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Friday, 31 December 2010

Flight 447: The conclusion

In my post last year regarding the crash of Flight 447, I asked five burning questions. But I only answered four:
I'll answer Question Number Five now, as Question Number Four will take a while.
It's taken a while all right, but I'm now ready to answer Question Four, "Could it have been caused by bad weather?"

I actually brought up the issue in my opening post:
. . . or perhaps had actually flown into the ocean in bad weather.

None of these things happen now.
No, as it appears, this is precisely what did happen--but it shouldn't have. Let me break the incident down into a chain of events, and we can perhaps see why, despite all the advances in technology that the Air France Airbus A330 represented, engineers had not yet succeeded in designing out the Human Factor that inevitably plays a part in every flight incident. Or, to put it another way, they had succeeded a bit too well-and still, yet not enough.

1. The Airbus 330 was designed with a computer-controlled flight system, that will only hand control back to the pilot in case of an extreme emergency. A crucial aspect of this system is that the fuel setting is adjusted directly by the computer, without any input from the hand throttle. This is unlike the cruise control of an automobile or even the computer controls of other aircraft, in which the throttle can be seen or felt to physically move as speed is adjusted.

2. Pilots being trained to fly the Airbus were never trained on the scenario of computer flight control failure due to loss of speed input. In such a case, standard operating procedure would call for controlling air speed by pitch and power alone.

3. In the weeks leading up to June 1, 2009, several incidents were reported of 300-series Airbus aircraft losing speed input due to Pitot Tube blockage. Airbus ordered modifications, and as of June 1, Air France had not yet finished implementing them on its Airbus fleet--particularly not on the plane flown on Flight 447. This was an Equipment Failure waiting to happen.

4. At 5700 miles, the Rio de Janieiro to Paris route was the longest nonstop distance regularly flown by a twin-engine aircraft--and most of it was over the Atlantic. Flight rules prohibiting a plane from flying on its fuel reserves meant that going around the 250-mile wide Intertropical Front that had developed on June 1, 2009 could burn up enough fuel to require the pilot to land and refuel short of his destination--adding time and expense to the trip when he actually had enough fuel on board to make it. Knowing this would put pressure on a pilot to seek a way through, rather than around, the Front. Thus the Economic Factor enters the picture.

5. As Flight 447 approached the Front, a small storm between the plane and the Front could have blocked the pilot's weather radar from picking up the huge storm behind it. Changing the sensitivity setting on the radar could have overcome the problem, but it doesn't appear that this was done. The First Thing had gone wrong, and there was a Human Factor compounding it.

6. As Flight 447 entered the thunderstorm, it encountered turbulence. Standard procedure in such a situation is to cut power to slow the aircraft. At 35,000 feet, the air is so thin that only a slight power reduction is safe. Too much, and the wings will lose lift. Since the computer was flying the plane, the pilot dialed in a lower power setting; the hand throttle remained in its previous position. So far so good, but the Design Factor has now entered the picture, and it will take only a small Human Error to cause further complications. As it turns out, Airbus Pilots will be shown to have been generally inattentive to speed settings during flight incidents involving Pitot Tube failure. The Oversight Factor had just added to the complications, and the Flight Incident hadn't even quite begun.

7. The Air France pilots must have been aware that they were entering a major thunderstorm, but at over 500 miles an hour, they were entering it, controlled by the flight computer, at a rate of a mile every seven seconds. Downdrafts of up to 100 feet per second, coupled with instant icing by supercooled water, meant that at the very instant the Pitot Tubes froze over and loss of airspeed indication shut down the autopilot, the pilots would have had to scramble to gain control the aircraft. Flight 447 was now experiencing a Flight Incident caused by Severe Weather, and the Training Factor had just kicked in. Everything would go downhill from there.

