Picking Your Poison

I said something a little (actually more than a little) harsh about Humanities grad students in the comments of one of Ginny’s posts.  That reminded my of how I began to see myself as a misanthrope in grad school. Upon leaving the Academy, I discovered that I was not misanthropic, I merely didn’t like Academics – either profs or larval profs, all that much. While I have much less patience with people in the Humanities (and they tended to try my patience with educated stupidity much more than techies), scientists are not easy lot to deal with, either. Early in my blogging career I came up with the taxonomy of scientific graduate advisors below. I had always planned to come back and do the grad students, so spurred on by Ginny’s post, I’m going to do both Humanities and Science / Engineering grad students in a future post.  But for those of you uninitiated into the arcane world of gradute work in technical fields, and especially for those of you about to enter that world, I’m reposting this:

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Wisconsin Electricity Situation

First and foremost I would like to thank Jonthan for inviting me to become a part of Chicago Boyz.  I have admired this blog for a long time and am looking forward to being a contributor.  I have written for a while over at my “home base”, Life In The Great Midwest.  We have three contributors over there and write on a variety of topics.  I will keep most of my “cat blogging” over there and try to post some of the more serious issues that I write about here.

 One of the topics we spend a lot of time on at LITGM is energy.  My co-contributor Carl is what I would consider an expert in the field, having spent many years in various roles that have had to do with energy.  My post here about the current situation in Wisconsin is in response to his recent post about the woes of Illinois. 

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Why There?

I have had my attention* directed to the recent publication of some rather interesting predictions about global warming and tropical storm activity in the Philosophical Transactions  of the Royal Society A (Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences). My first reaction was: why Philosophical Transactions A? Especially for two researchers from Georgia? Then I looked at the journal’s internet masthead:

Philosophical Transactions A is expanding and most journal issues will be dedicated to the publication of Theme Issues in four subject clusters:


  • Nano-science nano–engineering and quantum computing
  • Environmental change and renewable energy
  • Dynamical systems and complexity
  • Biophysics, biological mathematics and medical engineering

The reason that the choice of journal raised my hackles is that the Royal Society’s Transactions is not the first choice for a meteorological article of such startling significance. It has a middling-low Impact Factor, and most scientists** strive to get their research published in as prestigious a journal as possible in order to win the publish-or-perish games that are the lifeblood of Academy politics.

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Excellent Blogging on Power, Infrastructure and Financial Issues

I highly recommend Carl from Chicago’s posts on these issues at the Life in the Great Midwest blog. Carl’s posts are easily accessible via the category list on his blog’s left sidebar (click on Economics, Electricity, Social Security or Taxes to start).

Carl’s latest post, on the economics and politics of electric-power infrastructure in Illinois, is here.

Tangerines per Gallon

In a meeting with environmentalists, Elizabeth Edwards talked about the importance of buying locally-produced foods:

“We’ve been moving back to ‘buy local,'” Mrs. Edwards said, outlining a trade policy that “acknowledges the carbon footprint” of transporting fruit.

“I live in North Carolina. I’ll probably never eat a tangerine again,” she said, speaking of a time when the fruit is reaches the price that it “needs” to be.

Being the kind and considerate person that I am, I don’t want the Edwards family to unnecessarily forego the pleasures of tangerine-eating. Therefore, I’ll try to help them out by calculating a vital economic and environmental parameter which shall be known as tangerines per gallon.

This is a very rough and preliminary analysis; tangerine experts and transportation experts are invited to chime in with more data.

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What We Love

As it turns out, John Barnes had some of it right – he applied the ethos and culture of MFA schools to the Scott Thomas columns. We can find on military blogs (and here) more substantive critiques of the specifics, while keeping in mind that soldiers, being human, can be assholes and that war is not the most positive experience. Still and all, the truth is important and much looks like these were, at best, tales embellished beyond recognition. The narrator seems quite confused about guns, Bradleys and life. TNR’s firing of the “whistleblower” is also not particularly attractive. It’s hard to take the youthful editor seriously.

