Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Science as Sorcery

The left increasingly claims that the policies they desire are supported by "science," as if making such a claim settles any argument in their favor.  It does not; science is fallible, and getting more so, and the thinking behind the claim is an example of magical thinking.  The appeal to science becomes a form of sorcery as it seeks to call upon the supernatural to control others or objects; but those who invoke science do not understand science itself or its limits.  Lest one think that I am some uneducated Luddite, I have a bachelor's degree in physics and a MS in systems management that require coursework in radio-frequency engineering.  I believe that technical progress based on sound science is important to society's health, but I see so much wrong with the appeals to science that I am compelled to complain.

First, too much science is shoddy and unable to be duplicated, especially in the social sciences.  For an excellent critique of the state of current research, see "Trouble at the Lab," from last week's The Economist.  Some troubling quotes:
  • In 2005 John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist from Stanford University, caused a stir with a paper showing why, as a matter of statistical logic, the idea that only one such paper in 20 gives a false-positive result was hugely optimistic. Instead, he argued, “most published research findings are probably false.”   
  • Victoria Stodden, a statistician at Columbia, speaks for many in her trade when she says that scientists’ grasp of statistics has not kept pace with the development of complex mathematical techniques for crunching data. [Important because almost all inferences in modern science are drawn from statistical data.]
  • Another experiment at the BMJ showed that reviewers did no better when more clearly instructed on the problems they might encounter. They also seem to get worse with experience. [So much for the vaunted "peer-review."]

Second, the market for scientific research is skewing the types of results we are seeing.  With government funding so much research, conclusions that show the need for further research and more government action are rewarded.  With the innate human desire to show some accomplishment, is it any wonder that research skews to topics that seem tailor made to support government programs.  

Finally, science cannot define our values for us.  Even if science shows that some fact is true, there are value judgements and also economic factors to take into account regarding the outcome.  For instance, I do not accept the arguments made regarding global warming, see the quote about statistics above.  But even if I did, it is still not clear what government policy should be.  For example, in order to preserve the benefits of a free society, we might choose to do nothing because we value freedom more than the economic change that may or may not accrue.  Further, we might argue that a society dedicated to the principles of liberty would cope with the changes best.  This argument goes to how I value freedom, which cannot be answered by science.

Another example would be abstinence only sex-education.  I have read that such education is "not effective."  I presume that it means that the rate of unwed pregnancy is as high or higher when compared to other forms of sex-education.  But I question the relevance of the finding in the larger context of societal values.  How is it a surprise that abstinence only education in a society saturated with sex in all forms of entertainment and laissez-faire attitudes towards extra- and pre-marital sex is not effective?  In the context of our beliefs, sex education delivered without moral context erodes values.  So the objection is to the wider sexual permissiveness of the culture, but the left makes the argument about the "science" when that isn't relevant to the underlying malaise.

Given the track record of scientific social movements, our freedom and prosperity will be preserved by conservative adherence to the principles on which the nation was founded.  Those principles hue to values for which science is not a substitute.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unions, Democrats, Shipbuilding and the Mayor's Race

An interesting development in the San Diego mayoral race is the way labor unions are splitting their endorsements between the two main Democrats in the race, Alvarez and Fletcher.  Fletcher features endorsements largely from government affiliated employees unions such as these (not all inclusive, from his website):

  • San Diego City Firefighters/IAFF Local 145
  • San Diego Police Officers Association
  • San Diego Lifeguards Association/Teamsters, Local 911
  • San Diego County Probation Officers Association
  • San Diego Deputy City Attorneys
  • Peace Officers Research Association
  • San Diego Municipal Employees Association

Governor Jerry Brown has also endorsed Fletcher, which doesn't surprise me because he seems beholden to the public sector unions.

Meanwhile Alvarez is more heavily favored by the private sector unions.  The San Diego-Imperial County Counties Labor Council has endorsed Alvarez.  Our home has received multiple phone calls from UCFW 135 asking for support for Alvarez.  The county Democrats also endorsed Alvarez, perhaps not trusting Fletcher, the former Republican?

