Archive Page 2

25
Sep
11

The Real Ten Commandments

{Updated with an additional link.}

The Ten Commandments of GodStone‘ just didn’t appeal to most folks. Ohh, maybe that’s putting it a bit too diplomatically. Even my friends (yes, there are some) wouldn’t read it. That is, they wouldn’t admit to reading it. I gave my Pastor a copy, and he never had time to read it. For a year. So, I get it – folks don’t like the concept of re-writing The Big Ten. Or maybe they detected a degree of hubris in the title. Gee, it is my version – why not an eponymous title?

Some people simply could have been satisfied with the Bible’s original re-write: it’s either Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Don’t ask me which was first, much less which is closer to being ‘original’. And do not ask me to stick with exactly ten (10, diez, dix) items for my next version. If the Bible can have sundry versions, with miscellaneous numbers of specific shalts and shalt nots, then I can also.

A n d  h e r e  i t  i s .

We usually discuss religious doctrine (I am herein concentrating on my heritage of Christianity) in terms of its official scriptures and their formal interpretations. It’s time to look at the practical reality of Christianity. The following is The Real Ten Commandments – the rules that certain Christians (Lord bless the many for whom this does not apply) actually hold sacred. Well, sacred for application to others, if not for themselves. I also retained some of The Original’s sticky bits. You might want to follow along with one of the Original versions (some folks might be sufficiently lax to think that I am fabricating things), but a more general knowledge of the Bible and Christian behavior is most pertinent.

  1. God is a jealous, spiteful, vengeful god. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make idols. Building oversized mansions and driving overpowered cars doesn’t count.
  3. Thou shalt not worship the idols that you make. If you do, you’ll probably get away with it, but your kids will get screwed.
  4. If you love Me, a thousand generations will have it easy. If any of them crosses me, the deal’s off.
  5. Thou shalt not use the name of God in vain. If you can get some profit or manipulate someone by doing so, you’re golden.
  6. Observe the Sabbath Day, or whatever day that you feel like substituting, and keep it holy so the football game or round of golf will be guilt-free fun.
  7. For six days thou shalt labor, since you’re gonna count Saturday fishing as work. You, your family, visitors, livestock, and male and female slaves shall take it easy. You can decide whether the hermaphrodite slaves can participate.
  8. It was work for the Lord to create everthin’ in six days, so He rested on the seventh day and his slaves had better rest, too. They should consider it practice for Jubilee. They’ll get to return to the foreign country from which I permitted you to kidnap them. The wives which you took in conquest just get the Sabbath, not the Jubilee.
  9. Honor thy Father and thy Mother so that your brother or sister won’t take the inheritance that you so richly deserve.
  10. Thou shalt not kill unless the person deserves it or a Christian Governor or President says ‘it’s ok’. You shall satisfy your blood thirst with executions and unprovoked wars.
  11. Thou shalt not commit adultery, for serial monogamy is sufficient and wholly acceptable to thy brethren. Thou shalt also not divorce, unless a TV preacher says that it’s ok because your wife has Alzheimer’s.
  12. Thou shalt not steal, for connivance and manipulation will serve as well without the appearance of criminality.
  13. Thou shalt not lie about your neighbor, for gossip is equally effective.
  14. Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor’s goodies, or thy neighbor’s wife, or livestock, or male or female slave. As before, you can figure out what to do with hermaphrodite slaves. Your neighbor’s husband, and anyone else not proscribed, is fair game.
  15. Thou shalt not permit a woman, or anyone acting in a woman’s behalf, to decide her own sexual or reproductive behavior. Women shall know their place.
  16. Thou shalt not suffer the uninsured to live, or at least to live without suffering, for the uninsured and those not self-sufficient have not My favor.
  17. A man shalt not lie down with another man. Thou shalt interpret and extend this injunction in any way that suits your thoughts and fears. But lesbians are pleasing in My sight, and probably in yours, too.
  18. These Commandments shalt be sacred and inviolable until the Lord establishes a New Covenant. Thereafter, thou shalt enforce these Commandments selectively, as it pleases you. Definitely ignore all that Levitical stuff, like avoiding mixing nylon and cotton, unless it suits your purpose. Just don’t get carried away, like Thomas Jefferson did.

All in all, I do prefer Jesus’ answer regarding the two greatest Commandments. May it be so with you.

