinos and that’s a huge leap for Obama.

Romney rules in traditionally conservative areas: whites, seniors, and rural areas, but only the in whites category does Romney have more than 50% of the vote.

Of course, these demographics are entirely meaningless, because the people of the US don’t vote for the president.  The electoral college votes for the president and the people vote for electoral college representatives. A system I truly loathe, not for the least reason is that my vote (nor do any Democrat votes) count in the state of Texas.

This post from Daily Kos describes the poll numbers in the swing states.  By these numbers, Obama is leading in all but two of the 13 swing states.  This combined with the traditional Democratic states is enough to give Obama a huge electoral victory.  Looking at these numbers, it appears that Missouri is firmly in the Romney camp and Obama has locked up New Mexico and Pennsylvania.  The Republicans (Senatorial committee) agree, having moved all their ad money out of New Mexico and into North Dakota, which is a decidedly Republican state.  But there appears to be enough of a challenge from Democrats to make things tight.

Finally, I’ll point out one other thing that has happened and, if it becomes general (this year or the next) could be the death knell for the GOP.  A New Mexico Tea Party candidate got their name on the ballot WITH the Republican candidate.  That means nothing less than a split vote and pretty much assures the Democratic candidate a victory for the New Mexico senate seat.  That split, as far as I am concerned, is the best thing to happen and I hope it becomes general.

The Tea Partiers are (in general) bug-house nuts and they are bringing the conservatives to ruin.  The Republicans must embrace the Tea Partiers or they will lose 15-25% of their base.  Unfortunately, when the rest of the US looks at people like Michelle Bachman, they don’t see a viable candidate, they see someone who is crazy.  The GOP, by being required to embrace these people, are becoming as crazy as they are.

It’s the same thing I’ve talked about before.  The loud people who are willing to do anything to support their point of view are the ones in the public space… not the quiet conservatives who really are the GOP base.

Anyway, so that’s my prediction.  Obama in a landslide and all that Koch Super-PAC money is wasted.  Oh darn.

____________________

* There is one poll, that no matter what, says Romney is ahead by 3-5 points.  I’m not sure how they work, but the simple fact that every other poll run this year says the exact opposite doesn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence in their methods.

** Those states that actually decide a national election.  Some states always vote Republican (like Texas, in spite of my best efforts) and some states always vote Democrat (like California).  The states that don’t routinely vote one party are ‘swing states’ and really decide the election.

Posted in Government | Tagged | 2 Comments

Politicians Refuse to Tell Us Their Thoughts…

Sciencedebate.org is trying to get someone… anyone in the US congress to answer some questions.  But they are refusing.

Sigh… so much for transparency in government. The sad part is the senators and reps on this list are the chairs and/or ranking members of committees that deal directly with science policy.

I say, we send them all home in their next election. If they can’t be bothered to tell us what they think sound science, environment, education, and energy policies are, then we can’t be bothered to re-elect them.

You can also write them and demand that they answer these questions that can (literally) shape the future of the US and the world.

Obama and Romney have both agreed to a WRITTEN response to the questions.  But that’s not a debate.  That’s not having to stand up for your principles against someone else.  The question is what will these candidates do?

Let’s look at the GOP platform.

  • “development of new, state-of-the-art coal-fired plants that will be low-cost, environmentally responsible, and efficient.”
  • “a reasoned approach to all offshore energy development on the East Coast and other appropriate waters”
  • “opening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for energy exploration and development”
  • “opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for exploration and production of oil and natural gas”
  • “allowing for more oil and natural gas exploration on federally owned and controlled land”
  • “cost-effective development of renewable energy,” using a “market-based approach . . . to aggressively develop alternative sources for electricity generation such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal energy.”

First, note that every single item, except for the last, is going to massively increase global warming.

Second, note that the last bit includes the phrase “market based approach”.  As I’ve shown elsewhere in this blog, hydro, wind, solar, etc are very competitive… when subsidies to oil and gas are not taken into account.  If the subsidies to oil and gas continue (7 billion dollars in the last 10 years), then there’s no chance that solar or win can be competitive.

This is exactly what the owners of the Republican Party want.

Posted in Culture, Debate, Environment, Government, Science, Skepticism, Society | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Millionaire Myth

A chance encounter the other day led me to a short discussion with a couple of ultra conservatives.  These are people who believe that our system is not rigged and the greatest thing about America is that anyone can become a millionaire… or can they?

