Saturday, March 31, 2007

And the Truth Shall Set You Free

Apparently the truth has a liberal bias.

Don't get me wrong. I spent far too long as a Philosopher not to realize that Truth is a sticky issue. In fact, it can be almost impossible to determine what the truth of any matter is. But at the very least, most people who are engaged in the collection and dissemination of information strive towards presenting that information in a manner which most closely reflects the way the universe actually is, whatever that may be.

Despite all its problems, it seems that Wikipedia does a fairly decent job at this. While the information presented in Wikipedia may not be authoritative, there are enough people contributing who care about their subjects to ensure that the information, for the most part, correctly reflects the current scholarship in that field.

However, this is not good enough for some of our conservative friends who have found that Wikipedia presents a liberal bias. Therefore, in reaction to this, they have created their own counter-encyclopedia called Conservapedia. This is supposedly to take into account the fact that the majority of editors of Wikipedia describe themselves as liberal, while apparently conservatives outnumber liberals in America 2 to 1 (recent election results notwithstanding, I guess).

As an information professional, I find this far more worrisome than Wikipedia. At least with Wikipedia I have some assurance that the articles are going to attempt to reflect current scholarship. I also have some assurance that anything that is too far from current scholarship will be removed relatively quickly. After all, Wikipedia really is a free market of ideas. Anyone can contribute and edit, within a few basic constraints. What conservative couldn't like that idea?

These ones apparently. A few samples:

"Abortion: Abortion is the induced termination of a pregnancy.[1] The father of medicine, Hippocrates, expressly prohibited abortion in his ethical Oath long before Christianity." The article then goes on to discuss the link between abortion and breast cancer, premature birth, and other health risks. The section on legal history ends with the sentence "Conservatives immediately criticized [Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton] as examples of Judicial Activism." Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia article contains all the same information, but frames it in terms of the overall, ongoing debate.

"Pornography: This page has been deleted, and protected to prevent re-creation." (Sorry guys. Ignoring it won't make it go away.) By comparison, Wikipedia contains a factual and thorough article on what it is and the issues surrounding it.

"Evolution: The Theory of evolution is a materialist explanation of the history of life on earth." The article also conlcudes with a statement regarding the age of the Earth: "...young earth creationist scientists assert that there is an abundance of scientific arguments showing the earth and universe are both approximately 6,000 years in age.[108][109][110] In addition, young earth creationist scientists have a number of arguments against the position of an extremely old age for the earth and the universe.[111][112][113]"

You get the idea.

This situation completely underlines the problem that has developed in the supposed "liberal/conservative" divide. It really isn't about liberals and conservatives anymore, if it ever was. It has become a divide between those who try to capture the world the way it is and those who try to make the world the way they want it. True conservatives wouldn't try to do that. In fact, true conservatives as they have been prior to this point in our country have traditionally espoused the idea that we should all be free to pursue whatever actions make us happy, so long as those actions do not harm others, with a minimum of governmental interference.

The difference between liberals and conservatives should lie in that last statement: liberals believe that government should take action to help individuals pursue happiness, while conservatives believe that individuals should be left alone for the most part to pursue happiness in whatever way they choose. How on Earth did we get so far away from this core debate? And what does religion have to do with any of this?

Focus, people!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Welcome to Year Five

Yep, that's right. As of Tuesday we will have officially entered year five of the war in Iraq. Just as a friendly reminder, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place December 7, 1941, and Emperor Hirohito accepted the Allies' terms for surrender on August 15, 1945. In other words, our involvement in World War II didn't even last this long.

Today we hear news that another 7 servicemen died this weekend in Iraq. This seems to be roughly commensurate with the loss rates we've experienced throughout the war. Yes, it's piddly compared to WW2, but it certainly seems that there's a difference between battling a self-declared Empire that has set its sights on taking over the civilized world, and... well, what? Removing non-existent weapons of mass destruction from a petty dictator? Stabilizing an inherently unstable part of the world? Making money for multi-national military/industrial complexes?

That of course brings us to Halliburton's decision this week to move its headquarters to Dubai. So even though Dubai Ports World can't own ports in the United States because of concerns that an Arab terrorist in their employ might infiltrate our ports, it's okay for a company supplying our armed forces to be based in the United Arab Emirates. How much more proof do we need that this war happened solely to line the pockets of these companies?

And any time anyone tries to point out these sorts of issues, they get shouted down in the name of "supporting the troops." You can't say these things because apparently hearing that the folks back home are wondering about whether this war's a good idea will lower troop morale.


I'm sorry, but it seems to me that seeing your buddies with inadequate armor getting blown up on a daily basis by homemade bombs that every single person you see might be planting in the name of a war whose purpose in entirely unclear, is going to have a much more negative impact on morale than hearing about a debate in Congress over the value of a war that G.I. Joe already knows is pointless.

And now we're hearing the spin cycle starting again. The Pentagon is talking about how death rates are dropping and things feel more secure. Since other things (like the continued death of American servicemen) seem to indicate that things are about the same, this can't be anything other than sleight of hand. Redirect our attention to a few positives so that the negatives don't look so bad. This way, come Summer 2008 the administration can start pulling the troops out claiming that the country is stable and that the mission has been accomplished, just in time for the election.

The problem with this, though, is the same problem that's been operating in the middle east for the last 30 years. Namely, the Sunni and the Shi'a are determined to blow each other to smithereens. Since there isn't a firm and stable central government in Iraq, the country is wide open for Iran and Al Qaeda to battle back and forth through their surrogates ad infinitum. This isn't going to stop on its own, and there's nothing we can do-- short of blasting the entire region to bits-- to make it stop.

Stop wasting our troops on a pointless war. Stop wasting money that could have saved Social Security or created universal health care. Bring them home. Now.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Springing Backwards

I hate daylight savings time. I really do. Maybe it's a silly thing to hate, but it has always seemed utterly pointless to me. And now the additional monkeying around we're doing with this already absurd device is making it even more pointless.

IT departments all over the country are having to scramble to reprogram all the automatic clock settings on all the computers everywhere. At my own work, after the patches were applied we all had to go into our calendars and manually move all of the appointments from March 11th through April 8th one hour earlier, since the patch advanced all the times that were already in the system. This has got to be costing millions nationwide.

And for what? Apparently the goal is to get a jump on the amount of time people are using lights and thereby save energy costs. Putting aside the fact that with a stroke of the pen congress could mandate 45 mpg minimums for vehicles and thereby save a heck of a lot more energy, how much are we really saving?

On March 10th, sunrise here is at 6:52, and sunset is at 6:33. On April 9th, sunrise is at 7:04 DST, sunset is at 8:04 DST. So let's consider my regular schedule. I usually get up at 6:00, and go to bed at 11:00. Fairly typical, right? Under non-adjusted time I would be using lights for about 13 hours total for mornings over the next 28 days, and about 119 hours in the evening. Under DST, I would be using lights for about 42 hours total for mornings over the next 28 days, and about 91 hours in the evening. So under DST I'm burning lights for 133 hours, and under non-adjusted time I'm burning lights for... wait for it... 132 hours?

The overall point here is that the energy savings are tiny. Even if you spread it out over the entire country the most you'd be talking about is a fraction of a percent. And for that we lose an hour's sleep, have tired and grumpy workers on Monday morning, and lord knows what other productivity issues related to that. Please, someone end the insanity, leave the clocks alone, and let's start talking about public transportation, more efficient machines, and recycling. There's cost savings that we can count on.