Ethics and Government

Two apparently unrelated articles, in the same feed, set me off on this subject. The first [Link] details how almost half of the scientists doing research for the National Institute of Health are looking into finding other employment because of recent changes in ethics rules. The second [Link] talks about how the Army censors soldier’s blogs.

Let me get past the superficialities quickly. The Army’s excuse for censoring blogs is that the nation is at war and the blogs may compromise classified or other vital need-to-know information to the enemy; their rationale is that those in service to the nation have effectively resigned their rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The NIH’s excuse is that their scientists have been “moonlighting” with commercial organizations with financial interest in NIH activities. In a bureaucratic, organizational sense, giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” are common to both cases.

What we tend to miss in considering both of these is that organizations do not have ethics; only the members of organizations have ethics. But this does not deter a growing trend of organizations to prescribe what they call ethics but are actually rules of conduct designed to aid the organization. In actuality, this is an abject failure of ethics and a sad indictment of our entire society that we allow, even encourage, organizations to have ethical standards.

Organizations have cultures, sets of survival rules, that members must subscribe to, but the organization’s culture should reflect the interests of its members. This falls apart when the organizations becomes an employer rather than a unifier. The matter of ethics among commercial organizations has long been a joke and enjoys no special regard by the populace except when it is trotted out, and then, as a matter of galgenhumor. Religious organizations have commonly abandoned ethics in their avidity to recruit new members and swell their coffers.

Government is more serious about its pretensions of ethical behavior, but is in many ways worse because of its duplicity. Ethics in government, both among elected officials and members of the military and civilian services, is a Potempkinism; a facade without substance. Simply put, the rules of ethics in government organizations are whatever the organization says they are, and this statement changes quite frequently. As a result, government has to continually subject their members to intensive but banal training on the current statement of ethics.

This has intensified in recent years as politicians and senior bureaucrats cannot admit any inkling of failure. The Army is a sterling example of this, having evolved a taxonomy of public statements akin to the sizes of detergent boxes: an abject, crash and burn failure is a “qualified success”; a draw situation is a “resounding success”; and an actual success is a “success that exceeds all expectations”. Other government organizations appear to be similar, but less well developed in their rhetoric.

The sad part of this is that the absence of ability to accept and aggregate the ethical standards of the members of the organization is largely abolishing any ethical standards. In effect, the members of the organization are being told that it is unimportant if they have any ethical standards since first, they are irrelevant to the organizations; and second, the organization’s standards are fashions and fads to be adopted only as a costume and not permanent structure.

In the meantime, this may not be part of a government war on science but it is definitely a government attack on scientists whose commitment to science has strong ethical foundations. This antithesis of ethics is making the agony of working for the government more untenable for scientists. So quit whining about not being able to recruit scientists and clean your own Augean stables.

Back to Miscegenation

Researchers from Washington U in St. Louis have discovered skeletal remains in Roumania that exhibit characteristics of both early Homo Sapiens and Homo Neandertalensis.[Link] (A place notably less dangerous than their home campus, as we commented yesterday.) This has added new fuel to the question of what happen to Neandertalensis: did Sapiens do them in, out perform them, or just interbreed them away? Skeletal remains with joint characteristics give some added weight to the latter theory.

Which in turn gives added weight to the first theory since we have considerable evidence that much violence starts in the home.

One has to suspect that the actual events may have been a combination of the three, plus other social odds and sods that we have no comprehension nor vision of being so far removed from the hunter-gatherer life style. Such multicomponent theories are not popular for several reasons: they are difficult to demonstrate, at least partly due to the lack of quantifiable data and maths skills among biologists and archaeologists; they dilute the glory and hence academic advancement; and finally, and perhaps most critically, they tend to violate Occam’s Razor.

Witness the extinction theory advanced by Princeton U paleontologists recently.[Link]

We may note however, that any interbreeding between Neandertalensis and Sapiens must have had a voluntary component. This is not to say that there may not have been some degree of social coercion, but the nature of the hunter-gatherer band tends to rule out any involuntarily unacceptable interbreeding. (See MOW for details on why this is the case.)

Our Kind of Town

Morgan Quinto Press has determined St. Louis to be the most dangerous city in the United States.[Link]

Does that jibe with my personal experience. Let’s see now. There was the time I was on TDY for the Yankee Army to McDill AFB, on the eve of our invasion of Granada, and three sentries stuck M-16 muzzles under the nose of myself and the other occupants of our rental car as we were trying to get to a meeting we had been invited to by the CENTCOM CG. Naw, no shooting.

The only time I ever got (knowingly) shot at while traveling (in the United States) was in St. Louis. I was leaving the parking lot at AVSCOM (the parking lots had a guard kiosk and were surrounded by 12 foot fences with razor wire,) and I hear shots across the street – a gang battle, I believe – and two of my rear windows got perforated as I made rapid forward progress to the airport.

The amazing thing was that the car rental company didn’t bat an eye when I turned the car in and told them about the gun shot holes. They only asked if I had required any medical attention.

