May 142017
 

If anyone thought there was a chance in hell of a peaceful solution to the Arab/Israeli problem… this bit of news should dispel that notion:

Convicted murderer of six Israelis elected as Palestinian mayor of Hebron

The guy killed six people, and managed to get released in a prisoner exchange. There are two “ponderables” that spring immediately to mind:

  1. What does this say about the mindset of the people who voted for him?
  2. What does this say about the wisdom of releasing terrorists in prisoner exchanges without first injecting them with AIDS, mercury, lead? Is it possible to create a small capsule that can be injected or swallowed that will sit there inert for, say, a year or two and then break open and infect the guy with rabies?
 Posted by at 7:13 pm
May 122017
 

So, a Chinese “Mixed Martial Artist” challenged a “Tai Chi Master” to a bout. Challenge accepted and, fortunately,videoed from many angles. How’d it go? Well…

The results – the MMA fighter had the “Master” on the ground within about seven seconds, then spent another dozen seconds or so repeatedly pounding said “Master” in the noggin. It was a classic rout… it was not even remotely close. So how’d this happen?

Well, think about it. Classical martial arts are kind of an art form… sort of like dance, with rules and traditions and ethics. Focusing on a specific martial art, such as Tai Chi (which, honestly, to me always makes me think of “old people moving slowly”), may make you an expert in that martial art… but it may also limit you to the moves associated with that martial art. But “mixed martial arts,” that’s another matter. Here, the goal is not to honor ancient traditions, but instead to beat your opponent into the dirt by whatever means necessary.

Now, admittedly, your average black belt could undoubtedly pummel me so fast I’d be indistinguishable from a screeching SJW in a matter of seconds. But if it came down to a fight between an Old School Traditionalist and an MMA fighter, or a Navy SEAL… I’m putting my money on the guy who’s job it is to beat the crap out of the other fella.

Traditional martial arts are necessarily hidebound… they are traditions, after all. Perhaps they have been finely honed over the centuries, brought to a level of perfection. And that’s fine, but don’t confuse it for “actually useful in a combat situation.” The Samurai are  today seen as some sort of near-magical combatants, yet the Japanese military hardly employs them anymore. The *actual* Samurai got slapped around by a bunch of Japanese farm kids with rifles back in the 19th century. When the Japanese Empire decided to revive the Samurai “Bushido Code” and virtually worship the Samurai in the first half of the 20th century, they got smacked around by a bunch of American farm kids with rifles.

The katana, the chosen sword of the Samurai, is itself a fantastic example of what I’m talking about. Over a thousand years of so, Japanese swordsmiths created a beautiful sword… but imbued with with mystical claptrap. And if there’s one thing that doesn’t help your sword actually perform, it’s magic. The katana is viewed by many as being some sort of nearly perfect tool… the traditional manufacturing process creating a blade of remarkable strength, durability and sharpness, the killingest chunk of metal to be found. But… no. What those swordsmiths produced was a blade that would be regularly bested by a virtually identical blade  made by machines using modern steel straight out of a steel mill.None of all that folding or tradition… just take some bar stock, hammer a bit, grind a bit, heat treat a bit, then go embarrass the hell out of the relatively brittle “traditional” sword. What the Japanese swordsmiths succeeded at was making not the best possible sword steel, but the best possible sword steel using the technology and science that they had. But their techniques were evolutionary dead ends. They made, in essence, the very best possible Thylacines. Great fits for their niche… until something better and more adaptable came along. In the case of the katana, what came along was Western science.

And in actual head-to-head competitions science will kick mystical traditions ass, every time. Where science will lose is not in the actual fight, but the propaganda. People are willing to believe nonsense over sense, especially if the nonsense makes promises that science can’t. Doesn’t matter if the nonsense can actually make good on the promise, many people will still buy it. So… will moving slowly make you capable of defending yourself against a mugger? Sure, why not! It’s an ancient tradition!

 

 

 Posted by at 8:27 am
Apr 262017
 

On one hand, you might think that I’d approve of the recent “March for Science” because if you’ve read this blog for more than a few minutes you’ll realize I’m a fan of the scientific method. Secondly, I recognize that the world seems to be increasingly full of derp and bringing the value of science to the forefront seems like a damned good idea.

But…. nope. Couldn’t have cared less about the “March for Science.” Largely because it didn’t seem to be a “march for science,” but rather a “march for some science and for certain politics.” Now, granted, the right wing, which I suppose most people would  at least nominally lump me in with, seems to be on a particularly anti-science course. The tardtacular creationists seem to be creatures almost wholly of the right, and they’re sheer wrongness is as obvious as a suicide bomb. The current administration  (which is somehow assumed to be right wing, against all evidence) seems to have a hardon for slashing science funding. But the left has their anti-nuclear idiots and the anti-GMO scumbags… and even their pro-science advocates often seem to be more religious zealots than adherents to a methodology that starts off with “well, maybe I’m wrong here; check my math.”