06
Jul
11

Dirty Laundry

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone, keep your dirty laundry
‘Dirty Laundry’ – Don Henley

Many readers have followed the dramatic events of Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. You have read many accounts of incredible perseverance, bravery, and resourcefulness. Even those Joplinites who were undamaged, or like me, barely on the fringes of the storm, have been affected deeply and indelibly. The community showed an immediate cohesiveness that was matched by the generosity and efforts of thousands of volunteers from across America. This tragedy has been Joplin’s finest moment.

A moment seems now to be too accurate a term.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Rep. Eric Cantor‘s assertion that disaster relief funds should be withheld without offsetting funding cuts was not universally condemned in Joplin. Senator Roy Blunt, the essence of Conservative propriety, had already promised swift funding for relief. That did not deter a number of political xerox machines from parroting Cantor. Joplinites were reduced to explaining to their thoughtless neighbors that Joplin had incurred a deficit – a deficit which could not be deferred until our grandchildren were safe from that other deficit.

The next phase in vanishing civility came with gloating. Some of the same thoughtless people, and a few more, bragged about how ‘Joplin had most streets passable almost immediately’ with chainsaws appearing instantly from locations that had not been crushed. And then they ‘went there‘ : saying that people in Joplin didn’t wait for someone to come help them – they got to work and helped themselves, unlike those lazy people in New Orleans after Katrina. Facts proved to be, as usual, irrelevant to such folks. It was frustrating and unproductive to point out that 90% of the New Orleans population was already gone, that the people who were left were in 15 feet of water, that the fungus growth after months of drainage & drying mandated cleanup & rebuilding while wearing suits & respirators.

Our family knows a two or thing about folks, including relatives, in Louisiana. Lazy they are not, not any more so than the lazy element which all our cities have. They proved it after the Joplin tornado. Within days, a group from New Orleans had arrived with food – Great Food ! – not emergency food. Many more Lousiana folks have helped Joplin in these difficult weeks. In a few days, Peace Lutheran Church of Slidell will work for a day cleaning the site of Peace Lutheran Church of Joplin. Our church, with a lovely pipe organ which my Little Red-haired Girl played every Sunday, two blocks from Joplin ‘HOPE’ High School, was utterly destroyed. These ‘lazy’ Louisiana folks will help us to regain something of what was lost.

Tonight presented a different phase in incivility. Rush Limbaugh brought his ‘Two If By Tea‘ truck to Joplin’s 4th of July celebration in Landreth Park. His donation of iced tea would have been nice. There was a catch. Limbaugh spoke as an official part of the City’s program. This was not the same as other charitable commercial promotions in Joplin. Tide brought the ‘Loads of Hope‘ truck, and cleaned lotsa stuff for many very dirty, very needy people.

Tide had not preceded its arrival with a history of divisive speech and an overtly-politicized statement. Limbaugh did both. He stated, on his radio program,

I’m gonna tell you something else is gonna happen at Landreth Park in Joplin on Monday night: We’re gonna grow the Republican Party.

Some City official or officials approved this. They did not explicitly publicize that Limbaugh would have a status substantially different than other vendors during the event. A City official whom I spoke with stated that Limbaugh had promised to ‘keep it light’ – as if that excused his rank and self-serving politicization of his appearance.

There were no immediate inquiries, during the next evening’s City Council meeting, into how the decision was made to grant Joplin’s imprimatur to Limbaugh.

That is Joplin’s dirty laundry. It’s time for Loads of Hope to come back.

11
Jun
11

Values Are For Hard Times

The motivation for a blog is often obvious to my readers. This time, I offer to you the impetus behind this edition. A Joplin Globe guest columnist, whom I will not name to preserve his shame for other forums, offered some pretty words about ‘values’. He then reverted to the frequently-used technique of parroting a politician’s pandering. He restated Rep. Eric Cantor‘s demand: “I, for one, call for no federal deficit spending to rebuild Joplin.” His fellow Joplinites, many of whom suffered damage which he avoided, are left to wonder whose side Joplin’s ‘Tin Man‘ is on.

My Mother and Dad were Great Depression fiscal conservatives, who practiced that fundamental tenant of not buying luxuries with borrowed money. A few of you may even remember Del & Ben Stone – they gave me my introduction to Joplin when Dad was Postmaster from 1968-1970. They also understood the wisdom of paying for necessities, with some financial hardship, rather than to fail to support important priorities. They supported committments to projects which required investment before receiving a cost-effective return. These were some of their values – values which they applied to neighbors as well as to themselves.