Now there was the time I saw a shooting on the highway as I was driving home from work, but that was in Huntsville, and the shooting was entirely justified – but that’s another story.


Astronomers at one of my Alma Matris have has a research paper accepted for publication describing how a supernova occurred in the near vicinity of Sol.[Link] The explosion occurred several BYA.

The more notable thing is that the star that formed the supernova was closer to Sol than any existing star. Since the closest star to Sol is normally considered to be one of the Alpha Centauri stars at about 4.3 LY (I told you it has been a long time since I took an astronomy course!,) this would mean that the supernova would have been less than this distant from Sol (and effectively Terra.) The damage caused by this would have been considerable. Indeed the way the researchers figured this all out was by looking for the radioactive by-blows of this devastation.

Interestingly, if this occurred today, it would be the end of humanity. All of our electronics would be fried. Many, if not most of us would suffer from some degree of radiation poisoning. And so forth.

But apparently, if this supernova had not occurred so close, our solar system might not have come into being and we wouldn’t be here.

Well done guys, this is not only an advance for science, which maybe makes those long hot/cold nights on the prairie worthwhile, but will enrich our lives for years to come.

Deaf Academics

I have been following the gurr burr at Gallaudet University with some considerable interest.[Link] The reason for the interest is an apparent reversal of the lofty position of academe over the selection of the university’s president.

The background on this is that Gallaudet U specializes in the education of the deaf. So strong is the identification with the nature of the handicap that the population of the university – students, faculty, and alumni – have defined “deaf culture”, which seems from the descriptions I have seen to not be a culture – since such are accurately rules of survival – so much as a society separate from, to some degree, that of the rest of the country, or perhaps, separate from the non-deaf segment of the population.

The matter that makes this into national news is not some fanatical clash between the “deaf culture” and the mean ala Waco or Jonestown, but over the matter of the appointment of a president for the university. To date the governing body of the university has been unable to identify a candidate that both fits their standards and requirements and those of the university populace. Evidently the latter is the sticking point with the populace finding no candidate “deaf cultured” enough.

This raises all sorts of questions, the least of which being whether this violates Yankee government law about discrimination based on disability – are the populace of the university making adequate accommodation for non-deaf candidates? It appears not. It is also unclear if actual deafness is a requirement for the office. It is also unclear if that be the case, that there are any qualified for the position. I asked a couple of my colleagues who are university presidents and both averred that they knew no deaf university presidents although they did know several who were hearing impaired.

The truly interesting part to me is that academics are usually the most vocal and blatant about embracing diversity, even when it extends to the rude, crude, evil, and wrong. I am reminded of the case of the academic who compared the serving president of the Yankee government to a former chancellor of Germany. Evidently academic position does not require knowledge of manners or possession of good sense. The dismissal of the individual in question was entirely the result of coercion of the administration of the university by non-academics, not any self-regulation on the part of the academic community itself.

That lack of self-regulation appears to be be a factor here. Where academic recruitments tend to be very broad in scope so as to garner adequate application from all sorts of niche components of the demographic, this one seems to be exactly the opposite. Evidently, at Gallaudet, diversity does not include the non-deaf.

I am not entirely sure that I am upset about this. Obviously, there is the frustration of being excluded from any activity because of some characteristic, in this case, not being deaf. But being an adult, and lacking the mutation that permits me, as an adult, to digest milk, I am used to this type of exclusion, albeit I would be happier if the derogatory lactose intolerant were not aimed at those of us with untriffled genetic structure. But I am happy to appreciate this unhappiness in the anticipation of it being balanced by a meaningful happiness.

I also perceive that the technological advances that have made great strides in ameliorating deafness have had a mixed effect on the deaf, at once giving them some hope of becoming part of the majority while at the same time severing them from the fellowship of the soundless. Strengthening this reaction has to be the perception that the common accommodation of diversity is banality. Too often the acceptance of difference is its complete rejection; instead of accepting and learning from the different social and personal traits of individuals, we force them, largely through organizational policy and practice, to adopt some common blandness, devoid of almost all such traits.

In celebration of DST

Since we are on the subject of the tail wagging the dog that is hitched behind the cart, I have a comment on modern life and women’s clothing.

On occasion, I succumb to two filthy habits that should be controlled by law, but are not for rather obvious capitalist reasons. I speak of watching the image orthicon and flipping channels in search of something worth one’s attention. The former, is an affliction that besets all humans, so far as I can determine, but the latter is evidently chromosome differentiated as it seems to primarily afflict males of the species – at least that is what FD SCP advises me and since she is a bookkeeper (wonderful word to type!) and therefore much more knowledgeable of such practical matters than SCP.

As an aside, I have found that there is actually a third component to this, which is that after about five minutes and two complete flipping cycles through the channel forest, I invariably pick up a book or a pad of paper and bend my brain to something else. But there is evidently some childlike expectation of what should be displayed on the image orthicon since the behavior is repeated almost daily.

