Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance Rules

      Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others. Sound familiar?

Cyber-Security Myths

Favorite Dept of Defense Security Myth: Governments create the most powerful cyber-attacks

John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at SANS, says most government attacks are simply re-using criminal-owned attack resources, and the U.S. Department of Defense likes to hype the threat from nation states to boost its budget. [Ref]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Sequestration Impass

The idea Wash can't cut <3% from a 3plus trillion $ budget Is ludicrous! Trick of listing worst cuts oldest budget game in book.
      I worked under Jack Welch while at GE. Routinely, he would mandate 5% or greater across the board cuts.  We insisted our operations were efficient and had no room to cut.  BUT, we cut by prioritizing our work, eliminating the least necessary, and readjusting work loads.

Physics and Atheism

      Recently, physics and religion questions directed to this blog rekindled our thoughts about some of the theories in physics that few in the general public are aware of.  Some of the mathematical journeys, such as M-theory, multi-universes, or cyclical universes, lead physicists down roads that in the past were frequented only by the religious.
      Nevertheless, when the religious attempt to use physics to justify their beliefs that opens the debate to non-religious to use the same physics to discredit those beliefs.
      This link is an interview with Victor Stenger a physics and best-selling authors in which he states
Religion and atheism weren’t matters which I thought a lot about,” he explains. “It wasn’t until the eighties that that changed. That’s when it really started to annoy me how science, and in particular physics, was being abused by religious people.
Our link reproduces this interview which appeared the the June 15, 2011 issue of Skeptic Magazine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Extacting that Idea or Solution

Anyone who has ever struggled to find a solution to a problem or to come up with new ideas often finds them in the least likely places or in the using the least direct approach, such as listening to an unrelated TED talk.  The concept is to free one's mind to search without restrictions.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stimulate with TED

      I must admit, I have become a TED Talk junkie.  I especially like the opportunity to hear interviews with the presenters on the NPR TED Radio Hour.  It is thought provoking and insightful.
      One of the special interest of this website is Critical Thought and why people hold certain beliefs, even when they may be totally irrational and not based on anything but faith alone.  Supportive of belief systems are the creation of ideas.
      Two of this week’s NPR presentations  don’t answer these quandaries, but can get one examining personal perspectives and biases.  The topic was Where do Ideas Come From?  Borrowing from NPR,

Exit Tax

      States like California, Illinois, and New York are bleeding tax payers. High wealth people and corporations are finding the financial policies of these states intolerable and potentially destructive.  In retaliation and fear of the inevitability such exodus, legislators in these states have proposed Exit Taxes (click here for an example).  The argument is that these people/ corporations were "enabled by these states" and the states have an financial investment in that success and consequently are entitled to a dividend.
      This topic has become part of the recent discussion in a Debate Club which we facilitate.  One of the participants offered,

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unfunded Pensions and More

      Recently, a California resident and retiree sent us a note about seriously unfunded and over-subscribed pension funds in California and Illinois.  Normally, we would not include a response on this website, but the seriously bad financial state of America demands that we make as many people as possible aware of the severity of the problem.  As a starter, to get up to speed, just google pension funds in Illinois or California.  In my comments to him I just poured more gasoline on this already out-of-control fire.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another Example of Religious Hate Speech

On February 8, 2013 I received an email note titled A Tragedy that Needs to be Known. (click to read the chain mail note). It claims
This is a brutal example of how far the struggle between muslims and christians in Nigeria has reached. Muslims are determined to impose their 'religion' all over Africa as well as in other continents.....  
My reaction to the person sending me the note was

Developing a Respect for Alterrnate Viewpoints

I recently participated in a religious dialogue with a friend.  He maintained an unusual high degree of objectivity. He asked to share the dialogue.  So, I am violating my following principles:
You’re welcome to share my views, recognizing that I chose to take the attitude of a Tibetan monk.  If people “climb the mountain” and come asking I’ll answer, but I will not become a missionary.  Missionaries frequently do more harm than good.
His religious attitude is remarkably rare and open-minded. Most people become extremely defensive and assume the posture of the TWO of the Three Wise Monkeys.

He said his goal was,

The Constant Battle - Crackpot claims, Paranoid Conspiracy & Malicious Lies

      With viral email claims, not just skepticism but “outright cynicism is justified.  Despite clear evidence to debunk some of these claims, and the far-removed-from-reality assertions in others, they still make the rounds. Many not only twist the facts but also peddle pure fabrications, urging recipients to forward these “shocking” revelations to all their friends. Yet despite all good common sense, people do pass along these malicious attempts to deceive. Why?
  • Desire to accept information that conforms with one’s beliefs and to reject facts that don’t.
  • Most people are so locked into a particular world view that they tend to reject any information, no matter how well supported, that contradicts their cherished assumptions.
      We have summarized what FactCheck.org calls the most egregious and most asked-about viral claims of 2012. http://factcheck.org/2012/12/viral-spiral-2012/
      Much of what FactCheck received lambasts the president or Democrats. Maybe that’s to be expected for whomever occupies the White House, but FactCheck can’t give a definitive reason for why the viral chatter is more conservative in nature.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Obama Says we Don't have a Spending Problem

All the conservative news outlets and the blogs have picked up on an alleged comment made by Obama to Boehner during their debt negotiations.  Boehner reports that Obama told him that America does not have a spending problem.  This claim has considerable traction because an overwhelming number of Americans believe government has a spending problem as reported in a December 2012 Fox News Poll.

Giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, I thought I would check out the facts.  The following graph shows revenues verses spending of the federal government.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Climate Change FUD

      In his second inaugural address, President Obama promised to "respond to the threat of climate change." One of the concerns he used to justify the urgent nature of the threat— "devastating impact of raging fires."
      In theory a warmer and drier climate should lead to more fires, but is not what is happening.  Nothing is wrong with the theory. It is just other mitigating factors are acting to offset this potential.
      A publication, Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA, in the August 2012 Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science found
Since the late 1800s , human activities and the ecological effects of recent high fire activity caused a large, abrupt decline in burning similar to the LIA fire decline. Consequently, there is now a forest “fire deficit” in the western United States attributable to the combined effects of human activities, ecological, and climate changes. Large fires in the late 20th and 21st century fires have begun to address the fire deficit, but it is continuing to grow.
Clearly the threat of devastating forest fires does not define an urgency.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Different Interpretations of the Same Climate Data

      Hyperbole and obfuscation are terms that routinely describe the Climate Change Debate.  It is hard to dig through all the BS and politicizing associated with this reporting. The same information is often used to substantiate diametrically opposing positions.  An example, of this dilemma follows.
     William Bigelow reported on Jan 29, 2013 in U.N. Report Says Global Warming Predictions Overstated Problem  that
The draft of a U.N. climate change report due to be published in 2014 has been leaked, and it shows that the four temperature models the U.N. used from 1990 to 2012 vastly overestimated the warming of the earth during that time.
He added that Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, said
Temperatures have not risen nearly as much as almost all of the climate models predicted. Their predictions have largely failed, four times in a row... what that means is that it's time for them to re-evaluate. It is evidence that CO2 is not nearly as strong a climate driver as the IPCC has been assuming.
That post follows a Jan 28th report on Fox News Draft UN climate report shows 20 years of overestimated global warming, skeptics warn, which presents a graph to demonstrate the issue.

However, a Nov 17, 2012 research paper, Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011 looking at the identical data (also shows a graph of temperature anomalies) reports
We analyse (sic) global temperature . . . for the past few decades and compare them to projections published in the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The results show that global temperature continues to increase in good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC, especially if we account for the effects of short-term variability due to the El NiƱo/Southern Oscillation, volcanic activity and solar variability.
Lastly, on Dec 15, 2012 ABC News offers a different perspective of the "leaked" report, IPCC draft climate report leaked by sceptics
A draft of the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been leaked on climate sceptic websites. The 14-chapter draft report was posted on a US-based blog site called stopgreensuicide and then posted on another site critical of climate science.
The leaker and other climate sceptics have isolated one section of the draft to suggest that cosmic rays such as those of the Sun may have a greater influence on warming than had been claimed.
In our opinion one should not give credibility to any DRAFT reports, stolen or otherwise.  They are still subject to review and redaction.  That is why they a called DRAFTS.

Cyber-Pearl-Harbor FUD

     The media is at it again with claims of a cyber attack equivalent to Pearl Harbor.  Others claim it is just an attempt to offset major cuts to the military budget that is likely as a result of the looming sequester.  Whatever, it is just plain FUD!
      Remember Y2K scare that had planes falling from the sky, Y2K shelters, and every business demanding Y2K preparedness letters from their associates.  What happened? Nothing!
      RSA/EMC Executive VP Arthur Coviello said the need to analyze Big Data for a better picture of a company's security situation is more important than ever, in light of the damaging disruptions companies face at the hands of DDoSers, but he added "I abhor the term Cyber Pearl Harbor.It's not security awareness we need, but a higher level of understanding. Language like 'Pearl Harbor' doesn't get us that understanding."
      He noted that the outright destruction of the Internet from an attack is unlikely.

For other comments follow this link, Cheers to Coviello for 'Cyber Pearl Harbor' rebuke

What is Skepticism?

