chris_gerrib: (Me)
A few days ago, John Scalzi posted an article detailing the difficulties of using a gun in self-defense. In it, he posted of people who carry a gun his opinion that (of the gun-carrier) "here’s a dude who’s afraid of every fucking thing in the world."

This particular statement, the post in total, and another Internet slap-fest going on about rape, provoked a lot of responses. The most cogent I've see was by Mike Z. Willamson. In the post, Mike defined three approaches which should be used in conjunction for (specifically) rape prevention and self-defense in general. They are:
Prevention - reducing actual criminal activity
Avoidance - reducing an individual's risk of becoming a victim of crime
Response - responding to a crime in progress

Williamson, in his post, took a few swipes at Scalzi, but here's the thing. Both men are correct.

Williamson correctly points out that guns can and are used in self-defense, while Scalzi correctly points out that guns are not pixie dust - things can go wrong. Williamson doesn't address the "afraid of everything" remark, but in this case Scalzi has a statistically-valid point. Per the NRA, there are about 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the US. That's out of 317 million people, so only about 2.5% of Americans carry a gun. By definition, people who carry a gun are "extreme."
chris_gerrib: (Me)
From [livejournal.com profile] baron_waste I get this article which claims that solar panels could destroy US utilities. Basically, the argument is:

1) Solar panels will eliminate peak load requirements - the most expensive electrical power.
2) People will convert to battery systems, providing 24/7 off-grid power, much like they ditched land telephone lines.
3) This reduction in demand will result in higher prices for the non-converting customer, forcing us to convert or demand that regulated utilities reduce prices.

To which I say, most politely, bullshit. Here's why:

First, unlike telephone lines, solar power requires construction and will always be a capital project for the average homeowner. Second, the battery technology needed to go off-grid remains way too pricey for all but the way-out-in-the-wilderness crowd, and there's no indication that will change soon. But even if it does, re-engineering the average US house will take time and money, resulting in a long and slow adoption curve. Also, somebody's got to maintain those systems, so there's a market for service contracts.

But there's another fallacy here - the idea that peak power is the most profitable form of electrical power. It's not - which is why Com Ed will pay you for the right to shut your AC off. Peak power is actually the least profitable form of power, because it requires building expensive plants designed to start up quickly. These plants have to be staffed 24/7, but don't run all the time. The most profitable power is base-load power.

Lastly, not every building can generate enough solar power to meet their needs. There's only so much roof area a building has, and many buildings (most commercial buildings, high-rises) consume more power than they could generate. Not only that, but as more Americans drive battery-powered cars like the Chevy Volt, electrical power demand will go up, especially at night, as those cars are recharged.

In short, utilities will have plenty of time to adapt and plenty of customers to serve.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
I mentioned that I was going to talk more about this link - arguments from my opponents believe something. Well, here goes.

The tl;dr version of the above is "my opponent believes X, therefore he's wrong." I find it an extremely irritating argument, for two reasons:

1) I frequently don't believe whatever I'm accused of. I don't, for example, think that government is the answer to all problems, or in a "vast sea of federal power limited by islands of protections for various rights." No, government is and should be limited. However, "limited" is a relative term, and limits that were appropriate when we were 2 million people on horseback huddled along the east coast probably won't work when we're 300 million people jetting around the world.

2) The argument is inherently lazy, and rarely addresses the topic at hand. Okay, suppose for argument's sake that I did believe government is the answer to all problems. That tells you nothing about the validity of a government solution to a particular problem. After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

I see these arguments used a lot, and find that they are sound and fury signifying nothing.
chris_gerrib: (Me)
Over at Simberg's Flying Circus, there's an article up arguing (in part) why one needs a high-capacity magazine in your gun. Now, I am absolutely not opposed to high-capacity magazines, and have said so before. But as a simple exercise in making a logical argument, Rand's article fails.

Rand cites an interview of Ryan Moore, a man who used a gun to save his life. Moore was attacked at knife-point by two men. Moore, carrying a 5-shot .357 magnum revolver, fired three shots, killing one of the two attackers. The second one fled, and Moore re-holstered his weapon. This example actually "proves" (or at least supports) the idea that one doesn't need a high-capacity weapon for self-defense.