8. The pilots then attempted to control the plane by pitch and power, but apparently forgot that the computer had already slowed the plane. The static tube had probably also frozen over at this point, leaving them with no altitude indicator short of ground-proximity radar. Training deficiencies, Design deficiencies, and inadequate Oversight now combined to take the aircraft into a stall--a maneuver in which a plane can lose half its altitude in just a few seconds. Pilots don't ever get to actually practice stalls on their expensive airplanes, especially not at night with no horizon visible. If the pilot was able to pull out of the stall in time, he apparently over-corrected, pulling the plane up into another stall, but this time too close to the surface to have room to recover. As the plane pulled out of this second stall, it ran out of airspace and hit the surface of the Atlantic. Indeed, Air France Flight 447 flew into the ocean in bad weather.

It all comes down to the human factor. An ex-fighter pilot, used to stick-and-rudder flying at a wide range of speeds and attitudes, probably could have flown the aircraft through the storm and safely out the other side, regardless of equipment failures. But a pair of air transport pilots, used to letting the computer fly the plane from just after takeoff to just before landing, weren't up to the job. When the Pitot Tubes failed, causing the flight control computers to fail, they were the last point of defense for Flight 447's 228 passengers and crew. And when they failed, everybody died.

I'm getting a lot of hits to this page, presumably from people looking for background information on the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight  370. This is an even more curious case, as the Boeing 777 appears to have fallen out of a clear blue sky. My taken on the question is that it was blown up; I can't think of any other explanation. Whether it was by a missile, or an on-board explosion, time will tell; the information being released now isn't enough to go on.
There is yet one other possibility, far more chilling: that nothing will be found of Flight 370. It is explored here.
For my post of Flight 370, see here. It was apparently flown into the sea at stall speed, allowing it to sink slowly to the bottom in such a way that the wreckage will not be found for years.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

What about equal rights for CMOC (Christian men on campus)?


Nearly four years ago, I wrote about the burkini and wondered what could be done to provide equal protection to Muslim men. The takeaway message from the ongoing concern over covering up Muslim women seems to be that there is no need to protect Muslim men from lusting after women--just to protect Muslim women from being lusted after. This, of course, is fully in keeping with Islamic doctrine, which encourages men to beat their unsubmissive wives, and allows them to have as many as they can afford, provided the number never exceeds four at any one time.

So, now the women at George Washington University--Muslim or otherwise--can enjoy one hour a week free from the ogling eyes of men--Muslim or otherwise. But note that no one seems to be concerned about the men--Muslim and otherwise--who have to be exposed to all the barely covered bodies of their female fellow swimmers during coed swim time the rest of the week.

Ironic it is that it was even Muslims who finally raised the issue. It should have been Christians. Feminine modesty is enjoined in their scriptures, which also prohibit looking lustfully at women--modest or otherwise.

OK, CMOC, where are you?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A review of "Cache in Chinese Mountain Reveals 20,000 Prehistoric Fossils"

A giant cache of nearly 20,000 fossil reptiles, shellfish and a host of other prehistoric creatures unearthed from a mountain in China is now revealing how life recovered after the most devastating mass extinction on Earth.
Well, let's begin at the beginning with my objections to this article.
1. "Nearly 20,000" is needless precision. Obviously they didn't count all these fossils yet; this is a wild guess, with an aim toward the outside.
2. I don't like the word 'prehistoric' because there's nothing prehistoric about this cache. I can date it to within a year, by recorded history.
3. Reptiles, shellfish, mollusks, and crustaceans don't belong in the same layer of the geologic column. But no one seems upset to find them all in the same sedimentary deposit. Of course, if they all died in The Flood, no one should be.
4. This cache is revealing that the earth was once covered with a massive flow of water. People who don't see that, could see anything else. But stand by to find out that first impressions didn't turn out to be right after all. They never do, when they were wrong in the first place.
5. Dead bodies don't reveal a blessed thing about how survivors of a catastrophe recovered. That's like visiting a mass grave in Haiti to see how well survivors of the 2010 earthquake recovered.
6. Yep, it was the most devastating mass extinction event on earth all right. Probably the only one, though.