My parents’ values are values that many Joplinites are exercising as they recover from the tornado disaster. Many people who have lost much are giving generously to their neighbors. Churches, synagogues, and mosques have been providing impressive amounts of aid. Groups and individuals across America have sent help to us. My daughter, Mariam, gathered donations and brought a truck and trailer from Indianapolis! As tremendous as these friends have been, the task of recovery is vast and difficult to overcome.

That task is important far beyond Joplin. Our citizens who were not directly affected have been disadvantaged by the general and widespread destruction. Neighboring communities have lost valuable resources that Joplin provided. Corporations in Joplin have customers across America and internationally who need their important products and services. These people understand that they incurred a deficit on May 22nd. That is the deficit which must be remedied.

Our nation has a substantial habit of accepting deficits to pay for important assets. Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, and the decay of its formerly-formidable military, we have maintained a large and vigorous U.S. military. We currently maintain a fleet of 18 Ohio-class fleet ballistic missile submarines. We have deemed it suitable to spend about $50 million each year to maintain each of these vessels – $900 million each year, for many years. This cost, alone, is more than half of the current annual federal deficit. We also deploy nuclear fast-attack submarines, additional Navy surface vessels and aircraft, ground forces, and an incomparable Air Force. Some folks have debated the suitable proportions of such expenditures.

That is the only suitable debate about rebuilding Joplin: what is the appropriate magnitude of public resources to invest? It is probably less than $900 million – total. That such investment must be made is beyond reasonable debate. We value both what we have lost and what will replace that which is replaceable.

We will rebuild Joplin based on values. Let us assure our neighbors that those values recognize the value of lives, jobs, businesses, and property as worthy of the temporary sacrifices which will lead us to a better future.

When President Barack Obama assured us, “Your country will be with you every single step of the way”, he may have been thinking of Matthew 25:40“Whatever you did for the least of these, you also did for Me.” May it be that, in the President’s words, “It’s what Joplin has taught the world”.

19
Feb
11

The Republican-Lysenko Party

The modern GOP is irresponsible and dangerous.

The operative phrase {link above} is that legislators seek “… to reverse the agency’s scientific finding …” regarding the EPA & AGW. Imagine seeing reports from Washington that legislators seek : “… to reverse the FDA’s scientific finding that aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug” ; or “… to reverse the TSA’s scientific finding that driving slower saves gas.” Legislators’ jobs are to determine policy & implementation, not decree the facts of nature.

Only totalitarian regimes seek to dictate the content of science. Remember Lysenko? Stalin (who knew about as much science as a kindergardner) dictated that Lysenko’s bogus ideas were to be Soviet policy, and that scientific theories were illegal. “Scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948 …”

Science is, despite some weaknesses and occasional error, the most impartial and egalitarian of human endeavors. Don’t proceed in reading without noting my qualifier : “most”. Nothing is utterly impartial of conscious and unconscious influence. Nothing can compare to science for its relative integrity.

Folks who advocate removal of government regulatory controls will often argue that, without those pesky regulations, businessmen would be free to simply make the best decision. These folks assert that, with important matters to consider, these decision makers will consider making reasonable profits, accomodating some degree of environmental protection, and assuring safety of their employees. They would not be inclined to seek excessive profits, which could be counter-productive – if not simply unfair. NO ONE would want to destroy the planet, so we can trust them to do the right thing. And they have families, just like you and me, so they care enough about people to not remove workplace safeguards.

Yeah, as if.

Such attitudes evidence a blindness to reality. Regulations have been developed because the Pollyanna attitudes (of those who kowtow to power) are utterly fallacious – voided by repetitive examples from history.

It is not a scientific approach to determine the status of regulations by a politician’s subservience to affected businesses. Their emotional dependence on powerful figures is the basic construction material for dictatorships.

Science provides an excellent alternative to political influence. Politics’ inherent lack of morality has yielded a mixed record of policy-making. Politicians and businessmen staring at financial reports are utterly malleable when it comes to duplicity. In contrast, science and the U.S. Constitution are comparable for their checks & balances. There are mechanisms in science for error avoidance and for self-correction. The examples of scientific error (or even fraud) are almost always exposed by science itself. Scientists, beyond even their considerable interests in sometimes making a buck or (for those with the biggest egos) having a cool press release, are incredibly loathe to publish anything which might be tainted. Bias, error, and fraud in science can, if sufficiently severe, result in destruction of a career. It has happened.

