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Priorities

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I love the way science work and the way scientists think because the logic really helps me to unlock my own thoughts. On my drive to school this morning, I was listening to an old episode of the StarTalk podcast, which is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s science show. He was having a discussion with a couple of members of the The Planetary Society as to why we should continue to fund the space program, and was really challenging them to really justify it, considering the current political and economic climate. And they did it. The analogy was brought up that as a parent, even when you are working to buy food, clothes, and shelter for your child, you don’t put books at a lower priority. You do them all at once, at an equal priority. It is an interesting thought.

I often write on my blog about how we need to be wary of the size of government and about how I really seem to align well with the libertarian ideal. I really do believe in the ideals of being a libertarian, for the more power we give to government to do charitable things, the more power we also grant them to do less charitable or malicious things. When we are looking at setting or changing a government policy, we need to remember that it is people running the government. The same people running those evil corporations also run the government. They are flawed human beings like anyone else.  However, there is a difference between an ideal or philosophy and reality. Government can’t always be made perpetually smaller.

The other parts of making a priority list are the “how” and the “why” parts. If we can’t figure out why we are doing something, it probably isn’t a very high priority. If we don’t know how we are going to do something, perhaps it needs to be broken down further so that the parts can be prioritized. An easy example of that would be health care. It needed to be changed. But to change health care all at once is a little like saying you want to move the Empire State Building a block over. It is possible, but it isn’t very practical and there are probably better solutions that can be done in smaller increments.

So when I disagree with government funding things like a welfare program, more money for education, health care, or any other of these things that we are asking of modern government, it isn’t that I necessarily think that government should stop doing them. It isn’t that I even necessarily think that government should make them a lower priority than some other government service (even if I mention the word priority).

My thought for today actually ends up being a fairly liberal one (I know – you are shocked). We need to fund these things of a modern society – health care, welfare, education, etc., and do so with equal priority. All I ask is we do so with thought and restraint instead of the way we are doing it now which is with no thought (for political gain) and no restraint (we can pay for it later). We can’t spend more, drastically cut, or make dramatic changes without more thought and consideration as to the consequences of those actions.

I remember when I first started in banking, a guy used to come see me at the bank once a week and talk politics. He told me the biggest problem with today’s politicians is they don’t follow this simple rule: if you have an idea, and ask 10 average people about it and they tell you it is pretty stupid, it is probably pretty stupid. Most of the ideas I’m hearing from Saint Paul, Washington D.C., and the campaign trail would fit that criteria pretty well.

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Questions Awaiting Answers

July 11, 2011 2 comments

I will issue an apology for this post up front. I am going to be flirting with some logical fallacies in posing my questions (somewhat rhetorical). I do so only because I have yet to come up with a better way to start the conversation. So I say the questions are somewhat rhetorical because I do feel they do need an answer at some point, but I don’t think they can be answered simply, nor could someone answer them in a short conversation. However, we should be thinking about these questions.

My first question has to do with taxing the rich because of income inequality. I thought about this when I saw this tweet and the accompanying NPR story where the federal reserve is stating income inequality hurts growth. There can be some economic truth to this. I won’t detail it, but let’s assume the truth in the fed reserve statement that income inequality can hurt growth. The immediate response to this is we should tax the rich more to redistribute that money back to the lower and middle class to make the income more equal. This is where I have a problem. Are we really a free country when we have government deciding how much stuff is too much stuff?

(I am separating this since this is somewhat a straw man argument, but meant to provoke thought) If someone has a billion dollars, should we maybe tax their new income at 98% since they don’t really need it, where as maybe we could tax someone just coming out of bankruptcy 0% to help them get ahead? What about if you own a speed boat, a fishing boat, and a pontoon boat? Maybe we should tax you more because you don’t really need 3 boats? Maybe you should pay a fee every year if you own another freezer other than the one on your fridge since you can afford extra food and electricity, you must have extra money. You see how absurd these scenarios are, but that is the point. It might not sound absurd to charge a billionaire more than you, but it is so dangerous to let government with the power of force decide that. What happens when they decide it is a million dollars? $500,000? $150,000? $90,000? What if they decide 300% of minimum wage starts requiring equalization, so at $45,000 they start taking 50, 60, 80% of your income? That is my point, no one can tell me what level is fair, why it is fair, and even if it really even sounds fair once you start putting it that way.

The other part about income equalization is our income inequality is entirely our fault. We have become so entitled to anything and everything we want that we have made the rich very rich. I have blogged on this on a couple of occasions; we have the power to tax the rich. We will have to give up some convenience, perhaps put off some purchases. We might even feel a little pinch in our pocketbook for a little while, but if we buy local, bank local, save money, grow gardens, buy union, buy USA made and avoid those large corporations as much as possible, we would quickly transform our economy and put more money back in the hands of the middle class. When we say the rich are too rich and expect the government to take away their wealth, we are asking the government to take away money from someone by force that we all gave to them voluntarily by buying their products. If you don’t want someone to be rich, don’t buy from someone who is rich.