Even Slate sometimes gets it:

The Problem With the March for Science

… most “pro-science” demonstrators have no idea what they were demonstrating about. Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it.

The sad fact is, most people don’t have clue one what science *is.* Most people seem to think that “science” is “technology.” But it ain’t. Science is a method. A method that, at it’s core, is simply a rational way to separate fact from bullcrap… even if the bullcrap is what the scientist doing the work desperately wants to believe to be true.

Science isn’t proclamation from on high; science is often hard damn work, with a whole lot of number crunching and statistics. But the really, really grating thing is this: science need not be that hard to explain and understand. Oh, sure, the more advanced corners of it will always be well beyond the vast majority of people… start going on about *anything* that involves tensor math and my eyes instantly glaze over and I start pondering something simple and sexy like “gee, wouldn’t it be fun to build a small ejector ramjet in my back yard, one hardly needs *any* complex math for rocketry.” But the basics of science are – or at least should be – taught to every school child. It’s really not that hard… see an issue, come up with a hypothesis, run some tests and try to prove yourself wrong. As tests produce data that conflicts with your hypothesis, either change the hypothesis to match, or ditch it entirely. Imagine if every adult got enough of a refresher course so that this sank in. People wouldn’t be able to create new antibiotics or search for gravity waves, but they might be able to do some basic science about “what’s the most cost effective way to do my laundry” or “what’s the fastest route to work” or some such. If people would apply the scientific method to everyday issues, they could not only improve their lives, they’d also come to appreciate science… at the same time they lose the cargo cult religion aspect of science worship.

It occurs to me that “science” has something in common with “firearms” here. Science and firearms are both used by some people, not used by most people; science and firearms are things that are held to be virtually magical by some people, and treated with respect by others. And in both cases, it’s the people who use and understand them that treat them with respect; it’s the people who don’t use and understand them that convert them into fetishes. It’s Hollywood and the gun grabbers who venerate firearms as magical killing machines, capable of doing things they cannot, and attributing to them motivations that firearms do not have.

 Posted by at 5:42 pm
Apr 152017
 

And the new dark age begins:

Purdue announces new head for School of Engineering Education

And who is this? Let’s check out her bio (from her previous stint at Smith College):

My scholarship currently focuses on applying liberative pedagogies in engineering education, leveraging best practices from women’s studies and ethnic studies to engage students in creating a democratic classroom that encourages all voices. In 2005 I received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to support this work, which includes developing, implementing, and assessing curricular and pedagogical innovations based on liberative pedagogies and student input at Smith, and understanding how students at Smith conceptualize their identities as engineers. I seek as an engineering educator to be part of a paradigm shift that these pedagogies demand, repositioning concerns about diversity in science and engineering from superficial measures of equity as headcounts, to addressing justice and the genuine engagement of all students as core educational challenges.

I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups.

In EGR 330 (Engineering and Global Development), we critically evaluate past and current trends in appropriate and sustainable technology. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism and colonialism, and the role technology plays in movements that counter these forces. Gender is a key thread running through the course in examining issues of water supply and quality, food production and energy.

In EGR 205 (Science, Technology and Ethics), we consider questions such as who decides how science and engineering are done, who can participate in the scientific enterprise and what problems are legitimately addressed within these disciplines and professions. We take up racist and colonialist projects in science, as well as the role of technology, culture and economic systems in the drive toward bigger, faster, cheaper and more automated production of goods. A course theme around technology and control provides for exploration of military, information, reproductive and environmental applications. Using readings from philosophy, science and technology studies, and feminist and postcolonial science studies, we explore these topics and encounter new models of science and engineering that are responsive to ethical concerns.

Oy.

A few things:

  1. “Democratic classrooms that encourage all voices:” this is utterly inappropriate in engineering. Is it because democracy is wrong? No… it’s because some *people* are wrong. In engineering there are *clear* wrong answers. There’s no “you tried” award if there’s a “your bridge collapsed under normal loading.” With a “democratic classroom” that “encourages all voices,” the students trying to get an actual education will have to share time with the fricken’ idiot who thinks that getting a shaman to bless the bridge, or building not out of steel but some sacred rubber tree, or waving magic crystals over forming stress cracks are all cromulent ideas.
  2. “uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups,” is, I suppose, fine if your interest in engineering is the *history* of engineering… but it’s utterly meaningless if your interest in engineering is, y’know, engineering. It’s been a bit of a while since I got my degree, but as memory serves, we spent approximatley zero time on describing the peronal travails of the various people who discovered or invented the little bits of science, technology and math that we used. In aeronautics we learned about Bernoulli’s Theorem… because it’s important and relevant. What did we learn about Bernoulli the man? Doodly squat. Because WHO CARES. Whether he was a asexual autistic Italian banker, or  lesbian Swiss cheesemaker makes absolutely no difference to the theorem itself. E=mc^2, after all, whether Einstein was German or Austrian or Swiss or Japanese, white or black, Jewish or Hindu.
  3. “Womens Studies/Ethnic studies/Colonialism:” you see any of that and you know you’re in for an idiot harangue from someone who cares far more about who did something than what that something actually was.