So, I put together a spreadsheet and did some actual math.  The results are quite interesting and I want to share them all with you.

Continue reading

Posted in Culture, Skepticism, Society | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Building on Previous Work

This came up in a recent conversation.  Someone asked why I couldn’t give them a recent peer-reviewed paper that supported the idea of mutation as a driver for evolution.  My basic reply is because it’s so basic, everyone knows that is the case.  We’re beyond basics now.

The concepts that have been established as the basis for evolution (and all the other sciences) have been established, in some cases, for hundreds of years. We don’t have to, and shouldn’t have to, state basic principles every single time we make a statement.

If I say that I pushed a 1 kilo box 1 meter, then I did 1 Joule of work. In my statement, I should have to (and no one expects me to) derive the equation that Work = Force * distance and show how work is measured in Joules, which is the same as kinetic energy, and that Force is a Newton-meter, etc. etc. etc.

Those are all basic facts that shouldn’t even have to be discussed. Anyone who questions those sorts of things doesn’t have the requisite knowledge to be involved in a discussion about those topics. That’s not to say that they can’t learn about those topics and then become a valuable contributor. It’s whether they are willing to.

Similarly, the fundamental concepts of evolution are so well established that we don’t talk about them, except in high school biology and freshman college biology. There’s so much supporting evidence, that they are facts. Natural selection, mutation, adaptation, changes to morphology and physiology caused by mutation, etc. etc. etc.

The creationists are tens to hundreds of years behind the curve.

The same is true for creationism. There are some fairly fundamental concepts that are so common and well understood to people in these discussion that they don’t need to be explained. People who don’t understand these concepts haven’t been paying attention and really should learn about what’s going on prior to jamming their foot in their mouth… and that applies to all of the things I mentioned.

I can’t tell you how many times a creationist has said, “evolution can’t do x” and I send them a link to a 20 year-old peer reviewed research paper that shows them that evolution can do it, does do it, and that information has been known for a long bloody time.

And that is why creationism harms children. By teaching them that it’s pointless to learn, to think, to critically examine, to research… creationism turns otherwise intelligent people into idiots that will always be on the losing side of any argument about science.

It doesn’t matter if one is a world renowned scientist or engineer, unless one applies learning, thinking, critical examination, and research to everything one attempts to get involved with, then one runs the risk of looking like a fool. Even Nobel prize winners can say stupid things about topics they aren’t familiar with (and yes, it has happened).

Yet, creationists insist that lawyers, hydraulic engineers, mathematicians, theologians, and computer programmers know more about biology than than biologists. It’s not an appeal to authority to suggest that someone who has studied a field for most of their life knows more about said field than someone in a different field. And it doesn’t matter anyway, both statements should be examined.

The people at various forums have studied creationists for decades, some almost half a century.  They have been researching creationism since before some of the current creationists were born (I’m looking at you Kirk Cameron). They have consistently found certain things. Things like creationists will lie about what someone said in order to manufacture support for the creationist viewpoint. Creationists tend to be engineers rather than biological scientists. The vast majority of creationists do not understand even high school biology concepts (or chemistry or physics for that matter).

These things are not assumptions. They are not cherry picking of data. They are conclusions drawn over decades of watching creationists. If creationists don’t like the conclusions, then the creationists should make an effort to change how they act and build the trust again.

Of course, that means abandoning 2000 year-old beliefs and joining the real world.
I would like to add that I’m not saying the majority of engineers, mathematicians, etc are creationists.  I said that the majority of creationists are engineers, mathematicians, etc.  There are two people that I’m aware of with degrees in biology who are ‘creationists’.  The first is Michael Behe, who a) is barely a creationist and b) hasn’t published useful work in over a decade.  The other is Jonathan Wells who specifically got a degree in biochemistry in order to disprove evolution (which he hasn’t done yet).

Posted in Creationism / ID, Evolution, Science, Skepticism | Tagged , , ,

What, exactly, are facts?

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said.

This quote is from a pollster for the Romney campaign.  I have some serious concerns about the education in this country if someone actually believes that fact checkers can somehow influence what is and isn’t a fact based on their biases.

Which leads me to another question, just what is a fact and how can you know if it is a fact?