My other question about taxes in general is how much is enough? We have an aging population, so all of us are going to have to realize that we may have to go with a little less to take care of them. It is simply a matter of fact. Since we produce less in the US, we have less. Our population is aging, and has more needs. They are going to have to spend their savings on their care. People of my generation, we are going to have to help them, save for ourselves, and likely work longer than our parents. We have to change our entitlement mentality and realize we are going to have to sacrifice more for our parents, or grandparents, and our children. But how much of that should be done by the government? And how much do they need?

This is a bit of a straw man question as well because it isn’t easy for someone to answer. But if there is anything I can’t stand is how angry the liberals get with me when I ask them this question. It is an honest question. You can’t take all of a rich person’s money. You can’t take all of my money. We shouldn’t even take most of a person’s money. We should take only what is necessary, and that should be applied judiciously. Not because the rich can’t pay, but because we voluntarily gave the money to the rich by purchasing their product, it is unfair for us to then go reclaim our money by force through the government. So how much should we tax the rich without putting the freedom of the American Dream of becoming rich in jeopardy?

And Now For Something Completely Different

 

I wanted to put this in because I am often told I am too hard on the liberals. However, I found one of my favorite conservative libertarians falling victim to a myriad of logical fallacies recently, and it is only right I call him out on it.

Jason Lewis does a national radio show out of the Twin Cities. He is not quite as harsh as alot of other conservative radio hosts, so I have listened to him for about 6 months now and have found him entertaining and also educational. He does have a good grasp on economics and tends not to fall into the social issue agenda much as he feels those are issues left to the states to decide as he is a big states’ rights person. However, because of his long-time relationship with the Republican Party, he has become friends with Michele Bachmann. He actually was the one who introduced her at her event formally announcing her presidential run. I have serious concerns as this has clouded his judgement.

The big issue I take with Michele Bachmann is her intellectual dishonesty. I personally do not believe in a personal god, but because the case for god is an unknown I don’t have a problem with people having a faith or believing in religion. I do however have a problem when people who claim to be intellectual cannot reconcile religion and science. Ms. Bachmann believes that intelligent design should be taught in science classes. Even the Catholics have been able to reconcile the biblical story and the theory of evolution, but many Christians still want to deny decades of science and believe their non-scientist pastor that the earth is only 6000 years old and that we just appeared instantly on earth.

Where Jason Lewis goes wrong is he tried to compare it to the teaching of climate change. He calls climate change a “faith-based” movement in which only one side is taught in schools and even though “the science” says otherwise we don’t let that science in the class. But we can’t let a little bit of “faith-based” theory into the biology classroom. This fails on a couple of levels. First, climate change is not a “faith-based” movement. It is a working theory in the scientific community. I will grant him that the role of humans can be exaggerated (i.e. a political agenda) in the classroom. Mr. Lewis admits he is not a scientist, so he doesn’t understand that the issue is still being studied and debated, and thus it should be presented that way in the classroom. Evolution is different. Although very minor details such as biological classifications are being debated and new discoveries do sometimes shift the evolutionary tree slightly, the overall theory is sound and has held up for 150 years through thousands of examples. There is no controversy in the theme. The same with the age of the earth. There are some details and questions on the scales of a few million years, but that amounts to less than 1% of the 4 billion year age of the earth.

So, Mr. Lewis – although I have normally trusted your logic, you are failing miserably in your support of Michele Bachmann. She does have fairly sound economic policy and seems like a nice person, but she also has admitted an underlying social agenda and religious agenda that undermines her intellectual integrity. It is one thing to have faith to guide you, it is another to have faith to lead you. The entire premise of her campaign is illogical, and I hope before too long you will see that to and not let your friendship with her blind you to that fact.

Supermoon – not all that special

March 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I might be a little bit late to the party, but I wanted to make sure at least a few places on the internet had the correct science.

The “science” being reported on the “supermoon” makes me really sad sbout science education and science reporting in the United States. If one takes a look at a lunar calendar, you will see the moon has a perigee at this distance about every 2 1/2 years or so. In fact, the last one in December 2008 was also at a full moon. The minor difference is this year the close perigee happens right about the exact time of the full moon, where as the in 2008 it happened about 4 hours after the full moon. The irony is in 2011, the true full moon happened at about 4 pm in the Central Time Zone (when the moon was still hidden) whereas in 2008 the full moon happened about 7:30 pm in the Central Time Zone. That means the perigee happened about 11:30pm in the Central Time Zone. So during that night in 2008, you could actually see the moon be closer than you could in 2011.