Moving along . . .
This research could help point out which species might be more or less susceptible to extinction nowadays, and how the world might recover from the damage caused by humanity, scientists added.
Yada, yada, yada. Note all the couched language: could, might, might. It's all wild guesses. And humanity isn't going to cause any more global floods--we have that from the Cause of the last one.
Life was nearly completely wiped out approximately 250 million years ago by massive volcanic eruptions and devastating global warming. Only one in 10 species survived this cataclysmic end-Permian event.
Lots to cover from just two sentences. Yeah, life was nearly completely wiped out, all right. Only a single breeding pair survived of most species. But no, no species were wiped out by The Flood; extinction came later, after the earth was repopulated. These numbers are wild guesses.
Much was uncertain regarding the steps life took to piece itself back together after this disaster, or even how long it took. Now the clearest picture yet of this recovery has been discovered by a team of researchers, who excavated away half a mountain in Luoping in southwest China to unearth thousands of marine fossils, the first fully functional ecosystem seen after the end-Permian.
Mm, hmm. We have no idea how it happened, but we sure are convinced that it did. And absolutely every piece of evidence we find only makes us more certain that it happened--but never any clearer on how.
The 50-foot-thick (16 meters) layer of limestone that held these fossils dates back to when south China was a large island just north of the equator with a tropical climate. A smattering of fossil land plants suggest this marine community lived near a conifer forest.
Note that all these fossils are in a single layer of limestone! Fifty feet laid down all at once--try that in your back yard sometime. And you can't tell anything about what grew where when you're looking at a deposit from a worldwide flood! You may as well hypothesize that two bodies next to each other in a Dachau mass grave represent people who grew up in the same neighborhood in Vilnius.
The fossils are exceptionally well-preserved, with more than half of them completely intact, including soft tissues. Apparently they were protected across the ages by mats of microbes that rapidly sealed their bodies off from decay after death.
That has got to be about the most oxymoronic hypothesis I've ever seen. Microbes preserving a dead body from decay??? Try that one out at your local funeral parlour and see how the viewing goes. What preserved them fast was 50 feet of cement precipitating over their fresh carcasses.
"Soft tissues can give us more profound information about larger patterns of evolution and relationships, such as the feathers on dinosaurs," Benton said. "Soft tissues in some of the marine creatures may help us understand diet and locomotion."
Yeah, except that there are no feathers on dinosaurs.
Ninety percent of the fossils are bug-like creatures, such as crustaceans, millipedes and horseshoe crabs. Fish make up 4 percent, including the "living fossil" known as the coelacanth, which is still alive today nearly 250 million years later. Snails, bivalves (creatures including clams and oysters), squid-like belemnoids, nautilus-like ammonoids and other mollusks make up about 2 percent of the fossils.
Typical fossil distribution, but always predominantly marine. Marine life, naturally, would have been buried in Flood deposits of limestone and other precipitous material.
The largest creature the scientists found was a thalattosaur, a marine reptile about 10 feet (3 meters) in length, which would have preyed on the larger fishes there, which reached lengths of about 3 feet (1 m). Other predatory marine reptiles the scientists found include dolphin-bodied ichthyosaurs. "Every time we find a new site like this, we get closer to what life in the past was really like," Benton told LiveScience.
Yeah, but they're still looking in the wrong direction. Mostly what they should be getting closer to is a clearer picture of what death on a certain date in the past was really like.

Friday, 17 December 2010

More thoughts on Asimov and Darkness

It's almost ironic that in Asimov's Nightfall, madness is the inevitable fate of those who experience Darkness--regardless of their prior conditioning or present belief. When Darkness falls, everyone realises the The Prophecy was right after all: the last sun really will go dark, and the stars really will come out. But even those who expected this to happen are unprepared: the Scientists had no idea of the vastness of their universe, full of many thousands of stars; and the Cultists, still clinging to a false hope in the efficacy of their blind faith, go mad all the same, cursing the Scientists for ruining everything with their blind rationalism. Left unspoken in the short story version is the fate of those in the Hideout who had prepared for Nightfall with hundreds of torches to carry them, sanity intact, through the brief hours of Darkness and into the virtually infinite Light of the next Cycle.