In terms of substantive issues, the dispute over land use in Barrio Logan that pits some residents against shipbuilding interests.  The City Council adopted a community plan on September 17 opposed by shipbuilding interests who say it will eventually kill jobs in San Diego.  Alvarez has supported and Faulconer opposed the plan.  Why do shipbuilding interests oppose the plan? According to Andrew Keatts at VOSD:
Really, what’s in dispute within the plan is its attempt to separate industrial and residential areas by creating a commercial buffer in a small area northeast of the shipyard. Homes are explicitly banned from being built in that area – meaning no waterfront condos.
That area’s currently occupied by an array of industrial companies, many of which service the shipyard in one way or another. One of those companies, for instance, is Cal Marine Cleaning, which does mechanical cleaning for the three major shipbuilding companies, BAE Systems, Continental Maritime of San Diego and General Dynamics NASSCO.
Keatts goes on to say that there is a "slippery slope" argument, that eventually the buffer zone will be turned into housing, which will in turn lead to a demand to remove all industrial activity from Barrio Logan.  What is also obvious is that killing off support industries is a way to strangle the shipbuilding and repair industry.  It seems obvious that the plan is a threat to the industrial ecosystem of the area, which of course hurts jobs creation.  From the U-T:
Shipyard leaders have expressed concern that the new plan could drive up suppliers’ costs, make San Diego less competitive and possibly prompt the Navy to contract ship building elsewhere.
Although Alvarez and Faulconer, as city council members, have garnered the most attention on this issue, Fletcher has endorsed a more restrictive plan than even Alvarez endorsed.  Democrats could once be counted upon to at least favor economic plans that helped unionized industries, like shipbuilding.  What has changed?  The Democratic coalition has become more and more a coalition of environmentalists, government employees and beneficiaries.  Of necessity, that makes the Democratic party the enemy of free enterprise.  (Fletcher pictured at right a "Protect Our Jobs" rally, courtesy KPBS.)

Looking for shipbuilder and fellow blogger Dean to weigh in.

What You Should Be Reading

  • The train wreck of the ACA websites' debacle, but the news has seemingly been everywhere, so I don't believe you missed it.  Of course, Dean has his own snarky take on the whole fiasco. Of course, we are also seeing massive spinning about the savings some folks are seeing, but W.C. Varones shows how the media lies about that too. DooDooEcon publishes a nice little map showing winners and mostly losers by state.
  • Don't believe that the government's tech woes will be solved by whiz kids from Silicon Valley.  Veteran program managers of global systems will tell you that forcing the system to operate correctly only when data is available from all sources is a poor practice.  But the political decision to prevent revelations on the amount of subsidies people are getting drove technology in the wrong direction.  See Reuters for an accessible explanation.  This is not about technology, but politics overwhelming good program management.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Chapter Where Republicans Remind Me Why I Voted Libertarian for 30 Years

Despite personal inconvenience and minor hardship, I supported shutting down the government to achieve the goal of lifting the individual mandate of the ACA for one year, to grant a level playing field to the ordinary citizens of this country.  They should be granted the same compassion that the President has shown for his big business cronies.  Of course, the Republican party caved early on that fight and then decided to drag out the fight over the debt limit and federal funding over other issues in an incoherent strategy that resulted in their public humiliation.  Here are some goals worthy shutting down the government over:
  • The aforementioned relief for ordinary citizens' mandate under the ACA.
  • Changing the rules for calculation cost of living increases for Social Security and Medicare to slow their long term growth and make it more fair to young taxpayers.
  • Further cuts to federal spending beyond the current "sequester."
A feckless, undisciplined strategery-challenged GOP would have had to pick one, and only one, goal and defended it to the brink and over the cliff if necessary.  Further, it would have had to thought out the strategy months in advance so that it could pass appropriations bills for stuff it wanted to fund early in the cycle and use HHS funding or some other appropriation vehicle to extract the necessary compromise.  

In fact, Republicans were only dragged into the fight reluctantly and only because they felt pressured by the tea party caucus.  The leadership's heart was never in the fight, they fought only to save face, and lost even that.  It was like playing prevent defense when you are already behind in the score, trying to stop the other team from running up the score when you had already lost the game.  It was pathetic and the outcome predictable despite some moments of optimism.  

The other reason that we lost is that the tea party wing does not represent a majority of the voters in the country (the linked Gallup poll quizzes conservative, liberal, moderate, but is a decent proxy).  The response of all liberty movement groups should be to continue to educate and persuade and point to the inevitable consequences of current policy.

The article that explains my GOP reluctance is here, also known as The Chapter Where I Was a Teenage Libertarian.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Adventurers Benefit From Government Slowdown

In the category of "What are they thinking?" the latest addition to my blogroll has some thoughts on the government shutdown slowdown.
When I saw this sign [regarding paying to hike the Red Rock trail] it started to dampen my mood.  I understand that the fees go to maintain the trails but I have always resented paying to experience nature.  My thoughts are, “really? I have to pay $5 to hike up the side of a mountain that will take me 20 minutes”.  The whole paying to be in nature just really gets under my skin, it seems wrong to me.  So decide to pay like the upstanding citizen I am (hehehe), when I notice this:

Thank you Government shutdown, you have officially saved me $5.  So it’s not all bad right? 
Why is the Department of Agriculture operating the toll for Red Rock trails?  Who can know the ways of the Fed?

