Real Socialists, Fake Socialists and the Virginia Governor’s Race

Earlier today I posted a link to a free Soviet textbook entitled Systems of Linear Equations. It was published in the late 1980’s and is one of a series of Soviet textbooks I’ve highlighted on my websites.

Why, you ask, do I pass along Soviet textbooks? There are two reasons. The first is that I have a long-term commitment to free and low-cost textbooks for students. The second is that the Soviet Union had one of the greatest mathematical and technical academic and institute establishments the planet has ever known, it’s putting things into hardware where it broke down.

Linear algebra has become a favourite subject of mine but late in life; I didn’t take a formal course in it until my PhD pursuits. Because of my specific major, I didn’t have to take linear algebra as an undergraduate back in the Dinosaur Age, although the aerospace engineers, for example, certainly did.

The kicker with this little book is in the description, as follows:

The book is intended for a wide circle of readers, including pupils of senior classes of secondary schools, who are interested in mathematics.

Translation: including high school.

That’s interesting because the Loudoun County School Board, at the instance of the Virginia Department of Education, has proposed to “to eliminate its accelerated math programs below 11th grade, citing “equity” as one of the catalysts for its changes to the mathematics curriculum.” This is the same Loudoun County School Board which allowed two women to be raped in the bathroom without consequence until called out. This is also the same school board that has inspired Virginia gubernatorial candidate and Clintonista Terry McAuliffe to call for the removal of parental involvement in curriculum decisions.

“Equity” is a socialist concept that basically states that everyone should end up with the same result in life. But the real socialists in the Soviet Union knew better than to fudge on scientific education, thus the linear algebra in high school. Today we’re faced with another set of real socialists (I know, they’ve fudged on that in ways that the Soviets wouldn’t bring themselves to do) who also have a massive scientific and educational establishment that launches hypersonic vehicles which no one thought they could.

The socialists we have in this country are and have been for the last fifty years are, to use Marxist terminology, utopian. They have grand dreams for a country where no one really has to do much of anything to succeed as long as they allow their leaders to slouch through their funded bureaucratic positions (like Pete Buttigieg is doing with his paternity leave while the supply chain breaks down.) But their country will fail.

I’m glad that McAuliffe is in a tight space in the race, one which the Loudoun County School Board and his own inept statements have made possible. He deserves to lose. But I think that time is running out too fast on a country which has pushed real achievement, especially in the sciences, into the background.

The Unsaid Lesson of Francis Collins

He gets is both barrels from Nate Fisher at the American Reformer:

Collins has long been celebrated by evangelical influencers, and upon his departure those praising him included Russell Moore, Tim Keller, and David French. The well-credentialed  evangelicals who populate urban churches like Keller’s have been taught to aspire to a “faithful presence” in elite institutions, and Collins is often viewed as epitomizing this. He succeeded not just at an elite level, but in the scientific world, a domain where Christians have a particularly hard time gaining respect.

Yet Collins’s record over his 12 years atop the NIH shows serious and repeated moral compromises. That he continues to be praised as a model by elite-adjacent evangelicals suggests that what matters is the “presence” in elite circles far more than faithfulness to any clear Christian moral standard.

If there’s one thing shocking about American Evangelicalism, it’s its blindness to the moral hazard of getting into the upper reaches of a society. Having been brought up in the upper reaches of this one, that moral hazard was definitely apparent.

And yet, with the “have it all” and “move up” mentality that permeates American Evangelicalism, there is a general blindness to that moral hazard. I’d be the first to admit that Francis Collins’ rise is amazingand objected to by secular types–but the things which Fisher lays out should be expected in an era when moral corners are to be cut, especially in the biomedical field.

I think Evangelicals should be more careful about the way they lionise people who move up the way Collins has, and more importantly quit encouraging people to constantly push themselves into positions where they have to make decisions and compromises such as Collins has had to do. Do we really need to push our children into elite schools? Did we think about the compromises we would have to make in a major political movement? Questions like these and many others go unasked and unanswered in the Evangelical world, which is a major reason we ended up with Donald Trump. Many of the same elite-adjacent evangelicals (such as those listed above) who have blubbered about the support for Trump have pushed people into aspiring for high positions and secular success, which in turn encourages successful political action, which in turn…

You can’t have it both ways; make up your minds.

Maybe, Finally, At Last, There’s Hope for Nuclear Power

It’s been a long time coming:

Environmentalists are increasingly coming round to nuclear energy. Younger people are clued-up on climate change and are less against technological solutions than many older environmentalists. They also like their technology and understand that we need clean electricity to power phones and laptops. The public’s openness to nuclear is reassuring, especially considering that anti-nukers, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to Extinction Rebellion, tend to dominate mainstream discussion.