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Cimrman’s Place in the Collective Dream

Our culture comes to us through food and language. Food is sensual – pleasure and necessity; we remember the love with which a grandmother put a piece of pie in front of us, the thought of the groaning holiday table. And if food reinforces the sensual memories of our families, language allows us to see through a culture’s eyes, words filled with history and nuance, words coming from old derivations that are microcosms of our linguistic (and cultural) history. But for this time, let’s ignore those two and move on to the broader culture – music, art, movies, novels – that America both creates and synthesizes. Great art speaks to all of us, but each speaks to each of us. Some art doesn’t travel well; some artifacts move people of one culture far more than they do those of another – an incongruence between us, perhaps, in what we find “congruent” with reality. We pass our culture on to our children in off-hand remarks, the way we frame debates, the jokes we retell. We don’t do this consciously, but that culture saturates our conversations.

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Mr. Ed, RIP.

(Click here to see a larger version of the photo. Or click here to see a giant version in a new window.)

Tales That Should Not Be Told

In one of the comments to my post Telling Stories, Veryretired said something very wise:

There are myths so entrenched in our national psyche that facts are simply insufficient to change the story that “everyone knows”.

As H. Beam Piper said in “Cosmic Computer“: “Well, always take a second look at these
things everybody knows. Ten to one they’re not so. ”

Over time that damage to the collective mental model of how the world works can be repaired, but in the short and intermediate timeframes, myths are dangerous. One of the great boons bequeathed to mankind by the scientific method is the creation of a class of people who question received wisdom all the time. One of the recurrent complaints on my blog is that many scientists don’t lead the way in this regard. Oh, sure, we question each other deeply about matters in our own fields, but we don’t carry this over to other areas in our own lives, to say nothing of trying to spread the method to laymen.

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Yon’s “Collective Dreams”

Michael Yon describes a mind-set; sure he’s chauvinistic, but its also the power of an Army of Davids in Baqubah:

When Americans move into Iraqi buildings, the buildings start improving from the first day. And then, the buildings near the buildings start to improve. It’s not about the money, but the mindset. The Greatest Generation called it “the can-do mentality.” It’s a wealth measured not only in dollars, but also in knowledge. The burning curiosity that launched the Hubble, flows from that mentality, and so does the revenue stream of taxpayer dollars that funded it. Iraq is very rich in resources, but philosophically it is impoverished. The truest separation between cultures is in the collective dreams of their people.

The blend of tribalism and individualism, of pride and of history that shapes a people’s imagination is summed up in that connotative description: “the collective dreams of their people.”

Vindication Is So Sweet

Way back October of 2004 I posted a critique of a study published in the Lancet that purported to show that:

…about 100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths.

I called foul immediately, and I ended up writing a series of posts detailing my arguments. Now I find out from Michelle Malkin (via Instapundit) that David Kane, Institute Fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University has authored a paper, soon to be presented, that demonstrates using detailed statistics just how deceptive (my adjective) the original study was.

Kane shows that if the Falluja cluster is included in the statistical calculations, the confidence interval dips below zero, which is a big no-no. Since the study’s raw data remain a closely guarded secret, Kane cannot be absolutely certain that the inclusion of the Falluja cluster renders the study mathematically invalid…

…but that’s the way to bet.

In science, replication is the iron test. I find it revealing that no other source or study has come close to replicating the original study. All my original points still stand.

Ah, vindication is sweet.

Decentralization: Myths of 4G Warfare Part II

In part one, I examined the myth that Fourth Generational Warfare Groups (4GWGs) do not depend on the resources of an integral state, or do not have a territorial base, and as such offer no target which an opponent can attack or neutralize. In this post, I examine the second myth of 4GW: the myth of decentralized forces.

The myth holds that 4GWGs lack any cohesive or centralized command structure. Instead, small autonomous units strike on their own initiative (at least until the terminal phase of the campaign). If true, this state of affairs would render 4GWGs nearly immune from most forms of military attack. Fortunately, it is not true.

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Multiple Cultures

After Ralph’s thought-provoking post below, I’d like to take another pot-shot at the multicultural elites who seem to value any other culture more than our own.

One of the things that persistently puzzles me about the multi-cultural crowd is that, at least when I was a TA, they shied away from intellectually rigorous activity such as studying a foreign language. One would think that actually learning to speak a non-Western tongue would do more for true inter-cultural understanding than any pastiche of factoids, half-truths and generalized misinformation about other cultures that is the general Introduction to Foreign Culture claptrap at most Universities.