Politicians do not have such a near-certainty. Their mis-deeds often qualify as safe bets. Scientists’ only safe bets are on the integrity of their research results.

Science should, based upon the best available scientific information, inform and guide legislators. Legislators have a responsibility to incorporate scientific findings in accordance with principles of good stewardship of the public trust.

Meanwhile, other countries listen to their scientists. They are not as inclined toward self-immolation as we are. Their laughter will not be as painful as our becoming a second-rate country.

18
Feb
11

The Myth of Special Data

Pick your favorite topic of anti-scientific gobbledy-gook. There is, invariably, a component that is little discussed. The anti-science crowd (even if a small minority, it’s still a pile of addled folks) often argues that the scientific data for a certain theory* (evolution, anthropogenic global warming – AGW, etc.) is flawed or mis-interpreted. That seems to laymen to be a reasonable approach to criticism of scientific findings – they think that each theory has its own special data which supports that theory.

That is false.

*Theorynoun ; a firmly-established scientific principle, having acknowledgement of validity by the consensus ultra-majority of scientists in that field of speciality ; the term used formerly, prior to Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, was ‘Law‘ ; Example: the Law of Newtonian Gravity was superceded (improved and supplanted) by the General Theory of Relativity.

Scientific theories are like reverse-engineered recipes. And how do scientists reverse-engineer the recipes of nature? Laymen (Sorry to pick on you folks again! But, technically, my B.S. in Physics makes me closer to your status than to scientific standing) might think that scientists grab chunks of nature’s lemon meringue pies and start taste-testing. They (scientists, not laymen) would keep tasting (measuring) and trying things with their samples of lemon meringue pie until its secrets were revealed.

That practice, known as analysis, is a useful and important part of science. It is utterly insufficient to advance scientific knowledge as we do or to explain the progress we have so far achieved. Scientists have a broader perspective. They know that a sharp focus upon the particular is inherently limited. Their research is generalized – the study of ALL desserts could, and definitely does, facilitate scientific progress in researching a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). Furthermore, the study of baked goods, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). The study of foamed recipes, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie!).

The result of scientific research that is generalized is that our knowledge is highly interdependent. The principles (including the acme of principles – the Theory) discovered are not specific to only a narrow range of examples. There are no scientists who have discovered only the recipe for lemon meringue pie. A strong general scientific foundation provides explanatory power for a wide range of subjects – such as for all baked, egg-based foods.

There are scientists who research foods, but the food analogy was utilized as an introduction to specific issues from anti-science.

Anti-science folks discuss their issues (and boy, do they have issues!) with the implicit** assumption that there are special data regarding a particular disliked scientific theory. That is, they assume that there is specific data that is relevant mostly only to evolutionary theory, or to AGW, or to vaccine safety, etc. They attack what they suppose to be the ‘special data’ with the belief that its refutation will dispose of a disliked theory while not affecting other science significantly.

**Implicit for some (I think most), but there are those  who make it explicit. They are utterly fixated upon their single unassailable Authority, and they don’t even want friendly visitors ruffling their superstitious feathers. They are so perverse that, to quote Johnny Kaje, “… attacking all of science, for most of these folks, is a feature, not a bug.” Yeah, ALL.

They (the folks who don’t quite dis-respect 100% of science) utterly fail to comprehend the web of knowledge that ties every scientific theory to vast numbers of strands of knowledge. Those ice cores, reviled for the data they offer regarding AGW, also support our scientific understanding of geology, biological evolution, and astrophysics. If anti-science folks were correct in their criticisms of ice core data, giant swaths of science would crumble – not just the one theory of AGW.

That interdependence of scientific research could, if anti-science folks were correct, have extremely personal consequences for most of us. Do you have an inkling of an idea about how many of the important medicines are developed? It escapes most laymen that the ‘special data’ which supports biological evolution also guides medical researchers in developing medicines. Yes, they sometimes find medicines by ‘screening’ – simply trying stuff. Much, even more, medical research is derived from such ‘special data’ that also supports biological evolution.

If an omnipotent being were to decree (Ken Ham’s dream) the anti-science position about evolution’s ‘special data’ to be correct, then an immense array of modern medicines would stop working.

