Where There's A William

there's always aweigh

Archive for the month “December, 2007”

Before I Forget …

Happy Christmas everyone!


The Path to Success

I once recommended Al Fin to Connie and Kim du Toit as a research resource (and a search of Kim’s sidebar shows his agreement) because of the mass of data he has accumulated on his blog pages. By combining the wealth of information residing in the host of links Al Fin maintains in his own sidebar with a judicious sampling from the labels he categorises his posts in, it is quite possible to gather together the basic background material from which to craft your own rendition of the Kevin Baker Uberpost for which that gentleman is justly famous.

Ordinarily I prefer an extra helping of bran in the morning and a few more glasses of water over the course of the day to relieve such a condition, but this occasion warrants a shot or two of Kevin U-p, I’m afraid.

Al Fin has written about neurological function several times now and from contrasting perspectives. In none of the above (nor anywhere else that I’m aware) does he rely upon his own opinion or unsupported claim to expertise regarding the subject, which is why I find him so reliable a source of information for topics so far outside my own limited range of experience. One particular Al Fin post has unexpected relevance to a topic more commonly associated with Kim, Kevin or even myself, and I wish to pursue that connection further.

I don’t pretend to any expertise regarding neuroscience certainly, but I am able to read what others have to say on the discipline. Having done so leads me to believe that reasoned argument alone may be more susceptible to simplistic counter-suasion then is commonly argued to be the case.

Consider this explanatory quote from the Al Fin post linked above:

86 participants completed pre- and post-test measures of reading achievement (i.e., Woodcock-Johnson III, Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Test of Word Reading Efficiency, and Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency). Students in the experimental group completed a 4-week intervention designed to improve their timing/rhythmicity by reducing the latency in their response to a synchronized metronome beat, referred to as a synchronized metronome tapping (SMT) intervention. The results from this non-academic intervention indicate the experimental group’s post-test scores on select measures of reading were significantly higher than the non-treatment control group’s scores at the end of 4 weeks. This paper provides a brief overview of domain-general cognitive abilities believed effected by SMT interventions and provides a preliminary hypothesis to explain how this non-academic intervention can demonstrate a statistically significant effect on students’ reading achievement scores. {Sources are provided, follow the link for details.}

This particular experiment involved high school students, but I think I can support my contention that the result applies to more mature humans equally well.

The idea that neural pathways, unconscious intellectual connections leading to a preconceived decision (aka: belief) if I’m understanding the phenomenon correctly, seems to be both well established and to display unexpected effects. It is these effects that I find particularly interesting as they seem to explain why reasoned argument so frequently fails to prove persuasive to those who don’t already possess receptive modes of thought. In a nut shell, the well known preaching to the choir effect, if you will.

I offered the following comment to Al Fin’s post:

I wonder what relationship exists between this metronome technique and the reputed history of Morris (Moorish) Dancing from the Crusades period of English history? Reputedly, the dance steps were performed to percussion instruments setting a beat for the purpose of enabling the dancers to become more effective fighters. No weapons or obvious combat maneuvers are employed, however.

A bit of simple research on my part would have shown that this particular line of thought has been called into question by subsequent researchers. Even so, the enduring legend supports my belief that patterns of thought can be altered by seemingly unrelated structured activity. Case in point, that Moorish dancing worked to alter the practitioner’s unconscious neural paths from those of the purely individual fighter into those of the group-oriented combatant. Specifically, that individuals practised in Moorish dance routines were more likely to instinctively respond to chaotic battlefield events in a structurable and controllable fashion then would those not so indoctrinated.

I’m not suggesting any sort of “Manchurian Candidate” level of brainwashing in any of this. Athletic team training does very much the same thing for it’s practitioners, I suggest. How else explain why any reasonably intelligent person would deliberately position himself to violently collide with another during the course of an American football or rugby match, yet just as unthinkingly perform equally athletic maneuvers to avoid bruising physical contact outside that limited game parameter?

A less violent example can be found in two common household products, the disposable tissue and the cotton swab. I would venture to guess that 95+% of (US) Americans think of these two items by their most effectively marketed brand names, Kleenex and Q-Tips respectively. I know from personal experience that non-American english speakers (you know, the English?) don’t make these linguistic associations and I believe that is because they aren’t subject to the advertising campaigns that serve to create the necessary neural pathways to emplace this specific non-cognitive association in their brains. Since advertising is routinely targeted to specific audiences, I submit that this supports my belief that neural pathways can be deliberately channelled in people of any age to be receptive to the means chosen to do so.

