Monday, November 5, 2012

Climate Change, Science and Politics

Today it is unthinkable to believe that infections are not caused by germs.  In the early 18th century, the general practice among doctors of washing their hands prior to delivering babies for the most part did not exist.  The mortality rate among women dying from childbed fever was around 10 percent or more.  The idea that there were bacteria that caused illness was considered to be fantasy.  It was unheard of that a doctor who was examining a cadaver on an autopsy table in one room would simply be transferring the dead man's germs  to the delivery room and infect the mother giving birth. 

In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweis, a young Hungarian doctor working in a Vienna hospital, practiced and promoted the practice of physicians washing their hands before assisting in childbirths.   Although his introduction of a basic measure of cleanliness drastically reduced the rate of childbed fever, the medical establishment, which clung to conservative traditions that considered hand washing to be sheer nonsense, fought Semmelweis in every way possible, ridiculing and humiliating him to the point of destroying his reputation and career.  

It took some decades until Semmelweis was proved right beyond a doubt.  Why so long?  Professional establishments and the general public don't like to change their minds because it is painful to be exposed as being wrong.  Why so?  Those who are proven to be wrong lose in respect and authority.

Today's opposition to well-documented evidence that there is global warming caused by man-made chemical substances put into the environment is very similar to the political opposition in the nineteenth century to the theory that microorganisms cause diseases.

For background on Semmelweis:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Austerity, a Set-up for Pilot Error

On February 12, 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into a house in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., killing 50 people. Eleven minutes after take-off from Newark the crew noticed ice buildup on the plane's wings and windscreen and turned on the de-icing system. The flight continued on autopilot until the final approach when the aircraft's "stick shaker" sounded a strong warning that the aircraft's speed had deteriorated to a dangerously slow rate. Instead of following standard procedure of adding full throttle and lowering the plane's nose, the captain added only 75% power and raised it. This caused the aircraft to pitch up 31 degrees before diving at 45 degrees into a home near Buffalo.

The pilot meant well. He did not want the plane to go down, so he turned its nose upward thinking he would prevent a crash. He was wrong -- tragically wrong. He needed to burn more fuel, expend more energy. Had he gone full throttle and pointed the plane downward, he could have gained the necessary speed to recover from his dangerous stall.

Why did the pilot fail to realize that by raising the front of the plane he would further decrease its perilously low speed? The answer is simple. He lacked competency. Regional airlines practice austerity. To cut costs, the airlines' owners hired cheaper but less knowledgeable pilots. Pilots who lack training and experience cannot fly safely.

To perform any given task, a plane needs to consume energy. Just as a commercial aircraft is a system that cannot function without consuming fuel, a nation's economy cannot remain in good health without money. A plane will no more take off from a runway with an empty gas tank than an economy will pull out of stagnation without money. As Konrad Lorenz stated, "Money is the symbol for energy." People need to get paid to make a living, and if they get paid well, they will live better. Once their standard of living increases, other members of society benefit because with a higher standard of living everyone can afford to pay for services, which in turn gives an additional boost to the economy.

So what about austerity? As with the example of the regional airline's plane that crashed because the owners did not cover the cost for proper training and maintenance, austerity is a set-up for performance failure. Austerity brings with it lack and suffering, and stifles creativity. When people are perpetually worried about how to pay their bills, they lose confidence. Money is necessary for good morale, and good morale is a pre-requisite for good work, good health, rejuvenating play and the kind of expansiveness that makes a society prosper.

Who can supply the money? Where would it come from? Only from tax revenue from sources that are not already oppressed by austerity measures. Look for money among the likes of those who put up millions and millions to bid up art works for little other purpose than to increase their own net worth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Favorite Joke (at this Time)

Q. What is your favorite joke?

A. In New York, a hungry guy stops at a hot-dog vendor's stand. The vendor asks him, "What will you have?" The guy answers, "A dog with everything on it." The vendor puts mustard, relish, ketchup etc. on the dog and hands it back to the guy. The guy hands the vendor a twenty-dollar bill and gets ready for the next customer. Before even taking a bite, the man asks the vendor, "Where is my change?" The vendor replies, "Change comes from within…"

Q. Are you sure this is joke? I can't see myself breaking out laughing.

A. Not all jokes will make you laugh out loud. Some will only want to make you scratch your head.

Q. So you are insisting this anecdote really is a joke? Or are we dealing with nothing more than a bit of nonsense?

A. Maybe. But not everything that appears to be nonsense is nonsense. When I first heard this joke, I certainly didn't laugh out loud, but something registered in my feelings. The vendor's reply seems crazy, but you cannot help having that second thought that underneath it all it is not that crazy, that at some level it does make sense.

Q. So what kind of sense does it make?

A. I don't want to answer this one. Explaining a joke kills it. You get more out of this one if you let yourself have that second, third, fourth, fifth and so on thought and see where it takes you.