Anyway, I ran across an interesting juxtaposition. The LG (R) corporations, which manufactures appliances and various hardwares, has a commercial featuring a young woman in a blue dress and the combination of a clothing washing machine and dryer.[Link] (I regret not reproducing clips here but my skills and SW for this have not proved up to the desired competency.) The Science Fiction Channel, which, incidentally, shows very little science fiction, and most of that would cause Phillip Nowlan, E. E. Smith, and George O. Smith to take up blank verse and the bongo drums, has a program interruption commercial (of the channel) that portrays a young woman in a blue dress and a masher (human, not potato.)[Link]

While it is difficult to discern exact details, given the limited resolution of both television and the videos posted on the internet, (and HDTV will still be rather less than the resolution offered by a good computer monitor – previously blogged!) the two young women bear an amazing resemblance both in appearance and attire. The masher in no way resembles the clothing machines other than both are shiny on top. There are however, two major differences.

In the LG commercial, the dress has short sleeves, while in the SciFi commercial the dress has long sleeves. Of, and second, in the SCiFi commercial, the young woman displays some rather intimidating spikes.

Now basic physics indicates to us that these spikes have to be deployed from some mechanism interior to her body, primarily because the structure of the dress is not sufficient to anchor the spikes adequately. We may thus tentatively hypothesize that the long sleeved version of the dress does not come with spikes. Instead, we have to hypothesize that the spikes are some component, possibly mutational but likely prosthetic, of the woman’s body, and, secondarily, she is motivated to use it, not by crowds or washing machines, but solitary mashers. Although one can easily see how this capability would be useful on a crowded bus or trolley.

We could also hypothesize some connection between the two commercial proponents. Could LG actually stand for “Little Green”? This however, is not supported by the data and must be reserved for further observation, which given the nature of this blog, will likely be long awaiting.

And what does this have to do with DST? Well, I told you the boundaries upset my circadian rhythms.

Ode to Bureaucracy

It is not that I dislike Daylight Savings Time (DST). Rather, it is that I dislike the boundaries of DST.

As a child, I hated DST. My mother would advise me that my bedtime, which was resolutely fixed on a particular configuration of the hands of an analog clock, all that we had in those days, and indeed one may make a case that even digital clocks are analog, but that is not the crux of this matter. Anyway, the appointed hour would arrive, and I would be told to retire to my bed and slumber. I would protest that the sun was still up and therefore it was not yet night and hence could not be my bedtime.

This argument did not work and I was trundled off to bed with the curtains tightly closed and the lights unpowered so that I could try to sleep in the sweltering heat – until we got air conditioning and the chugging hum of the window unit drove me into shivering slumber. The only good that I incurred from the sun is still up argument was that when my own daughter tried that argument I spent two hours with much physicist waving of hands and drawing of incomprehensible diagrams lecturing her on why the relatiive length of day and night varies. Needless to say, she only made that argument once.

Once I became older and had to earn my own pictures of dead political autocrats, I discovered the main advantage of DST, for me, was headaches – quite literally. You see, in the winter, I would drive to work in the dark and drive home in the dark. Tedious and occasionally abjectly frightening, but acceptable. In the Summer however, because of DST, I would drive to work in the dark and drive home in the light. This sound goodly until I mention that the sun would be low on the horizon, and its light passing though the trees lining the highway would cause a flicker. Hence, the source of my headaches.

For many years, this was all a fact of life. DST was simply a pain in the head. I can recall sometimes the headaches were so bad that I had no option but to pull over to the side of the road and wait, for hours, for the headache to abate enough for me to proceed. Still I accepted this as a sacrifice for the greater good and abided. Finally, I met and married FD SCP and she fixed the problem by making me eat lunch. Lo, it developed that the migraines were mitigated by heightened sugar levels. It also helped that she drove in the afternoons and I could avoid the flicker by keeping my head in a book.

But the thing I do detest about DST is the way it disrupts my circadian rhythm. It only does this at its boundaries and then for only a couple of weeks – although FD SCP says it abuses hers for four – and then I am acclimated. I no longer mind rising from the bed in the dark, nor retiring in the light, but I do dislike immensely the changes and for many years I resolved that once I was retired and no longer needed follow the edicts of false authority, I could keep my own hours. And I generally do, but I still have occasion to have to conform to the temporal edicts of false authority and cannot escape so easily.

Now I hear of suggestions to extend DST to be yearly. IMHO a sovereign suggestion and too logical to be acceptable to the Congress Critters and Power Mongers inside the Beltway. Rather, I have a suggestion that is sure to be successful and generally pleasing because it will entail exercise of our superpower muscles in the pursuit of prolonging the global war on terror. My proposal is simple. The whole problem is that we have to have DST because the Greenwich Meridian is in the wrong place. So let’s prevail on our allies the British, under offer of providing them with nuclear heating perhaps, to move the Meridian of Greenwich, heck and moose muffins, even the town itself, so that we can have the equivalent of DST all year long.

And I can live blissfully with my circadian rhythms undisrupted by the antics of District Dictators.