From dictionary.com

fact

noun

1.

something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.
2.

something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.
3.

a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true: Scientists gather facts about plant growth.
4.

something said to be true or supposed to have happened: The facts given by the witness are highly questionable.

5. Law . Often, facts. an actual or alleged event or circumstance, as distinguished from its legal effect or consequence.

So a fact is something that is know to exist or to have happened.  Philosophically, you can get into questions of how many people have to ‘know’ it to be true and things like that.  The easiest way to handle this would be verifiability.

Can something be verified is a good indication of whether it is a fact or not.  Many people claim that Bigfoot exists.  However, there is very little verifiable evidence that this is the case.  Let’s be real here and say that, to establish the fact that Bigfoot exists, we’re going to have to have a body and it will have to be examined by many, many scientists (including DNA sequencing) and have it verified that the body does indeed belong to a previously unknown hominid.

With a little work and luck, it may be possible to elevate a guess to a fact.  This has happened with a small number of cryptids.

Facts are also things that are mathematically provable.  For example, it is mathematically provable that the sine squared of an angle is equal to one half of one minus the cosine of twice the angle.  That’s a fact.

It is a fact that the Holocaust happened.  We have found sufficient evidence that, including eye-witness testimony, written testimony, and physical evidence at the concentration camps, that the Holocaust is an indisputable fact.

Now, let’s consider something that may or may not be a fact.  Take a rather innocuous statement; “The sun is bright today.”  Is that a fact?

Well… maybe, maybe not.  Technically speaking, the sun is bright every day and night.  When a star is busy converting several hundred million tons of hydrogen into helium by fusion every second, it’s going to be bright.  But that statement generally isn’t about the sun itself.  In general, that statement tends to be more about the local weather and indeed, there may be significant cloud cover.  While the sun is bright, the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth may be very small and not very bright at all.

I personally try to speak with precision about such things, but I often lapse into colloquial speak.  I have to be this exact during my job.

So a fact is something that is verifiable and true.

It’s weird that facts seem to be so malleable in other situations.

Posted in Uncategorized

On turning 40

You know, I’ve been dreading it for a while (about 40 years).  But it wasn’t so bad.  My best friend came over with his daughter and son.  I haven’t seen him in several years and we had a good time.

My friends and family brought a boat-load of Nerf weapons and Chris, xboy  and I had a good time firing for 10 seconds and then spending 30 minutes looking for ammunition.

We played Ticket to Ride three times.  It’s a fun game for groups.  No fighting, no wars, just fun.

I’ll see if I can find some pictures of two 40 year-olds playing with Nerf guns.
All in all, it wasn’t so bad.  I feel better (if more tired) than I have in a while.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Keep

Are you a gamer?  Do you have more than a couple of games?  Do you ever take your games somewhere else to play?

If you answer those as ‘yes’, then you need a Keep.  Personally, I want two.

First, let’s discuss the alternatives.  The box the game came in is OK, but it’s not that tough, it’s not waterproof, and it’s either much larger than you need or not big enough for the game and any expansions.

You can through a couple of games in a duffel bag if you aren’t too concerned about damaging them or rooting around for that one piece at the bottom of the bag.  Plastic bags can only survive so long before tearing.  If you lose that one piece, the game may not be playable.

Collectible card games and deck-building games are a totally different story.  You can put the cards in cardboard boxes (again, not waterproof or animal proof).  You can put them in a binder… unless you actually want to play with them.  Or you can have a big pile of small plastic boxes to hold decks.  The boxes may be too big, not big enough, or not fit sleeved cards.

OK, so what’s the solution?  The Keep.

The outside is going to be a hard plastic shell that is seal-able against the elements.  Inside is several bays that can hold two varieties of case.

You can have 2 Great Chambers which are big enough for standard game boards, rule books, etc.  According to the manufacturer, there will be some kind of accordion sleeve to keep the boards and books from flopping about.

In place of 1 Great Chamber, you can place 5 Magic Chambers (or 10 Magic Chambers in place of 2 Great Chambers).  These are designed specifically to fit sleeved cards and come with a lot of dividers.  But they also come with Bit Pits where you can store dice, play pieces, chips and any other small bits that might be used in a game.

Grumpy Owl Gamery has said that future versions might incorporate miniatures and a larger version might be created to handle over-sized games (like Steve Jackson’s new Ogre set).