The reasoning behind this hire seems straightforward enough to suss out. STEM fields are overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian males; females and males Of Some Other Color are under represented. And this has become a political cause among the shouting set in recent years, because STEM graduates *tend* to make pretty good incomes (present company sadly excluded) because STEM fields are, compared to libarts, actually useful to society. So, fine, bring in more women and People Of Some Non-White Color in the the STEM classrooms. The more the merrier! But where this is a screwup is that the process isn’t to convince women to do the hard work and take the math and engineering courses… they’re trying to water down STEM to where it’s palatable to the type of person who thinks that womens or ethnic studies courses are actually a good idea.

 Posted by at 3:20 pm
Apr 132017
 

Hamilton couple refuse to tell foster kids Easter Bunny is real, CAS shuts down home: court docs

A foster family up Canada way is devoutly Christian, so they don’t buy into all that “Easter Bunny” and “Santa Claus” hooha. And a Canuck court has decided that while apparently it’s ok to be devoutly religious and be a foster family, refusing to tell toddlers about the gospel of Ostara’s fertility rabbit actually being *real* just ain’t gonna fly.

Let that sink in for a bit.

A government agency has decided that refusing to tell children that fables are fact is legally actionable. One wonders where that might lead.

…the organization expects foster parents to respect common customs and the traditions of the biological family.

“From an organizational perspective, we need to be cognizant and respectful, both of the beliefs of the foster parents and also the needs and customs of children in our care,” he said. “We consider children coming into our care to be on a temporary basis … and there should be a … very smooth transition back to their home from a foster placement.”

This would seem to imply that a foster family will be expected to play along with and affirm every single set of beliefs that the bio-family had. This would seem to imply that having multiple children from multiple backgrounds simultaneously would be problematic at best. Imagine a foster family that has an Asatru girl and a Muslim boy at the same time… the girl might demand to *not* be dominated, and by the gods she will *not* be denied bacon for breakfast and a ham sammich for lunch, and she’ll point the soles of her feet anywhere she damn well pleases… and the family will have to affirm that at the same time they need to affirm pretty much the opposite for the boy.

 

 Posted by at 12:47 am
Apr 062017
 

A few days ago I watched the movie “The Discovery.” It was based on an interesting idea… a scientist played by Robert Redford has scientifically proven to everyones satisfaction that there is, in fact, an afterlife (it’s pretty vague on just how this proof was demonstrated). What the proof does *not* include is any sort of definition on what that afterlife entails… heaven, hell, reincarnation, limbo… nada. Even so, in the several years since the discovery was announced, a major problem has hit society: millions of suicides. Now that people no longer have a doubt about an afterlife, a whole lot of ’em just decide to check out.

Unfortunately, “The Discovery” commits the worst cinematic sin: it was dull.

Still, it’s an interesting idea. How would society respond to proof that there was an afterlife? Three options seem most interesting to me:

A: The afterlife remains an unknown. That’s just it!  We don’t know! Maaaaybe something bad… maaaaybe something good!  I guess we’ll never know!

B: Everybody goes to Hell. Yog Sothoth awaits us all.

C: Everybody goes to Heaven.

What would happen in society at large with each?

With B, I can expect to see near-universal panic. There would be some people who wouldn’t panic… the people who were *already* convinced they were going to Hell. A lot of these people would be nightmares… together with the people who were only holding back their darker impulses because of the fear of Hell, they would rip and tear their way through society, now that they know that it doesn’t matter what they do – or don’t do. As for everybody else, there would be those who’d just sorta try to ignore it. There’d be those who would devote their efforts to life extension… suddenly, attempts to create immortality, or at least practical cryogenic suspension, wouldn’t seem so crackpot.

With C, some things would be the same as B. People restrained in their actions by a fear of damnation, if they knew that no matter how bad they were they still get to go to heaven, would suddenly go bonkers. But where in B most people would try to avoid death at all costs, if it was universally acknowledged that the afterlife is better than this life, it seems to me the population would plummet rather precipitously rather quickly. If life sucks *even* *a* *little,* then the promise of an assured paradise is impossible to ignore.

But Option A is one I can’t really predict. I think most people believe in an afterlife *now,* but there is enough doubt about whether it’s real, and worry about negative afterlives, that it keeps the believers from offing themselves. Additionally, most religions have proscriptions against suicide; if I understand Christianity correctly, suicide is generally a direct pipeline to damnation. Of course, some other, crappier religions offer up the idea that committing suicide while blowing yourself to smithereens is a direct pipeline to paradise; and the results are that regions under control of such religions are generally pretty awful.

Personally, I highly doubt that  scientific proof of an afterlife will come down the line anytime soon. Partially because I can’t see how such a proof could be accomplished; mostly because I doubt the existence of an afterlife. But it’s interesting to consider.

 Posted by at 3:30 am