A Screed Apart

Because the majority is always wrong

Everyone thinks they’re a philosopher.

Posted by pi3832 on 16 May 2008

I always find it amusing when claimed atheists appeal to a moral absolute.

For an example: see Verruca’s How to be a Human. (And, like so many others out on the web, she hasn’t a clue as to how evolution actually works–meaning, it ain’t all about the shape of beaks. It also includes behavior.)

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Posted in Culture | 6 Comments »

You Should Wear Ear-Plugs When Riding a Motorcycle

Posted by pi3832 on 7 April 2008

Wind noise and exposure times
The data comes from a couple of websites:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Comparing Charities Nominated for reddit Moneys

Posted by pi3832 on 18 December 2007

All information from Charity Navigator, except for those rated BBB, which are from Give.org.

Any (objective) information to help fill in the blanks is much appreciated.

  Rating Budget Assets
American Civil Liberties Union      
Amnesty International ** $43,578,913 $19,299,806
Child’s Play Charity      
Creative Commons      
Doctors without Borders (MSF) **** $90,047,039 $78,621,412
Electronic Frontier Foundation **** $2,903,510 $2,369,469
Free Software Foundation **** $802,631 $944,215
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center      
Heifer Project International *** $77,465,797 $91,601,484
KIVA      
Modest Needs BBB $433,982 $145,612
National Public Radio **** $138,531,818 $95,324,714
Nature Conservancy *** $671,580,417 $4,246,802,299
NORML      
OLPC      
Planned Parenthood (Federation of America) ** $67,353,073 $39,894,469
Public Broadcasting Service      
Reporters without Borders      
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science      
Room to Read **** $10,800,980 $9,282,145
Save the Internet      
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital BBB $605,015,145 $2,003,654,452
UNICEF (US Fund for) **** $464,665,162 $19,201,750
Union of Concerned Scientists **** $12,576,026 $15,060,785
United Nations Refugee Agency      
Wikimedia Foundation      

Posted in reddit | Leave a Comment »

Homemaking is a Real Career (Well, it can be)

Posted by pi3832 on 4 September 2007

I don’t normally go in for responding directly to blogs, but Verruca annoyed me with her rant that Most Women are Nothing More Than Wasted Potential. As far as I can tell a lot of folks have already been bitching about it, so I’m going to go at it at a (hopefully different) angle.

I haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to full-time homemakers in my life. My own mother started back to college and then into a career when I was eight years old. My sister-in-law is still working for the organization she worked for before she married my brother.

But these days I’m spending a lot of time with my aunt, who has mostly been a full-time homemaker for most of her adult life. And I’m starting to realize that not only is homemaking a philosophically respectable job, it also is an economically respectable one.

I’ve had great difficulty tracking down any plausible estimates of the economic value of homemaking. There are all kinds of silly articles that want to value homemaking based on the replacement costs of services with commercial labor. But I just don’t buy the six-figure numbers. How could a homemaker’s economic value be twice that of the wage-earner in the household?

I did find one court case with some numbers. In 1993 the Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virgina ruled in the case of Raley v. Raley, basically a divorce. The court found that over the 30-year marriage, the economic contribution to the marriage of the homemaker was $216,572. Breaking that down and adjusting for inflation, that’s about $10,000 a year. But, realize that the wage-earner worked for a coal mine in West Virginia. That $10,000 per year was easily one-third as much as the wage-earner’s yearly salary.

Which is a more believable number. Full-time homemakers don’t generate earnings, but they can create a lot of savings. Home-cooked meals are always cheaper than eating out. Homemakers have the time to search for bargains on items, to clip coupons, and watch for sales. They can buy in bulk and store goods, thereby lowering the per-unit costs.

Basically, all those money savings tips you read about, but can never implement because you have neither the time or energy, a full-time homemaker can use.

Not too mention the cost of child care.

Now, I don’t completely disagree with Verucca. In her follow-up article, If You Are a Stay-At-Home-Mom without Interests Outside of Your Kids, Hobbies, or Marketable Skills, You are NOT a Feminist, I get the impression that she is complaining about bad homemakers. Lazy ones who do not contribute much to the household. They are self-centered and lazy, and therefore not particularly valuable. Those kinds of homemakers do exists.

But I think Verucca does a disservice by lumping them all together and saying their lives are without value. Being a homemaker is a respectable career, and can be a “feminist” career. If the decision and the result is to be a successful homemaker.

Posted in Culture, Economy | Leave a Comment »

Who is hindering digital television?

Posted by pi3832 on 8 August 2007

I failed to achieve my intentions for this blog with the entry “Why are companies so petrified of technology?” As the name of the blog implies, this is supposed to be a screed apart. The difference I try to achieve is data and/or references.

I don’t want to just spew my opinions. Anyone can do that, and thousands of bloggers do everyday. But whenever I read one of those blogs, I ask myself, “Why should I care what you think? You may be a moron, or a complete loon.”

So, I try to add useful data and/or references to my screeds, so that even if you don’t agree with me, you’ll (hopefully) get some information helpful to you forming your own opinion.

Well, the early screed on digital television was rather light on data/references and was, even worse, wrong. I wrote at one point:

Despite the fact that as of February 17, 2009, by government fiat, all analog TV broadcasts will cease, and despite that the same fiat supposedly required all new TV equipment to include digital tuners starting back on March 1, 2007, there is ONE digital tuner on the market. One. Just one. If you want to get OTA digital TV, you must buy the Samsung DTB-H260F. Which costs $170.

There are, in fact, a bunch of digital tuners on the market. Indeed, many of the DirecTV boxes include an OTA digital tuner.

And, I was also wrong in thinking that digital TV was a relatively simple issue. (Nothing is ever simple–anyone who tells you an issue is simple is feeding you mis-information or propaganda.)

The big players in DTV are the broadcasters (represented by the National Association of Broadcasters, and their PAC), the cable companies (represented by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and their PAC) and the government, primarily the FCC but also the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In 1998 the FCC originally set an aggressive schedule for the conversion to digital television broadcasts:

The FCC has established a schedule by which broadcasters must begin DTV service (absent extenuating circumstances that may affect individual stations). This schedule requires that stations affiliated with the top four networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) in the 10 largest markets begin service by May 1, 1999. Stations affiliated with these networks in markets 11-30 must begin service by November 1, 1999. All commercial stations must begin DTV service by May 1, 2002, and all noncommercial educational stations must start by May 1, 2003. (reference)

But things haven’t quite worked out, and the U.S. still hasn’t switched to digital TV.

There have been delays for a number of reasons. Technology has been evolving as the transition has been happening. The cost of transitioning is high, and so broadcasters have faced delays. In southeast Louisiana we had a little snag known as “Katrina.”

But some of the delay is more about squeezing the market for all it’s worth.

Now, on the whole, I’m all about free market capitalism, and maximizing profits and such. But the difference here is that some of the squeezing is happening through government regulation. And some of it has to do with the use of the airwaves, which are owned by the public.

(Yep, you own them, but the FCC regulates them, to prevent conflicts. Television stations are granted rights to broadcast their signal because they purportedly “serve the public interest.” Thus, local news programs, early-morning community service programming, etcetcetc.)

And whenever there’s an interface between government and profits, things get rather murky and convoluted. As early as 1998 both the NAB and NCTA’s respective PACs were starting to throw around money over the issue of DTV.

The cable companies have been trying to block the transition for a number of reasons. Their most-often stated reason is “must carry” regulations. Government regulations require that cable providers carry any channel that broadcasts in their service area. (This is why those odd-ball little religious channels show up on your cable service.) Carrying digital broadcasts chews up a lot more bandwidth than analog, and so cable companies don’t want to carry them.

Also, it turns out that with digital broadcasting, a given OTA station can actually carry up to four video streams. The “must carry” regulations would require cable companies to provide all four, and chew up just that much more bandwidth.

Meanwhile, the broadcasters don’t want to go for the cable companies’ throat, because a lot of their viewership actually comes from those “must carry” feeds.

But the cable companies really are the ones who stand the most to lose. The transition to digital TV not only destroys their advantage in quality of signal, but the quadrupling of channels available over the air is going to seriously chew into the market for basic cable.

And the transition to digital OTA is also going to put a lot of pressure on the cable companies to upgrade all of their channels to at least digital, if not high-definition. The current analog-channels look like absolute crap on a high-definition digital television when compared to a digital feed, much less a high-definition one.

The cable companies are under the gun on other fronts, too. The federal “integration ban” not only means that cable companies have to upgrade all of their set-top boxes, but also that subscribers may not need those boxes at all. You may be able to buy your own device, plug a card provided by the cable company into it, and get all your cable feeds.

Over on Slate, Thomas Hazlett seems to think that regulators aren’t pushing the digital transition faster because they are afraid of people’s reaction with their analog TV stops receiving OTA broadcasts. I don’t think that is much of a concern at all. A set-top converter box currently doesn’t cost more than $200, and that price should drop significantly as the demand increases. And the NTIA already has a program and budget for subsidizing the purchase of a digital STB tuner by poor folks.

I suspect the cable companies are the ones trying the hardest to delay the switch to DTV. It seems the broadcasters are complicit because of the costs associated with switching, and their uneasy alliance with cable providers.

Digital television is a really good thing. There is really no comparison with analog; DTV is that much better. The so-far-untapped ability to quadruple programming has great potential, too.

The transition to digital cannot come fast enough, in my opinion. I think the FCC should be leaning on TV stations to either go digital, or increase their digital programming. And that’s well within the FCC’s purview, since those are the public’s airwaves that broadcasters are using.

Also, to help promote the transition, I suggest that the FCC should allow each broadcast station to charge a fee for their fourth video feed. The first three must be free, and meet all the “public service” requirements. The fourth can carry whatever and the broadcaster can charge a fee for the ability to view it. The new generation of “integration ban” cable boxes and other video devices will make that easy to implement.

Cable companies need more competition. They’ve been protected for too long. Let’s open the market up and see if things don’t improve for the consumer. The first step in that process is the switch to DTV.

Come on all you broadcasters out there–get with the program! Welcome to the 21st century. How ’bout you actually implement all the neat technology developed back in the last century? You know, the stuff you were originally mandated to implement almost 10 years ago? And that was originally due to be completed 4 years ago?

Cable companies are not your friend. Remember the good ol’ days before cable when people actually watched your broadcast? You can have that again if you actually get off your ass and do something about it!

Get crackin’ with the DTV, you wimps.

Posted in Media, meta, Technology | 1 Comment »

In Case Anyone Was Wondering…

Posted by pi3832 on 20 July 2007

[From the play “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen]

Dr. Stockmann: … It is the majority in our community that denies me my freedom and seeks to prevent my speaking the truth.

Hovstad: The majority always has right on its side.

Billing: And truth too, by God!

Dr. Stockmann: The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war. Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk, or the stupid? I don’t imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good Lord!–you can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should govern the clever ones I (Uproar and cries.) Oh, yes–you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has might on its side–unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right–I and a few other scattered individuals. The minority is always in the right. (Renewed uproar.)

Hovstad: Aha!–so Dr. Stockmann has become an aristocrat since the day before yesterday!

Dr. Stockmann: I have already said that I don’t intend to waste a word on the puny, narrow-chested, short-winded crew whom we are leaving astern. Pulsating life no longer concerns itself with them. I am thinking of the few, the scattered few amongst us, who have absorbed new and vigorous truths. Such men stand, as it were, at the outposts, so far ahead that the compact majority has not yet been able to come up with them; and there they are fighting for truths that are too newly-born into the world of consciousness to have any considerable number of people on their side as yet.

Hovstad: So the Doctor is a revolutionary now!

Dr. Stockmann: Good heavens–of course I am, Mr. Hovstad! I propose to raise a revolution against the lie that the majority has the monopoly of the truth. What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up. And if a truth is as old as that, it is also in a fair way to become a lie, gentlemen. (Laughter and mocking cries.) Yes, believe me or not, as you like; but truths are by no means as long-lived at Methuselah–as some folk imagine. A normally constituted truth lives, let us say, as a rule seventeen or eighteen, or at most twenty years–seldom longer. But truths as aged as that are always worn frightfully thin, and nevertheless it is only then that the majority recognizes them and recommends them to the community as wholesome moral nourishment. There is no great nutritive value in that sort of fare, I can assure you; and, as a doctor, I ought to know. These “majority truths” are like last year’s cured meat–like rancid, tainted ham; and they are the origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our communities….

Posted in Extremeism, meta | Leave a Comment »

Are Sexual Predators Anything New?

Posted by pi3832 on 20 July 2007

NBC has been getting a lot of mileage off of sexual predators of late, with it’s “To Catch a Predator” series. But they’re not alone. There’s been a lot of press over the past few years about sexual predators on-line. And law enforcement in the U.S. has set up all kinds of programs to entrap on-line predators.

Is this really anything new, though? I mean, did the internet suddenly turn a bunch of people into sexual predators, or were they always out there, and the internet just gave them a new venue?

To answer that, I looked for some statistics on teen pregnancy in the U.S. Turns out, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics publishes data on birth rates and such in the U.S., and back in the ’80s these reports included an interesting table that shows the age of the father reported on birth certificates correlated with the age of the mother.

On to the graph:

(I included two years to show that the numbers are fairly static across the decade, and presumably are valid in general in post-WWII America. Also, I used percentages instead of the actual count because this data is from pregnancies, which are presumably a representative subset of the numbers of people having sex.)

The numbers aren’t terribly surprising at first. Young women are mostly having sex with young men their own age or just a few years older.

But what I find more interesting is that the numbers never fall to zero for the higher age groups. Even though the number of teen pregnancies involving men over 55 years old is only 0.03%–it’s 0.03%! It’s not zero!

And there are a lot of creeps in the 30-40 years old range. They account for 3.11% of the pregnancies of 15-19 year-old women. You can wax poetic all you want about May-December romances, but that’s a lot of creepy guys sleeping with very young women.

Also, since I’ve got this data anyway, I wondered if women can be sexual predators too. Turns out they can, but not in the same numbers as men.

Teen boys who impregnate women are much more likely to be sleeping with a woman their own age then teen girls are to be sleeping with men their own age.

(An interesting side-light to all this: the CDC stop reporting these stats sometime in the early ’90s. And all the programs I’ve seen about preventing teen pregnancy focus on young women, and occasionally young men, but never mention all those creepy old guys cruising the mall picking up high school girls. But I digress.)

Back to NBC and the other news organizations pumping up their ad revenues by trying to get everyone to PANIC over “sexual predators.” Aren’t they doing a service by bringing attention to a problem that has apparently been around for decades? Older men preying on much younger women?

Not really. For one thing, they seem utterly obsessed with “online predators.” But considering that all the data I’ve been discussion was from the ’80s, it would seem that sexual predators don’t really need the internet to find their victims.

Also, the implication of all the current reporting is that young people are being victimized by strangers. Much like with rape, this probably isn’t the case. On the birth certificates issued for mothers 15-19 years old in 1988, 40% didn’t list the father’s age. For mothers 25-29 the number is less than 10%.

Why wouldn’t those young mothers report the fathers’ age? I can’t help but think it’s because they are trying to avoid disrupting their families. The fathers are men in their families, and if the family knew that it would tear them apart. A mother has a lot of incentives to name someone as the father–financial support being a big one. So, she must have a good reason for keeping it a secret if she doesn’t report it.

Would the fact that your mother’s boyfriend is your baby’s daddy be a good reason?

By focusing on the very frightening yet relatively insubstantial spectre of online predators the mainstream media is distracting us from bigger threats to young people. They are once again profiting off of fear mongering and not providing the public service they were supposed to when they were licensed the U.S. airwaves for their broadcasts.

Posted in Culture, Everybody_Panic, Media, Sex | 4 Comments »

You’re Not Rich

Posted by pi3832 on 16 July 2007

Americans aren’t rich. But we think we are. So, we spend money we can’t afford to spend, and now we are, as a nation, drowning in debt. Let’s jump right to the scary graph:

That’s based on data from the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Total median debt has gone from 12% in 1963 to 220% in 2004.

Unsecured debt has jumped from 1.6% to 41%. And consider this: in 1963, 44% of the population had no unsecured debt at all. Not a dime owed on non-capital goods. In 2004, the typical American had over $2,000 in credit card debt alone. And another $4,000 secured against their retirement savings, life insurance, etc.

Spending on toys has taken its toll, but bigger purchases are playing their part, too. And when I mean bigger, I mean bigger. Here’s a graph of the median size of new homes in the U.S.:

That’s lifted directly from the PDF of the paper “Changing Trends: A Brief History of the US Household Consumption of Energy, Water, Food, Beverages and Tobacco” by Rick Diamond and Mithra Moezzi, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Houses are getting huge, as are mortgages. The median mortgage in 2004 was $95,000. The median income as recently as 1996 was only $51,950, according to “FAMILIES AND THE LABOR MARKET, 1969-1999: ANALYZING THE ‘TIME CRUNCH’.”

That last is a rather interesting report. Among other things, it discusses how median incomes for married couples have risen as women work more outside of the home.

The thing is, while women are working a lot more, men aren’t working that much less. So, while total income has gone up, it turns out earnings per hour haven’t.

1969 1996
Median Income $41,453 $51,950
Hours Worked 2000 2497
Median per Hour $20.73 $20.80

(Those are 1996 dollars.)

We all think we’re rich, that we should have bigger and better things than our parents had. We went to college, whereas our fathers didn’t, so of course we should be making more than he did, right?

Turns out, that in general we aren’t. Lot’s of people went to college, too, and thus devalued a 4-year degree. So, we expect to be able to afford bigger and better houses than our parents, and sure enough someone will give us a mortgage on one, but we can’t afford all these freakin’ McMansions.

The buzz on the interweb is that the housing market is going to implode soon. Lot’s of people will end up defaulting on the massive mortgage on their stupidly massive homes, and things will get ugly. No one can say how ugly, and whether or not it will spill out of the housing market and into the general U.S. economy.

I suspect it will. Much like before the Great Depression, Americans having been acting like we’re rich when in fact we aren’t. Instead of speculating on the stock market, we’ve been speculating in the real estate market. Well, guess what, any market can get inflated. They’re about to start calling in our margins-excuse, me, our mortgages and many of us can’t pay.

You aren’t rich. Stop spending money like you are.

Posted in Debt, Economy, Politics | 7 Comments »

An Exercise in Critical Reading–or, Do You Question Articles You Agree With?

Posted by pi3832 on 14 July 2007

Courtesy of reddit, I read this article: “Birth-control pills poison everyone? Environmentalists silent on threat from water tainted with estrogen.”

Since the article takes information from the National Catholic Register, it kind of jumps out and whacks you upside the head with an intersex fish that perhaps this article has a political agenda to it.

Of course, that’s not really an insight. The article may have been intended as an editorial, and I just missed where it was identified as such. That’s not my point. I’ll get to my point later. For the moment, let’s pick apart the WND article.

First off, the article claims that environmentalists are mum about the hormonal disruption of fish. Not so. There are a bunch of non-Catholic websites out there that discuss it:

Except that the article is correct that none of these people are specifically talking about the environmental disaster being caused by birth control pills. Because no one is sure that’s the problem.

Despite the article’s claim that “The main culprits were found to be estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth-control pills and patches that ultimately ended up in the creek after being excreted in urine into the city’s sewers,” I can’t find anything that supports that assertion.

Indeed, the article itself the says “a cocktail of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is flowing through the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.”

Turns out that no one is currently pointing the finger at birth control pills/patches–other than the Catholics, that is. The non-religious groups and researchers looking at the issue of sex imbalances in fish are considering a whole class of compounds referred to as “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.”

And, even if you focus on synthetic estrogen–the active ingredient in birth control pills–it turns out that “the pill” may not be the major source of it in pollution. It might be from cows.

So, the WND article is bogus. But, here’s the thing: If I had agreed with the basic opinions of the article, would I have done all this research?

And the answer is: probably not. This is why it is important, in my opinion, to read articles from a variety of sources. You need to listen to the dialog of people who disagree with your opinions because they can occasionally point out flaws in your reasoning that you wouldn’t have questioned otherwise.

Filtering out the opposition leaves you vulnerable to becoming a dogmatic believer of your opinions, not a reasoned one. And I think we would all be better off spending a little time considering the nature of our beliefs, instead of just the beliefs themselves.

Posted in environment, Extremeism, Media, Politics | 2 Comments »

The Joys of Being Wrong

Posted by pi3832 on 10 July 2007

I don’t like being wrong. I really don’t like it. I have self-esteem issues, and one of the ways–one of the many unhealthy ways–I try to boost my self-esteem is by being right as often as possible.

But I’m not perfect. In fact, I can’t even see Perfect from where I am. So, I’m wrong on an annoyingly regular basis.

What I’ve learned about being wrong is this: embrace it. Don’t just admit you’re wrong, but take ownership of the wrongness. Examine it, acknowledge it, try to learn from it, and then let it go.

Too many people work far too hard at trying to avoid admitting they were wrong. Spend any time online involved in “discussions” and you will quickly run across any number of people who will go to great lengths to attempt to demonstrate they are not wrong. They will build straw men, they will try to retrospectively change the original discussion, they will misrepresent other people’s statements, they will, on occasion, just simply make things up.

All to avoid admitting they were wrong. I used to be that way, but I’ve realized that it’s a waste of time and energy. The best you can ever hope for is to wear someone down to the point that they give up and either stop replying, or concede your point in a hollow manner. What have you gained? Nothing.

But when you admit to your failures, good things happen. Not only do the people you want to respect you respect you, but you have the opportunity to learn something. Either about a subject or about yourself.

You have the opportunity to change. And most likely you will change for the better. If you were better already, you wouldn’t have been wrong, would you?

Now, I’m not saying you should dwell on your mistakes. Don’t wallow in them and tell yourself what a bad person you are. Mistakes are a consequence of your behavior, not your nature. And your behavior is malleable. As I said, try to learn from your mistakes, but don’t use them to beat yourself up.

Finally, the best part about owning your mistakes is this: people don’t remember them. If you fight and argue and make a big production about how you weren’t really wrong, even though you were, people will remember that. If you just admit, “You’re right; I was wrong,” people forget about it quickly. There’s no drama, so there’s nothing really to remember.

I’d love to never be wrong. I’m guessing you would to. But that will never happen. It’s better to just admit it, and get on with life.

Posted in Culture, meta, Politics | Leave a Comment »