What does any of this have to do with shooting, you ask? Let me describe a recent occasion of my experience by way of explanation.

I have had occasion to remark upon my friendship with Mike on these pages before. He and I have been friends for a dozen years now and we have taken many of the opportunities that have arisen over those years to discuss our thoughts on the ramifications stemming from the history and practice of a varied enforcement of the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution; you know, talked about guns and shooting. Not actually bragged, you understand. We’re much too good of friends to casually allow such an opportunity for mockery to go by, so we’re neither of us about to risk any such behavior as that. I can’t honestly say that any of that keeps me in any way humble you understand, but I absolutely can take a joke and give at least as good as I get because of my friendship with Mike. I’m not claiming this makes me any nicer a guy or anything, just a better one.

In short, I know the man and he knows me.

Holiday and other commitments keeping us otherwise occupied, we settled on last Friday night to go to dinner and take in a movie we both wanted to see. As is my habit, I checked to see that all my normal pocket trash was present then transferred my carry gun from it’s storage place to my pocket just before heading out the door.

Mike’s reaction was to ask, “Do you really think that’s necessary?” I could tell the question bothered him, but since he almost immediately followed it up by saying, “I hope you have all the required documents along as well”, I condescendingly reassured him that was the case and out the door we went.

As I said, I could tell that the impulse to even ask such a question bothered Mike. It’s not like he was unaware of the recent multiple murders of unarmed people that had occurred only the week before. And it’s not like he and I hadn’t had numerous conversations over the years regarding the general desirability of carrying a gun (consensus: it’s a pain in the ass but a desperately necessary one on thankfully rare occasion), so to say that the assumptions underlying his question were more than a little shocking to us both is a large understatement.

I’ve had opportunity to mull this over since and I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions. One of which is that whatever measure of intellectual support firearms ownership and use may receive, there is almost certainly nothing like that same response at the unconscious level of thought; the level closest to the neural pathways that govern unthinking reaction to stimulus. Mike knows we are each responsible for our own welfare for at least the first few minutes of an attack and he knows I’m licensed to carry a gun. All that notwithstanding, he still responded to the stimulus generated by the neural pathway he acquired from somewhere to initially react negatively to my carrying a gun.

I further think that attempts to persuade people to a pro gun ownership viewpoint will never be effective enough as long as those opposed to such a viewpoint have unobstructed opportunity to develop and maintain the neural pathways that work to undermine intellectual efforts at persuasion to do so. If this be true, then it would seem to behoove we who encourage more widespread gun ownership to develop mechanisms to instill and support neural pathways that compliment our efforts and that also work to counter the labors of those who object to our views.

I think it fair to describe this last as a species of viral marketing that operates at the unconscious level of the human brain in as indirect a fashion as possible. Not “subliminal advertising” or anything so obvious as that, but something much more effective, I think. By establishing as a neural pathway that “independence of action – pro choice, if you will – is a generally good circumstance” for example, and doing so in as many nonthreatening situations as we can contrive, we put in place a neural pathway that supports the independence to actively create safety that ownership of a gun empowers.

See? Indirect, but supportive, while being hard to justify objecting to on it’s own terms. For so long as we don’t make a better effort to counter the neural pathways that seem to be inherent in so much of modern media, we will not be able to generate anything like the level of acceptance necessary to inhibit the nihilistic impulse that people seem more inclined to resort to in recent decades. Attaining that level of inhibition should be a specific objective of ours and is a positive result that, quite frankly, no level of private gun ownership is likely to achieve on it’s own.

So, I put it to you, my shooting brethren, that the concept of neural pathways is one that we would benefit from studying, that learning to recognise the mechanism’s used to instill such paths in people should be identified, that mechanism’s for instilling and supporting beliefs conducive to our own should be developed and, finally, that creation of a mindset that rejects indiscriminate violence towards others ought to be a specific objective of our efforts in it’s own right, in that it supports one of the basic tenants of gun ownership.

How say you all?

The Best of Will(s)

OK, as reported by whoever World Entertainment News is, this is a thoroughgoing slime job and almost completely lacking in context.

For one thing, “Hitler didn’t wake up thinking himself evil” is not synonymous with the headline contention “Smith:’Hitler was a good person'” that WEN levels at actor Will Smith.