Since most of the anti-science folks have strong influences from their religious beliefs, I recommend to them that they avail themselves of the possibility that I just described. If their Supreme Being is all-powerful, there is no need of haggling with school textbook committees. They should beseech their Supreme Being to make – what they ‘know’ to be true about certain disliked scientific theories – true for all of nature.

They had just best not expect their Viagra to work the next day.

08
Jan
11

Conservative Communism

My Favorite Son called to discuss a discussion that he had with a friend, Leroy*. Leroy has some atypical, but otherwise unoriginal ideas. He seems to have assimilated a considerable amount of conservative (or, more accurately, pseudo-conservative) and libertarian rhetoric. That assimilation has been in the form of absorption, and not comprehension.

*The name is changed to protect the vacuous.

Leroy advocates keeping the government out of almost everything. Nothing new there. An example that he pushed on My Favorite Son was that it would be better for My Favorite Son, who is a Type 1 diabetic, to make his own insulin instead of depending on the government for a supply.

This is a provocative statement. My Favorite Son doesn’t get his insulin from the government, and private industry has been prominent in the development of sources of insulin. Federal and state governmental involvement in the production and supply of insulin must be generally very small – and zero for My Favorite Son.

Leroy’s statement goes beyond big-business Republican Libertarianism. Leroy thinks that individuals, instead of corporations, should manufacture sophisticated products. Wow. This is Luddite territory. I offered My Favorite Son an historical precedent, for Leroy’s statement is deeply Communist.

The best historical example of Communism may be the People’s Republic of China of Mao Zedong. The U.S.S.R. wasn’t ever really Communist – they were clearly behind China in that competition.

One of Mao’s brilliant attempts to advance Chinese Civilization was The Great Leap Forward. An essential element of The Great Leap Forward was the True Standard that government is not the solution – The Worker is the solution. This ideology was applied to steel-making, which had been the exclusive domain of the government-run industries. Mao decreed that villages would construct and operate their own steel smelters, and that China would consequently surpass the world in the production of steel.

Thousands of Chinese villages, which largely lacked industrial infrastructure, devoted all their resources to the new assignment. Smelters were constructed of stone, clay, and brick. Fuel for this energy-intensive process was, if a village were fairly wealthy, coal. For most villages, the fuel was wood. Villages which lacked woodlands for a harvest found a supply of wood in the structure of their homes.

Most of the steel produced during The Great Leap Forward was crap. Wood does not burn as hot as coal, and small manually-tended furnaces are difficult to regulate. Millions of people died during the resulting economic collapse.

Leroy would not see, or at least not acknowledge, this similarity between his private-insulin-production idea and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Leroy wrote at length, and with narcissistic embellishment and condescension, on-line about his views of the world. While he advocates that a Type 1 diabetic should fend for himself, Leroy chooses to be dependent on wealthy parents. There is a certain consistency in his hypocrisy.

25
Dec
10

I Am Thankful This Christmas

I am thankful this Christmas that science and humanitarians have allied to improve the lives of countless people.

I hadn’t recently read of the Carter Center‘s progress in combatting guinea worm, and this article was a welcome reminder of the important accomplishments of President Jimmy Carter. There is precedent for the eradication of a human pathogen – smallpox was eradicated under the direction of the United NationsWorld Health Organization.

Smallpox was a perennial scourge throughout the world. Every American of my age carries the vaccination scar received in childhood to control the disease in the U.S.. Millions elsewhere died from this terrible disease – a disease so vicious that it had also been implemented by militaries as a germ warfare agent. Today, no Kindergartener or First Grader is subjected to a treatment which remains in my memory, 54 years hence.

Eradication of the guinea worm may be the next thriumph of mankind over nature. It is the more remarkable for being largely the responsibility of a non-governmental organization (NGO).

The list of diseases which have been alleviated, controlled, or cured by science (often with the active support of governments) is too long for a mere blog to list. Most readers of this blog know someone who has been aided, during the course of a serious illness, by modern medicine.

We must be vigilant against the forces of ignorance and fear which obstruct progress against disease. In Africa, AIDS denial has even led to government officials’ active obstruction of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. Even in America, superstitious and ignorant people have employed propaganda to obstruct vaccinations important to public health.

I have faith that, next Christmas, we will have witnessed additional progress against suffering. That progress depends upon our sincere support and active opposition to dangerous voices in our midst.

Peace be upon you and your families.

