Monday, December 28, 2009

Back on the Hamster Wheel

Back to the normal daily schedule. At least until Thursday, then we get another 3 1/2-day weekend that we haven't planned anything for. We may try to do some local touring if the weather cooperates. Yesterday, Debbie got bored sitting around the apartment and mapped out a half-dozen or so covered bridges all within a couple miles of the apartment, but it didn't stop raining until about 20 minutes before it gets dark. So we'll probably try to get out and about Friday and/or Saturday taking lots of pictures, and Sunday will be a day of R&R in preparation for the long winter slog with new jobs (meaning no time off). (And the plural is me being optimistic; no news on the job front yet. Not that I expect anything to happen until after the new year anyway.)

Speaking of weather, 24 hours ago it was 50 F. Right now it's snowing big fat fluffy flakes. I don't know if this back-and-forth thing is normal for New Hampshire, or if this has been a weird winter.

By now, everyone knows about the Crotch Bomber. A perfect example of the system working perfectly. The federal government was warned by the guy's own father, was on the international terrorist watch list and may have not even had proper documentation to be on an airplane. But the system is working perfectly because anyone flying now has to be at the airport 4 hours before their flight (or not), not have access to their carry-on at any time during the flight (or not), banned from the restrooms either ten minutes or an hour before landing (or not), forced to keep their hands in plain sight (or not), banned from having carry-on at all (or not), be labeled a terrorist suspect for having a carry-on (or not)... All of these thing may happen (or not) on any given flight in any combination because the new security measures are designed to be "unpredictable." Meaning if you are a white, 80-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair or a US soldier traveling in uniform, expect to be subjected to all this and more when you fly. If you're a 20-something middle-eastern male traveling on an international flight without a passport after spending time at a known terrorist training camp, you won't have to worry about any of this because the last thing we want to do is profile.

The airlines are terrified by all this, of course. As they should be. I can drive a long way in four hours. In fact, here on the east coast, I can pretty well cover a half-dozen or so states with a four-hour radius. Add in the two or three hours it takes to get to and from the airport and the resulting six-hour radius covers the entire north-east, parts of the mid-west and a fair chunk of Canada. Add in two or three more hours for the actual time I would spend in the air, and you now have a big chunk of the entire eastern US. All of which will cost more lives than all the terrorist attacks in the US combined because driving has a far higher fatality rate per passenger mile than air travel.

Or this is all a bunch of arm waving that will result in no real changes once the dust settles. One interesting point that Jerry Pournelle makes: the response to the shoe bomber was to make everyone walk through security barefoot. How will the TSA goon squad respond to the Crotch Bomber and his exploding whitey-tighties? The shoe nonsense created an airport fashion trend with people running around in TSA-approved footies. Maybe the next round will doom underwear and bring togas back in style. Lending a terrifying new aspect to walking through an airport and hearing a small child yell, "Grandpa! You're peaking!"

In an attempt to quickly change the subject, Theodore Gray asks, "Is science as important as football?" The short answer is, "Absolutely not!!" The longer answer is that one only has to compare the level of funding in science vs. sports, the level of emphasis both inside and outside the school given to science vs. sports, the level of attention in any media given to science award winners vs. the star quarterback, the level of funding for college science scholarships vs. athletic scholarships, or any of a thousand other signals we as a society give to our children that being smart don't mean shit and being good at sports is what really matters. How many people can name the high school with the highest academic performance in their state? How many people can name the high school with the best sports program? And yes, I realize that wasn't the precise point Gray was making, but his article just describes another aspect of the same thinking; science must be cut back and made boring in the name of safety, yet more kids are permanently injured and killed in a single football season than have ever been injured in a science lab.

And in the weather-isn't-climate category, we have the NOAA three-month forecast vs. the actual temperature data. NOAA wasn't just wrong in a few specific areas or by statistically insignificant amounts. They were completely wrong in every possible way. Simply flipping a coin (heads is above average temps, tails is below average temps) for each US county would have been more accurate than NOAA's weather models. And yet those same models can so accurately predict a couple tenths of a degree warming in 50 years that we should destroy our economy in a misguided attempt to prevent that warming? Models are built on assumptions. The ability of the model to predict real-world events is the test of those assumptions. If your model is unable to predict real-world events in even the most general terms, it is your assumptions that are wrong, not reality. I would think that obvious, but that doesn't seem to be the "consensus."

Well, I need to get some lunch down and get ready to head into town. I'm supposed to take a test this afternoon to see if I'm smart enough to work the 2010 Census. Then I'm picking up Debbie from work and going out for something to eat. We're tired of all the food we have in the house, so we'll probably hit one of the local hot spots everyone keeps telling us we just have to try.

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