What my fellow Will is actually quoted as saying:

“I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’.”

strikes me as the sort of spontaneous example one might offer to illustrate a point being made about something/one entirely else from that being referred to. Just at a guess, as a metaphor to help clarify his conceptualisation of the nature and character of the role he was playing, or of his character’s opponents motivation in, say, his latest film? ‘Ya think, maybe?

There’s no real way to tell from the “news release” itself, but the fact that it’s posted by Yahoo! UK suggests that it comes from a press event in Britain – at a guess, to support the British run of the film I am Legend. Which would be consistent with other English press anti-American spin to news reporting in recent years. I think the Instapundit Update tends to support that line of thinking.

I’m sure the Smith branch of the Will Family can take a joke with the best of us (he damn sure better, much as he hands them out to everyone else), but I really would like to hear his side of this one day. I bet he gives a good deal more consideration in future to preparing answers to the obvious gottcha questions in advance from now on.

A Whiff of the Calculus

I think we can now say that all saber’s have been well and truely rattled. It remains to be seen how the various parties will weigh up whatever values each assigns to the component interests comprising Stalin’s infamous statistics.

Let us all hope that the actual governments involved have more reliable reports from which to work and less callous analysts upon which to rely. Fear is the absolute worst emotion that can be allowed to color an assessment of a possible action. A dissertation that actually sought to stimulate discussion of a given option’s practicality would have been written with far less fatalism then is evident in the J-Post article linked above.

I have previously suggested that an alternative course of action would achieve the desired near-term security without the short- and long-term disadvantages the extreme nuclear option would impose on all the world to varying degree. Such an action may arguably be more humane then the J-Post’s nuclear tactic, but I’m certain it is an equally human behaviour that offers more subsequent alternative action from which to select as time passes. That’s the problem with escalation, once a step up in agression has occurred, the more dangerous it becomes for any participant to attempt anything less, what with the extremity of retaliation the previous escalation might justify.

Shame on Elie Leshem for such a public surrender to fear, and shame on you Professor Reynolds, there is no “right” to be found here, in any sense of that word’s accepted meaning.

I concur …

… with what the lady said, though I do offer a couple of minor quibbles:

– While I don’t think there’s any serious question that Adolf started his political activism as a Socialist himself, or that he was a recognised and valued member of the socialist political movement within Germany, I do think it only honest to note that the ultimate formulation of the National Socialist Workers Party that he drove into creation stretches any of those terms beyond their ordinarily accepted definitions.

With the foregoing in mind, I especially think the Godwin’s Law comment appropriate.

– Given the nature of those who argue to the contrary, I also think it necessary to couch the Area 51 issue within the caveat “in my opinion” since the primary concept of such a location pretty much requires denial of access to any possible physical evidence that might resolve this question. People who are prepared to postulate entire species and universal societal structures are not going to suddenly go lacking in imagination when it comes to defending their efforts from other’s critical inquiry, I think. Forcing them to acknowledge even that much reality won’t change their view of things of course, but there’s always the hope that frequent enough reminder of the equally hypothetical nature of their own ramblings might frustrate them enough that they go away.

Other then that, put me down for a heaping helping of “what she said”!

Fillum review: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Went to the movies last night and saw the National Treasure sequel. I’ve never really tried my hand at writing one of these, but I’ll do my best to limit any spoilers and still put up some degree of coherent content. As much as I ever manage to do at least …

Some good points to start. Nobody got too cutsie (or professionally greedy), so all the original good guy characters are back and all of the actors have aged well into their roles. Everyone is subtly changed, but just as the viewer would expect them to have done a couple of years on from previous events. The presentation of events is familiar to viewers and combines some new talents with variations on old tricks from the first film to move the action along at a brisk pace. The obscure historical references are easily as well done as previously, as is the attention to detail in the set dressing and prop construction.

As for the bad points; it really comes down to two major flaws as I see it. The first is more of a continuity error then anything else that would have benefited from some brief dialogue to explain how several assassinations and at least one major post-invasion fire didn’t cause an interruption of transmission for a titular plot device. The Mt. Vernon exposition would have benefited here, I think.

{This being precisely vague schtick is tougher than it reads}

The second involves the bad guy du jour character played by Ed Harris. Whichever writer was responsible for this character’s design obviously redacted as little as possible from the first film’s baddy, slapped on a transparent coat of US Southern generic as overlay and called it a day. Phoning it in doesn’t begin to describe how little original material Mr. Harris had to work with here – and a very workmanlike job he did too, I might add. I spent much of the England exterior scenes looking for Andy Bean as an extra, laughing his ass off at poor Ed’s predicament. The audience would actually have been better off not to have seen the first film, it was that distracting to the suspension of disbelief any good film must create.