12
Dec
10

The Biggest Threat On the Planet

The 24-hour news cycle has elapsed for this topic,
but it is a topic which Americans will revisit too frequently.

I have been asked to respond to the notion that the United States is facing a ‘Christian Dilemma‘. It has been suggested to me that the cold truth is that in the world today militant Christianity, aided and abetted by Christian nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.

I concur with this proposition.

I mean, look, folks, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of blogs and editorials I’ve written about civil rights in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who have Christian garb such as crucifixes and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Christians, I get worried. I get nervous.

Remember those people who put up really big crosses and burn them? Any number of them have been convicted of the most vile, terroristic crimes. The Christian Identity movement regards violence as a means to their ends. Many Christians regard blasphemy, homosexuality, and abortion as crimes punishable by death. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts. Radicalism continues to pose a threat to the United States and much of the world.

You didn’t see the Muslim terrorists on 9-11 dressed in sterotypical Muslim garb. They didn’t wear kufis or robes or Mohammedan Crescents. But Christian terrorists want everyone to know that they are serving their God.

I must warn everyone against blaming all Christians for extremists. Muslims shouldn’t be blamed for 9-11 ringleader Mohamed Atta.

F O O T N O T E

To provide unwary readers every opportunity to avoid confirming Poe’s Law:

Juan Williams, Fox News and former NPR commentator speaking on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, 18Oct2010. Transcript courtesy of ‘Big Journalism‘:

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Mr. Williams also made reference to the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square. “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Mr. Williams said.

Williams also warned O’Reilly against blaming all Muslims for “extremists,” saying Christians shouldn’t be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

11
Dec
10

How Heavy is a Lightning Bolt?

I am about to embark on a new phase of my Electronics Design Engineering career, with Mid-Continent Instruments. My very lengthy hiatus and search for employment gave me the opportunity to reflect on my work. This is one small example for which I can feel that pride is justifiable.

Cardinal Scale Company, while I worked there, was faced with significant new competition for truck scales. Toledo Scale (Now Mettler-Toledo(TM)) had developed one of the first ‘digital’ load cells. Load cells are the transducers which convert weight into electrical signals which can be processed by instruments. Every highway weigh scale uses them. The signals are so tiny – susceptible to error if anything gets between the load cells and the instruments – that no devices can be connected to them which provide effective protection from electrical upsets (such as lightning strikes) without degrading the signal. Digital load cells place the instrumentation within the cell, and communicate to other instruments with high-level computer signals.

Cardinal wanted to be able to quote a digital product when Toledo was a competing bidder for a truck scale. Cardinal’s load cell consultant was confident that he could have no confidence in Hillbilly Engineering, so he asked a couple of fellows he knew at Analog Devices (a major electronics company) to take a look. The two, a Manager and a Senior Engineer, visited and were (since the consultant wasn’t in town then) shown around by me, Big R, my Engineering buddy, and Brownie, our excellent Mechanical Engineer. We toured the facility, talked shop, and went to lunch. We talked about the digital load cell project and some more electronics esoterica. After lunch, Big R stopped me in the Cardinal parking lot and asked, “Jim, did you hear him (the Senior Engineer) tell you that he left his PORSCHE at the airport?” Sometimes I simply need to be slapped – the Engineer had been dropping hints to me. I asked him, “So, how much is a good Engineer worth?” His reply made the entire visit memorable: “A good Engineer is worth a king’s ransom.” I wasn’t smart enough to pursue that bounty at that time.

Analog Devices declined the opportunity to design the load cell. Despite our lack of competence to do so previously, we were mysteriously chosen to design the new Cardinal product. Big R would handle testing (which was rigorous but achievable, because he built the test equipment), Brownie would design the core mechanics, and I had the electronics. The project went as smoothly as could be realistically expected, and the new Smartcell(TM) – a trademarked name which I created – was excellent and gained ‘type certification’ for use in commercial weighing. The excellence of the Smartcell was to be demonstrated very soon.

Truck scales, typically used in outdoor installations, are subject to ugly weather. That includes lightning. A lightning strike near an analog-load-cell scale sometimes destroys the load cells. The flimsy protection which can be provided for analog cells is, itself, often damaged along with the delicate transducers welded inside the cells’ stainless-steel housings. My design of the Smartcell provided the robust protection that digital technology allowed. It was difficult, however, to test that protection during design. It’s hard to simulate lightning on a cheap budget. Maybe I should have asked Big R to make the tester instead of doing it myself.