The cynic in me says that most multi-culturalists don’t go in for a detailed study of a foreign language for three reasons – it would take away the focus from their departments, it’s hard (non-Western languages generally come with non-Western writing systems, and in my experience, students run from those like the plague), and, to Ralph’s point, the more in-depth you study some cultures, the more you are thankful you weren’t born into them. Hardly conducive to the facile moral relativism of the multi-culti crowd.

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‘The multicultural issue’

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s very vocal dissidence from Islam has served to polarize public opinion, to say the least, especially in Europe. While most people have a hard time arguing with her views when confronted with them, committed multiculturalists cannot help attacking her, or at least trying to put her credibility into doubt among audiences who might be receptive to her views.

signandsight has compiled the contributions to an especially heated debate on multiculturalism in general and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in particular. It started when French philosopher Pascal Bruckner defended Ali against attacks by Ian Burama, author of Murder in Amsterdam, as well as Timothy Garton Ash in his review of the book (only available to subscribers). Beyond addressing their specific points on Ali, he went on to attack misguided claims of moral equivalence between ‘Islamist fundamentalism and Enlightenment fundamentalism’ and he also compared multiculturalism with South African apartheid policies. While Ash, Burama and some others couldn’t leave that unanswered, and were in turn criticized by other participants.

You can find the whole debate here: The Multicultural Issue.

It should also be noted that the people at signandsight have their own biases, for their introduction to the debate begins with the sentence “Who should the West support: moderate Islamists like Tariq Ramadan, or Islamic dissidents like Ayaan Hirsi Ali?” Some people who know what they are talking about aren’t agreeing that Tariq Ramadan can indeed be called a moderate (of course, the really bad news here might be that Ramadan really *is* a moderate, as Islamists go). They also let Ash and Burama have the last word, with “Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma set[ting] Pascal Bruckner straight on a few last points.”

Then again, this kind of skewed stance might be necessary for there being any debate at all, for a strictly rational and impartial consideration of the issue would quickly lead to the conclusion that there really is nothing that could possibly justify Islamism as well as multiculturalism (you could argue that this is a kind of bias in itself, but I happen to hold the axiomatic view that our values are simply superior to theirs, and better them than us, should it ever come to that).

New Anti-Spam System (maybe)

I’ve activated it. If it works, spam comments will be blocked while comments flagged as possible spam will require commenters to perform a “copy the image” action to prove they aren’t spambots. This should be an improvement over the current system, which puts all suspicious-but-legitimate comments into the general spam queue where they are almost impossible for me to find. Please email me at the support address if you have problems. I need your feedback to determine if this system works as advertised, so please try to leave comments on this post and let me know if your comment either disappears or you get prompted to copy an image before your comment posts. Thanks.

Comment on Foster’s Post

Just wanted to link: first help desk.

I’ve got to admit that I identify with the clueless monk and am always amazed at the steady patience of the it guys.  Clearly the tone is universal if the language isn’t.

(This was going around a few months ago; sorry if I’m repeating it but can’t find it through googling Chicagoboyz.)   And I suspect there was some of that in the 1930’s; inertia and fear of change are probably at least as motivating as turf battles & definition of status in terms of how many people wait on us.  The break with all those notions was described by Franklin – but I think it is human nature to fear change and want larger acreage.

Senate Technophobia, 1930 Style

In 1930, U.S. Senator Carter Glass (Virginia) introduced the following resolution:

Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and

Whereas senators are required since the installation of dial telephones in the Capitol to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and

Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; therefore, be it

Resolved that the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesepeake & Potomac Telephone Co., to replace with manual telephones, within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate Office Building.

The resolution passed.

(source: Visions of Technology, edited by Richard Rhodes)

Wisdom from the Country

While John Jay reads Russian lit in Russian, I listen to country music. But “the immortal Sawyer Brown” has thoughts on the relation of truth to narrative as well:

The phone rings: it’s the call of the wild

And the clothes we wear have finally come back in style

We got some tall tales that we love to tell

They may not be true

But we sure do remember them well

From “The Boys & Me.