Like so many of Asimov's stories, this one also contains a bit of the autobiographical--but this time, in foresight rather than hindsight. Asimov seems to be predicting, at the tender age of 21, his eventual encounter with the Darkness which, in his blind rationalism, he refuses to admit exists. He realises that Science, like his own rejected Religion of Rabbinic Judaism, can only foresee the End--not forestall it. He envisions himself, at some divinely decreed date, entering Darkness because, either by false belief or a desire for detachment from belief, he has failed to enter the Hideout.

Regardless of what he may have believed about it during his lifetime, Asimov irrevocably entered Darkness on April 6, 1992.

I'm reminded of the words of Philip J. King, in Five Minutes in Hell:
"Help me, Lord!" he begs while looking up and seeing the face of Jesus in the countenance of the Father. "Please don't let me perish! I've done many good works. Oh, give me one more chance! I believe now with all my heart. I was too proud to believe before. Please, Lord, please!"

The sincere outburst from the heartbroken man goes unheeded as the great Judge of heaven and earth solemnly declares, "Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life shall be cast in to the Lake of Fire. Depart from Me, ye worker of iniquity, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

The man, now too weak with despair to protest, does not resist as the angels carry him to the base of the throne. How he would like to get just one more glimpse of that beautiful city before his departure, but he is too blinded by his own tears to see it, even if he could.

He is astonished at the great strength of the angels as they cast him outward with terrific speed. Almost instantly everything is black—oppressively black—thick, misty black. There is not the tiniest ray of light—not even a flicker from the great white throne.

Already he must be an immeasurable distance from the throne. He feels himself falling faster and faster. Down, down he falls, away, way down.

"Please help me!" shouts the man into oppressive blackness. "Please, please help me!" Silence follows for what seems like many hours, and the man continues to fall.

Again the man shouts into the darkness. "Is there no one here to hear me? Am I the only one here? Please, will someone stop me from falling?"

The man is instantly startled as the voice of a demon replies, "Welcome to outer darkness, fellow-heir of damnation. Prepare to stay awhile."

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A short review of 'Nightfall', a short story by Isaac Asimov

Nightfall was Isaac Asimov's first big hit as a science fiction writer, published when he was only 21 and working in his father's candy store. But it was voted the Best Science Fiction Short Story in the twenty-five years after he wrote it.

The plot of Nightfall revolves around an idea first voiced by Emerson:

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!

In Asimov's take on the question, Night falls like clockwork at the end of every 2049-year Cycle, but only the Cultists are able to preserve any remembrance of Nightfall into the next Cycle, and only in The Book of Revelations, described in the Story as fugitive memories of children, combined with the confused, half-incoherent babblings of half-mad morons; the testimony of those least qualified to serve as historians, probably edited and re-edited through the Cycles--a mass of distortion, even if it was based on fact.

But at the end of this last Cycle, the sciences of astronomy, archaeology and psychology have reached such a peak that representatives of these disciplines--fully cognizant of what is about to happen--along with a still-skeptical journalist, are determined to do what they can to preserve civilization through the four-hour Night and into the next Cycle.

But they run into a problem. The Cultists, having shared the Prophecies of the Book of Revelation with the Scientists, are disgruntled by the Scientists' de-mystification of The Book. Latimer accuses Anton, "Your pretended [scientific] explanation backed our beliefs, and at the same time removed all necessity for them. You made of the Darkness and the Stars a natural phenomenon and removed all its real significance. That was blasphemy."

Aton replied, "If so, the fault isn't mine. The facts exist. What can I do but state them?"

"Your 'facts' are a fraud and a delusion."

Aton stamped angrily. "How do you know?"

And the answer came back with the certainty of absolute faith. "I know!"

Asimov got one thing right: the conflict between the Scientists and the Cultists is absolute. Both agree that Night is coming; but whilst the Cultists believe that it is the coming judgment of God upon unbelievers, the Scientists are convinced that it is simply an eclipse which takes place every 2049 years, bringing several hours of darkness to a six-sunned world that, in the cyclic cataclysm that always follows, has again forgotten the previous Night. The Cultists' vague solution is to simply have faith in the Book of Revelations, so as to escape the Madness that always ensues when the Stars Come Out. The Cultists are convinced that anyone who believes what the Scientists are saying is doomed to madness brought on by exposure to Stars. The Scientists are convinced that anyone who believes what the Cultists are saying is doomed to madness brought on by exposure to Darkness (both being equally unknown on Lagash). And of course, this being Asimov's world, the Scientists are right and the Cultists wrong. But both go equally mad when Darkness falls and the Stars come out, because in this world of Asimov's, darkness inevitably brings about madness, with or without stars and regardless of one's beliefs.