Some want to call this the supermoon because it is happening right at the time of the full moon (within the hour the moon is truly “full”).  Well, if you want to go by that, then 1993 doesn’t work either.  In 1993 (which is when most are reporting the last time this happened), the perigee of the moon happened over an hour before the full moon.  Now in 1992, the perigee happened within the hour of the full moon, but it happened in January.  By my math, that is over 19 years ago.  It should also be noted it was even closer than it was this year by 29 km.

Before that, the new moon in 2005 was that close – so it would have been bigger during the day when the moon was visible due to earth shine. In 2003, 2001, 1998, 1994 all had large full moons as well (within 200 km of this year’s supermoon). There is no way that 200 km would be noticeable when the moon is still over 350,000 km away. In 2008, the perigee was actually 10 km closer and would have actually been visible in our time zone when it occurred.

Update:

I checked the calendar for the next few years, and May 6, 2012 the full moon falls right on the perigee, although about 400 km farther than this year.  June 23, 2013, the same thing happens.  August 10, 2014, another full moon perigee and only 300 km farther than this year.  September 28, 2015 is yet another.  November 14, 2016 is a perigee even closer than this year, at 356,511 km (compared to 356,577 this year) .  The perigee precedes the full moon by 2 hours in this instance, but again it is unnoticeable compared to the “true” full moon.  Maybe we can call this one the ultra-moon?

While it is neat to think the moon is a couple percent larger visibly than average and a good 8% or so larger [Update] can appear up to 14% larger (thanks NASA) than when it is farthest away, it is hardly a unique occurrence.  Every full moon perigee is roughly 14% larger than a full moon at apogee, give or take 1%.

One other thing to note: people are often fooled to thinking the moon is very much larger by how it looks when it first rises.  This is simply an optical illusion as explained here.  If you want proof it is an illusion, when the moon is on the horizon, bend over and view it between your legs.  It will appear normal size.  When viewing it normally, our brains fool us because of buildings, trees, etc. in the foreground.

For all of you interested in astronomy, I recommend following Phil Plait or Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, read Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog .  These guys are experts and some of the best personalities in science.

Birds falling from the sky does not mean the end of the world.

January 5, 2011 1 comment

After seeing today’s news, I thought it would be a good time to get something up on the web to debunk some of these crazy people.  Some of you may have heard of the birds dying in Arkansas and Louisiana, or more recently in Sweden. There have also been large fish deaths in various areas around the U.S.

Crazy people say it “is a sign from god” or that “the end of the world is near.” Other different crazy people claim the government is poisoning us and the death of a U.S. official is proof of such a claim.

The first premise is pretty easy. An all-powerful god is going to kill a few of the millions of birds and fish as a way of communicating? Alfred Hitchcock must therefore be god. (That was sarcasm if you didn’t notice)

The more complex scenario is the government conspiracy theory. Because of the way probability works, there isn’t a way to 100% rule out that there is some secret government entity involved in these strange happenings. But with a little math, a little reading, and a little logic, you can be at ease that this was a natural, albeit unusual event.

Here’s a real basic summary of why large government conspiracies don’t work. Let’s say from top to bottom 200 people are needed to carry out such a mission of testing chemicals on the U.S. Further, let’s say that they are 99% likely they will keep quiet about such events. In such case, you take 0.99^200 = 13.4% chance that no one will talk. I think WikiLeaks has shown it is pretty hard to keep anyone quiet for long. Another example regarding JFK can be found here.

Tackling logic second brings us to the principle of Occam’s Razor. Again this is not definitive proof, but somewhat of a natural order that says that the “real” or “correct” theory tends towards the simpler ones. It is a delicate balance of leaving enough information to adequately explain the outcome of a scenario or hypothesis without unnecessary complexity. Some government conspiracies also fall under the argument from ignorance (Ad ignorantiam). This is the “well, prove me wrong” argument. Lack of evidence of non-existence does not logically make something exist.

Finally, reading about past events and talking to scientists will reveal much more likely scenarios. First, there was severe weather in Arkansas the day of the event. Secondly, it has been a very cold winter and could have caused too much stress on the birds. (see this link with a quote from a fiction book that talks about this type of phenomenon) These types of birds have poor night vision and usually roost at night, so if they were frightened by weather or fireworks as proposed, it is easy to imagine them running into power lines, houses, cars, etc. These birds are pretty fast, so imagine thousands of people riding their bikes in fog or rain without headlights at 20 mph and see how many would crash. There are other strange phenomenon of frogs and fish raining from the sky that can often come with a simpler explanation than the “end of days.”

So don’t believe the crazies such as those in this comment section or believe the government is secretly poisoning us. We may not get a definitive answer, or it could be multiple causes. We could also find out with good certainty what caused each of these events. Just know that it isn’t the end of days.