Our adventurer is clearly having a good time.

Read the whole blog of a San Diego lad adventuring in Arizona.  He also reports that open carry is fairly common in his neck of the woods.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Federal Slowdown Affects Some Stuff You Might Care About

Well, we found one, besides my own personal work situation, where the federal slowdown (80% of federal spending continues) has an actual impact:
Mike Brenner is trying to open a craft brewery in Milwaukee by December. His application to include a tasting room is now on hold, as are his plans to file paperwork for four labels over the next few weeks. He expects to lose about $8,000 for every month his opening is delayed.
Why would you obey the law when there is no one to enforce it?  Well, this the federal government and apparently there is money to pay people to enforce the shutdown.  
For many hours her tour group, which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United States, were locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.
Really?  Elderly tourist driving through the wide open spaces in Yellowstone, as in "Where the Buffalo Roam," are met by armed resistance from our supposedly "broke" federal government?

Don't eat that grass or you'll be arrested. Yellowstone's shut down don't you know?

Onion headline? Buffalo Die in Yellowstone Due to Federal ShutDown.  Told they couldn't graze due to federal shutdown slowdown.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What You Should Be Reading

Dean breaks down the lying on the left regarding the government shutdown and what the Republicans are trying to accomplish. A small excerpt:
You are suggesting the House Continuing Resolution that passed late last Saturday night somehow defunded or struck down the ACA. This is false. The House funded all government operations and merely delayed the implementation of the individual mandate by one year. If “delayed by one year” sounds familiar, it should because that’s what the President has done for a select few.
. . .
What the House did through the legislative process, the President did illegally through executive fiat.
KTCat has been following the slow motion train wreck that is Japan.  He predicts that government spending and taxing and money printing won't save Japan.  He also advises us to follow the (smart) money.

Poll numbers show the San Diego mayor's race tightening as Faulconer and Alvarez increase their name recognition.  The UCFW Local 135 called the house asking my son to pledge support for Alvarez.

The Head of Iran's cyber warfare program was found dead in the woods with two bullets in his heart.  Is this assymetric retaliation or an Israeli op or both?  An earlier post discussed the Obama's administration complicity in giving Iran cover for its successful attacks on U.S. Navy networks.  We are at war with Iran whether we like it or not, but it is convenient for this administration to deny it from the public.  I look more and more to the foreign press to get accurate reporting on cyber issues, as I don't believe that the U.S. press is willing to give up their comfy spot on Obama's lap.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Personal Impacts of Government Shutdown

Some of you may know that I have spent almost my entire adult life working for the federal government.  I was active duty military for over twenty years and now I work for the feds in a research facility.  I am not complaining about the shutdown, but wanted to make clear to some people that I am not a disinterested party.  I took some heat on Twitter by retweeting that people should be embarassed about being worried about the shut down.  While that was certainly a bit of hyperbole, calling the tweet disgusting falls into the same category.

I am in an exempt category of employee so I am not out of work and am thankful for that.  But certainly, there are others on whom I depend for decisions and approvals who are gone and we can't make forward progress on joint projects.  On the personal front, both my wife and I can't get primary care medical appointments right now.  If the furlough goes on long enough, I suppose that a small veteran's benefit payment I receive might be interrupted.  At some point, I would also be furloughed, but that won't be for a while.  This is not overwhelming, but the impacts are real.  I tell you this to show that I am not a disinterested party.

But regardless, I support the idea that ordinary Americans deserve the same breaks from the Affordable Care Act that the administration has given their Big Business and Big Labor cronies.  This administration is exhibit A for the train wreck produced by crony capitalism.  The ACA is unmanageable and failing, and only by granting huge exemptions will health care insurance not be totally wrecked.  Boehner's current approach is sound and is in fact what I have advocated all along with spending bills.  Thin slice spending to make small cuts and only pass the programs you want.  Tie changes you desire to the spending the President and his party desires.  This is the historical prerogative of the House.  Each time the House offers a bill to fund a popular program, the Reid and Obama game plan is undermined.  I hope Boehner stays the course on this and dials up the heat.  I don't read the poll numbers on this; but my sense is that the Democrats have overplayed their hand. Spending money to shut down monuments and take down web sites is not playing with the public.  Eventually Democrat senators will feel the heat.

Photo courtesy of The Weekly Standard

Weekend Music Chill

Going for a covers edition this weekend.  Dean once mentioned that The Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" would sound great covered in a country-western style.  I found this cover by Flatt & Scruggs:

A more well know version is this bluegrass rendition by the Grascals, complete with fiddles.

I can't help but post the original by The Monkees.