Our first installation, at a landfill in Florida (Lightning Capital of the World!), had a close strike about a month after installation. Every piece of equipment in the scale house was destroyed. One Smartcell was damaged, and it was returned to Cardinal for the attention of my failure analysis skills.

The Smartcell electronics were inside a housing of 1/4 inch stainless-steel pipe. External connections were made via a hermetically sealed, welded feedthru. Transient protection was in an external extension pipe with a press-in plug. Removal of the plug revealed a mess. I extracted the detritus of an electrical calamity, and installed new transient protection components.

Big R tested the repaired Smartcell. It had been restored to flawless performance, even remaining precisely calibrated.

There were many Engineering decisions which resulted in the transient protection being both very simple and (obviously!) robust. It was a ‘no-brainer’, once some serious thinking was applied. The Smartcell had several other innovations which may appear in a future blog.

03
Dec
10

Science Gave Us Josef Mengele

And science also gave us Josef Mengele‘s experiments and vivisections on pregnant women during WWII. Science cannot even tell us what energy is. They don’t know what it is.
God created the universe.

This was the last comment that I responded to in a discussion which was supposed to be about an interesting and important bit of scientific research. Some folks cannot bear to see science discussed openly and critically. My response is that certain polemic tactics are unsuitable for discussion. I will not participate in a discussion with this pathetic person again. This person is not a singular blemish on rationality and decency: there is filth such as “Cuomo’s Anti-Christian Worship Of Science Once Led To Medical Atrocities Committed By The Nazis“.

I offer, here, in contrast to the blatantly false assertion above, some of the things that Religion – Christianity in particular – and Science have actually given us. These things are not a comprehensive, or even a balanced, list. This is a blog serving only to rid the world of at least a fragment of the vicious lie quoted above.

Christianity has given us justifications & rationalizations for many cultural and social errancies. This list begins with slavery and the suppression & subjugation of women. Those alone are almost enough.

Old and New Testament scriptures have been misinterpreted by Christians, causing the Christian religion to become an imperialistic war-mongering religion, whose adherents have believed that they were instructed by God to invade the homelands of non-Christian peoples, take possession of their lands and resources, annihilate many of the indigenous inhabitants as well as subjugate and exploit the remaining innocent indigenous peoples. – Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

As for atrocities comparable to Mengele’s, Christianity has given us a portion of those: assaults upon peoples with other religions ; assaults upon other Christians, such as The Troubles in Northern Ireland ; associations of Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with thugs Charles Taylor and Efraín Ríos Montt ; and a substantial list, “What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?“. The “What About …” list is a Christian source which classifies religions such as Islam as “Atheist”.

Yes, Nazis have contributed. We know of The Holocaust which killed millions:

German Christian Movement Badge

By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord– Adolf Hitler, ‘ Mein Kampf ‘

Many historical figures, who are familiar to my readers, have offered their candid observations about Christianity:

I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian Nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. – Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue

‘O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; . . . help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land. . . . We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love.’ – Mark Twain, published posthumously in 1923

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” James Madison, April 1, 1774

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. – George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792

Hitler Youth Day Badge 1933

Mengele’s semi-divine Fuhrer’s contributions may be perused at “Hitler’s Christianity“.

What of Science? There isn’t a single religion that can offer reliable predictions about anything in Nature. Even if “Science cannot even tell us what energy is”, it does a great job of faking it. Science has created mankind’s supreme mastery of energy. In forms from the dense to the diffuse, common folks use energy in ways for which no religion has offered the slightest whiff of a contribution.

Science has created cures for an immense array of diseases and maladies. Science (and, interestingly, Big Government and World Government) has succeeded in a historic public-health project – the eradication of smallpox, which was a major source of misery and death.

Do not be mislead. I continue my Christian life for its substantial value. The example of Christ is essential to my life. Science is also a central element of my life. May we all appreciate our religions, or lack of religion, and our understanding of the natural world objectively and without propagandistic accusations.

28
Nov
10

Libertarianism vs. Man-Made Disaster

Libertarians, in a panoply of forms, emphasize individual liberty over group control. Even I, your favorite blogger (right?), am somewhat Libertarian, leaning in the direction of Egalitarianism and Pragmatism. During recent political events, the most-publicized form has been Conservative Libertarianism.