In 2007 Don Loxton addressed the question of what is skepticism in his article, "Where do we go from here? Has classic Skepticism  run its course."  In it he identifies skepticism as follows:
Skepticism is not humanism, nor atheism, nor libertarianism. Individual skeptics may or may not agree about any given belief or portfolio of beliefs, about religion or politics or ethics or anything else — that’s all neither here nor there. What unifies us is a commitment to a way of finding out, not a set of conclusions. We’re here to promote methodological doubt and the other tools of scientific inquiry.
He has followed up with a challenging and provocative new project, “Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?”. Almost two years in the writing, it examines the roots, founding principles, and purpose of scientific skepticism. He challenges today's skeptics to “appreciate that they’re caretakers for the work of those who have come before.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On the Religion of Atheism

      On February 4'th the Christian Post reported on a live 90-minute debate between atheist philosopher Dr. Alex Rosenberg and Christian theologian Dr. William Lane Craig titled, "Is Faith in God Reasonable?", It was hosted and sponsored by Symposia Christi at Purdue University, Biola University, and Craig's apologetics ministry group called Reasonable Faith.
      The results were reported by a "formal" debate panel as 4-2 victory for Craig, in a vote by those in attendance with 1,390 votes for Craig to 303 votes for Rosenberg as well as online as well with garnering 734 votes to Craig vs 59 for his opponent.  It is certainly impossible to interpret the inherent meaning of these results. I suspect that the majority of the people who read this article assume that Dr Craig was right and D. Rosenberg was wrong.  That would hardly be a correct conclusion.

      A friend David Irvine responded more reasonably to this article as follows:
My first quick read of this makes me wish the article had included a link to the full transcript of the debate; I'd love to know what Dr Craig's 8 proofs are.  Interesting article but a couple of issues about it have already come to mind; the first one being the nature of the statistical population that evidently thought Dr Craig was by far the "winner" of the debate and Dr Rosenberg definitely the "loser"; namely, how many completely unbiased listeners were tuned in to a debate like this?  One might suspect Dr Craig was "preaching to the choir".  I'd think for an impartial evaluation one would have to have a debate about "Christianity vs Atheism" held before an ideal audience that was neither one nor the other which would be problematic in itself.  Another issue for me is how debates are evaluated by many if not most people; is the debate scoring based on the perceived validity of each point made, or is the scoring biased in favor of the one with the better speaking style and delivery? 
Attempting to arrive at a fair analysis, David went on to say,
I still remember listening to the JFK vs Nixon debates on the radio while stationed in France, and thinking Nixon made more sense than JFK but at the dawn of the television age in electioneering where appearance and style trumps content, JFK "won" that debate hands-down and the rest is history. 
      My read on such debates follow.  How do you judge winners of debates?  The common approach is to survey the observers before the debate regarding the topic of the debate and the repeat that survey after the debate.  The winner is the person or team that shifted opinions in their direction.
      I have sat through many of these debates. Michael Shermer has placed several on the web.  He was once a devote Christian who was heading toward the ministry, but along the way he detoured and now is committed atheist.  He is exceptionally intelligent, but I think he likes to engage in these debates because he is still searching.  He would never admit it.  Many devote theists or deists who become atheists also become aggressive and sometimes antagonistic.
      I used to subscribe to publications by secular humanists, but found many of the articles disgusting because of the vehemence and general intolerance toward those who did not believe as they.  The one thing that disgusts me most about the three major religions is the intolerance of dogmas of each.  The religion of atheism engages in this same practice

   As a final observation David stated:
Another issue already for me is the appearance of bias in the author's choice of words; one person's "truth" can be another person's "absurdity"; the (I think it's Hindu) concept of the world being stacked on the backs of an infinite vertical stack of turtles being a convenient example.  I think the term "belief" rather than "truth" may be more appropriate.  Of course the issue of how does one define "truth" in this context apparently was not part of this debate.  Having been on both sides of this debate over the past six decades, my present perception is that from a metaphysical standpoint all religions and atheisms begin with a blank slate regarding objective evidence; the determining factor for me is: What viewpoint or thesis offers the most spiritual value and utility and examples for me today in forming and upgrading my ethical values and perspectives and relationships with others?  
      Instead of simply saying "Amen," I offered. I have read numerous claims of proofs.  My recommendations to everyone is -- if s/he is comfortable in his/her beliefs, are tolerant and respectful of those who do not share them, and are not trying to impose them on others, then don’t search.  They have nothing to gain.  
      The existence of a God cannot be proven and has never been proven or dis-proven.  I am a Ph.D. physicist who has spent many long years studying and has been humbled by the laws and observations of the universe from the infinitely small to the infinitely large.  I have come to realize that the universe is beyond the ability of humans to comprehend.  It logically follows that if such an entity as God exists, it must be beyond the ability of humans to comprehend. I find the simplistic concept exemplified as the God of Abraham to be no less absurd than the Hindu turtle belief.  Throughout history the image of creation and God reflects the comprehension limits of the believer.

Comments by David Irvine were reprinted with his permission.  He has been evaluating his beliefs for a while.  I found a 2006 letter he submitted as a 1980 graduate of Vanderbilt University to the Spire which is a publication of the Vanderbilt School of Divinity, Graduate Department of Religion.