The obviously flimsy security breaches at Buckingham Palace and the White House are scenes nobody expects to be in any way realistically portrayed. The actors carry off the scenes quite well and I didn’t have any sense of interruption of mood nor noticed any from other audience members.

A fun and very satisfying film all in all. I encourage everyone to see it in the theater rather then wait for the DVD and I hope it does well financially. I think there’s at least one more episode to be crafted from this format and characters combination. Here’s hoping Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney don’t flinch; with all the quirks and questions to be found in even an average history book, the potential for this formula remains fresh with possibility.

news update

Given my general state of physical decrepitude, this may be the best piece of news I’ve gotten all year.


Ok, I admit that the title above is more than a little cutsie; this post is inspired by yesterday’s comment contretemps between myself, Stephen Gordon and Phil Bowermaster over at The Speculist (see the comments here). What this post is not is a restatement of yesterday’s events. Rather, I wish to attempt to contrast what I consider to be “solutions” derived from outdated technology with my personal vision of what is actually (by and large, for the most part) available to variably well-heeled consumers this upcoming year.

Since it is my blog, I’ll start with an example I posted on last week, this Toshiba quick recharge battery. As part of my speculation, I said the following:

Toshiba executives are certain to be aware that virtually the first “customers” to buy whichever product utilizes their new battery technology will be other battery manufacturers seeking to reverse engineer it. Having an investment agreement in place with as many potential customers as possible before that inevitably occurs will work to extend Toshiba’s market advantage. For potential retail customers like myself, those corporations that do invest in this battery technology for their markets will be pressing for as rapid a development curve as practicable so as to not keep such substantial amounts of capital unproductive. This means an earlier availability of products using this battery technology then would be possible for Toshiba to achieve on it’s own.

There is a tendency on most people’s part not to fully take into consideration the time frames often necessary for change to be accomplished. On the individual level this is often a result of our personal lack of specific knowledge as to the complexity of the operation required to achieve the change. This is often compounded by our allowing our personal desire for the resulting product to overshadow the necessarily adversarial nature that characterises any new association, particularly when such a venture involves substantial sums of money.

Which explains my closing statement:

If I start saving with the new year, I ought to have a reasonable percentage of the purchase price for an all-electric vehicle in the 2.5 years I expect will be required for this new battery tech to begin retail product sales. And then only if this tech scales as well as Toshiba seems confidant it will. No way to tell about that aspect of the corporation from this remove.

It isn’t that I lack trust or suffer from excess conspiracy fears; as it happens, I do have some experience of how long it takes to construct an assembly line. Additionally, I have no way to tell how rapidly, or even if, this particular innovation will scale to batteries having the load demand capacity necessary for powering a general purpose motor vehicle. That said, Toshiba specifically makes mention of auto battery applications and it is on that that I base my contention regarding Toshiba’s corporate reputation being put at risk – not an action a company seeking extensive financial and other partnership agreements would casually call into question, since it is that same reputation that will have considerable influence over the terms of any offers ultimately submitted.

I don’t study strategy because I like war, you know.

Sticking with battery technology for a moment more, I direct you attention to this recent news release from Stanford University regarding their newly developed nanowire battery.

… is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require “one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up,” he added. “It’s a well understood process.”

Do you suppose Toshiba might be one of those making this inventor’s holiday an especially busy one this year?

Enough on energy storage devices for now, how do we power them up in the first place?

Well, there is this possibility by way of a questionably reliable source, paint-on solar panels. Which doesn’t actually involve the consumer painting anything.

While many photovoltaic start-up companies are concentrating on increasing the efficiency with which their systems convert sunlight, Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers.

These guys seem to have settled on the more traditional format of growing their business as their established customer base will finance rather then making a number of licensing deals with other manufacturers. This will likely have the short-term effect of denying rapid expansion into additional consumer markets (the company can only finance so much production capacity at any given moment), but a product that produces energy at a lower cost then it can be produced burning coal will have a large impact with individual consumers eventual demands upon national energy distribution grids.

Which brings me back to my starting point. I believe that efforts to “improve” internal combustion engines or grid-oriented power supply expansions are misdirected and counter-productive. Technology that serves individual consumer’s needs at the point of service (your home or your business) is wide open for development and has the added benefits of no distribution infrastructure costs to the provider and no distribution infrastructure interruptions of service to the consumer, your classic win-win situation. Transportation that permits the consumer to control the source of re-supply is equally open to development. And, more to the point, are becoming commercially available now.