A frequently-asserted mantra of Conservative Libertarianism has been that less (preferably zero) government involvement leads to more rational and inherently altruistic choices. This is especially consistent with the laissez-faire business ethic, which insists that businesses will not act in ways which are self-injurious or inconsiderate of broader needs of society. Laissez-faire is extended to individuals as an argument against government-sponsored social support. For instance, it has been claimed that people would rather languish (or here) on unemployment compensation benefits than work. It is also claimed that these benefits make some workers too expensive, according to a simplistic view of supply and demand that an undergraduate college economics class disproves. This overly-broad hypothesis asserts that providing no unemployment benefits is the best way to get people back to work. Recent extended unemployment for many Americans (with brief benefits) contradicts much of this: the jobs have not existed in this recessionary cycle.

Politicians such as Rand Paul are ardent Libertarians, except for when they aren’t. Many advocate interventionist government policies that directly impinge upon individual liberty. This blog will not attempt to add comments about this Libertarian treason. They are noted for the purpose of distinguishing real Libertarians from those who blatantly follow political expedience.

I offer a few examples of how real-world decisions have had consequences that were not merely non-optimal, but actually disastrous.

The American Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was our largest environmental disaster. The effects of a prolonged drought would have been terrible, but not unprecedented. Poor tillage and crop practices made a natural event into a man-made disaster. The fledgling Roosevelt administration started immediate government intervention. It was in the form of farm programs which changed these poor practices (including paying enducements) and several coordinated environmental measures, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps planting of millions of windbreaks. The loss of soil was effectively mitigated, providing a basis for improved farm yields in the 1940’s.

There is now a comparable Central Asia Dust Bowl, despite good farm practices being well-known. Farmers have been unimpressed with the implications of these practices for their future, choosing instead the immediate benefits of practices which maximize income. Human nature belies the claims of Libertarianism, that unregulated markets can be optimal.

Saddam Hussein was an example of a comparable myopia. He chose to not acknowledge his lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction – WMDs. The needs of domestic & regional politics conflicted with global politics. He was much more concerned with bluffing Iran (which continues to pose a substantial threat to Iraq) than with heeding the blustering of his dear (former) friends, the Americans.

Before Saddam was a Bad Guy, the Shuttle Challenger disaster provided a lesson in delusional or superstitious thinking. If Libertarian philosophy is good for government policy, it should be just as good for individual government agencies. In this case, the agency was NASA.

The disintegration of Challenger was completely the responsibility of management decisions. Engineering had established safe-certain launch temperatures. When launches nudged the lower limit, management pressured Engineering to modify the guidelines. The political ratcheting which progressed for 2 years ended with the launch of a vehicle which have icicles hanging from it. The temperature at launch was below the operating specification for the O-ring engine seal which failed.

There was a degree of superstition at work also. Thoughts such as, ‘We launched before at 36 degrees, what difference can 2 degrees make?’ were self-reinforcing with successful launches at succeedingly lower temperatures.

The NASA (and Morton-Thiokol, the engine contractor) managers made judgements which were not effective in risk management. Their performance was evaluated by such tangible metrics as launching on-schedule. Intangibles, such as risk probabilities and avoidance of catastrophe, have only poor means for being used in evaluation of managers. This resulted in tunnel vision.

Free-market environmentalism offers the same level of hubris in risk management. It is significant for extending this hubris to considerations which have the potential for regional and global disaster.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill looks, from interim testimony in the investigation, to be comparable to the Shuttle Challenger disaster in basic cause. Managers placed expedience and profit ahead of risk management. We shall (I hope) soon learn the extent and specifics of the government-regulation-free decisions that produced this mammoth disaster.

Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is an actively-fought concept by advocates of free-market environmentalism. They are making the same mistake, a mistake allowed by Libertarian philosophy, as was made in the Dust Bowls, Iraq War I, the Challenger Disaster, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

If (and this is a rapidly shrinking if) climate scientists are incorrect, what will we lose, and how will we recover those losses? We will lose some capital, spent to ameliorate, in addition to CO2 emissions, energy dependence and other urgent concerns. If advocates of free-market environmentalism are incorrect, what will we have left to recover? We do not have the luxury of rolling the die a statistically-confident number of times with Anthropogenic Global Warming. AGW now has 5 sides of that die. It will have to come up ‘6’ for us to survive without major disruption in the world. We don’t really have that slim luxury. The die will be rolled just once. We must manage the risk.




♥ Help for Haiti ♥

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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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