Here’s the thing – Ryan Moore was attacked by two people armed with knives. Once he started shooting, one of them fled. Even if the attacker hadn't fled, Moore still had two shots. Does anybody think somebody shot twice with a .357 magnum is going to be in any shape to be a threat to anybody?

In addition, what makes anybody think that if it had been three or four people attacking him that things would have been different? Criminals are not noted for loyalty, teamwork and bravery- all things that would be required in order for them to stand and fight an armed man.

Crooks are out for themselves, and like all predators they only attack victims that are perceived as weak. Once the victim demonstrates that they aren't weak, there is a very strong instinct on the (in this case surviving) crook’s part to break off the engagement, which is exactly what happened in this case.

Again, as a point of basic debating skills, if you want to argue for high-capacity magazines, find a case in which the extra rounds were actually needed.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Because I have a few short and unrelated comments vs one big post:

A) Over the previous weekend, I viewed on pay-per-view the recent movie Cowboys and Aliens. I paid (the same money) for the "unedited" version, hoping to see more of Olivia Wilde. Alas, not so you'd notice, but I did find the movie a perfectly entertaining SF / shoot-em-up, with a side of blow-stuff-up-real-good.

B) Also on the entertainment front, I re-read the classic pirate novel, Treasure Island. I had forgotten a whole sequence where Jim steals back the Hispaniola. It was an entertaining romp with a classic.

C) Remember when ordering lobster was a big deal? I was at Red Lobster last night, killing two birds with one stone by finishing Christmas shopping and eating dinner, and noticed that they had three lobster and steak combos for under $20! Now, one will note that the steak is small and the lobster is neither fresh nor from Maine, but still, ordering lobster used to be a big deal. Not any more.

D) An interesting graphical link (you may have to click through an ad to see it) Correlation or Causation? Need to prove something you already believe? Statistics are easy: All you need are two graphs and a leading question.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
So, apparently New York City is experiencing a wave of bed bugs. Various sources, including Glen Reynolds, think that bringing back DDT will fix the problem.

Wrong.

See, as this person says, bed bugs developed a resistance to DDT way back in the 1950s. Not only that, but now we learn that bed bugs are still nearly 100% resistant to DDT. A researcher exposed bed bugs to DDT continuously for five days and the bugs didn't die. In fact, the second link points out a case in Malaysia where DDT helped the bed bugs - it killed a natural predator to the bug, allowing bed bug populations to soar.

This is a failure of logical thinking. Anybody with five minutes and access to Google could have found this information out. Now, how do you run a country when leading opinion makers don't do basic homework?
chris_gerrib: (Default)
There are days that I dispair over the loss of critical thinking in America. Today is one of them. For some reason, a 2003 scientific paper about methane gas eruptions sinking ships is back in the news. (Hat tip to Rand Simberg.)

Now, yes, if your ship happens to be right over an eruption of methane hydrates, the ship could sink. And yes, these hydrates do erupt from time to time. But the great amount of luck to be at exactly the right place at exactly the right time suggests that the odds are in line with getting struck by lightening. Which does happen, but not very often.

No, having sailed in, around and through the Bermuda Triangle a lot, here's the real reason a lot of ships sink there. (All of these reasons apply to the North Sea, the other region mentioned in the linked article.)

1) Heavy shipping traffic. The Triangle is a geographical choke point, connecting a lot of busy ports.
2) Heavy recreational and light plane traffic. Lots of light planes flying to various islands, and lots of small yachts and fishing boats crossing to and fro. Trust me - if a 100,000 tanker hits a 20-foot boat, nobody on the tanker will even feel it.
3) Bad weather. The Triangle not only has hurricanes, but thunderstorms, fog, squalls and winter weather. The North Sea is notoriously rough as well.
4) Dangerous coastlines. Underwater rocks don't show on radar. A lot of the coast (for example, Haiti and Scotland) is cliffs with off-shore rocks just awash.
5) Currents. The Gulf Stream sweeps through the Triangle, taking debris north. If it doesn't get hung up at Cape Hatteras (~300 miles north of Jacksonville, FL) next stop is Ireland.

