Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Do Think Tanks Really Think?

Without getting into both the philosophy and science of defining “thinking”, I believe most people would agree that it is associated with a minimum ability to take a variety of inputs and produce an output that has higher order than the individual inputs. My question is “What is it called when an organism always produces the same output no matter what the inputs?”

Evolution has seen that there is no such organism surviving in nature. But human institutions with that characteristic abound. They are very inappropriately called “think tanks.” You can identify them by the descriptor, which follows their name-- The Heritage Foundation “a conservative think tank”, The Brookings Institution, “a liberal think tank”, The Cato Institute, “a libertarian think tank” and so on...

It appears that someone incorrectly installed their analytical engine. They do not carefully process all available inputs to produce a logical output. They start with the always-predictable output and simply ignore the existence of any input that might support a different conclusion.

Unfortunately, shouting matches between representatives of institutions of this type have become the TV standard for so-called “balanced discussion”. When was the last time you witnessed objective reasoning by a thoughtful analyst? You remember the type-people who actually consider all of the facts before reaching their conclusions.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Virginia Tech After Some Time

The shooting at Virginia Tech hit Northern Virginia so hard that no post can adequately describe the aftermath. VT is by far the school of choice for the middle class of this area. Almost everyone had a relative who had, or is attending VT. One statistic quoted by one teacher was that out of a recent graduating class of slightly more than 400 students from one Loudoun County high school 123 went on to Virginia Tech. .

The image of a cold-blooded killer calmly walking the hallway, entering classrooms and eventually killing 32 students was so horrible that it originally muted public discussion. The plea to wait for the facts to come in before reaching judgment on the VT administration seemed to be holding. That period has now ended and there is deep resentment on how VT was so ill prepared.

In a recent heated discussion among several people, the following questions were asked.

Why could the classrooms not be securely locked from the inside? This would have stopped the shooting after the first classroom. The students were forced to attempt to keep him out with tables and their bodies. Is VT correcting this immediately? This certainly does not need a commission’s recommendation. (Loudoun County has just announced it is installing a buzz to enter system with closed cameras on all schools).

How long are we going to tolerate the ridiculous “gun free” zones that end up as “victim disarmament zones”? If the pilots were armed on 9/11 that tragedy would have been stopped.

What did they mean saying the failure to call an emergency (with two people murdered and the gunman free) was “the right decisions given the information”? It should not have even been a decision up for discussion. A thoughtful standing policy should have made calling a full emergency designation immediate and automatic. The fact that it was even discussed shows how little forethought was given to security.

It was also noted that if the killer’s mental condition had been put into the system, he would have been denied a gun but he might have used a rental truck.

The discussion ended with great sadness.