This article, from nuclear activist and environmentalist Zion Lights, represents not only a major shift in opinion on the subject from the environmentalist side; it represents a generational shift towards a more scientific approach to the whole problem of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It also comes from Europe (although there are advocates on this side of the pond such as Mike Schellenberger,) which is facing a grievous crisis this winter due to a confluence of events such as the effects of the stop-and-go economy caused by COVID and countries such as Germany shutting down nuclear plants before they had viable alternatives to them.

I think it’s fair to say that Europeans have been snookered by American environmentalists, who were operating from a different and highly unscientific frame of reference on this. American environmentalism is based on two premises, neither of which is rooted in science.

The first is that we arrived at the continent to a pristine, uninhabited wilderness and then proceeded to ruin it. Our task then is to restore it to that pristine state. The greatest enemy of that are the suburbs, where we have low-density development that takes up a lot of space. Packing people into small spaces and higher density is a key goal, which is a driver of New Urbanism.

The second is that we were more “authentic” in our primitive, pre-technological state, and that we must get back to that as much as we can. This is a core reason that nuclear power is a bete noire to most American environmentalists; it just produces too much prosperity with too low a power cost over the life of the plant (those blasted suburbs again.) Part of the reality of renewables is that their ability to fully power our current and foreseeable demands is limited in the near future, thus we must reduce. In some ways this is a Christless Christianity, where we are all called to poverty without the benefit of eternal life thereafter.

Coupled with the Boomers’ allergy to all things nuclear (thanks to the Cold War,) by 1980 nuclear power was pretty much out of the agenda of American life. Some nuclear power plants have been put online since then but not many.

With the new emphasis on global warming and managing atmospheric carbon dioxide, one would think that carbon-free nuclear power would be front an centre until our storage capabilities and renewables improve. But our unscientific elites prefer to believe “the science” rather than to practice “science” and so until fairly recently nuclear power was still not to be mentioned in polite company.

Europeans who took this to heart without understanding the underlying principles of the whole thing closed their nuclear plants, only to find out what was obvious to many: the substitutes they had at their disposal were either unable to deliver consistently or emitted more carbon (such as natural gas.) Now they face a bleak winter with the economic dislocation, suffering the death that goes with it. American “blue” states are going in the same direction of undevelopment, although there are signs that some people there are getting the message, a message that will be doubtless underscored by the same hard lessons that the Europeans will learn.

People such as Zion Lights and Mike Schellenberger are to be commended for their advocacy of an unpopular cause. Hopefully those who are coming after us will see their logic. My engineering students (or the ones I have broached the subject with) do; one of them was considering AOC’s Green Nuclear Deal until he got to the anti-nuclear part, at which point he was through with it It’s a good thing it’s happening because the viability of our scientific civilisation is at stake.

Teaching Secular Blasphemy

Well it’s that time of year for academics (at least those on a semester system) when we begin another term of teaching and learning. This Fall I am somewhat officially retired from full-time teaching (if the university had started me sooner it would be official) but I am back teaching my Foundations course.

Towards the end of that course I get into a topic that is relatively new in engineering: Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD.) LRFD is a fancy technique that attempts to quantify uncertainty in both the way structures are loaded and how they resist that loading, Loads on civil structures include the dead weight of the structure, what the structure carries (traffic on a bridge, for example) and loads such as earthquake, wind and impact loads. The structure resists it by having material that doesn’t either break or move excessively during use, and that material ultimately includes the soil, rock or what’s in between that supports the structure.

In the past we used something called Allowable Stress Design (ASD,) which involves using factors of safety, a concept familiar to people even outside the engineering profession. Typically the literature states that we have moved from “deterministic” design (ASD) to “probabalistic” design. I don’t agree with that: we’ve always “played the odds” and built into our structures additional material to deal with uncertainties, including what one Australian engineer called a “factor of ignorance.” The difference is how we do the calculations: LRFD is supposed to be a better way of quantifying those uncertainties, although I have one colleague who disagrees with that.

In the course of teaching that, I present the following graphic.

Diagram showing the magnitude of Loads Q and Resistance R vs. How Often a Specific Load or Resistance Might Occur

This shows two bell curves (see, I’m already in trouble) of various loads and resistances. The idea is that the ability of a structure to resist loads and stay together/in service is greater than the loads it’s subjected to. Notice two things:

  • There is no one load or resistance for a structure. There is a distribution of possible loads, which includes the fact that those loads can vary over time.
  • There is always a blue shaded region where the two overlap. That’s the region where the loads can overcome the resistances. There is no way to get rid of this; we can only minimize the region.

The last point is, in the context of our society today, secular blasphemy. Why is this? Because we as Americans have been conditioned to believe that life is supposed to be perfect and without adversity. Failure to achieve this leads to most of the bile we see in the streets and on social media.