In short, asking why their are a lot of "mysterious" shipwrecks and light plane crashes in the Bermuda Triangle is the same as asking why their are a lot of car wrecks on a busy, winding and poorly-lit stretch of road.

ETA: I am reminded by a commentor at Simberg's site of Larry Kusche's book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, which is well worth the read.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
So, over on Making Light, much to-do is being made about the DC Park Police hassling people. For the record, the cops certainly appear to be out of line. John Scalzi links to a guy who advises never give your car keys to a monkey. It's a reflection on various conspiracy theorists, 9/11 "Truthers" and other wack-jobs.

What do these two things have in common? At first glance, nothing. They are not unique or noteworthy. The case with the DC Park Police is not the first nor will it be the last time that some cop having a bad day or with too much time on his hands abuses his authority. Nor are the conspiracy theorists particularly unique. People have been seeing grand conspiracies in public life for hundreds of years.

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, thousands of people, five or six of whom read my blog, are aware of these incidents. Also thanks to the magic of the Internet, I can easily point you to these articles. And that's what the two events have in common. Prior to the Internet, one would find out about the Park Police incident by being personally acquainted with the arrested. One might get accosted in a bar by a conspiracy nut, but in general finding them was hard.

This is neither a good nor a bad phenomenon. If the story of the Park Police incident is correct, it's good, in that the first step to fixing a problem is identifying it. It's bad in that conspiracy theorists can find each other and reinforce themselves.

Welcome to the future. We've got shiny new tools, but sometimes all they do is dig up old dirt.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
I read and take advice from a wide array of sources. I am, for example, a subscriber to Jerry Pournelle. Jerry is a Goldwater Republican (literally, he campaigned for the guy), and worked for Reagan on Strategic Defense (AKA "Star Wars"). He's not convinced that global warming is being accelerated by man's CO2 emissions, which is not my position.

I also read Making Light, the blog of the Nielson Haydens. That's the kind of hard-left place where a commenter will say "Bush should be charged with war crimes" and get 3 "amens" from other commenters. I don't agree with that sentiment.

On the other hand, sometimes both sites say stuff I agree with. Pournelle is frequently right in his analysis of the costs of the war (which he opposed), and the folks at Making Light are experts in the field of science fiction. And frequently, when these sites have posts I disagree with, I ignore the post instead of argue with them.

So, why do I read stuff written by people I disagree with? Three reasons.

1) Anti-Demonization. Reading and getting advice from "the other side" on an issue prevents you from demonizing them. You realize that they are people too, who just happen to be wrong on an issue.

2) Amen Choirs. Reading stuff you disagree with forces you to come up with a better defense of your opinion. "Because I say so" works with 5-year-olds, but not so well with adults. Exposing your arguments to the tender mercies of your opponents means that you opinions are better crafted and defended.

3) (Lack of) Infallibility. I'm not perfect, and neither are you, Dear Reader. Every once in a while, listening to the other side will allow one to learn something new, or correct an error in one's thinking. Some of the worst disasters in history were a result of group-think, where what "everybody knew" to be true wasn't.

Keeping an open mind is a great advantage in a complex world. I highly recommend it.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
Two days ago, I bitched about how this "economic stimulus" package was a crock, and getting serious about alternative energy would be a better use of money.

One Mr. JLawson of www.rustedsky.net posted a reply, the gist of which was that "the Democrats had blocked action" on this and would continue to do so. My immediate reply was that I was confused - didn't the Republicans control the Congress and the White House for six years? During that time, what exactly did they do with regards to alternative energy? Also, didn't they control Congress for six years of Clinton's administration? In other words, at what point in time do problems become the fault of the party actually in power?

Then I recalled that I'd discussed this phenomenon before, in my analysis of logical thinking. Mr. Lawson, to use the analogy of the post, loves peas. Therefore, any solution that suggests a diet of peas might be detrimental to health must be wrong. It's a article of faith, not a matter of reason.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
First up, the August - September issue of Jim Baen's Universe is now up for your reading pleasure. I haven't had a chance to do much more then glance at the table of contents and skim Mike Resnik's article on slush piles, but I suspect that much goodness resides there.

