Sunday, October 28, 2007

the bad in "bad predictions"

I am somewhat reluctant to even write this post, let alone publish it. I found an article, the “Top 87 Bad Predictions about the Future”. I enjoyed reading it, but let’s retitle it, “Top 85 …”

It’s a good list except for the two political cracks. George the Elder “no new taxes” completely blows off the fact that the dems in Congress blatantly and publicly lied to set him up. They said the increases in taxes would be offset by decreases in spending, and the margin would dollar-for-dollar reduce the deficit. It was a political trade in the best interests of the country. Geo the Elder bit – then the dems bailed and crucified him. Not only did they not reduce spending, they increased it. A-holes top to bottom. The other crack is about Iraq and WMDs. Everyone thought – including Clinton – that they were there. We all had evidence they were there (just ask the Kurds), the UN required proof of destruction, and Iraq refused entry to sites to allow us to prove out their words – yeah, the Iraqi government lied plenty of times before, so they had no veracity on this topic. So this statement by Franks is on par with the rest of the list – space travel, light bulbs, television? I really detest political and social agendas buried in otherwise worthy reading. Childish of them. Degrades their work.

I’ll press ahead anyway because I am … um … me. Screw ‘em. Ain’t no lib with a sign that reads, “Bush lied and people died” gonna take away my fun. How’s this for a sign, “I have my head stuck so far up my ass that I can fart out my ears.” What a copy? Establish your lib credentials to me and I will have the sign made and shipped to you.


«I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.» Charles Darwin, in the foreword to his book, The Origin of Species, 1869. Actually, I agree with him. It was not his work, but the abuse of it that has caused such turmoil. His work speaks only of evolution, not a word about creation. He can write all he wanted to about apes-to-men, but there was no fossil record of it and he admitted the same. He did say it existed, but just hadn’t been found. That was his scientific mistake. He should never speculate. Not good science. He found evidence of intra-species evolution and should have limited his speculation. Oh well.

«They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-» Last words of Gen. John Sedgwick, spoken as he looked out over the parapet at enemy lines during the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 9, 1864, then promptly took a fatal shot. Here’s the full story: His corps was probing skirmish lines ahead of the left flank of Confederate defenses and he was directing artillery placements. Confederate sharpshooters were about 1,000 yards away and their shots caused members of his staff and artillerymen to duck for cover. Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Although ashamed, his men continued to flinch and he repeated, "I'm ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Just seconds later he fell forward with a bullet hole below his left eye. – Bet that left a mark, eh, John?

«... good enough for our transatlantic friends ... but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.» British Parliamentary Committee, referring to Edison's light bulb, 1878. Ironic that the symbol for having an idea is now a light bulb above a head.

«There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.» Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977. This caught my attention because I graduated high school that year. About six years later I bought my first home computer. I wonder if the statement is given more weight than he meant. It could have just been some marketing territory thing, a put-down of an upstart competitor.

«Lee DeForest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public ... has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company ...» a U.S. District Attorney, prosecuting American inventor Lee DeForest for selling stock fraudulently through the mail for his Radio Telephone Company in 1913. What amazes me is when people think outside their profession. I understand the drill – for some trial work, I had to prepare to go (and did) toe-to-toe with docs and other professionals, attacking them in their field of expertise. But here, raising money to conduct scientific inquiry does not seem to rise to the level of a crime. It could have all been in the delivery – “I guaranty this can happen. Your returns on these investments will be no less than six-fold.” Those statements would be worthy of indictment, but would not make good fodder for a bad-quotations list.

«Space travel is utter bilge.» Richard Van Der Riet Woolley, upon assuming the post of Astronomer Royal in 1956. ”Bilge” is such a great word. American Heritage provides the following: “1. The rounded portion of a ship's hull, forming a transition between the bottom and the sides. The lowest inner part of a ship's hull. 2. Bilge water. 3. [Slang] Stupid talk or writing; nonsense. 4. The bulging part of a barrel or cask.” I am singularly unsatisfied with this list of definitions. The slang doesn’t seem to have a basis in the rest. Here’s the etymology: c. 1513, "lowest internal part of a ship," also "the foulness which collects there," variant of bulge "ship's hull." Ah, that makes sense. It is “stupid talk” as in “foul words.” So I wanted to see when the guy died (December 24, 1986) to get a lift out of what he saw in his lifetime, and I found the complete quote: "It's utter bilge. I don't think anybody will ever put up enough money to do such a thing . . . What good would it do us? If we spent the same amount of money on preparing first-class astronomical equipment we would learn much more about the universe . . . It is all rather rot." Ah, while there is a history in the guy (in 1936, reviewing P.E. Cleator's "Rockets in Space", he also said, "The whole procedure [of shooting rockets into space]...presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature, that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author's insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished"), the “bilge” quote seems to be taken out of context. I am becoming less enamored with this “list” as I go.

«A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere.» New York Times, 1936. Back on track. Nothing like the stupidity of the NYT on display to brighten my spirits. Commercial: “I read the NYT because it gives me a view of the news not available anywhere else.” Yes, but the problem with the “view” is that the sources are specious, the writing usually opinion appearing off the op-ed pages, and they have this kiss-my-ass attitude about anyone that differs with their world view. While I don’t mind, as a general statement, a KMA attitude, I do mind when it is them because, well, they are them. Know what I mean? They can kiss my ass.

«Atomic energy might be as good as our present-day explosives, but it is unlikely to produce anything very much more dangerous.» Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, 1939. Fundamental problem: A politician speaking not of politics, but of science. Shudder.

«A man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.» News item in a New York newspaper, 1868. Is this the NYT incognito?

«Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.» Dr Dionysius Larder (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London. [I had to correct the spelling of his first name from the source post.] It seems the comment was related to an assessment of a plan to have the government fund the construction of a broader gauge railroad track. An informative bit: “Brunel himself suggested that the opinions of other engineers should be sought and he was unlucky enough to be saddled with a Dr Dionysius Lardner who displayed a remarkable talent for drawing incorrect conclusions from observed data. Lardner attributed the poor performance of the company's best engine to the excessive air resistance of the wide locomotives and concluded that the broad gauge was inherently inferior. However, Brunel and Gooch found that it was back pressure due to misalignment of the blast pipe orifice and not air resistance which was the cause. After some hasty modifications to the engine they were able to haul nearly three times the load on but one third of the fuel used in Lardner's tests.” So, the statement was an extension of his (albeit incorrect) conclusion based upon observed data. Not as egregious as presented.

«The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous.» Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, at tank demonstration, 1916. But, sir, when you hit the tank with a bullet, it goes “tink!” as opposed to the “ooooff!” you get from a horse or rider!

«Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.» Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889 (Edison often ridiculed the arguments of competitor George Westinghouse for AC power). There are many quotes by Edison that I have read over the years of this ilk. The boy seems to have been a singularly disagreeable fellow. I suspect he was widely disliked by all but his fellow megalomaniacs of the time.

Alright, I’m done. But I did learn something … on balance, the article wasn’t fair. Oh well. Good thing I don’t pay for column inches.

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