The parallels to our world are clear, Asimov being an atheist and a scientist. The forces of Rationalism are on the one side, the forces of Religion on another. Whilst the Scientists can understand and even explain the beliefs of the Cultists, they know better than to share them. The Cultists, on their part, reject all Scientific thought as blasphemy and do all they can to defeat Scientific progress.

Asimov is clearly alluding to the long conflict between Creationists, whom he portrays as the Cultists, and Evolutionists, whom he portrays as the Scientists. But in setting up the conflict, Asimov has it exactly backwards. It is the Evolutionists who cannot understand Creationists, whilst Creationists can fully understand and clearly explain the tenets of Evolutionism. It is Evolutionists who pour their efforts into silencing the Creationists, declaring their beliefs Dangerous and Abusive. And contrary to the state of things on Lagash, it is the Creationists who, starting from a belief in The Book, went on to discover astronomy, archaeology, and psychology--and the Evolutionists who retard progress, lest it violate their sacred beliefs.

What concerns me the most about this state of affairs is that Asimov couldn't see that he had it backwards. No creationists have broken into science labs to destroy the observation equipment, as Latimer did on Lagash. No creationist mobs have marched on an observatory, torches in hand. No creationist has effectively muzzled scientific debate. Yet clearly, Asimov, genius that he was, operated on the assumption that they would if they could, blind to all the evidence that the shoe is in fact on the other foot. And thus it ever is with Rationalists.

As a creationist, I am a mortal enemy to the Truth as Asimov saw it. I must be silenced, lest I blaspheme the Truth. I must be denied a platform, lest I lead my nation into another age of Darkness. I must not be allowed to come to power, or I will do to them as they desire to do to me. And the reason he is clearly wrong and I am clearly right? Well, it's obvious: his scientific explanations have removed all necessity for my beliefs. He made of the Bible and the Creation natural phenomena and removed all their real significance.

And this, despite all evidence to the contrary.

There are more articles on this topic here and here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Another thing Asimov had wrong--and right.

CounterIn the 3½ years after I first wrote about Isaac Asimov's Nightfall, that post has remained in the top ten, with over 2300 hits--so I am regularly reminded of its popularity. It occurred to me today, in going back over what I had written, that there is another fascinating correlation between Asimov's fiction and the reality of the struggle between atheists and Christians. Note that in Nightfall, the scientists of Lagash and the religionists of Lagash are members of non-intersecting sets. This is how Asimov and his fellow atheists would have it: a classic battle in which all the science is on one side, and all the religion on the other. Among Asimov's blind spots should be pointed out his failure to see that this has never been the case. Even with PhD programs being virtually closed to anyone willing to admit that he believes the biblical account of creation, there are still thousands of practicing scientists who see no conflict between their beliefs and their ability to do real science. In fact, they lay against the atheists the opposite charge: that their unwillingness to believe the Bible's account as true history is an obstacle to scientific progress. So, Asimov was wrong about that.

But notice what he was right about: on Lagash, it was only the religionists who had any record of Lagash's ancient history: the scientists had none. Although their science had advanced to the point that they were able to run the astronomical clock back to a time when none of Lagash's six suns were visible, they had no historical memory amongst themselves that it had actually happened. For this, they had to turn to the records of the religionists, as despised as they were.

When Nightfall became such a popular story that it was made into a movie, that was changed. In the new version, archaeologists stumbled across evidence that showed the scientists they had been wrong all those years in denying the religionist's stories about an ancient darkness--and new studies of planetary motion were forcing the scientists to admit that there must be something to what the religionists were saying after all.