Government efforts to “stimulate” markets via income redistribution schemes always result in added costs to consumers, usually quite in addition to the direct expense of providing the income to be redistributed in the first place. Markets require a certain amount of outside regulation to inhibit their propensity to seek short-term gain at long-term consumer expense; that said, the less government direct involvement in market development the better, generally speaking.

Looking for something more robust and less susceptible to weather degradation? Consider the varied potentialities permitted the United Nuclear Hydrogen Fuel System. A careful reading of the website literature shows that the storage mechanism relys on the chemical bonding of hydrogen elements to a particular combination of other elements, so no pressure or freezing temperatures are involved in it’s distribution or storage. The power required to separate the hydrogen from it’s normal chemical bond to oxygen is generated by the solar panels provided with the system, so no added burden to the national grid or expense to the customer need be involved (other than the construction and eventual disposal costs, of course). And, the conversion process results in a flex-fuel vehicle that can still run on traditional formulations of gasoline as well. Want this product? Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission and tell them to stop aiding and abetting terrorist supporting countries (No, don’t actually do that; see the linked website as to why the CPSC is involved at all).

{I know, I know; I just finished ranting against improving internal combustion engine vehicles and the very next thing I do is promote just such a scheme – again. Whadda ‘ya gonna do? I like the concept. The whole solo-inventor-against-the-world thing doesn’t hurt either. I’m a sucker for the underdog; sue me.}

Want true energy independence (well, several decades worth, at least)? Here you go: Toshiba Micro Reactor. Given that this particular device will power about 6 to 8* houses for 30-odd years, I suspect some sort of group purchase would be in order.

Anybody want to bet that there isn’t a housing developer out there somewhere already planning his next construction project, featuring houses that include a lifetime supply of water and power as part of the purchase price? I can’t wait for the NIMBY morons to realise this actually involves their own back yards. Well, somewhere within the sub-division anyway. The resulting moral dilemma arising from their archetypal conflict of interest may actually cause a serious die off of humanity all up and down the western coastal regions of the United States …

Sorry, I lost my train of thought for a moment. Where was I?

Oh yes, I hope that all of this makes clear that my objection to ethanol/methanol/bio-diesel/etc doesn’t really arise from the technologies themselves (the ethical questions they raise deserve consideration on their own merits), but from the resources their artificially forced development denies to other technology’s development. True, these obviously are beginning to make their way to marketability, but at what ancillary cost to us all?

So, there you have it. Stephen? Phil? Here’s your chance; give it you’re best shot, I can take it. 🙂

EDITED to correct my having confused Kw with KwH. No excuse Sir.

Fear of failure

One of the drawbacks of multi-cultural equivalence is an unwillingness to impose a particular standard of behavior upon others. This leads to academic scenarios like the ones documented in this Thomas Sowell article.

Sadly, it seems that HR departments around the country are trying to expand such an environment into the American workplace.

Just having a bad few days here. I’ll get over it I expect.

Beat a gong

It’s not just me saying this you know.

Via Wretchard, who’s added insight rises to his usual standard.

UPDATE: I think my recent pre-occupation with crime gangs may need explicit explanation.

In my opinion, domestic street gangs are themselves transitioning from being a local phenomenon with national (and limited international) commercial interests into truly trans-national enterprises as a result of their being recruited by established politically oriented criminal enterprises (like Hamas, Fatah and all the rest) which themselves have been transformed into non-governmental political action organisations through their financial (and other) support from a variety of countries over the past half-century or so. I believe this trend is accelerating as nation states seek out means to impose political and other influence over other countries (or their foreign interests) with some degree of plausible deniability at the international diplomatic level. Basically, the old Soviet/US spy-vs-spy game re-written in a multi-player, no-seat-in-the-UN-General-Assembly-required version. Call it the Qaddafi Conversion (or however his name is being spelt this week) if you like.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time developing research or linking to supporting sources. This is my blog written to express my opinion. Make of that what you wish. I make no pretense of scholastic standards nor professional expertise regarding the topics which attract my interest. Caveat emptor and all that.

That said, 40-odd years of experience near the fringes of low society in varied corners of the world provides one with a certain degree of perspective upon which to draw as the occasion warrants, don’t you agree? Seems silly not to make use of it all; it wasn’t a particularly remunerative experience gathering it, I can assure you.

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