I want one of these… of course, I’m something of a sucker for storage solutions.  But let’s look at what I THINK can fit in one of these Keeps.

I have about 10 old Magic decks that I like to break out and shock the new players with.  Each Magic Chamber holds 600 sleeved cards (or 800 unsleeved).  That’s pretty much my entire Magic collection right now… in one Magic Chamber, at a minimum we have four more to fill up.  An option is the card game version which has 10 Magic Chambers for a total of 6,000 sleeved cards!

OK, one of the most popular games around is Settlers of Catan.  Since the game board is a bunch of hex shaped pieces, I bet that the entire game could fit into one Magic Chamber.  Take the bit Pits from the MC with the cards and you can store the entire game in it.

Ascension is another card game, but a deck building game rather than a collectible card game.  You can put all the cards for at least two versions of the game and expansions in one Magic Chamber (probably) and still have room for the Bit Pits to store the honor.  If you need the game board, then it goes in the Great Chamber.

OK, that’s three super popular games and we still have two Magic Chambers and most of the Great Chamber left.

Role Playing?  I’ll drop a few rule books in the Great Chamber.  Car Wars? Counters in the Bit Pits and the rest in the Great Chamber.  Battle Tech?  Everything in the Great Chamber.

According to Grumpy Owl, the Great Chamber can store up to 10 standard bi-fold game boards.  Heck, I can throw in Candyland for the boy… though he’s getting started on Car Wars pretty early.

Even after all that, there’s still some room left.  Throw in Zombie Dice

I personally, have already signed up for one of the 1st 5,000 Keeps.  Hopefully, I can do a full review when it comes in.  The team at Grumpy Owl thinks that they can have it all together by Christmas… if they get funding.

Yes, the Keep is expensive, but how much are these games costing?  Ogre, Battletech, Catan, Magic cards, etc and I’m approaching almost a $1000 worth of games.  You can keep them in a cardboard box or protect them so your kids can play them.

If you like games, then get a Keep.  If you can contribute at all to make this work, then please help.

BTW: I am not affiliated with the Keep or Grumpy Owl Gamery, except that I am a kickstarter supporter and think this is pretty danged cool!

Posted in Games, Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Web Comics

When the whole web-comic appeared, I didn’t think too much of it.  But then I found a really good one.  Then I found another and another.  I thought I would share my favorites.  It’s a good way to kill a few afternoons.

In no particular order.

Sluggy Freelance – This one was my gateway drug to web comics.  I started reading it after a reference to “bun-bun” in a book that I read.  It’s very good and Pete Abrams is a prolific author and cartoonist.  My problem with it now is that the story lines are just too much.  I wasn’t enjoying the latest ones, so I don’t read it much anymore.  There are several years worth of the comic, so if you enjoy it, be prepared to lose several weeks productivity.  If you have any geek factor at all, you will enjoy it (at least most of it).

xkcd – This is another one that any geek absolutely must read.  It can be laugh out loud funny… and I mean really laughing out loud, not LOL.  It can also make you think and some of the research that this guys puts into his work is absolutely stunning.  Not too bad for a bunch of stick figures.

Surviving the World – This isn’t really a web comic.  It’s a guy with a blackboard… except he’s an engineer.  He has a lot of really interesting observations as well.  One nice thing about xkcd and StW, is that there aren’t stories or plots.  You can jump in anywhere and still find humor, philosophy, and things that make you go ‘hmm’.

Blue Milk Special – This one tops my list for quirky and unique.  Basically, the author is retelling the entire Star Wars saga… with a bit of a twist.  Leia is a chain-smoking tramp.  Darth Vader is a coffee drinking moron, who prefers Star Trek to Star Wars.  Biggs Darklighter is dead, but a remains a huge hero.  If you can handle some off the wall rescripting of your scifi, then try it.  You will enjoy it.

Grrl Power – This one is very new and rarely updated, but when you see the comic, you’ll understand why.  It’s draw very well and in full color.  The cartoonist isn’t the best, he often tries to fit too much into a page, but it’s still enjoyable and I’m really looking forward to see where he takes it.  Basically, it’s kind of your average super-hero comic, with some very unusual super-heroines… and one girl (who is both a hard-core geek and nuts) who has a tube with some very interesting properties.