Now, why would Asimov change his story in this way? Was it due to the fact that, in the decades following the publication of Nightfall,  archaeology had vindicated many tenets of Scripture that had been previously scoffed at?

Note: this was actually posted on September 4, 2014. Some glitch in blogger predated it when posted.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I am not a hyphenated American

Since news links rarely last very long, I'm quoting the relevant sections below:'
BERLIN (Reuters Life!) – Percy MacLean can call on 250 years of experience to weigh up how immigrants integrate in Germany. Since his Scottish ancestor arrived in 1753, the family has produced mayors, members of parliament and even a Nazi.
Today, the 63-year-old MacLean, a chief judge in Berlin's administrative court, says Germany risks losing the openness that allowed his family to flourish for generations because of a divisive national debate over the integration of Muslims.
At the age of 16, MacLean's ancestor Archibald left the Hebridean island of Coll for Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) during the crackdown on Highland clans that followed the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite Rebellion in 1745-6.
Archibald's grandson Richard later became mayor of the Prussian port of Memel -- now Klaipeda in Lithuania -- and three MacLeans went on to sit in Prussia's state parliament.
The family continued to thrive after Germany united in 1871, all the while maintaining its ties with Scotland. Percy's uncle Curt Hugo MacLean served as a major in the Wehrmacht in World War II, while another, Donald, joined the Nazi party.
"All my forebears went back to Scotland to keep up with things," said MacLean, who first went at 16. "Obviously I don't have citizenship but I'm still very attached to the country."

Mr. MacLean is obviously a Scottish-German. It's rather incredible that his family has kept up their ties to the fatherland for 250 years, without ever diminishing their loyalty to their current homeland. But such is the case with a hyphenated nationality.
I am not a hyphenated American. Every last one of my ancestors, as best as I can trace, originated in northern Europe before their departure for the New World. But I have no ties whatsoever to their countries of origin. I know I have distant cousins in the Old World, and people of my and all preceding generations have in fact kept up with them, even to the point of physically getting together with them in some cases. But I really have no interest in defining myself as a European; I was born an American, and an American I remain--although at the time I married an American I had spent most of my life outside the country of my origin, there was really never any doubt that I would retain my national identity for life. Is it due in part to the fact that I'm from such a variety of European countries that I don't claim any one of them as my ancestral homeland? Or is it just in the nature of an American to identify himself ethnically as part of the American melting pot?

I have a friend who lives in Africa, and has for practically all his life. He's over 50 years old, but has never been counted in an American census, because he's always been in Africa when they were taken. Like him, his wife grew up in Africa. So have their children. But they are not Africans; they're Americans through and through. He keeps up on American football better than I do, and their children are more up on American styles than are mine, who have never left North America. Is it because between them they have grown up in 6 different African countries, but have retained their American identity all along? Is it because they know that as white people, they will never be able to fully identify as Africans? Whatever the case, they are still Americans, however seldom they actually get back to the country of their nationality.

On the other hand, I think of an African I know who could proudly trace back his ancestry to a Black American family that emigrated to Africa not long after the War To Preserve The Union. Like in the case of the MacLeans, his family held tightly to their American identity for generation after generation. He attended college in the US, but, lacking standing to remain in this country, had to return to Africa as an adult. But where is he now? In Northern Europe, married to a white European. Despite his African roots, he was too American in his mind to settle for an African existence. He may remain in Europe; he may return to America. But it's unlikely that he or any of his descendants will ever be able to consider themselves fully African.

One more thing. In Euro-American culture, one's last name is extremely significant. Geraldine Ferraro was never able to become a viable presidential candidate, perhaps in part because she had a different last name than did her husband and their children. Hilary Rodham, on the other hand, helped propel him into office by borrowing her husband's last name, one which she has continued to use ever since. She even ran for President under his surname, and nearly succeeded. One's identity is that tightly bound up in the name passed down through the generations to the legitimate male heir by his father. And thus Mr. MacLean maintains his Scottish identity, when he may have hundreds of third, fourth, and fifth German-surnamed cousins who aren't even aware that one of their many ancestors originated in Scotland.