Considering the case of COVID-19, although coronaviruses have been with us for a long time, the unique characteristics of this one meant that we went into the pandemic with greater uncertainty. This meant that the “load” bell curve tended to be flatter and broader (if not in reality at least in our perception) than with other diseases. On the other hand those uncertainties extended to the way we resisted the virus, so that curve is flatter and broader too. To put it like the public health officer at our university did, our response was like building the plane while flying it at the same time.

The result of both of these is that the blue shaded overlap region is larger than we’re used to seeing. That meant that bad things happening were inevitable until our knowledge of what we were up against and how we planned to counter this were better known, the curves sharpened (and hopefully further away from each other) and the blue region shrunk. This is not an instantaneous process with any assault like this; it takes time, especially with something that is a moving target (mutations, uncertain interactions with the populations and environment, etc.)

You’d never know that from the rhetoric that comes out of our society. On the one hand we hear that, if we do such and such, the virus will completely go away. On the other we have a prosperity teaching type of denialism which tells us that these adversities are illusory. Neither of these is realistic. We can do things to improve the situation. Sometimes these things are a “breakthrough,” sometimes they are incremental. In football we can either get to the goal with one “Hail Mary” pass or we can grind from one first down to another. Anyone who has watched the game knows that, with well matched teams, the latter is more likely to succeed.

Unrealistic expectations make our society insufferable, and decrease the desire for longer life, which may explain our rising suicide rate. (There is a better way.) They’re also profoundly unscientific, and the remind us that, in spite of the gaudy rhetoric, those who run our society are profoundly unscientific as well. Our adversaries are better prepared in that regard, which doesn’t bode well for the global conflict that is shaping up.

Unhappily living with that reality is, I suppose, the price for teaching secular blasphemy.

The Slow Suicide of American Science–ACSH

I’ve always been bullish about American scientific and technological supremacy, not in some starry-eyed, jingoistic way, but due to the simple reality that the United States remains the world’s research and development engine.

This is true for at least four reasons, which I detailed previously: (1) Superior higher education; (2) A cultural attitude that encourages innovation; (3) Substantial funding and financial incentives; and (4) A legal framework that protects intellectual property and tolerates failure through efficient bankruptcy laws. There’s a fifth, fuzzier reason, namely that smart and talented people have long gravitated toward the U.S.

The Slow Suicide of American Science–ACSH

When will we have a Covid-19 vaccine? — UnHerd

It’s the question on everyone’s mind. When will we have a vaccine for Covid-19? Back in March, pundits and experts were divided: some seemed confident that it would take over 18 months, others thought at least two years. Some predicted several years. Five months on, with over 165 vaccines in development, Dr Anthony Fauci, the…

via When will we have a Covid-19 vaccine? — UnHerd

From Covid to crime: how media hype distorts risk, or the creek water will get you every time

We all rely on the news to give us information about the world. That information lets us make decisions: whether it’s safe to fly to Spain, whether red wine causes cancer, whether we’re likely to lose our job for tweeting something. We use the media to help us understand the risks that surround us. The…

via From Covid to crime: how media hype distorts risk — UnHerd

This reminds me of something my Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer professor told his undergraduate classes.  He was a native of Lenoir City, TN, and had a dry sense of humour that frequently went right past his mostly Texan students.  He told the story of the guy in the hills who first drank whiskey with creek water and got drunk, then drank bourbon with creek water and got drunk, then drank moonshine with creek water and got drunk.  The guy’s conclusion: the creek water got him drunk.

That creek water will get you every time…

An old Zenith Colour Television Broadcasts the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King

Just about every television I grew up with was a Zenith.  So I was intrigued when I saw this video of a Zenith colour “roundie.”  We had one in our family room in Palm Beach (I’m not sure whether it was this exact model but it was close.)

The sample broadcast he chose is riveting, especially these days: Walter Cronkite’s report of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on 4 April 1968.   I doubt we watched CBS (we were NBC, Huntley-Brinkley types) but we certainly watched the reports of this.  It’s interesting to hear Dr. King evoke the Bill of Rights in his speech the night before he was killed; now so many consider those rights to be part of the problem.

I’ve cued up the video to that broadcast; if you’re interested in the technical aspects of the Zenith he’s looking at, just run it back to the start.

Our own roundie went on to transmit other tumultuous events of the time, including the Watergate Hearings, as you can see below in photos from its tube.  (I’ve got recordings from that here and here.  I cropped these close, but you can see the rounding in the corners.)

Karl Friston: up to 80% not even susceptible to Covid-19 — UnHerd

Just one month ago, the idea that most people aren’t susceptible to Covid-19 — perhaps the overwhelming majority — was considered dangerous denialism. It was startling when Nobel-prize-winning scientist Michael Levitt argued in UnHerd at the start of May that the growth curves of the disease were never truly exponential, suggesting that some sort of…

via Karl Friston: up to 80% not even susceptible to Covid-19 — UnHerd