Second, it's full-on silly season here in Chicago. I've had (unfortunately) several occasions to be at the Oak Brook post office, and on my most recent visit, the LaRouche-ites* were camped out at the entrance, asking passersby for help in impeaching Bush and Cheney. Although I think Bush is a shoo-in for the "worst President since Hoover" award, and a strong contender for "worst ever," I'm not into impeachment.

Even for people who might be into the impeachment thing, the LaRouche-ites (at least at Oak Brook) are the worst advocates possible. Their camp was festooned with insulting signs, and the people manning it weren't trying to advocate so much as preach to the choir. I've discussed the problem before, so I wasn't that surprised. In this particular case, it's no great loss, but I have a vision of the local party boss scratching his head wondering why they didn't get any donations or support.





* No, I'm not going to link to those loonies - Google it if you must.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
I’ve been in a few controversial online debates recently, and something became apparent to me. For any debate topic, there are really three sides, or three groups of people, in the debate. Failure to recognize this fact results in a dysfunctional debate. I think the best way to explain this is to use an example.

Some people love peas. They could happily eat peas morning noon and night. They think peas are good. Others hate peas. They find the vegetable slimy, smelly and disgusting. When they go to the supermarket, they have to avert their eyes from the canned peas in the vegetable aisle. As unlikely as it sounds, these two groups have two points in common.

First, they have both made up their minds. Show a pea-lover a blue-ribbon scientific study proving that eating peas causes bad breath, acne and shortens one’s lifespan and they’ll either ignore it or try to poke holes in the study. If you show a study to a pea-hater proving that eating peas in any form once a week will add ten years to their life and a date with the attractive celebrity of their choice, it will be equally unpersuasive.

Second, both groups tend to distrust the motives of the other. If a pea-lover comes up to a pea-hater and says, “you should eat peas – they’re good for you” the pea-hater assumes that the pea–lover is an idiot and/or a stooge for the Pea Growers’ Association. The reverse is also true.

However, neither pea-lovers nor pea-haters consist of an absolute majority of the general population. There is a third group of people whose minds aren’t set on the issue. Call them “swingers.”(edit "swingers" is an attempt at humor.) These folks may lean one way or the other, from “peas are OK if you bury them in a stew” (my personal position) to “peas are good, just not every day.” Since we live in a democracy, getting public policy passed requires building a majority. That means convincing some of the swingers to move one way or the other.

Here’s where the dysfunction comes up. Statements that one side finds self-evident (“Peas are good”) are unpersuasive to the swingers, and viewed as violently wrong by the other side. Even worse, if the opposite side responds as they want to (by shouting, “you’re a dupe for the Pea Grower’s Association”) the swingers automatically leave the debate. Either that or get some popcorn and settle in to watch the show. But they don’t get persuaded to change their minds.

If you want to change the minds of somebody who’s on the fence, you need to use the tools of rational debate, facts and figures. Equally important is the need to understand that, once you go over to the emotional side, those facts and figures become automatically suspect.

I understand some issues are emotional. It feels good to yell, “you’re an idiot!” to people who disagree with you. But giving into that emotion is self-destructive. If your opponent has already made up their mind, nothing you can say will help. Nobody likes being called an idiot, even if (especially if) they are one. Those with an open mind won’t think that the name-caller is particularly bright either.
chris_gerrib: (Default)
I drove downstate to visit the parents this weekend. Driving on I-57, I passed "Lake Arrowhead" in Onarga, IL.

For those of you not familiar with US Interstate Highway system, in rural areas, anytime they needed to build an overpass they simply dug a hole next to the overpass, and piled the fill dirt up to make the overpass. This created a number of small ponds, all right next to the Interstate. "Lake Arrowhead" is one of these ponds. It's maybe 50 feet wide by 300 feet long, bounded by cornfields on three sides and 50 feet from the roar of the Interstate.

It's also a campground! The pond was ringed by campers and trailers, and people were milling about in the 90 degree heat. What are they thinking? Camping there is like camping in the parking lot at WalMart, except louder.

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