Girls with Slingshots – I’m not sure why I like this one so much.  It’s very chicky, not very geeky and occasionally pretty emotional.  However it has some great features, like Pedro the talking cactus and the ghost kitty who flies around uttering “doooooom” all the time.  It’s very odd, maybe I’m growing as a person.  It’s been around a while, so if you like it, be prepared to read for a while.

Misfile – My new favorite.  The plot is disturbingly simple.  A slacker angel gets busted for not keeping up with the filing.  In his haste to cover his tracks, he misfiles to people.  One teenage, car-loving boy gets misfiled as a girl and a brilliant yet shy girl who just got accepted into Harvard gets misfiled as being two years younger.  It is really quirky and yet really gets into the emotions of the characters and the kind of meta action in heaven is interesting.  I’m really looking forward to where this one goes.
Well, that’s it for my web comic bookmarks.  Enjoy and please remember moderation.

Posted in Book Review, Humor | Tagged

Roots

When people speak of their roots, they are speaking about their history about their past and their culture.  But more often than not, they are also speaking of their home.

In days past, a family would live in a home for most of their lives, perhaps even multiple generations living in that same home over a hundred years or more.  Those were the days when your grandfather was a farmer, your dad was a farmer, you are a farmer, and you kids and grandkids will be farmers.

I wouldn’t say that they were simpler times, but potentially less hectic and less… contrived.  That’s not a good word, but it’s the best word that comes to mind.

My roots  in these senses are gone.  My home, the only home I lived in for the first 21 years of my live is gone.  Torn down long ago.  A few years ago, my mom called me.  She was very sad that the house she grew up in had burned down.  I replied that the house I grew up in was destroyed long ago.

It wasn’t that sad for me.  It was a house… and not a very good one.

There’s also the aspect of culture.  I have rejected my upbringing in the form of religion.  After watching the drama contained in my church, I wondered what a Christian really was.  Now I see the “Christian” culture around me and I’m glad that I’m not a part of it.  [See this article for a discussion on the real Christian culture vs. the active/speaking Christian culture.]

I never was ‘into’ school.  I didn’t go to the football games, I didn’t participate in sports or anything else.  I learned in spite of school not because of it.

Now, I’ve left the area where I lived for 33 out of 36 years I’ve been alive.  I’ve moved to a new town and new home.  And now, we’re planning on moving again, within the same area, but a different house.  It won’t be “our” house.  I think we’ve pretty much decided that renting is the way to go.  I don’t mind.  It gives us a lot of freedom and maneuverability.

So, where are my “roots”?  That’s a good question.  I had intended to talk about the internet being where my roots are.  As much as I move, travel, change jobs, or whatever, I tend to keep to the same places on the intertubes.  But those aren’t really ‘roots’.

The places I frequent (some of which I have listed in the blogroll on the right) are really cultural or even societal.  They tend to be mental.  They emphasize my style of thinking rather than culture or history.

I am something of an amateur student of history, so I don’t worry too much about repeating the mistakes of the past, though I do… and don’t we all?

I guess that my roots are more in how I was raised by my grandfather rather than a place or a society or group.

I don’t know.  As I said, I had intended to have more of an answer.  But after I started writing, I don’t really have an answer.

Maybe roots are an artifact of our culture.  But perhaps those roots are holding people back more than helping us.  Sure, people want to have comfort and change is scary (ask me, I know this!), but like getting shots or some other process that was once painful that no longer is, perhaps being used to change is more helpful to us than being rooted in the past.

A lot of the truly thinking people I know are radically different from their parents and even more so from their grandparents.  This doesn’t mean that their family isn’t important and that they don’t love their family.  Much like the innovations in technology, the culture of the person has radically altered, but still family is family.

Roots seem, under this thinking, to be a lot like religion.  That comforting thing that doesn’t change and helps us feel good about ourselves.  Much like the 40-year-old still tries on his high school letter jacket and remembers the one play he made that won them the game, we keep the familiar.  But those people who don’t dwell on the past like that seem to be more likely to consider, to think about things.

People like that understand that comfort isn’t the goal.  Feeling good about one’s self isn’t the goal.  The goal is to think things through and come up with good, logical reasons for doing/saying things.  And making sure that we can also change our minds when given valid reasons and be OK with changes like that.

Wow, this has taken a weird turn.  Based on anecdotal and limited evidence, I think this may be a valid comparison.

It bears more consideration.

Posted in Culture, Ideas, Philosophy, Society | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment