Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The New Energy Secretary Doesn’t Understand Global Warming

Of course, neither does his boss, so I guess it should come as no surprise.

Here's the deal. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, Obama's hand picked guy to create the US energy policy, announced that his plan to fight global warming is to, and I'm not making this up, paint roofs, roads and buildings white. The idea is based on the simple physical principle that the darker an object is, the more energy it absorbs. For example, on a hot summer day, the inside of a black car will be much hotter than the inside of a white car, because the color black reflects very little light.

On the surface, this seems like a decent idea. Reflect the energy and cool the planet, right?

Well, the only problem is that the greenhouse effect, you know, the thing that is driving global warming, takes place in the upper atmosphere, not on the surface. Put simply, greenhouse gasses build up in the upper atmosphere and they act as a reflector for energy radiating from the surface of the earth. Sunlight passes through the atmosphere to the earth. When it is reflected, it's wavelengths are changed, and the reflected light cannot pass through the greenhouse gasses again. The heat is trapped within the atmosphere. So what will happen when we paint everything white, and reflect more energy into the atmosphere to be trapped there?

Nothing. The energy will still be trapped beneath the greenhouse gasses.

Picture it this way. You're on the beach inside a glass box that let's heat in but doesn't let it out. Does it matter what color your beach towel is? The towel isn't the problem; it's the glass box.

The only way Chu's idea would have any effect is if we turned enough of the Earth's surface white to affect it's albedo, and that, friends and neighbors, would mean painting an area the size of Anarctica. Given that the Antarctic ice mass covers about 14.4 million km2, and the typical roof covers roughly 94.7 m2, we will have to paint 152 billion roofs.

There are only 6.8 billion people on the entire planet.

Here's the scariest part. Chu has a Nobel Prize in physics. (Of course, Yasser Arafat had a Nobel prize for Peace, so I guess they don't mean as much as they used to.) You would think that this kind of basic thermodynamic analysis would be easy for him, no matter what his specialty is. You would also think that he would do a quick reality check like I just did to check the feasibility of such a preposterous idea.

Then again, he's not getting paid to do real science anymore, is he? He's getting paid to push a political agenda.

Posted by Rich
Politics • (1) CommentsPermalink

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Little Perspective on Sotomayor:  Bad Decisions Illustrate Racial Bias

A few months ago, Gov. Sarah Palin was running for Vice President. Because she has an (R) behind her name, her life and her family memders' lies were placed under a microscope. As part of the MSM led feeding frenzy, she was attacked because her husband briefly belonged to the AIP, an Alaskan political party dedicated to advancing the rights of Alaskans. Gov. Palin sent a video message to their convention one year, and appeared briefly another year when the convention was held in her hometown.

For this, she was called all kinds of names, and endured ridicule and abuse.

Now we learn that Judge Sotomayor is a member of the National Council of La Raza, a group dedicated to advancing the rights of Latinos, particularly those of illegal immigrants. But because she has a (D) after her name, that's OK.

Look, let's ignore the racism apparent in this woman's character, and focus on how her opinions are impacted by her race and gender. We know they will have an impact; she's admitted it publicly. IN addition to the quote below, she's said that her race and her gender will certainly affect the facts she "chooses to see" when she sits on the bench.

Chooses to see?

Whatever happened to impartially applying the principles of the law to the facts of the case? Sure, just like journalistic integrity has become an oxymoron, judicial impartiality has taken some body blows over the last decade, but it's surprising to hear a serious candidate for the Supreme Court flat out admit that far from being impartial, she'll rely on her personal biases to decide cases.

And we know she will do just that because she's already on the record as having done so.

There's a case currently before the Supreme court involving racial discrimination. The case is called Ricci vs Stefano and it involves 18 fireman and the city of New Haven Connecticut. In 2003, the city paid a consulting firm roughly $100,000 to build a non discriminatory exam for promoting firefighters to Lieutenant and Captain. The exam was developed with the input of minority firefighters, leaders, and was 60% written and 40% oral, with the oral boards run by panels that included minority members to a disproportionate level. The city did everything it could do to ensure that the tests fairly measured the skills and abilities required for firemen to perform as Lieutenants and Chiefs.

When the tests were taken, 18 men passed. 17 white and 1 Hispanic. Frank Ricci, one of those who passed the test, spent hours each day for 3 months prepping for the exam. His hard work was rewarded with one of the top scores. Unfortunately for him, no black firefighters performed well enough on the tests to be promoted, so the city threw out the exam and has refused to promote any firefighters for 6 years. Vacancies are filled by temporary appointments because city officials can't figure out any way to test the candidates to ensure they are qualified and still maintain racial quotas as required by Federal Law. Ricci is suing the city, claiming racial discrimination. He believes he earned the promotion and that the city took it away from him based solely on his race.

Oddly, the city agreed that it was based on his race, yet insisted that the result of the race neutral testing process was flawed because the outcome didn't match their expectations. More importantly, accepting the results of the test would put the city at risk from minority lawsuits since the results of the test fail to meet federally mandated outcomes. The city cannot point to any specific flaw in the test itself, only to the result, yet the court agreed that the result all by itself demonstrated that the test was flawed. The city won the lawsuit, and when Ricci appealed, the case came before Sotomayor's appeals court. She voted not to hear the appeal, meaning she agreed with the city that it isn't about equal opportunity, or race neutral testing, but solely about equal outcome. It's not about having the best people for the job; it's about having the right mix of colors. She obviously agrees with this guy:

But Donald Day, a representative of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, questioned the value of the New Haven test, which included written and oral components. “An individual’s ability to answer a multiple-choice exam,” Mr. Day told the city’s Civil Service Board, “does nothing but measure their ability to read and retain.”

There are more important values, he added. “Young black and Latino kids have every right,” he said, “to see black and Latino officers on those fire trucks that are riding through their community. They have every right to look for a role model.”

Think about that for a moment. It's more important for kids to have their self esteem boosted than to keep them safe from a burning building? Really?

By the way, I want to point out something about the tests that Mr. Day doesn't want you to know. Multiple choice questions do not just measure your ability to read and retain, not if they are written correctly. They require you to use the knowledge you have and apply it in real world situations. Let me give you an example from a test I wrote a couple of years ago.

1. You are preparing to lift a tank of water onto a ship. The tank is 10 feet in diameter, 12 feet tall, with a 4 foot conic section. The tank is made of 3/4" steel plate and is 70% full of water. What is the weight of the filled tank?

In order to answer that question, you have to be able to
  1. Calculate the surface area of the tank, including the top and bottom and multiply that by the weight of 3/4" steel plate per square foot.

  2. Look up the weight of water per cubic foot.

  3. Calculate the volume of the cylinder

  4. Multiply the volume of the cylinder by the weight per cubic foot of the water.

  5. Add the weight of the water to the previously calculated weight of the tank.

Read and retain my butt! (There are people who have taken that test, Rigging and Weight Handling, that would like to beat the tar out of me. Just thought I'd share that.)

Here's a firefighter specific example:

1. You are fighting a 4th floor fire. If pressure loss due to hose length is 2 psi per foot, and your pumper truck is parked 30 feet away from the building, what will the nozzle pressure be at the end of the hose, assuming you are fighting the fire from a ladder stretching to the third story?

Read and retain doesn't even come into play, does it?

But even though Day is obviously either lying or an idiot, maybe he has a point, albeit accidentally. Maybe the written exam doesn't actually fully capture the requirements for a fire chief. Maybe we need an oral exam, where experienced firemen can ask the candidate questions, and see just how they react under pressure, and whether they have that elusive, hard to quantify something that can't be measured by a written exam.

Well, let's take a look at the data. The raw scores are available here.

As a certified tech geek, I love Excel because it is an excellent tool for running basic statistical analysis. I looked at the data for the captains exam, and it was very revealing. Overall, the scores between written and oral exams were fairly close, averaging a 72 and a 69 respectively. But the correlation was fairly low, running about 40%. Given similar means and standard deviations, I would expect a higher degree of correlation. When I broke down the results by race, the puzzle was solved. Hispanics correlated well, at 60%. The correlation for white candidates was lower than the average, at 34%. The data for blacks was lower still, at 17%. It appeared that the written exam was a good predictor for Hispanics, ok for whites, and horrible for blacks. How could this be on a test that was designed to be race neutral? I looked deeper and I found the answer.

Blacks were the only group to perform better on the oral exams than on the written ones. 6 of 8 black candidates scored higher on their orals than their written exams. By contrast, only 2 of 6 Hispanics and 9 of 25 whites managed to pull off that trick. As a whole, all candidates scored an average of 2.5 points lower on the subjective oral board than on the objective written exam. Whites had a greater disparity, scoring 3 points lower on the written than the orals. Hispanics were even worse off, with a full 8 point disparity. On the other hand, blacks scored almost 4 points higher on the oral boards than the written exams. No wonder the correlation data was skewed by race. The oral board results were skewed by race.

The explanation for this skew is simple and evident to those not blinded by political correctness. The men running the oral boards, 2/3 minority firefighters, were skewing the results to favor black candidates. Remember, while white candidates comprised 60% of the candidates, white representatives on the board accounted for only 33%. So much for proportionate representation. It also appears that either the boards had a tremendous bias against Hispanic candidates or the candidates themselves had difficulty communicating their knowledge. Since I'll be called a racist for either answer, I'll leave that one up to the readers. (You racists!)

So in the final analysis, it is clear that the process was flawed, but not in favor of white candidates. The oral board data shows that the selection process bent over backwards to favor black candidates. Yet because their scores still weren't in the top 10, rather than promote the guys who earned it, the city junked the entire test, and the appeals court, including Sotomayor, backed them on it, because having the right racial mix in leadership positions is more important than having the best qualified people.

The case is before the Supreme Court now, and it would by a slap in the face of all of Frank Ricci and the other men who earned the right to be promoted if Sotomayor had a second chance to punish them for the color of their skin.

Posted by Rich
Politics • (2) CommentsPermalink

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maybe it’s Just Me, But

shouldn't this statement automatically disqualify her from consideration for the Supreme Court?
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life

I shouldn't have to point out the stupidity and vicious racism inherent in this statement, but given that the majority of people who voted in the last election voted for an unqualified candidate simply because he was clean and articulate, I guess I have to.

I would hope that a rich white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a black male who hasn’t lived that life.

Tell me you would accept somebody like that on the Supreme Court.

Posted by Rich
Politics • (0) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama Vows to Continue Bush Gitmo Policies, just not at Gitmo

I have to hand it to teleprompter boy's handlers and speechwriters; they are a slick crew. After spending 20 minutes talking about how bad the Bush Administration handled the detainees in Gitmo, President Obama announced his policy, which is virtually identical to the Bush plan!

You don't believe me? Check out the following quotes.

What Bush did:
Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under -- not my administration -- under the previous administration. Let me repeat that. Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.

What Obama will do:
The third category of detainees includes those who have been ordered released by the courts. Now, let me repeat what I said earlier. This has nothing to do with my decision to close Guantanamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have spoken. They have found that there is no legitimate reason to hold 21 of the people currently held at Guantanamo.

No difference.

What Bush did:
During that time, the system of military commissions that were in place at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists.

Zacarius Moussaoui has been identified as the twentieth 9/11 hijacker. He was convicted in our courts, and he, too, is serving a life sentence in prison.

What Obama will do:
First, whenever feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts. Courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong.

What was that about change again? Was it all just a slogan?

Well, surely Obama will do away with the greatest shame of the prison at Gitmo, that of holding prisoners indefinitely without charging them, and without benefit of legal council.

What Obama will do:
there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases, because evidence may be tainted, but who, nonetheless, pose a threat to the security of the United States...These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States. Let me repeat, I am not going release individuals who endanger the American people...We must have a thorough process of periodic review so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

In other words,President Obama is still going to hold detainees from Gitmo indefinitely without charge, trial, or legal council; he's just not going to do it at Gitmo, and he's going to let Nancy Pelosi have a say in it.

I feel so much better about my country.

Posted by Rich
Politics • (1) CommentsPermalink

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